Guest Post: Chantelle Atkins – Indies As Outsiders

Here is a guest post I wrote for the lovely Shalaena Medford’s Socially Abstract blog. Thanks to Shalaena for asking me to do this! Does being an outsider make you work harder? Read on to find out

Socially Abstract

Hello readers!

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Today I would like to share a post written for my blog by the lovely Chantelle Atkins. If this is your first time hearing about her, you’re in for a treat. Chantelle is a fantastic indie novelist, blogger, and article contributor for Authors Publish Magazine (a wonderful tool for authors to look at publishing opportunities delivered straight to their inboxes). And, being from England, she’s taught me some of the most fun slang to use. I’ll be posting a blog dedicated to how I met such a wonderful character. For now, though, enjoy what she had to say!

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The decision to self-publish is never taken lightly.

Those that do, have more often than not tried other avenues and been unsuccessful for various reasons. For example, traditional publishing is not too fond of books that are too long, too short, too hard to classify, of…

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‘I Got A Head Full Of Ideas That Are Driving Me Insane’; Tips For Dealing With A Busy Mind

I’ve always loved this line from Bob Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’. I first heard it on a best of Bob Dylan compilation tape I bought when I was 12 years old. Yes, I was a strange kid, obsessed with words, old music, and writing. I used to scrawl lyrics and random thoughts over my bedroom walls and floorboards. And at the time I discovered Bob Dylan’s lyrical genius, I was also discovering how addictive it was to put words together. Little poems. Songs. Stories that grew into novels. I’d get one idea and become obsessed by it, only to have another equally exciting one show up on its heels, demanding my attention.

I remember the feeling of having too much inside my head. And having no escape from it, no way to turn it off or quieten it. I was always thinking about something. I disliked small talk and found it hard to concentrate on people when they spoke to me.

These days, it’s even worse. Just like when I was a kid, I have these people in my head. These made up people who feel so unbelievably real and who all have desperate stories to tell, and who all want their turn NOW!

So how do you cope when your mind gets this noisy? How do you focus on what is important and not end up burning out or giving up? I wouldn’t say I’ve fully figured this out yet, but here are a few tips for anyone who has a head full of ideas problem;

  • Count yourself lucky. Yes, I know it can feel like a burden and a curse. If only just some of these people would shut up and go away, you could concentrate fully on the task at hand. But it pays to remember having too many ideas is actually pretty cool. You’re never going to run out of material. You have decades worth of books and sequels lining up to be penned. That’s lucky and that’s exciting.
  • List your projects. I did this about a year ago. I have a to-be-read list and I have a to-be-written list. I’m a list person and there is nothing more satisfying than putting a tick in a box. So make a list of all the ideas for books you have and then enjoy that feeling when you get to tick them off. Also, this way you won’t forget any of the ideas!
  • Multi-tasking is your friend and ally. If you are taking the indie route, you’re going to need those multi-tasking skills in an abundance, so this is another reason to be happy that your mind is so busy. If you can juggle all of those projects and ideas without losing it, then you will probably do pretty well as an indie writer, juggling writing with building an author platform, promoting and so on.
  • Give yourself a day off each week. I didn’t always do this. I didn’t feel like I could. How was I ever going to get all these books written if I slacked off at any point? But then my kids kept giving me sad eyes and saying they missed cuddling up on the sofa with me. So I take every Saturday off. Completely. I don’t turn the laptop on. I sit downstairs with them and watch whatever they want to watch and take a deep breath. It’s my reward for all the hard work in the week.
  • Make sure it’s still fun. I think serious writers, or at least those who are serious about actually selling their books, should treat writing like a job. I always wanted writing to be my job, and now it sort of is, although obviously, I have to do other things to earn the real money! Viewing it as a job doesn’t have to take the fun out of it.On the contrary, writing should be a fun job. The best job in the world, in fact. So keep an eye on the fun factor. You might be churning out novel after novel and hitting all of your word count targets, but are you still having fun?
  • Feel free to slack off a bit every now and again. I’m doing this at the moment. Or at least it feels like it to me. I’m going over the sequel to The Tree Of Rebels I started a while back which is about half written. I’m editing a bit but I’m not doing any actual writing yet. I have two books with beta readers, so you know, can’t do much there right now. I’m gearing up for the release of The Tree Of Rebels, but until the artwork and formatting is done, I can’t set a release date and put the plan into action, so that’s all kind of relaxed right now too. It’s nice. I know things are going to get hectic again really soon, so I am enjoying the peace. I’ve been watching TV! Unheard of!
  • Remind yourself that one day you will have more time…I’m a mum of four kids and I’m also a dog walker and run writing groups and workshops. My youngest child is almost three, so hasn’t started pre-school yet. He’s 24/7. My older kids are fantastic but let me just say this to all you new parents out there, it doesn’t get any easier. It gets harder. Sorry, but it does! Anyway, I have days when I feel frustrated that I didn’t get much done, but then I remind myself that one day the kids will all be grown up. They’ll be gone one day. I’m not looking forward to that, by the way, but wow, I will certainly know how to keep myself busy when the time comes! So for now, I remind myself to be patient. These are busy days and I’m torn in many directions, but it won’t be this way forever.
  • Write weekly lists to help you stay calm. I would be lost without my weekly to-do list. I sit down every Sunday night and write down the things I would like to achieve in the coming week. There will be things I need to do, such as writing this blog or putting together the monthly newsletter, and things I aim to get done, such as more editing, research or whatever comes up. Basically, I sit down each night and decide which things on the list are the most pressing. I usually split my time in half between promotional things, and actual writing or editing.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard. I could write into the night and not stop. I used to do that before I had kids. I’m more sensible now, because I know I have to get up early and look after them all, but also because I’m kinder to myself. My mind needs a break. I turn everything off around ten pm and climb into bed with a book. Reading helps me calm down and tune out from my own mind. You can guarantee the ideas will start up again once I turn out the light, but I quite enjoy this if I am honest. I always fall asleep playing mini movies in my head, where various characters move about and talk and basically perform the book for me.
  • Have other hobbies and passions. I think this is vital. Obviously, I have the kids, and I expect most writers will have family commitments of some sort, as well as a day job. But I think having other passions in your life can really help you switch off from the writing, and give your hectic mind a break. I love gardening and being with my animals. I can easily lose a few hours just weeding, planting and digging. I love reading and will happily pick up a book at any time of the day, including whilst making the dinner. I’m pretty addicted to music and will waste away an hour or two on YouTube if I ever get the chance! Make sure writing is not your only obsession.
  • And finally, remind yourself that it will all get done one day. One word at a time, one day at a time, one book at a time. You will work your way through that list of projects. I’m sure more ideas will arrive when you really don’t want them to, but consider it a privilege and just keep going as calmly as you can!

Now I just need to keep reminding myself to do all of the above and I might just survive!

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to know how you cope with having too many ideas!

 

 

 

Dealing with Self-Doubt

Writers are often plagued with crippling self-doubt and I am no exception. It’s always there, lurking, waiting for opportune moments to show up and throw me into a panic. I’m preparing a book for release, and I always find self-doubt shows up in a big way around about now, so it is something I am currently dealing with. But there are lots of other times I’ve experienced self-doubt about my writing, so I thought I would list them here as well as my tips for dealing with it.

  1. Childhood. When I was a child, I didn’t know what self-doubt was. Sure, I was shy and introverted, but I also had the child’s innocent optimism and I was utterly convinced that one day I would be a world famous author. Of course, life happens to children. Reality is dictated to them. You can’t do that, you can’t be that, you won’t make money, not many writers are successful, and so on. The worst thing you can do to a child is squash their creativity. If you were that child, be kind to yourself now. Remember that people probably had good intentions. Perhaps their ideals and aims in life differed greatly from yours. And if you know a child who wants to be a writer, for God’s sake don’t crush their dreams. Let them make mistakes. Don’t pick on their grammar, their spelling or their lack of plot. Just let them write! It can all too easily be discouraged in children these days.
  2. Adolescence. Writing helped me get through my teenage years. Without a doubt, it was my greatest friend and comfort. From the diaries I wrote daily, to the lyrics I scrawled onto my bedroom wall, I wrote endlessly. I was in a constant dream and my head was full of wonderful words. Self-doubt had found me though, and I now accepted I needed a realistic Plan B. I would have to decide on a day job to pay the bills. My advice to anyone at this stage would be this; keep writing. Keep dreaming. Don’t worry about structure or plot, or how many drafts it will take, or how similar your work is to your favourite films or books, or how pointless it seems putting down words that are unlikely to be read by anyone else. Perhaps right now they are only meant for you. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not useful, worthwhile or beautiful. Keep going. In private, in your bedroom, in your head, in snatched moments. It will all take you somewhere one day.
  3. Writing Group. Self-doubt may lead you to attend a writers group and they can be a wonderful help. Just remember not to compare yourself to anyone else. No doubt you will all be of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. There will be people there with more and less experience than you. There will be people there with a better grasp of grammar. There will be people there who can write the most beautiful prose. Don’t be intimidated. You are not them. Only you can do what you do. Use writing groups as sound boards and listen to any advice that is helpful but don’t let exposure to other writers encourage self-doubt. You are there to get better and to move forward.
  4. Twenties. Real life. Graduation. Jobs, Careers. Marriage and babies. All these things get in the way when you are becoming an adult, leaving less and less time and energy for writing. This is the period of life when so many leave writing behind, viewing it as a childish, foolish habit they must move on from. After all, very few writers earn a living from it, and there are bills to pay and rent to find and debts to cover and there will just never be enough time to sit down and write like you used to. And then every now and then someone you used to know will ask if you still do the writing. And saying no, not anymore, will break your heart. So write anyway. Even if it’s just a diary. Or a blog. Or scribbles and rants into a notebook. Even if it’s five minutes or ten minutes a day. Even if you don’t think it will ever go anywhere. Get back in the habit. NOW.
  5. First draft, We all get there eventually. The first draft. Self-doubt will plague you more than ever before. Are you wasting your precious time? Is everyone laughing at you? Is everyone expecting you to fail? Can you even write? Is anyone ever going to care? Something keeps you going, but self-doubt is clawing at you every step of the way telling you to go back, to quit, to stop before you waste any more energy. Don’t listen. Keep going. The first draft is just the beginning of a long journey, but if you can get it done, if you can get over that hurdle, then all the rest will come. You’ll have fostered the stamina and grit needed to pursue this idea until the finish.
  6. Feedback. Getting feedback is hard. You need it, but you dread it. You sort of hope everyone is going to gush over your work and say it is the best thing they’ve ever heard. But being realistic, what you really need right now is the cold hard truth. You need to be able to take it. If your characters suck, if your dialogue is stiff, if your middle drags or your ending is unsatisfying, you need someone to tell you. Then you need to take the time to think about it, digest the information and decide what you agree with. Don’t let self-doubt hijack you now. Writers never stop getting better. That is part of the fun.
  7. Submissions. Submitting your work is a brave step. Maybe it’s competitions, or magazines, or articles. Maybe it’s your novel to agents or publishers. You’ve done all the hard work and now you are handing it over to the ‘experts’. If you are lucky you might get some feedback. It might sting, it might be encouraging. Or you may get the long cold silence. Whatever happens, self-doubt will creep in to remind you that you are a crap writer and nothing you write will ever be published by anyone. Just keep writing and remind yourself that the more you write, the better you get. That rejection is part of the process for ALL writers and that all you can do is learn from it, and refuse to let it make you quit.
  8. The Final Draft. Nearing the end of a project is exciting and thrilling. Seeing the end in sight after a bumpy road of stops and starts and endless highs and lows, can be a huge reward for a writer. You have finished the book. You have rewritten and edited and proofread and copyread the book and you have probably done all of this so many times you have lost count. In your head, at last, the book is ready. It’s done. It’s the best it can possibly be so it’s time to let it go. But hang on…suddenly the doubts are back in full force. A dark paranoia that you were wrong all along, that no matter what you do to it, no matter how many more times you rewrite or go over it, it still hasn’t worked. It’s not the book you had in your head. It’s failed. You’ve failed. I don’t know why this happens when the final draft is done, but it always seems to happen to me. One moment I will be basking in the relief and the joy of a completed, polished manuscript, ready to move onto the next project, and the next I will be doubting every single word I have written. I will want to change my mind entirely, consider scrapping the entire book even. The only way I get through this is by reminding myself that I felt exactly the same about the previous books. And would I change anything about them now they are out there? No. When it’s time to let go, I think you get a gut feeling, followed by a flood of doubt and fear. Try to accept this as natural and ease it gently to one side.

Feelings of self-doubt are part and parcel of being a writer. They follow you about, peering over your shoulder and niggling at you. They will never go away, and that is perfectly normal. If we were full to the brim with endless confidence, I suspect we might start turning out some pretty poor writing. Self-doubt forces you to aim for perfection, to question yourself and your work again and again, until one day you know you have done all that you can.

Silence Is Dangerous

Warning; Political post. If that’s not your thing, you better scarper now. If you’ve had enough of politics, you’ve been given fair warning to scuttle off and ignore this. I’m not often political on here. I try very hard to keep politics from my Facebook author page too. On my personal page, not so much. But my other social media profiles, Twitter, Instagram etc, it is politics free. But sometimes I can’t stay silent. Sometimes it’s dangerous to do so. And if you think politics have nothing to do with my books, you’d be wrong too. All of my books revolve around social issues, one way or another. To give you an example, the book that I am currently submitting, The Tree Of Rebels, is set in a future based on my fears for where we are heading as a society, and the next book after that, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is a story about a mother and son in a low socio-economic position, and how they struggle to survive fear and despair. The book I have just started the third draft of, A Song For Bill Robinson, is also mildly political in nature, as one of the main storylines is the threatened closure of the community centre due to local Government spending cuts. For me, as a human and as a writer, these issues are real and they are happening. But I digress…

I get it if you’re fed up with politics. I really do. I’m fed up too. Believe me. I wish I could do what so many others seem to be able to master. I wish I could plug my ears, close my eyes, bury my head and build a little happy bubble around me. Really, please believe me, I am as sick of politics as the next person. It’s literally doing my head in. First, we had the General Election in 2015 here in the UK. In a shocking twist, the Tories beat Labour. Then we had Brexit. More drama, more division, more hatred, and another shocking twist. Then there was the US Election. And Trump. Don’t even…. ugh. So I do understand. It’s been horrendous. (Unless you’re happily sat on the extreme right and aren’t scared by the threat of World War Three or climate and planetary destruction that is, in which case it’s not been horrendous for you at all.)

But for those of us who are scared, disappointed, angry, confused, it has been a horrible few years. We are all sick of it and we all want to turn off the TV, avoid social media, tell people not to talk politics, and declare areas as politics free.

But it’s not quite that easy, though oh how I wish it was.

You see, politics is very, very interested in you.

Politics affects everything, from the roads you drive on, to the very air you breathe. And I feel like this; if you are lucky enough right now to not be affected by Tory policies, if you are fortunate enough that you do not need to rely on the NHS, on state education, on fair rents, on mental health or social care, then lucky you. That’s brilliant. You won’t be affected by the vicious cuts in place or those to come. It would be nice if you could spare a thought for those that are, such as the millions of children who will be suffering increased class sizes or shorter school days, once the next round of cuts to education sets in. But if you can’t even do that, then please think about the air you breathe and the planet you live on. Think about the future of this planet under the rule of a Government who have increased taxes on solar and wind power, and are in favour of fracking despite the local communities saying no. This is not our planet. It belongs to those we leave it to. Our children and their children.

And if we stay silent, because the truth scares us, or because it upsets us or keeps us awake at night, then surely we are playing into their hands and giving them the subservient and docile electorate they want. If we do not speak up for those who are suffering, what does that say about us? Who will speak up for us when we are suffering?

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I wish I could ignore politics. It invades my life and gives me sleepless nights where my brain aches and my guts churn. It makes me angry and desperate on a daily basis. It makes me cry when I am alone walking the dogs. It makes me worry about the future of my children, their education, their future jobs and homes. Their planet. It affects me on a daily basis because I am reliant on the NHS, on the state education which is being destroyed as we speak. It affects my 9-year-old son in ways that distress us all. It makes me look at my 2-year-old and feel intense guilt for even choosing to bring him into this world.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, a politics-free world would be nice and avoiding politics would be refreshing, but I feel like this is dangerous. Silence is dangerous. Silence allows these terrible things to continue. Believe me, they will take your silence as silent agreement. We have to speak up and speak out. Even if it hurts us to do so, even if it angers us to argue and debate with people, even if we are left with disappointment and despair. We are not sheep or cattle. We are thinking, feeling, creative beings and despite what they want you to believe, it is not natural to human nature or behaviour to leave people behind, to allow cruelty, to turn our backs. Society works when we all look after each other. We would not have got this far as a species if individualism and selfishness had always been the order of the day.

I know this post will alienate some followers. I fully expect to be unfollowed by some, ignored by others. That’s fine. That’s a risk I’m happy to take. It’s got to the stage now that it’s dangerous to shut up and keep quiet. Too much is at stake now. It’s not even funny anymore. Personally, when it all hits the fan, I want to know I can look my children in the eye and say I tried. I fucking tried.

The society the Tories are building right now horrifies and offends me. And I won’t shut up about it. I will argue and debate with anyone who is up for it. And I will continue to weave the ordinary stories of ordinary people into my books so that they may have a voice there too.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to vote. But I am going to warn you that silence is dangerous and turning your back on what’s going on in this world right now is very, very wrong.