Category Archives: The writer’s world

Reading: my guilty pleasure!

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It didn’t use to be like this. Back in the day, I could while away a whole morning or afternoon with a good book perfectly easily. I would think nothing of submerging myself in a novel with the same joy as I might a hot bath. Occasionally I might feel a trace of guilt after the fact, when the day had slipped by with little (on the face of it) to show for it, but it never spoilt the actual pleasure of reading.

Nowadays, things are different. I find it difficult to settle to reading. The odd article or post is easy enough, but a proper book? That’s a different matter. I suspect partly (and paradoxically) this may be because I’m a writer myself. I know we writers are supposed to read all the time, and I guess I do if we’re talking about writing-related tips and info, but being a writer means you can’t help but spend time analysing and deconstructing the written word as you read. Plus you tend to read stuff that you ought to read, rather than the stuff you really want to devour. And that tends to get in the way of real reading pleasure.

But that’s not the whole story. Partly it’s habit (or falling out of the habit). Reading used to be my default setting. After a bit, writing became my default setting. Now I suspect Facebook and eBay are becoming a much less satisfying alternative. Why do I allow myself to be distracted by such tosh?!

And the other thing is the dullness of being a grown up, with grown up responsibilities. You sit down for a moment to read, and the thought begins to gnaw at you that you put a wash on a little while ago and hadn’t you better get the washing out to dry? Or the washing up needs doing (OK, we’re probably the only people in the universe who don’t have a dishwasher, but that’s fine by me.) Or the dogs need a walk. Or the garden is looking neglected. Or the car needs vacuuming out. Or you really ought to write a blog post…

I have to face facts: there are 24 hours in day, everyone gets the same number – but how you spend them is up to you. If you want to do something you will make time for it, even if it means making a compromise somewhere else. And I want to be a reader again. A voracious reader. A reader who reads for the simple joy of it.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book waiting…….. 🙂

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Support Networks for Writers

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For those of us in the Midlands, it’s been a week of proper winter weather – snow and freezing temperatures has made those everyday journeys suddenly ridiculously difficult. One evening in particular, we had a sudden heavy snowfall and, in the space of a few minutes, the roads went from perfectly passable to treacherous.

We happened to be out in the weather at the time, driving back home through the neighbouring village. Our old Volvo (with almost a quarter of a million miles on the clock!) is four wheel drive and did us proud, but we came across several stranded cars and others wheel-spinning on the ice. We ended up pulling over and helping push several vehicles to get them on their way. There was a real feeling of camaraderie as we, and other passers-by, joined in. It seemed particularly appropriate given the time of year – it being almost the season of goodwill!

It also made me think about support networks and goodwill in general. Us writers can be a little insular at times, but that’s not to say we don’t need (and value) the network of people around us who help us do what we do. Our families, who accept that often we will be busy scribbling alone, and who take an interest in what we do without perhaps really understanding why we bother doing it! Our friends, who take the time to read those dodgy first drafts and make useful comments, or who are quick to provide a hug when things are not going so well. And the wider writing community who are so ready to offer support and encouragement.

Put a post on Facebook about a problem you’re having with your writing and in no time there’ll be a string of comments from other writers telling you they’ve experienced something similar, or offering advice. If you post about a rejection, you’ll get commiserations. If you post about a writing success (however modest) you’ll soon be inundated with generous and humbling congratulatory messages.

So if you find yourself wheel-spinning on your writing journey, don’t worry – just shout, and someone will soon be along to give you a push. And if your writing road is looking pretty clear, don’t forget to pay it forward – in lots of little ways:

  1. tell someone if you like their novel/story/blog (it might be just the lift they need)
  2. tell lots of other people too!
  3. remember to leave a review (for all those people you can’t tell personally)
  4. retweet their tweets
  5. comment on or share their posts
  6. follow their blog or their author page

And most importantly, say thank you to all those who’ve done the same for you:

So, thank you, folks! I appreciate every little push! 🙂

Writing Aims: Overambition and Underachievement!

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It’s December already! How did this happen? I swear it was late summer just a second ago… OK, so I have to face facts, it’s coming up to the end of the year, and I daren’t look at those “Aims for 2017” which I have pinned up on my noticeboard (they’ve been strategically hidden under a post-it note and a postcard, so I don’t have to continually beat myself up about not having achieved any of them…).

Of course, I’ll wait until the traditional ritual-shaming at the end of the month to blog in detail about this year’s failures, and to entertain you all with my next batch of unlikely ambitions for 2018. I will say though that realistic goal-setting has to be based on a suitable mix of self-knowledge and boundary-pushing. Yes, you need to push yourself to strive for that which is currently just beyond your reach, but you also have to take into account your need to turn up at the day job, or the necessity to spend time with your nearest and dearest or indeed, your desire to watch Strictly.

Writers are notoriously good at beating themselves up – either for crimes of procrastination and under-achievement, or though constant (unfavourable) comparison with others. We read lots of articles which attempt to shame us into better working/creative practices. And there is probably much truth in these (I don’t need to watch any more amusing cat or dog videos on Facebook – I know this!), but you have to extract the bits of advice that work for you.

This is why I was so amused to read Sophie Hannah’s latest blog post. As you may know, I’m a big Sophie Hannah fan, and I came across the article through following her on  Goodreads (but you can find it directly from her website here). In it, she goes through the most common advice available for authors, and gives her take on the wisdom contained therein.

It’s a refreshingly down to earth (and entertaining) article, and the strongest message which comes out of it is that you have to discover a working pattern which works for you, taking into account your responsibilities, internal body clock, levels of OCD etc. For this, you need self-knowledge.

I think this on a weekday when I am rushing (always rushing – always late no matter what time I get up!) to get ready for work. And I glance longingly at my writing desk wishing that instead of the day job, I could be spending my day here. But I know full well that on my non-working days, I will find it impossible to make it to my writing desk anywhere near the time I’d make it to my work office desk. Would I be any more productive if I didn’t have a day job? I’m really not that convinced!

There’s that old adage, “if you want something done, ask a busy person” and I’m pretty sure it’s true. When you’re busy, you can shoehorn in an extra task. On a lazy day, leaving the sofa to make a cuppa can seem too onerous.

So, I shall leave beating myself up until the end of the month. In the meantime, I’ll do as much as I can. As much as I can fit in around the rest of life. Probably not any of the things on my “Aims for 2017” list – but perhaps instead achieving some things I’d not anticipated. I’ll tell you more about that in my next post. 😉

 

Smart Phones for Smart Writers

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One of the great conundrums of the modern age is that despite all the technology which has been developed, and despite all the labour-saving devices we have in our homes, we appear to have less and less time. How can this be?

Well of course, we still have exactly the same amount of time as we’ve always had. Those 24 hours won’t grow or shrink. It’s what you do with them that counts. So, yes you can get up at ridiculous-o’clock to squeeze in a few more useful hours. You can multi-task up to a point. You can choose to stop doing certain tasks to devote the time to something more important (see Kath McGurl’s Give Up Ironing book for more ideas on this approach!). And you can stop getting distracted.

I’m not a big TV fan – and you’ll absolutely never hear the words “box set” pass my lips in the context of losing a whole weekend watching 400 episodes of some show or other. (I am the person who can’t take part in office discussions about Game of Thrones etc.) But I am totally addicted to the internet, particularly because of my smart phone. I love YouTube videos which help me improve the way I ride my horse. I can lose hours googling random facts, or watching amusing or tear-jerking videos on Facebook. I’m also plagued by a kazillion emails (many from all the great writing-related websites I’ve signed up to). And I think this is the route of the time problem we all face. Whether smart-phone-related or not, there is simply too much information out there for our brains to process. So, I’ve decided I need to be more selective.

Before I had a smart phone, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. People had managed perfectly well for centuries without such a gadget. It was just a silly fad. Now? It’s an integral part of pretty well every aspect of my life. Its alarm gets me up in the morning, and the sleep app tells me how long and how well I’ve slept the night before (last night was amazing – 8h 4mins – almost a record!). My running podcast takes me through my morning’s run, and the health app monitors my steps/distance travelled. On my way to and from work, I listen to a writing (or sometimes horse riding) related podcast – at the moment, I’m checking out the backlist of The Creative Penn which is amazingly informative about the indie author world – and also very entertaining.

This week is National Short Story week, and my smart phone has been invaluable in helping me advertise my two short story ebooks The Camel in the Garden and Beyond Words, which have been on special offer. Using my phone has enabled me to access Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, post photos and links, join in discussions, to post and comment on this blog and, of course, keep track of downloads – at any time, not just when I’m at home at my writing desk.

But I need to get better at sifting online information, saving the important bits (such as story competition info) and managing it in a way which means I won’t overlook it later.

If you have any top tips on the way you manage this process, please share them in the comments below.  I will be eternally grateful!

And if you’re the sort of really organised person who has arranged their life so efficiently that you have an afternoon free for a spot of reading, Beyond Words is still half-price for the remainder of this weekend. 🙂

“I am a #writer” – Keeping the Faith

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One of the best Christmas presents I ever received was a portable typewriter. Granted, we’re going back a bit. I was 13. My mum had watched me scribbling away in notebooks, or head buried in a kazillion novels over the previous months/years. She had listened when I told her I wanted to be a writer. And she wanted to help. Opening my present on Christmas Day was one of those rites of passage moments – not only was it something I really wanted (I appreciate this makes me a pretty nerdy teenager!), but it was a proper grown-up present. And most importantly, it meant that my parents didn’t think I was being silly. I said I wanted to be a writer: they believed me, and believed in me.

I now know how lucky I was. And I also now know that having people around you who believe in you is only half the battle – you also have to believe in yourself. There are so many hundreds, thousands, of great books out there, so many talented writers, it’s easy to become discouraged, to think there’s no place for you. Even literary success may not wholly dispel feelings of “imposter syndrome”.

After some initial (perhaps too easily won) success in short story writing when I was a teenager, my writing “career” took a nose dive. For many, many years I dabbled, but didn’t work at it. Only when I made the decision to do a Creative Writing MA did I truly start to take myself and my writing seriously. There were huge benefits – from writing regularly, from being exposed to other people’s writing processes and discussing each other’s work, and from learning about the wider publishing industry. Building my author identify online (instead of hiding way in anonymity) was a huge step for me (I kept waiting for the sky to fall in – just for reference, it didn’t). Achieving the MA gave me some kind of validation – as did publication and success in writing competitions. But hearing feedback from readers is the best thing. (This is the first year I’ve had “fan mail”! Thank you so much to the people who have emailed or contacted me via Twitter to tell me they’ve enjoyed my stories – I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support.)

I know several would-be writers who are too nervous to show their work to the wider world, or even talk about their writing. But if you write, you are a writer, and if you want the wider world to believe in you as a writer, you must first believe in yourself. If you want the wider world to know about your writing, you have to talk about what you do.

Next week is National Short Story Week – a great opportunity to talk about all things writing and short story related. To coincide with this, I’m running two special offers on my eBooks:

The Camel in the Garden will be FREE from Monday 13th – Friday 17th November 2017

Beyond Words will be HALF PRICE from Monday 13th – Sunday 19th November 2017, so you will be able to pick up 12 stories for a mere 99p.

To find out more about either of these short story collections, click the relevant tab at the top of this page.

If you’ve struggled with self-belief or “imposter syndrome” and would like to tell us about something which made the difference for you, please comment below. Similarly, if you read any great short stories over the coming week, please let us know. 🙂

Ode on the Blessed Printer! #writersrhymes

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Ode on the blessed printer
(or “I wish I could make all submissions by email”)

I’ve just finished my story
It’s ready to submit
I’ve tweaked the dodgy plot line
Proof checked and re-checked it

So I fire up my printer
Plug in the USB
But my laptop does not recognise
The software that it sees

I wiggle all the cables
Until it finally connects
Then wait for several seconds
For the command to take effect

The printer starts to rumble
But the text’s a right schemozzle
Onscreen a warning light appears
I need to check my nozzles

I press the “OK” button
And watch the screen with dread
The problem clearly isn’t fixed:
Now I have to clean my heads

Then another warning light
A cartridge out of ink
And though I’m only printing black
I somehow still need pink

Next I fix the paper jam
Has the printer given up the ghost?
No, the pages finally tumble out –
But by now I’ve missed the post!

Resolving NOT to Write

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Yes, you read this correctly. I’m NOT writing. Deliberately. I’m itching to make a start. I have the first line in my head and I’d love to get going and see where it takes me, but I’m not allowing myself to do so.

Why?

Because although I can write a short story with just the glimmer of an idea, allow it to take hold and just go with it, when it comes to writing something longer, the whole “pantser” thing has failed me. I have about five half-written novels languishing in my hard drive. They have each suffered the same fate. They started with an idea, they grew and developed, their characters became well-rounded and compelling, plot devices sprang up which promised to keep those pages turning…. And then about two-thirds in, everything went horribly wrong. The plot fell apart. The path to “the end” faded and then disappeared altogether. And I couldn’t get myself out of it.

I thought I was a pantser, but it turns out I’m not. I need to plan. So this time, I’ve promised myself, things will be different. The initial idea for my current project actually came to me in a dream….  No, really!  I woke up, and the characters were there in my head.  Of course in the dream, it all made total sense and was already planned out – and then when I woke up, there was just the impression of the story which needed all the details filling in. So that’s where I am at the moment. Filling in the details.

I’m currently researching the setting, pulling together all the backstory for each of the main characters, drawing up a chapter plan (horribly sketchy at the moment), and working out the plot. I’m determined that this time I will have it all planned in advance – before I so much as begin to write the first page. Of course, I’m prepared for the story to develop in ways I’d not expected, so it’s possible the plan will need some revision on the way, but the plan needs to exist at the outset.

I know this isn’t the way that all writers begin a new piece of work – I know of many who say they just have an outline, start writing and see where it takes them. I wish I was like that, and who knows, maybe one day I will be. But right now, it’s me, a notebook, a pad of post-its, some highlighters – and a lot of time on Google!

If you have any great planning strategies and tips, I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, I’m attempting to develop my own method. Wish me luck – I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Time Travel for Writers

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Readers know all about time travel – you sit down with a good book, and before you know it, a whole afternoon has passed in the blink of an eye! And through the medium of fiction, you are magically transported to another time, another place, perhaps another world. (Who needs a TARDIS?)

It’s the same for writers, of course. “I’ll just spend a few minutes editing this paragraph,” you say to yourself, and when you next look up, you realise you’ve missed a meal/an important appointment/a whole day. We all know there’s nothing quite like the feeling, when the writing is going really well, of leaving the everyday behind and being totally immersed in your fictional world. [NB: Social media is also an extremely effective way for writers to hurtle through a few hours at great speed!]

There is a flip side for writers: whilst time flies when there’s an approaching deadline, it positively crawls when you’re awaiting a response to a submission, or the outcome of a story competition, or – joy of joys! – publication day. [NB: Or indeed payment…but I hesitate to add that, for fear of sounding mercenary, and not having the right attitude to the true rewards of the creative process!]  Writers also experience a distortion in time as often the fruits of their labours are not evident until long after the labour itself. (Sometimes long, long, long after the labour itself.) Recently I’ve had two short stories appear in print, and had another placed in a competition – so to the outside world, all seems busy, busy, busy in my writing world. But in each case, the writing process itself took place many moons ago. Writing is created from not just inspiration but anticipation – thinking ahead to future competitions, and planning in advance for seasonal submissions.

Yesterday was National Writing Day – I’m ashamed to say I didn’t honour the day with any writing-related activities of my own.  I…erm….didn’t have the time. Presumably in some parallel universe, it’s National Writing Day right now.  Hmmm, if I could just find my TARDIS…

2017-06-22 19.10.09

 

 

 

 

“Reading” Audio Books

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As an avid fan of audio books – particularly to listen to whilst driving – I’m a regular at my local library, where, for a small fee, I can borrow from a wide range of titles available. Having someone reading to you while driving can help to make the heaviest of traffic stress-free. In fact, the only problem I usually have is arriving at my destination when the story has reached an especially gripping moment, and not wanting to get out of the car!

Of course, it’s always disappointing when a book doesn’t live up to its promise. I recently borrowed an audio book but only managed to listen to about 20 minutes worth before I found myself wanting to rip it out of the car stereo and hurl it though the window. I won’t mention the title, but to say the characters lacked depth would be an understatement, the scenario was pretty unlikely, and the author’s knowledge of the world her characters were inhabiting seemed sketchy to say the least. I felt a bit robbed (not of the library fee – I figure it all goes to a good cause if it’s ploughed back into the library service – and I hope this is the case), but by the way the book had been presented.

It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed by an audio book, but I would say I’m far less often disappointed by a physical hard copy book. This got me thinking about the way in which we choose books to read. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can’t help but be influenced by cover design (after all, if you weren’t, publishers and indie authors wouldn’t spend so much time, money and effort in designing covers in the first place). You are likely to read the  “blurb”, and then, if it’s a hard copy book, you might read a few lines of the first page, just to see if you like the style and tone of the writing. With an audio book, you don’t get this last opportunity, which I think is where I come unstuck. Sometimes the blurb doesn’t seem to be a true reflection of the story at all, or neglects to mention some aspect of the book which, had you known in advance, would have warned you that this wasn’t the book for you.

The other element which can affect your enjoyment, or otherwise, of an audio book is the person it is being read by. The reader’s voice will have a huge impact on the tone of the story. A good reader can handle different character voices, deal with changes of pace within the narrative, make scene changes clear, etc. – and they will do all of this unobtrusively, so that the listener is not distracted from the story itself. I’m fairly sure that I’ve enjoyed some books more as audio books simply because of the excellent reading (as I know I sometimes read too fast and miss important details). On the other hand, if I’m not enjoying an audio book, I do sometimes find myself wondering how the same book might appear to me if I was reading it myself. As a reader, you cannot help but bring yourself, your past experiences, your preconceptions to the story – and this must influence your interpretation of the words written on the page. A few times while I’ve been listening to an audio book, the reader has read a piece of dialogue in a way I suspect I wouldn’t have interpreted in my own head had I been reading it to myself. While literary theorists might argue there isn’t a “right” interpretation, if it jars with you the listener, it can’t help but bring you out of the story and taint your enjoyment a little.

To help inform my choice while I’m at the library, I sometimes take a look at reviews online while I’m trying to decide, but even this is problematic.  Lots of books seem to end up scoring around the 3.8 mark on Goodreads (for example), and for every reviewer who loved it, there’s always another who seemed to absolutely loathe it. You have to read between the lines to work out which set of reviewers you are likely to side with!

So at the moment, I am without an audio book for the car, and therefore will soon be on the hunt for my next “fix”.  If you have any recommendations – either for individual titles, or for the best way to choose an audio book – please let me know!   🙂

 

 

The Judging Panel – Hysteria 2017

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Regular readers of this blog will know I love short story competitions. The demands of sticking to a specific theme or word count, the inclusion of a special word or phrase, or even just having the focus of a deadline can all help with motivation. In fact, sometimes the more restrictions that seem to be imposed, the harder your story-telling brain seems to work to come up with a idea which will fit the bill.

I’ve tried my hand at entering lots of short story competitions in recent years – sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes less so. But I’ve usually found that the discipline involved in editing a story to suit the demands of a specific competition has helped me to improve on the original idea or draft.

It seemed an obvious next step to try my hand at judging. I’ve previously assisted with short-listing for a competition, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and so when the opportunity came to become part of the short story panel on the Hysteria UK 2017 writing competition, I jumped at the chance. Being one of a panel of five seems less daunting for a first timer too!

Of course, short story judging is subjective, so even though we have a clear set of criteria to use while we’re judging, I’m sure there will be pieces which impress me but do nothing for another member of the panel, and vice versa. Overall though, I’m confident we’ll be able to make a good decision. And during this process, we’ll have had the opportunity to read a huge variety of stories – from which I’m sure we’ll learn a great deal.

If you’re a female writer, writing in the flash fiction, poetry or short story genres, you have until 31st August 2017 to submit your piece – head over to the website for details:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

If you’ve never entered a writing competition before, why not have a go at this one which supports the work of the Hysterectomy Association, helping women worldwide. There are cash prizes, and winners and runners-up will be published in the annual anthology.

And if you aren’t successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean your story wasn’t well-written or enjoyed by the judges. There’s still a story which sticks in my mind from my short-listing experience – the story in question didn’t make the final selection and, as it was judged anonymously, I have no idea who the author was, but years later I can still remember the quirky writing which I enjoyed tremendously. So keep writing, keep sending out your work, because there is an audience out there who will appreciate it.

If you’re interested in entering the competition, and want to find out more about the judges, they will each be interviewed in the coming weeks. You can read my interview on the Hysteria website here:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/2017/04/17/meet-jenny-roman-hysteria-2017-short-story-category-judge/