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Diary of a Mad Writer: Weeks 2 and 3: IT PAYS TO TAKE AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

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nimue

Working like a dog… never understood that. My dog doesn’t do much more than sleep or mooch about the house, although here she is checking out my sales stats. She isn’t impressed.

In an attempt to satisfy my grumpy border collie, I’ve had a busy two weeks. (She has been for a very long walk which has made her a little less grumpy, for the moment at least). As you can see above her picture, you can now subscribe to my newsletter. I’m busy writing a free book I can give away to new subscribers, a DI Jesse Rider novella. More work on top of an already busy schedule, but I’m not a mad writer for nothing. The more works-in-progress I have piling up, the happier I am.  I’m certainly not suffering from writer’s block which made me ponder whether writer’s block actually exists, or is it an easy excuse for (please don’t get mad) lazy writers?

Years ago I went through a phase when I considered myself to be an arid desert when it came to ideas. Nothing was growing. It was sand as far as you could see. Each oasis turned out to be a mirage and there were very few of those. In desperation I signed up to a writing course with The Writers Bureau. I didn’t actually complete the course, (I’m now an English graduate, always wanted to say that), but what I learned during my short time taking part gave my muse a kick up the arse. When I looked out at that rolling expanse of golden sand, I saw a small sapling. That sapling was my first Hunter Cade novel which has now grown into a mature tree and triggered new trees to grow. What I’m trying to say is, I thought I had writer’s block. I may well have had writer’s block, but by learning ways to force inspiration, I have never suffered with it since.

This is where the title for this post comes into it. It pays to take affirmative action. If you aren’t getting any ideas, find a way to make the ideas come to you: pick up a book in a genre you might not normally read; watch a great box set (you can’t go wrong with Hannibal); grab a sheet of paper and get started on a mind map or a cluster map, start with a single idea (and I sometimes use a novel I’ve enjoyed and feel inspired by, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl for example) and begin branching off topics until you have a premise you can work with. Take affirmative action. The floodgates will open and you may just find yourself inundated with book ideas.

That cluster map with Gone Girl in the center of it gave me three standalone romantic thrillers to work on, one of them I am actively writing as part of my Diary work. I have gone so far as to buy the 3 covers, very inexpensively. I use The Book Cover Designer (http://thebookcoverdesigner.com), especially bettibup33, and I have also used Melody Simmons pre-made covers (http://ebookindiecovers.com).

As well as hitting word count targets, I have been taking part in the Self-publishing Success Summit hosted by Chandler Bolt (http://selfpublishingsuccesssummit.com). With presentations from experts such as Joanna Penn and Daniel Decker, (http://www.thecreativepenn.com and http://www.danieldecker.net respectively), it has been a bottomless well of information. Okay, it does have a bottom, but I’m trying not to think about that because I’ve been having so much fun, knowing it’s going to come to an end is too much for me to cope with. I bought a book right before I signed up to the Summit from author Nick Stephenson (http://nickstephensonbooks.com). Supercharge your Kindle Sales:(http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supercharge-Your-Kindle-Sales-Strategies-ebook/dp/B00MMQN0VG) and was overwhelmed by the response I got by implementing just one of his strategy ideas. I was extremely excited to learn he was also going to be a guest speaker.

Finally, I  contacted a few blogs in the hopes I could take part in an author interview.  I was blown away to receive a response from Lisa Haselton (http://lisahaseltonsreviewsandinterviews.blogspot.co.uk). This is my first author interview, it should be up in August or maybe September. You should check out her existing author interviews because they’re great. I always find it fascinating to get inside the head of writers, to find out what makes them tick and what they’re working on now. Thank you Lisa for giving me this opportunity.

So you see, having a can-do attitude, and actually implementing it by getting out there and not being afraid to be rejected, has positive results. This has been a good two weeks for me, and I hope for you too. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to  so leave a comment or email me. Or, if you really really want to, subscribe to my newsletter 🙂

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Diary of a Mad Writer: Week 1: FIRST DRAFT NERVES

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I want to share my favourite writing related quote. If you’re a writer, particularly a fiction author, you’ve probably already heard it. It’s from Stephen King: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,’ (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/156272-amateurs-sit-and-wait-for-inspiration-the-rest-of-us). He also said: ‘Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones,‘ (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/stephen_king.html). I agree with Stephen King on both points. Inspiration is a fickle master (or mistress), one who comes and goes as he (or she) pleases and doesn’t always give up the goods. When I was writing my debut novel AFFLICTION, I would quite often sit down at the computer at 9 a.m, after the school run, and I wouldn’t have a clue where to start. Two full length novels and a novella later, I’m still doing the same thing. I’m sat here now, writing this blog post (firstly, because I really, really want to, I’m a writer after all. But secondly) because I don’t have a clue where to start. I’m at chapter five. I’ve managed to hit my daily word count target. I have more than a general sense of the story, and where it is headed. But as for how I’m going to open chapter five, or what’s going into it, I’m as lost as a blind rat on a ship she can’t remember getting on to. I have to force myself to get inspired, and I do that in a number of ways. Music is one. I have a playlist, a sort of soundtrack for whatever book I’m working on at a given time, and when I’m working on a first draft I often listen to several songs over and over again. I’m not particularly into music; songs I like generally spark an image or a feeling in me I can use to get the ball rolling. Presently, I’m listening to Milky Chance, Stolen Dance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX-QaNzd-0Y), and Vance Joy, Riptide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ_1HMAGb4k) My list ALWAYS includes U2’s With or Without You (my all time favourite tune) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmSdTa9kaiQ, and Hoobastank’s Inside of You (which is a rare ten out of ten too) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcSZ7deAHbw . When I want to get away from the computer I’ll walk my dog Nimue, a double-merle border collie who’s partially sighted and very active. I more than often leave the house with no idea what’s going to happen to my characters next, only to arrive back home with a clear plan of the following chapter at least. Walking and listening to music are my two top ways to force inspiration to cough up, with ironing and washing up close behind. So, yes, we do plonk our butts down and work whether inspired or not, but we also have our ways of whipping Inspiration into shape. I’d love to hear about other ways to get the ideas flowing. King’s second quote, about all books having lessons to teach us, particularly the bad ones, applies to the books we are writing, (not only the ones we are reading). It isn’t for me to say which category my novels fall into, certainly I’m never going to be one hundred percent happy with anything I write, but certainly, my first drafts are always rubbish. I used to scrap… a lot. Now I don’t. Those awful manuscripts, they can teach me a great deal, like how to commit to a story, how to fill up holes in plot points you could drive a bus through, how to sharpen my vocabulary and swap weak words for strong ones. Inevitably, I am always happier with my subsequent drafts and all because I stuck with it. Talking about books that can teach you a thing or two, this week  I invested in a non-fiction book: Supercharge Your Kindle Sales, by Nick Stephenson (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Supercharge-Your-Kindle-Sales-Strategies-ebook/dp/B00MMQN0VG). I have next to no budget either for marketing, or book covers etc, but this was money well spent (and it was inexpensive, less than a cup of coffee from Costa). I have implemented ONE of the points  – Keyword Strategy – and have already seen my sales increase. Finally, I subscribe to Joanna Penn’s (The Creative Penn, http://www.thecreativepenn.com) newsletter and learned about the Self-Publishing Success Summit, July 12th – 23rd. I’ve checked out the schedule and there are some great talks lined up. I’ve got my ticket, it’s free as long as you listen live or within 72 hours. http://selfpublishingsuccesssummit.com. Happy writing

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THE REWRITE

 

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You’ve finished your rough draft. It might be 20,000 words, it might be 50,000 words, it might have taken you four weeks, might have taken you months, it makes you want to lament the loss of your lifelong dream to become a writer because it’s awful. So far away from the sparkly, polished prose of your favourite authors; a primitive ancestor who shouldn’t see the light of day. No fear. Don’t bin it, don’t stuff it in a dusty drawer, almost every author who has ever existed has at some time been in the same situation. The difference: they rewrite.

‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten,’ said Micheal Crichton. Louis Sacher says he did not become a good writer until he learned how to rewrite (both these inspirational quotes about rewriting plus more can be found here: http://www.brainyquote.com). Be prepared to work, be prepared to bare your soul, be prepared to be baptised by fire. Be prepared for the rewrite. This is where you build your house, only to knock it down, just to rebuild it again. Sounds crazy? It is. And it isn’t.

I find that after completing the rough draft, I  have connected with my book. I expect to have the foundation of the story, a skeleton which now needs to be fleshed out. Think of the rewrite as putting the internal organs in place, the lungs, the liver, the heart particularly; the aim is to identify the heartbeat of your book, the rhythm of the narrative, the arcs and peaks of the developing plot lines: beginning, middle and end find their places in the sequence of things. At this stage I don’t worry too much about grammar and punctuation, vocabulary and technique, I try to get it right as much as I can during every draft, but it isn’t my main concern when I’m rewriting; more important to know what I want to say and find the best way to say it.

The rewrite is about fleshing out what has already been written, changing and improving along the way. I always begin by asking myself: What can I do to make the book better? I write a list, it will be different for each project because each book needs different things, but the basics are the same: conflict, jeopardy, character development, extra research, what needs to be removed, what needs to be changed and/or developed…Then I go through the list making the necessary adjustments. The purpose of this stage is to have a solid story foundation – is the pace right? Is the narrative engaging? Would I be better starting with Chapter 3 rather than Chapter 1? Should I cut out a particular character altogether because they aren’t bringing anything to the table? What is it I really want to say (or more likely, what is it my hero/bad guy really wants to say?). It’s a matter of sensing what needs to be strengthened, removed, altered, and having the motivation, determination and commitment to address the issues.

Check out this article by Matt Salesses for some great advice: http://necessaryfiction.com/writerinres/AMonthofRevision and remember, it may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, writing, rewriting, etc. But the more drafts you work on, the better your story will become. I know my writing will never be perfect, but it is something I am happy to put my name too, and that is surely the best outcome.

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THE ROUGH DRAFT

However tempting, don't bin the rough draft. It can be polished.

However tempting, don’t bin the rough draft. It can be polished

Every writer has their own process for creating a novel. I thought it might be interesting  – for me, at least – to analyse the way I construct my manuscripts and what better place to start than at the beginning. So, wa-hey, here comes the Rough Draft.

I began NaNoWriMo in 2006 hoping to develop discipline. I wanted to be a writer from the age of five. Two decades later and I still had not completed an initial draft, let alone a finished manuscript. As it happens, I did get into the habit of writing everyday, making the time because it was important enough to me, adding to my word count, not worrying too much about the technical side of writing but just getting the initial plot down. What was the story? What did I want to say? More importantly, what did my characters want to say? Having the encouragement which comes from being a part of a community of like-minded wordsmiths gave me the motivation to complete my first ever first draft.

It quickly became clear the best way to complete the task of writing a 50,000 word rough draft in four weeks was by getting my butt down on the chair and letting my fingers fly across the keyboard in any manner they wished. I was surprised at the end to find actual, real words and these mutated into proper sentences that basically made sense. It wasn’t the best looking piece of work but it was a workable rough draft and one which proved I had it in me. So no more excuses. If I had achieved it once, I knew I could achieve it again.

A simple mind map can help you stay focused

A simple mind map can help you stay focused

I don’t plan first, my rough draft becomes a detailed outline, but I do always begin with an idea of the direction I want to move in. For example, for my second novel, my work in progress The Obsidian, I knew I wanted an abandoned hotel to feature, I wanted a strong Art Deco, 1920’s/1930’s theme, and I wanted to extend on a subject which arose in the first book Affliction. I started with a basic mind or cluster map where you take a main word and add branches of ideas, extending on these. They could be genres, movies perhaps that deal with a similar subject, or that I feel have something about them I connect with, themes, quotes, anything that gets the creativity flowing and gives you a simple map to navigate through what is going to be challenging terrain. A useful online mind mapping tool can be found here https://bubbl.us/.

Another useful hint for the rough draft, I picked up whilst watching a TV show about the author Ian Rankin, was to put anything I didn’t know the details for [in square brackets]. I use this a lot during the rough draft process: for names of characters I’ve yet to decide on; descriptions I need to flesh out; research I have yet to do. It allows me to write without losing the flow, my thoughts aren’t given a chance to get waylaid or interrupted.

Finally, it doesn’t matter how grotesque that rough draft is  – and it will be grotesque – I have forced myself not to scrap it. It’s an ugly duckling that with time and effort could become something of beauty (something less ugly at least). Without a rough draft, you have nothing to rewrite. But that’s a story for another time.

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NANOWRIMO – The Baby Book Boom

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In 2006 I decided to participate in a little heard of challenge called National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo to its friends  (http://nanowrimo.org). Five years later I had the rough drafts of five novels completed and the realisation that if I could achieve the mammoth task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I had the discipline needed to one day see my dream of being a published author a reality.

Back in 2006 I had no idea what I was getting myself into – or how addictive it would become. My final published novel is none of the rough drafts I penned for Nano but in essence it is all of them. Certainly the skills I learned by being disciplined, writing for at least two hours every day, using every waking moment when I wasn’t at the computer to plan and plot (ironing and washing up are particularly productive times to do this, something about letting the right side of your brain work subconsciously whilst your left side is occupied) were detrimental in accomplishing the final outcome.

It was hard work. The first week went by pretty easily, I was motivated, excited to be part of a community of lovers of language like myself. By the second week I found my feet dragging slightly, and the third week was really tough. I decided what I had written was nothing better than toilet paper waiting to be printed. My motivation waned. Why continue? I lamented, when all I’m going to have at the end of it is 50,000 words I’m going to scrap.

At week four though, something amazing happened. I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I could see myself actually reaching the finishing line – and I would have something at the end of it. It might not be pretty. It certainly wouldn’t be nice. It was like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters. Both of them, rolled into one, then given an ugly pill. Primitive is a good way to describe the Nano novel – or rough draft, because that is effectively what we are talking about, a rough draft, possibly little more than a detailed outline. By the end of November I had a finished rough draft, 50,000 words of a complete story I would never have had had I not challenged myself in this way.

Every published book had to start somewhere

Every published book had to start somewhere

Nine years later and my dream has come true. My debut novel AFFLICTION (http://www.amazon.co.uk/AFFLICTION-Hunter-Cade-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B00NGOXY3M) was published in September 2014 via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, but it probably never would have come to this if I hadn’t jumped feet first into the crazy, fast-paced, sometimes teary, oftentimes exhilarating experience of National Novel Writing Month. It’s taken several years developing the story and re-writing, editing till my fingers had blisters and my eyes blurred, but I’m pleased with what I ended up with. It’s easy to give up when things don’t seem to be going well, but getting that rough draft written is the best thing you can do for your novel. Because without it you have nothing to edit, nothing to polish, nothing to prove to yourself you had it in you all the time.

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