After such a stressful 2020, I 'm relieved we're in 2021! Yes, I know the covid-19 infection takes no notice of dates, but there's something about a new year that always inspires me. I love setting goals for myself, yet I achieved little on the writing front in 2020. For much of the year my enthusiasm for writing novels evaporated, and I questioned whether to continue with my author career. That struggle is still with me to some extent, but I've made significant strides in conquering my demons. From talking to my author friends, it seems disillusionment is an occupational hazard!
Onwards into 2021! One thing I'm clear on - I'm keen not to overstretch myself this year. I've read social media posts from authors who publish a book a month; just the thought exhausts me. I want balance in my life, not burnout. Besides writing, I have other priorities in my life, such as health and fitness, improving my spoken Spanish and learning to paint abstract acrylics. Writing is hugely important, but not at the detriment of my other goals.
With that in mind, I've set myself modest and very achievable targets for 2021. My aim is to publish my eighth novel, currently in first draft format, and write and publish my ninth novel. That's two releases in one year, much better than 2020, which was a zero-release year. It's a far cry from joining the book-a-month brigade, but I'm comfortable with that. Wish me luck!
December 1 marks a very special anniversary for me!
As of December 1, 2020, I've been a full-time novelist for six years! It's been a rollercoaster ride in many ways, but I have no regrets. I've blogged before about my first five years (see post here), so I won't go over old ground. 2020 has been a challenging year for my writing, with no books published and a distinct lack of mojo on my part. I'm working hard to get back on track, with my eighth novel now completed in draft, and I've started plotting number nine.
I've never regretted my decision to go full-time, although writing can be a very isolating profession, and one that has various pitfalls. I'm fulfilling my childhood dream, however, and I love that I can combine writing with my love of travel. So long as I have a laptop and an internet connection, I'm good to go!
My plans for 2021...
I love setting myself goals! As we approach the end of 2020, I'm already considering what I want to achieve in 2021. I've no plans to change genres - I enjoy writing psychological suspense novels, so that's what I'll continue to do. Ideally I'd like to publish two books a year, one every six months. My process isn't as quick or efficient as it should be, however - editing takes me forever! - and I suspect a novel every eight or nine months is more realistic. We shall see.
Other goals? I aim to grow my email list and Facebook readers' group, and market my books better. Most importantly, I want to recapture my love of writing, which has been sadly absent for much of 2020. 2021 needs to be about FUN on the creative front!
Whatever happens, I'm very grateful to my readers for their support and encouragement. Thanks to each and every one of you!
Woo hoo! I'm delighted to report that I've finished the first draft of my eighth novel. I've blogged before about how difficult I've found writing this year, so this is a happy day for me. A long road still lies ahead before publication, as the editing process takes me ages! First, though, I need to set the manuscript aside for a while. This is so that when I start editing I have the benefit of distance, enabling me to spot errors, plot holes, etc., more easily.
What will I do in the meantime? After a short break, I'll work on plotting novel number nine. I have some ideas already, so it's a case of choosing one, then fleshing out the story. For me, plotting is the hardest part of the writing process. By nature, I'm a planner, but that doesn't work so well for my books. After a while, I itch to start writing and stop plotting. In addition, I often find that what seems a great idea at the plotting stage doesn't work so well in practice. I'm still developing the way I write, so it's all part of the learning process. I'll keep you posted as to progress with number eight!
I'm getting there...
I've shared on this blog and on social media how my writing mojo deserted me for several months earlier in 2020. (Read my other post on this subject here: When novelists lose their love of writing). I don't think the issue was related to the covid-19 pandemic, as my disillusionment began before lockdown happened in the UK. I suspect I'd been pushing myself hard for a while (I'm very goal-driven!) and just needed a break. I spent the time relaxing, reading and enjoying the summer, and didn't worry too much about whether my writing mojo would return.
Luckily, it has. My output isn't back to what it was before, when my average daily output was c2,200 words. Nowadays I manage between 1,200 and 1,500 before my creativity wanes, but that's OK. There's no rush. It's more important that I regain my love of writing rather than fret about how many words I write, or how long I'm taking to finish a book. I'm very close to completing my eighth novel, though! As of today's date I've written 75,659 words, and I estimate another 11,000 will see the book completed in first draft format. After that will come the lengthy (for me, anyway!) task of polishing my prose, weeding out any plot holes and getting the manuscript ready for my beta readers/editor. I'll keep you posted!
Author burnout - an occupational hazard?
Some of you already know that I've struggled to find my writing mojo in 2020. All was well until February, when I suddenly found I couldn't summon up the desire to write. The coronavirus restrictions hadn't yet come into force, so that wasn't the reason. Instead I believe I was experiencing a minor case of burnout.
I'm quite a driven individual and over the last two decades I've pushed myself hard in various ways. They include extensive travel (always a joy), moving three hundred miles away, leaving my accountancy career, operating a dog walking business before becoming a full-time novelist, achieving other important goals, etc. It's all been great fun and I have no regrets. But inside me, things were changing.
I began to experience a strong urge to slow my life down. The thought of waking up to my alarm clock didn't appeal (did it ever?) I yearned to do more than just write. I wanted to spend time with friends, make new ones, exercise more, improve my Spanish, etc. The pressure authors experience to pump out books filled me with dread. I wanted to write for love, not because I was on a production schedule. To my horror, I realised I no longer wanted to write. Anything. At all. I'd published seven novels as well as a novella and a non-fiction book. Perhaps I'd taken my writing as far as it was meant to go?
This wasn't a case of writer's block. I didn't sit in front of a blank screen, desperate to conjure up words. Instead I avoided writing all together, despite having completed a good chunk of my eighth novel. I told myself my writing mojo would soon bounce back. It didn't.
Unsure how to proceed, I turned to my author friends for help. To my surprise, they'd either gone through, or were currently experiencing, the same dilemma. Here are some of their comments:
I'm having the same doubts as to whether to continue writing, whether its worth the backlash and all the intense hard work.
I too want to try to take my writing to the next level, but am plagued by doubts.
I had an email from an author friend saying exactly the same thing, and that he was on the verge of quitting.
Phew! At least I knew I wasn't alone in this. I was also lucky enough to have a wonderful accountability partner. We check in with each other about our writing goals each Sunday via Skype and midweek via email. During this difficult time he was a huge source of support and encouragement, even when weeks turned into months and I still hadn't written anything.
How is my writing going now?
I'm pleased to report that, while I'm by no means out of the writing doldrums, things have improved significantly. What's changed? Two things. First, I asked myself whether, given that I'd dreamed of being a novelist for decades, it was likely I'd lost my writing mojo forever. Was this just a blip instead? The answers came back: no, and probably. Second, my writing buddy suggested I write a few words on my novel and see where it took me. I agreed, and committed to doing 1,000 new words the following week. And I did. The next week I managed 5,000 and the one after that, 6000. It's a way off the 2,000+ words I used to write daily before my 'blip', but I'm not worried. I'm writing again, and so far I've added over 24,000 new words to my eighth novel. At times I've even felt flashes of my old drive and energy, which is wonderful.
My aim is to complete the novel and get it to my editor/beta readers by Christmas. I'll keep you posted! Thanks for reading.
Combining writing with travel - is it possible?
Those who know me well are familiar with my wanderlust! I've been passionate about solo travel for decades now and I've been fortunate to have explored many wonderful countries. For a long time it's been my ambition to combine travel with writing and become, at least for a while, a nomadic novelist. All I need to work is a computer and a decent internet connection, so the idea seemed very achievable. In addition, there were several trips I longed to get under my belt, and most of them were west of the UK, in the Americas. Combined with the nagging feeling I was in somewhat of a rut in Bristol, it wasn't a hard decision to arrange another overseas jaunt. This time I liked the notion of travelling without a set return date. I bought a one-way ticket to Canada to enable me to fly to Toronto in April 2017, with some vague plans as to where to visit after French Canada, which I'd missed on my last trip to the country back in 1990. I ending up spending a couple of months in Canada before I crossed the border into the USA, where I had friends with whom I wanted to reconnect.
In America I visited Vermont, then Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, before making my way to Las Vegas, where I hired a car and went touring for a week. My journey included the wonders of Monument Valley, Zion National Park and other beautiful places before I finished up in San Diego. Next came Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
Towards the end of my trip I seized the chance to travel to the Falklands, South Georgia and the incredible White Continent, Antarctica. WOW!!! What a fantastic experience. The wildlife on South Georgia was awe inspiring - beaches packed full of seals and penguins, accompanied by some very strong fishy odours! As for Antarctica, a friend told me it's like being in a different world, and she was right. The silence, the ice, the remote location… I'd love to return some day and explore further.
So how hard was it to travel and write at the same time?
My main fear before I set off was whether I'd be able to combine travelling and writing. My previous trips had usually been done at a fast pace, with lots of planes, trains and buses involved - hardly conducive to the quiet writing environment I prefer! I found it hard to write the first draft of 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' while travelling in 2010-11, and I only completed the book by parking my butt in the gorgeous Bolivian city of Sucre and not leaving until I'd finished. Hence my concern. How would I manage all the sight-seeing I'd want to do while writing my novels? As well as maintaining the rest of my business - marketing, finance, etc?
It turns out I needn't have worried. I managed to maintain a full work schedule and still got to visit the sights I want to see. Most times I would work during the morning and get out and about during the afternoon and evenings. I also tried to arrange travel and sight-seeing whenever possible at the weekends. It all worked out really well and my schedule left me plenty of time left to practise yoga, read and socialise. What helped was not having a set itinerary; there was nowhere I needed to be at any particular time. From what I understand, this way of working is becoming more common, with more and more people choosing to become digital nomads. and why not? If your work is internet-based, such as web design or life coaching, then you can earn money wherever you are in the world. You're not location-dependent for your income. It's immensely freeing and if, like me, you love travelling, it's the ideal solution. As I mentioned earlier, I'd become aware I was deep in a rut in Bristol, and needed to break out. It felt right to be backpacking again, with everything I needed in a couple of bags, moving from one wonderful place to another, doing as I pleased. Since my return from that trip, which lasted ten months, I've moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and been busy with other things, but I plan to continue combining travel and writing in the future. Who knows, maybe I'll inspire some of my readers to become digital nomads! See you in Rio, perhaps!
I still feel very much like a newbie when it comes to writing, even though I've been a full-time novelist for over five years, with seven published novels, a novella and a non-fiction book. I remember how I wanted to write a novel but hadn't a clue how to start. Part of my hesitation was down to not knowing any other novelists. If I'd had an example of success to inspire me, perhaps I'd have embarked on my writing adventure sooner.
As it is, I'm always looking for ways to encourage would-be novelists. That's why I've compiled a free book as a companion to 'Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft'. This one is called 'Write Your Novel! Success Stories from Published Authors', and it's packed full of advice and inspiration. Contributors include British best-selling horror writer Iain Rob Wright and American novelist Robert Bidinotto. Read the stories in the book, absorb the wise words contained therein, and I hope you'll be inspired to continue your writing journey. The book is only available from this website and is available in kindle (.mobi), ePub and PDF formats via the image or the button below.
In this week's post, I want to share five books I've found helpful along my writing journey. They cover a range of topics from mindset to productivity, and I dip into them regularly. I hope you find them useful. To view each book on Amazon UK, click or tap the individual images.
1: Rachel Aaron - 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
2: Libbie Hawker - Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing
3: Jacqueline Garlick - The End: Edit Smarter Not Harder: Ten Simple Fix-Its Guaranteed To Strengthen Any Manuscript
4: Joanna Penn - How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More
5: Honoree Corder - Prosperity for Writers: A Writer's Guide to Creating Abundance
I hope you've found these suggestions useful!
Are there any books you've found helpful in your writing journey? Leave a comment and let me know!
Something I remember after I finished the first draft of my fifth novel, 'After She's Gone' - how, along the way, something odd occurred. Many, if not all, other fiction writers report it's happened to them too; it's a concept that sounds a little off the wall, a bit wacky, at first. Readers who are not also writers tell me it's hard to understand, and I can see why. I'm talking about the tendency of fictional characters to resist doing what the author wants. Instead, just like real people, they often refuse to do what they're told, developing minds of their own and behaving in very contrary ways! Fiction writers will know what I mean. For others, though, this is a weird notion. 'But you're the author!' they say. 'Aren't you in control? Why not just make the characters do what you'd planned for them?' The answer is, I can't, not always. Let me explain.
As a novelist, I’m an outliner, plotting my books in a fair amount of detail before I write them. As part of my planning, I prepare notes about each character - their motivations, their hopes, their issues, along with a physical description and a precis of their role in the plot. After I've done that, I tell myself I know them quite well, but the truth is, I don't. It's not until I start writing that they take on lives and minds of their own, and sometimes those minds decide to follow a different route through the novel. If this all sounds a bit woo-woo, it is and yet it isn't. In one way, there's nothing mystical about what I'm describing. However carefully an author plots in advance, it's impossible to foresee every eventuality, and it's not until the writing begins that a novelist finds out whether his/her story works. What may appear feasible at the planning stage can unravel once written; inconsistencies and contradictions appear or the plot simply doesn't feel right. The same happens with characters. I'll explain by using Jake Hamilton, a minor player in 'After She's Gone'.
When I plotted the novel, Jake was a poor father, a lousy partner and an all-round deadbeat. As I wrote one particular scene, however, something didn't sit well with me. The storyline would work better, I decided, if I portrayed Jake as flawed in many ways, yet ultimately a man trying to do his best. Someone who regretted his past mistakes. So that's what I did. Nothing woo-woo about that, simply an author recognising that a different approach would suit the novel better. On the other hand, though, Jake asserting his true character provided a magical moment. It was as if he was shouting at me, trying to get my attention, yelling, 'Hey! You behind the keyboard! You've got me all wrong - I'm more of a nice guy than you give me credit for!'
I hear you, Jake! And once I did, I changed my story accordingly. Characters don’t exist independently from an author's fiction, of course, however real they may become to a writer. The chances are, though, that if a character is pressing to go in a particular direction, then that's the best course for him/her to take. Here's novelist Dianne Doubtfire on the subject: 'Sometimes a character becomes so real that he refuses to do what you have planned for him. When this happens, don't coerce him; it means you have created a real person with a will of his own and this is a marvellous moment in any novelist's life. Hold him on a light rein, as it were, giving him his head to a certain degree but ensuring that he does not stampede you out of your story.' (Dianne Doubtfire, The Craft of Novel-Writing, published by Allison and Busby, 1978). Wise advice, Dianne - thank you! Oh, and a big thank you also to Jake Hamilton - I'm glad I listened to you!
What do you think? Let's hear from you!
Are you a fellow novelist who's had characters run out of control and do their own thing? Or are you a reader, someone who doesn't understand why authors can't exercise complete authority? Are there fictional characters who you think would have been more convincing if they'd been portrayed differently? Leave me a comment and let me know!
'After She's Gone' is available from Amazon in ebook, paperback and audio formats via this link: After She's Gone.
How I edit my novels - from first draft to completed manuscript
I've blogged before about different aspects of the writing process, including plotting and how I organise my working day. This week I'd like to focus on the editing cycle. As part of my contract with Lake Union, my first novel, 'His Kidnapper's Shoes', underwent revision prior to being republished by Amazon, and that proved a fascinating, as well as novel, experience!
When I started my writing journey, I lacked the funds for a professional editor. (They don't come cheap!) Instead, I did the best I could myself. Now I'm with Lake Union, all that's changed, because Amazon pick up the costs. Until now, my editing process has gone as follows. First, I set the manuscript aside for at least a month, so that when I return to it, I do so with a fresh eye. My first drafts are rough, because I prefer to get the story out of my head first and worry about sorting the mess later. In the early stages, I spend a lot of time moving text around, deleting some parts and adding others. Once I have a coherent second draft, I check for correct spelling, punctuation, etc.; I'm a stickler for that sort of thing! I always run my books through Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar check as well, though.
Another tool I use, and love, is Pro Writing Aid. There's a free version, but I use the premium one for its extra features, and have a lifetime subscription. Pro Writing Aid will tell me when I've used the same word too often in close proximity, check for clichés and redundancies, perform a grammar check, and much more.
The next step is to tighten and prune my prose. It's scary how many unnecessary words I find! Often I shed several thousand during this stage. By the time I've done all this, the novel is, with any luck, slimmer and fitter.
Scrivener helps every step of the way
I also run each chapter through a checklist. Does it start with a bang? Will the ending lead the reader to the next chapter and create excitement? Have I included enough (but not too much) description and sensory details? Is the pacing right? I try to view it from a reader's point of view, which is hard for me, as I need to switch hats!
At the end of all this, I read the manuscript several times to make sure it's as good as I can make it. This is hard because I can waste lots of time tweaking tiny details - at some stage I need to release the book to my wonderful beta readers! I have several people who provide feedback on what they like and don't like, what works and what doesn't. I implement most of their advice; it's rare for me to reject anything they say. After all, they come to the novel with a fresh eye, whereas by this stage I'm usually jaded!
For me, editing is the longest part of the process, but unlike some writers, it's something I love doing. I find great satisfaction in polishing my first drafts (believe me, they really are rough!) into something better. I use Scrivener to organise every step of the way. Scrivener is software designed for writers, and has revolutionised my writing. If I could marry a piece of software, it would probably be this one!
My experience with a professional editor
I'll continue to use this process I've outlined above, because it works well for me, but things worked differently for the two novels I've published with Lake Union. Here's how it's worked so far. Soon after I sent 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' to Sammia, my Amazon contact, she assigned Gillian Holmes as the book's editor. Gillian has over twenty years' experience in the industry and has worked with big names such as Kathy Reichs and Tony Parsons, so I was delighted!
First she emailed me her overall impressions of the book and her main recommendations, along with my manuscript containing her detailed notes. Next Sammia organised a conference call between the three of us. She wanted to ensure I understood the process before I got stuck in, and I appreciated her thoughtfulness. I did wonder what Gillian might want to see changed in the book, not because I'm arrogant and consider it perfect, but because I'm too close to it to be objective. All her recommendations made sense and echoed some of the less favourable reviews I've received. She asked me to tone down the sex and swearing, and make Daniel Bateman a more likeable character. With that in mind, I set to work.
I needed to learn Microsoft Word's 'track changes' feature but my inner geek enjoys stuff like that! It didn't take long to implement Gillian's recommendations. My experience of working with her has been very positive. Once I'd experienced the huge benefits of having a professional editor, I asked Gillian to edit my fiction titles that don't fall under my Amazon contract. I'm keen to make my novels as polished as possible, especially now I've joined the Alliance of Independent Authors, a professional writers' association.
I'm happy to answer any questions you have about how novelists (well, me - I can't answer for everyone) edit their books. Leave a comment and let me know!