Tag Archives: how to overcome writer’s block

Want to know what I write in my Morning Pages? Here you go… #amwriting

dear-diary-entry-b6687

Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ Here’s a sneak peak into what I write in my Morning Pages…

I’m off for a while. A break. A small one, but it gets to a point sometimes – and I don’t know whether you find this – that you need a wee bit of time away from technology and the day job and just, well, chill.

So for the next few weeks, that’s me – trying to clear my mind. But, as a writer, I’ll have with me my pen and notebook, scribbling my morning pages in the shadow of big, snowy mountains. Morning pages to me are a bit of a saviour. I know I’ve written about them before – and you may have tried them yourself – but it really helps to write in the morning anything that enters into you head. It’s therapeutic I find, a way of keeping the drama on the page – a way of listening to what you have to say. And that’s what writing is about, essentially – listening.

So, I thought I’d let you have a sneak peek into what walks out of my head on to the page some mornings. Unsurprisingly, I end up writing a lot about the day time, the rise of it, the sun and all that entails. Here, below,  for you, is an unedited copy of what I wrote a few days ago when I woke up at 6am, downing strong coffee. It’s basically painting a picture with words of what I could literally see from the window that day, the weather, the feelings it created, ears and eyes open, listening to the words that wanted to speak.

Here’s to us and our glorious morning pages. Have a great few weeks. I’ll catch up with you soon  🙂

My Morning Pages, March 26th, 2016

“A halo of blue light rests on the horizon beyond, a thin silk band of shimmering brightness, fragile under the burgeoning weight of the heavy, grey clouds above.

Morning has begun. But the sun is quiet. Hidden behind an artist’s wash of black and navy and marbled pewter, the sun struggles to punch out, settling, instead, to whisper through the sky, to skim paint brushes of buttercup yellow in small, secret lines across the horizon.

The trees that stand tall at the bottom of the garden are still. A gentle wind breathing in and out, they appear relatively untouched by the looming rain that threatens to charge from above, the birches and the ancient oaks saluting the morning as solid and stoic as perhaps an old grandfather would, medals on his chest in the face of an unwelcome intruder.

The rain comes now, tapping at the window panes. Only a few seconds pass until, clouds parting in biblical waves, it lashes down in great big streaks across the glass and the concrete and the petals of leaves that scatter along unpruned borders, squirrels huddling in bowing groups under the wide umbrellas of the trees.

The sky, right now, has morphed to a dirty dish cloth wash,  a soup of wet and damp and upturned, pungent soil. And yet, even through all this, the birds sing. They announce their presence through short, intermittent voices, small radio transmissions of song and sound, their dedication to the day. Light, carefree, their dance to the sun that lies kidnapped behind mottled, clotted clouds.

And as they sing, one slip of blue sky sneaks past. One glorious, warm ray.  It blinkers bright,  a single slither of pure determination, of defiance and rebellion as if shouting, ‘Come what may, the day will win!’ For, of course, it always does.”

Thanks for reading 🙂 Share your own thoughts from your own Morning Pages below…

Advertisements

How to keep going in the face of rejection… #amwriting

dear-diary-entry-b6687

Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about rejection and how to keep going when you really don’t want to. 

There are days in writing when things suck. You get up after having, some weeks before, sent out your writing for people to read, ever in the hope that you’ll get somewhere. But then despite your best efforts, they get back to you and you read their letter and it’s a no. You have received that dreaded rejection note (again) and you are, basically, gutted.

This has happened to me. It’s happened to loads of authors out there, it’s happened to J.K. Rowling. We hear, as writers, a lot about rejection, don’t we? Almost as much as we hear about writers’ block. But while for writers’ block there are many pieces of advice out there to help us overcome it, writers’ rejection is an area of where advice is sparse.

That’s why when I saw this tweet by amazing children’s author Abi Elphinstone on her own rejection experience and how she handled it, I had to share it. Because rejection is hard, but read this and you’ll see that it is also good. Because it creates a steel and a grit that will set you up for a long time to come. And help you keep going when times get tough.

So, over to Abi Elphinstone and her take on rejection… And good luck with your own writing 🙂

2 years ago my only contact with literary agents had been rejection letters. 96 of them in fact. And I REALLY want unpublished writers to remember that amidst the inevitable frenzy of my Book2 tweets’ next week I am an author who has been turned down by nearly every agent in the UK. It’s clearly not something to boast about, but that 7-year struggle, though painful, lonely & frequently embarrassing, taught me far more about joy & determination (not just in writing, but in life) than any of my good fortune ever has.
Because inside every person who faces rejection, there grows a quiet grit. It doesn’t mean I boogie when I get a 1* review on GoodReads or miss an award longlist – but the quiet grit I learnt back then means I feel an unconquerable joy at every little thing that goes right. Disappointing days stay firmly in perspective & I’d take that hard-won grit & joy over an easy book deal any day. So keep going, keep writing, & know that if I pulled through you can too.

Abi Elphinstone’s latest book, The Shadow Keeper is out now.

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

What being a published author is REALLY like… #amwriting

dear-diary-entry-b6687

Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ Hello! How the devil are you? I’m (finally) back after a winter of editing with a post that tells you, with utter honesty, about, for me, what it’s really like being a published author…

I was going to write about the merits of editing. Pen in hand, I was poised after a long winter of absence from my blog due to a looming deadline, about how nothing needs to be, in your writing, perfect when you first get it to the page.

But that’s not going to happen. I am, instead, going to speak to you about, well, what I’ve found being an author is like.

Don’t get me wrong – being an author is, in the most part, I have discovered, great. But, as in life and other walks of work, there are times when the wall you build to stay strong buckles and the stormy sea beyond threatens to flood what’s on the other side completely.

When I began as an author, got my publishing deal, I naively thought, “Awesome! Job done!’ except it wasn’t, not by a long shot. See, despite so much planning from all involved in putting a book on the market, things don’t always work out quite as you wanted. Sometimes they take longer, sometimes they may not happen at all, but still, you have to deal with comments  such as, ‘Oh, you’re going to go global,’ (Hold your horses); ‘You’ll be the next JK Rowling,’ (only one JK); ‘Why aren’t you on the bestsellers list yet?’ (yup, had that Q a few times) or (and I get this one a LOT, face to face) ‘How are book sales?’(Eeek!)  And without doubt, people are well meaning, but I never wanted to raise anyone’s hopes too much in the first place because being an author is damn competitive, man, I mean, tough, tough stuff.  Consider this: in the UK alone, over the course of 2014, publishers released 20 new books per hour, meaning that the UK published more books per inhabitant than anywhere else in the world.

And so there’s never any guarantee, no matter how cracking a novel you’ve written, that it’s all going to take off. And when it doesn’t, I cannot tell you how gutting that feeling is – you feel personally responsible, somehow, despite the large team around you, you even start, as I have done on occasions, to doubt your ability to even write (daft now when I say it, but it can be a strong feeling for writers at times) But then you remind yourself why you love writing, pick yourself up, look at what’s going well (my novel’s going down a storm in France and is to be published in over ten languages) and try and carry right on.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love my job, but yeah, like anything – and despite how awesome it may appear from the outside – there are no guarantees and sometimes it kicks you down. Careless comments, working straight through the night for a deadline (twice last week for me. Twice), not knowing quite how to push yourself out there any more than you already are, taking on too much ‘cos you think it might help, writing for free, watching others doing so well and being so, so genuinely chuffed for them, yet at the same time being just a wee bit sad for yourself.

Yep, it’s a rollercoaster, I’ve discovered, but, even though I never envisaged it would be quite this challenging, it’s one that I’m willing to ride.

And boy have I met some amazing people on the way, other authors especially, a whole bunch of us now who have each others’ backs and who I know I could turn to let off steam with at any time and, well, have a bloody good laugh (and a beer) with.

See, writing, authoring (if that’s a word – is now…) or any career really – it can be bloody amazing one minute and a proper downer the next, but, as the great Dolly Parton once said, if you want to see the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain. Well said, Dolly well said. I’m off to fetch my umbrella… 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

How to find your writing voice… #amwriting

dear-diary-entry-b6687

Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about finding your own writing ‘voice’.

I come from a background of regulation, working wise, that is. Embroiled in a world of statistics and focus groups and set patterned deadlines, my mind asserts that things should be done certain way at times, to a particular timescale. And while this approach, this attitude, if you will, was very handy in the domain of marketing, turns out it’s not quite so hot on a permanent basis for creative writing.

And so to my week and my utterly paralysed writing. I am, see, in the middle of an edit. Book two of my trilogy and way before this stage I assumed I had it all figured out – plot, characters development. The lot. And yes, while these things are definitely moulded, what a great (my) editor does, I am discovering, is take what you’ve got and help fine tune it in ways you never thought possible.

With my head in a muddle, it was only when I went away for the weekend, away from not only my laptop, but from my routine, from statistical head, really, that I realised I had been applying my old marketing work ethos to my writing. I was, in effect, attempting to ‘statistically analyse’ the merits of my edit changes. It came down to this: I had lost my voice. I was forcing words and ideas into my mouth without them actually being mine. It was not genuine. It was not,  I realised as I journeyed up the M4 home, me.

So, Monday morning and I asked myself this: was I writing from my gut? The answer, when I made myself admit it, was no. It was a light-being-switched-on moment. It was not me, that voice I was trying to shoehorn into the edit, but something else, my statistical head, maybe, who knew. But no amount of economics degrees or results analysis were going to help me, because I had been censoring myself, restricting, without realising, my own voice. It was not coming from inside.

We all find this, us writers. Do you find this? We think we should, see, write perfectly straight off the bat, forcing our words into a mould because we think that’s what should be written, that’s what people expect. And the result? The work we produce when we write like this is not true, not us, instead it is someone else’s and, the irony is, that when that happens, the result ain’t good.

So what to do? Well, you can, as I did this week, get into your true writing mojo mode by asking yourself a series of simple, honest questions. Honesty is the key here…

To find your voice, ask and answer these questions:

  • What I would really like to say is…
  • What am I frightened of is…
  • It would be great fun to say…
  • If no one was reading my work, I would really write about…

We all get a confidence knock from time to time – hell knows I do – but these questions to ourselves help. You may have one answer to them, you may have several, but the single thing you’ll most certainly end up with is the true key to who you are and what you write. In short,  you’ll end up with your voice 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

How to increase your writing productivity… #amwriting

dear-diary-entry-b6687

Welcome to my weekly ‘Diary of a hopeful author.’ This week it’s all about how taking time out can make you more productive…

I’m in the middle of an edit and I have come to a halt. Fuggy, brain a ball of cotton wool, I have stopped and wondered what on earth is up with me. Why can’t I think straight, I ask myself? I have been sitting at this laptop working non-stop, the writing was good, but now? Now it’s dried up, a well that’s empty of water.

And then I realised: my well, yep, the fact that it was empty – that was my problem. See, as writers, when we get on a working roll, we don’t often want to halt. ‘I can’t stop now,’ we say, ‘I’m in the middle of writing.’ But, I’ve discovered along the way since I got published, that to really be productive, you have to step back when times are busy. We get, we do, see, one eye on the end product. ‘I want a book at the end of this, a succesful one!’ It’s what we think, often obsess on, and that can be our down fall. We wind up loving the end product rather than the process of writing itself.

Here’s the rub: to write, we have to love writing, and to write well, we need to step back from it. That means taking ‘writer’s time’, a day here and there when we go out, somewhere new, refill our well, as it were. Because we need to look up, that blink in the sunshine to remind us about life, because it is life that we draw from to write with, to imagine from.

So, if you’re stuck like I was this week, in a fug after working so great before, step away from the laptop and get out. Breathe in some air, run, go to an art gallery, a museum, the seaside (yes, please!) – anywhere you fancy. Sure, you’ll have a moment of panic where you think you should really be working to hit that deadline, but trust me, by taking some writer’s time, you’ll come back more refreshed, more (without a doubt) productive on the page. Your mojo will return.

What more could we want, hey? Going out for a day and calling it work? Not a bad gig, this writer’s life 😉

Happy writing 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂 Join in the writing conversation  below…

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

dear-diary-entry-b6687

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

dear-diary-entry-b6687

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 not to be a lonely writer… #amwriting

dear-diary-entry-b6687

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…