How do you ‘make’ time to write?

black and white photo of clocksOne of the most common reasons I see aspiring writers give as to why they are still ‘aspiring’ and not yet ‘writers’ is that they don’t have time to write. I said this for many years. I still say it on occasion. I spend some days thinking ‘I need to make time to edit the novel/write the blog/read…and then I catch myself.

We all do it. We rush around in our lives, promising ourselves that we will ‘make‘ time for our writing just as soon as we’ve got this other thing done. But then something else comes up, we get distracted; we waste half an hour checking Twitter and Instagram, or scrolling through Facebook. Then we get to the end of the day, collapse into bed and remember that we didn’t make time to write, and suddenly we feel guilty because we wanted to write, we love writing, but we really just didn’t have time.

Time is a privilege…spend it well.
There’s a reason we talk about ‘spending’ time, because every hour is something we never get back. And we aren’t guaranteed the next hour either. If you saw time as money – as the saying goes – would you choose to waste it, or would you calculate and attribute it carefully on the things that are most important to you?

Time is about CHOICE
It’s a hard lesson to learn. But, what we spend our time on is a choice. Though, it often doesn’t feel that way. We have jobs, responsibilities, obligations. Some of us don’t have a sliver of time that we feel is our own. This is where the fallacy of ‘making time‘ comes from. We believe if we could just ‘make’ time then everything would be okay.

But, let’s get one thing straight. You can’t make time. You can only use it. And a lot of us have forgotten how to use it wisely. We forget that we have the choice to commit our time to things. And, before you start shaking your head and thinking that I simply don’t understand the complexities of ‘real life’ I want you to try something.

Reconsider your language of time
The next time you start worrying about how busy you are, try rephrasing ‘I don’t have time’, to ‘it’s not a priority for me right now’. You might be surprised at how just tweaking those words can make a real difference to how you choose to spend your time.

I don’t have time to write – becomes: Writing is not a priority for me right now

I don’t have time to eat healthy – becomes: Eating healthily is not a priority for me right now

I don’t have time to play with the kids – becomes: Spending time with the kids is not a priority for me right now

You’ll find the whole energy of the task you’re applying it to shifts. Suddenly you start to reassess the things that are important to you everyday. It puts you back in control of the time and energy you are spending and allows you an opportunity to make the decision that is most important to you in that moment.

What will you do with this power?
Of course, now you know this, it’s up to you to decide what to do with it. Spend a day just repeating these words – it’s not a priority for me right now – every time you believe you have no time to spare.

It can work in reverse too. When you find yourself searching social media out of habit you can ask: “is this a priority for me right now?”. Sometimes it might be – to make connections, to message friends, to find out what is going on in the world, or just to take a break from everything else. But, other times you might decide that it isn’t, and then you can choose what is a priority for you in that moment.

Is writing YOUR priority?
So, how important is your writing to you? Instead of trying to ‘make time’ for it, choose to spend your valuable time on it when you can. We’ve all heard the stories of writers penning their great novels as the kettle boils, in the car at kid’s football practice, on their break at work. Decide how much of a priority your writing is and deliberately choose to do it instead of some of those things that you do because you ‘should’, or that aren’t really that important for you.

Put yourself back in control of the time you’ve been given by the universe. CHOOSE how you spend your time. And spend it wisely on the things that you really care about.


https://www.facebook.com/TheWriteCatalyst/I’ve set up a Facebook Page to help support, motivate, and inspire writers to use their time wisely and write ‘that’ novel they dream of!

You can follow it here: facebook.com/TheWriteCatalyst/

I’ll also be launching a FREE 5-day challenge to prepare for NaNoWriMo through this page.

You can also find tips via Twitter through #TheWriteCatalyst


 

How to set Writing Goals

IMG_20190818_142021429I once had a very simple writing goal: “Write ONE sentence a day. Just ONE sentence, that’s all“. That prompt was intended less to create a word count, but instead to just get my butt in the chair. Surprisingly the biggest barrier I discovered to writing is putting my backside in a chair and actually starting to write. Once I got going, I can barely stop. It’s a secret we all know, but not one we readily accept to be true.

Don’t look for the ‘should’ goals
Once I realised I just needed to put my butt in the chair, it became easier to set more challenging goals. Yet a lot of the time, I have to admit, these goals didn’t help my writing ambition even though they sounded like the right ones: write that novel; submit to competitions; send things to agents. Instead these goals I felt I should be accomplishing meant my writing became artificial and too much like a chore. So much so it was like pushing a boulder up a hill. I was writing simply to tick the box I’d set up for myself, rather than because I loved the craft

The reason was that I lost sight of what success actually means to me. I don’t write to tick a box, or say that I’ve written. I write because I want to create interesting stories that prompt emotion or reflection in the reader. By confining my writing efforts to arbitrary tasks I inadvertently lessened the significance of why I wanted to write in the first place.

Set your own goals
Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 14.10.05So, in order to set realistic, achievable, and exciting goals (after all, if it’s not going to be exciting why do it?) they have to appeal to my own intrinsic drivers as a writer. For me, I never feel as high as when the story from my imagination has made it onto the page and has the potential to engage a reader. Therefore, when I set my writing goals now I always make sure I appeal to this desire to create that story, and the feeling I want to produce in the reader.

I have found with the right goals I’m more energised and confident about my writing. By making sure my goals are aligned with my values and drive to write, my belief that I can achieve my dream of not just getting published, but of making a career as an author is boosted. So it’s not about the ‘should’ goals, it’s about ‘my’ goals. If you’ve set a goal and then aren’t excited by it, or don’t want to even try it – then you’ve set the wrong goal; one that isn’t aligned with your desire to write and won’t encourage you to commit and succeed.

But why set goals at all?
Sure, a lot of writers get by simply by putting that backside in the chair and just writing everyday. But, that in itself is a goal – even if it’s not written down anywhere. And, if you don’t set any goals, how are you monitoring your development and improvement as a writer? How will you even know if you are moving the in the right direction – more specifically, how will you know if your actions are taking you toward your writing dream, and not further away from it?

While I might know what is the big goal in my life, I have numerous smaller goals that I have to meet on the way to make that happen. This is when it’s a good idea to recognise the difference between ‘Easy wins’ and ‘Stretch goals’.

Easy wins
An easy win is something that I do to keep my momentum going when I’m feeling sluggish or uncertain. This might be a minimum word count for the novel (an ‘easy’ 500 words in 30 mins); submitting an existing story to a new competition; or even just committing 20mins to some plotting or character development on paper. They’re things that don’t take much effort, and come as close to ‘box ticking’ as I get with my writing. The difference is the way I frame them:

  • Minimum word counts contribute to that story I desperately want to tell.
  • Submissions help get my work out in the world to connect with readers.
  • Plotting and character work are elements I love about the writing process.

What is important is how I describe the goal rather than the goal itself. I phrase it so that it will appeal to me. That’s what makes the difference between a writing ‘should’  and my own tailored goals. Then, working on these easy wins reinforces my confidence and increases my self-belief.

Stretch goals
Once I understood how to phrase my goals, that’s when I started to set ‘stretch goals’.  Now, I love stretch goals. The benefit of them is that you rarely lose – either you push yourself to achieve them and succeed; or you do your best and fall short but end up with more than you could have imagined if you’d just set an easy win.

A recent stretch goal was to write a full draft of my novel in seventy days. Having done NaNoWriMo for eight years, I know I can stick to the pace so, I set my daily word count and off I went. I had a chart on my wall, tracking my progress and an outline of my novel that I was so looking forward to writing. I’d done the prep work, I knew my characters, I worked out when things needed to happen, and so I just sat down to write it. But I would never have stuck with it if I hadn’t known why I was doing it and what excited me about it. 

A word about rewards
Generally we’ve been conditioned to associate reward with success. Success itself can be its own reward, but the effort that we put into something is just as important and should be recognised as such.  Therefore, as much as you might intrinsically know what drives you and why you are writing the story you are, a little reward now and then never hurts.

When I was writing my WIP in seventy days, I broke it down into some easy wins with a clear reward system to celebrate my commitment. It was as simple as a sticker on my wall chart for reaching my target, or the promise of chocolate biscuits if I did two twenty-minute writing sprints. This helped boost my confidence and encouraged me to keep going.

But when it comes to bigger goals and the rewards there, I have one rule:

Reward EFFORT not results

If I had sat down to write every day for seventy days and not reached my target of 90,000 words, or finished my story sufficiently this would not have been a failureIt was a journey, encouraging me to commit to my WIP and challenge myself to write more, not a test I had to pass. 

Rewarding your efforts because you are showing up consistently, putting in the work, and committing to your goals every day deserves recognition and reward. The same goes for short story submissions and competitions; for each rejection I receive, I reward myself. Not only because it takes the sting out of the rejection but because I’m putting my work out there. While I have very little control of the outcome, I did take action to achieving my goal to share my stories, and I want to celebrate that.

Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 14.03.14

Achieving the impossible
If you can figure out the why of your own writing dreams, then you’ll find it that much easier to set goals that you will want to commit to and achieve. And once you start rewarding your efforts as the success, you’ll create a positive environment to nurture further writing goals. You never know, perhaps this will lead to you attempting things you never thought possible…and yet, somehow, you’ll discover they are.


Now Try This!

postit scrabble to do todo

  • Identify some easy wins and practice phrasing them in ways that will excite your writer’s spirit.
    • Don’t say ‘I will write everyday’ – try ‘I want to be the writer who loves to write every single day’.
    • Make it fun, tap into why you write and use that.
  • Now, decide on some rewards.
    • If you write something everyday, what will you do to celebrate?
    • If you write everyday for a whole week, then what?
    • And imagine what amazing reward you could have if you make it a full month with an unbroken chain of writing?
  • Once you’re accomplishing these regularly, add in a single stretch goal.
    • Don’t overload yourself.
    • Make sure you’re rewarding efforts not results here.

 

What’s your Writing Purpose?

I have to admit, sometimes fall out of love with my writing. Maybe I’ve been hard at it for a few weeks and I’ve just run out of steam, or perhaps I’ve sat down one day and just felt stuck. I used to find myself losing my passion one day, and then avoiding my WIP for days, sometimes weeks, because I just wasn’t ‘feeling it’. What I’ve discovered, though, is that the reason I procrastinate and delay is because I’ve forgotten why I’m writing. I have become so focused on the characters, or story line, in my WIP that I’ve neglected my own purpose; my writing purpose.  

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboardWhy do I write?
I could argue, quite successfully, that I write because I want 
to tell a story. But that’s not my only motivation. I write because I have something to share with the world. I’ve acknowledged before that the relationship between a writer and a reader is important, and how by tapping into my desire to understand what I want my reader to feel, I become more aware of the key themes within my stories. When I write, I need to know what it is I’m trying to achieve. What is this story really about? Who am I writing it for? What do I hope it will achieve? 

Knowing what drives me as a writer means that whenever I do start flagging with my writing goals, I know to go back to basics and remind myself why I’m doing it. 

What do I want to achieve by writing? 
I write because I want to understand the world, and seek to explore it through multiple sets of eyes (let’s face it, that’s why I’m also such a voracious reader).  My stories typically tend to have people discovering things about themselves they didn’t know to begin with – whether that is a new sense of resilience; a secret that is revealed; or a surprising emotion. Not surprisingly one of my core values happens to be personal growth. This is what I am doing when I write: I am teaching my characters how to grow, and hopefully, by extension demonstrating to readers that they have these capabilities too. I write to inspire; to help people see that change is possible and how positive it can be.

How do I know if I’ve been successful? 
So, when I look back over a piece of writing – perhaps one that I am ambivalent about – this is what I look for; does it deal with change? Will it help people who are afraid of change see that it can be a good thing? In the end, will it leave a reader reflecting on my character’s development and compare it to their own?

banking business checklist commerce

Usually, if I’m missing these elements, that why I don’t feel the writing. It doesn’t fit with my writing purpose. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad piece of writing, but rather than it’s not a piece that I am in love with, not one that I could spend time developing and still enjoy the process despite the many hours I spend in it.  

With a better comprehension of why I write, I’m more capable of determining what drives me to write. Without this acknowledgement of my writing purpose, I used to try and write anything and everything that I thought of; I’d spend hours on a short story that wasn’t true to what I believed; I’d write whole novels and then feel bad for stuffing them into a drawer without realising that the reason I wasn’t passionate about them was because they weren’t the type of novels I wanted to write.  

Reinvigorate your writing!
I’ve never been more in love with my writing than I am now. And that’s because I am working on things that fulfil me as a writer – that speak about the stories I want to tell, that share with a reader a message I want them to understand.  But be aware, that it takes time to find your purpose. So, if you’re not sure you’ve found it, experiment, observe, be mindful of your response to your writing, and it will slowly emerge and become clearer. 

The great thing about understanding all of this is that when you do find yourself lagging, you can tap back into this writing purpose and feel reinvigorated. You’re reminded that your writing has a purpose, a greater one than just telling a story. You can feel when it’s happening and know that’s why the words are flowing. It is your raison d’etre, and knowing it can drive you forward and fuel your writing passion.
 


Now try this!

postit scrabble to do todo

To help identify your writing purpose try these tips:

What do you most love reading?
Generally, this can give you a nod in the right direction as to what it is you want a reader to experience – because you want to experience it too. Look for common themes, the satisfaction you get at the end of the story – what has it been about for you? What will you take away?

What do you most love writing?
Identify a piece of writing that you loved working on – that perhaps you still love working on. What is it about the piece that speaks to you? What is it really about? Why does it excite you as a reader?
 

Troublesome Piece?
Now, e
xamine a piece of writing you’ve perhaps fallen out of love with; does it achieve what you want? What’s missing? How could you add a little bit of what you’ve found in the two exercises above to this story? Does this encourage you to keep working on it?


 

Understand Your Writing Habits

I don’t know about you, but my dream is to have a little ‘Plotting Shed’ out at the end of my garden where, every morning, after walking the dog and thinking about characters and story ideas, I spend an hour writing; blissfully free from distractions. Then, after lunch I spend another hour or so in the ‘Shed’, editing and blogging and generally getting stuff done, after which it’s another walk with the dog to signal the end of the ‘working’ day.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

img_20171015_160414619_hdr1
My Writing Corner (with view)

Well, currently I don’t have a shed. I write on my writing desk in the corner of our bedroom where it’s cluttered (though it does have an excellent view across to Manchester).  I also don’t write in the morning. Why? Because on what would be my writing days I generally spend an extra hour in bed recovering from a busy day at the ‘regular’ job.

But, I know I CAN write in the morning. Sometimes I set my alarm, take a cup of tea back to bed, and open up my WIP before I even get dressed. That works for me. So, I know if I’ve got a writing goal then this is the best time to commit to it. Editing, however, is most definitely an afternoon task.

What’s the Ideal Writing Schedule?
Imagine for a moment, your own ideal writing environment. Close your eyes for a second and just picture it. Are you at a desk, in bed, or in the garden? Do you have pen and paper, or a laptop, or even an audio-recorder? Is it in the morning, the afternoon, or late at night? If there were no obstacles, or chores, jobs, children, or spouses; how would you choose to write?

If you can figure out what you believe would make you the happiest writer you can be, then you can start to work toward building that ideal.

Screenshot 2019-07-21 at 19.30.37

Personally, I love this advice…!

Understanding your own writing schedule – not just what it is now, but what it would be if you had the choice – is significant when it comes to productivity as a writer. Knowing that I do better ‘creating’ in the morning, versus the afternoon slump when I focus on what’s already on the page so I don’t have to use my imagination, means that I get more done. So, I don’t sit at my desk trying to conjure up the muse at 3pm when she’s gone for a nap.

Permission to Experiment
Sometimes, the key to finding that ideal writing schedule is to experiment. Try writing in different places at different times. Notice when the words flow and determine what it is about the environment that is supporting that burst of creativity. Do the same for different aspects of your writing.

  • When is the best time to create versus editing?
  • How long can you work for before needing a break?
  • Where do you switch off and concentrate on you writing?
  • How can you support the process? Pen and paper for exploring ideas, or open Word document for typing?

When finding it a challenge to write, I always have a ‘low-energy’ task on hand – like scheduling social media posts – so that precious time at my desk isn’t wasted. As I write this, I’m in a local cafe drinking a Caramel Latte because I know that at home, blogging will always fall to the bottom of the list.

Failure is Good
Give yourself permission to experiment with these tasks for a month, and allow yourself the guilt-free pass if these don’t work out as intended. Failure isn’t a bad thing – it gifts us valuable insight into how we can move forward. So many people are afraid of failure, yet we should embrace it as a part of our personal development process. Provided you reflect on it and take learning away from it, effort – irregardless of result –  is never wasted. And, you might find that the ideal you dreamed of, really isn’t all that ideal in practice. I surprised myself when I discovered I could write ten minutes after waking up; and the glow it gave me for the rest of the day was entirely unexpected. But it works, for me.

Arm yourself with the knowledge about how you write, and you’ll feel empowered and motivated to use this to your advantage. Then, whatever time you have available for your writing you know that you’re giving it your best.


Now Try This!


Identify all the different types of writing tasks that you might have and determine what type of energy you need to complete them. Are they high-energy, high-creative tasks, or low-energy, low-creative tasks?

Next mark out all the time you have for completing these tasks – consider time available, place, distractions, and time of day.

Then, play with this schedule and see how each of the tasks fit with the natural rhythms of your day/week/month. Try and determine what type of task works best when, and with this information schedule your ideal week!


 

What’s your Writing Mindset?

analysis blackboard board bubbleHave you ever thought about the way you think? Most of the time we’re on autopilot, letting our thoughts come and go as our minds wander during our day-to-day lives. But, have you ever stopped to notice these thoughts and how they can influence your writing practice? Maybe you don’t believe they do; or perhaps you have noticed, but just don’t know how to change this.

True thoughts?
I know for a long time I accepted my thoughts as truth. And that’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. Every time I had a thought about how I wasn’t good enough, or that what I wrote was terrible, or even that I didn’t work hard enough to deserve to be published – I believed I was thinking the truth. It wasn’t until much later I learned that thoughts are pliable, and I am the one in control of them. In other words: I can choose what thoughts to listen to, and I can even mindfully think different ones to change my approach to anything – including my writing!

What’s a mindset anyway?
When it comes down to it, our mindset is simply the way we think. It includes our opinions, our attitudes, and even the way we approach tasks and set goals.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, imagine if I’m writing a short story for a competition I want to enter but it’s on a topic I don’t usually write about. I could sit here and think ‘this isn’t my thing’ or ‘I’m going to struggle with this’. But how do you think that this affects my ability to face the blank page? Alternatively, I could say ‘This is going to be a fun experiment’, or ‘I can apply my skills to this’. With this attitude, I typically find my approach to the task changes; meaning I feel confident to give it a try, and end up with something surprising on the page, instead of staring at the blinking cursor because I don’t feel I’m up to the task.

These ways of thinking are related to the type of mindset we each have: either a closed/fixed mindset, or an open/growth mindset.

Grow your Mind…
But what is it about a growth
 mindset that means it’s better for our writing? Well, it’s been shown that people with more open mindsets tend to achieve more, have better resilience in challenging situations (a.k.a. rejections!), and have a deeper desire for learning. Whereas, those with closed mindsets tend to look for an external need for approval, set expectations (instead of goals), and don’t cope well with failure.

Check out this video on how a growth mindset leads to higher achievement

As you can see, with a growth mindset failure is simply part of the learning process, and so it’s easier to move onward and upward: I try something; it doesn’t work, but I learn from it and try again. 

Identify the negative.
Now, when I’m stuck on a particular plot point in my novel and am struggling to find a solution I tend to just stop and monitor my mindset for a second. Am I worried that I won’t find an answer? Will I feel like a failure if I can’t figure it out? Or, can I tell myself this is a challenge that I could potentially enjoy because it’s developing my problem-solving skills? What about if I test out different options by exploring them in a ‘choose your own adventure’ style?

Suddenly, because I’ve modified my thinking, I could have lots of possible options to help solve my plot point, rather than a crippling fear that being unable to figure it out means I’m not good enough, or not really a writer.

See it in practice!
The easiest way to support the development of a growth mindset is to find some people who already have this attitude in life and spend time with them. They’re usually easy to spot; they’re reflective, positive individuals who won’t let opportunities go to waste, and rarely let excuses get in the way of their dreams. Learn from others by seeing how they approach challenges, and see if you can adopt the same. 

group hand fist bump

I was lucky enough to discover this by being a member of a group of amazing female entrepreneurs called the Wildly Successful Society. Here we build one another up, set exciting goals with positive projections of how we will succeed, and constantly review our progress to learn from things that don’t always go to plan.

Having a positive and reflective mindset can help us set better goals, commit to these in a strong, productive way, and help us get through the challenges of writing and editing our work. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who can lift us up when we recognise the negative thoughts spiralling can have an immense effect on our ability to pull ourselves back up and stand strong again. 


Now try this:

Notice Your Thoughts
Remember that you can’t change anything unless you notice your thoughts first. Don’t worry if this is hard to do to begin with; it takes time. Try this simple tip to increase your awareness: 

Set an alarm on your phone a few times a day to remind you to examine your thoughts and jot down whatever is on your mind. If you notice some of them are negative things: how could you re-frame these to alter your mindset?
(This is also great fodder for character development!)

The first step is always noticing what you’re thinking. Start there, and with practice and encouraging support, the rest is likely to come. In the end it should support the development of more constructive attitude toward those writing challenges we all face.


Let me know how you get on in the comments,
or Tweet Me @Cat_Lumb

Fearing the Blank Page

I’m going to admit that, recently, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to write. Not only that, but I’ve noticed a distinct aversion to the task. The thought of writing at the moment fills my being with emotions akin to disgust: whatever words I may write, they are despicable and unworthy. Somewhere along the line I’ve lost the magic of writing – the freedom and joy that creating something from scratch can allow.

Not only this, but I can’t figure out why it is that I’m struggling. It seems that for unknowable reasons, right now, I do not want to write.

Except, of course, that I do.

daring

Challenges of the blank page…

I’m a writer. It’s in my soul. I love finding stories in words, imagining characters and bringing them to life on the page, putting them in challenging situations and seeing what happens. The very idea that I am capable of doing this tugs on the corner of my lips and convinces me to smile. I adore storytelling. Yet, at the moment, the act of putting words on the page in any type of meaningful order seems to repel me.

So I have to invent ways to enjoy writing again. I need to take the pressure off; to go back to basics and rediscover what it means to write for myself. This might means competition deadlines must be put aside and their themes forgotten. Right now, I need the freedom to explore words in whatever form they come and not feel the need to shoehorn them into something they are not. To help me do this, I’ve decided on a few ‘easy’ exercises I hope will stimulate some creativity.

1. Go back to a simple expectation that I really only have to ‘write one sentence a day. Just one sentence a day. Everyday. How easy is that?’
2. Attempt an activity Rosie Garland reveals as one of her creative rituals:
“ I…write six images. What a snail looks like climbing up a leaf, what it felt like to stub your toe. I do it every morning without fail, if miss one I do a catch up session later.”
3. Remember that I write because I want to, not because I should.
4. Keep this in mind [Thanks goes to Rosie for putting things into perspective]:

blank page quote

Hopefully, by next week I will be able to report that my fondness for writing has returned, or at least that my skills are developing once more and I will no longer be afraid of that blank page. It’s been such a long time since I faced the dreaded blinking cursor that I’d forgotten how intimidating it can be and how fear of having no ideas can often prevent us from developing any new ideas.

~~~~~

What do you do when you don’t feel like writing? “Feel the fear and do it anyway?” Or admit you might need more time and calmly wait it out?
Let me know in comments, or Tweet Me


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Leadership in Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership recently, mostly for my Museum role: what is it, how can you identify it, who has it? etc. But it occurs to me that, although it’s primarily a corporate application, leadership should be present in the writing world too.

leadership-fotolia_10647934_m-300x199For me leadership means the ability to create an inspiring vision for the future and motivating people to create that vision. A leader can grow and maintain relationships, adapt well to change and is committed to a set of values they believe in. They own their responsibilities and aren’t afraid to admit when they’ve made a mistake – in fact, a good leader should be able to use that mistake as a learning opportunity to improve for the future.

But, when your passion lies in writing – essentially a solitary passion – how can you demonstrate leadership? Is there such a thing as leadership in writing? Or are there limitations to how you can lead in the writing world?

I suppose in order to identify leadership in writing, you must first recognise ‘writing’ as a business rather than a past time, and a business it is an increasingly successful one. The Publishers Association recently reported that the publishing industry as a whole in the UK was worth £4.4bn, with Ed Vaizey (UK Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy) commenting that “the publishing industry contributes £10.2bn a year to the UK economy.”* So, a business it most definitely is. However, as a business the writer is a cog in the machine, rather than a leader, and I want to know what it means to be a leader as a writer.

Inevitably, because of the business of writing, the leaders of the field could likely be well-known, popular authors who have led the way in publishing their work and selling to a high number of readers. So, in this case, who should I look up to as a leader in writing? J.K. Rowling? Stephen King? James Patterson? What about Jane Austen or Alexandre Dumas? Does the author I pick have to be in the here and now, or can they be someone from long ago whom I now admire and see as the figurehead for the ‘perfect writer’. Is that what leadership in writing should look like: the ideal of what a writer should be? If that is the case then I suspect what it comes down to – as in  most cases of leadership that we want to aspire to – is who do we admire as writers ourselves?

Identifying who it is I admire in the writing world is a far more difficult question than I thought. There are a few who come to mind immediately – Joanne Harris, Rosie Garland, Stephen King – and some that I admire not necessarily because of their books but because of their spirit – Kristen Lamb, for one. But what is it about these writers that draws me to them? What qualities do they have that I admire? Is that what leadership in writing looks like for me?

Kristen Lamb is a great example here – because I have already stated I admire her for her spirit rather than her books. That’s not to say that her books aren’t significant, but I will have to admit I’ve never read her books, only her blog – and it’s through the blog that I began to see a leader emerge. It’s enough for me that she describes herself on her website as ‘Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi‘: confidence and humour, two aspects of her personality that I am immediately drawn to, right there. I used to read Kristen’s blog posts like a bible, nodding my head at her observations and surprised at how humble she often came across; not tearing other people down with criticism, but often sharing it by admitting she was guilty of the same things. Somehow whilst imparting her wisdom and making me smile, I felt empowered. I’d read each blog post and think ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can be a writer’.

 

So, for me, one aspect leadership in writing is certainly empowerment – I need to feel empowered to believe in something bigger than the single writer sat alone in a room. I want to belong, and I want to feel welcomed. The community of #MyWANA (We Are Not Alone) that Kristen created exemplifies what leadership could be in writing and her about page sums it up: “Kristen has dedicated her life to helping writers and artists reach their dreams and achieve the impossible.” Yes – THAT – that is what leadership is all about.

gibraltar_international_literary_festival_2013_280929
Via Wikipedia

But what about the more traditional authors I admire, like Harris, Garland and King? How do they demonstrate leadership in writing? Joanne Harris is active on social media (Check out her #Storytime on Twitter), she engages in issues in the news and doesn’t believe in the confines of ‘genre’. Having met her a number of times as part of the Huddersfield Literature Festival, I also know that she is incredibly supportive of her local community. That she isn’t afraid to be herself, doesn’t apologise for it and has a high sense of moral rightness, those are the things I admire about her.

 

Rosie Garland then? Another author who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and, if I might be so bold, have met up with from time to time to discuss writing. She’s certainly a mentor for me, of sorts. She had a tough path to publication (some would say life) and is consistently reminding aspiring authors to carry on believing in their dream. Her readings are spectacular, which possibly comes from the fact she has an altar ego, Rosie Lugosi: The Vampire Queen. For me she is a leader because of her guts and perseverance through adversity: I can’t imagine Rosie refusing a challenge just because it takes a bit of work.

 

As for Stephen King, well – duh – he’s Stephen King! Who wouldn’t admire the body of work that he has out there in the world. Not to mention he’s the author of ‘On Writing‘, which is recommended for budding writers across the world. There’s also something about his writing itself, a quality that I don’t think anyone else I have read has come close to capturing. For me, his characters are real people; my imagination hasn’t just conjured them up, they exist on the page and I can see them as clearly as if I was recalling an actual memory. It’s this somewhat unidentifiable quality that puts Stephen King ahead of many writers in my search for leadership: because he has led, certainly in the horror and psychological thriller aspects of writing, for many years. His name appears sixth on the top twenty writers (living or dead) named by UK residents in a survey by the Royal Society of Literature in 2017, beaten only by J.K. Rowling as the other living writer who appears second on the list.*

In essence, what I view as leadership in writing is my own personal preference. But, it’s made me think more about what type of writer I want to be and want to be seen to be. Writing today isn’t always about being behind a closed door. As an author you have to get out there in the world somehow and create a ‘following’ – be that on Twitter or Facebook or through personal interactions. In order to be a leader in writing you have to be willing to put yourself out there in the world and allow people to make a judgement. The type of writer I want to be is one who is inspiring, motivating and dedicated. I want to be a positive role model to other writers out there, but at the same time I don’t want to be an icon placed on a pedestal – I want to be me, I want to be able to live to my own expectations and decide for myself what it is I represent. And, of course, there is a side of me that wants fame in only that way that being a recognised name around the world can be. If I am to aspire to leadership in writing, and I want to know one day if I have succeeded, then these should be my goal posts. At least for now.

~~~~~

What about you? Do you have authors you would consider leaders in writing? And what does leadership mean to you when it comes to writing?

 

* Taken from The Publishers Association, 31st May 2016
* From Literature in Britain Today, 1st March 2017

 

A Letter to My Dearly Departed Dog

Dearest Mac,

I miss you. It’s only been two months since you disappeared over Rainbow Bridge, a journey I sent you out on alone because you were no longer able to enjoy this life as you once had done. It was a difficult decision, but living with the consequences of such a choice has been much harder.

I miss having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and your sleepy little face waking up so pleased to see me; the sound of your paws on the laminate flooring, scraping and tapping away when you got up before I did. I miss the soft depth of your fur as I scratched behind your ears, watching the grin spread across your face and your head tilt further toward me, entranced by the bliss of my fingers massaging your head. I miss your smell; that musty, deep aroma that I used to breathe in whenever I came home after work: to me it meant that the wait was over, that it was time to play, that we were united again.

Jpeg

I remember moaning whenever I was tired and I had to take you out in the rain, except, once we were out braving the weather together – you in your coat and me in mine – it was peaceful and energising. I always came back home feeling better than when we left. I recall your little trot instead of a walk and how you would bound about instead of run; your happy, swaying movements portrayed genuine joy and that could only ever make me smile. I remember coming home from work angry, when things hadn’t gone to plan or someone had let me down, and there you were, waiting to cheer me up, to make me forget the worries of the outside world because when we were together nothing else mattered to you, or to me.

There is a space beneath my desk now, where you used to rest beside my feet as I wrote. The corner where your bed used to be is clear and I don’t believe anything will ever fill that space again, not like you. The hook where your leads and collars and coats used to hang are empty now, the novelty dog tail still – there will be no more wags from you. The house is quiet without your footsteps, tapping along the hall, and no gentle snoring accompanies my daily chores although the silence echoes just as loud.

The largest void remains in my heart when I think of how essential you were to my life. At home you were my shadow and now no companion waits for me outside the bathroom door, as excited to see me after my two minute break than if I had been gone for hours. You were the reason I stopped to talk to people as we walked, and grew to know my neighbours. And when I struggled with my health you expected nothing but my love, and judged me not for the things I could not do but for the simplest gestures of attention that were all I could manage on a bad day. You helped me push through my boundaries and commit to the things I loved to do. In this way you were my inspiration, my muse and my champion; each day marked by those three walks we took that structured each one.

Jpeg

I’ve stopped writing now. It isn’t the same without you here. There will always be something missing whenever I sit down at my desk and prepare to write. There is no impetus to roll out of bed, no thoughtful morning walk or happy playful times. My feet remain cold as I sit here and the room is quiet, and I have no encouraging eyes to look upon when I come to a blank moment. There is no end to the torture of that blank page that I am now to face alone; no hopeful face looking up at me to remind me that it’s time to stop and take a break. And there are no silly celebrations when I do finally find the words; no squeaky toys to watch you chase or treats for you to find. My writing world is ‘blah’ without you in it and I find myself at a loss to continue with it now you’re gone.

Instead I write to you, my faithful rescue dog, who knew how to make me smile when I was down and calm me when I despaired. You gave your whole self to me and I had to let you go. And the pain is still so raw, my home too empty and quiet, and my heart broken.

Yours Forever and More,
Cat x

Writing as a Test

No, I don’t mean a test as in a way to quantify the quality of the written word. What I actually mean to do is compare writing to a 5-day cricket match.

http://www.zazzle.co.uk/cricket_hero_t_shirts-235437171820252663

Love this T-shirt from Zazzles

Not many people know that I love test cricket. I not a huge fan of the shorter forms of the game – like 20-20 or one-day matches – but I love the patience, perseverance and skill that it takes to beat a side over the course of five days. Everyone has a part to play because you need excellent batsman to score the runs and then expert bowlers and sharp fielders to take wickets. And it can all turn on the course of the weather or the quality of the pitch. It’s a wonderfully tense, involved game that people often consider boring. But I say it’s a shame for them, because test cricket is really all about the build up of pressure and the slow, but relentless, delivery of ball after ball of determined precision.

And given that the test match has distracted me from my writing for the last few days, it seems apt to try and take a lesson from it. Cricket is about focused persistence – delivering a perfect over time after time, deciding whether to play the ball or not, and waiting for that catch that might be the flicker of a chance. So, in many ways I can see that writing a novel could be seen to be the same.

Delivery of a ‘perfect over’
Writing that ‘perfect scene’ is almost impossible, but when you finally get it right you feel like fist pumping and cheering. And you can often write perfectly good scenes time after time, but they always seem lacking something – as in cricket when the bowler is pounding down the wicket delivering breathlessly spectacular balls that skim the air around the bat but don’t actually make contact.  I find that most of my writing is like this now – good but not quite good enough.
Yet, sometimes, after a dozen rewrites or a deep mining of the motives and conflict required I hit that magic moment when what I read out pings off the page and comes alive. It takes a lot of work but it’s worth it in the end.
Of course, there’s also that fluke ball (occasionally delivered by the all-round Yorkshire-man Joe Root in England’s case) where a scene just comes together the first time around and you can’t quite believe it. That’s when I mimic Stuart Broad’s OMG moment in the Ashes of 2015.

Deciding whether to play (or not)
There is so much of this in writing. Deciding which competitions to enter, which characters to include, which story-lines to follow and so on and so forth. But, for me the one that this particular simile brings to mind is during the editing stage when you are soulfully attempting to make your story sing.

Every single sentence, every single word, counts. Just like for a batsman at the crease who has to determine how to move his feet, whether to play at a shot or leave it to fly past the stumps. Even the most tentative of movements can upset the balance – that split second they decide to play a shot, only to realise that it’s the out-swinger and it should be left well alone. Too late – it’s edged and caught at slip and they’re out!
In the publishing world even the smallest jarring of language or misspelled word can be an excuse for an agent or publisher to stop reading. The flow of the writing is just as important as the content in this context, and so you have to know when to hit big and when to be cautious. On a grand scale, this can be the difference between hitting a six/getting that agent or taking that long walk back to the pavilion/being rejected. But sometimes, you also have to know that – in cricket – the bowling was just that good and there was nothing you could have done to change the outcome; and sometimes, we have a lapse in concentration and go for those silly, high shots and get, deservedly, caught out.

Waiting for that catch
It doesn’t take a genius to work out how this analogy applies to writing. As a fielder during the match you stand there and wait, and wait, and wait. Sometimes there’s a bit of chasing the ball but mostly what you’re training your muscles to do is react quickly when the ball comes flying at you. If you’re ready and you catch it, celebrations ensue! Of course, most of the time this is short-lived, because then out comes the next batsman and it starts all over again – and if not the next batsman in this match, the one in the next. Catches are short-lived glory: staying on the team is what matters.
a-general-view-of-the-sli-007How long the wait can be when you submit writing…occasionally a response might never come. Sometimes there is a trickle of possibility, but then it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted (the review system in cricket emphasises this heartily). The point is, all cricketers have to wait for the catch just like we have to wait for that chance to prove our writing can entertain others. Some days you get lots of catches, other days not so many and then still, others where there are none at all. In test cricket this is just how it is – you are playing the long game and most of that is about hard work, perseverance and patience.

 

The long winding road of how to be a writer…

Squeezing in time to write can sometimes be the biggest barrier to actually getting anything written. Most of us have busy lives and a list of priorities that other people can often depend on. Fortunately, right now I am lucky enough to not be in such a category.

Over the past three years I’ve had to rearrange my responsibilities quite drastically thanks to contracting a virus in 2009 that left me with M.E. (more commonly recognised as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’). Since then I have had to simplify my life. I was off sick for a number of months (and then off sick repeatedly over a number of weeks), and for a short time I could barely leave my apartment because I couldn’t be sure I’d have the energy to get back – even though I might only be considering a journey to the shop around the corner.

It was in this time I came to the realisation that I had always wanted to write, but never actually gotten around to do any real writing. I re-read some of my old journals, during which I digested pages and pages of promises to write, desire to create stories and even ideas that I planned to put down on paper…eventually. But, until 2011, nothing had come of it.

In 2011 I started to get better. Now, this disability isn’t one that has a typical course of treatment followed by a recovery time. M.E. can plague people for a lifetime, or it can slowly fade away only to reappear at another time. Here, again, I am one of the lucky ones. The methods I was advised to put in place to aid my body in the healing process worked for me. For others, this is not the case. As such, I was able to get back to work (and fortunately I had a workplace that had decent Occupational Health support and a Disability Office to advise me), and get my life back on track for the most part.

Now, that’s not to say I resumed my old life and picked up where things had left off. It was my old life that had gotten me into the mess in the first place. I was a high achiever, a perfectionist, a people-pleaser. I rarely said ‘No’ to anything asked of me and I thrived on deadlines and challenges. As it was, I also enjoyed the pride of a job well done and the glow of recognition and congratulation it brought me. But I didn’t have time to write. What do you know – pride does come before a fall!

So, when I started to recover from the overwhelming tirade of symptoms that characterised M.E. (surprisingly, it’s not just being tired all the time, there are a whole host of other doozies that just serve to tire you out even more!), I promised myself that I wouldn’t repeat history. This time I would try; not for everyone else, not for the adulation, but for me. I consistently wrote that I wanted to write – well, that I would.

And so the blog was born! I threw myself into writing, even though I hated what I wrote. It was sloppy, it didn’t read well, it was full of clichés and stereotypes: but I was writing! Then I discovered NaNoWriMo and I set to the challenge with cautious gusto. I struggled through it and got my ‘win’ – and also one third of a first draft novel that it would take me a whole year to complete. But I had done it.

And you know how? By keeping that promise to myself and by putting into practice all the things I learned when I was recovering from my M.E.:

  1. Pace Yourself
  2. Plan Ahead
  3. Moderation
  4. Delegation
  5. Only give 80% (actually, this was 10% when I first started recovering – I had to work up to this slowly!)
  6. Maintain Hope
  7. Ask for Help

Advice for those with M.E. is to relinquish control. Stop doing all those things that people expect of you and just do the things that are important. For me, for a while, that meant being signed off sick rather than struggling into work. This also meant that I had to ask for help and share out what needed doing to other people. It was the same at home, I wasn’t capable of most of the household chores, so they were delegated to my partner. Even now I have only done the washing up a handful of times this year because it is one of the tasks I abhor and it used to set off my ME symptoms.

Number 5. also gave me a lot of trouble. I was used to throwing myself into things at 120% – in fact, that is what people expected of me, so it was even harder to give that up. But I discovered that I could still do much of what was needed without having to exhaust myself in the process. I held back. I stopped when I was tired. I started to say ‘No’ when I knew I couldn’t commit to something. I was forced to plan ahead and schedule my time wisely – not for other people, but for myself.

Hence, I created more time for my writing. I re-prioritised my entire life. I changed the way people reacted to me because I clearly stated what my boundaries were. I did what I knew I could, when I knew I could do it. And it’s the same with writing.

For those without M.E. who perhaps have better reserves of energy, writing might be something that they feel they have to fit in around their busy life. They might slot it in sometime between waking up and getting to work, or getting home and going to bed. They might start to question whether or not it’s worth it to write because they can’t give it their full attention, or because what they write doesn’t seem very good.

Well…if that’s the case: do what I did and change the way you approach it. I’m not advising that you should shrug off all your responsibilities and go wild with your word count, but it needs to be prioritised higher than some other things sometimes.

I know that every day I must write…not because I ‘should’ but because I want to dedicate some time to that which I love doing. To ensure that I get to do this I schedule my responsibilities around it. I give an hour to this task, twenty minutes to that task. I plan my days off as much as I would plan my work day – assigning time frames and task lists to ensure that I don’t go overboard and forget to accomplish my priorities and meet my targets. But I only do what I need to…because I also need to write.

I guess the point to my long rambling here is that I have learnt that writing is something to be taken seriously. In order to be a writer then I had to commit to it just like anything else. I had to practice and prioritise it. This doesn’t always mean giving more time to it – because time is a limiting factor that you can’t change – but it does mean that when you do give it time, you focus on writing and nothing else.

Don’t think of it as squeezing writing between waking up and getting to work; be proud that you are prioritising your writing time, and classify it as such. Label it your writing time – and don’t let anything get in the way of it. Don’t relegate it to the bottom of the list.

If it’s important to you, it’s important

If you want to be a writer. BE a writer. Don’t ever apologise for wanting to follow your dreams.