My Bad Writing Habits

I’m currently editing the fifth draft of my YA drama A Song For Bill Robinson. The fourth draft was edited on my Kindle, with me making notes on typos, words, and phrases to cut. Overall, I thought it was pretty good when I went through it on my Kindle. Almost there. On this current draft, however, I have totally changed my mind, because I can now see how many bad habits I have! And it’s so weird, because I don’t seem to spot them until I get to about fifth draft stage. Interesting! Anyway, I thought I would share them with you. And then you can tell me yours!

  1. Over-explaining – I don’t realise I am doing this in a first draft. I don’t even spot it on a second or a third. But eventually, I see it. Usually about now, when I am trying to get the word count down. I over explain things. I do this in real life too. My husband has a habit of quoting Tim from Spaced when I speak; ‘skip to the end…’ I am forever saying, ‘yeah, I know, I said that already.’ This isn’t too bad when talking to people, but when writing books? This is very bad indeed! Here’s an example… ‘And it was he who had suggested she stay the night. It was he who had talked her out of cycling home or going back to her dads for the night.’ (See? Too much explaining. The second sentence is not needed!)
  2. Repetition – This is similar to over-explaining but much more repetitive and needless. Again, I only notice this when editing a later draft and trying to delete unnecessary words. Here’s one I just picked up and this is typical; ‘He didn’t know. He didn’t have a clue and it was driving him crazy.’ You see, I really didn’t need to repeat the fact he didn’t know!
  3. I write too much – My word counts are ridiculous. This is a very bad thing because publishers don’t want to look at manuscripts with excessive word counts, and a lot of readers are also put off by them. It’s also bad when it comes to editing, formatting and revising. And it’s because I do too much overexplaining and repeating myself. I really need to get better at writing shorter books.
  4. Swearing – I’m getting better at this. I’m trying to rein my foul-mouthed characters in and make sure any curse words are absolutely necessary. One day, when I have the time, I will go back over all my old books and delete some of the swear words.
  5. Making Characters Frown – Ugh, so annoying. Again, I don’t realise I am doing this when I first write the book. But on later edits, it is revealed to me in the most cringe-worthy fashion, that there is way too much frowning going on!
  6. Making Characters Raise Their Eyebrows – Very annoying when you read it. There are many, many other ways to imply expression on a character’s face. I cut tons of these out as I edit again and again.
  7. Sighing and eye-rolling – So embarrassing, but it’s true. You think I would have grown out of this by now. But no. For some reason, when I write a first draft, all my characters sigh and eye-roll constantly. I have to calm them all down on later edits. It’s okay to be silent and still!
  8. Trying Way Too Hard To Make The Reader See Exactly What The Character is Doing – eg; ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea,’ Andy was shaking his head and blowing air out through his nostrils.’ Wait? What? Why did I feel the need to mention the fact he is breathing? Of course he is breathing, and the reader is well aware of that because he is talking and shaking his head. Nothing else needed!
  9. Not Bothering To Research Vital Things Because I Am Too Impatient To Get the First Draft Written – I try to kid myself that this is a good tactic. I am writing! I am getting words down, getting the story out! I don’t want to break that precious flow by stopping to research something as small as how a person is actually signed out from hospital! No, I’ll do that much later. (And then find out that I have to rewrite the entire scene…)
  10. Adding Pointless Needless Words That Do Nothing – eg ‘Andy watched rather helplessly’. He’s not watching rather helplessly. He’s not feeling rather helpless or rather that. Rather is a really horrible word actually and I am never, ever using it again.

Well, there you have 10 of my bad writing habits. Of course, there are loads more, but I didn’t want to bore you by waffling on, which is another bad habit of mine! So, come on then. Be brave. Tell me your bad writing habits. We can cringe together!

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My 2018 Writing Goals

After comparing the goals I set myself for 2017 with the reality, next comes setting the goals for the year ahead, 2018. Now is the time to admit I am scared! Before I even start writing these goals down, I have to tell you I am terrified of them. Read on to find out why!

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  1. Release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature – (Wasn’t this on the list last year and the year before too?) Okay, the time has definitely arrived. I am currently amending the last set of typos I picked up on a read through. As far as I am concerned I can’t make this book any better. In the next few weeks, I will put together the synopsis and start sending it to a small list of publishers I feel would be a good fit. I will wait three months, and in that time draw up a self-publishing book launch plan, that will have to make the release my best one yet. I will have to sort out a cover too. And then, finally, I will be free of this book!
  2. Continue To Work On My YA Trilogy – A year ago I had just finished the first draft of a novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I’m now at the fourth draft stage and have penned a sequel and started the third book. I had no idea this contemporary YA novel would evolve into a trilogy but it has! I don’t expect to get any of the books ready for release in 2018 but I fully intend to finish a first draft of the third book and then commence editing on all three. I’m looking forward to this challenge. I love these books!
  3. Kickstart My New Company Into Action – Okay, this is the terrifying goal. In 2015 I started Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, which involves me running an adult writing group and children’s writing clubs and workshops. As time progressed I became increasingly inspired by various projects and wanted to take my writing group business to the next level. Cue a meeting with a lady from Dorset Community Action who explained that becoming a Community Interest Company (CIC) was the best way forward. I already had three project ideas in progress and becoming a CIC would make it much easier for me to access funding for them. Excited, I plunged ahead and just days before Christmas I received the certificate in the post. Chasing Driftwood is now a CIC! Immediately I felt terrified and since then I have veered between impossibly eager to get started, and wishing I could change my mind! It all suddenly feels very real and scary. I am going to have to drown out my fears of failure and remind myself again and again of the reasons I am doing this. To bring writing projects and opportunities to people in my community, particulalry those who might not be able to access them. If I keep the purpose in mind, I might be ok!
  4. Apply For Funding for A School Project – This will keep me busy for the next few weeks. I have a project already underway with a local school and applying for funding was put on hold while I became a CIC. Now I need to get on with things! I will update you on this when the whole thing gets going!
  5. Apply For More Funding for Community Writing Project – I already have a small bit of funding secured for a community writing project, but it’s am ambitious idea and we are going to need more! I also have to really sit down and plan this thing out to a meticulous degree. What, when, where, how, who and why. More information to come. Again, so daunting!
  6. Get Wheels In Motion For Two More Projects –  Not things I expect to start in 2018, but I do have two exciting projects in my mind and I need to at least get them outlined and discuss them with others. One has evolved from my own frustrations as an indie writer who cannot readily afford book covers, editing and promotion. I would love to be able to start a project that helps writers from poorer backgrounds access such things. Just an idea at the moment, but something I really want to talk about. The second idea involves children, writing and nature. Reconnecting the three!
  7. Push Forward With Pop-Up Book Shop Idea – This appeared in last year’s list. I want to set up a local pop-up shop for local indie authors. I’ve got a list of people who want to be involved, and just have not had the time to do anything about it. But I intend to change that this year!

Okay, that’s it. Only 7 things this time, but a lot of them are pretty big things. Releasing Elliot Pie and finishing the YA trilogy are not particularly scary. They’re exciting goals. But the CIC stuff? I want to do it all but I wish there was someone just above me, you know, an imaginary boss who has done all this before. She could take ultimate control and tell me what to do, and I would quite happily do it all. But there isn’t anyone. She doesn’t exist. It’s just me. And right now I can’t help feeling I have bitten off more than I can chew! We’ll have to see, I guess. For now, I will take a deep breath and remind myself that all I have to do is take one step at a time. One, then another, then another. I can do that.

 

My 2017 Writing Goals Vs The Reality

This is becoming a bit of an end of the year tradition for me now. Having outlined my goals for the year ahead, as that year draws to end, how did I do? How much did I achieve? Time to have a look at the goals I set myself at the start of 2017 and examine the reality!

  1. Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress A Song For Bill Robinson (literally days away from this now!) – Yes! I achieved this and a lot more. A year ago this gritty YA novel was days away from the completion of the very first draft. Right now, at the end of 2017, I have completed four drafts of this book, penned a sequel and started a third! This novel has become a trilogy! I’m still really enjoying it and I plan to get the whole trilogy written before I think about releasing the first book.
  2. Leave that aside, and go back to Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for a final draft read-through on the laptop, followed by a final read through on my Kindle – A year later, this particular book is still not done. A final draft became another draft, and then another and another. It went back to beta readers and I made several changes. A few weeks ago I thought I was finished but decided I really needed to cut the word count down. A decision was made to cut out an entire character and just days ago I finished this edit! I have now sent it back to my Kindle for another read on there, to pick up typos and make another list of things to cut out. One more draft should do it!
  3. Find a cover for Elliot Pie! Which is going to involve a lot of thinking and research and approaching various people as I really, really need to get this right- Not achieved, obviously, as the book is not ready, and I will be sending this one off to potential publishers just in case. In the meantime, I have been thinking about covers and will need to start doing some research soon.
  4. Devise a promotional plan for releasing Elliot Pie, which will involve online and real life launches, promotional material and so on – Also not achieved as the book still not ready!
  5. Release Elliot Pie!! – Another one sadly not achieved, BUT I did release The Tree Of Rebels instead!
  6. Go back to The Tree Of Rebels and rewrite it until I am happy – Achieved! Weirdly, The Tree Of Rebels and Elliot Pie swapped places, with The Tree Of Rebels being ready for release first.
  7. During this time, I suspect I will delve into a second and possibly third draft of A Song For Bill Robinson. I don’t think it will be ignored for an entire year!- Achieved! I actually managed four drafts, plus a sequel and a third started!
  8. Early in the new year, follow up on the initial contact I have made with two schools through my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business, and arrange to go in and speak to them about my project proposal- Achieved! I have one school on board and have had several meetings with them. I also decided to turn my business into a Community Interest Company. Once I get this through I can apply for the funding for the school project and many others!
  9. If they are on board, I then need to secure funding for the project!- sort of achieved! I have a school on board, but just waiting for my CIC to come through so we can get onto funding applications. (Though I have already secured a small amount of funding for another project!)
  10. In March I will run my first adult workshop under Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. Having done various workshops now for Dorset Writers Network I am ready to take the plunge on my own and run a workshop on building your author platform- Achieved! This went really well and I put on another workshop myself in the summer.
  11. At this workshop I will be introducing my ideas and plans for a Dorset Pop-Up Book Shop, where indie authors can come along and sell their paperbacks in a pop-up shop, hopefully, to be welcomed into libraries, literary events and so on- Achieved! The Pop-Up Book Shop is in progress and will be one of the projects I hope to get funding for once my CIC is in place.
  12. At some point in 2017, I hope The Tree Of Rebels will finally be fit for purpose and I will then be planning another detailed promotional event and releasing it! Fingers crossed!- Achieved! I released The Tree Of Rebels in August 2017 and to date it was my most successful release, with a three-month launch plan and a Facebook release day event, among other things.

I achieved 8 out of the 12 things on my list, and I actually achieved a hell of a lot more than I had set out to! Although a year in indie publishing is always a bumpy ride, with things going wrong (Pronoun shutting down!) and things going right (lots of writing done!) it’s actually really helpful to sit down like this to examine the reality. It just shows that the best-laid plans can change dramatically. It does me good to list my achievements and anything not achieved on this list will be top of the 2018 Writing Goals list which will be my blog post next week!

What about you? Did you set any particular goals for 2017 and if you did, how well did you do?

 

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Today I’m going to be brave and talk to you about failure. My own recent failures, or at least, things that have not gone as well as I hoped. Talking about failure is not easy. We don’t like to admit failure to anyone, let alone ourselves.  It’s embarrassing when something is not a success.  Just lately, I’ve tried out a few bright ideas and they have all sort of bombed. I’m mostly an optimist and try not to feel down for too long, but I’ve got to admit, the perceived failures dented my confidence at the time. My head is ruled by two opposing voices. I have one constantly telling me how crap I am, how everything I do is utter, pointless rubbish. And then I have this other voice piping up constantly; ooh I’ve got another idea! Let’s try this! These voices have 50/50 control right now. I think I’m rubbish because something didn’t go as planned, and then the other voice suggests something new to try…so I keep going. I’m going to list the recent failures below and talk about how and why they failed, and how also they sort of succeeded as well…

Cancelled a workshop due to lack of interest… Back in March, I ran my first adult workshop under my Chasing Driftwood Writing Group business. I had already put on a few for Dorset Writers Network and I’ve been running kids workshops since 2015. It was scary to put on my first one aimed at adult writers, but Building Your Author Platform was a great success, highly enjoyable and I received terrific feedback. I ran another one a few months later which was less well attended but I still viewed it as a success. Some people requested I run the Author Platform one again so I decided to book it for November, thinking it would be nice to help these writers and make a little bit of money before Christmas. Despite my best efforts, I could not drum up enough attendees to make it worth running. I had three tickets sold before I decided to cancel it and refund them. This was a tough decision because I felt really bad about the people who had bought tickets, but I was also feeling very low about putting it on to so few people. It sucked, to be honest. I questioned my decision to apply for Chasing Driftwood to become a Community Interest Company (currently awaiting a decision on this) and I even thought about jacking it all in. The fact my last kid’s workshop also had very low attendance was playing on my mind. Maybe I should quit this. Maybe I am bad at this. But then I thought about the reasons it failed. I think a lot of it is lack of advertising, and the reason for that is financial. One of the reasons I am applying to become a CIC is to better access arts-based funding to put on various writing projects. Some of that money can go towards advertising. They say you have to spend money to make money. Well, if you don’t have any money, you have to apply for funding! Which is exactly what I’m going to do. If I still can’t fill workshops once I’m a CIC with a decent advertising campaign behind me then yeah…maybe time to think again.

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Author Event at Library Cancelled…So, I can’t really take the blame for this one, though at the time it was frustrating and disheartening and I certainly viewed it as a personal failure. Last March my local library put on a very successful author event, where local writers paid a small fee to have a table in the library to sell books. I only sold a few but I really, really enjoyed the event. Coming up to Christmas, I wondered if we could capitalise on Christmas shoppers and have another one. The library manager was all for it, and we both contacted various writers to see how much interest we could get. We got none. Literally, none. The lovely manager said let’s leave it for now and so it never happened. I was gutted, but it did inspire me a bit too. I’ve had this idea for a pop-up bookshop for some time, and want to get started once (if) I become a CIC. The library have already agreed we could set up there anytime. If it’s just me it’s just me. But I’ve already got an email list of local writers I can contact when this happens. So, in this case, I’m viewing it as perhaps we’ll try again another time…

Hiding Books… Initially, this was fun. I had some stickers from The Book Fairies, and for ages and ages, I’d thought about hiding my novel This Is Nowhere around my village, as I set it here. I thought the local people might like to know there is a novel set where they live! It took a long time to gather the courage (I am genuinely scared of being told no) but I contacted the parish council who let me add a piece to the newsletter, detailing what I was up to. In other words, hiding four copies of the novel in the location it’s set in during a five day period. Slips of paper were included to politely ask if the finder could share pics to social media re where and when they found the book, and then rehide it to carry on the fun. It was daunting, to say the least, but I did it. I hid the four books and waited for communication. To date, I’ve heard….nothing. All four books have been taken. But I have absolutely no idea by who! They could all be slung in bins for all I know! I tried not to expect too much, but I did really hope to hear from at least one happy finder. Having said that, maybe I will. Maybe the books will get hidden again! Who knows? And I’ve talked myself out of viewing it as a total failure, as I did get one ebook sale for the novel when a local resident contacted me via Facebook asking how she could download the book… It is a shame I didn’t get more sales or communication from my local friends and neighbours, but what was nice was the response I got online from other writers. I posted on Facebook and Instagram and received such enthusiasm and lots of people excited to try the same thing. So, not a total failure. I just hope they get a better result than I did! Would I do it again? Well, considering how out of pocket I am, probably not. Not for a while anyway!

Christmas Pop-Up Book-Shop… Another great idea of mine. With the real-life pop-up shop in the pipeline, I thought why not try an online one, in the form of a Facebook event? I roped in my good friend Kate Rigby and the plan was to invite other writers to post links to their paperbacks into the event, along with other interesting things like maybe a giveaway or competition, and hope to entice some readers in to buy Christmas presents! We thought a great idea in theory. So was it a failure? Well, yes and no. If I’m having a bad day I’m going to throw it on my recent failures heap and sulk about it. But if I’m having a good day I’m going to remind myself that it was a trial run, something to learn from, something to try again bigger and better. The authors were absolutely fantastic. I bought a great book to give to Mum for Xmas, and I added some others to my to-read list. It was fun, but in terms of sales and exposure, well no, not really a great success. Hardly anyone from my friends list joined in. That always stings a bit, but then I remind myself that people are not always convinced by indie books. Also, in an online event, you can’t really pick the book up and flick through etc. Will we do it again? Yes, we definitely will.

Self-publishing… You might know by now that I have a love/hate relationship with self-publishing. I am, at times, extremely proud of my books and the platform I have been building, and everything else I have done. Then, at other times, I view self-publishing as a failure in itself, because I was rejected. Not wanted. Not good enough. I still think a lot of my friends and family have the view that self-published means not very good, and so they kind of ignore what I’m doing. I know that there are amazing self-published books out there because I mostly read indie books. It’s a bumpy ride. I don’t regret it because if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t have my books out there at all. But at times it leaves me with a bad feeling because I think I have not yet written anything really credible or worthy of being traditionally published and sitting proudly on the shelves of Waterstones etc. I expect I will always feel this way while sales are low. And sales are low. It’s not a nice thing to admit, but I know most indies are in the same boat, so I try not to see it as a reflection of my work. The endless problem is reaching readers when so many thousands of books are published every day. I think readers are much more likely to notice and buy and read the trad published books because they are so much more visible to them. So, the fight goes on.

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Above are listed my recent attempts to better myself and my position, to achieve something new, to try an idea, and in many ways, they were all failures. But then I think, at least I tried. (In case you don’t know, I fully intend to have the Frank Turner lyrics from Eulogy engraved on my headstone; “At least I fucking tried”) Surely, the real failure would be in never trying at all? In thinking up these ideas and then ignoring them? In feeling great enthusiasm for a project, and then never trying it out in case it failed? In having dreams, but being too scared to pursue them?

I think so. And I also think that every failure shapes you and helps you progress in some way. You’ve got to be big enough to take it on the chin. You’ve got to be humble enough to admit what went wrong. You’ve got to be brave enough to get back up and try again. (After a mini-meltdown though, of course. Those are always allowed!)

And guess what? Since I started penning this post, I’ve had another big idea!!

So, what do you think folks? Do you want to be brave and tell me about your recent failures? How did you deal with them? Are you going to try again? I love it when you comment and please feel free to share!