Tag Archives: Inspiration

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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With guest author Atlanta Jackson

When one thinks of, say, Harrods, they have a specific brand and image in mind. Surely writers can’t also have a brand?

This isn’t true. Think of Alan Sugar or Steve Jobs – I’m sure you have ideas about them. Entrepreneurs also need a brand. To brand your novel or series or you as a writer means to give the audience an Idea of what they can expect. Think about how you are representing yourself, or your writing: the cover design, title, series title, shops or sites you sell in or on, everything you do and say. All these factors influence the way the audience thinks about you and your books; your brand lets them know what to expect when they pick up one of your novels.

Nina Amir on The Book Designer (http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2014/07/6-branding-tips-for-writers-and-authors/) agrees that authors need to brand and insists it is something that should be included in early success planning. The article, entitled 6 Branding Tips for Writers and Authors, is well worth a read.

Independent Publishers – do they really need to keep accounts?

The second a self-published author makes a penny from the sale of one of their books it is considered income by the HMRC. Thus it is vital current, up-to-date and accurate accounts are kept. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. A simple cash-flow table could suffice. You may find it can also help you with budgeting.

A simple example:                                        Jan        Feb       Mar

Cash flow in: Royalties                                 £100      £50       £125

Cash flow out: Book Covers                                        £50

(UK): If you earn less than £81,000 (at time of writing), you can enter your details on a cash basis (this includes payment from cheques, EFT etc, not just cash), making filling out the tax return so much less complicated. Sorry, don’t know the details of tax returns for other countries.

How can I motivate myself?

To motivate yourself, remember what you are working towards. This could be anything from simply finishing a single novel and seeing your hard work published, to being a bestselling author. Anything worth doing takes time and energy; writing a novel takes determination, commitment and can sometimes seem like the toughest thing in the world. Seeing your book out there for readers to enjoy far outweighs any discomfort if only you can stay positive and get it done.

Do I need an ITIN number. I’ve heard it’s complicated to get one?

Good news. Things have got simpler. You no longer need an ITIN or EIN number if you want to stop/reduce Withholding Tax (provided your country has a tax treaty with the US). Update the tax information on KDP or Createspace. You are now asked to provide a non-U.S identification number which (for the UK) can be your National Insurance Number or your UTR (Unique Tax Payers Reference number). Have just filled the form in myself and can’t believe how easy it is, when I was expecting trips to London and lots of waiting.

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Sometimes, thinking positively is the hardest thing in the world to do.

I approached the New Year with a mind full of the best intentions. I was going to continue my lifelong dream of being a published author by putting everything I had into writing and editing the next two or three installments in my Hunter Cade series, plus I was going to develop a new series. I was going to dive into a fitness plan that was not only  going to see me eating more healthily and losing the three stone I managed to put on whilst getting my BA (Hons) in English, but was also going to increase my barely existent self-esteem levels immeasurably. I was going to become the person I always thought I could be, now that I had overcome a mountain full of challenges.

Then January first came.

I felt awful.

I’ve had an ankle injury that wasn’t improving and was making any kind of exercise painful and so therefore, I told myself, I had to wait to start the fitness program I had been so excited to get going in December. I sat down to continue the novel I had begun before the Christmas break and found it impossible to muster up any enthusiasm for it. I love the story. I loved the story. Something wasn’t sitting right in me. What was wrong? I knew it wasn’t bad, so then it must be me. My connection with everything I wanted to achieve this year had somehow been broken between cooking the turkey and listening to the fireworks going off on New Year’s eve. Was I suffering from the January blues? Or did I just not have what it took to take control of my life and make the improvements I wanted to make?

This is the part when I should be telling you how I overcame my dip in motivation, how I became inspired again, or discovered something that put me back on a motivational track. I can’t. I haven’t. I didn’t. As I’m writing this I still can’t grasp the thread of positivity I need to be certain I can achieve my goals for 2015, but I did make a small breakthrough. I realised that good or bad, I was a writer, and the best way to deal with my slump was to write. I had my ankle checked out and I’m fine to exercise so first thing next week I’m adding that to my schedule, I’ve already gone through magazines and cookbooks and found some great, healthy recipes. The work in progress: I’ve learned writing isn’t magical, not on the surface. It’s hard work. It takes commitment and determination and quite often inspiration is a flighty bird you have to actively go out there and catch. You catch it by working. Then the magic creeps in.

I don’t know how this year is going to end, none of us do. But I do know I can control how I let my lack of positivity affect me. So as soon as I’ve finished here I’m going to head straight back to the draft which knocked my confidence, and I’m going to work on it. Taking some inspiration from Hunter Cade, I can control what I do just like I can control who I am.  The January blues, or just a knock in confidence, either way I’m going to continue striving to achieve my goals, battling through the fug until I find the magic.

There. I feel more positive already.

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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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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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With Halloween approaching, my thoughts turned from the usual most interesting ways to murder someone (for fictional purposes only) to my second favourite thing to get excited about – abandoned locations. There’s something about the inherent beauty of a decaying hotel, the earthy scent of long forgotten cellars, the colourful spray paint spelling out equally colourful vocabulary on crumbling brick walls that gets my heart racing.

Is it the distant echo of a long forgotten past reverberating down empty corridors, or the spine-tingling sensation of some ethereal being looking out through grime-obscured windows that does it for urban explorers and ghost hunters alike? Or the sense of history on the cusp of being lost that inspires documentation of these often disregarded time capsules?

I suspect it’s all of these things plus a sense of romanticism, and reminiscence that subconsciously makes us remember our own mortality. Either way, I thought it might be fun to share my top 5 abandoned locations which may or may not be haunted.

1: Poveglia Island – not open for tourists which scuppers my plans of visiting but I’ll settle for the time being on repeatedly watching the episode of Ghost Adventures in which the crew take on this abandoned plague island. Located in the Venetian lagoon, Northern Italy, this wonderful island has had a colourful and poignant history having twice been used as a quarantine station. In the 1920’s some of the existing buildings were also converted into an asylum for the mentally unstable.

2: Waverly Hills Sanitarium in Kentucky, USA is purportedly one of the most haunted (if not the most haunted) place on earth. Originally a wooden construction, the imposing brick hospital was constructed in 1924 and opened in 1926. A self-contained community for patients with tuberculosis, Waverly Hills was closed in the early sixties after a treatment for TB rendered it obsolete. It was reopened as a Geriatric Sanitarium where alleged patient abuse caused it to close twenty years later.

3: Pripyat in the Ukraine is a city abandoned after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, a real glimpse of what the world would be like post an apocalypse. A much photographed landmark is the Ferris wheel located in the amusement park, see http://news.distractify.com/culture/arts/the-most-spectacular-abandoned-places-in-the-world/ and check out this website further for its collection of breathtaking images of some of the most haunting abandoned locations in the world including an underwater city, abandoned railway stations and an auditorium that opened on the same day the Titanic sunk.

4: West Park Mental Hospital in the UK, see http://www.abandoned-britain.com/PP/westpark/1.htm for some amazing images, was opened in 1923. With beds still remaining in some of the wards, paintings still visible on the walls of the hospital’s nursery, and a burned out ballroom you can’t help but feel the presence of the many people who once walked within its walls.

5: Chadderton Swimming Baths, UK – a derelict Art Deco swimming pool – was opened in 1937 and closed in 2006. I stumbled across this location whilst perusing 28 Days Later, http://www.28dayslater.co.uk/forums/, my favourite Urban Exploration site and the source of much inspiration when I’m sketching out locations for my novels. There’s something about abandoned swimming baths I find interesting, I guess its the amazing architecture and the fact they have been visited by numerous people who I almost imagine I can see and hear hurtling off the tiled side into the water, screaming with delight. For more images of heart-wrenchingly beautiful decaying public baths check out http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2476434/ and you’ll see what I mean.

Abandoned asylums, abandoned hospitals, abandoned hotels; abandoned fairgrounds and amusement parks, theaters and swimming baths; ruins underwater and ruins underground; derelict locations which look best from the air; crumbling, peeling, contemporary archeology. There is plenty of inspiration in the derelict and decaying debris of recent past human existence to keep a writer in location ideas for more than one lifetime.

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If I had a pound for every time I heard someone say the best way to become a better writer is to read, I’d have more money than I could ever hope to make through being an author. It seems to be the default response to the question: how do you become a better writer? I doubt many bestselling authors – or even vaguely successful ones – got that way by reading alone. I suspect they write prolifically.

Reading is like sitting in a classroom being taught to restore cars. In theory you know what you’re doing, but aren’t your fingers just itching to get on a screwdriver, hammer, or spray painter? Aren’t you dreaming about the smell of real leather interior over the dusty stink of a photo in an old manual?

Writing is the equivalent of being allowed onto the workshop floor, inhaling the stench of grease whilst your hand slides across the smooth, cool, freshly painted body, or stripping out the old bits that can’t be fixed and polishing up the rusty bits that can to a high shine.

Writing is the equivalent of being on the workshop floor, smelling the grease as your hand slides across the smooth, freshly painted body

Writing is the equivalent of being on the workshop floor, smelling the grease as your hand slides across the smooth, freshly painted body

Yes, you may make mistakes, but the hands-on approach has to be the best way to improve. You can always refer back to the study material when needed. Reading makes you a better reader, but writing makes you a better writer. Reading is important – very important – and fun, but there can be no substitute for time spent crafting your own words.

And never underestimate the power of having a qualification. I’m not talking about taking a course in creative writing, although this can be inspiring, but a proper qualification that also gives you something to fall back on if the writing doesn’t take off. I have learned so much from my BA(hons) in English Language and Literature that although I have always wanted to be a writer, I know now I can give it my best shot. I estimate that I must have produced upwards of 40,000 words in final assignments over the four years it took (not including the draft versions).

Anyone can be an writer, it’s true, you don’t need more than the inkling of an idea and the ability to string words together to forge ahead with constructing a book, but if you are serious about building the foundations of a long career, and care about what your readers are getting, you have to take the job seriously and invest time learning all you can about language and how to apply it to your chosen genre. This is best achieved by getting your butt down on a chair/or sofa/or futon if you prefer, and letting the words flow.

Reading lots of books isn’t enough. You have to write to get better at writing. Anything. Blogs; tweets; short stories; full length novels you end up binning because you know they’re so bad that’s the best place for them; reviews. All words are good. Work your apprenticeship but don’t think this is enough, even when you have your first, second, third, twentieth book out there, know you will still have much to learn. Be open to this. Writing is a beautiful thing. It deserves your full attention.

But that’s easier said than done, you might say, I’ve said it enough in my time. But where does the inspiration come from? Inspiration comes from everywhere. Music, television, photographs, people, quotes, books etc. It’s all about the story. I find something piques my interest, I can’t get the thought out of my head and over time it grows into something I have to explore further.

The flip side of this is that I quite often write when I’m not inspired. If you want to work as a writer for a living, you have to be able to do this. Stephen King said it best when he said: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work,’ (Stephen King, On Writing: A memoir of the craft). I think that sums it up. Sometimes inspiration is something you make happen when you sit down at the computer faced with a blank page and just have faith the words will flow and you will be able to edit them into something you are happy with. But that will only happen if you actually, physically, write.

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