5 Ways This Crazy World Helps My Writing

I could also have titled this post; ‘5 Ways Writing Helps Me Deal With This Crazy World’, because it works both ways. Writing helps me cope with this world and everything going on in it, and the world helps my writing by providing so much inspiration and material! Win win, if you want to put a positive spin on it. I could also have called this post; ‘How The Hell Do Non-Writers Even Survive?’, because seriously, I have no idea. If I didn’t have writing, I don’t know how would I cope. Anyway, here goes. The world is a messed up place but I don’t let any of it go to waste;

  1. Anxiety– I use the mess in my stomach and pretend I’m one of my characters. I play out the scene. I feel the churn and the dread weighing me down. That tightness in my chest. Like it’s hard to breathe. Like you don’t want to think about anything for too long or you might start crying and never stop. I take all that and put it into my characters. I become them. I play act. I change my worries and fears to theirs. I make use of it.
  2. I explore darkness – through my characters. Their stories are nearly all ones I have stood on the edge of. I’ve stood there and peered into the darkness. I’ve wondered about it and thought about it and been tempted by so many things inside the dark. But I have my characters and I explore it through them. I don’t have to go into the darkness, because I do it through them instead.
  3. I leave behind a legacy – For someone who is not religious, I’m not particularly scared of dying, but I do think about death a lot. Because the world is so messed up, and humans so delightfully flawed, I sometimes like to think of my books as my legacy. I’m leaving my thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and hopes inside my books and these will live on after I do. My response to this world and this life is my writing. All my books, all my stories, my characters are all little bits of me, all part of me and who I am and when I die, my ancestors will be able to know me better than anyone, by reading it all.
  4. I weave the craziness into my stories – I make sense of the world and politics and social issues by writing about them. Anything that angers, upsets or confuses me is woven into my stories. My books all deal with social issues and I love delving into gritty subjects in this way. It gives me a chance to sort through my own thoughts and beliefs, and this dying world gives me a lot of material.
  5. People watching for material -It’s weird being a writer because on the one side you are naturally introverted and shy, but on the other, you are constantly baring your fragile soul to the world. You often distrust people and try to avoid them, yet they are endlessly fascinating to you and provide juicy material for characters and stories. It’s great though because you can go out into the world, soak up all the messy people then come home and expel it all through words.

So, there you have it. I don’t like this world or the people in it a lot of the time. I’m terrified of where we are all heading. But at least I’m getting the constant urge to write! What do you think, folks? Please feel free to comment and/or share. Does writing help you deal with the state of the world right now, or the worries in your own life? Or is the world happily providing you with enough material for a lifetime?

 

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The Seeds that Sow a Book…

As launch day for my next book, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature draws ever closer, (Friday 5th October!!) I thought I would write a post about the various things that inspired this particular novel. As always, it is never just one thing, but rather scattered seeds of ideas that take root and then somehow weave together as the process unfolds. And it was a particularly long process for this book. I worked on it, on and off, for over three years, which is the longest I have ever spent on one novel. I expect that’s another blog post for another day, but for now, here are some of the things that inspired Elliot Pie.

Current state of the world.

I wasn’t so much concerned with dissecting it, or even asking why it is the way it is. I was more interested in the question, is it getting worse? And of course, it’s human beings I’m really referring to, not the actual spinning ball of mud itself. Are people worse? Is human nature crueler and more destructive than it once was? When you look at the issues facing us today, it’s easy to consider that they must be. We have rising homelessness, poverty, increasing inequality, fascism on the rise, endless wars, plastic pollution, and climate change and environmental destruction on a devastating scale. It’s not hard to see why some people think we are simply doomed. That it has all gone too far. That there is no turning this around. End days are upon us. It’s Elliot’s mother Laura who feels this genuine fear in the book, and if I’m honest, I think her character’s fears are exaggerated versions of my own. Like most people, I have days when the fears consume me. It simply feels like the world has never been a more dangerous place. This is a question Elliot asks repeatedly throughout the book. Is this the worst things have ever been? Or have they always largely been the same? Or is it actually not as bad as we think? It was my constant pondering over these questions that inspired the journey Elliot would go on in the story.

Human Nature.

Human nature is something I think about a lot. What makes some people kind and good and gentle, and other cruel and destructive? This is something both Laura and Elliot consider throughout the story. Laura is a cynic. She’s been hurt too many times and has no faith left in people. She genuinely feels that the majority of people are cruel and selfish. She feels utter despair when she watches the news every evening, and can’t understand why other people do not seem to be as upset and depressed as she is by the horror stories. Elliot, on the other hand, is an optimist. Part of this is obviously his young age. At twelve, he has yet to see the worst of human nature, unless you count his increasingly disturbing altercations with Spencer Reeves at school. Elliot is curious about Spencer and wonders what makes him get up in the morning and decide to bully people. He wants to prove to his mother that most people are good and don’t want to hurt you.

Strangers. 

This may have been the seed that started it all. I’m an introvert but I’m endlessly fascinated by people. I always have been. Even as a child, I preferred standing on the edge, listening and observing. I was always watching people and wondering about their lives and their motivations. I didn’t want to talk to people or interact with them. Even now, I probably hold most people at arms length. But I am curious about them, and in particular, those people you never see again. Glimpses through car windows, strangers that pass you on the street. People you speak to in a shop, in the bank, at the park, and then never ever see again. I always wonder about their lives and in the absence of knowing, I make one up for them. It’s this curiosity about strangers and their lives that inspires Elliot’s plan to help his mother. If he can befriend strangers and prove to his mother that not everyone is bad, then maybe he can encourage her to leave the house and start to live her life again.

Family.

To be honest, I think all of my books are inspired by the complexities of family life. It’s another aspect of humanity I find compelling. In this particular book, Elliot is an only child born of a one night stand. His mother, who has never had any luck with men, has now sworn off them for good. She never planned to be a mother and has never found it easy. This is perhaps because she is haunted by the relationship she and her brother Liam had with their father Pat, a man who in death is glorified by their mother Diane, but was a far darker presence in their lives than she will admit. Families are complex structures, simmering with resentments, jealousies, guilt and longing. I often think that at the heart of every human’s insecurities and woes, is the desire to be accepted and valued by their family. If a person never felt either, they inevitably struggle in life one way or another. Laura’s family secrets begin to reveal themselves as the novel progresses, and her attempts to unravel the past and understand it, are part of her own healing process. In truth, she had her own plan to get better all along, but as this is kept from Elliot, he has no idea.

Mental health.

Again, I think all of my books deal with mental health issues one way or another. From eating disorders and self-harm to depression and suicidal thoughts, I think I’ve explored them all at some point. In this book, Laura suffers from agoraphobia, and we eventually discover that her brother Liam, who is missing, once attempted suicide. On the surface, an extrovert and a clown, Liam has his own hidden scars, and at the start of the book, we learn that he has disappeared after a series of tragic events, including the stillbirth of his child. This tragedy has obviously had a huge impact on his mental health and on those around him.

Hope.

This book explores some upsetting topics but Elliot is the optimist, carrying the light. He’s determined to help his mother, find his Uncle Liam, and learn something about human nature as well. He also feels that as a member of the younger generation, he will not give up on this world just yet.

Nature.

This was also a major theme in The Tree Of Rebels, and as these two books were written and worked on during the same time period, it’s no wonder that it crept into Elliot Pie as well. It’s mainly explored through the character of Frank, an elderly man who feels we have all become too far removed from nature. And as Laura locks herself away in her home for safety, Elliot begins to explore the great outdoors, riding on his bike from one area to the next, discovering new places and people. He begins to feel the opposite to his mother, and feels the urge to be outside as much as possible.

 

So, there you have it. The themes that weave a plot together. The interesting thing about themes and ideas is that you not always aware they’re there until after you’ve written the book. I know one of my earliest thoughts about this book was that I wanted to write a book about a boy who felt intrigued by strangers and wanted to follow them. This obviously led to questions. Why was he so intrigued? What was it about his own life that drew him to strangers? And the rest began to unfold as I wrote it. Funny how all those little seeds get planted along the way and grow into a book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Joys and the Perils of Working on Multiple Projects

It’s never my intention to have multiple projects on the go, but almost since the beginning of my publishing journey, this is the way it’s worked out. Currently, I’m juggling a few things at the same time. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is finished, but I’ve sent it out to a small list of publishers. While waiting for rejection, I’m planning my self-publishing launch of this book. A Song For Bill Robinson was sent to beta readers for the first time and I just received the first piece of feedback from a reader. I am now responding to this with a 6th edit of the book. Meanwhile, I made a decision to reduce the planned trilogy to two books by moving the main event of book three to the end of book two. This is in progress. And then there is the four-book series I promised myself I would not start until all these other things were finished! But that’s proving difficult, and I have recently succumbed to writing five chapters and indulging in some research…

I never plan on working like this, and in fact, I’m not sure it’s a good idea at all! I often experience what I would describe as a nervous stomach throughout the day. Unless there is something specific I am worried about, I have no option but to blame it on the thought of my evening writing.

Have you ever juggled more than one writing project? Or would this be your worst nightmare? Here are 5 perils of working this way, followed by 5 joys, because in my opinion, it is fraught with both.

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Perils

  1. Not Finishing – This is a genuine concern. It is the reason I rarely finished anything when I was a kid. During the inevitable slump, my mind would be drawn to a new story and off I would go. This has also happened to me as an adult writer, hence the half-written sequels to The Mess Of Me and The Tree Of Rebels.
  2. Distraction – Working on more than one writing project can be hugely distracting. If your mind is being pulled in more than one direction, it can be really tough to sit down and actually get some words out. It’s not easy to concentrate or commit to one story when you have others calling for your attention. Sometimes I start the evening working on one book, and finish the evening on another, which can feel quite frustrating as if nothing is really getting done.
  3. Panic – This is a definite peril and one I experience regularly. I get a nervous feeling in my stomach like it is constantly turning over on itself. Sometimes it feels like I cannot breathe and I take an extra big breath just to be sure. I’m not exactly sure why I’m nervous about my writing, but I always feel better once I am sat down doing it. I can only imagine that the feeling of panic comes from my struggle to do too much.
  4. Spreading Too Thin – Working on multiple projects could potentially dilute the quality of your work. Lack of concentration, distraction, panic, self-doubt can all be heightened when attempting to do too much at once. This could lead to a reduced quality of your writing, which is something I worry about a lot.
  5. Burn Out – Worst case scenario, working on too many projects can lead to burn out and exhaustion. It could spark off writers’ block. You could become utterly stuck, afraid to move on. I’ve experienced this before, and the only good thing about it is that it does finally force me to slow the hell down.

But what about the joys? Are there any good points about working on multiple projects? Can it be beneficial despite all the above? I might be crazy, but I do think so…

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Joys

  1. Excitement – Writing is exciting. It should be. I know half the reason I get such butterflies in my stomach is that I am excited to get writing. It’s exhilarating to put words to paper, to create and evolve characters, to give them lives, to shape and control their existence, to create worlds and spark drama and emotion. A new project is undeniably more exciting than an old one, which may be wearing thin. I like to stay excited and working on multiple projects keeps it going.
  2. Not Losing Ideas/Words – Now I know the rule is to never assume you will remember a good idea if you do not write it down. How many writers have made that mistake? You must write it down! It’s entirely possible to save future ideas by jotting the gist of it down somewhere safe, then getting back to the project in hand. But what if more words start to come? What if vague characters start to evolve into solid ones? What if they start to present you with conversations and dialogue? There is no way you will remember it all if you don’t write it down! And then before you know it…
  3. Keeps Things Fresh – Editing and revising a novel can go on for years. Writing the rough first draft is fairly easy compared to all that is to come. All the editing, re-reading, rewriting, revising, cutting, rewording and killing of darlings. Editing can be a challenge but it can quickly become dull, and even a torture. Here’s where starting another project can be helpful. Writing something fresh and new! It helps to be disciplined though. I only allow myself a chapter of a new book if I have edited four chapters of the current book, for example. Don’t jump ship! Stay on board and then reward yourself with a little bit of something fresh and new…
  4. Fills In Time Between Beta Readers – If you are anything like me, you will send your novel out to beta readers at different times. I usually have three rounds of beta reads, and I will work on the book in between. But when it’s out, I can’t work on it. What am I going to do? Sit around and twiddle my thumbs? It could be months! So I get my teeth into another project. As soon as the other book comes back from a beta, I down tools and get right back to it, always treating the one further along as the priority.
  5. Increases Productivity – In the indie age, productivity and brand are key. The more books you write, the more brand you create, the more trust you build with readers. Working on multiple projects increased productivity, there is no doubt about that. Simply put, more books are written.

So, over to you guys! What do you think? Do you work on multiple projects? If so, how do you stay sane? How do you stay on track and get it all done? Do you only ever work on one book at a time? Please feel free to share and comment!

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!