Keeping going

One of the hardest things an author faces day to day is actually finding the time and the inclination to write.

When I was lucky enough to meet up with some of the authors from “Killer Women” at the Agatha Christie Festival a few years ago, I was, so far, unpublished, and I asked them, as any aspiring author would – what I needed to do to get an agent and get published, and they said, without missing a beat “You need to finish your book”.

By this point I already had four totally finished novels – so the advice wasn’t quite what I was looking for – but it just goes to show – this is where most aspiring authors fall down.  That initial “ideas to paper” stage.

Getting all the words down onto paper (or rather into word on a PC) is a challenge for most authors.  I’ve got countless works on my computer which only get to chapter three and stall.  This isn’t because they aren’t good stories, but merely because life got in the way, and I just never felt the pull of that particular novel to finish it off.

So how do you cope with this challenge day to day as a writer?  I don’t know whether this is harder for me as I receive regular writing commissions and so, with deadlines looming I simply HAVE to write murder mystery games in my waking hours – and therefore when I get back to my PC at home and look at the book on the go I feel somewhat jaded by the whole writing process, or whether it’s easier – because I’ve already developed the much needed habit of just writing whether I feel like it or not.

Many people would tell you not to wait for the muse – but just to write.  Others will tell you not to spend time writing if you aren’t in the mood as you’ll just delete it all the next day.  The question is – which approach is right?  I think it’s hard to tell.  I think it really boils down to what works best for you – so long as you are aware there will come a point (there will – trust me) where you will get to the middle of your book, where the “fun” of the start, and the “pull” of the end are both missing, and it feels like you are going nowhere.  (It kicks in around 25,000 or 30,000 words – just in case you’re wondering…)

At this point – I would say… write.  You have to write through it.  It might be garbage, but get your ideas on paper.  You have plenty of time to edit later (usually 6 months to 9 months minimum!)

So how do I, personally, get through this particular mental block point?  Well it’s usually at this point I start chapter plotting.  I have the overall plot in my head (or on paper) already, but when I hit this point I start putting short sentences into the chapters.

e.g. “Chapter 12 – Jess and Simon meet”

This gives me a pointer for each chapter, and I just work through the entire “book” to the endgame putting in these one liners, so that I can start feeling the tug of the end.  Sometimes I’ll flesh out a paragraph, or even write a chapter totally out of sequence so I work out where i need to add in plot points earlier in the plot, sometimes as I write I’ll add in another chapter as I realise something else is needed.

It’s also usually a good idea to simple READ everything in your book to date.  Sometimes that’ll give you the impetus for the next chapter.

I will say, it’s usually at this point I also allow myself to get distracted.  I write blogs (yes… you know where I’m at now don’t you…) try out short story competitions, screenplays, anything to get the creative juices flowing again.  Sometimes once you’ve taken your mind off the hook and worked on something else for a bit – the impetus comes back and you’re raring to go again on your original book.

Some authors always have 2 books on the go at once.  So that they can move between books as the muse takes them.  It’s not a bad plan if you can do it without getting confused, and also you don’t hit “mid point” on both at the same time.  I suppose as I write creatively at work – I have that system already in place.

The mind is a wonderful thing, it’ll recconnect to your characters and plot if you give it time, and sometimes the worst thing you can do is focus focus focus on how little you’re writing day to day.  Feel free to give yourself a holiday, a few lie ins.  Read a couple of your favourite authors, meet up with some local writers for a chat.  If you can, and feel able, try giving your part written manuscript to someone who can encourage you.  (IMPORTANT – don’t give it to a critic at this point… as they’ll tell you everything you’ve done wrong and the joy of the writing process will dissappear instantly! – A good constructive critic is always essential to the writing process – but at the END – not when you’ve hit a mental block!)

If you can – try and do something your characters in the book are doing at the point you’ve got stuck.  Obviously not murdering someone… but if they’re going out for coffee / a walk / engaging in some active pursuit / visiting a particular area – see if you can do the same – that may well give you the basis to continue the story.

One last thing to consider… are you stuck because you’ve got bored?  If you’re bored – then ask yourself will your readers be too?  If so – think of something totally out of the blue to throw at your characters at this point.  Shake it up a bit – throw them a curve ball.  It’ll make it spicier for you as a writer – but the readers might also enjoy it – and it might well give you the motivation to keep going.

Raise a cheer!

CelebrationIntegrated blogs and websites – At last – writers have caught up with the multi-national companies!

Finally – something to cheer about!  Writers can now get reasonably priced websites with integrated blogs!  I’ve been looking for this for ages!

I think most people have a blog these days, and many writers also have a webpage – but it’s always been such a challenge to find a site which will link one to another effectively, without a massively obvious transition (change in colour scheme and font etc) and change of menus.  AND one which doesn’t cost  hundreds of pounds!

Take for example my old blog site.  http://joannesmedley.blogspot.com/ It was good enough, but the blog didn’t hold the links to my “publishing credentials” and my website couldn’t integrate with my blog… UNTIL NOW!  (if you’re reading this – you’re on my new blog! How very exciting!)

For writers still struggling with the whole blog / website thing – I’ve found a company who can help.  Mark and Gill at Crystal Pyramid have worked with me for a number of years now at Red Herring Games and they understand what an author needs.  So if you want a blog integrating into a website, and would like a professional website, with your own domain name, that’s self editable – they’re the people to call.   You’ll find them here: www.crystalpyramid.co.uk

Now I’ve just got the task of updating the things which automatically link to the old blogger blog, which let’s face it, does more for advertising blogger, then advertising me!

Strings, bings, blogs, netlogs, linkedIn, libboo, podcasts, facebook, twitter and You-tube…

Argh! Haven’t you found there’s just such a plethora of social media these days? Not a day goes by I don’t get an email inviting me to watch a podcast, add a string or story to a social media networking storyboarding site.

Question is – is all this media actually helping writers or is it just yet another distraction?

Networking – as I’ve said before is a must for new writers. Phil Berg said at a business conference I’ve been to recently: “You don’t have to be the best in your field, you just have to know the most people.” That’s as true for writing as it is for business.

You can be THE best screenwriter there is, but if you aren’t known, then how are people going to approach you to give you the contract?

Now I’m not talking about simply “putting yourself about”. Everyone hates someone who is just there for themselves and never contributes. As I’ve said before, it’s not enough to just “friend” people on twitter and the like, you need to interact.

So where do you start?

Well, for a start check out my post below on networking for writers.

And with regards to social media, I would suggest all writers have these basics in place and know how to use them effectively.
1) A blog. This should be informative, not just a list of personal acheivements. And don’t write and abandon it – point people to your blog on the other social media sites you frequent. e.g. facebook and twitter.
2) LinkedIn – it may seem like a business network (which it is) but if you’re taking your writing seriously, then writing is a business, whether you want to believe it is or not. Learn how to make LinkedIn work for you. Grow your connections and then do a search one day in the company field and see if you happen to know, or can get introduced to the person who you need to speak to.
3) Twitter – yes I know everyone likes facebook better – but if it’s connections you’re after, trust me, Twitter is a) quicker and b) easier. Use twitter to create contacts, not just as a means to itself, and make sure you plug your blog on twitter by creating a link to it! Also – let’s not forget, you can make twitter comments post to facebook and linkedIn, so that saves you a lot of time!

What about the rest I hear you ask?

Well…

Facebook. Everyone’s on facebook these days… but does it help you make any good writing connections? Probably not. Do you speak to writers on facebook? er… no. I speak to my contacts on twitter and on UKwriters when they happen to drop in.

Never visited UKwriters? Why not?

UKwriters is a joint social media site. You can post blogs, join discussions or just ask for advice. You can email authors in your own field and communicate on a meaningful level. It’s gone a bit quiet lately – but that’s only because people haven’t got their head around how to use it, and I’ve been too busy to drop in. But why not drop in yourself and start a discussion?

Libboo / Stringsta I’ve taken a look at both now, and other then “bigging up” their creators I can’t honestly see these going anywhere long term. Yes, I agree it’s a lovely idea, let’s all collaborate, but truthfully? How is it going to help writers earn any money long term?

I agree, it sounds like a great idea that you can create a joint effort book / script / storyboard, but royalty rates for authors are pittance at the best of times, so how exactly is splitting a book royalties 60 different ways going to help? Also… who get’s the publicity from the book sale? Er… would that be Libboo or Stringsta themselves? So no. I can’t see this taking off long term.

One to watch and put some time into if you’ve got a lot of spare time perhaps, but if you’re busy – just avoid them!

You-Tube For writers… er… No. I can’t think of anything more boring then watching me type up a script! But for film makers, or as writers if you can get your short film on there – then YES! Great idea, especially if its good. But don’t post any old rubbish. You want something that’ll show case your work, not a camcorder video!

As for the rest?

Well, make up your own mind. If you’re wasting more then 15 minutes a day on them, ask yourself how many contacts you’ve made and how useful they are to you. If they’re not getting you anywhere then drop them. You’ve got more important things to do… like write!

Final words…

Competitions As new writers a competition is probably one of the few ways you will actually get noticed from a cold start. However, be wary. Don’t pay to enter anything. All you are doing is lining someone elses pockets!

After al, I could set up a great competition to write a new murder mystery game. Prize? Oh… let’s see… you could become an author on Red Herring Games (something I’d do anyway if you’re good enough). I could charge £2 entry fee, which sounds reasonable… and I’d probably get over 50 entries so I make a straight £100 profit for doing nothing! (Maybe I should try it!!)

Also – stick to entering reputable competitions. The BBCwritersroom is a good place to find out the best ones. They screen all their competitions to make sure they’re fair to writers.

Is networking useful for writers?


We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know it’s who you know” and sadly that is true for writing too. How many writer lectures have you been to where the writer was given a “lucky break” by speaking to a friend who knew a producer, publisher or agent? I can think of dozens. It’s a very rare person who get’s an agent from scratch these days – though it is possible!

But is networking a good way of generating contacts or not and where should you go?

Writing conferences and lectures and courses are a great way to meet other writers, but frankly you’re all in the same boat, so unless you happen to meet a lucky writer who has an agent, or develop a relationship with someone who then finds one – it won’t get you very far.

Which means, as well as mixing with unpublished writers you need to be looking further afield.

1) Writer signings

I’m not talking about the famous ones here. If you queue up to get J.K. Rowling to sign a book, she’s hardly going to have the time to give you a contact at bloomsbury!

However – local writers are a different matter altogteher. They generally have shorter queues, are more willing to talk and still interested in helping other new writers “break” into the field as they often had a leg up themselves. Don’t discount them because they aren’t “big”. They’ve still got further then you have (to that illusive first contract) and so they’re still better connected then you!

Make sure you attend any local readings/lectures they have, get to know them and see if they are willing to help you.

2) Business networking

You might think business networking is a ludicrous way to general contacts – but scoff all you like, I’ve been in a business networking group for 2 years now, and in that time I’ve landed a contract to write e-books for a local entrepreneur, been asked to write custom written games for venues and met a publisher who would actually give me the time of day, and probably help me with contacts should I eventually get a book up to publishable standards.

I’ve also met other writers who visit the group who do copywriting – paid work, and also a story writer who writes people’s biographies – again PAID.

So while business networking may seem a bizzare way to set out – think beyond the people in the room to the contacts they may be willing to share with you and give it a go.

3) Tradeshows

Publishers have tradeshows just like any other companies – sometimes you’ll find them all under one roof. Take a walk, browse the stands and if you can, strike up a conversation – you might get on with someone like a house on fire and they might be willing to look at your work!

4) Work your contacts

As well as our immediate friends we all have people we know through social media like twitter and facebook these days – so speak to them.

Obviously you don’t just want to “follow” them and then pitch straight away – an immediate turn off to anyone who’s busy and managed to work their way up their field.

Instead – get to know them. Chat, don’t pitch. Once you have built up that relationship – THEN speak to them about a project.

5) YOUR BLOG!

Your blog or website is THE singular most important thing you need to maintain as an unpublished author. For many new contacts it’s the first thing they’ll take a look at.

It needs to be:
a) Easy to read
b) Professional
c) Clear – with a list of your achievements in the writing field and also what you’re working on.
d) Personal. By this I mean – a photograph. People deal with people. It’s a known fact. Avatars are all very well, but they aren’t you.

What will sell your work in the end isn’t the work itself but you. It’ll be you that will eventually meet with people to pitch your work, so have a personality, be visible and get noticed.

Further reading:

Launch a freelance writing career via Twitter.

5 top tips for dealing with rejection letters.


Rejection letters are standard when you’re an author. Like it or not, not everyone thinks the same way as you and the things you think are great, just aren’t someone else’s cup of tea.

If you’re a writer then you’ll get rejection letters. J.K. Rowling got them, Tom Clancy got them, in fact, you name an author, I expect they all have a drawful of them. But how should you deal with them?

1) Firstly – breath a sigh of relief. The wait is over. You aren’t suddenly going to have to put your life on hold while you write your “approved” project. You can keep that holiday date in Spain rather than booking into a residential course, you can take time out to research, you can do whatever it is you do – and most importantly you can revise and resubmit your manuscript again! (Or bin it and start a new one). For places like the BBC writersroom, a rejection letter means the submission process is over and you are eligable to submit a new work. So firstly – Relax!

2) Deal with the letter. For most, it’ll be a standard rejection letter. You know the type. “Many thanks for sending us your manuscript, we’ve decided at this stage not to take it any further” or “I’m afraid our books are full at present” or words to that effect. The standard rejection letters are the easiest to deal with – you can shred them, burn them, turn them into scrap paper, write on the back of them or file them. It doesn’t matter. They don’t say why they’ve rejected you – just that they have!

If on the other hand you are fortunate enough to have actually received feedback in the rejectin letter – then you need to action this. Firstly decide if it’s feedback you are willing to accept – you don’t have to accept EVERYTHING. After all, your writing style should be unique to you – and your aim is to find someone else who likes your writing for what it is. So don’t change things on someone else’s whim. Only you can decide if the feedback IS something you want to do something about, and if not – then file, burn, shred etc or actually take the advice and do something about it.

3) Avoid the miry pits of writing depression. Some people (like me) are sneaky. We time our submissions at “certain times of the month”, this means, I submit when I’m at a low ebb and I can’t feel any worse about myself or my writing, and generally the rejection letters will come back when I’m not at a low ebb and can just fling it to one side nonchalently! (Hey… we all have our tecniques!)

That said – when the rejection letter arrives – don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are a terrible writer. Remember all the authors who have gone before you! You aren’t the first, you won’t be the last! Eat a bar of chocolate, have a hot bath, seek out company. Whatever works for you – do it. Nobody likes being rejected and as most writers write alone, it often helps to go out and find a friend who “likes you” as a person to get over the hump. The rejection isn’t a personal slight, but it often feels like that. So do something you enjoy, and get some positive feedback. You are great! Honest!

4) Embark on a new project or revise the original. Rejection letters usually take 6 weeks (at least) to come back. This means you’ve had 6 weeks to “sit” on your work. So take another look at it again with a fresh head. Was it rubbish? You might well find it was (I know I sometimes do!) Revise it, or bin it and start something new! Learn from experience. Don’t just send it out again unless you are supremely confident in the piece. Use the rejection as a prod to take another look. Nothing is ever “finished”. I often go back to something after a year and tweek it again.

5)Find a good critic. Rejection letters with feedback are few and far between. If you think you can stand the pain – find someone who will read your work critically and GIVE you that feedback. They might be able to work out why you are getting regular rejections.