Quick Guide to eBook Publishing with Amazon KDP – Part 2


This quick guide is a five part series to help you if you’re publishing your first eBook with Amazon KDP. If you missed Part 1, you can pop back to read it here. Part 2 is below:

Part 2: Formatting

Once you are happy that your eBook manuscript is complete and error-free, you need to turn your attention to formatting. I’m not going to go into the mechanics of this in great detail as Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has written a free style guide which is available for your Kindle or as a PDF here. I would thoroughly recommend that you get hold of a copy of this book as it’s comprehensive and will really help with your first time formatting.

Briefly, the idea is that you strip out any of the usual formatting used by your word processing software – and for the sake of argument, I’ll assume you’re using Word to create your eBook. You might not have thought much about the standard built-in formatting, as Word tends to use it without you really noticing, but when you’re attempting to format text for an eBook it can cause some real problems. For instance, if you are writing fiction, it’s usual to indent the first line of each new paragraph (the exception being the first paragraph at the beginning of a new chapter, or after a scene break – if you want to check this, take a look at any traditionally published novel to see how they’ve done it). Most of us use the “Tab” key on our keyboards to create this indent. When formatting your manuscript for upload, you need to get rid of any Tab-key indents, or additional Spacebar spaces, or Return-key line spaces and instead use the “Styles” menu in Word to add specific styles to your manuscript. You’ll need a standard paragraph style, as well as at least one heading style for chapter titles etc. The Smashwords guide will give you more detail (in fact, it will give you too much detail – but you can select the useful bits depending on your specific project).

One of the most important things to understand at the outset is that you are not formatting a book in the way you would for print. There is no such thing as a page. Anyone reading your eBook can do so on an e-reader, or their phone, or their tablet, or their PC. As a result, every “page” will be different according to the size of font, screen etc. This means that you are attempting to create a seamless stream of text which can accommodate any size of screen. You can use page breaks so that a new chapter shows clearly after a break, but it is extremely difficult to deal with something which needs specific formatting, such as poetry.

Another really useful thing explained in Mark Coker’s eBook is the use of hyperlinks. These are links within the text which allow the reader to navigate through the book. For instance, if your eBook is a collection of short stories, you can use hyperlinks to enable your readers to click on a story title in the contents page and go straight to that story rather than having to read every story from the beginning of the book to the end. You can also use hyperlinks at the end of every story to enable the reader to go straight back to the contents page. This is also useful in a non-fiction eBook which may not necessarily be read in a linear fashion – hyperlinks mean the reader can select the next topic they are interested in without having to scroll through large chunks of text.

Once you’ve formatted your text, email it to your Kindle, and check that the text, chapter headings and page breaks look correct, and that any internal hyperlinks work. You will usually find a heading which has centred when you wanted it left justified, or vice versa, or a random space generated by an undetected return-key! Go back and amend the original document, and email it to your Kindle again. Complete until the text looks exactly as you want it, and now you have a correctly formatted version of the contents of your eBook.

Next week in Part 3 I’ll talk about another very important step in the eBook creation process…


Quick Guide to eBook Publishing with Amazon KDP – Part 1


One of my local writers’ groups asked if I’d give them a quick run through of the process of publishing an eBook using Amazon KDP, and I thought it made sense to share this on the blog too for anyone who has never tried publishing an eBook before, but would like to give it a go. I’ve broken down the whole process into five stages, so I’ll publish each as a separate part in a short series. Part 1 is a biggie:

Write Your eBook!

The beauty of eBooks is that they don’t have to be a specific length. A standard traditionally published novel might be around 80,000-120,000 words, a romance novel might tend to sit around the 50,000-55,000 word mark. These are accepted norms for physical books where publishers need to consider costs of paper and printing, how the book will look on the shelf, the thickness of the spine for printing the title and author name, and so forth. With an eBook, you are not bound by the constraints of traditional publishing, so if your magnum opus turns out to be 300,000 words long, that’s absolutely fine – in fact, there is some evidence to suggest readers prefer longer eBooks. Conversely, you can publish a stand-alone short story as an eBook if you so desire (and many people do) – though you’d be advised to make it clear in your blurb and in your pricing strategy that it’s a short story so readers don’t feel short-changed and leave you poor reviews.

Whatever the length of your book, the most important thing is to do your very best to make your manuscript error-free. This is incredibly difficult. It’s not unheard of to spot typos in traditionally published books produced by publishing companies with professional editors and proofreaders, so as a lone self-publisher you need to pay particular attention to this aspect of the publication process. You can pay for professional help with your edits and proofing, but this can be very expensive (you need to consider if this is justifiable – how many copies of your eBook will you have to sell to cover the cost? Is this realistic?). If you decide not to go down the professional route, you need an alternative strategy.

To start with, you need to check and re-check your manuscript yourself. This is usually most effective if you leave a period of time between the end of the writing process and your read through. It also helps to read aloud (amazing what you notice when you do this). And you may find it helpful to read the text in different formats – if you usually read on your laptop screen, try printing out a hard copy, or emailing the manuscript to your e-reader and checking through it in different fonts. Next, if you have access to a writing group, or some like-minded friends, you can ask them if they will act as beta readers for you. Ask them to read through the manuscript, looking out for typos, as well as clunky sentence structure and anything else which seems odd, doesn’t follow, or is inconsistent. Once you get their feedback, make all the final amendments, then leave it for a while before your final read through.

Then stop. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking self-publishing an eBook, but you have to let your book-baby go sometime. We writers are terrible for tinkering, and there will never be a time when you are completely happy with your manuscript. But you have to draw the line somewhere otherwise the project will never be finished. In any case, another great thing about the eBook is that even if you spot an error after you’ve published it (or more likely, one of your readers does), you can always correct and re-upload the text at any time.

So, I hope that was a helpful start in the self-publishing process – catch up with Part 2 of the series next week.

When is a novella not a novella and when is it a novel?


At the start of the year, I decided to have a go at writing a novella. I’d had an idea which was way too big to fit into a short story, but wasn’t (to my mind) meaty enough to become a proper novel.

Yesterday, I finished a very rough first draft. It’s slightly shy of 40,000 words. And even as I tell myself to put it to one side for a while and move onto another project, I’m already aware of missing scenes, unresolved plot points, and characters which require further development. Of course, the first edit will probably mean words are lost too. I’ve not yet gone back and read over any of it, but experience suggests there’s likely to be lots that needs cutting. Nonetheless, it strikes me that there’s an awful lot more to add too.

So, perhaps it will end up being nearer 50,000 words by draft #2. If this is the case, I suspect it will no longer be considered a novella. From a brief trawl of various websites, novellas look to be considered to be less than 40,000 words, but it’s safe to say that the distinction is quite blurry. Take these famous examples of novels which, though short, are still considered to be novels:

  • The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway, 26,601
  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck, 29,160
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell, 29,966
  • The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes, 43,869
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury, 46,118
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams, 46,333
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 47,094

Perhaps then we shouldn’t look at word count alone, but also the relative weight of the book’s theme. In the list above, there are plenty which have been “set texts” for English courses, and which are considered quality literature. I suspect mine won’t have quite this level of literary merit!

The most important thing though for me is that, whether novella or novel, when finished it is the right length for the story being told. I’ll have a better idea of that when I get to the end of the second draft.

I’ll keep you posted!

An interview with Linda Parkinson-Hardman from the Hysteria Writing Competition


If you’re a female writer and keen competition entrant, you’re probably aware of the Hysteria Writing Competition (indeed, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll be well aware of it as I’ve posted about it several times). The annual event has taken place since 2012, run by Linda Parkinson-Hardman who founded the Hysterectomy Association in 1997.

Unfortunately, this year the competition is taking a break as there are changes afoot at the Hysterectomy Association which will demand too much of Linda’s time, but it will be back in 2019, revamped and reenergised. Before Linda gets too embroiled in all this work, I asked if she’d mind giving a short interview so we could find out more about the competition, and Linda’s own writing.

Q: What was the driving force behind setting up the Hysteria UK Writing Competition?

Gosh, that’s a really interesting question and not easily answered. I’m a writer myself and I know how hard it can be to get your writing in front of an audience. I also run the Hysterectomy Association, a social enterprise website and it’s a publisher. It seemed like a good way to marry my two interests, and help raise some money for the association at the same time.

Q: What’s the best thing about running the competition?

The variety of people who get involved. Each year, I ask if anyone is interested in judging and every year I’m inundated with offers of help – lots of the women who have been involved for a while came to it because they’d had a hysterectomy themselves and valued the support the association had given them; this was one way they felt they could give a little something back.

Q: How did you decide on the judging format?

The judging format came about because we tried at first to have a readers panel and then two overall judges. But that seemed rather unfair to me as it was the readers who put in all the work. I wanted them to have the final say. The easiest way to get a group of people who may be inexperienced at judging seemed to me to be to give them a form to fill in. And surprisingly, it works. In fact, I’m always surprised by how consistent the judging marks are – it appears that the old adage about cream rising to the top really is true.

Q: Have you ever judged on any of the Hysteria UK category panels?

Goodness no, I try not to get involved with that side at all as there were a few comments in the very beginning about me being the final arbiter and that I might be biased towards people I knew. Now I stay well away and focus on the administrative, marketing and publishing side instead.

Q: You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction: which have you found more challenging?

Definitely fiction. That burrows deep into your soul. I find non-fiction really easy to write, probably because I’m writing remote, research or observational things every day. I work in IT in adoption and engagement around new technologies, therefore I think I’m pretty good at writing easy to understand and learning focused materials.

Q: What’s the single best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

“Don’t expect to make a living from your books”.

Q: What’s your favourite short story of all time? 

‘For sale, wedding dress, never worn’ – it has it all in just six short words.

Q: You’ve self-published several books: how has self-publishing changed since you started out?

Pretty much all the books I’ve written and edited have been self-published. I fell into it because of a conversation with a publisher back in the mid 1990’s when the Hysterectomy Association was just starting. I’d written a couple of books for women about the topic and I remember asking if it was something they might be interested in, his reply was that they would never publish something about hysterectomy as there was no market for it. To some extent it’s true, if you go into any bookshop you’d be hard pressed to find a book on hysterectomy on the shelves. But the Internet changed all that and with the Hysterectomy Association I now have the perfect platform. So for me, self-publishing hasn’t changed really, it’s just become easier.

Q: Apart from writing, what do you love doing most?

Spending time with my partner, the lovely Stevie and our dog Belle (also known as The Beeble) – one day I’ll put some of the short stories I’ve made up in my head about her onto my personal blog. Reading features heavily of course, and I always have a book or two on the go somewhere about the house. I swim before going to the office in the mornings and love to walk – especially if a coffee shop is involved somewhere on the route.

Though the Hysteria competition isn’t running this year, Linda will be maintaining the blog about all things writing, competition and judging related. You can keep up with the latest posts here.

If you’re interested in my experience of judging in the competition, you can read my post about it here. I’d highly recommend the experience.

And if you’re more interested in entering a writing competition rather than judging one, please take a look at my eBook, Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success. If you’ve never tried writing for a competition before, it should give you a good start.

Reviewing Goals One Month into 2018


If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering where January went. One minute we were cheering in the new year, the next, here we are in February. I’m trying not to take this as a sign of advancing years, and instead try to focus on the first month’s accomplishments.

I blogged here about my feeble attempts at goal-setting in 2017 – the main mistake I made was thinking that writing them down on a piece of paper and sticking it on my noticeboard would be enough. Problem was, I just forgot all about them, never bothered to revisit them, check if they were still feasible (or indeed, if I still wanted to achieve them), let alone check to see if I was making any progress. This year I’ve vowed will be different. So what has worked so far?

  • Setting a weekly word count target for the current WIP: my 5,000 word target was designed to stretch me, but not be impossible to achieve in the event of life experiencing the odd hiccup (as it tends to do). I was slightly under one week, but more than made it up, so stayed on target for the whole of the month, which I’m really pleased with. (If you’re the kind of writer who regularly writes 30,000 words a week or similar, you’re probably guffawing at this, but for me it’s a good total, and still allows some time for other smaller projects.)
  • Keeping a diary which serves the dual purposes of forward planning and noting daily achievements: the diary layout (which has a week-to-view on the left and a notes page on the right) has proved excellent to keep notes of appointments, thoughts and ideas, but I’ve also noted down word count totals, and all the bits and pieces of social media marketing etc. I need this to keep me on track (brain like a sieve!) – without regularly noting down what I’ve done and where, it would all go to pot very quickly.
  • Allowing time for other aspects of life: one of the problems with my goals for 2017 was that they were designed in isolation (when I was wearing my “writer” hat) without taking into account the other non-writing related things I might want to do. This year I’ve been careful to include all the other things when setting my goals – and the focus on each is likely to change over the next few months according to the weather, work-life balance etc.
  •  Frequently referring back to my initial goals: at the start of the year, I wrote down all the things I wanted to work towards at the front of my diary. I flick back to it every few days to check in with those goals – and yes, there are a couple towards which I’ve made zero progress. (And no doubt there will be additional things which crop up in the year which I’d not expected, so I might have to adjust accordingly.) But overall I can see I’m heading in the right direction. And that’s good for the ego and for ongoing motivation.

I’ve also had a bit of a boost this week with two reviews for my first non-fiction eBook Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success . I have to admit, while I really enjoyed writing it, I was pretty anxious about how people might react to it (much more so than I am about my fiction), so it’s good to have such positive comments from the first two reviewers. If you’re relatively new to writing or short story competition submissions, please take a look – and I hope you find it useful.

7 Ways to Form the Writing Habit


We’re almost at the end of January, so it’s probably a good time to take a look at those writing goals you set at the beginning of the year and see how things are going. If you planned to write more regularly, or up your productivity, this probably means you’ve attempted to form new writing habits and, as we all know, whilst forming bad habits seems incredibly easy, forming good ones can be a little trickier.

I started a new writing project at the beginning of the year and in order to make it possible to achieve, I’ve had to think realistically about my year, and schedule the first-draft writing time appropriately. I know there will be times later in the year when I’ll be so busy at work that by the time I get home, my brain will be mush. I also know that, come the longer spring days and lighter evenings, I’ll be devoting more time to all things equine. I need to establish a habit now that has a chance of withstanding these conflicting demands. They say it takes 3-4 weeks to develop a habit, so here are my tips from my first four weeks:

  1. Have a specific goal that gives you something to work towards – and make it something tangible and measureable so that you can see yourself making progress. A goal of say “writing more short stories” is too woolly. How many short stories would you be satisfied with? How many might you expect to write over a given period? Break it down so that you know exactly what you have to achieve each week to be on track to complete the overall goal. Then you know the minimum you need to achieve daily. This is also why I’ve chosen to have a goal of a specific weekly word count rather than, say, a finite number of writing hours a night – I know I could easily fritter away the time without really having achieved anything.
  2. Be sure you really want to achieve this goal or develop this habit. At New Year, it’s easy to get carried away and plan some really aspirational stuff. But you need to be realistic and absolutely sure that this particular writing goal is for you, otherwise as soon as you hit a problem, it’ll be too tempting to give up. It may help to write down your reasons for wanting to achieve it – and how it contributes to your long term game plan. Later, if things do get tough, you can go back and remind yourself why you are putting yourself through this!
  3. Keep it simple. I’m working on one specific project, writing about one thing. So far this is working for me. It might not work for you – you might be the sort of writer who needs to have several projects on the go at once so you can flip from one to the other as inspiration takes you. That’s fine, just as long as you know what you’re doing each time you sit down to write.
  4. Habits are easier to form as part of a routine, because then they arise from some kind of trigger. (This of course applies to bad habits too – my mum always used to say that when she gave up smoking all those years ago, the cigarette she missed most was the one straight after her evening meal.) I’m writing in the weekday evenings: after we’ve eaten and washed up, I take a cup of tea up to my room and crack on. This has become the norm very quickly.
  5. Build in small rewards. Obviously the achievement of completing your targets will give you a bit of a boost, but you don’t want your writing to turn into this horrible chore which will make you feel miserable (remember, it’s supposed to be something wonderful and creative, otherwise why are you doing it?). Assuming you made your goals reasonable and achievable in the first place, you should be able to reward yourself with time off to go and do something else! (I try to write more at the beginning of the week so that Friday is either an easy stint, or completely free.)
  6. It helps to have support from your nearest and dearest. Indeed, your habit may become built into their routine too. (So now my OH plans his own things to do “while you go and do your word count” and then we both know that we can build all the other stuff of life around this protected bit of time.)
  7. Be flexible. Other things in life will crop up and prevent you sticking to your plans.  (I didn’t write much towards the end of last week because we had to have our cat put down, which obviously made for a very sad household.) Don’t beat yourself up and abandon the whole thing just because it’s been derailed for a few days by outside pressures. Pick yourself up when you’re ready and carry on. And you may find that the habit helps you deal with the other stuff which is going on in your life.

My first month on the new WIP has been very positive. Of course there have been rubbish evenings where I’ve really struggled to write anything, but I’ve definitely found that the routine of going up to sit at my writing desk every night is really helping. Now “not writing” is the exception rather than the norm. And writing in the weekday evenings gives me time at the weekends to do other things – like write this blog, for instance! 🙂

Space and Time: the right writing environment


If you’ve clicked onto this expecting a sci-fi related post, apologies. I don’t mean that kind of space and time. This post is all finding the right place in which to right.

The ‘right’ place is clearly not universal for all writers. Daphne du Maurier famously did lots of her writing in a hut at the bottom of the garden, and Roald Dahl also had a writing hut which has now been reconstructed at The Roald Dahl museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Huts look really cute when you peer inside, and all it sounds very romantic, but unless they’re well insulated, they’re blooming cold in the winter, roasting hot in the summer, and full of insects and damp. Granted, there are huts and huts (a well built chalet-style construction is probably fab to work in, but your average garden shed, not so much), and a hut is better than nothing – especially if it’s the only place you can get peace and privacy.

Which brings me to the next sort of writer – the sort which likes to work in a café. I know this is pretty popular – possibly because this was the method so famously (and successfully) employed by J K Rowling in her early days. Since there is long history of creative-types scribbling away in coffee shops, I’m not disputing that it must work for many writers, but it wouldn’t do for me. Supporters of this method maintain that the hum of background noise helps them concentrate, or that they need to physically go somewhere in order to write, because sitting at home they’ll just get distracted. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. The thought of sitting, exposed, at a table in a busy café, with people all around me, squeezing by with their shopping bags, babies crying, clattering crockery and all that whooshing and wheezing from the barista coffee machines… Ugh, just the thought makes me shudder! Don’t get me wrong, I like the odd trip to a coffee shop while I’m out shopping, but it definitely wouldn’t work for me in a creative way. Or at least, not unless I was in one of those (infrequent) mad frenzies when you just can’t stop writing – and if that was the case, the location wouldn’t make any difference. (I’ve written standing up in a packed train carriage when I’ve absolutely had to get something down on paper.)

I’ve already written about my writing room here (am amused to note how tidy it was back then for the photographs – suffice to say it is rather less so as I write this). From this you’ll know how much I value having the luxury of a proper space in which to write. And having a comfortable working environment does help with productivity. (Father Christmas even brought me a new writing chair so I’m properly comfortable when I write – I can tell this is the case as I no longer fidget when writing for several hours!)

Of course, there’s no point having the space, if you don’t also have the time. In order to achieve any of my 2018 goals, I’ve been concentrating on making the time. This has meant religiously ‘going to my room’ every weekday evening, and getting on with writing for an hour or two (from Mon-Thurs – I’ve been giving myself Friday night off!), and trying to get a bit more in at the weekend if I’m not up to my planned word count, or if I have another project I want to work on. So far, using routine and discipline to create this habit is working well (rather like a less intensive Nanowrimo approach). I’ll let you know if I keep it up long enough to complete the current project.

Actually, going back to the sci-fi thing, a writing room is a little like the TARDIS. It’s clearly only the size of a room, but once inside, as you write, it expands in limitless directions and you can travel anywhere in space and time – to the far reaches of your imagination. If I was a Doctor Who fan, this is what the door to my writing room would look like:

If you have an amazing writing space, or have a great tip for manufacturing that precious commodity, time, then please tell us about it in the comments below. 😉

Character Names – sources of inspiration


I’m at that delicious beginning part of the writing process – when ideas are coming thick and fast, and the characters are lining up ready to take their turn in the next scene. So far it’s been deceptively easy, and while I know from experience that this is unlikely to last, I’m enjoying it while it does.

One of the exciting parts of starting a new project is naming the characters. This is such an important aspect of fiction and it’s so easy to cause yourself problems if you get it wrong. Similar sounding names, names that don’t fit the era or social status of your characters, or names that just don’t quite feel right to you can cause confusion and spoil the feel of your story.

So where do you get inspiration for names? Well, with first names, I have a couple of books designed for helping parents choose names for their offspring. These are quite good because they give a little background about the origins and meanings of each name which can be useful in choosing something appropriate.

Another incredibly useful source is the interactive graph compiled by The Office of National Statistics. This uses census data to track the popularity of first names over the last 110 years. It tracks the top 100 names from each year, so if you type a name into the box above the graph, it will display a line showing that name’s popularity over the whole period. The graph is also excellent for exploring ideas for a specific era. Say you happen to have a character who was born in 1920, but you’re not quite sure what kind of names were around at this time. You can hover over the imaginary line for 1920 and suggested names will appear. So if you want a very obviously popular name for the era, you hover near the top of the graph, for a less obvious name, hover near the bottom. Every time you move your mouse, you’ll find some more names, and can build up a feel for what is appropriate for that era.

When it comes to inspiration for surnames, back in the day I used the phone book, but I haven’t seen one of those for a while (and now I think about it, using the phone book might create a slight regional bias depending on where you live – which could be useful or not, depending on the nature of your fiction). Now, I use a Dictionary of Surnames which I found in a cut price book shop several years ago. Again it gives origins and meanings which is interesting, but mostly prevents me falling back on lame-sounding surnames from my own imagination (which is poor in this respect!) which make the characters feel obviously like characters, not real people.

If I’m really stuck for a name in the middle of a story and I don’t want to interrupt the flow, sometimes I just pop in “XXX” and use the find-and-replace-all function later when I’ve chosen something appropriate. On occasions this has worked better for me than picking a not-quite-appropriate name and attempting to replace that later as by then I am thinking of the character as this original name, and it may even have affected how I feel about them or how they develop in the story.

If you have any brilliant suggestions for the way you go about naming characters, or suggestions for other good “name” websites, please pop them in the comments below – but I’d definitely recommend having a look at the ONS graph when you’re deciding on names for your next project.

Writing Resolutions for 2018 (and a bit of self-congratulation for 2017!)


So this is it! The last post of 2017! The final day of the year to look back on the most important aspects of 2017, and look forward to 2018.

You could be forgiven for thinking I’ve been a bit negative in my previous posts – no, I didn’t achieve much on my 2017 aims list – but it always important to celebrate the positives. So often you can forget where you started out, or the things you have achieved because you are busy feeling disappointed about the stuff you didn’t do. In this spirit of celebration, here are the things I’m chuffed about for 2017 (both writing-related and not):

  1. Finally took the plunge and, in March, bought a beautiful new horse. After a year without an equine companion (and after losing my old horse after 15 years together), it’s been fab to start building a relationship with this gorgeous boy.
  2. Had some quality time with my Dad – to celebrate his 90th birthday, we spent the best part of a whole week together, and talked about some really good stuff. Funny how you can suddenly feel you know someone properly for the first time, even though you’ve known them forever!
  3. Was on the short story judging panel for the Hysteria UK writing competition. I learned so much during this process, and highly recommend it if you want to understand more about short story submissions. You can read my judge’s interview here.
  4. Wrote and published my first non-fiction eBook Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success. Writing non-fiction was really interesting – I’ve written fiction for years but, apart from a few articles, this was a new discipline for me. It’s pretty nerve-wracking sending a non-fiction book out into the world (lots of “What do I know?” self-doubt!) but I wanted to share what I’d learned as both an entrant and as a judge. Hope if you have ‘story competitions’ on your New Year’s Resolution list (particularly if you’ve not tried entering any before) you’ll be able to learn from some of my mistakes!
  5. After concentrating more on my social media presence over the year, I’ve experienced a 20% increase in Blog followers, a 30% increase in Twitter followers, and a 40% increase in Facebook followers – which is really rewarding. Thank you to all of you!
  6. Finally set up my mailing list! This has been on my “Things to do” list for years, but was one of those things I kept putting off (but was really straightforward!). It’s really in its infancy, but I have plans to explore content and free giveaways in the new year. If you haven’t joined already, please do.
  7. And lastly, for the first time ever, I had fan mail! Readers (who I didn’t know personally) took the time and trouble to contact me to tell me they had enjoyed my stories. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this – it gave me a real buzz.

Right, so that’s me done with feeling smug about this year. Onto 2018! When it came to setting this years goals, I had an epiphany. I’d intended to buy two diaries – one for writing related goals, and one for my horse-riding related plans. Standing in the shop, I couldn’t find anything appropriate – and then I found this great diary which has a corresponding page of notes for each week. And then I thought, of course! I need everything together, because that’s where I’ve been going wrong. One day I’ve got my writing head on, and the next I’ve got my horsey head on, and I can’t maintain both separately. So, my new diary (and thus my new goals) are for the whole of life, not separate chunks. (And the cover is cool too!)

The notes pages mean I can always keep all my ideas for that week in view, so I don’t overlook stuff (which has been a problem this year). And there’s a little zipped pouch at the back for bits and pieces which you night need.

You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not going to list all my goals (there’s 25 in all!) but suffice to say they revolve around quality of life – building a sustainable (reading, writing & horse-related!) lifestyle, and devoting time to loved ones.

To all those who’ve read and followed my blog this year, I’d like to say a big thank you – and may you all have a successful, happy and healthy 2018. x

Rubbish Writing Goals and How to Set Them: 10 things I learned from 2017!


Cast your mind back to this time last year. Did you have a long list of writing aims and goals for 2017? Mine, written in a frenzy of optimism and energy, is pinned up on my noticeboard above my desk. The idea was that it would inspire me every time I sat down to write; that I would always have my goals in sight, and therefore in the forefront of my mind. What actually happened was that they became another thing to beat myself up about when I hadn’t achieved them. And now they are partially hidden by a postcard and a post-it note. I’d not looked at them for ages until today.

So, why didn’t these aims work as motivators? Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Aims you want to have achieved, not to achieve: some of the things on the list were those I knew I would feel good about once they were completed, but I didn’t have the drive to start off the process – they just seemed too daunting.
  2. Other People’s Aims: things I felt I ought to want to do (e.g. ‘complete a full length novel’ is on the list – but I’m primarily a short story writer, with several partially written rough draft of novels stuffed in my files. I didn’t actually want to write a novel in 2017, and really didn’t have the headspace for such a big project).
  3. Aims which don’t take into account the way you work: e.g. I write lots of short stories, but few of are suitable for the UK women’s magazine market. If I tried to sit down and write something specifically for say, The People’s Friend, the writing would feel contrived, and Shirley would reject it. The stories which get accepted are those you write from the heart because they need to be written. Yes, you need to have an awareness of market if you want to sell anything, but (for me, at least) the writing needs to come first.
  4. Aims which don’t take into account outside influences: achievement can be taken out of your hands by external issues. For instance, this year has seen some major editorial upheavals at Woman’s Weekly which has changed the relationship between writers and staff, caused uncertainty, and (in the short term at least) prevented submissions from anyone who hasn’t previously been published by them. No-one can predict the kinds of outside pressures which will affect your writing, but you need to be able to build in a sort of “assuming everything remains equal” clause into your aims if you aren’t going to get disheartened.
  5. A list which doesn’t allow for new aims: your aims list can become a negative if you stay focused on the original aims at the expense of new opportunities and new ideas. You need to be prepared to re-evaluate, and to allow some goals to fall by the wayside (without beating yourself up about it) because something new is of importance instead (e.g. this year I became involved in judging for the Hysteria UK writing competition, which was extremely rewarding – but this was a focus I’d not anticipated at the outset of the year).
  6. Leftover aims from previous years: you may recognise many of your aims as recurring ones! You didn’t complete them last year, so you’re going to stick them down on this year’s list too. That’s great, but you need to understand why you didn’t achieve them last year, and why things are going to be different this year. If nothing has changed, be prepared to put the same item on your 2019 list too!
  7. Aims which are too ambitious: it’s great to have aims which test you, and push you just a little out of your comfort zone, but if they are too difficult, they become demotivating. If writing is your one and only passion and you throw yourself into it 100% at the expense of all else in your life, that’s great. Your achievements will be commensurate with that level of dedication. On the other hand, if you have more than one interest, if you want to have meaningful and rewarding relationships with family and friends, then you need to be self-aware enough to know that this is the case and stop expecting yourself to have that ‘Olympic athlete’ level of dedication. It’s ok to be ‘not bad ‘at more than one thing!
  8. Aims which depend on completion of another aim: e.g. you can’t publish something you haven’t written. So now you’ve failed to complete two things!
  9. Aims which are outside of your control: we’ve all heard about making our goals “SMART” (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely – or some other similar definition – let’s not argue!). You need to set yourself a goal over which you can have some control (e.g. “Win a short story competition” might not be a great goal since you can’t control the other entries, but “Enter at least 10 short story competitions in 2018, ensuring I follow all the great advice in Jenny’s Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide” might be a better one!).
  10. Aims which show no self-awareness: if you’ve decided you’re going to write 1,000 words a day in 2018, but you haven’t written more than a few hundred in the whole of 2017, then maybe you need to be more realistic in what you can expect from yourself, otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. If you know your demanding job/family commitments/love of soaps will leave you little time or energy for writing, then start small and build the writing habit.

I’ve not finalised my list for 2018 yet, but I’ve written lots of notes, and I know I’ll be putting considerably more thought into this year’s goals. I’ll let you know how this goes in my final blog for this year on New Year’s Eve. Until then, happy writing and happy goal-setting!