Back from the Dead!

Well, not really but every so often I like to be dramatic. Picture that as a jump into the spotlight with jazz hands. Yup, I went there, I included the jazz hands. Deal with it.

So where have I been? Nowhere in particular, I’m sorry to say but a lot has been going on and that’s meant a reshuffle of my priorities. Now, this whole blog is for a couple of reasons. I like to write, and this is an easy way to do something I enjoy. Whether it’s talking about books, stories or other things, it helps keep my writing skills sharp. I’ve developed a style and it’s a big part of me even beyond the blog.

Second, hopefully other writers or interested parties finds it useful – at least sometimes! I hope, through my experiences, I can help you, or others, get started or overcome hurdles that I face too. Writers are solitary creatures. We’re weird and crazy and a little bit eccentric at the best of times but that doesn’t mean we aren’t, or shouldn’t be, connected to the world around us. At least, I think so.

Finally, it’s a vent – and that’s important. We all need to get things out there at times, it can make everyone feel better. Sometimes it’s a long rant, others a more structured post or it can even be creative.

So, that being said, what have I been doing to keep me away for so long?

The book

Outside of work, this is what is taking up a lot of my time. I’m working on the 4th draft at the moment and, honestly, I’m happy with the progress being made – if not the time it’s taking me. I feel like the story is getting stronger with each revision, the world is growing and there’s enough in there to get teeth into, even if it’s not the longest sci-fi book in the world.

I go through phases of productivity and I’m lacking that right now. I stare at pages and my mind won’t focus. I’ve tried working on other stories or free writing, but nothing is coming. I’ve gone back to my games to distract me and I think it helps.

I need a solid block of time to finish the thing. I can’t continue doing an hour here, 30 minutes there – I lose the flow. So, there’s an opportunity coming my way to do that. Late summer will see me spend a full month getting this sorted. I’m hoping by the time this block of time comes, I’ll be working on the 5th draft.

Ideally, I want it finished by the end of the year so I can start submitting. And to start work on book two – of which I already have a full plan ready. Maybe I’ll try writing the 3rd book’s plan…

The day job

So, the opportunity.

I had already decided that I needed time to work on my book but supporting myself financially was always going to be a concern. I live alone, it’s not the cheapest option but it’s done me well. Work offered voluntary redundancy and I applied. After talking it over with my manager, it was approved and I will be finishing my current role at the end of July, just short of 2 years in the role.

Time wasn’t the only factor. The redundancy has a good pay-out and will give me the means to live without working for a while so I can sort the book out. Get some good progress done and advance a goal that I’ve been working towards for as long as I can remember.

I’ve turned down other jobs in the process of making this decision but there are longer implications to this too. It’s all a little scary but I’m feeling calm, hopefully and even excited for what lies beyond the next couple of months.

Future plans

So, what does this mean for me after July? Well, after almost 8 years here, I’m leaving Manchester. Not necessarily for good, but at least for a couple of years. Maybe more. I’ll be heading to Newcastle to live with the parents for six months or so. I’m going to finish the damned book and maybe start the next one (I’m a sucker for punishment, it seems). I’ve covered this above.

After that, going into 2018, I’ll hopefully be heading to Australia. Some of you know I’ve been talking about this for years, seriously trying to save for the last year or two and failing miserably. This opportunity gives me the money I said I needed to do this. And hopefully a little more. The family is very understanding of my plans and while it’s always been a dream, it’s time to make it happen. After my book.

I feel like I need a change. I need to travel, go somewhere else and see what I can find. Grab some adventures and experiences. I’m stuck in a rut here and I’m nowhere near ready for relationships or houses or stuff like that. Maybe an early midlife crisis? I pulled the longest grey hair from my head this weekend. Scary. Anyway, I digress.

I’ll be looking to build some freelance work up for that time at home and maybe beyond – content and social media primarily but also social advertising, PPC, SEO and such. I know it. I can do it, time to make a living from it. Get in touch if you know of anything or have any questions about it – I’ll try and help.

For now, more regular blogs incoming.

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Writer Problems: A Not So Comprehensive List

We all have problems. Some are serious, some not so much. How big or problematic they are depends on our view at the time and with the passage of time, they seem to get smaller until we wonder why it bothered us in the first place.

That being said, some are more annoying than anything. They can be ironically funny, blindingly frustrating, facepalm cringeworthy or many other colour adjectives. Writers are no different. So, here is a list of writer problems. It’s not extensive or comprehensive but they’re all problems I’ve encountered (and not always solved) as well as those of other writers I’ve met and spoken to.

Hell, they probably apply to many creatives and professions – but you’ll have to tell me that!

Feeling guilty over a lack of productiveness

I don't work right up here gif

Something’s wrong with my head, I think

I’m starting with one of my favourites. I like to take a break between big projects and drafts. It helps me put some distance between what I’ve just done and what I’m going to do next. It can be a week, a month or even a year – it really depends on the project and how drained I feel.

So, FREE TIME! That’s what I tell myself. I’ll catch up on my favourite TV shows, go to some gigs, tick off a few books in the ‘to read’ pile and get some gaming done. Actually, no. Very little happens because I feel guilty about not writing or editing! So, I find other work to do, whether it’s planning something new – or related – to the current project, doing some redrafting etc. It’s great but everything else listed above, well those piles, lists and such get bigger. Who knows when I’m going to get around to them?

Oh well, I keep up with Facebook…

The anticipation of feedback

I just have a lot of feelings gif

WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?

I like to think that I’m pretty patient while waiting for feedback. I do understand that people are busy and have their own lives and things to sort. That’s what I tell myself and hope it conveys that way to others.

However, on the inside I’m screaming ‘READ THE BOOK AND TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!’ every day until I get it back. Sometimes I can’t wait and I break my rule and ask. I feel guilty about that too. Thankfully, my writer friends understand that…I think…I hope!

The infamous writers block

I got nothing gif

I relate to this way too much

I could write 1,500 essays on this subject. It. Is. So. Annoying. And frustrating. And has a particularly awful sense of timing. Countless are the times I’ve been on a great role and the one day it just stops. And I end up staring at a blank screen four hours searching for a particular word or phrase.

Sometimes a film, a show, a song, a book, a game, a word or accident can snap me out of it. Other times, I need a good sleep or swim to clear the head. Other times, I think it’s a way for the mind to tell us to take a break. Maybe to organise our thoughts or think about a problem – or just give us a rest. We’re not machines, we do need it every so often.

Knowing what you want to say without having the right words

Use your words gif

How I feel with my mind when it blocks me

Sort of related to the last point but how many times have you had the PERFECT idea for that scene or chapter that’s been bugging you for weeks but when you come to put it on paper or screen, you stall. It’s not a block because you know exactly what you want to say but it just won’t come out. Damnit.

This is a fantastic example of why redrafting is so key. I’m all about the flow of my work and stories but sometimes you’ve got to force past it and just get it on paper. The editing lets you find those parts and smooth them out to match the rest of the story. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to tear someone’s arms off when it happens, though.

Not being able to stop the inner monologue

Facepalm gif

There are never enough facepalms for this

Maybe this is just me, but sometimes I wish I could switch my brain off. A CTRL+ALT+DEL function would be amazing. Simply amazing. Someone do this and I will love you forever.

I find this more when I’ve been writing for a while or working for a long time on a project; I just can’t stop. I know I’ve got work in the morning or an early start for whatever reason – or I’m supposed to be meeting friends or family or whatever – so I stop writing but that monologue is just going on and on.

The worst part is, whether I cave and get up or return to it the next day, the ideas are gone. Potential writing gold gone for good. That’s when the facepalm strikes.

The conflict of how to tell people what you do

Why is life so hard gif

Sometimes this is easier than changing words on a computer…

All is good, you’re at an event, seeing some friends and there’s new people around. You strike a conversation and then they ask you one of the worst questions ever; ‘what do you do?’

Where to even start with this? I write words and hope it’ll make me money is one option. I tell stories sounds childish. A writer sounds hipster and clichéd. Aspiring writer makes it seem like you’re trying too hard. Author? Not a chance, not till I’m published. Usually, I tell people I’m working on a book. They’ll either be interested and ask more or they won’t. It’s a safe option but why is it so hard?!

Not knowing when to stop

This is another favourite of mine. How do you know when it’s finished? The amount of times I’ve done the final draft of something only to come back in six months and let my inner voice yell ‘WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING, THINKING THAT WAS DONE?’ until I cave in and do another draft.

I’m not always convinced the new draft is better. Surely there’s a point where what you started with or tried to achieve has been lost through so many edits you have something new completely. Is it still one story or is it two? If I find an answer, I’ll let you know.

Getting published!

Cats headbutting each other gif

It’s not a brick wall but very cute…and painful

I saved the biggest problem for last. It is one of THE biggest hurdles any writer who wants to make a career out of putting words on paper can and will face – unless you’re incredibly lucky. If you are, don’t forget about this blogger/writer/Scot.

I’ve not explored this much compared to others but even what I’ve experienced I can liken to headbutting a brick wall over and over and over and over. And over. Repeat until brain becomes mush. Hunting down and acquiring an agent is much the same. And yes, I’ve headbutted a brick wall (a lot as a child and once recently to test out this experiment. It hurt. A lot) so take my word for it.

Any other big writer problems I’ve missed? Let me know!

So, You Want to be a Writer?

Some of my favourite books

Some of my favourite books – I’d love for my name to be here one day. Don’t you want the same?

You poor, poor fool.

I’m just kidding. Kind of. Regardless of how old you are, where you’re from or what you currently do, you’ve got a burning desire to tell stories and that just isn’t being fulfilled right now.

Maybe you’re writing something in your spare time; novels, short stories, poems, scripts and such. Maybe you want to but don’t know where to start. Well, I can’t tell you I’m an expert on the subject since, you know, I’m (at this stage but if you read this years later I may be) not a published author right now.

What I do have are experiences, insights and tidbits of information that may help in some way. I’m going to share these with you here. They won’t make you a writer but if it helps you pick up that pen or open that word processor, I’m counting it as a win.

What a better way to start 2016’s blogging than this? Precisely.

You’re a writer. Deal with it

Not everyone has a problem with this but it can come up every now and then. Calling yourself a writer – or having someone else call you it – is fine, but actually feeling like one is something completely different.

Maybe it brings a sense of pressure to produce or do something. Perhaps you feel guilty because it doesn’t feel like a job or bring the same stability other careers do. Or, you might just find it frees you and you can relax at last.

Whatever it is, you’re going to have to deal with it. It comes down to feeling comfortable with who you are, maybe not your entire being but this aspect of it. It might strike early on or later, but just remember, you’re not alone. Proof of being a writer doesn’t mean you have to be the next Tolkien, King or Rowling – far from it. Just be yourself, write the way you want to and, most of all, enjoy it!

Plan, plan, plan and plan some more

It’s dull, it’s boring, it’s mind numbing.

Sound familiar? Then you’re doing it wrong. Planning your work is the first step of a challenging, rewarding and enjoyable process. I love writing books but at the same time, short stories and blogging are hugely enjoyable. Each needs different levels of planning and it’s different for everyone.

My novels need a lot of planning. I develop characters, settings, plots and subplots usually before writing anything (although sometimes I write little extracts that do or do not feature in the story later). Once I understand the world I’m writing in, I start. My plan is usually a list of points per chapter and I play connect the dot. Whether you storyboard, mind map (or whatever the PC term is for it now) or use audio notes, it helps keep you on track.

Short stories need less planning but just as much research. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise. On the flipside, if you get a flash of inspiration, go with it and then come back to your plans later, then work out how to use it.

Writing is actually fun!

Yes! Yes, it really is. It’s the most enjoyable part of it, but if you’re doing this solely to make money, turn around right now and pick another career.

Don’t get me wrong, we all (those of us who choose this) want to earn a living as a writer but if you’re writing for money, your writing will suffer because it’s not what you want to do. People are smarter than you think and they can see through the façade, so write honestly, about something you like and are passionate about, and the success will come.

I’m a great believer in the best job is the one you love doing, day in and day out. If you enjoy writing, whether its books, poems, web content, blogging – whatever – you’ll write better, build a bigger and more genuine audience and achieve the goals you want.

Don’t put undue pressure on yourself

It’s the ‘p’ word again – no, not publishing/ers. Pressure. It’s one of the biggest killers to any good story or project. If the pressure mounts up and you can’t deal with it, you’ll come across that infamous writers block.

I’m no believer in ‘writers block’ although I do use it as an umbrella term. There are a number of reasons why you might suffer from it. Pressure is one, tiredness and stress are others. A lack of focus or concentration, illness and many other factors can all stop you in your tracks.

Social media can be a big one. Too much time mindlessly clicking on Facebook’s timeline or Twitter’s newsfeed can destroy hours and days and – whoops – you’ve lost a week, then a month. That’s when the pressure builds. It’s a vicious cycle but if you put small steps in place to build a routine, you’ll get there.

Don’t get me wrong, some days you’ll write 20 words and others 5,000 but that’s okay. I try to write for at least one hour every day. The routine helps.

Find real feedback

This is tricky. Real, constructive feedback is essential to help you grow as a writer, and to develop your work. Other writers are great but they can often be busy. Readers are good but a reader doesn’t always make for good critic.

AVOID family and friends. They’ll have the best of intentions, no matter what you say to them beforehand, about what you expect and would like from them. You’ll get a “it was really good” or “I really enjoyed it” and that’s about it. Occasionally, you’ll dig and dig and dig and get a little nugget but it’s not worth THAT level of effort.

Find a writing group, in person or online – they exist everywhere. Follow the rules and be respectful. You won’t always like or agree with what they say but it’s for you to decide how to use that criticism. Throwing it back in someone’s face and going in a huff won’t help you and you’ll find feedback disappearing.

There are rules. Follow them or don’t – it’s your call

Every genre of writing has rules. So does every medium or format. Some people will tell you to stick to them at all costs while others will tell you not to worry and break them whenever you want. In the end, you have to decide.

It depends on what you’re hoping to achieve with your writing, the genre, context and so much more – it’s why planning and research are important. It will help you figure out which rules to follow (if any) and feedback will help prove or disprove your decisions. Be willing to adapt to meet the story and expectations of your reader to an extent. It’s a very fine line.

At the end of the day, it’s your call.

Editing…

It’s. So. Much. Fun.

Not.

However, it’s essential. You’ve written your book or script or poetry collection and you send it off straight away, so proud you’ve done it. Now you just have to wait for the phone to ring for hours on end with publishers offering you deals. Right?

Wrong.

You’ll make mistakes – spelling and grammar included, no matter how hard you try to spot them – and there will be plot holes, lines that don’t make sense to anyone but you. This is why you need to edit your work. Read it over and over and over again, and then get someone else to proof it as well. The repeat. Iron out those mistakes BEFORE you send it anywhere. It might take a full year to do this. Be patient.

Publishing, agents and rejection

There’s so much to say on this but you are going to face more rejection than you are success – at least, early in your career. The worst thing is, it’s not always just plain rejection. Sometimes you hear nothing at all in the months you’re waiting. It’s awful but that’s the way it is.

Get used to ‘no.’ It might be in a nice way but that’s what it is. Dust off and try again. It takes many, many tries to get someone to even acknowledge you. So many writers have what could be successful books or stories and give up after a few no’s.

Bear in mind, a ‘few’ in this instance can be hundreds. It only takes one yes, however. For more info on dealing with rejection, check this post out when you get a chance. It might open your eyes a little more.

Further Reading

Hey, look! Homework!

There’s so much reading you can do, from people like me to the ones who have done it. It’s important to remember that you’re not me, and you’re not them. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else so don’t get caught up on an idea if it doesn’t work out.

That being said, it can’t hurt to know about what people have gone through and use it to help, if you can. I’ve started you off, or given you some encouragement (or maybe I’ve put you off entirely – sorry!).

Either way, it’s a long and hard journey ahead of you. Stick with it and you’ll get there. Honest.

I read this article recently, on how to smash through seven writing roadblocks writers come across at various times. It’s quite interesting and worth a read, either now or later.

Good luck!

The Road to Getting Published: It Just Takes One

So, in my non-chronological order of The Road to Getting Published, I want to move on from the heartbreak and depression of constant rejection and look at something a little happier – a positive response!

As I said before, you’re going to face a lot of rejection. Some will be brutal, some will be dressed up nicely and at times you won’t hear ANYTHING (yeah, you know who you are!) but it only takes one positive response to completely change your world and make sure you keep working on getting that book of yours published. Again, I’m speaking from experience here.

If you want to catch up on what I’ve gone through already, read the first post in this series. If not, let’s continue, shall we?

So, what happened?

A screenshot of a nicely written rejection

A nicely written rejection!

Well, after the rejections (one actually quite a nicely worded one but still a no – see picture) and non-responders, I found some other publishers to submit to. I did that and then came more waiting. I hate waiting. I’m not a patient person at all and I should point out that I used to be a lot more impatient when I was younger – thankfully I’m better now or I’d have no friends left!

The longer this goes on without any results, the more other options start to creep into your mind. I started to think about the logistics or self-publishing and such, and while I’m not closing the book (I like puns) on that one, it’s not something I really want to do at this time. There’s a whole blog post worth of reasons but that’s for another day.

A screenshot of an email asking for my full manuscript

A step forward at last – I needed this!

Then it happened. It was the morning after seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron so I was already in a pretty good mood but I got an e-mail asking to see my full manuscript! I had to read it a couple of times and pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming but I was wide awake. I gave it a once over again, because I’m a little paranoid I’ve missed something and sent it on.

Woo!

I’m not getting ahead of myself

It’s important to keep grounded. Just because someone has asked to see the full manuscript of my novella doesn’t mean they’re going to instantly take it on. It’s a step closer than I’ve been before, so I have to take encouragement from that. At this stage, it’s balancing things out and trying not to let my imagination and the ‘what ifs’ take over and drive me insane.

I was in an incredibly good mood for the rest of the day – and the days that followed! I’m sure you can understand that and those of you who know me can picture how much I was just bouncing around. If you actually saw me then you have an even better idea.

It was better because that e-mail came a lot quicker than I expected. If a publisher gives you a timeframe, they normally stick pretty close to it and I’ve had a few come back to me after that with responses but never before. Whether that means anything or not, I don’t know but at this stage, I’d rather take all the positives I can as it helps balance out the rejections.

As I said, there’s no guarantee here. This is just another stage I have to go through but if you can’t take satisfaction from the small victories then you need to rethink your priorities – especially in this game.

The senior editors are likely to be a lot harder to impress but if I wasn’t on the right track then I would even have this little victory. Right?

Patience, patience and more bloody patience!

So, what’s next? Well, I’ve just got to keep going, keep searching for opportunities and believe that eventually it’ll get published. I have faith that this novella will do well if it gets out there, which is why I’ve been able to (mostly) keep a cool head throughout this whole process.

It’s not been easy and at times it really is depressing. Thankfully, I have good friends who I can rant to about it and that helps keep me sane. What’s annoying is that after sending off my full manuscript, it can take even longer to hear back. That’s normal because it’s a longer document they have to read but it’s still annoying (in an irrational way).

The journey is nowhere near over but I’m trying to stay positive for as long as I can. This took me one step closer. Let’s see how far along it will take me.

Until next time!

The Road to Getting Published: Dealing with Rejection

Rejected

Rejected

So, it’s 2015 and I’m at a stage where I’m looking to get published. I have a novella that I think is good enough after writing and editing the damned thing but now comes the hard part; finding someone to publish it. There are going to be problems and challenges and, hopefully, success at the end of it. I’m going to keep track of the big moments and feelings as I go through it all.

And you’re welcome to join me!

Choosing where to submit

This is the tricky one – maybe the subject of a post itself – and there is no easy way about it other than doing your research first.

I never said I was doing this in order!

Don’t just submit to the first opportunity you come across as it might not be the best one. Find out what they’re looking for and see if what you have ready is suitable for them. You can submit anyway, sure, but they are likely to get hundreds to thousands of submissions a week and anything that doesn’t fit in won’t even get glanced at.

Why?

Why should they, they’ve got plenty more to choose from. Nowadays especially, you’ll find most are okay with you submitting to multiple places but check first. You’re downfall is not preparing and researching – that’s almost guaranteed to end in failure.

Also check on their submission guidelines and how they want submissions to be sent. This includes formatting your manuscript or story properly. There are plenty of guides out there that can give you a standard style and form but if you don’t take heed of their personal instructions then you may as well not submit.

Of course, if you or someone you know have contacts in the industry, that can certainly help although it’s not going to make anything end in absolute success. Use everything you can to give yourself an advantage but don’t pester.

You’re more than likely not going to receive feedback either – and for crying out loud, DON’T pay to get your work published. That’s always going to be a scam and it’s different from hiring a proof reader if you think it’s a worthwhile move.

Playing the waiting game

Yup, this is BORING. It can take weeks if you’re lucky and months if not. Chances are, you won’t hear anything from some of them and that’s okay. All it takes is one to get back to you. The dream is that they’ll say yes…but this isn’t a dream. This is life. Honestly, you probably won’t want that e-mail.

That first response…

Is actually devastating.

There’s no point in pretending otherwise because it won’t help. It’s easy to get down heartened and maybe even think about giving up – but what’s the point in that? This is what you’ve been working towards for months, maybe years – and you’re going to give up at the first hurdle?

The first hurdle, I say? What about the writing, editing and all the rest? Sorry to tell you but that’s the easy stuff. You write because you want to, because you love it and/or have a story to tell, a story you just CAN’T keep to yourself. Editing it is a slog but worthwhile. You still have control but getting published? You lose that control.

So, take that response and hug it close. Read that e-mail or letter over and over, go over every detail that you can and look for hints. If you can’t find any then move on. Go for a walk, Run until you physically can’t, listen to loud music, scream at a wall, cry to a friend – d whatever you need to process it.

It’ll make you stronger, trust me.

What next?

Find another publisher, another literary agent, another open call, another competition. Whatever it is you’re looking for, go find it. This is the digital world and most will accept you will submit elsewhere – in some conditions – but make sure you read what their terms are before submitting.

You have to weigh up what’s best for you and your piece. There are other options out there and we’ll discuss in due course.

Thoughts?

UPDATE: The next part is now live – read it here.