A Life in the Day of a Writer: Author Anne Stormont describes a typical writing day #writing #author #reading

My desk area – otherwise known as post-it note city

New Feature

Yes, today it’s a post all about me – or rather it’s all about my working day as a writer. It’s the first in a new series of guest posts that I’m hoping to host here. The idea being that every month or so a different writer will share what their writing life looks like by sharing a typical day at the desk – and away from it.

And I thought why not launch the feature with my own summary of daily life as an author. So here goes …

A day in my writing life

Writing for me is a job. Yes, it’s a job I love, but it’s still a job. Therefore in order to get paid, I have to turn up. I’m fortunate nowadays to have retired from my other job as a primary school teacher, so writing is my only work.

Planned & Scheduled

However, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword discipline wise. Yes, I have lots of time in which to write but that fact only increases the chance of procrastination. So as my own boss, I have to be strict. I have to have a schedule and I have to stick to it. And this is where my previous life as a teacher comes in handy. Teaching requires lots of planning and scheduling – it’s something I’m comfortable with and actually quite good at. So I have the long-term plan, the weekly plan and the daily plan. And I mainly stick to them – my boss is strict – but she’s not entirely unreasonable 😊

Morning

My day typical begins reasonably early – around 7.30 or so and my first activity of the day is usually going for a walk. I don’t let bad weather stop me and I walk for an hour or so. I view the walk as the daily equivalent of walking to and from my workplace and I find that starting the day with exercise helps me focus once I am at work.

Once back from my walk, I head for the desk – and just the simple act of going into my den and sitting at my computer helps get me in the zone. I’ll write for an hour or so – maybe two – usually adding words to my novel-in-progress and aiming to achieve the word count target I’ll have set for the session. If I’m just beginning something new, this time can also be used for planning and maybe some research. Or if the book is at the editing stage, then this will be rewriting time.

Afternoon

After lunch I’ll write for another hour – again with a number of words to aim for – and once that’s achieved my brain has usually had quite enough of being creative.

So for the remainder of the afternoon I do the other necessary tasks that come with being an author. It might be writing a post for this blog, it might be writing something for my Facebook author page, it could be preparing for an author event – or it could be doing any of the other many managing and marketing jobs that go with the territory.

Down time

I take evenings and weekends off – but if I’m in the mood I will do some unscheduled work during those times. This is most likely to happen if I have a deadline looming or if I’m simply at the stage in a novel where the words are flowing and I can’t wait to crack on with it. But time out is important too and it’s often when I’m relaxing, walking, gardening – or doing nothing in particular – that ideas come to me or solutions to plotting problems present themselves.

A good life

And there you have it. It ain’t glamorous, it’s largely solitary and it’s often frustrating or just plain hard. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my days spent as a writer, I love my writing life and I don’t intend to retire any time soon.

Taking Stock: Where next for the blog and my writing #amwriting #writing #books

What next?

The gratuitous photo above is of one of the flower beds in my garden – with lovely new wooden garden chairs behind. The picture has little to do with the post really, except being a writer, I also like a gratuitous metaphor. So just as my garden needs weeding and new planting from time to time so too does my blog. And writing a new book requires tending to lots of seedling ideas.

Therefore as this post is about taking stock, tidying up and letting new ideas take root, I defend my use of both the picture and the metaphors πŸ™‚

Blog plansΒ 

It’s almost a year since I set up and hosted the two-month-long Virtual Book Festival here on the blog. Little did I know, when I had the idea to go virtual, that in 2020 book festivals – like so many other events – would all be going online and that this would become the norm – due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a lot of work to organise but it was also great fun to do.

I’m not planning to do another festival this year, but I have been thinking about where next for the blog. Put it in Writing started out ten years ago as just a blog, but it has now evolved and is the front page of my author website.Β  And while the website pages are all about my books and my author business, my blog has always included much more than that. It was always my intention to share not only aspects of my own writing life, but also to post about books and reading in a wider sense and to offer interview posts to fellow authors. And that remains my intention.

So, to free up a bit of time and space I intend to do fewer book reviews – but I’ll keep my Books of the Month feature – which is more recommendations rather than reviews.

And while I’ll continue to offer some interview posts to other writers, I’m also going to add in a new feature which I hope readers of the blog will enjoy. This new type of post will be one where I invite an author to share their typical writing day – thereby giving an insight into how they work and what they do. It will be by invitation only and will be called A Life in the Day of …

New Writing Plans

And with the publication in May of Fulfilment, the final novel in my three part Rachel & Jack: Skye series, it’s time to explore the possibilities for my next book. I’m not short of ideas – I have a notebook full of ideas – but all these seedlings need thinning out – and only a few will make it to the plot – see what I did there? πŸ™‚ Okay, I’ll stop with the metaphors now.

But seriously, I’m sort of spoiled for choice. Perhaps I’ll go for a series again – but this time set the books in southern Scotland and have each book focus on a different romantically entwined couple within that locality/community. Or maybe I’ll do a standalone – or two – instead of, or as well as, a series? And will I do another children’s novel – a sequel to The Silver Locket perhaps with the same three children as lead characters – and have them embark on another time-travelling adventure? These are exciting dilemmas to have and although I already miss Rachel and Jack it really is time to leave them in peace to get on with their lives without my meddling. Mind you a Christmas short story set a year after Fulfilment is sort of beckoning …

Back to the Creative Department

So after a lot of time spent on the online launch of Fulfilment, it’s time to spend less time in the marketing department and to focus on making something fresh and new – both here on the blog and with the crafting of a new novel. And I do appreciate how fortunate I am that the work I do can continue – lockdown or not.

Continue to stay safe everyone.

PS

As a postscript to this post – a question:

Like many people I’ve found I’m reading more during lockdown but that’s not the case for everyone – have you been reading more – or less – during this difficult time? If you have been reading, please do share your favourite lockdown read – and why you enjoyed it – in the comments below.

Writing a novel is the easy part: After you write ‘The End’ the hard work really begins #writing #amwriting #editing #books

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

In three recent posts I’ve written about where I get the ideas for the characters and plots in my novels, HERE, how I come up with and (to a certain extent) invent and adapt settings, HERE, and topics that I’ve had to research, HERE

If I get all that right I can then – she says modestly – come up with a pretty good 80 thousand word story. Job done.

Except it’s not. Oh no, writing that first draft is the easy part. And when I write ‘THE END’ it’s really only the end of the beginning – or the beginning of the end perhaps??

Whatever! There’s a lot that still needs to be done to get the story ready for readers.

Check and take note

First off, I have to go back to the beginning and read over the whole manuscript. And, all the time I’m reading, I’m also checking. I’m checking for errors – errors such as factual mistakes, inconsistencies in the plot, poor wording, sloppy phrasing, irrelevancies, boring bits, punctuation missing or wrongly applied, grammar crimes … and that’s not a comprehensive list.

Rewrite, rewrite and rewrite

Then, based on my notes from the above read through, I redraft and rewrite the manuscript. I’ll do this as many times as it takes for me to be satisfied that all is now well.

Off to the Editor

Once I’m sure it’s perfect, I send my story to my editor, confident he’ll find absolutely nothing wrong. I never learn! Of course he finds plenty. He’s an amazingly clever and astute alchemist of prose and much as I’d love to disagree with his constructive suggestions and recommendations as to what needs to be changed, I find myself going, ‘you know what, he’s right.’

Rewrite some more

So, after the editorial feedback is received, it’s time to rewrite some more and make even more changes to what is now draft number 526 (okay, slight exaggeration there).

But even after that I’m still not done. Oh no.

An irresistible backcover blurb

While all the editing is going on, I have to come up with the back cover blurb which will make the book irresistible to prospective readers who pick it off the shelf in their local bookshop, or who’re browsing that big online site that sells stuff. And, as if that wasn’t hard enough, I also have to produce a six (or so) word strapline for the front cover. This must be just as convincing as the back cover text that my novel is an unputdownable must-read. Writing both these reader-capture items is SO hard. I’d rather write another whole novel than condense my current one down to a paragraph – or worse still half a dozen words.

A beguiling cover

And while I’m agonising over the cover words, I’m also in discussion with the cover designer trying to come up with an awesome, attention-grabbing cover image. For someone as artistically challenged as I am this isn’t easy. But luckily as with my editor, I’m also very fortunate to have a fantastically talented and easy to work with designer.

After all the final edits are applied and the cover text and cover images are nailed and agreed upon, you’d think that would be it, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

Proofread and check again

While I’m agonising over and finalising the cover, my proof-reader, aka the husband, is reading the ‘final’ manuscript to check for any errors not spotted by me or the editor, such as a missing apostrophe, a misspelling or anything that seems unclear or just plain wrong. And you know what, he’s incredibly good at his job and will always spot something that has previously gone undetected.

All set up

Then, at last, the now pristine manuscript is ready to be formatted for both print and e-book versions of the novel. And, you guessed it, after that’s done it has to be checked over yet again – just in case anything has gone awry during the conversion process.

Okay, you still with me? If so, well done. If not, waken up at the back there!

Early readers

Yes, I’m almost there now. All that remains, after all of the above is complete, is to ask, beg, plead with members of my early-reading team to read at least part, if not all of my soon-to-be-published masterpiece and to let me know what they think, or better still to write a review, or maybe even a cover quote.

And publish!

Then, finally, publication date can be confirmed.

And, at last, I really can write THE END.

All that remains after this point is the launch and marketing plan. But that’s a post for another day. In fact I’m going to be spending most of March preparing for the publication of Fulfilment –Β  doing the final edits and checks and making that launch and marketing plan – and so I’ll be taking a short break from the blog.

Back soon.

Fiction isn’t all made up: researching the facts and knowing how to use them #writing #amwriting #fiction #books

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Research is vital – even when making stuff up

In my post a couple of weeks ago I shared where I get my ideas for my novels from and how my characters and their stories come to me. Then last week I wrote about how tricky it can be to come up with a fictional location even when the book is contemporary and set in the real world. In today’s post I’m sharing some of the research I’ve had to when writing my novels.

Not all down to imagination

Yes, fiction is, by definition, made up. The characters aren’t real people, the story is invented, and the settings maybe don’t actually exist. But writing a made-up story isn’t solely imaginative.

In order to flesh out the characters – their lives and the places they live – lots of credible details have to be included. Details such as jobs, workplaces, hobbies, lifestyles, health issues and politics – to name only a few. And that’s where research is essential.

Life experience isn’t enough

As an author, I can, of course, draw on my own life experience and fictionalise events etc. But this can only get me so far. It would all get rather dull rather quickly if everything was just a variation on the theme of me. Β So I have to research all sorts of stuff to give my novels credibility and interest.

Below are just some of the areas I’ve had to explore. And some of it probably makes for an ‘interesting’ internet research history …

Things I needed to research

For my first novel Change of Life, although I shared the profession of primary school teacher with Rosie and had, like her, had a cancer diagnosis, I knew nothing about the profession of her husband Tom. So I had to a fair bit of research on the work of a heart surgeon. Other areas I had to investigate for that first story included adoption, drug addiction and the life of a photo-journalist.

When I wrote my (to date) only children’s novel The Silver Locket, I had, amongst other things, to check up on the historical details of the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

But the amount of research requiring to be done ramped up significantly when I was writing my Skye series.

For Displacement, although, like my main characters, I lived in crofting township on the Scottish island of Skye, I wasn’t working on a croft (in case you don’t know, a croft is a small subsistence farm common in parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands). So I had to research various types of animal husbandry and how crofting works. I also had to research the organisation and ways of working of Police Scotland, the job of a children’s book illustrator, possible complications of pregnancy and the current political situation in the Middle East.

When I was writing Settlement, the second book in the series, I had to look into organised crime, gunshot wounds and how to treat them, as well as the likelihood of surviving a bullet in the chest. The finer points of producing watercolour and oil paintings was another area I had to investigate. And I also had to update my knowledge of both Police Scotland and the work of those on all sides who are working for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine.

Then for my latest book, Fulfilment – the third and final part of the Skye series, to be published next month – there was yet more research to be done. This time it included the use of polytunnels to grow fruit and vegetables, the use of quad bikes on hill farms, the adaptation of quad bikes to hand controls only, how to photograph the night sky, advanced sheep care, PTSD – its nature and treatment, the health implications for those who use a prosthetic leg following amputation, and the work of various social enterprises and charities.

And, as I say, the above list of topics contains just some of the stuff I’ve had to research in the course of my writing.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

But all this investigation of a wide range of topics doesn’t make me an expert in any of them. I hope I’ve done enough to add to the interest, credibility and level of entertainment that I hope my books contain. However, I can’t perform heart surgery, provide mental health therapy, deliver a lamb or treat a sick sheep. Neither can I paint beautiful pictures or photograph the Milky Way. I don’t need to do any of those things, I just have to know enough to convince my readers that my characters can do them.

The perils of research for an author

The downside of doing lots of research as an author is the temptation to justify the time spent doing it by including way too much of it in the story. So it’s a bit of a balancing act when deciding what to include and what to leave out. I know I have to be ruthless and only include what enhances the story or risk boring my readers with a load of irrelevant detail.

Disclaimer

I apologise now if I’ve made any factual errors in spite of my research and constant fact-checking. Any mistakes are most definitely mine and not those of the real experts I asked – or indeed of Mr Google. So don’t treat any of my novels as manuals 😊

I don’t profess to be an expert in everything included in my novels. But I do hope my research has been good enough. Thank you to everyone who has personally and patiently shared their true expertise with me. Respect to you all. I hope I’ve used my research appropriately and understood and interpreted correctly.

But, most of all, I do believe that the time I’ve devoted to my research has been well spent – and that my stories are better for it.

World Building When Writing Fiction #writing #writerscraft, #fiction #books #reading

The nitty-gritty of writing – it’s not all glamorous

In my previous post I talked about how when I’m writing a book it begins with a character – a character that comes to me out of the blue usually when I’m busy doing something completely unrelated to writing. And it’s in getting to know that character that the plot begins to develop, as does the idea of where it should be set.

The devil is in the detail – timelines, events & maps

But whereas I don’t do much in the way of detailed planning for the development of the story itself, preferring to see where my characters take me, I’ve learned the hard way that I absolutely must have a detailed record of the timescales involved, of the factual biographies of the characters, and of the locations where the action will take place. This is particularly important when writing a series as there’s only so much detail I can hold in my memory.

Timing is crucial

Therefore I’ll have a time frame for the duration of the action – be that over a year, a month, a week – whatever. And even if I don’t say it’s all taking place in, for example, 2017, I’ll make sure I have a definite year or period in mind, so that the continuity of the action works.

Character biographies

Linked to that I’ll also have the birth dates and ages of all the main characters decided on and noted – again no matter whether those details are mentioned in the novel. But as well as dates of birth, I also make sure to note all the relevant background details of the characters that might influence their actions and reactions in the novel – yes, regardless of whether these details are directly mentioned in the telling of the story. For example what their parents did for a living and what their names were, where the character grew up, their siblings if any, perhaps their health history or educational record. And most importantly I make a note of their physical characteristics – again – you guessed it – whether or not they’re directly referred to in the telling of the tale. This all helps bring the characters fully to life in my head and, as with the timeline, helps me check continuity.

Made-up places

And, although I use real world settings in my novels I do also apply some fictionalising to those real places. That way I get the best of both worlds and my already hard-working imagination doesn’t get overstretched.

So, for example in my Skye-set novels – the Scottish island is of course real. The main town of Portree, the famous mountains and other scenic sites are all places that exist, but the township of Halladale where my main character Rachel loves is entirely fictional – as are its hills and the local mountain, Ben Halla.

I made up Halladale because I wanted the freedom to include whatever houses, landscape and other features that I needed for my story to work. As for the houses where Jack, Rachel and other characters live – whether on Skye, or in the other locations the story takes them – they, too are all made up. However, although some are completely made-up, some are based on real places. Halladale is based on the place where I lived in north Skye. Rachel’s house is loosely based on my own Skye house. And the Jerusalem flat where Rachel’s brother lives is based on the apartment where a friend of mine lived when she was growing up there and which I visited.

Using made up or fictionalised places means that I draw out floorplans of the houses and note what direction they face and what can be seen from various windows and so on. I also draw maps – for example I drew a map of Halladale and noted how far it was (in my mind) from the real main town of Portree and where on the island’s northern peninsula I have placed it. That way I can have them leave their driveways and head in the right direction every time, and I can have them gaze out of their front room window at the same view of the loch as they had in a previous chapter.

All of these background details are essential. Shared with my readers or not, they help ensure consistency and credibility in my storytelling and having them written down saves me so much time as I edit, proofread and check my manuscript before publication.

Not all about channelling the muse

So, this writer’s life is not just a case of sitting down and having the inspired and wonderful prose flow effortlessly from brain to computer screen. A lot of effort goes into producing a novel – oh yes, it does – and there’s a lot goes on in the background that the reader never gets to see but is a nevertheless necessary part of the writer’s craft.

Which brings me to research – another essential item in the build-a-novel toolkit. But that’s a post for another day.

 

It Started with a Character: the magical process of writing #writing #reading #RomanceReaders

The Unexpected Seed of an Idea

I can’t quite believe I’ve typed the magic words ‘The End’ – not only on the manuscript of my latest novel but on the third and final part of a series of three.

My first novel, Change of Life, which recently celebrated its tenth birthday, was written as a standalone. I didn’t even consider writing a series. And the same was true when I started my second one, Displacement.

When I began my first book I had a fairly good idea of the story I wanted to tell, where it would be set, and who the cast list of characters would be. This was probably because I’d first written versions of parts of the novel as various short stories, never really believing I’d actually write a whole book someday.

But Displacement began as a tiny seed. I was in the process of writing my (so far) only children’s novel and wasn’t consciously thinking about a new book for adult readers. But my sub-conscious author brain didn’t give two hoots what I was trying to focus on when, out of the blue, it presented me with a character.

I was at my (then) home on the Scottish island of Skye and I was hanging out the washing in my garden and had paused to take in the breath-taking view over the loch to the mountains. Then this woman appeared in my head.

She wouldn’t go away. I just knew she had a story to tell. Gradually I interviewed, interrogated and thought about her. Slowly she took on a life of her own. Rachel had arrived.

Rachel a fifty-something, divorced mother. Rachel who lived and worked on Skye, combining running a croft (a Scottish form of smallholding or subsistence farming) with being a children’s writer and book illustrator. Rachel who was lost and lonely – until she met Jack.

And the rest is a big part of my fiction writing history.

One becomes Three

As I said, when I began to write Displacement it was only ever meant to be a single, standalone. But I’d no sooner finished it when I realised there was more to be said, more to tell about Rachel and Jack and the rest of the cast. So, Settlement came next.

Then yes, as I also mentioned, the need to write a third in this series took hold of me and Fulfilment will be published in March.

While each of the three books in the Skye series can be read as standalones, I would of course recommend reading all three in order.

However, I do believe it’s now time to let Rachel and Jack and their friends and families get on with their lives in peace. I already miss them terribly, but they’ve had quite enough of my meddling.

I can’t wait to see Fulfilment sitting on my bookshelf with its two siblings. That will give me my own sense of fulfilment – see what I did there? From a tiny acorn of an idea came not just one oak, but three. I know! I’m a writer! Allow me some poetic metaphors.

AND now, it’s very exciting to be contemplating a whole new fertile field and wondering what sort of seedlings might begin to grow …

Okay I’ll stop now – all metaphored out.

But please do watch this space for Fulfilment‘s release date. It’s coming soon 😊

(The buy links for all my books are in the sidebar of this post , or at the foot if you’re reading this on a phone).

And, as always, questions for you –

Writers – how and where do you get your inspiration and ideas?

Readers – do you prefer to read standalones or series? And if you like series, do you prefer the same lead characters in each installment – or do you like new leads for each book, but to catch up with previous stars as part of the follow on stories?

Responses are welcome in the comments below.

 

 

 

Writer’s Block: How to bash through #amwriting #writing

Writing is hard work – just like a proper job …

I used to think that being a writer was a pretty cushy job. After all a writer is their own boss, they can go to work in their pyjamas, drink as many cups of tea as they like, and all they have to do is bash out a few thousand words each day and within months – maybe even weeks – they have a best-selling novel and millions of pounds in the bank.

Of course that was before I actually became a writer. Now before I go any further, I should say that I know there are countless worse jobs – in terms of conditions, physical and emotional demands, and sense of achievement – than that of book writer. But I know that for me – and many fellow authors – it came as a bit of surprise to discover that actually it has a lot in common with other ways of earning a living.

And one of the main factors that working as a writer has in common with any other occupation is that you have to turn up – whether in pyjamas or a pin stripe suit – with or without liquid refreshment, and you have to be productive. You can’t be all precious and sit there sighing as you wait for your inspirational muse. Oh no, you just have to get on and write. You have to hit the daily word count target and keep the publishing schedules and deadlines firmly in sight at all times.

So when the dreaded writers’ block hits – and it inevitably does at some stage – it’s important to find ways around it and to get back up and running without too much delay. And so I thought that in today’s post I’d share some of the things that help me demolish or at least get round this most horrible obstacle to creativity.

Firstly it’s important to know the possible reason for the block. It might be fatigue, it might be self-doubt either about writing ability or doubts about the worth of the story itself, or it might be a particular scene or chapter that’s proving troublesome.

Procrastination is permitted

If it’s fatigue, then it’s important to give yourself permission to rest. It doesn’t have to mean going off on a world cruise, or even taking a whole day off but it’s okay – indeed it’s essential not to let yourself burn out. Procrastination is sometimes not only permissible it can be vital. So listen to music, indulge in a hobby – be it sewing, gardening or motor-cycling. Or you could have a nap, go for coffee and a cake with a friend, or even curl up with a book by some other writer who’s obviously managed to overcome their own particular blocks.

Doubt is a demon that needs to be kicked off the pitch

If it’s that wicked wee demon known as Doubt that’s getting in the way – then reading part of something you’ve already written and had published can help reassure you that you can do this. Similarly reading positive reviews of your work can be a great way of boosting that fragile belief in your author-self. And if you’re still awaiting publication then taking a minute to recall why you’re writing in the first place can work just as well. For example try recalling who or what it was that first inspired you to write and use it as metaphorical armour to fend off the demonic enemy. Or read over any earlier pieces of work you’re proud of and remind yourself you’ve done it before so you can do it again.

The need to reboot and refresh

And if it’s a particular piece of plotting or characterisation in your work-in-progress that’s giving you grief, getting away from the desk for a good walk can prove helpful. It’s amazing how when your body goes off for a wander, your mind does too. The brain will work away on the problem in the background while you take some deep breaths and take in the views and then when you least expect it will notify you of a possible solution. And if a walk isn’t possible, then any of the above remedies for fatigue can often help with plot-freeze too.

But if diversionary tactics don’t work then it’s quite all right to go round this particular block. So you can leave that particular scene or plot development for later and get on with subsequent chapters for a while. You can always flag up possible continuity issues as you go while the block remains unresolved and sort them out later. And it’s quite possible that by continuing on your way, your brain will again do that thing of going off on its own and solving the problem while you’re looking somewhere else.

And even in the most extreme event – where you and your brain arrive at the conclusion that a major rewrite or indeed abandonment of the book as it is, is what’s required, that’s still progress. And by re-booting the project you will also have kicked the wall over.

Walk round the wall, jump over it, or kick the blighter over

So, in summary, stalling is okay. It happens, it has to happen, and it’s all part of the writing process. The important thing is not to let it be an excuse for giving up. All jobs have their frustrations, but it’s only in the most extreme situations where our health or safety is in doubt that we need to quit.

Most of the time the problems that come with the territory are challenges that can be resolved.

And, as long as the answers to the questions below remain as they are today, I’ve no intention of letting some puny wall get in the way of writing that bestseller.

Is writing an important and vital part of my life? Yes

Do I love my job as a writer? Yes

Can I imagine ever retiring? No

So it’s bah to writer’s block. The show – or in this case the book – must go on!

January: The Write On Month #amwriting

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

I have a love-hate relationship with two-faced January.

In the first month of the year, with the festive season over, it can be hard to get back to real life again. I hate the short, often dark days we get at this time of year in Scotland – and on such days I reckon I could happily hibernate until the spring.

However, we do sometimes get days like today – days that are very cold but also clear, bright and sunny and I can get out for a bracing and invigorating walk.

I also love the fact that it’s usually a quiet month socially – probably because everyone is recovering from all the December festivities.

And I like the fact that January is of course a good time for fresh starts and resolutions.

So as far as my writing is concerned I find this a productive time of year. I resolved to publish the third and final part of my Skye trilogy this year. So suitably inspired after my daily walk – a time when I get most of my writing ideas and insights – I’ve been able to have quality time at the writing desk this month.

I’m already 10000 words in and loving being back with my characters and meddling in their lives. I also have lots of ideas for future books – books set in different locations and with fresh new characters.

So January’s really not so bad after all – and I hope my productivity continues as the days lengthen and more distractions present themselves.

How’s January for you if you too are in the northern hemisphere? And, if you’re in the southern hemisphere, are New Year’s resolutions easier or harder to make and follow in mid-summer? Wherever you are – what do you hope to achieve in 2019? Please do leave comments below.

Procrastinating to Perfection

My name is Anne and I’m a procrastinator.

I’m also a writer and procrastination is in the job description. It’s the supreme avoidance tactic that many of us – writers or not – use when we really don’t want to tackle something. But writers seem to take the P word to professional levels.

Procrastination feeds on a writer’s fear and insecurities and I’m susceptible.

Yes, I mostly believe in my writing self. And, no, I can’t imagine my life without writing. I work hard at it, I take it seriously and do my very best. I know and accept my writing’s not perfect, but my fear is that it’s so imperfect nobody will want to read it.

And when the fear gets out of control, writer’s block can set in. It can be that I’m scared I’ve literally lost the plot and I don’t know where my story is going, or because there’s that inner voice that says I’m just an impostor – not a ‘real’ writer at all. And then when I’m stalled at the writer’s block red light, then procrastination can just jump in the car beside me and turn off the engine. (Sorry, bit of a dodgy metaphor right there – occupational hazard. Did I say I’m a writer?)

However, I do seem to have got the procrastinating thing down to manageable levels. When I’m writing my novels I follow Stephen King’s wise words: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work’. Β Writing is my job. When my job was primary school teacher, I got up and went to work whether I was in the mood or not. Similarly with writing – I don’t wait for the muse. I just go to the desk and write. Mostly…

I can’t deny that procrastination does sometimes still stalk me.Β  And, occasionally, it catches up with me, overtakes me and stands in my way. Then, because I’m now only answerable to myself, and not to a boss, I do sometimes give in to it, let it take me by the hand, and let it lead me down the path to where the non-urgent tasks lie.

But you know what, sometimes giving into procrastination works in my favour. Yes, it could wreck my writing life if I let it, but a little bit now and then can be quite reviving and invigorating. Think of it as like being an alcoholic versus just an occasional drinker. (And yes, there goes another metaphor)

There are actually times when I find procrastination quite helpful. By giving into it, by going for a walk, or doing some gardening, or just tidying a cupboard, I often find that whatever is blocking my writing progress disappears. It’s as if by doing something else, by getting away from the screen or notebook, my mind is freed to go off on a ramble of its own. I then return to my desk ready, maybe even inspired, to write.

I think procrastination is part of the writing process. I think it’s probably right that it’s part of the job description. It lets me step away from the manuscript, lets me take time out to mull things over, to allow fresh ideas to form and, yes, maybe to make my writing a little bit closer to perfection.

Do you sometimes succumb to procrastination? What sort of tasks cause it and how do you get round it? Do you think it serves a positive purpose? Please do feel free to comment below.

Writing: What’s in it for me?

 

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It’s a journey and I never know quite where I’m going to end up

 

For me, for my life in general, writing has always been a problem-solving kind of activity. If I’ve anything on my mind I always find writing it down helps.

It could be something as simple as a to-do list. I do like lists. I make lists about lists and my desk has been called ‘post-it’ city.

If there’s something I need to think through or work out a plan of attack for, then a mind-map or a set of bullet points put down on paper is the way to go. If something is making me anxious, going round and round in my head and is threatening to prevent me from sleeping then simply jotting it down in my bedside notebook, to be attended to in the morning, is enough to allow me to drop off.

But more specifically, writing creatively, whether it’s an article such as this for the blog, or writing a short story or novel helps me make sense of my world and the world. And it’s not necessarily something I set out to discover. I love that writing for me is full of surprises.

For example, when I began writing my first novel Change of Life I had it in mind that I would be writing contemporary fiction, probably with a target readership of middle-aged women. My main characters came to me first. It was to be a story of a long-time married couple who find not only their marriage, but their wider lives too, under threat from some unforeseen changes. It was going to be a straightforward romance novel albeit where the protagonists were no longer in the chick-lit age range.

But working on the story allowed me to work through and gain an understanding of long-term marriage versus short term romance. It led me to examine the ups and downs and pros and cons of inter-generational family relationships. It let me examine friendship and how life-enhancing a true friendship can be. And it let me look at what being diagnosed with a serious illness means in terms of facing up to the rigours of treatment and to accepting one’s own mortality.

Most of all, as I lived with my characters and saw their story unfold, I began to see that change, even when it looks daunting, threatening or even impossible can turn out to be a good and life-affirming thing. I’d stumbled on some big themes.

When I set out to write The Silver Locket, my novel for children, I was aiming to write a modern Enid Blytonesque adventure story with a bit of time travel thrown in.

But teasing out the story meant having to truly empathise with my three main characters: a child with Aspergers, another child whose mother had died, and a child whose parents were divorced. At the time of writing that novel, I was still working as a teacher of children with special educational and emotional support needs. So getting into the heads of my characters gave me a clearer view of how life might actually be for some real life children. Not only that it let me see that what we often view as a handicap can actually be the very opposite of that, and that children left to their own devices can be remarkably resourceful and resilient.

When I began Displacement, my second novel of contemporary fiction for adults, I set off in a similar vein as I had with Change of Life. My main characters had arrived unbidden – one while I was hanging out the washing and the other while I was driving to work. The story would involve some romance, the main characters would be post-fifty, and there would be challenges aplenty – challenges that would lead to the characters’ complete displacement from their normal lives. I knew that the setting would have a big role to play this time, and I knew that the story would have two main locations: the Scottish island of Skye and the Middle Eastern country of Israel-Palestine.

Even although I knew both locations reasonably well, having lived in one and having visited the other several times, I did expect to have to do some research, what I didn’t expect was just where my research and plot development would take me.

I had to delve further into both twentieth century history and current Middle-Eastern politics than I’d intended. I had to confront the realities for a Jewish child escaping Nazi Germany. I had to investigate Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan and what it takes to be a Royal Marine commando. I had to confront parental grief after the loss of a son. I also came to see that displacement can happen on many levels, have many causes and that it can have both positive and negative effects.

And again, I realised as I progressed with the writing, that this was more than a simple romance, more than two characters meeting and, after overcoming a series of obstacles, living happily ever after. Once more I was in the complex territory of real-life, later-life, relationships and real-life, meaning-of-life issues.

Once again I was pleasantly surprised by just how rewarding and intellectually stimulating working on a multi-layered story can be.

And now I’m writing the sequel to Displacement – working title is Settlement. The first thing I got out of it was the surprise of doing it at all. I hadn’t planned to write a sequel. The second thing was an important lesson: do NOT throw your original novel notes away, even when the novel is complete. Yes, I wrote them by hand in a notebook, no I didn’t store them electronically. Duh! So character biographies and house layouts had all to be done again.

But the third and main thing I’m getting out of the writing this time is bigger than those practical discoveries, and bigger than the discoveries made while writing earlier work.

Working on Settlement has me intrigued. It sees the main female character back working in the Middle East partly as a way of settling some personal issues. Meanwhile, the main male character is also dealing with some significant unfinished business from his past. And the plot is developing and operating on so many levels that I hadn’t foreseen.

I did foresee the relationship difficulties between the two main characters. They see life differently. It was apparent in the previous book that one is a romantic and the other is a realist, one prizes loyalty and the other is fickle, one works at relationships, and the other walks away. And I did foresee a parallel between the consequences of upheaval and settlement in the personal lives of my characters and the wider consequences of displacement and settlement on a national and international level.

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But I didn’t foresee just how much the personal aspects would come to underpin the wider political aspects of the story. I came to realise that just the act of letting someone speak, and of listening to them as they do so, can have far-reaching and profound consequences.

I don’t know if there are more surprises to come as I complete the final third of book, but that’s why I love writing so much. I never know where it’s going to take me or what I’m going to discover.

It’s exhilarating!

My next post will look at what (I hope) my writing has in it for readers…