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 🙂

Blog plans 

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.  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? 🙂 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.

Time To Write. But Struggling To Get On With It: Using writing prompts to get started #writing #amwriting #writingprompts #WordPress

Getting Started Can Prove Difficult

Whether you’re a professional author, someone who writes as a hobby, or are a complete novice, the hardest part of getting words down on the page is often, simply, getting started – even in normal times.

But, in the challenging times we’re currently living through, no matter how much you want to continue writing, or to give it a try for the first time, it may be proving even more difficult to get in the zone – regardless of the time you may have at your disposal.

Writing like any other art or craft is part aptitude, part acquired skill, but for the most part perseverance. It can be frustrating, challenging and exhilarating.

Yes, it begins with inspiration and by that I don’t mean anything particularly grand. It can be a tiny seed – a passing thought, a memory, a question that pops into your head uninvited but it can be enough to eventually lead to a finished, polished and ready to share piece of work. Or having explored it you might decide it’s not worth pursuing. But either way you’re going to have to take the idea and have a go at writing something.

But sometimes inspiration doesn’t arrive. You know you want to write something but you don’t know what. And this is equally the case for experienced and rookie writers. And sometimes, even when you do have an idea you’d like to run (or continue) with, that old enemy procrastination prevents you getting to your notebook or laptop and getting on with it.

And this is where writing prompts can prove very useful. A writing prompt is that little seed that will get you started but you don’t have to come up with an idea yourself. It’s also not prescriptive in terms of style or content, it’s just a gentle, non-threatening nudge.

Following a writing prompt might lead to a few lines, a paragraph, or a page of words. The result might turn out to be a poem, a bit of factual writing or a fictional story. It might be something you want to develop further, it might not – but it will get you in the writing zone.

Using a prompt acts as a warm-up for your writing brain. It can set you up for getting back to the work-in-progress or it can inspire and encourage you to try something new. Nobody but you is going to see it. You can write freely. And it doesn’t have to lead to anything other than writing for its own sake.

So all you need now are some examples – some actual writing prompts – and it so happens I have some to share with you. And they’re courtesy of the amazing creative folks over at WordPress.

Writing Prompts on WordPress

Throughout the month of April WordPress has been offering a daily one-word creative prompt and you can see them by clicking here. There are also helpful notes and hints as to how you might go about writing your response to the prompt.

Examples include:

  • Hands
  • Pairs
  • Open
  • Song
  • Distance

So what are you waiting for? Established writer or complete beginner – go on give it a go. Write on the back of an envelope, in a beautiful notebook, or on your computer. Keep the results to yourself, develop them into something more, or put them up on your new or established writing blog – it’s up to you. But just do it.

What helps you to stop procrastinating – not only if you’re a writer – but in life in general? What helps you get into the required zone and get on with whatever it is you need to be doing? Are you finding it harder to concentrate during lockdown – or has it proved to be a gift of extra time for you to do the things you enjoy – while at home?

 

 

 

Best Blogs Part 1: Comics Grinder

Comics Grinder

One of the best things about blogging is connecting with fellow bloggers. I follow a wide variety blogs and am always entertained, educated and excited by them. Over the next while I plan to post about some of the blogs I consider to be amongst the best.

First up is Comics Grinder the home of fellow WordPress blogger, graphic novel author and illustrator, Henry Chamberlain. You can visit his highly informative and knowledgeable blog here.

George's Run 2

Henry is a prolific poster. And the standard of his posts is consistently high. He reviews graphic novels, comics and comic conferences. He includes every sort of work aimed at all sorts of audiences. He generously highlights the work of other cartoonists and comic authors. But he’s also a talented comics author in his own right and is working on a graphic biography of George Clayton Johnson, the co author of Logan’s Run and the writer of the first ever episode of Star Trek. Part One is called George’s Run #1 (Amazon UK link) is available on Kindle. (Amazon US Link)

Comics: not just for kids but a good place to start

Comics were something I enjoyed when I was a child when I read the Beano, the Bunty and the Diana, to name just a few. I loved all the usual suspects. The anarchy of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street kids was just fab, if not politically correct. Later I graduated to the Jackie and I devoured the comic strip tales of teenage love, and  Cathy and Claire’s problem page.  And of course, when I was a child no 1960s Scottish Christmas was complete without the comics latest annuals –  along with the new Oor Wullie or The Broons collections.

But then, once I grew up, apart from revisiting some of them when my children were young, I moved on from comics.

That is until many years later, when I made the move from my role as a primary school class teacher into the much more challenging role of a support for learning teacher. I had pupils who struggled to read or write anything – either because it was an intellectual challenge that left them feeling defeated before they even started, or because their emotional problems, or way of seeing the world, acted as a barrier to any kind of engagement with the printed word. I tried lots of things that didn’t work well and then I had a breakthrough. I rediscovered comics and the ‘grown-up’ version of the preschool picture book – the graphic novel.

The old saying a picture is worth a thousand words was never so true. I soon discovered even the most reluctant or cut-off child found a graphically told story irresistible. Stories like The Wolves in the Walls, or The Day I Swapped my Dad for a Goldfish, both  by Neil Gaiman, or The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan worked their magic. And before long my pupils were wanting to write their own graphic novels, or in the case of pupils with communication difficulties such as autism, use a comic format to compile a social interaction script that they could share with others. But the most unexpected thing about using the comic/graphic format was it also worked with more able children. I was sometimes asked to support and stretch these children too. Children who’d been coasting, who’d lost motivation because things came so easily to them, they too were inspired by the genre to experiment, to try new things in their writing and in their reading. Pictures can be the key to storytelling. They’re efficient, economic and vivid.

Comics and Graphic Novels for the grown-ups

Comic books have been around a long time for sure – think of all the Marvel heroes. But I think they’ve come to the fore again in our now highly visual,  online, picture-based world of Tumblr, Instagram and the selfie-based, shared status update. And the effect of that goes way beyond just children’s or young adult’s reading.

Comic books, graphic novels and graphic non-fiction are increasingly popular with grown-ups too. For example there’s Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis about her life in Iran, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home about living with her secretly gay father, and  Joe Sacco’s Palestine or his more recent Journalism. If you’re not a comic format fan why not get out of your reading comfort zone and give them a try? Any of the above would be a good place to start. As of course would Henry’s blog and his book George’s Run, Part 1 which I will review in my next post.

Discover a Great Blog and Learn More about the Graphic Arts

But in the meantime, if you want to know more about the grown-up world of comics and graphic novels then do visit Henry ‘s blog.  There’s everything from Wonder Woman to Star Wars. And Henry’s a welcoming host who’s happy to interact.

Social Media for Writers-building an online platform

image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com

Daunting? Yes, a bit. What I expected? No. Worth it? Definitely.

This is not meant to be a definitive guide. It’s a look at what’s worked for me with regard to promoting my writing. If it helps you become better informed for doing the same, then that’s great. But I present it in the hope it’s interesting for its own sake.

Five years ago I published my first novel, Change of Life. But of course that wasn’t the end of the process of being a published author. It was merely the end of the beginning. The next stage was marketing.

I’d written it to be read. I wanted readers. The book was available as a paperback and as an e-book. It was available to buy online and in the few bookshops I’d managed to persuade to stock it.

But if nobody except me and my nearest and dearest knew the book existed, let alone anything about it, then it wasn’t going to be bought or read.

So how to get it noticed?

The advice on writers’ street was to get onto the social networks. Authors, it was said, needed a strong online presence. They needed a social media/online platform. Now, up until 2010, a platform to me was where you boarded and exited a train. So, I found myself at the foot of a learning slope of at least Ben Nevis proportions, if not quite Everest. And the slope would lead me to this virtual platform.

It was a bit daunting at first, but I did my research, assembled the necessary kit and set off.

EXPLORATION PHASE:

image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com
image © Rawpixel via shutterstock.com

Although I was relatively tech savvy, I knew nothing of Facebook and its siblings. I’d heard of them of course, but being of a certain age, i.e. over fifty, they weren’t my natural habitats and the landscapes were totally unfamiliar.

WEBSITE: With my husband’s help, I got myself a domain name, a web hosting package and I set up a website. I furnished the site with home page and an about page. I included information about my writing and my novel and where to buy it.

image © 360b via shutterstock.com
image © 360b via shutterstock.com

BLOG: My first solo expedition was blogging. I chose WordPress as the host. I was impressed by both the clarity and ease of use, and the level of support it offered. I still am. So I claimed a spot and set up my online base camp there.

image © Gustavo Frazao via shutterstock.com
image © Gustavo Frazao via shutterstock.com

TWITTER: From there I visited Twitter. Nobody from my real life was on there and the land of 140 characters was completely alien. But gradually I got the hang of it. I followed people and people followed me. I got to know the etiquette, found some good Twitter mentors and some lovely Twitter friends amongst the other writers who are on there. I set up a link from my blog to Twitter, and from Twitter to my blog and moved easily between the two.

image © Twinsterphoto via shutterstock.com
image © Twinsterphoto via shutterstock.com

FACEBOOK: Encouraged by all of this, I then ventured out into the wilds of Facebook. I befriended the members of my friends and family who were already there and some of the writers who I ‘knew’ from my pre-publication days when I hung out at the writing peer review website You Write On. I also joined some Facebook writers’ groups and set up an author page. And, as I’d done with Twitter I linked my Facebook presence to my blog.

GOODREADS: It wasn’t until 2014 that I ‘decided’ to join Goodreads. I was sort of gently coerced there by another writer whose book I’d reviewed on my blog. This writer has a bit of a presence on Goodreads and was very keen that I post my review of her book there.

PINTEREST:  I enlisted on Pinterest around three years ago. This was following a suggestion by my daughter that I could make up storyboards of characters, settings, and plots solely for my own use.

LINKEDIN and GOOGLEPLUS: I have never visited either but both keep sending me emails to tell me I’ve friends there who want to hook up.

image © mama_mia via shutterstock.com
image © mama_mia via shutterstock.com

 

SETTLING DOWN – MY SOCIAL MEDIA HOMES:

So where did I eventually settle? Where did I chose to lay foundations and build my platform? Well,  it’s been a slow but steady journey of exploration. But I would say that five years on, and with another novel published along the way, I now have my own, well-established platform access points. There are two of them and they are here on the blog and my Twitter feed.

WHY MY BLOG?

As my own knowledge about blogging has increased, so too, I hope, has the quality of the blog. And you know what? I love it. I love WordPress, its friendly knowledgeable and helpful staff and its real community feel. I love posting. I love tinkering with the look and the feel of my blog. I love interacting with visitors and fellow bloggers, ­­most of whom I’ve never met, but who I count as friends.

I just love the whole blogging thing. It may have started out as a way of shouting into the darkness about my marvellous novel, but it very quickly became about so much more. It became my own personal magazine where I could express my news, views and current preoccupations. Although I have links to my novels in the sidebar, I only wrote posts about them at the time of their publication. The blog is not about selling, but it is about visibility and connecting.

And even if I never publish another book (which I hope isn’t the case) I will continue to blog for its own sake.

BLOG vs WEBSITE

My website, however is no more. It proved, for me and my lack of expertise at the time at least, to be too difficult to use. Adding and updating material seemed ridiculously complicated and, besides, nobody ever visited it – or if they did, there didn’t appear to be any way for them to contact me via the site. BUT time has moved on, so has website design, and so has my knowledge, so never say never. I may yet set up a website separate to the blog and make that the place that is exclusively about my books.

WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT TWITTER?

Being on Twitter is similar in effect to doing the blog. What began as a way of marketing my books, quickly became so much more. I now have a supportive network of other writers who all tweet and retweet for each other. Besides writers I also have tweet contact with all sorts of people, some of whom are readers of my books, but most of whom are not. Being on Twitter has gone way beyond shouting out ‘buy my book’ – a mistake lots of authors new to Twitter make – and is about networking in general. It’s about engaging with other people and giving and receiving all sorts of support, advice and encouragement. By using Twitter lists I’m able to keep the whole thing manageable and productive.

My blog is linked to Twitter so that when I put up a new post an alerting tweet also goes out.

As with the blog, I count several twitter friends as real friends even although we haven’t met.

FACEBOOK IS NOT FOR ME:

As far as promoting my writing, Facebook is not for me. I’ve tried it and it was just frustrating. I was bombarded by other writers wanting me to shout about their books, but who rarely reciprocated. My author page was full of other authors – again they just wanted publicity for themselves in the main – but no readers. So I’ve taken down the author page and keep Facebook strictly for real world friends and family. I visit less and less and would probably leave if it wasn’t that it’s a good way for me to keep in touch with my nieces and nephews who are scattered across the globe.

OTHER ONLINE PLACES:

I couldn’t get along with GOODREADS at all. It seems unnecessarily complicated and not worth the effort. I like PINTEREST but so far have just done it for fun although I’m coming round to exploring its possibilities for book marketing and publicity.

TO SUM UP:

So, what advice would I offer to authors setting up their online platform?

Take your time exploring.

Choose the networks that work for you and concentrate on them.

Be patient. Relationships worth having take time and effort to develop.

Share stuff about yourself and your wider life. Don’t just shout ‘buy my book’.

Return favours and support that others give to you.

 

And, ironically having said all that, I think I’ve found most of my small but loyal readership by word of mouth and by being in the ‘also bought’ bit on Amazon when readers are buying books that are in a similar vein to mine. That’s not to say social media makes no difference to your popularity as an author, but I think it’s more about visibility and relationships with readers rather than it having a direct bearing on sales.

 

And Finally:

There is a massive amount of advice out there on how authors, both traditionally and self-published, can, and indeed should, use social media to promote their work. A lot of it is good advice, but there’s a lot that’s really more about the person offering the advice raising their own profile, or trying to get money out of the unwary and less knowledgeable. There are many self-appointed experts. So do your own research, make informed choices and do what feels right for you.

Good advice and information can be found at:

  • The Alliance for Independent Authors website.
  • The B.R.A.G. website here. They have just done an analysis of how readers and authors find each other online.
  • Pewinternet here have also carried out research on the use of different social media in general, including by gender and age group in the USA.I found this particularly interesting as I suspect my target readership are not big social media users.

So there you have it? I’d be interested to hear your experiences of using social media to promote your books. Please do leave your comments.

 

 

WordPress Wonders

English: WordPress Logo
 WordPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I want to say many,many thanks to WordPress – the hosting platform  for this blog. It’s high time I did.

I’ve been blogging for three years now and have put up 180 posts. I started blogging as a way of publicising my book but it rapidly became more than that. It has now become a sort of journal with posts about my writing life and real life, about art, nature, and any other stuff that interests me, winds me up, amazes me or just makes me stop and think.

'Write Enough' production centre
‘Write Enough’ production centre

I really enjoy writing for the blog and WordPress certainly make it a painless process. It doesn’t cost anything and it’s well supported. The Help Forums are tremendous if you do get stuck and are staffed by both WordPress techies and volunteer bloggers with expertise – something for which, as a bit of a technical numpty, I’m mightily grateful. There are loads of ‘looks’ to choose from for one’s blog and it’s very straightforward to get one set up. And the bods at WordPress are forever improving the tools and applications that are available.

WordPress recently sent me my 2012 report. This was so useful – letting me see such things as – which posts were the most popular – ‘Language as a Barrier to Communication’ was in the number 1 spot; which posts got most comments and who commented the most. Thanks to Anne Mackle – a twitter friend of mine – for the highest number of comments. You can visit Anne’s own very entertaining blog on (whisper it) Blogspot at http://cassam-isanyonethere.blogspot.co.uk

I follow several other WordPress blogs. One that I’m really taken with is written by another twitter friend and writer, Alison Wells. Alison’s blog is always interesting but is even more so just now. She is doing a series of posts on mental health with particular reference to writers. I can highly recommend it. See it at http://alisonwells.wordpress.com

Another blog I’ve just started to follow was flagged up by the folks at WordPress in their  look back at 2012’s successful blogs. I was taken by one called ‘Dar’s 52 Mondays project’ – where Dar aimed to brighten up Mondays with a weekly post. She has a lovely, bright, fascinating blog about ‘nature, creativity, art and more – hmm, sounds familiar 🙂 – and it can be found at http://darhosta.wordpress.com

So THANKS WordPress and here’s to another year of enjoyable, informative and well supported blogging.

AND THANKS to everyone who bothers to read ‘Write Enough’

P.S. a wee trailer for the 2013’s posts – there will be book, TV, cinema and art reviews, guest posts, posts about writing, about island life, social networking and other preoccupations of this subversive old bat.

Slainte Mhath/Cheers – to all who facilitate and who read this blog. I appreciate you.

Clearing a blockage

Sorry not to have posted anything for a fortnight. I’m told by those who know about such things that it’s very bad form not to post at least three times a week. All I can say to that is – ‘those who know about such things’ are obviously not working full-time as well as writing a novel and having family responsibilities. Apparently I should have postings pre-written for use in the times when I’m too busy to write posts. Eh – what? So –  not only do I have to find time for all of the above but I also have to find time to pre-write postings. Sorry – no can do! My aim is to post once a week and so far I’ve just about managed it.

So what was the problem last week? Writer’s block – that’s what. The novel had stalled. One of my main characters – the male – had gone quiet. I couldn’t reach him or get inside his head – I needed to get to know him better but he wasn’t having it. It was SO frustrating. I’d sit at the PC hoping he’d come through – but no. I tried ‘interviewing’ him, I tried moving on without him, I tried re-inventing him – but no joy.

Then came a breakthrough. There I was staring at the computer screen, praying for inspiration and it happened. I had my i-tunes playing and a track called ‘Your Ghost’ by Greg Laswell came on – and that was it. I’m not sure if it was the words, the tune, or the mood of the track but whatever it was, it did the trick. Mr Main Character was back and he was talking non-stop – desperate to tell me his story.

So I just had to get on and write down every word he said. Hence no posting last week. I managed to write 2500 words in my free time last week. I’m proud of that – no matter what ‘those who know about such things’ might have to say on my neglect of the blog. So there ! 🙂