Being an Indie Author – Job description involving three hats – Part 1: Writer

 

I’m an indie author. That means I write and publish my books. So not only do I do the creative part i.e. write the novel, but I must also ensure the manuscript is polished and ready to publish, and then I have to make it available and market it. So it’s a job that requires the wearing of three different hats – writer, publisher and marketer.

N.B. The only hat I suit is the trilby – hence the photo. The other hats for the purposes of this series will therefore be metaphorical – hey, I’m a writer – I can do metaphorical.

This will be the first of three posts where I look at each role in turn.

(If you’re interested in why I chose the indie route you can read a recent guest post I did here on Kate – aka the quiet knitter’s – blog).

 

The Writer’s Hat

The role of writer of the book is of course common to all authors whether they’re traditionally or independently published.

There are lots of how-to books, courses and online lists of advice available, but it seems for every rule there is about writing a novel, there’s a corresponding one that instructs the writer to do the opposite. So what it boils down to is – do what works for you and adhere to one rule only – and that is TURN UP AND WRITE.

I have attended several writing courses from week-long residential to one-off half-day workshops. And gradually I’ve discovered what works for me.

My Writing Method

Story Elements:

Character and Setting

I’ve found for all my novels so far – and for possible future ones (which I already have notes for) – the stories start with a character or two. The character will just pop into my head when I’m least expecting it – often when I’m out walking. If I like the character enough I’ll then carry out a bit of an interrogation/interview with them in order to find out more about them. They’ll tell me where they live, what they do for a living, their family situation and so on.

This information will help me come up with a possible setting for the story.

For example, Rachel from Displacement came to me when I was hanging up the washing in my garden on the Isle of Skye. She told me she was a Skye crofter, but also a book illustrator as nobody can make a living from crofting only. She also revealed she lived alone, she was bereaved, and her mother had been a Jewish refugee who’d arrived in Scotland as a child just before the Second World War.

Plot

Once I have a character or two I’ll then try to find out what problems, dilemmas and/or challenges the character faces and that will lead to ideas for the plot.

Then once I have these ingredients in place it’s time to get writing.

Planning

I rarely know the full story in advance and I don’t plan it all out beforehand. I’m more of a pantster (as in fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants) as some writing experts call it. Apparently writers are either plotters or pantsters. But I suspect a lot of us are a bit of both. I usually have a rough outline based on the timeline of the novel and divided up into beginning, middle and end and it’s usually handwritten on one side of an A4 piece of paper. But as I go along I’ll also sketch out (also handwritten) individual scenes or a list of scene headings. And sometimes I’ll break scenes down into post-it notes. However, there are other times where the ideas just flow and don’t require any sort of prompts or notes.

For me, part of the enjoyment of writing a novel actually comes from not planning in too much detail. That element of surprise, of characters sometimes sort of taking over is fun and exciting.

Of course as my most recent two novels have been parts 1 and 2 of a 3 part series, I’ve had to be a bit more organised planning wise – both to maintain consistency with the earlier book – and to ensure credible development in character and plot across all three books. But even with the series there has been no very detailed or inflexible plan. Indeed I didn’t plan to write a series. That only came about because readers of book 1 wanted more.

Getting On With The Job:

Desk Time

I aim to write every day Monday to Friday and I aim for a particular word count per day – that way I can have an approximate date for completion of the first draft in the diary.

It also means my writing brain is used to/coaxed into co-operating. It knows it can’t wait around for the muse. It knows it has a job to do and it had better get on with it – with or without the fickle muse. Yes, there are days when the quality’s not great or when it’s a struggle just to do a few sentences, but that’s all part of the process. Writing is a job and, like any job, there are good days and bad days, but regardless you do have to show up.

I don’t edit much as I go along. I may make a note to check or research something later, or I may a tweak here and there, but mostly I just plough onwards until THE END.

Although it isn’t really THE END – not by a long way…

In part 2 in this series I’ll look at the next stage – at the process of redrafting and redrafting and redrafting – to get the manuscript ready for going off to the editor. I’ll also share how it is working with the editor and cover designer in order to get the book to its absolute best version.

 

Theme Tunes for Writing

Music to make masterpieces by…

 

Since my youth, and yes, I know that’s going back a bit, I’ve always preferred a bit of background noise when trying to concentrate. And when I say noise, I mean music.

Music has always helped my brain get, and remain, focussed on any task requiring the use of what passes for my intellect. I don’t always hear every note or lyric. Indeed a whole album can play out and all I’ve consciously heard is the first few bars of the first track. But just having it playing away in the background has maintained my concentration. I know if there’d been complete silence while I worked, my mind would have wandered.

I contributed a guest post on this topic on writer, Roz Morris’s, blog back in 2014 and this is a more in-depth look at the subject.

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The ancient past

When I was studying for exams, both as a high school pupil, and as a university student, my *portable record player would be belting out my latest *LP. By the time my final exams loomed, my *hi-fi-stereo-cassette player would be doing the job. It would play *compilation tapes consisting of favourite tracks from several LPs (or from Radio 1’s Sunday night Top Twenty in the *Hit Parade show) as I tried to commit to memory the names, facts and figures I’d be required to regurgitate in the exams. Thank you Beatles, Stones, Bowie, Pink Floyd, 10cc, Carole King, Janis Ian, Simon & Garfunkel – to name only a few.

And then, around twenty years after that, whilst studying for my Masters, it was my *CD-Walkman that provided the background music. Yes, it was mainly The Verve and The Lighthouse Family who got me through the writing of my thesis on Early Literacy and How Children Learn to Read.

*if the asterisked terms mean nothing to you, ask your parents or grandparents for an explanation. They refer to music related artefacts from the electronic Stone Age of the twentieth century, many years B.I.(Before Internet).

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The present day

And nowadays, music still has an important role in getting me started and keeping me on task when at my writing desk. Now of course it’s played from the music folder on my PC. And I have playlists dedicated to my writing.

Unlike in the past when music aided my learning and studying, it now gets me in the writing zone and keeps me there––and it also inspires me.

For each of the three novels I’ve written to date and for the one I’m currently working on there’s a specific set of tunes.

So no matter how heavily procrastination, self-doubt, or lack of inspiration are weighing on me, just those first few notes of the first track of the relevant playlist gets me started. It transports me instantly into the atmosphere of the story or the head of a particular character. And although, just as it was when I was studying, I don’t consciously hear every note or track the music in the background keeps me in the writing zone. Indeed, at times when my concentration lapses and attention strays, it is focussing on the music that gets me back to composing those sentences. And even more than that it can be a part of a lyric or a musical theme that actually provides inspiration. For example it might clarify for me what motivates a particular character, or how they might be feeling. It might also help me set the tone or describe the mood or setting for a particular scene.

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How I think it works for me

The background music isn’t acting like a tone poem or movie soundtrack in reverse; that is where the music is written in direct response to a story or a movie in order to enhance it or reinforce its depiction.

It’s not that I hear a character and their story in a song and then write a longer novel version about that character. And neither am I transcribing and interpreting an entire instrumental piece into a chapter or novel. (The copyright issues alone would put me off, quite apart from it being quite beyond me and it not being what I’m using the music for).

No, it’s more subtle than that – or maybe subtle isn’t the right word. It’s probably, at least partly, something as simple as a Pavlovian response. It’s about how the music makes me feel, it’s about the psychological effect, a sort of conditioning almost. So when I hear that song, I really can’t help but be transported right into the heart of the work-in-progress. And then maybe we’re into more subtle psychological territory with the background melodies, harmonies, cadences and rhythms keeping the brainwaves synced––or something–– and maintaining the concentration.

Do you find music helps or hinders you when you’re working?

 

My Musical Muses

Below I’ve included a few examples of the many tracks that have helped me to get my three novels written and to maintain progress on the new one.

Change of Life

My first novel had a fifteen track playlist and included:

This Woman’s Work by Greg Laswell

Wilderness by Bat for Lashes

Gossip in the Grain by Ray LaMontagne

Lay Lady Lay by Bob Dylan

And I love you so by Don McLean

Displacement

When writing my second novel I sometimes used the Change of Life playlist as well as the dedicated fifteen track set which included:

Man of the World by Fleetwood Mac

Fix You by the Military Wives

It’s Getting better by Mama Cass

Not Ready to Love by Rufus Wainwright

Home by Zero 7

The Silver Locket

For my novel for children, it was a twelve track list and if you thought the others were eclectic, this set is a very weird mixture.

On Battleship Hill by P J Harvey

Even the Ravens Mourn Over You by Peter Ostroushko http://www.peterostroushko.com/

Gortoz A Ran by Denez Prigent

Michaelswood by Catriona McKay & Chris Stout

Baba Yetu by Lucas Richman, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Soweto Gospel Choir

Settlement

And for the work-in-progress, which is a sequel to Displacement,  there’s the biggest yet playlist of twenty-one tracks which includes:

I Still Care For You by Ray LaMontagne

Everything I Own by Bread

Make You Feel My Love by The Military Wives

Nocturne by Secret Garden

The Ashkovan Farewell by Ungar & Mason

 

 

Hope versus Optimism – the start of a year of mindful living.

2014 – MY YEAR OF LIVING MINDFULLY

New Year Ahead

January – HOPE versus OPTIMISM

Welcome!

Happy 2014 to all of you who take the time to drop in here. I do appreciate your time, feedback and loyalty. I now have two hundred posts under my belt and the blog has grown and evolved since I began it at the beginning of January 2010. 2013 saw me trying put this new monthly magazine format. I’m still not entirely sure if it works better monthly rather than weekly, but I’m going to let it run like this for a wee while yet.

This is a packed issue of Put it in Writing. So what can you expect?

Well, it’s January, the two-faced month that looks both backwards and forwards, and so I’ll be doing a bit of that.

For me, 2014 is going to be a Year of Living Mindfully. By that I mean I want to slow down and pay attention. I want to be much more aware of life as I live it and not to be forever anticipating, planning and, more often than not, stressing. Over the coming months I’ll be reporting on how I get on with mindful meditations, mindful walks and simple mindful moments. To get me started I’ve just read a book lent to me by my friend and fellow blogger, Catherine. Do check out Catherine’s engaging and informative blog . The book Catherine lent me is called ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ and it’s by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It’s a great introduction to mindfulness. And, also by way of getting in the zone, I’m taking part in Satya Robin’s, January Mindful Writing Challenge, which you can find out more about at her Writing Our Way Home website . I’ve  posted my first six little ‘stones’ of mindful writing below  and I’ll be posting subsequent stones, in sets of six, as interim posts for the rest of the month.

 Also at Satya’s prompting I’ve chosen a ‘motto’ word for the year.

The word is PRESENT.

  • Present in the sense of the here and now – trying to live a bit more mindfully and in the moment

  • Present in the sense of a gift –  of kindness to myself and others

  • Present in the sense of show – show the world the real me

I hope the word will keep me focused on my goals and plans. I prefer the terms goals and plans to resolutions. I suspect resolutions are all about ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’. And I’ve lived more than enough of my life being a slave to that evil threesome. From now on, I’ll strive for ‘wants,’ ‘hopes’ and ‘desires’. I want to slow down and pay attention. I want to try new things including different types of reading material, new foods, a new way of living. I want to stop giving myself a hard time and to be more tolerant and forgiving of others. I want to be more fully myself.

 

Another  extra this month is a piece I’ve written in response to an invitation to take part in the My Writing Process blog tour.

There will be a bit more, too, on politics as I continue to look at what is going to be a significant year for Scotland’s political future.

This month’s book review is of a guide to memoir writing, Old Friend from Far Away, by that wonderful teacher of writing, Natalie Goldberg.

So, get yourself a cup or glass of your preferred tipple and  let’s get started.

hot cup of coffee

THE PERSONAL

idea plan vision

As with any year, 2013 had its ups and downs.

My first writing highlight was back in January, when my entry in the National Library of Scotland’s/Scottish Ballet’s Hansel and Gretel competition was shortlisted. Other writing highlights included completing my second novel which is scheduled to be published in the next couple of months; and finishing the writing, re-writing and re-writing of my first novel for children. This latter book will soon be going off for professional editing and then on to publication later this year. I also continued writing my contributions to the bi-monthly writing magazine Words with Jam. Taking part in Writing Our Way Home’s  31 days of Joy writing challenges back in May proved enlightening, inspirational and was also very enjoyable.

In my teaching life, I took up the challenge of piloting a new way of delivering support to children presenting with very difficult behaviour and whose learning was severely compromised by that behaviour. This has involved working intensively with three children, aged nine and ten, every morning, (leaving afternoons free for me to work with other pupils with special needs). It is proving very successful. Everyone seems to agree that these pupils have really turned things around and, for me, this is turning out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my thirty-five year teaching career.

However, as to the future for my life in teaching, 2014 will be the year I retire. I’ve made what I see as a very big decision but one that is full of hope and faith in the future. I’m taking early retirement in August. It will be good to end my career on such a high note. I won’t miss all the form-filling, box ticking and endless ‘initiatives’. But I will miss all my pupils and the daily engagement with children.

live your dream

Retirement from teaching will not mean retirement from working. The decision is not a negative one but is one fuelled by a desire to change. I want to be able to devote much more time and energy to writing. I want to be truly professional about it. I’m very much looking forward to my new job.

In my family life, 2013 included my thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, something me and the old fella have still to celebrate, once his two-year long battle with ill-health is finally over. And we’re very hopeful that his return to full fitness will be accomplished by the Spring of this year after two more operations.

My own battle with anxiety, stress and mild depression continues, but it’s one I  feel I’m winning. In fact the title of this issue of the blog, Hope versus Optimism, arises out of that battle. Optimism is a concept I’ve long had a problem with. Well-meaning people will often say ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘everything will be fine’ or ‘you’re worrying unnecessarily’ or ‘things will get better’. They are trying to offer a distressed person comfort but, it seems to me, what they’re actually doing is not really listening and suggesting a passive response to real difficulty. Hope is a much more constructive attitude, both for someone who is troubled and for someone trying to help. Hope offers positive possibility and can prompt positive action to attain a positive outcome. For someone who is fearful, anxious or upset, a supporter offering hope, rather than bland platitudes, is much more helpful. It shows that the problem has been listened to and its significance has not been dismissed.

What I’ve come to see is that finding hope in all situations is key to survival and peace of mind. It doesn’t mean glossing over challenges and putting a sort of quasi-trust in a benign fate. What it does mean is looking for the possibilities for change, for growth, for progress and taking small steps towards these possibilities. Hope gives me control. Optimism leaves too much to chance. Hence, for example, the decision to quit my stressful teaching job and to become my own boss doing something creative and something I love.

 I also continue to delight in every moment I spend with my wee darling of a granddaughter and I love being her ‘Manma’. And I’m looking forward to the arrival, in February, of my daughter’s second baby. Yet more delight in the life of our family came with was our son’s engagement, at long last, to his lovely girl. We all look forward to their wedding in 2015.

So lots of good stuff to anticipate and hope for in 2014.

MY WRITING

 

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I was invited to take part in this tour by Kate Blackadder who is a fellow member of the Edinburgh Writers Club. I’m a member at a distance, but Kate is a very active committee member of the club. Click on her name above to visit her blog. Do visit it if you can.

So, to the My Writing Process interview questions and my responses:

What am I working on?

I’m putting the finishing touches to Displacement, which is my second novel. 

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m not entirely sure what genre my books fit into. Broadly speaking, it’s commercial women’s fiction and there’s a strong element of romance in my writing. But it’s unusual in that the main characters are people in their late forties and fifties, so it’s not chick lit. There are also other themes, apart from romance, running through both my novels. For example, I’ve included the themes of bereavement, politics, nationalism and serious illness in my work. I like to think it’s multi-layered and that it will appeal to intelligent, mature women.

Why do I write what I do?

I definitely fit into the category of writing the type of books that I would want to read as a fifty-something. Middle-aged women can sometimes feel a bit invisible. It certainly seems to be the case in fiction. So I want to write about menopausal and post-menopausal women who are still vibrant, passionate and have lots to contribute. There is life, and dare I say it, sex, post-fifty and I think our literature should reflect that.

How does my writing process work?

As I’m still working full time as a teacher, I write in the evenings, at weekends and in the holidays. I ‘diary-in’ my writing slots even if I can only manage half an hour and I keep these appointments with my word-processor. I also plan my writing long-term over a year or more, so I know when I need to be finished a first draft, the redrafts, the professional editing process and when I plan to launch.

So there you have it.

And next on the tour:

On January 13th it will be the turn of Jill Marsh to answer the Writing Process questions. Jill grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. After graduating in English Literature and Theatre Studies, she worked as an actor, teacher, writer, director, editor, journalist and cultural trainer all over Europe.

Now based in Switzerland, Jill is a founder member of the Triskele Book collective, forms part of the Nuance Words project, curates litmag The Woolf and is a regular columnist for words with JAM magazine. She lives with her husband and three dogs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes.

Find out more about her European crime series by clicking on Jill’s name above. I can highly recommend her books. All of them are great reads. And don’t forget to look in at her website next week to see her answers to the above questions.

 

January Mindful Writing

As I said above I’m taking part in the January Mindful Writing Challenge set up by Satya at Writing Our Way Home.

Here are my first six ‘stones’:

January 1st – Small body. Curved, a perfect blend with mine. Grandchild seeks comfort. Me overwhelmed by love.

January 2nd – Bridge-crossing. A place to a place. A time to a time. Wheels turning. Engine droning. Transporting me home and back to life.

January 3rd – Mopping the floor. There’s comfort in the rhythm and swish, pleasure in the shining, satisfaction in a job done.

January 4th – Breakfast. Sweet, blackcurrant jam on warm, buttery wholemeal toast, mug of hot Earl Grey, me solitary, eating, sipping, thinking, robin singing outside.

January 5th – Laundry. Floral scents, cool cotton, warm wool, crack of shaken linen, a nod towards the pleasing, folded pile.

January 6th – Back-to-work, back-to-work. My steps reconnect me to the world and beat out my inner chant. Air damp, streets slick with rain, sharp wind and a grey, grudging light. Ready-to-go, ready-to-go. The heels of my boots click on the playground gravel. Anticipation rises. School door slams behind me. Let the new term begin.

THE POLITICAL

It starts with you

At the start of this new year, things look hopeful for Scotland. There’s the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, Homecoming Scotland, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and, of course, the independence referendum. None of these events have been left to blind optimism. They all involve a lot of planning, a lot of faith and a lot of a hope. They include hopes and plans for action, for economic benefit, for challenge and achievement, for national pride and for change.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum in September, Scotland has a chance at last. A chance to show we have ideas for a better way of life, a fairer, more caring way of life, and Scotland also has a chance to show off and be seen at her very best. That is my hope.

However, the official, political script on all sides offers only one dimensional optimism. The smallest signs of improvements are exaggerated. Promises are made – and believed –  that everything will be bigger and better in the future. We’ve come to expect material growth as if it’s a law of the universe. Our politicians wilfully ignore past disasters such as the 2008 economic crash. They keep us ignorant of all obstacles and we go along blindly, telling ourselves things will get better because they have to.

It’s time we, the electorate, were more proactive. To have real hope we must engage. We must educate ourselves on the realities and familiarise ourselves with what’s going on beyond our own near horizon.

As the journalist, Gerry Hassan, wrote in the Scotsman newspaper on the fourth of January 2014, ‘Many of the great campaigns of humanity have been defined by hope. Think of the campaigns against slavery, for the welfare state and against the hardships and degradations of Dickensian Britain, of Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement, the anti-war movements on Vietnam and Iraq, and the anti-apartheid movement.’

For these campaigners there was no scaremongering, no talk of ‘strivers and shirkers’. Rather they sought cohesion and fairness, they asked awkward questions, made difficult demands and they worked to realise their dream.

So here’s to involvement, change, and hope for a better society for all.

 

THE REVIEW

This month I’m reviewing ‘Old Friend From Far Away’ by Natalie Goldberg. It is a guide to memoir writing. Memoir writing is something I’d like to do in the future, but I realise it’s a form of writing like no other. I recently re-read this excellent book.

Old friend 2

 Find your voice and tell your own story.

Memory isn’t always reliable or objective, but, when writing memoir, reliability and objectiveness are not prerequisites. Indeed they are not even desirable. A memoir should be a meditation, a deep consideration of what mattered and why.

About twenty years ago, one of the first books I read on how to write on was Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I loved it. I found the short, sharp writing exercises prescribed by the author to be both enjoyable and useful. Writing was presented as a muscle that requires frequent exercising. The approach was very much a ‘just do it’ one. Working through the book, I felt for the first time that I might be able to write stuff that others might actually want to read.

Natalie Goldberg is a poet, writer and teacher of writing. Old Friend From Far Away is about how to write memoir – and oh, so much more. The author has written three volumes of her own memoirs, so she is well placed to offer advice on that basis alone.

Anyone contemplating doing memoir writing would do well to read this guide. It’s crammed full of exercises and suggestions. It’s also got lots of examples of how others have tackled the form. And it’s reassuring too. Memoir is a subjective form of writing. It’s not a scientific or forensic examination of a life. It is rather a reflective response to that life by the one who has lived it.

Indeed, Natalie Goldberg makes it clear at the start that memoir is not a ‘chronological pronouncement of the facts of your life’. A memoir presents subjective accounts of selected episodes. These accounts are not necessarily organised linearly and are not necessarily wholly accurate. But they are an attempt to make some sense of a life lived and to speculate on its meaning.

The book’s chapters vary in length – just like those in life. Some are only three lines long. The longest are three pages. They are all memoir writing prompts and Goldberg encourages anyone writing memoir to approach it sideways. She advises ‘using the deepest kind of thinking to sort through the layers: you want reflection to discover what the real connections are. A bit of brooding, pondering, contemplating but not in a lost manner. I am asking you to make all this dynamic. Pen to paper gives muscle to your deliberations.’

Exercises include: ‘Tell me what your biggest mistake has been; Tell me about someone’s hands; What do you no longer have; What have you waited a long time for.’ All are accompanied by the command ‘Go. Ten minutes.’ All get you thinking sideways about events in your past. There are other types, such as one on weather. The suggestion here is that, for example, while writing about your brother, include how it was raining the day you realised he was always going to be better in school than you; or in writing about your grandfather, describe the big flakes of snow that were falling the last time you saw him.

The book ends with a very useful list of guidelines and suggestions which summarises all that’s gone before. And there is a list of recommended memoirs to read.

All in all, whatever your preferred genre, this is one of the best writing guides around. Even if memoir writing isn’t your thing, I can just about guarantee it will get you writing something, – and that can’t be bad, can it?

 

Old Friend From Far Away is published by Simon and Schuster.

 

NATURE

In January 2011, we had a heavy snowfall here on Skye. This winter is a much damper and dreicher affair and not nearly so pretty. So I’ve decided to post a couple of photos taken in our garden three years ago.

A Jan day of snow 2011 008

A Jan day of snow 2011 044

 

AND FINALLY

Robert Frost said: ‘Freedom lies in being bold’

Be brave, dare to hope.