Okay, I’m going to be honest here. Last year when I quit my job to become a writer and writing coach, and then I re-read the Spy Thriller that I wrote for fun in 2016 – I never expected to publish it.
But here we are. It’s out there on Amazon Kindle for a reasonable £3.49, and I naively assumed that it would go up, there might be a flurry of interest from friends and family before it – like many self-published offerings – dwindled into insignificance.
What I didn’t realise was that it would stand a chance of becoming a Top 100 Espionage Thriller, of that I’d reach the four-figure rankings for Kindle books. It never once occurred to me to prepare for this. This book was never even written for publication. In Lies We Trust was a fun adventure I wrote in November 2016 during National Novel Writing Month after being challenged by my writing group to write outside of my typical genre. Well, a Spy Thriller was definitely something I’d never attempted before, and when I shared with them the two thousand words or so of my attempt – featuring an ex-undercover operative called Liz who had been mysteriously ‘reactivated’, kidnapped, and then shot at by a naked assassin – they wanted to know more. So, I just wrote more…No plotting, or planning, I let the story go wherever that day’s writing session took me.
Odd to admit now, that even *I* didn’t know which characters to trust as I put poor Liz through her paces, brought back an old flame, and put her sister and niece in danger. Yet, somehow, it worked. And when I re-read it last year I simply thought, “This is quite a fun read. I should put it out there for people to enjoy!”.
Well, I did. The book is currently languishing at 7,250 in the Kindle Store and is 174 in the rankings for Espionage Thrillers. And, I don’t know quite how to feel.
Releasing a self-published book is a pretty big deal in itself (though, not as big as getting an agent/publisher – in my mind anyway). Having people actually *buy* the book is gratifying and wonderful. Receiving positive feedback and messages from friends who’ve bought it saying they can’t put it down – again, amazingly satisfying. But, being striking distance from a Top 100 spot? That’s beyond my comprehension.
I keep trying to convince myself that the Amazon rankings don’t mean anything. They’re numbers; it doesn’t signify the quality of a story, or the writing. Yet, I can’t stop refreshing the page to see if I’ve made it yet. Am I a Top 100 ranking author? It’s almost like I don’t want to get sucked into the boastful ego-mania of being one of those authors – who can’t stop banging on about figures and their “over-night” success. But at the same time, isn’t this what writers dream of – seeing their books be sold and read by as many people as possible?
Granted, to be this high in the rankings doesn’t take a *lot* of sales. I know that. Most writers who’ve investigated self-publishing with Amazon Kindle know this – the sheer volume of books available on Kindle brings down the average sales per book. Yet with the target in sight I do want it. I hadn’t expected it, hadn’t anticipated that it would happen, but to see In Lies We Trust in the Top 100 Kindle rankings – even if just for an hour – would be a milestone I hadn’t even mapped onto my writing journey.
Characters. Love them or hate them, they are essential to any good story. Some writers start with them, and find an intriguing individual to cast as their main player to whom everything will happen. Others create a scenario and design the perfect stooge for their trap. Me, I’m a big fan of combining these and imagining a scene with a single character in a particularly tough moment, then I go from there – either following the character or the consequences of their actions. I used to think of them as two separate things. But it was when I started to really understand that plot is just what happens to the character that my stories really started to make sense to me.
When we’re conceiving of our novels we often separate character and plot in our minds to make things easier to imagine. This is all well and good in the drafting stage, but at some point we have to match them up to make sure that our readers believe the actions our character takes and that these directly contribute to the story they are reading, and we are writing.
But how to do this? One of the key things I’ve discovered is to dig deep into a characters’ desires and wants. I have to find my protagonist’s (and often many of the rest of my casts’) motivators to understand their actions well enough to write them. This is often what drives the plot forward. If you’ve ever read a book where one character does something and you just can’t see them doing it – that’s because the writer has probably misplaced the link between character and plot.
But…WHY? ‘Why?‘ is my favourite question when writing. I think it’s by far the most valuable question you can ask at any point in your story. We should be able to identify a decision that our character is making and explain exactly why it is that they want whatever they are invested in. It doesn’t have to be glaringly obvious, but readers seek to understand characters through actions. So it’s worthwhile to make sure that they’re consistent – and visible – throughout a story.
For example; imagine your partner, parent, sibling, or closest friend – could they guess what you might do in any given situation based on how well they know you? Readers, especially at the start of a story, like a bit of this to help them get comfortable with the characters, so they can relate to them or they can at least feel they understand them.
Of course, we don’t want readers to expect certain plot points and for the story to become too predictable. So, I always try and give my characters a chance to act spontaneously at some point. As the writer, I believe it’s our job to force the character to made a decision somehow – give them limited time, or two bad options, or make it seem like there is NO other option then have them pull another possibility out of the bag!
Not as hard as it sounds… Believe it or not, this isn’t as hard as it sounds. If you know your character well enough they should be full of contradictions – just like real people. How some think it’s morally reprehensible to eat meat, yet they give in to their pregnancy hormones for a sneaky burger. Someone might be against the death penalty, until someone they love is killed. A man might not believe in love at first sight, until it happens to him!
I think the best stories are those ones where the writer has figured out the breaking point of the character – where their motivations and beliefs can be compromised, and then the character has no choice but to reassess them. It’s a great way to entice readers into wanting to know more, and they’ll empathise with a character’s contradictions because they recognise aspects of themselves in your characters.
The Write CatalysT: Character Test
What is your character’s ‘until…’ moment? Where they believe or behave a certain way until….?
This is a significant moment in your novel, so make sure you don’t skip over it. From this point they might question everything they thought they knew, and it will likely disorient and scare them. This is the moment that readers want to see: your character is changing, and from this point they are no longer the same character as the one in the beginning of the novel.
Every writer will have their own writing routine arising from personal writing goals and what they believe they are capable of in any given time frame. I think we all have our peaks and troughs – sometimes we race on ahead and surprise ourselves with our enthusiasm for the novel we are working on, whilst other times we struggle on desperate just to achieve the minimum we have set ourselves.
I’ve been in both of these situations before – and everywhere in between. The overwhelming nature of starting out on a novel, the excitement that pushes you on and seeps into every aspect of your life, so much so that unless you’re working directly on your manuscript every other moment feels like a waste. Right through to the procrastination techniques and lengths we will go to in order to avoid just sitting down to do one more edit…Including ‘side missions’ such as ‘research’, and reading ‘comparable titles’, and doing character profiles, or looking on RightMove for your protagonists ‘dream home’ (tell me that last one’s not just me?!).
But having experienced all this, it has still taken me a long time to accept that writing itself is not the only worthwhile pursuit of a writer.
Instead, I now try to break my writing day up into ‘sessions’. This means that I can pick and choose what I am concentrating on in any given session. Sometimes I spend more time editing and reading than writing itself. Other times I spend the whole session writing out a whole new chapter.
However, what I have found to be vital to my sense of inspiration and motivation is reading other novels and writers’ blogs. I don’t see this as time wasted, because it helps me focus on the craft of writing – learning from others and also building a sense of community at the same time: meaning that I don’t feel so alone as a writer.
I also break down my writing tasks into realistic, definite chunks. I set myself targets and used the concept of ‘Most Important Actions’ to keep myself on track – each day I have roughly 3 MIA’s to accomplish, and only one of these might be novel-writing. Setting such targets and reviewing them regularly ensures I feel on top of things and allows me the permission to work on different aspects of my writing craft. So, if I begin to feel guilty for reading while I think I should be writing I can reassure myself by saying, ‘But I’m going to do some writing this afternoon‘. Reading is research: I’m learning what works for other writers as I read: Just because it’s enjoyable doesn’t mean it’s not work.
That’s how I keep my routine varied and interesting. It doesn’t leave any scope to get distracted, or become too involved in one aspect of my writing and neglect other – just as important – elements, such as reading or editing. Instead, I spend some time on all of them, meaning I don’t get bored. Not only this, but when I’m really enjoying one area – like researching – it stops me from getting to far into it and can keep me focused: if I know I’ve only got an hour to find something out, then even if I might find something interesting I mark it to read on my next researching session, rather than go off on a tangent.
You can use your most enjoyable task as a reward for attempting something you like less. For me, in the beginning, this was definitely editing. I’d promise myself an hour of writing time if I got through my editing in the morning. Now, I actually enjoy editing because I’ve discovered the best way to approach it: mornings are definitely my most productive editing time.
Finally, by breaking my writing time down into sessions it keeps my mind fresh, ensuring that I never feel overwhelmed by one part of the process. I might be in the midst of writing a first draft of a short story and then realise that I need to take a break, knowing that I’ll have to switch to something else after my rest. But this just means that I’m more driven to complete other things, buoyed on by my excitement that the writing brought me. It also means that I don’t neglect everything else just because I have a spark of inspiration from the muse. This won’t work for all writers, because some will benefit more by following the muse down the rabbit hole (and on occasion, even I do this). But, for me, I feel more positive if I can see slow, steady progress across the board – rather than racing ahead in one aspect.
Of course, I should admit that there is one time of year that I suspend most of the routine I have written about so far: November. Every year during NaNoWriMo I set myself a goal to write the first draft of a new novel. In November pretty much all I do is write – but then, I’ve given myself permission to do so and know this for many months in advance: which fits right in with my ethos for writing. Because even though right now I would love to start my next idea (that conveniently popped up right on cue in late-August) I know that I’m going to be dedicating the whole of November to it.
My next FREE Writing Webinar is on Saturday 17 October 2020 and is all about Creating Your Perfect Writing Routine. Want to join us? Find out more and sign up using this link: https://bit.ly/Oct-2020-Webinar
Despite the tough times that we’re all going through at the moment, I was reminded earlier today that I wouldn’t give up my opportunity to write – my love of writing – for anything else I could have in the world.
I remember that I used to see people moving into their new houses and wistfully think: ‘I wish I had a house of my own to move into’. But rereading an old journal entry recently, I wrote about that old saying ‘What I wouldn’t do for...’ and it must have prompted this particular musing: What would I give up if I could buy my own house?
Actually, it turned out at the time: not much. I was more content that I realised – and it’s been therapeutic to go back and relive that desire for a home, weighed up against the quality of my life as a renter. But interestingly, there was one thing on the list that made me instantly stop the game I’d started in my mind; the idea of giving up my writing.
If someone said to me: “If you give up writing you can have £100,000.” I couldn’t take it. I LOVE writing – it’s my saviour when I want to escape my reality, and it’s something I enjoy more than most other things. I’ve always turned to writing – fiction especially – when life was challenging.
And life has been challenging over the past decade: Living with two chronic illnesses, having things that I can do while fatigued and in pain is often a life-saver. Imagining stories, creating characters, translating them to the page, and seeing how other people read them is fascinating to me. And, even if the offer on the table was: “If you give up writing, you can magically be healthy.” I still wouldn’t do it. I don’t think there’s anything anyone could offer me that would make that a good deal.
If you’re ever at a stage where you think that writing isn’t important to you, ask yourself: What would make you give up writing? You might find some of the answers quite revealing…
~~~ What, if anything, would make you give up your writing? Or, like me, can you never imagine being able to sacrifice it at all?
I remember finishing the first draft of my first ever novel. I’d done it; and that was it. I sat there stunned for a few minutes. Believe it or not, ‘The End’ can be a very anti-climatic moment. There is no spontaneous applause, no balloons suddenly appear and no-one in the world knows what you have just achieved until you share it with them.
Completing a novel is such a personal, private affair that often occurs in silence and seriousness. There is the weight of all that you have done on your shoulders and the fear that it will not live up to what you believe it could be. Yet, there is also pride and satisfaction in knowing that you have done what you set out to do, that you stuck with it through the difficult times and now you have something whole to show for it. Not to mention that now, thanks to the advent of modern technology, you can shout your success from the rooftops and share in your glory with others who know just how it feels to write those final words.
I’ve completed several manuscripts since that first one. And with each one I’ve learned something new about my writing and my approach to novel constructions. It can take me a long time to be able to read the story back and determine the best route for my characters. So many changes are made on the way, not just in my narrative. I’ve changed too.
Since starting my first novel in 2011 I have written seven others. These include a fun draft for a young adult novel and a first draft intended to be a sequel to that first one; That which is left is lost. In part, writing these made me really question the quality of my first novel and led to me to rewriting the whole thing. I spent 2013 trying unsuccessfully to edit that story, it wasn’t until I sat down to tackle the rewrite that I really discovered all the issues that it had. Half-formed characters, unknown motivations and lapsed story threads plagued my original draft and even the sections I had attempted to edit were lacking the pace and narrative structure to adequately tell the story I wanted to share.
In the rewriting of that novel I had more control. I knew what was supposed to happen when, who was integral to the plot and why they were involved to begin with. So many more things were clear to me during the rewrite and I think that is because over the past few years I’ve developed my skill as a writer. I still probably have so much left to learn. But I know this much: writing those two novels in between this draft and my original copy of That which is left is lost, really helped me to understand story structure and to develop character. Now I truly understand why it is so rare for a debut novelist to be published with their inaugural novel – because good writing, storytelling and description take time to develop.
A novel needs nurturing and caring for; the idea needs time to sit and ferment. I think writers can get drunk on the possibility of new ideas and then, when they emerge out of the other side they realise, in a hungover state, that perhaps it wasn’t such a genius plan after all – that they’ve written themselves into a corner or lost the spark that they believed was the glint of literary gold. Ideas need work, and so often that takes longer than we want it to.
The process of writing a novel is not something that can simply be taught. People can advise and suggest ways for you to get started or to keep your motivation going or even how to celebrate when you finish. But they can’t write the book for you, nor can they tell you what is best for the story you are trying to tell. All of that has to come from you.
Even as a Writing Coach I can only make suggestions and help writers navigate the choices they need to make; not give them the answers. What I can do, however, is champion your writing efforts, support you as a writer, and guide you on the way to your particular novelling success. I help writers write their novel, in their own way so that, in ‘the end’ they don’t have to waste months, or even years, trying to figure out what that looks like. I took that route, and now it’s ten years later…!
Wherever you are on your writing journey, know that what it takes to finish writing a novel is, when it comes down to it, pure perseverance. Keep going, keep writing, keep editing, and one day you’ll sit back and realise: “I just wrote my novel”.
In our busy society I often think that there are some words we take for granted and misinterpret. One of these is most definitely ‘success’. We have a collective definition for success and we like to apply it to other people as an interpretation as to how well they are doing at life. But we forget that not all people want the same things as us, and even if they do, generally speaking they have their own route and motivating factors to get there.
As authors, perhaps the ultimate sign of success is to be on the New York Times Best Seller List. The longer you remain on it, the more successful you are. But, I’ve met scores of writers whose main aim is simply to reach readers, rather than get on the NYTB list. Equally too, there are some who write because they desire fame and fortune, and others still who just want their name to be known around the world. Being on the NYTB list can be a symbol that each of these have been achieved, but for those individuals the driving force behind their success isn’t focused on that list exclusively. The list is simply an outcome, rather than a product of their success. And they may not have been aiming for this at all in the beginning.
What do you want? The most important thing is that you learn how to define what success means to you. What is it that you really want from life? Do you want to be on the best seller list, or will you be happy having sold a few hundred copies to readers who aren’t your relatives? Success isn’t a static thing, either. It can change and develop as you do. Once, all I wanted was to be able to write regularly and then, when this happened I set my sights on getting a short story published. Success isn’t just about the end goal, it’s also the smaller achievements on the way that mark out that you are on the path to success.
How will you know when you’ve got it? One of the biggest challenges we face in this commercial, rat-race of a world is recognising when we are successful. A lot of the time we neglect to see our own success in favour of identifying it in others. We look around at our friends, family, work colleagues and beyond and think that we don’t match up – when, really, they’re all doing the same and believe you are more successful than they are!
Yes, that young, fresh author managed to get her debut novel onto the NYTB list, but she did it by writing about the tragedy that surrounds her life. She wants to share this to ensure other people don’t have to endure what she did; the one thing that we neglect to factor in when we judge how successful she might seem. This is a prime example of why we shouldn’t measure our own success on someone else’s scale. We can always look outside of ourselves and find people who we think are ‘doing better than us’ – but we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, nor do we understand if what these people have is really what they wanted.
Imagine your ideal life – and keep that at the forefront of your terms for success. I picture myself sitting at a writing desk, in my ‘Plotting Shed’ staring out of a window that looks onto a wild garden with trees, beside a bookshelf full of my novels with a dog (or two) at my feet. I’ve had both the dog and a writing desk for some time. More recently I left my job to be a writer and Writing Coach and my Plotting Shed is on its way. While other people might not consider that success on their own scale, for me it’s an important step to the bigger dream.
Does it contribute to a bigger picture? And that’s what we need to keep focused on. Every one is an individual – we all have our unique dreams and desires and we should be careful lest envy starts to distract us from our own ‘bigger picture’. Yes, the ultimate dream may change – remember, success isn’t a fixed point – but don’t want what someone else has just because they have it. Consider what YOU want. Are you building up to this, or is life taking you in a different direction? Work smart by asking yourself if you really are working toward what it is you say you want.
Unfortunately, as many of us know, being an author isn’t a guaranteed path to riches. So, you can’t necessarily rely on writing exclusively to get there. I worked hard to get my two-up-two-down house on the edge of the Pennines, and for years I built in other opportunities that contributed to success on my own terms. For me, it meant a part-time job and some freelance work along with putting my health first when I had to – things that took me away from writing, but provided me with the financial security and energy I needed in order to get to where I am now.
The importance of everyday success While doing the washing and cleaning the bathroom don’t factor into my personal ideal of success – I don’t judge my success based on my housekeeping skills (thankfully) – it does need doing. These everyday chores are a small part of my overall success. Remember the last time you went over to a friend’s house for coffee and their living space was immaculately clean, their kids were polite and neatly dressed and they had just added a brand new extension on to their house? What tiny part of you didn’t think ‘I wish I could do this’ and compare your failings as a housekeeper/parent/house owner to theirs? It’s a natural reaction in some ways, but it’s driven by societal views. For your friend, her success that day was dependent on you seeing how tidy her home is, how well behaved her children are and how proud she is of being able to add to her home; even if, ultimately, she judges her own success on how well she is coping at work.
Remember to cut yourself some slack and give yourself credit for all the little things that you do outside of your ultimate ideal of success. Working on a novel, all I really want is for it to be written, but every chapter I complete, every plot point I work out and even every load of washing I get done whilst I’m trying to write that novel – these are all everyday successes that we often forget about. Give yourself permission to see your achievements the way someone else might – and you’ll realise that there are plenty of people examining your life who would conclude that you’re more successful at something than they are.
You never know, you might even discover that you’ve been discounting your own success in favour of chasing someone else’s!
So, what does success mean to you? Let me know in comments, or Tweet Me.
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We writers can be a mysterious bunch to other people; coming up with random ideas in strange places, for plots and characters that are so different to our current lives and personalities. But this is what I love the most about being a writer; the freedom of imagination. Most especially at the very beginning of a new novel idea; when I know enough about it to keep me intrigued and excited, but not quite so much that I can trust it will turn into my next novel.
My Process So, this is what usually happens with me. It will start with a half-imagined dream – forming in those moments before I go to sleep when I’m drifting between awake and the depths of my subconscious. There have been so many of these instances whereupon I’m convinced that I don’t need to stir myself back to awareness; I’ll remember this idea, I’ll write it down as soon as I wake up. Inevitably; this never happens.
But sometimes I’ll carry the idea forward in my mind and the next day or two it will gently probe its way into my thoughts and settle there until I recognise the spark and actually do decide to write it down. I always intend only to write a sentence or two – just enough to remind myself later what the initial premise is – yet once my pen starts to move across the page (and yes, pen and paper is my idea-scribbling of choice), I can’t stop until the skeleton of the outline is there. A novel; summarised in two or three pages of almost illegible script.
Developing Time From this point, I pack it away. Keep it out of my reach for a while. Why? Because right then, it’s a perfect idea, packed with potential and excitement. If I break it down, try to analyse it and pick it apart, it loses some of its magic. These are the ideas that never get beyond this stage: those ones I try too hard to make work immediately. For my stories to develop, it takes a gestation of sorts; like waiting for an egg to hatch into a dragon.
Once I go back to it, and translate my scribble back into my brain I can see immediately where the issues are; characters that will be difficult to write, sub-plots that are missing or distracting, and elements that just will not work. This is when I need to be realistic. Am I ready to write this novel?
[ Caveat ] I should at this point say, I have ideas that are kept in drawers – both literally and metaphorically – wonderful possibilities that I know I am simply not yet capable of harnessing with the written word. I also have half-abandoned attempts; where the promise just didn’t quite live up to my initial concept. Yet, on occasion, there is one that catches fire and the anticipation of being able to create it on the page burns in my belly and my imagination ignites.
30-Days of Novel Writing This is when I sit down to write. Sometimes it’s odd scenes that come through strong, other times it’s a summary of the shape of the novel; a methodology of how it should be told.
I’m not one for simplicity in my writing. I like to mix time and perspective and knowledge. This is why I love November. National Novel Writing Month gives me a perfect opportunity to test out an early draft – draft zero if you will. I’m not an extensive planner; I learned early on that I can’t follow a path (or at least my characters won’t allow me to!). So with my basic premise, an inkling of what the themes might be, and a select group of characters, I write. I write through the 30 days of November and see where it takes me. Only then will I know for sure if it’s a novel worth pursuing.
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What is it that we are afraid of when uttering the words, “I am a writer.” Do we expect the job-police to jump out and contradict us? Are we ashamed of our passion for writing? Or do we simply not believe that – when we write – we can be considered ‘a writer’.
It seems to be a common ailment amongst us creatives that we fail to claim the name of ‘Writer’ for ourselves. Instead, we pass the power to label us onto others – be they qualified or not. We wait for someone to tell us we are a writer, and even then we shy away from it.
We seldom challenge other names in this way – you have a child; you are a parent: You teach children; you are a teacher: you go to work; you are a worker. Why do we so consistently shrug off the identity of ‘writer’. Why do we hide behind anonymity and wait for someone to call us out? Why do we transfer the weight of responsibility for being a writer to anyone but ourselves?
What’s in a Name?
I’ve spoken to lots of writers who refute the name. They brush it off with the excuse that they don’t write often enough, or haven’t yet completed anything, or even that they are not published. But these are not things that make you a writer. What makes us writers is that we WRITE. That is all.
What is there to be fearful of when we are simply describing ourselves by the label of our actions. Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Why can we not also say, “I write, therefore I am a writer?”
We bundle up our self-worth and our potential as authors with the label of ‘writer’ – we question whether we are worthy of the title, but the word does not care who you are, or why you do it. Simply put: We are writers. We write.
Writing as a Writer
It took me a long time to adopt the ‘writer’ identity. I, too, believed that I did not deserve the recognition of calling myself a ‘writer’. But each day, when I sat down to add more words to my manuscript, or create short stories, or even just sketch out the bare bones of a new narrative, it became more difficult to separate myself from the term ‘writer’. Writing is what I was doing, it is what I love doing, and being a writer is an integral part of who I am.
So I’m asking those of you out there who write to claim your rightful (write-ful?) name. Be proud. You are worthy of it. You deserve to acknowledge – for yourself – that you are a writer. Don’t ignore the authority you have simply by writing – you are a writer.
Say it. Claim it, and be proud. And remember: There is no one but yourself to refute it.
For a long time all I wanted to be was a writer. I love writing; making up fictional worlds that contain complex characters and moral dilemmas is my escape from the hustle of everyday life. Once, my dream was simply to write a novel; then it was to edit that novel; then get that novel an agent.
I’ve had smaller dreams in between; about writing short stories, being published, and getting a 5* review. Each time one of these mini-dreams have come true – not by accident, or luck, or magic – it has been because I made them happen. I made a conscious choice to aim high, and somehow it all worked out better than I expected!
Of course, as I conquered the smaller dreams, my imagination created new ones, bigger, bolder, braver ones. Dreams I never quite believed could happen to me. As was the case with this latest one: to leave my Museum job (even though I loved the work) and dedicate my life to writing my own fiction, and helping other writers achieve their own dream of writing ‘that’ novel!
Time to Choose the Dream
I’ve secretly known I would love to be a writing coach for a while now. I get such a buzz seeing other writers commit to and achieve their dreams, and it’s been so rewarding when I’ve played even a small part in their success. For over a decade I’ve facilitated learning in my Museum role, and translating the skills to nurture new writers to build their confidence and develop their craft to actually write their novel is an easy parallel.
During the Coronavirus lockdown, being forced to work from home my health was so much more improved. My M.E. and Fibromyalgia became background noise I barely noticed. I honestly never quite dare hope that I could live my life without the constant crushing fatigue and pain. Those things are gone now, and it made me realise that I was compromising my health for a job. Granted, it was a job I loved doing, but when the opportunity arose to apply for voluntary severance I had a choice: continue on in a job I enjoyed but continue in crippling pain; or forge a new path in a role I dreamed of, being able to live a relatively healthy life…
Put like that, it didn’t seem like such a difficult decision.
Dealing with The Fear
Of course that didn’t automatically cancel out the fear. Will it turn out to be a mistake? Will I be able to make it as a writer and a writing coach and create a career that will sustain my way of life? What if no agent will take on my novel/s? So many questions, so many potential fears. But, being a writer has taught me many many lessons already:
If you never put the words on the page, nothing will ever get written
You make a mistake in the draft; you can fix it in the edit
Characters who take the risks, reap the rewards
Difficult challenges teach characters the lessons they need to end the story well
These are the things I’ve kept in my mind as my fears arise. And like my Idea Generator method* of plotting out numerous stories before choosing one for the novel, I am viewing this path as one of many. There is no ONE right decision. There are many decisions, all of which have differing outcomes. As such I can’t say I’ll ever think I made the ‘wrong’ choice; because I don’t believe there is one.
Being Confident about my Choice
Of all the options I followed in my imagination as to what could happen if I made various decisions at this point in my life, the one where I stood up to claim my dream and invest in it was the one I knew I would regret if I didn’t follow it. There are people in my life who whole-heartedly support me, and others who don’t quite understand the ‘risk’ I am taking. The main thing is though: I believe. I believe in my ability to make this dream a reality.
So whatever happens in my drive to be the writer I want to be, and to support other writers to live their own dream, I am confident I will be able to take on the challenge. Following my dream is the brave, bold decision I am happy to make – no matter what happens next.
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Why I’m sharing my 5-step process for planning a novel…
So, if you know me already you will be aware that every year I take on the task of NaNoWriMo to write a 50k word novel in the month of November. This is my playground – the testing of an idea that I usually have earlier in the year, to see if the plot has merit or my characters aren’t flawed enough. I love it; but I would never attempt to do it from scratch. Now, I always rely on a sketched out plan to guide me through.
Only once have I truly ‘pantsed’ it – with the challenge of my spy thriller novel, written on a dare from my writing group. For that one, I had about 1,500 words to start me off, written as an exercise for a genre we wouldn’t typically write. That 1,500 word opening had thugs wearing only trench coats shooting at a character I had no backstory for! As it turned out, not planning was both stressful and exhilarating, but it didn’t make for a good manuscript in the end. So, despite finishing it up and being quite charmed by the whole thing, I put it aside and it’s now filed away…perhaps it will get it’s outing one day, perhaps not.
For all my other novels, I always have at least a road-map that guides my direction of travel. I plan the opening concept – the ‘what if’ that the story hangs on. I do a bit of work on my main characters; what they want and how they aren’t going to get it without a challenge of some kind. And, most of the time I have a vague imagining of when and where all this takes place and how these might add to the atmosphere of the novel.
In fact, I’ve realised I follow a simple 5-step formula that allows me to build a great outline for my story, whilst also allowing me the freedom to explore the novel’s breadth and detail when I write.
This means I am never intimated by the blank page.
Every writing session I know exactly what I need to get onto the page. I understand my character motivations, and that I need to get them from point A to point B. Sometimes I don’t know how…but that’s part of the fun of writing the first draft I think. So, I don’t constrain myself with too much planning; just enough to ensure the shape of the story is compelling enough for 90k words.
When I was first starting out, what I wouldn’t have done for such a simple strategy! It took me three years to finish my first manuscript – because my story was off, then my characters weren’t right, and finally when I did write ‘The End’ I was almost so bored of working on it I had to put it away for a few months.
Now I write a new novel every year. Not all of them will make it to the agenting stage – so far I’ve only submitted three out of eight. But, when I do get that publishing deal I’ll certainly not be intimated by the thought of writing new books, year after year after year. I love planning and writing them far too much.
Yet, because I know how much I struggled in the early days of my novel-writing, I’ve decided to share my process. That’s why I’m doing the 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge at the end of the month as part of my coaching offer for The Write Catalyst.
From 26-30 June I will guide you though the process of finding and refining your novel’s idea, character, and time and location. Plus, there’ll be a trouble-shooting workshop on the final day so we can tackle any stumbling blocks you might come across along the way.
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, or have tried before and given up; this challenge is for you! And, because I want to make sure that as many people as possible follow their dreams, it’s a FREE resource.
No cost except your email address, participation, and a promise to yourself that 2020 is the year that you will write that book!
Do you already have a part-written manuscript, but struggle to keep up the momentum?
Perhaps you’ve run out of plot, or aren’t sure how to fix what you now realising are glaring errors in your story?
Or worse, have you simply lost your writing mojo altogether?
As The Write Catalyst, I can help!
With a decade’s experience of writing novels; I’m familiar with lots of the issues and challenges that writers face when attempting to get that story on the page. Why not book in a free virtual cuppa with me, and let’s talk it out. Book in here!