What does success mean to you?

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.

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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.

My current writing desk, plus view!

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.

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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!

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So, what does success mean to you? Let me know in comments, or Tweet Me

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Turning Ideas into Novels

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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How to Plan a Novel

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.

gray dream freestanding letters

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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.

The 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge!

PYN Challenge tileYet, 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!

Want in? All you have to do is sign up here: The Write Catalyst 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge

See you in the challenge, I hope!


  • Copy of logo 3Do 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!


 

 

How do you ‘make’ time to write?

black and white photo of clocks

One 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.


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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.

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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?

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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.

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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. 

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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


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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.

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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]:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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