Category Archives: Diary of a Hopeful Author

How get your story back on track… #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about reconnecting to the main message of your story via your plot and thesis…

Ok, so, today, for me, it’s all about two words: thesis and plot. I say these two things because, right now I am facing a very important edit of the second book in my thriller trilogy, working with my, frankly, awesome editor, and something has cropped up, something that is crucial not only to my writing, but all story writing. Yep, it’s the two words I mentioned above. And if you are either editing your work right now, are in the middle of a first draft or simply planning, listen up.

A thesis in a story is what the author is saying about the book summarised in one sentence. For example: crime doesn’t pay, love conquers all etc. My thesis for book two is: The truth will out.  Now, here’s the rub: the thesis is the most vital part of a book and is what holds the attention of an editor and reader throughout the book and beyond. Try this: think of your fave novel – what made it stick in your head for so long? What was it saying to you? That is the thesis talking.

Often, as writers, we focus on the plot and while that’s crucial, it is often done at the detriment of the thesis. I have found, as we all often do, that, in the sea of writing, I forget, sometimes, my thesis, forget to communicate what my book is trying to say. And when that happens, it all goes wobbly.

So what to do? Well, that’s the easy part, because you see, the function of the plot is to communicate the thesis of your book. And that’s it. Do that, and your story will have coherence. Don’t do that, don’t communicate the thesis via the plot and your story will simply be a string of events with minimum significance outside the drama of the narrative you’ve created. This means that when you create a plot development, bear in mind your thesis and only include it if it is underpinning your thesis. If not, it is a piece of bark floating in a sea, unconnected to anything else – and it has to go.

So, today, that’s my advice to you – and to myself. Always check in with your thesis. Ask yourself, ‘What is my book trying to say? Is my plot communicating that thesis to the reader?’ Sometimes you may find you’re on the right track, others, like now with me, you may discover you need to steer the ship back on course. And it doesn’t half feel good when you get on the right route again.

So that’s me, today, steering my writing ship, trying to communicate, through my plot, what on earth my novel is trying to say underneath, between those black and white lines. Simple, right..?

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

How to find more time to write… #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about finding the time to write…

There was a time when I used to think writing was something you had to make an occasion of. I would sit, ready at the table in some formal ‘study’ and wait to write, wait for the inspiration to come. Sure, okay, sometimes the words would flow, other times?  Well, it’d be a brick wall in front of my mind, solid, impenetrable.

For a long time, when my kids were young, that’s how I would write. I was very serious back then. If I was going to do this writing lark, I thought to myself, I was going to do it (in a way that I assumed) was properly. We have this idea in our minds, don’t we, of writers, of what a ‘proper writer’ is, but despite that, despite my mind’s eye of what a real writer should do and look like and act, despite attempting (in vain) to emulate that dreamt up image, something was not working, kept getting in the way. That thing was life.

Life in all its multi-shaped guises has no room, see, for formality, not really when you think about it. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably have a day job, maybe even a family and definitely the washing to put on, the bins to put out, never mind the more modern day distractions of cell phones and apps and Facebook et al.

Yep, that’s life. And so, as writers we use that, that hectic, hurried time-sucking life – we use it to hide behind. It’s our wall. ‘Oh, life is so busy,’ we wail. ‘I don’t possibly have time to write.’ We think, you see, when we say this that, as I used to believe, writing should be, rather like a grand meal, a formal sit down occasion.

But here’s, after painful processing, what I have realized along my own journey: you can write anywhere, any time – even standing up while the spuds boil. See, life, while mad as cheese, is something else too: generous. We just have to take it up on its offer and snatch moments to write when we can. So, I started to be on the hunt for those snippets of time, eager to see what I could grab and use.

Pen and paper always near or sometimes the laptop close by, I began to slowly squeeze writing into the small gaps in my life: a few minutes while the kettle was brewing; 30, 40 minutes while the kids were still asleep in the morning; 10 minutes before I ran out the door; a good hour or so at the kitchen table before dinner and friends. More and more, I squashed in my writing into, around, on top of my life, any which way, in the end, would do. I found I took delight in it all, in the spontaneous action of it, in seeing where I could write, how, sitting or standing, it didn’t matter.

And do you know what? It worked. Not only did I start to get more done, but my writing was more honest, too, somehow more fluid. Perhaps it was because, in between emptying the bins out and fishing a toy train out of the loo, I didn’t have time to over think what I was writing. I just wrote.

And that’s what I still do today, even at this ‘been published’ stage. Sure, I have a study with more time now to dedicate to writing, but still ingrained in me when the days get busy and booked up, is the compulsion to shoehorn a bit of writing into the crevices of my life whenever I find a free space.

So, if you’re finding yourself saying you are too busy to write, if you think you have an image of a ‘proper writer’, put all that aside, take out your pen and, when you get a moment, simply write. It’s that simple. Because 10 minutes here, an hour there – it all adds up. And, before you know it, without even realizing, you’re something you’ve always wanted to be: you’re a writer.

Happy writing 🙂

Thanks for reading! Join in the writing conversation  below…

How a deadline can help you finish your novel… #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about deadlines and how, if you’re writing a novel, they can help you get the job done.

When I was young I loved studying. Loved it. I was one of those spectacled, nerdy kids who lapped up the books and got down to some serious studying every evening and thought it fun. FUN.

That’s right. You heard correctly. Then exams came round. Exams. I’m afraid to say they never really fazed me. Heck, I sound like a right arrogant muppet, so let me explain. Exams got me nervous, of course. Exams made me question whether I knew anything. (30 years on, nothing’s changed there…) But, BUT, exams came with a deadline. A deadline! They gave you a date! You had to be there. On time! Oh it sang to my young time-concious heart like Romeo to Juliette, or Homer to Marg.

Because, you see, I love a deadline. What can you do with a deadline? You either meet it or you don’t. You sink or you swim. And that’s why I like ‘em. Deadlines are the take no prisoner guardians of time. They stand by the gates of hours and minutes, tapping their watch, shotgun in hand. You’ve got a deadline? You meet it, punk! (that sounded better in my head)

And so to my week. I have set myself a deadline. I refer here this time to the writing of my book, novel number three in the Project trilogy.

Now look, I don’t know about you but I can be a cracking procrastinator. Olympic medal winning. Skirting boards need cleaning? Pass me the cloth. Cupboards need re-organising? When do I start? Kids’ rooms need cleaning? Get me…Actually, no. It’s not come to that. Add this top draw procrastination into a book write and well, you’ve got nothing, really. No progress or, at the very least, slow progress. And so I have now turned back to my old friend the deadline. If I am going to complete the 1st (only the first!) draft of this novel, then I need to get down and dirty with time.

And so, in 2015, I have turned to National Novel Writing Month to help me. Set up some years ago, Nanowrimo, as its abbreviated to, is an online  community where, basically, people write their novels and post online their progress. And that includes me.

It’s a site used by everyone, see, and here’s for why: we all need a deadline to get our novels done. And boy does it work. Since I signed up on Monday, I’m back to averaging 2,500-3,000 words a day. Thank the Lord. I (foolishly) thought that once I was published, the words would fly out, but no – turns out, just like before, without the carrot of a deadline, I still need a push up the hill to get kick started. And so, saying it on this blog, on Nanowrimo you see, that I have committed to a deadline, to a word count, means I have to do it. I have to keep writing no matter how many distractions I find on Netflix and Twitter and Facebook, no matter how many demons I (still) have telling me I can’t do it (yes, that little devil never truly goes away, even after getting published.)

Bottom line is if you’ve not got a deadline, then go get one. Sign up to Nanowrimo and get cracking – it really does work. And then write. Write anything down, it doesn’t have to be perfect – that’s what editing is for, and you can’t edit a blank page. And oh boy, the feeling of achievement you’ll get, each day, when you’ve hit your word count!

So, let’s do this deadline thing together, people, because, when our backs are up against the wall, it’s the only way to get things done. Nerdy glasses optional.

Happy writing 🙂

**This blog piece incorporates a popular post I wrote on deadlines all the way back in 2012. I’ve updated now it to include Nanowrimo (and, um, Netflix…) I wanted to use it because, essentially, what it shows is that  wherever we are in time, a deadline will always be relevant, no matter what the year, no matter where we are with our writing careers… Hop on to Nanowrimo here**

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

How to create real, three-dimensional characters… #amwriting

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about how to write real-life characters…

Sometimes I have trouble getting into character. Writing for me, see, is like method acting – I have to get into the part, feel what my character(s) feel. But I’ve been finding this year that, when I’m stacked busy, nailing a sense of character, of who they actually are as a person – a real three dimensional being – has been frustratingly difficult.

Life gets in the way, and by life I mean work. Once you get published, I’ve found there are so many elements you have to get involved in – deadlines, articles, meetings, not to mention any day job you may have – that writing, the fitting it in, becomes pretty tricky. Oh the irony.

So, after reaching a point where I didn’t know my characters as well as I wanted (needed) to, I had to take action. I don’t know about you, but for me, characters are pivotal in a book. You can’t achieve anything, I believe – good plot, great prose – if you don’t have a complete character image in your head. I need to know the people in my book as if they were real, and while that sounds odd, I guess, here’s the thing: when you write a character they must seem real.  They must feel three-dimensional – every nuance, flaw, thought, mindset must be analysed.

So how do you do it? Well, I first imagine that I am them (yup…). I go out, initially, walk into town and think to myself: how would my main character feel if they were here? What would they see, think, notice that perhaps I would not?

When I return home, what I do next what I do is write all the characters, the main ones, on a page down the left hand side, jotting down bullet points of their key character traits. Then, along the top row, I’ll write, say, three different scenarios e.g. having to gain information from a new source. Then I will jot down against each character how they would react in that situation, what they would do. See, what this does is begin to create a real life person in your mind. Because we are real – me, you – and we all react differently to situations. And THAT is what you want to emulate in your writing. The more you do it – imagining how your characters would respond to various scenarios – the easier it is to not only relate to your character, but, ultimately, write them with a three-dimensional touch too.

So, if you’re struggling with your characters, give it a go. Pop them in your head, go for a walk then return to the page and write down how they would act. And all of a sudden what you’ll find is your characters will start to pop into life from the page, and you’ll not only know who they are, but you’ll know how to write about them, too.

Happy writing 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

How not to be a lonely writer… #amwriting

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about how writing can be a lonely business. But there is a way to prevent the malaise…

Sometimes, I’ve discovered these past couple of years, being an author can be lonely. It’s weird, really, when you think about it. Before I got published, I assumed an author’s life would be littered with parties and book signings and meetings – a whirlwind of social occasions, and while, yes, some of those awesome things do happen, in the main part the ‘post-published’ period is actually a very solitary time.

You see, writing, being a writer, means, for most of us, you have to work alone, pen to paper, sitting at the laptop. It’s lonely. Do you find that? I did, but now? Well, now I’m beginning to change my mind.  It’s taken me a while to realise that, actually, writing is not, as it turns out, a lonely act.

See, not writing every day is the thing as writers that actually makes us lonely. What I’ve discovered recently is that on the days I don’t write, I get angsty. I grit and fly and wonder what’s bothering me. These days, you see, may be filled to the brim  with meetings and parties, say, and the odd happy encounter with good friends, and yet still, if I don’t write something down, anything, I feel…lonely. Seroiusly. It was odd when I pinpointed it, when it dawned on me what was going on, but it was a blessed relief to finally understand the score.

Because not writing creates self obsession. You start to get way too serious about the small stuff, and that obsession can prevent you looking outwards, can stop you from relating to others, from seeing the world with their eyes – and that’s no good for being a writer. We badly need those connections. Writing gives us that life line. It’s our sat nav, the thing that allows us to check our bearings and understand how we are feeling, and when that happens, when we know what we are thinking, feeling, we become calmer, more open and less, you’ve guessed it, lonely. Basically, writing enables us to find ourselves so we are open to others.

So, if you’re a writer and feeling a bit lonely, perhaps a bit down in the dumps, then I urge you to write. Get down on the page how you are feeling, what is bothering you. The second you do this, everything will fall into place. Sure, it may be the last thing you feel like doing, but trust me, it will help. Write it all down – anything – and then stop, breathe. Re-read what you have scribed and know that these words are there to help you, help connect you to the world, to people – and even to your own stories and characters.

The great thing, too, is that when you write like this, you can carry on your day, meet up with friends say, go to the cinema, with a clear conscience, knowing that you have got your daily shot of writing under your belt.  You can be present, open, happy. And never, ever, truly, alone. Happy writing 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

How writing morning pages can increase your creativity – and keep you calm…

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about writing your morning pages…

I’m all for a morning page. Let me explain. See, every morning, well, for the past year really, I’ve been, upon waking and fixing a strong cuppa, writing with pen on paper whatever comes into my head. It could be about anything. The weather, the birds singing in the wall of ancient trees outside, how I forgot to put the bins out last night and will I have time this morning to do it – anything. Who knows what’s in this head of mine.

And that’s the thing – I don’t always know what I’m thinking and so writing my morning pages unlocks it all. It’s like therapy. I’ll often find that I may rise feeling a little angsty, say, but can’t place my finger on why, and then my pen will glide over the page and whatever is on my mind will go figure itself right out on the the piece of paper before me. It’s amazing. It’s like, without me even realising it, my head – purely through the simple act of writing – is getting to the nub of a) what’s truly bothering me and b) the solution required, and all this without me having to even try, to even put any real conscious effort in.

In the past, morning pages not only have worked through answers to whatever I need, they’ve also helped me tap into a creative writing source I never knew was there. Take the birds. My study desk in our new home faces onto a huge old window through which lays our beautiful, sprawling garden crammed with tall, ancient trees, busy, extended families of birds, and what appears to be a very active, cunning (but cute) pack of quick witted squirrels. And so, several times when I sit, cup of tea by my side, pen in hand, I find myself daydreaming about what I see, then writing about it. The birds, their chatter, the way they flit and scamper and tease the morning into awakening – you name it, it all just flows out.

The trick is not to over think it. Just write. Get your pen and paper first thing before the day has begun and see what trickles out. You’ll be surprised. The important point is, though, the time of day – it must be done in the morning, these writing off-the-cuff pages. See, by evening time the day is done and, instead of looking forward, solving, creating, night sees us becoming more reflective, looking back on the time passed rather than pointing our brains ahead at what’s to come. That, see, is where we find the answers.

Whether you’re a writer or not, I urge you to try morning pages. Pick up a pen and pad (and strong coffee…) and start scribbling down whatever’s in your head. As a writer it, if nothing else, means that, at least once a day you’re stretching your writing muscles, even if it’s only for ten minutes.

But, above and beyond that, I’ve found that, whatever your day job, morning pages are a way to keep life calm, to not only discover with delight a creative capacity you never knew you had, but to find the answers, deep inside the recesses of your brain that, in truth, you always had. It just took a pen to unlock them.

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

How writing long hand can unlock your creativity…

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Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about how I discovered a love of long hand writing…

I’ve taken to writing long hand recently. In fact, aside from typing this up afterwards, this piece too is in long hand.

There’s something free about putting a pen to the page. As a (new) author, I seem to have spent the last two years typing away furiously on my Macbook, working on novels one and two and generally getting insane cramp in my fingers, with shoulders so hunched over the desk they feel like boulders. And not in a strong way.

Back in August, I finished a draft of the second instalment of the Project trilogy series for my editor, and I was bushed. Snow blinded from the white, bright cellular screen, I staggered away from the laptop, drunk with hard work, hair resembling a bird’s nest, cups littered around me smelling of stale milk.

It was intense. No one ever tells you before you get published quite how all-consuming trying to hit a deadline can be. You feel, at least I did, understandably responsible – you’re suddenly not just writing alone anymore. You have a team relying on you – lovely agents editors, sales teams, foreign publishers. ‘These people have paid for this,’ I would sometimes find myself muttering in the late hours of the night and early rise of the morning. I felt a big weight was there for me to lift. But more worryingly, I felt myself begin to slip out of love with writing.

So, deadline done and knowing drastic action had to be taken or I was done for, I stepped back from the Macbook and, without any conscious thought found my hand drifting to a pen. That was it. Immediately, I grabbed my coat, notebook, purse  and pen, and drove to a cafe tucked away in the Cotswolds and began to write longhand.

It was a revelation. Writing on the page, hand gliding across the smooth plains of the paper – the words, they just tumbled out. I was amazed.  I instantly felt the ice that had formed over my love of writing begin to slowly thaw.

See, what I have realised is that, while technology has its place, while it is so very essential in how we as writers research and scribe and interact, it also has its downfalls. The keyboard can lock you into a state of mind that can, if you’re not careful, sap any shred of creativity that you may have. It can, that computer, become your writing prison.

So now, for me, since my long hand revelation, writing as my way of life has improved no end. Yes, I still use the laptop, but sitting, always, to my side are pen and paper (I prefer clear pages, no lines so as not to ‘box in’ any thoughts). If I am typing and stall on a scene, I clutch my pen and sketch out some words until, eventually, an idea flows and whatever problem there was sorts itself out.

If you’re in a writing funk, if you’re falling out of love with writing – or even if this is your best writing phase ever – I urge you to do your creativity a favour and grab your pen and your paper and go do the one thing your brain and hands together were made to do: write long hand. And then, trust me, you’ll find yourself falling back in love with writing all over again. Aah.

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

Ooo, new blog schedule announcement…

Photo of a DiaryAfter a lot of requests, I’m announcing the reinstatement of my Diary of a Hopeful Author blog posts.

I’ve been asked a whole heap, see, about what it’s like to be an author. For three years I documented what it was like, that roller coaster journey to trying to get published – the highs, the lows, the aching embarrassments – all of it. No picnic, that’s for sure.

A lot of you have got in touch and asked me if its different now, being an author. And for that reason – and because, if I’m honest, I miss that blog connection, that getting it all out there to help each other – I’m reintroducing my diary of  hopeful author section.

Its going to be (hopefully…) posted every Wednesday as before, in diary form about what I’m up to that week writing wise on the roller coaster of publication. I’ll aim to get some help sewn in there for you, tips on getting published and diary entries of an honest account of what it’s like to be an author these days. Let me know if it’s handy.

Also, I’m reintroducing Media Monday and Friday Fiction. Monday will see me writing my new Midlife Crisis column, where Friday will take up, yep, you’ve guessed it,  fiction. I’ll include my own writing and prose, plus comments on newly published books, old masterpieces, libraries – you name it.

So there you go. It’s less ‘out with the old in the with new’, and more ‘in with the old just dusted down and spruced up a bit’. A blog makeover. A new set of  clothes…Okay, I’ll stop.

I do have a whizzy author website now (there’s hidden quiz – good luck finding it…) dedicated to my books. You can find it here.

It’s great to be back like this with you all in, if your pardon the pun, a new chapter for the blog – just hoping I can stick to the schedule – forgive me it all wobbles from time to time.

Have a great week, blog buddies 🙂

Nikki x

Sound good? Or is there something else you’d like me to write about in my experience of getting published & being an author? Let me know – all comments welcome below 🙂