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 Self-publishing, Writing

Writing: In Praise of Editors & Proofreaders

http://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/?affid=?885
All for one and one for all – the Alliance of Independent Authors’ cute pen logo

I originally wrote this post for the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ blog, but I hope readers of my own blog will also find it entertaining. I certainly enjoyed writing it!

(This is an abridged version of the original post, but you can read it in full on the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ website here.) 

Editors: Unsung Superheroes Who Save Authors from Themselves

No matter how well authors polish a manuscript before submitting them for professional editing, and regardless of how dazzling their prose, a good editor will always polish it further. In true superhero style, editors and proofreaders daily avert disaster, and I’m glad I’ve secured the services of two brilliant professionals to help me with my books, Alison Jack and Helen Baggott.

image of heavily edited manuscript
Just one of many rounds of self-editing that I do before passing my final, final, final manuscript into the hands of my trusty editor, Alison Jack

Classic Errors Spotted by Editors

Here are some typical errors recently shared by authors and editors on ALLi’s private member forum, spotted either in their own books or in books by other writers.

Continuity errors are too easy for an author to miss:

  • two unrelated characters sharing the same surname
  • eyes or hair spontaneously changing colour from one page to the next
  • a character’s medication changing from one chapter to the next
  • someone at the theatre sitting in mid-air (in the front row of the circle, they leaned forward to tap the person in front on the shoulder)
  • a character entering a flat twice without leaving in between times
  • a person landing at JFK before the flight has taken off from Heathrow (and in a different model of plane from the one in which the journey began)

Global search-and-replace can trigger disasters:

  • changing Carol’s name to Barbara was fine until the carol singing scene
  • swapping “ass” for “butt” resulted in a case of embarrbuttment

There are also comical typos that a spellchecker will let through because the words are correctly typed, but the meaning is wrong in the context:

  • a bowel full of sauerkraut left on the balcony to ferment
  • a female character becoming enraptured by the scent of a man’s colon
  • a trip on an udderless boat
  • the stoking of cats
  • an acute angel
  • the Suntan of Brunei

Serious Consequences (Bad Reviews) Averted by Editors

Author Geoffrey Ashe, in The Art of Writing Made Simple, classifies readers into three different groups:

  • the critical reader
  • the lazy reader who won’t make an effort
  • the one who has the eye for the comic or incongruous

If you’re an author, it’s worth keeping all three in mind while you’re writing and self-editing.

While an indulgent reader of the third kind might simply smile and move on, it’s also very easy these days for dissastisfied readers to post scathing reviews online, deterring others from buying your books in future.

So although this is a light-hearted post, the message is a serious one on the importance of the editor’s role in helping you publish your books to professional standards – or indeed anything else that you happen to be writing for public consumption, including blogs of business reports for work.

In Praise of MY Editor and Proofreader

While ALLi policy precluded me from giving a shout-out in the original post to the professional editorial people that I employ for my own books, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Alison Jack (www.alisonjack-editor.co.uk) and Helen Baggott (www.helenbaggott.co.uk) for regularly saving me from myself when editing and proofreading books for me.

I should add that this post has been edited only by me, so any errors it contains are entirely my responsibility – and proof of how dependent I am on the likes of Alison and Helen!

ALLi logoMORE INFORMATION FOR AUTHORS

To learn more about the benefits of joining the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), visit their membership website:
www.allianceindependentauthors.org.

To read more posts on ALLi’s Author Advice Centre blog (of which I’m commissioning editor, visit their blog site: 
www.selfpublishingadvice.org 

Posted in Writing

Blog Chain: What Am I Working On?

Brooch in the form of a typewriterToday I’m pleased to be taking part in a blog chain. 

Don’t worry, it’s not one of those dreadful chain letters that does the rounds on the internet, imploring you to forward an email to umpteen friends to earn good luck or ward off a curse.  A blog chain is simply a blog post written on a set topic, at the end of which you nominate a given number of bloggers to do the same. Put a lot of them together and – ta da! – you have a chain.

The blog chain is a cousin of the blog hop, which requires a quantity of bloggers post simultaneously on the same topic, including links to each other’s posts. You may have spotted a recent hop that I took part in: Helen Hollick’s excellent Winter Solstice Blog Hop.

I wonder what the collective noun for a group of bloggers is, by the way? Feel free to make suggestions via the comments box at the end!

Why Bloggers Like Blog Chains & Hops

Bloggers like to take part in blog chains and hops because:

  • chains provide a ready-made idea for a post
  • they help bloggers reach new readers via the other links in the chain
  • they’re fun!

But you can have too much of a good thing. A blog with a disproportionate number of chain-linked posts can be dull. But once in a while, I’m happy to take part, because it’s an opportunity to work with author/blogger friends whose company I enjoy and whose work I’m sure will interest my readers.

Passing the Baton to Me: Sally Jenkins

Sally JenkinsThe first of these is the English writer Sally Jenkins, who kindly nominated me in her post a week ago. Sally is a highly experienced, talented and generous writer of short fiction. Two of her story collections have been published on Kindle (I enjoyed them both!) and she is currently tweaking her 2013 NaNoWriMo script into shape. Find out more about Sally  on her excellent blog, on which she often shares useful tips and information about writing: http://www.sallyjenkins.wordpress.com

As Sally’s post explains, the theme of this chain is “What Am I Working On?” Participants are required to answer these four questions about their writing (or at least whichever ones they wish to answer!):

  1. What am I working on?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  3. Why do I write what I do?
  4. How does my writing process work?

Being the garrulous type, I’m happy to answer all of them! I write in two different genres, non-fiction and short fiction, so each of my answers will be in two parts.

What am I working on?

  • Non-fiction I’m just putting the finishing touches to a book in support of ALLi‘s Open Up To Indies campaign, and then – new year, new book! I’m just starting to write  The Author’s Guide to Blogging, to be published by SilverWood Books. Over the summer I’ll be revising my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, also a SilverWood Original, ready for an updated second edition to be published in the autumn. Other plans include: an extended paperback edition of my e-book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, with lots of new material, and Travels with My Camper Van, based on my many blog posts about our family’s travels.
  • Short fiction My first fiction project of 2014 is Quick Change, a collection of short stories and flash fiction on the theme of transition. Then I’ll be pressing on with Tuning In, a volume of short stories inspired by misheard snippets of BBC Radio 4. (I published a taster story as a Christmas ebook, The Owl and the Turkey.)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

  • Non-fiction My self-help books for authors are exceptionally friendly, positive and supportive, and my readers enjoy my optimistic, encouraging tone. My memoir writing combines my strong sense of fun and of the ridiculous with poignant observation.
  • Short fiction The same combination, really – my writing reflects how I am in real life: sensitive but daft! My stories are also very positive. I don’t “do” sad – I’m an optimist but also  a realist. Readers often remark that they enjoy the “light touch” of my writing, whether addressing serious or light-hearted issues.

Why do I write what I do?

  • Non-fiction Self-help books for authors: because I have a lot of knowledge and experience that I can easily share, and I want to help other writers become more successful. The travel pieces: because wherever I travel, I find inspiration, and writing about it is my instinctive response. Memoirs: because I want to capture the memories for my daughter and the rest of my family, and because I worry that one day I won’t remember them myself.
  • Fiction I’ve always wanted to write fiction and now at last, after a long full-time career in the real world, I have the time and leisure to fit fiction writing in to my daily life – although since I gave up my day job, my non-fiction writing and related freelance work has taken up most of my time.

How does my writing process work?

When I first get an idea, I plan a rough outline on paper (chapter headings for the non-fiction books, scribbly random notes for the rest) and let them simmer for a while. I keep a notebook by my bed and in my handbag to capture odd ideas as they occur, for later development. Occasionally I’ll write the first draft of a short story longhand, but I can do it much faster on my netbook or PC. However, this might change soon, as my friend the writer, poet and creative thinking coach Orna Ross has just recommended to me a voice-activated writing software package that sounds a great way of speeding up the writing part.

Once the first draft is down on paper or screen, I redraft and edit, over and over again, until the words are so familiar that I can do no more. If there’s time, I’ll leave the manuscript to one side for a few weeks, but I don’t always have that luxury with blog posts in particular.

 I write best first thing in the morning, preferably in my pyjamas, and better still, in bed, but I rarely have the leisure to do that, as the school run calls. I write best of all when I’ve been in bed ill for a few days, when new story ideas emerge fully formed from my rested brain. I’m definitely at my most creative first thing, and my plan is to spend at least a couple of hours every morning doing creative writing, with the non-fiction work, marketing and related chores saved for the afternoon. I also like to blog as much as I can, but there’s never enough time to do everything – there are as many unwritten blog posts still stuck inside my head as there are online (and there are around 400 posts online across both my websites just now). In the evenings I prefer reading to writing. Every writer should be reading daily and widely.

Passing The Baton On…

So, now to introduce my three nominated writers. I can’t wait to read their answers to these questions! 

  • Canadian novelist Francis Guenette

Francis and I became friends on Twitter on the night of the last papal election, enjoying the banter on Twitter about this historic occasion. When it turned out that the new pope was also to be named Francis, I knew this friendship was meant to be! I have just been bowled over by her debut novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, published early last year. (Read my review here.) Here’s Francis’s bio:

Francis GuenetteFrancis Guenette has spent most of her life on the west coast of British Columbia. She lives with her husband and dog and finds inspiration for writing in the beauty and drama of their lakeshore cabin and garden. She has a graduate degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher. Disappearing in Plain Sight is her first novel.  Find out more about Francis at her always interesting author website and blog: http://disappearinginplainsight.com

  • English historical novelist Helen Hollick

I first met Helen at the launch of my book marketing handbook for authors, Sell Your Books! Helen and I share a publisher, the author services provider SilverWood Books, and we’ve since become good friends, although we live a hundred miles apart. The first book in Helen’s pirate fantasy series kept my spirits up during a pre-Christmas bout of bronchitis, and the sequels are now on my to-read list. Here’s my review of Sea Witchone of my top reads for 2013. She’s also one of my mum’s favourite authors! Here’s how Helen describes herself:

Helen HollickHelen Hollick started writing pony stories as a young teenager. She moved onto science fiction and fantasy and then discovered the delight of writing historical fiction. Helen is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen. She also writes a series of historical adventure seafaring books inspired by her love of the Golden Age of Piracy. As a firm supporter of independent authors, publishers and bookstores, she has recently taken on the role of UK Editor for the Historical Novel Society Online Review for self-published historical fiction produced in the UK. Helen now lives in Devon with her husband, adult daughter and son-in-law – and a variety of pets, including a dog, two cats, and four horses. Her website is at www.helenhollick.net and her blog is at www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk.

  • American novelist Amira Makansi

Amira Makansi with a copy of The Sowing I met Amira via the Alliance of Independent Authors, whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit, and I was interested to hear about her debut The Sowing, which was co-written with two other authors – her mother and sister. Following her article about the experience on the ALLi blog, I’ve been following her progress with interest – she’s a lively, energetic and talented author and blogger who I’m sure is going to go far. She kindly asked me to be a guest on her blog before Christmas (here’s my post on her blog), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to return the favour now. Here is what Amira has to say about herself:

Amira loves nothing more in life than reading and writing, except maybe hot wings. As an artist, she’s interested in pretty much anything except the real world. Give her science fiction, fantasy, or even a good historical fiction and she’ll love you forever. Her debut novel, the first book in the Seeds trilogy, co-written with her mother Kristy and sister Elena, is a science-fiction dystopia that explores what happens when corrupt politicians control the food system. She’s also got a bad case of wanderlust and has yet to ‘settle down’ like most normal people her age. You can find her in the hills and mountains of Oregon, the vineyards of France, or the streets of St. Louis. She’s currently working on a reader-driven blog serial in the dark fantasy or paranormal genre, which you can find here , the second book in the Seeds trilogy titled The Reaping, and an in-between novella set in the same world, as yet untitled.

Hop over to their websites now to find out more about them – and if you visit them again this time next week, you’ll find out more about what they’re working on too.

So, back to my question at the start of this post, what IS the collective noun for bloggers? Answers in the comments section please!

Posted in Writing

Reverting to Type

English: Vector typewriter
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re all used to October being a month of change, with leaves changing colour and clocks turning back, but for me this month heralds an even  bigger transformation than usual: I’m giving up my part-time day job to write full-time.

I’m very excited at this prospect. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a child, when I remember being made to read to the whole of my infants’ school a story that I’d written about a witch.

I’m slightly embarrassed to have taken nearly half a century to achieve my childhood dream, but according to an informal survey I’ve just conducted, I’m actually ahead of the game. Although my friends remember their early career ambitions, few have yet to fulfil them.

Which is probably just as well, or the world would be overcrowded with ballet dancers, gymnasts, engine drivers and airline pilots. The good news is that there would also be plenty of air hostesses to look after the pilots, and enough hairdressers to keep them all well groomed.

Some of my friends’ ambitions were less predictable. Libi, for example, planned to be either a nun or a stripper, whereas Norio was torn between a fashion designer and “a digger of wells in Africa”.

Sam’s objective was admirably broad: “I wanted to be everything.” Cleverly, she has achieved her aim, at least by proxy: she became a careers advisor.

But even Sam’s ambitious plan was trumped by my friend Lucienne’s.

“I wanted to be the Queen,” she confessed. “I am very disappointed that I am merely a writer.”

Well, that’s put me in my place!

story in my exercise book fro

With thanks to everyone who took part in this survey: Jo, Liz, Jacky, 2 x Jackies, Kate, Claudia, Jade, Jo, Craig, James, 2 x Sandras, Libi, Letty, Liz, Simone, Sam, Lorraine, Norio, Sue, Charlotte, Beth, Maurice, Stephen, Cindy, Sara, Debbie, Jim, Corrina, Susannah, 2 x Louise, Beverley, plus lots of others who did go on to become writers even if it wasn’t their childhood ambition: Helena Mallett, Joanne Phillips, Catriona Troth, Lindsay Stanberry Flynn, Christine Nolfi, Linda Gillard, Bart van Goethem, Peter St John, Stuart MacAllister, Darlene Elizabeth Williams, Dinah Reed, Anna Belfrage, Caz Greenham, Bobbie Coelho, Carol Edgerley  & Alison Morton!

(This article first appeared in the Hawkesbury Parish News, October 2013)

Posted in Writing

One Lovely Blog Award

Logo of the One Lovely Blog AwardMany thanks to the wonderful flash fiction writer and blogger, Helena Mallett, for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! The rules are at the foot of this page.

As stipulated in these rules, I must now tell you seven random things about myself and nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.

Seven Random Things About Me

Hmm. What might regular readers of my blog not already know about me? Here are my carefully considered seven things, roughly in chronological order…

  1. When I was a child, Edward Heath, later to become Prime Minister, was my local MP
  2. I spent my teenage years in Germany, making friends from all over the world at an international school. I’m now enjoying reconnecting with them on Facebook.
  3. 25 years ago, I was  sent to Geneva to edit the inch-thick catalogue of a United Nations trade exhibition. It was to be printed in four languages – only three of which I could understand.
  4. One of my first PR jobs was to write the Wall’s Pocket Money Monitor for Wall’s Ice Cream. Yum.
  5. Although I’ve been married twice (widowed once), I’ve never had a mother-in-law.
  6. I was once kissed by Norman Wisdom (Albanian fans, eat your hearts out).
  7. I’ve been on a day-trip to Albania (but that’s not where I met Norman Wisdom).

My 15 Nominated Bloggers

Please pay a visit to my fifteen nominated blogs. They’re a real mix of styles and subjects, each compelling in its own way. (There are others I’d have chosen but I think they’ve already been nominated! I’m talking about you, Joanne Phillips, for a start!)

Christian Mihai – rising young writer shares his thoughts on writing and other things

Everywhere Once – fab travelogue of a couple travelling the world in a camper van

For The Love Of Bookshops – avid reader celebrates all things bookshoppish

From The Kitchen Sink – lovely mother of six rising to the challenge of special care needs

Jump – brilliant magazine blog for young girls, by young girls

Laura Zera – lovely Canadian traveller connecting cultures from around the globe

Life After Debts – plucky lady rebuilding her life after bankruptcy

Marla Madison – kind and thoughtful writer of a certain age

Moodscope – I can’t recommend this highly enough to lift your spirits and keep them on an even keel

Retiree Diary – beautiful travel photo blog

Sally Jenkins – thoughtful writer sharing advice and opportunities

The Butterfly Storm – aspiring writer on the brink of publishing her first novel

The Tiger Father – killingly funny blog by a stay-at-home Australian dad looking after two small daughters in China

The Mostyn Thomas Journal – touching, thoughtful blog by mother of a child with special needs

Undercover Mummy – brave lady blogging anonymously to get through tricky personal circumstances

And don’t forget to click on my nominator’s link, Helena Mallet, at the top of the page either! I highly recommend her book.

The Rules of the One Lovely Blog Award

1.  Recipients must thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog. 

2. Recipients must list seven random things about yourself.

3.  Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.