Posted in Personal life, Writing

Why Every Author Needs to Take a Break Now and Again

In my role as Advice Centre Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, I commission and sub-editing a daily blog post about all aspects of writing and publishing. I also write occasional opinion pieces for them . Not all of these posts will be of interest to non-authors, but I thought I’d share my latest post here, because the principles apply to other kinds of professions too. Whatever work you do, it provides the best excuses for taking a holiday – plus some lovely pics from my summer vacation!

(Here’s a link to where the post originally appeared.)


picture of Debbie on Glencoe in rainhat
Following my own advice to take a break in Glencoe, Scotland, last month

Do you find it hard to make yourself take a break from your writing life? Here’s the justification you need to take some time out and recharge your creative batteries!

In today’s post, Debbie Young, indie author, litfest director and ALLi’s Author Advice Center Manager, makes the case for the importance of rest for writers, not only for physical recovery, but also to reinvigorate creative intention and gain perspective.

Whether you’re nearing the end of the summer holiday season in the northern hemisphere, or enjoying the first signs of spring in the southern hemisphere, her personal account will give you the excuses you need to start planning your next vacation now!

 

Indie authors, as their own publishers, are their own bosses.

Most of us are ambitious to write great books and get them into the hands of readers. However much we do, there is always more to do: more writing, more marketing, more admin. A writer’s work is never done.

If ever a writer was able to check off every item on their to-do list, I’d question whether they’re really a writer at all.

Too Busy to Take a Break?

Whether or not we have a day job, family commitments or other pressures, we pile the work on ourselves, multi-tasking and straining the last drop of creativity out of each day:

  • We keep notebooks by our beds for those middle-of-the-night story ideas
  • We dictate copy in our cars and on walks
  • We get up early/stay up late to squeeze those extra writing hours out of the day
  • We eat and drink at our desks (oh, those crumbs in the keyboard!)
  • We may even exercise while writing – though so far I’ve resisted the lure of the treadmill desk!

If we saw a loved one working that hard in their chosen career, would we applaud them, or would we be imploring them to cut themselves some slack? Treat yourself the same way – you deserve it!

Too Old to Take a Break?

Once you reach a certain age, as I have, you may also start to feel additional pressure of “time’s winged chariot” (though Andrew Marvell’s poem is about a rather different activity), and worry about running out of time altogether (“When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen had gleaned my teeming brain…” – John Keats.)

Theories abound as to how to make the most of each day, how to divide up your time into the most productive chunks, how often to take breaks etc etc.

But I hold that nothing boosts your productivity more than completely downing tools for a week or two, counter-intuitive though that may seem.

Too Broke to Take a Break?

I’m lucky – I’m at that time of life when I can afford family holidays away from home, but you can still take a holiday at home, or rather, based at home, if your budget doesn’t run to fancy trips.

The important thing is to STOP – and pause – and rest – and return, revitalised to your writing life, stronger for having left it for a while.

This is how Orna Ross, director of ALLi and author of the Go Creative! series, describes the importance of rest in the indie author’s life.

Headshot of Orna Ross
ALLi director Orna Ross prescribes creative rest and play for all creatives

Creative rest and play are not breaks from the process of writing, publishing or business building. They ARE the process.

It happens at two levels. One is the obvious refreshment and restoration we get from taking a break away from the desk. All efforts to to perform, to make, to do draw on a pool of creative energy. Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective. It’s like drawing water from a well, we need to give it time to fill back up again. But also the subconscious mind is core to the creative process itself, immensely more powerful than our surface, conscious minds. We have our best ideas, our aha moments, our insights and inspirations when we are relaxed, rested, playful.

Orna recommends a mini creative vacation each week, in the form of a “createdate” with yourself – something that I’ve found to be a really powerful and invigorating tool, even though I don’t always manage to fit one in each week. (Here’s an account of one I went on earlier this year.)

Practising What I Preach

Easy for me to say, you might be thinking, so here are some examples of what I gained from the two-week break I took earlier this month with my family.

  • New perspective on my writing schedule
    After an exhausting thirteen months publishing four novels, I decided to slow up, now that I have a strong start to my catalog of novels. I felt it was important to get the first three in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series out quickly, but that’s not a sustainable or reasonable pace long-term.
  • Revelation about my writing ambitions
    Having established myself as a lighthearted, humorous writer, I realised I do also have within me an ambition to write something more serious that won’t be described by reviewers as “a chuckle on every page” or “Miss Marple meets Bridget Jones”, much as I love those accolades.
  • Desire to research
    Having dismissed myself tongue-in-cheek as a lazy writer because I’m writing about what I know – English village life – I began to hanker after researching some meaty topics that I could then fictionalise, either within my village mystery series or outside of it.
  • New system of time management
    I’ve designed a new method for managing my varied workload: allocating a name to each day to do with a specific subset of tasks (e.g. Festive Friday for planning festivals and events), and saving up the related work for that day only. However, every day with a “y” in it, I will allow myself to write fiction!
  • Stimulating new sights and experiences
    From catching interesting radio programmes on the journey, to finding seaglass on the beach, the fortnight was full of new stimuli for new story ideas, as outlined in the photos below.
photo of woodland stream near Ben Nevis
Waiting for my family to finish a treetop walk near Ben Nevis (I’m not great with heights!), I realised I need to spend more time in the tranquility of woodlands – great for future createdate ideas
photo of vaguely butterfly-shaped granite
At the Cruachan Visitor Centre, where you can take a trip INSIDE a mountain, we were given a piece of granite as a souvenir – I chose mine for its shape, immediately thinking “The Granite Butterfly – what a great story title!” (Click image for more about Cruachan)
photo of two vintage teddy bears
This vintage bear (left), which I’ve named Galloway, called to me from the window of a charity shop in Dumfries, last home of the poet Robert Burns – I couldn’t help but start wondering about his back-story. Small teddy on right is my own since early childhood. Click image for more about the Scottish region of Dumfries and Galloway.
photo of heart-shaped necklace filled with real forget-me-not flowers
Spotted in the Glencoe Visitor Centre shop, this necklace filled with forget-me-not flowers will serve as a real talisman for when I’m writing about my character Sophie Sayers, who is described as “the girl with forget-me-not eyes”. (Click image for more about Glencoe Visitor Centre).
five pieces of seaglass arranged like the petals of a flower
Whenever we go to a beach, I look out for seaglass. These five different pieces were collected by me and my daughter on the shores of sealochs. Back story ideas again… where did they all come from?

How will your next vacation transform your writing life? You’ll never know unless you take it!

Posted in Writing

The Perfect Tidying Storm

image
Order out of chaos in the utility room

This week my house hasn’t known what’s hit it. Never one to do today whatever housework can be put off till tomorrow, I’ve been decluttering like a demon, filling bags and boxes with stuff to eject, and turning out drawers with the exactitude and application of someone training for an Olympic medal in tidiness.
Continue reading “The Perfect Tidying Storm”

Posted in Personal life, Writing

What To Do When There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day

Cover image of Tristram Shandy book showing man facing grim reaper in skeletal form
Confronting the fact that our time is limited

As a compulsive writer, I sometimes find it stressful that I never have enough time to write everything I want, either on paper (where my fiction writing first takes shape) or on my blogs.

Besides this Young By Name blog, I have a new(ish) book blog at www.debbieyoungsbookblog.com and a book marketing advice blog for authors, www.otsbp.com, not to be confused with the author advice blog that I edit for the Alliance of Independent Authors at www.selfpublishingadvice.org.

This morning, for example, I’ve been staring at a list of topics and events I need to write up while they’re still fresh in my mind, including recent writers’ festivals that I’ve attended and some social occasions. I know that another day will go by before I manage to make a start on them thanks to some pressing deadlines for some paid freelance work. Continue reading “What To Do When There Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day”

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Tiptoeing into the New Year (2015)

Welcome to my first blog post of the New Year!

Debbie writing with a pen on paper
Sometimes the pen is mightier than the keyboard

Well, did you miss me? Did you notice I’ve been offline for a bit? Probably not – if you’ve got any sense, you’ll have spent a lot of time offline over Christmas too.

But I have to say I’m greeting the first working week of the New Year with renewed energy and enthusiasm, after spending as much time as possible away from my computer during my daughter’s two-week break from school.

When I furtively dipped back into the internet now and again during the holiday fortnight, it was effectively under cover – I’d set up an out-of-office message to cover my two email accounts: the online equivalent of dark glasses.

In fact, if I hadn’t been part of Helen Hollick’s fabulous Christmas Party Blog Hop, I’d have spend even less time online. Reading the other participants’ fascinating posts was the main reason that I sneaked back to my computer at all.

Why Christmas Isn’t Over Yet…

Blog hop logo
Catch it before it’s too late!

What do you mean, you didn’t read the 25 fabulous articles on the blog hop, on different aspects of Christmas traditions and with plenty of festive fiction samples to enjoy?

Fear not, there’s still time to catch them with a clear conscience, because, as I’ve just discovered, Christmas isn’t actually over just yet. I’m not talking about waiting for Twelfth Night (today, 5th January, according to some people, or tomorrow, 6th, for others, including me). The vicar’s letter in the new Hawkesbury Parish News states that the festive season doesn’t officially conclude until Candlemas on 2nd February. Now there’s the excuse Laura was looking for to keep the Christmas tree up for a little longer.

ALLi logoIn the meantime, I’m back in the room – and I’ve just been blogging about the benefits of going offline on the advice blog of Alliance of Independent Authors. You can read that post here, if you’re interested: Don’t Let the Internet (Tail) Wag the Author (Dog)

  • What’s the longest you can bear to stay offline – or indeed online?
  • Do you have a top tip to share on avoiding internet burnout?
  • Feel free to join the conversation via the comment box below!
Posted in Travel, Writing

What is NaNoWriMo Anyway?

(A post about one of my current writing projects)

NaNoWriMo logo
I’m not sure why we’re meant to need the viking helmet

It’s that time of year when writers everywhere appear to start talking in code, blaming something that sounds like an alien for their suddenly reclusive behaviour and the bags underneath their eyes. The reason: NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month.

Now, that doesn’t mean those writers aren’t not beavering away on novels the rest of the year round. But what’s different about November is that NaNoWriMo challenges them to complete a whole novel – yes, a whole novel – within just 30 days, start to finish. Last year, over 310,000 authors took part, all over the world.

The Force Behind the Fun

The organisation behind NaNoWriMo is an international not-for-profit force. It provides a social network on which like-minded authors can share their progress, pick up technical pointers, and download funky widgets to encourage themselves to press on. One of these widgets is the cute word-counter that you’ll find at the bottom of the sidebar on the right (if you’re reading it during November 2014, anyway).

This public opportunity to flaunt your progress (or lack of it) is especially motivating.  But the threat of failure is less likely than you might think. Here’s why:

  • To “win” NaNoWriMo, as they persuasively term completing the challenge, you have only to write a first draft. In fact, you are actively encouraged to write only the first draft, straight off, without revisions. There’ll be plenty of time to revise it at your leisure after November.
  • NaNoWriMo’s definition of a novel is a manuscript of just 50,000 words – which equates to an average output of just 1,666 words a day. That’s far fewer words than in a standard commercial novel, which is typically around the 80,000 mark. Any serious writer – even one more used to writing short-form fiction, as I am – will not find that word count unfeasible. To make it even easier, each author is given a helpful graph on their NaNo profile page, to help measure individual progress against target.

My Progress So Far

Beach scene on Ithaca
The inspiration for my novel: the island of Ithaca

Despite missing the first day’s target because I spent the whole day driving back from Scotland, I am pleased to report that I’ve quickly made up the deficit. Last night, I even got ahead of the game, earning a special badge for hitting 10,000 words. You’re never too old to appreciate a badge, say I.

What’s more, I’m really enjoying the writing, making myself chuckle as I churn out the words, and watching my characters, almost all of whom happen to be writers, evolve and interact as the story progresses.

So far, so good. The hardest part will be after I’ve completed the first draft: editing and fine-tuning the copy and the plot, in hope of ultimately producing a manuscript fit to share with the world. In the age of self-publishing, the temptation for too many will be to post their stories up online, as soon as they’ve hit the magic number – and then be discouraged by the inevitable poor reviews. Some are even posting up their chapters as they go along. But this is meant to be a first draft, folks – it’s not showtime yet!

I’ll keep you posted of my progress – but for now back to my imaginary Greek island, on which my story is set. Now where did I put my sunhat? (Maybe I’ll find a use for that viking helmet yet…)

Images courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Visit their website to find out more: www.nanowrimo.com