Posted in Personal life, Writing

Writers, Stamina & Jane Davis

STAMINA!

Have you go it ? Where does it come from?

At primary school, our headmaster used to say stamina was the secret of success.

This was in the days when schools were obliged to have a daily religious whole-school assembly, and although there were always a couple of hymns and a prayer, Mr Bowering also liked to use the occasion to put across some of his own key messages about life, the universe and everything.

photo of Days Lane School, Sidcup
The primary school in Sidcup where I spent many happy years – and learned the meaning of stamina

His favourite activities included:

  • using a remote-controlled system built into his lectern to illuminate capital cities on the vast wooden map of the world suspended above the platform, and we’d shout out the names of those we knew
    (I hardly knew any of them, and envied Simon Evans his legendary total recall)
  • leading a rousing rendition of William Blake’s hymn “Jerusalem” every Tuesday, an extended assembly to include hymn practice
    (I don’t know why it took me so long to join the WI, when I’ve been word- and note-perfect in its anthem since the age of seven)
  • appointing the King and Queen of the Shiny Shoes every Friday
    (I always regretted never having patent leather shoes for instant, constant shine  – the rich kids had a clear advantage there)

But perhaps his most memorable eccentricity was to impress upon us the importance of stamina if we wanted to be a success in whatever we did with our lives.

“What do you need?” he would bellow to the sea of rapt faces through cupped hands.

“Stamina!” we would shout back, as one.

Photo of budgie
Recollections from an era in which petfood ads offering stamina for dogs and making “budgies bounce with health” (Image by Unmesh Gaikwad via Unsplash.com)

Although I suspect I was not the only child to be a little confused as to what it was. The only place I’d heard the word outside school assembly was in a popular television advert for dogfood, possibly Pedigree Chum, which promised to fill your dog with stamina. This was in the same era as the famous Trill birdseed advert that promised to “make budgies bounce with health”. I imagined them ricocheting off the bars of their cages like the ball bearings in a pinball table.

Stamina as a Writer

image of Jane Davis with pile of books
Award-winning novelist Jane Davis shows considerable stamina herself with eight novels to her name so far

But his saying stuck with me, and it does still spur me on occasionally. So my ears pricked up (that’ll be the Pedigree Chum kicking in) when Jane Davis, author of award-winning literary fiction, asked writer friends to explain the secrets of their writing stamina. I am very pleased that she chose to include my response among her findings, outlined in her latest blog post here:

https://jane-davis.co.uk/2019/01/22/novel-writing-self-belief-and-staying-power/

I hope Mr Bowering would be proud of me. 

 

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

Fiction MasterClass Interview with Richard G Lowe

header image from Fiction MasterClass on Richard's blogAs you may know, I love doing radio and audio interviews, so I always jump at the chance to do online interviews. I was especially pleased to be Richard G Lowe’s first ever guest on his new “Fiction Master Class” video podcast series earlier this summer.

Here’s a link to it on his blog so you can watch it if you’d like to:

https://www.fictionmasterclass.com/debbie-young-alliance-independent-authors/

More about Richard G Lowe

I first met Richard as a fellow member of the Alliance of Independent Authors. I have a great deal of respect for him as a writer and entrepreneur – what’s known in the trade as an authorpreneur, ie making a great business out of his writing activities. He’s also very generous in sharing his knowledge and experience with other authors.

His Interviews with Other Fiction Authors

He’s since added a lot more episodes to his new podcast series, offering fascinating insights into the real lives of working indie authors such as my good friends David Penny and Clare Flynn. Follow his blog at http://www.fictionmasterclass.com, or subscribe to his YouTube channel to discover new and interesting authors. I know I want to catch them all! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXBSjobmLR0

Posted in Events, Self-publishing, Writing

A Busy Bee on the Busy Words Blog

Photo of the front of the shop plus the Daffodil next door
The delightful independent bookshop the Suffolk Anthology nestles beside the famous Daffodil restaurant

As just one of a flurry of events that have kept me busy during the last few weeks, I recently had the pleasure of being guest speaker at Cheltenham Writers’ Circle, at the invitation of historical novelist Edward James. Edward also attends my Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, which meets every third Tuesday of the month at the wonderful Suffolk Anthology bookshop.

About Edward James

cover of The Frozen Dream by Edward James
Edward James’ prize-winning novel explores a little-known period of Tudor history

I’d first come across Edward a few years ago, when he won a prize awarded by publishing service provider SilverWood Books and ebook distributor Kobo, which I’ve just enjoyed reading. It tells the story of a little-known historical episode when Tudor explorers attempted to find a north-east trade-route passage via the Arctic to China. His prize was to have his novel beautifully produced by SilverWood, and as you can tell from this stunninng cover, they did their customary great job. (You can find out more about his book on the SilverWood website here.) 

Amongst Friends

When he invited me to speak at Cheltenham Writers’ Alliance about my own writing and publishing activities, I didn’t expect to know anyone else there, so it was a pleasant surprise to see in the audience the lovely bookseller Sallie Anderson from the Suffolk Anthology bookshop and Dr Terri Passenger, a trustee of Read for Good (formerly Readathon), the wonderful children’s reading charity that I used to work for.

My Talk

Edward had asked me to talk about my books and writing, and about the self-publishing process. Fuelled by coffee and Kit-Kats all round, I managed to talk for nearly two hours, with lots of show-and-tell of my books, and plenty of questions from the audience.

Afterwards, Edward kindly invited me to be interviewed on his blog, so that members who were not at the meeting, and anyone else who was interested, might catch up with what they’d missed. He’s now posted the interview on his website, and it includes my answers to the following questions:

  • When did you decide you wanted to be a  writer?
  • What did you do before you became a full-time writer?  How did  it contribute  to your writing?
  • Tell me about some of the things you have written.  What is your current project?
  • What made you decide to self-publish?
  • Can you describe your writing day?
  • You convene two local groups of ALLi.  Can you tell me about ALLi and how it can help self-published authors?
  • You have  a lot of other activities including the Hawkesbury Festival.  How did that come about?
  • When you spoke to Cheltenham Writers’ Circle you told us about Beta Readers.  Could you say something here for those of us who were not at the meeting?

Could you give us some links  to tell us more about your work?

If you’d like to read my answers, click this link to read the interview on Edward’s Busy Words blog.

Edward’s blog also includes interviews with a range of interesting authors and bookish types, and I was delighted to discover one of them is Helene Hewett, proprietor of the Suffolk Anthology bookshop, which brings us neatly full circle to where I began this post!

Group shot of authors in doorway of bookshop
Helene Hewett is immediately behind me in this group shot of author friends in the Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, in this jolly shot by Angela Fitch Photography. (Unfortunately this was taken before Edward joined the group.)

 

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

1 Simple Tip to Boost Your Writing Productivity: Learn to Touch-Type

A post in praise of touch-typing

This post originally appeared on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-publishing Advice blog here, where it was obviously aimed at indie authors and aspiring writers, a startling number of whom don’t touch-type. I’m reproducing it here because I believe the content is equally relevant and helpful to anyone who uses a computer keyboard for any purpose, business or pleasure.

Why the old-fashioned skill of touch typing can be a real boon to twenty-first century indie authors, and why you should add this accomplishment to your repertoire to help you increase your output as a writer.

Blog posts and books abound about how indie authors can increase their self-publishing productivity by various means, primarily by focusing on increasing daily word counts. Different methods exist for boosting your writing output, such as getting into a daily habit of writing a fixed number of words per session or day, or by writing in sprints, against the clock, or using popular schemes such as NaNoWriMo to squeeze out a fixed word count in a set time frame.

Image of keyboard with most of letters rubbed off

True touch typing means it doesn’t matter if you’ve written so much, you’ve worn the letters off your keyboard

Missing a Trick

But most of these schemes fail to mention one of the most straightforward practical tips there is: to learn to touch-type.  In an informal survey I’ve just conducted of over 100 indie authors, around 40% of them admitted they didn’t touch type. This included writers of multiple books. I wondered how much more prolific they might be if they mastered this important art.

What is Touch-typing?

Touch typing means typing accurately without looking at the keyboard. Thanks to an ALLi member in Russia, Alexander Kirko, I can tell you that in three other languages, touch typing is known as “blind typing”, which I think is a more graphic description.

When you can touch type efficiently, you can set down many more words per minute than you can when you have to look at the keyboard. This frees you to concentrate on picking the right words, rather than hunting for the right letters.

There’s no such thing as a “sort of” touch typist. It’s like being “a bit pregnant”. You either are or you aren’t.

Many Ways to Learn

Many of the respondents to my informal poll reported that they’d learned to touch type early in their careers, either at school or at college or on first entering the world of work, and plenty went on to say it was the most useful skill they’d ever learned.

But the good news is, it’s never too late to learn, and by throwing a little time at the task each day, you can quickly acquire the skill. It’s simply a question of putting in a certain number of hours to program your brain.

How you do it is up to you, and there’s plenty of choice.

  • I learned fresh out of university, using a tried-and-trusted traditional approach: a typing manual with a cardboard chart that taught you to match the right fingers to the right keys, building up your skill one row and one new finger at a time till you’d mastered the alphabet.
  • These days there are plenty of automated programs available online to make the process more fun.

Whichever route you choose, make sure you pick one that serves the layout for whatever language you write in. When I went to work in Switzerland in my twenties, I had to reprogramme myself to use a German keyboard, in which the Y and the Z trade places.

If you’ve learned to drive a car, you can learn to touch type. And you won’t even have to master hill starts or parallel parking.

So if you haven’t mastered the art of touch typing yet, and are seeking to increase your writing output, don’t dismiss this simple technique. Once you’re hammering out 80 words a minute (my current rate – I just checked on this fun online gadget), you’ll be glad that you persevered.

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

If you’re an author or an aspiring author, you’ll find more posts like this, with a new one published every day, on the Alliance of Independent AuthorsSelf-publishing Advice blog, of which I’m Commissioning Editor.