How Do You Know When It’s Time To Quit?

It’s a genuine question. I really don’t know.

I have been close to quitting a lot lately. It’s probably a weekly thing at the moment. I don’t mean writing, by the way, I could never quit writing.

I’m referring to the process of editing and rewriting and revising a book again and again and again in the faint hope of a publisher accepting it, versus making the decision to quit editing, rewriting and self-publish it. I am also referring to my writing company, Chasing Driftwood, which I constantly think about quitting. I am torn all the time. Do I give up on all these childish dreams and get myself a proper job? I am increasingly tempted.

Failure is a horrible thing. We all face it at various times in life, and it’s never, ever nice. We actively work to avoid it. Sometimes that means we never even try in the first place because we are scared of failing. We are scared of that feeling and don’t want to see ourselves as failures.

I think I can safely say that I have at least tried. Very, very hard. And a big part of me wants to keep trying. Despite the mixed feedback from two rounds of beta readers, I still love Elliot Pie and I feel like I have worked on it and worked on it, and made it a much, much better book that it was over two years ago when I started it. I’ve listened to feedback and I’ve acted on it. I submitted to a list of small press publishers and had three of them fairly interested in it, which is pretty positive really. I’ve never had that response to any of the other books I’ve put out. I keep reminding myself of this whenever I feel down. They may still be rejections, but they are positive rejections, which all say positive things about Elliot Pie. I have confidence that at the very least, my synopsis, my concept and my first few chapters are enough to entice people in!

Good stuff. But that leads me on to the reasons it was still rejected. Too long. I did go through it again and deleted another character, but I honestly could not see where else to cut. I know, I know, hire an editor you say. But I can’t afford that right now. Not in the slightest. Another reason for rejection was more specific. They loved the concept and my writing and absolutely adored Elliot, all of which is fantastic news. But they would have preferred the book to be written from the POV of Elliot and his mum. Just to explain, the book is mostly from Elliot’s POV, but also from his mum’s and the three strangers he makes friends with.

Now I can’t stop thinking about this suggestion. It would mean yet another entire and potentially very tricky rewrite. Losing the POV of three characters would also get the word count down…

But I just don’t know. I personally like the other characters POV being there because it means the reader gets to know or assume stuff about them which Elliot does not. His mother never meets these people. Do you see how tricky it could be to rewrite? I would have to write Elliot into scenes he was never meant to be in, or find other ways to suggest elements of their characters to the reader, through Elliot’s perceptions and reactions.

A lot of work. And I have two more finished but unpublished books to tidy up and start doing something with! Plus The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series which I am working on…

Life is short, right? The way I see it right now, I have two options with this book and with my writing company. I keep trying, keep battling, keep working until I get it right, whatever ‘right’ is, or I learn to know when to quit.

These are two separate issues really. I know I won’t quit my company yet. I just desperately need more time to make it all work and I know I will get that in September when my youngest starts school. I have decided to give it my all that year, give it everything I’ve got, and if I can’t do it, admit defeat at the end of that year and get a proper job, knowing at least I tried.

With Elliot Pie…I just can’t decide whether to keep rewriting in the hope of getting a publisher for it…or admit it’s the best I can do, it’s the book I wanted it to be, self-publish and hope for the best.

Funnily enough, when searching for images to post with this, I came across the quote ‘when you feel like quitting, think about why you started’ and it’s now changed the way I am looking at this. I’ve been thinking about what the story I originally wanted to tell and I’ve been thinking about the reason I started my writing company…

But it’s tricky, isn’ it? How do you know when to quit? How do you know when you’ve done the best and you’ve nothing left to give?

Answers on a postcard please! Or alternatively, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts! Have you ever felt like quitting a project? Was there a point when you just realised you’d done the best you could, and it was time to stop?

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!

Dear Newbie Indie Author…

pranam-gurung-116984.jpg

Dear Newbie Indie Author at the start of your journey….Panic not. Though everywhere you turn there are rules, and experts, and advice, and do’s and don’ts. Remember that all those who are further along than you, were once where you are now. If I could give any advice to me when I was a newbie indie author, it would go something like this;

  • Attend a course, workshop or conference. Something that fills you with wisdom and ambition. Something that makes you dream and hope and long to get your words out into the world. Something where dreams are balanced with a hefty dose of reality and an honest account of how hard it is likely to be.
  • Remember that Rome was not built in a day, so neither will your author platform. Be aware of it, learn about it, but don’t panic about it yet. It will grow with you, in time.
  • Be brave. But only when you are ready. There is no rush and no reason to change your personality or try to be something you are not. Tip your toes in the water with a Facebook author page, or a Twitter account. Play around with things, lurking around the edges until it feels right to dive in.
  • Don’t feel like you have to be on every social media site, stretching yourself too thin, whiling away precious hours by attempting to engage with them all. There is simply no point. Choose two or three and make sure one is your blog/website. Give these your attention, and enjoy them. Think of them as your own little projects, little mini businesses. Little acorns that will one day grow into Oak trees!
  • It’s fine if you are just talking to yourself. Everyone starts off like that. It’s not a waste of time! Think of it as practice. You can be uninhibited, knowing that barely anyone is there. Practice your voice, try things out, have a giggle. By the time your audience has grown, you will be far more comfortable in the role.
  • Make your blog whatever you want it to be. Some writers just blog about writing. That’s fine. Some blog about other issues, political, social, personal, and that’s fine too. Some blog weekly, some once in a blue moon. It’s all fine. Do what its comfortable for you. A blog is for your writing and writing should always be fun. If it doesn’t feel fun, don’t force it. Try something else.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. We’ve all taken different paths. There will always be writers with more money to spend, more contacts to enlist, more gift of the gab, more luck, more everything. But you are the only one who can tell your story in your way. Hold your head up high and try not to play the comparison game with anyone.
  • Don’t get eaten up with jealousy. When you see others succeed, be glad for them and then try to work out how they did it.
  • Don’t expect your family and friends to rush out and buy your book. Don’t expect many of them to understand what the hell you are doing. Find fellow writers to help you through the frustration and elation that is to come.
  • Remember that the only way to succeed is to never, ever quit.
  • Remember that success means something different to everyone, and only you can decide what it means to you.
  • Be prepared to be work hard, to treat writing like a job, to put in the hours, to find time for promotion and writing, to try new things when nothing is working, to feel like giving up, to want to bang your head against the wall, to want to throw your laptop out of the window, to scream at people to just please buy your bloody book and to go to bed and not be able to sleep for the ideas, thoughts, doubts and frustrations whirling in your head.
  • Be realistic. Dream big with your feet still on the ground. Keep your day job and be proud of it. Write because you have to, because the ideas and the words and the characters are too big to contain in just your head alone, and because you want to share them, to let others feel like you do. Write because you love it, because you live it and breathe it, because it excites you and makes you feel like you are living more than one life. Don’t write to get rich. Don’t write to impress anyone. Write because there is no choice not to write.
  • Know that you’ve got to put the work in to see the results. That inevitably and eventually, you reap what you sow. Little steps sometimes take you further than big ones. Sometimes the only way you realise how far you have come is when you stand still and look back to where you started.
  • Don’t spam people. Don’t become a robot hitting everyone who follows you with a buy my book link or plea. Engage with them. Forge relationships. It isn’t all about you. Don’t follow other people just so they follow you back. Think about why you are following them.
  • Don’t play the numbers game. Likes and follows mean nothing if people are not engaged with your voice and your style and what you have on offer. It’s not about the amount, it’s about the quality.
  • Don’t only post an update when you have a book out. Build an audience. Give them something to read, debate, join in with and get excited about. Then ask them to buy your book.
  • Be proud. You’re doing something some people only dream of. Do you know how many people say they would like to write a book, but never actually do it? You’ve done it. You’ve proved yourself and realised a dream. That’s pretty cool. And be proud of going indie. It’s not an easy road. But it is an incredibly creative and innovative one. Who knows where it might lead? Who knows what skills you will require? What contacts you will make? What friends you will find? What effect you will have on those that read your work? Who knows where you will be one year, or five years, or ten years from now? The possibilities are endless so dream big and work hard. Don’t moan, don’t back out, get on with it, and make it happen.

(Credit to Pranam Gurung for the image.)

Please feel free to comment and share. What advice would you give to a new indie author? What do you wish you had known in the beginning? Anything you would do differently?

Second Draft Joy

Back in December, I penned this post Why My Favourite Draft Is The Second, while I was busy writing the first draft of a YA novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I was enjoying the first draft, but also realistic about its ugliness, and I was excited about going back to the second draft for the reasons I mentioned in the post.

Well, three months on, I am now well into that second draft, and enjoying it every bit as much as I said I would! It is easier than the first because the basic framework is there and the hard work has been done getting the story out of my head. I already know I can make it better and I have already listed and made notes of how to do this. The second draft is just fun!

I had to have a think about this earlier. Has this been the case with all my books? And I think the answer is yes. The first draft is the hardest for me. The later drafts are the most tedious because you know the story, and really you want to be writing something new, but you have to polish this thing up, cut bits out, sharpen it and refine it and make it as good as it was when it first appeared in your head. I think of the first and the final drafts as the real hard graft. The second, for me, is much more fun.

can you tell I'mhaving fun-

In many ways, the second is more of a read through than a rewrite or a detailed edit. After a break, I am familiarising myself with the story and getting to know the characters again. I read through each chapter, getting a sense of them and their motivations, making notes and finding my way back into it all. Of course, I fix any typos I come across, and I do a lot of deleting unnecessary and repetitive words or phrases. I tidy it up as much as I can, but at the same time, I know the more brutal cuts, the reshuffles and the changes in direction will all come much later. This is still very early days, and I want to enjoy it. I don’t feel the need to make any major decisions at this point.

At the moment, I am totally addicted to this particular story, which is also how I felt when I first wrote it. I suppose it’s more familiar ground for me as an author and a person. A gritty, contemporary YA drama with lots of dysfunctional family behaviours and social issues thrown in. I feel a passion for it. I want to tell these stories. And there are so many stories in this novel…

It’s fast paced. Which is good. I hope! On later drafts I might feel the need to slow things down a bit, my niggling worry being that it might come across as unrealistic for teens to have a life this dramatic. It’s literally a roller coaster of events, repercussions, consequences and drama. It’s full of highs and lows with plenty of unrequited love, dangerous lust, and familial miscommunication and resentment. Oh and of course, a rather wonderful soundtrack (the male protagonist is a talented singer) which ranges from The Four Tops and The Foundations, to Arctic Monkeys and Jamie T. There is just so much to play around with!

And I know I haven’t got it all right yet. I know I need to keep fleshing out the characters and finding stuff out about them. I know I need to work on the visuals, the environment, such as their homes and bedrooms and so on. I tend to forget about all that stuff on a first draft, knowing that no one else is going to read it for a long time. I just want to get the nitty gritty down first.

But at the moment I am enjoying the ride, and just felt the need to share that with you. Adding bits and cutting bits. Reading it like a reader and bloody enjoying the process. I can’t get enough of it.

I doubt I will feel this way by the time draft ten comes around, so this is why I savour the second draft so much. I know the time will come when I almost come to hate this book. I have been there with The Tree Of Rebels many times, and Elliott Pie reached that point just recently before I sent it out to a second round of betas. I was sick of it. I am sick of it. Diving into this much fresher book has been just what I needed.

So, for me anyway, I give my thanks to the wonderful second draft, with the foundations laid down and the really hard work yet to come. I shall enjoy the party while it lasts.