Why I Can’t Just Work On One Book At A Time…

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

In an ideal world, I would work on one book at a time. I would be sat there all fresh, waiting for an idea to come along. I would start jotting down notes, forming character bios and doing research. And all of this would happen with a clear mind, a mind undisturbed or distracted from anything else.

Sometimes I think how nice that would be. I once heard another author say that she never starts a new book until the last book has been released. So, for her, it is one book at a time and one book only. Sometimes I envy that approach and think how much tidier and saner her head must be compared to mine!

But as they say, it’s no good comparing yourselves to others, especially when it comes to creative pursuits. We all do things so differently, in our own way, and that’s what makes us unique, I guess. At times, I have worried about my approach and longed for it to be different. These days, despite the headaches and chaos my approach brings, I wouldn’t change it. It is always going to be this way and I have finally accepted that!

For example, at the moment I am preparing to release two books. One, is a re-release, an updated version of my short story collection Bird People and Other Stories. It has a brand new cover and I will release it without much fuss very soon. I just felt it needed a tidy up and I’m really happy with it’s new look.

The other book is a new short story and poetry collection. It needs a few more edits and proofreads and a front cover, so it won’t be released for a while, but it’s basically ready.

While preparing those, I am also working on my four-book post-apocalyptic series, The Day The Earth Turned. I have just finished a rewrite of book one and started a rewrite of book two. Book three is awaiting its second draft and book four has been planned but not started. This is what I call my priority project, although, releasing the two finished books is technically the priority. I work on this series every night. I edit at least four chapters before I let myself do anything else.

I am also working on a YA series with Sim Sansford. I wrote about our process last week. We are approaching the end of book three in the trilogy, but of course, there will be plenty of rounds of edits and revisions to come for all three books. With this project, I respond as soon as I get a chapter from Sim, so I’m writing a chapter maybe once or twice a week, which is not too time consuming at all.

Also on the go, is a spin-off book from my five-book series The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. Two characters are introduced in book five and they really annoyed the hell out of me by growing and evolving so much that they started to demand their own spin-off book! I started making notes for this a few years back when I was still working on The Boy series! Then about a year ago I started writing a rough first draft in a notebook. At the moment I am typing up what I have so far and seeing where it might go. I only work on this if I have completed my chapters for the priority series already mentioned!

I also have another possible series in motion. My son and I drew a wonderful map a while back for a town called Black Hare Valley. Originally, we were going to attempt to write it together but he changed his mind. I couldn’t let the idea go though, and ended up writing a sort of prologue/short story for it. I also wrote a ton of character bios, added to the map and came up with a load of ideas for a YA supernatural/folklore type of story. I am desperate to start writing this but at the moment I have to be satisfied with adding to the planning every now and then!

Added to all of that, I have written half of the sequel to The Mess Of Me and would love to get back to this at some point and I have written a first draft of a YA psychological drama which is just sat there waiting for it’s turn to be worked on. Then, there is another series I’d like to write with Sim when Fortune’s Well is finished. I had an idea one day that grew into a short story…inevitably the story grew into a novel…and possibly a series. But all of these have to wait!!

And then the other day I got another idea! I don’t know why my brain does this to me! It just won’t stop! I don’t know how to make it stop?! I suppose I should be glad I don’t have the opposite problem. No ideas at all would be far, far worse, so maybe I should be grateful. But honestly…I really didn’t need another idea, did I? And this one really wouldn’t go away so I have started writing it….Eek, I know, totally insane.

The new idea won’t take up too much of my time (or so I have convinced myself!) The idea came from me and my sons current obsession with everything zombie and post-apocalyptic. My older son and I have watched The Walking Dead for the first time and have now started watching Fear The Walking Dead. We are pretty obsessed with both shows and the obsession has rubbed off on to real life, where we’ll constantly find ourselves commenting on whether something would make a good zombie killing weapon or not, or how well certain fences and gates would last against a horde of zombies! My younger son is too young to watch anything zombie related but he has enjoyed playing Plants Vs Zombies on my phone and every night when we watch our shows, we have to tell him afterwards what happened. He knows all the characters names and is as obsessed as us without ever having watched either show! We have to do zombie vs survivors set-ups with his Lego or his PlayMobil and any time we go for a walk we have to pretend we are survivors looking for supplies and so on. So, I got this unwanted idea to write a journal style book from the point of view of a teenage boy at the start of a zombie apocalypse. I know it’s an overdone genre but what the hell…I probably won’t even do anything with it. I’m writing it long-hand into a notebook and I write one entry a day just as if it really is my diary. Some are very short, some quite long. It’s so much fun. So addictive. And I’m finding it easy to fit in around my other projects.

So, I guess that’s why I won’t ever be able to work on just one book at at time. My brain won’t let me. Ideas are everywhere. And writing is just so much goddamn fun!! I am too addicted to escaping this world and devising worlds of my own. I have too much fun creating characters I fall in love with and wish were real. I just hope I live long enough to get all these books written and published, That’s my main drive and ambition and purpose in life. Get them all written.

The Chaotic Joy Of Co-Writing A Series

About a year ago my business partner and fellow indie author, Sim Alec Sansford, messaged me asking if I had ever considered writing a book with someone else. The answer was no. It had never occurred to me and I have always wondered how on earth writers manage collaborative writing projects. It just seemed far too complicated and not at all something I would ever want to try. Sim had an idea for a book and wondered if I would consider writing it with him. I think if anyone else had asked me I would have given an instant no. But Sim and I get on really well as business partners at Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and feel the same passion for writing and for our characters. I’d read some of his work and he’d read some of mine, and I had to admit, it felt like we could possibly pull it off.

So, I agreed. I figured, at the very least it would be an interesting experience and one I could learn from! Little was I to know how Sim’s tentative request and fledgling book idea would snowball!

Roughly a year later, we have completed two books in a paranormal YA series and we are currently racing towards the finish line of the final book in the trilogy. We never set out to write a series, but we soon realised that’s exactly what it was becoming.

I’ll probably blog again when the books are finished and I’ll spend more time telling you about them, but for now I just wanted to write about how the whole process has worked. Because it’s worked in a really strange and unexpected, dare I say, chaotic way!

So, as you probably already know, I have a certain process when I write a book. It goes a bit like this:

I get a character in my head who grows and grows until they get so real and so noisy, I have to start writing it down.

I start a notebook and start adding the ideas for a story, and it’s the character suggesting the ideas, not me.

When I’m able to start the book, I plan out a certain amount of chapters, write all my character bios, and get going.

I do any research along the way, as and when I need to. The first draft normally takes me about three months then I will spend probably about a year doing further drafts, edits and rewrites. By about draft 5 or 6 I will send it to beta readers and then do another rewrite/draft depending on what they said. Eventually it will go to my wonderful editor and proof-reader, then back to me for another round and then finally I will start to organise the publishing process.

Everything goes in the notebook, so I can have it there handy as I write and can jot down future ideas for chapters and scenes, character info and more. In my head at least, it’s kind of an organised process. It might look messy to anyone else, but it works well for me.

Writing books with another author has been so different!

We started off with good intentions and I even started a little notebook of ideas and character bios so we could keep track of who was who and so on. I also started writing chapter outlines to send back and forth so we could keep an eye on what we had written and ideas we had coming up.

All of this fell by the wayside though as the story took control!

Somehow, and I am really not sure how, we have managed to write almost three books in a year purely by swapping messages with each other on Facebook!

Initially Sim had a vague idea and we started creating a character each. He wanted to write the female character, Darcie and I wanted to write the male, JJ. I’m not sure when we decided that they would have super powers, but we did! I wrote the first chapter purely by instinct and luckily it seemed to be what Sim was thinking too. He quickly responded and off we went. Mostly it has been a really fast process, with us swapping chapters most days or every couple of days. We both work and write our own books too, so I am surprised we got so much done. We did keep each chapter fairly short and snappy and ended most on cliff hangers to set up the next chapter, so I guess we helped each other out a bit there! We really didn’t get too stuck too often.

Every time we read the other’s chapter, we would send a message asking what ideas would work in ours so we didn’t mess up the flow of scenes. We would both suggest stuff that could happen and with every chapter we wrote, more and more of the story unfolded before us. We got really excited and our messages reflect this! Once we got going, there was really no stopping us. We whizzed through the first two books and inevitably our original ideas grew more complex, we introduced more characters and storylines and sub-plots.

I think it’s fair to say that we are both totally in love with these characters we have created and the world they live in. We have created a strange little town called Fortune’s Well, which is loosely based on Sim’s childhood home of Dorchester. I recently visited Dorchester and was so excited to see in person some of the locations we have used in the books!

To start with we were both a bit nervous when writing the other person’s character into our chapter. But as the story grew and the characters evolved, we both felt we knew JJ and Darcie equally. Now I think it just feels natural to write both characters and we don’t feel we have to check with each other that we got their mannerisms or speech right.

So, the usual way I write books kind of fell aside and our original plans for writing these books also got left behind. Somehow we just muddled our way through using messages. I’m surprised it worked but there you are, we are nearly at the end of the trilogy and both of us are so excited to share it with everyone when it’s ready.

It’s been a really refreshing and fun addition to my writing life. Most evenings I work on my current WIP, but if I get sent a chapter from Sim, I will read it, digest it and then respond as soon as I have an idea. This way we have both managed to carry on with our own work as well as our co-writing project. Our series is so different to anything I have written before (paranormal, kids with super powers!!) and that’s been really exciting as well. We both love YA but I normally stick to gritty realism, so to dip into supernatural/paranormal/super powers territory has been the best fun ever. I really love this series and these characters and it’s inspired me to try these genres more in the future.

It’s been crazy, unexpected, exciting, challenging, messy, and above all else chaotic, but I have loved every moment of it. So much so, that we have already decided to work on another series together when this one is finished. This time its based on an idea I had that came from a short story I wrote. I think that if writing together worked once, there is every chance it will work again!

I will post about these books another time but for now, here is the blurb Sim came up with!

In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.

For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry. Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.

Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood. Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.

Why is this happening?

Where has it come from?

And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?

Where Do Ideas Come From?

I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.

But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…

Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay
  1. Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
  2. Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
  3. TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
  4. Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
  5. Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
  6. Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!

So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!

Writer’s Block is Really Your Friend (and you should listen to it)

Writer’s block is a horrible term I don’t even like to use. I think most writers hate the term and loathe the reality. We dread getting writer’s block but what does writer’s block even mean? How does it feel to be ‘blocked’ and what, if anything, is the ‘block’ trying to tell us?

I am very fortunate because writer’s block is not something I usually suffer from. I tend to have too many ideas, and too many projects on the go and my main problem is not enough time to do it all in! But recently the dreaded writer’s block struck and in fact I now realise it was with me for some time.

So, what is writer’s block? I think it can manifest itself in different ways. There is a block to ideas, when a writer quite simply can’t think of anything to write about. These writers tend to have big gaps between writing projects while they wait for the muse to show up again. There are blocks that happen mid-flow – one minute you are tapping away at the keyboard and then suddenly it all runs out. Your mind goes blank and you cannot conjure up the next words. There is also what I call plot blocks. Basically, you get stuck. You don’t know what to do next with the plot. Maybe you had it all planned out but now can’t figure out how to do it, or maybe you were winging it from the start and just ran out of steam. I’m not sure what type of block is the worst but I am more than familiar with the dread of sitting down and staring at a blank Word document.

Image by Steve Johnson from Pixabay

The block I’ve been suffering from was none of the above, not really. My current work in progress is a four book YA post-apocalyptic series. I had the idea a few years ago and it had to wait its turn. During that time I started a little notebook of themes, ideas and character bios. I always knew this one was going to be a challenge. I love the post-apocalyptic genre as you might already know from my post here: https://chantelleatkins.com/2021/07/02/post-apocalyptic-fascination/. From the start, I had this feeling that the series was a good idea but someone else would be able to do a better job with it than me. I don’t normally feel like that about my book ideas. I’m usually hugely protective and obsessed with them so I would never consider offering or suggesting the idea to someone else. But this one niggled from the start.

I started book one about a year ago but had to keep stopping to get other books finished and published. I was initially quite surprised with how well it went. The first chapters flew out of me effortlessly and were exactly what I wanted. I genuinely think the first few chapters of book one are excellent and I’m proud of them. It got harder after that. It became a slog!

And that’s the difference between these books and my others. Aside from my YA dystopian The Tree Of Rebels, all of my books follow a familiar pattern. I get the character first, they suggest the plot, back story, dilemma and so on. It builds in my head and everything flows from the characters until my head gets so noisy it feels like it will explode. By the time I get around to writing it it almost writes itself because I know it all so well. It’s not hard. It’s fun. It’s addictive and exciting. I normally cannot wait to sit down at my desk and tap away. Sure, I get stuck here and there and some parts are trickier than others, and first drafts are always a clumsy affair, but I still love it and believe in it.

With these books it has been hard work. I’ve forced myself to write a chapter a night most nights and with that work ethic I have managed to write the first two books and even get them to fourth draft stage. I am now nearing the end of the first draft of book three. I know what will happen in book four so it is all getting there. But it is so painful! When I say I force myself, I really do. I stare at the screen for ages. I nearly always get distracted by my phone, checking social media or emails or playing a game. Because it’s hard and I don’t like it being hard!

The trouble has been not understanding why it has been so hard and the other day I finally worked it out. As I mentioned earlier the only other book I had this trouble with was The Tree of Rebels. And there are similarities with this series – The Tree Of Rebels came from a concept first. I had the idea and then built the characters around it. The other similarity I only just realised was that I started writing that book and this series with an audience in mind. I knew The Tree Of Rebels would be a YA dystopian. It was great knowing that because then I’d know who to market it towards. Normally it’s a struggle to figure out what genre my books are! With this series, I knew it would be YA post-apocalyptic and with both The Tree Of Rebels and this series I wanted to aim them at 12-14 year olds. That’s the younger YA age bracket to my other books. I have some books aimed at adults and some aimed at 14 years and up. With The Tree Of Rebels I wanted to write a book my children could read at the time and with this current series I wanted to write a book the children who attend my writing clubs could maybe enjoy…

And that was the trouble! That was the block! When I realised it was like this light bulb eureka moment! Now I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out!

Having the idea before the characters was a problem but the main problem was deciding who to aim it at before I even started writing. It’s like having someone watch over your shoulder the whole time and it totally changes the experience for me. I start thinking about what elements are expected in that genre and what things are suitable or appropriate for the age group. It ruins the process. I feel like I am writing a book to order, writing for someone else, and that just doesn’t work for me.

I realised that the age group was a real problem. There is a big difference between books aimed at ‘tweens’ and books aimed at older teenagers. I didn’t feel I could swear in this series and it’s just not as gritty or hard hitting as my other books. It’s just not me.

But all that is going to change. Once I figured out what was causing the writer’s block I made a decision. I’m now going to aim the series at the older YA audience and I am going to do what I normally do. Let rip, let them swear, go as dark and gritty and edgy as I like! I am going to write these books for me and no one else because that is the only way it works for me.

It’s amazing but since I realised all this, the chapters have started flowing again. It feels different. It feels exciting and a bit naughty! I have already wandered into darker territory. I am going to finish book three in this vein and carry on into book four. Of course, then I need to go back and rewrite everything I have done so far. I do think that was partly what prevented me from admitting what was wrong – knowing how much work I’d have to do to correct it! But I’m looking forward to it now. There will be more character development, some extra chapters and lots of rewriting in each book but I think it will all be worth it. And I will keep one thing in mind the entire time until these books are ready to publish – I am writing this series for ME. I am writing the books I want to read.

That should work!

And I suppose the moral of the story is always listen to writer’s block because it’s just trying to tell you something. For that reason, writer’s block is actually your friend. You just need to figure out what it’s telling you.

Do you ever suffer from writers’ block? If so, what kind? And what do you do to push through it?