Writing, Running, Habit and Obsession

I was once a fat kid obsessed with writing. Back then, real life was just about tolerable if I had my imaginary one to escape to. For I had discovered a magical and powerful thing. Writing could do anything. Writing could take me anywhere. And I was in control. I could have whatever fun I wanted; invent new friends adventures, create whole worlds if I wanted to. If I look back now I can see that need for control was a big factor. A shy fat kid in the middle of a dysfunctional family does not have much control, if any. A shy fat kid at school has even less. But in writing? The shy fat kid can do whatever the hell she wants, because she owns this! It’s liberating, I can tell you. And for many, many years after that, writing was my addiction and my obsession.

I’d endure school and then run home after, up to my room to write. I’d carry notebooks everywhere so that given the chance I could vanish into another world and write. I’d write past my bedtime and first thing in the morning.

Writing was all I ever wanted to do and anything else was just an annoyance and a distraction. Including exercise. I hated PE as a kid. I was chubby and awkward and shy and despised having people watch me fail at something. At least with other subjects at school you can thrive or fail in private, but PE is kind of cruel because your failures are obvious for all to see.

Chubby kids who like reading and writing and being alone shun exercise for obvious reasons and in return what happens? Yep, they get chubbier. Which makes them even less likely to exercise in front of anyone and even more likely to hide in their room with a notebook and pen for as long as they can get away with. What you have is a vicious circle that as a child, you have no idea how to break out from.

And self-loathing builds and builds. I’m not sure what finally made me embrace exercise. With no money, I was limited for choice, so running seemed the best option. I’d always hated running! Though to be honest, it was more the thought of anyone seeing me that was the problem. The estate I grew up on had a horseshoe sized ‘green’ enveloping one side of it. I could access this from the back gate and run around the backs of the houses in a loop. I think I set myself a goal of three times a week but when I started to notice the results, I soon upped that to daily. And I developed a habit, much like my writing one, that benefited my mental health as well as my physical.

They say that to form a habit you must do something every day for 30 days. What started as a habit with running soon became an obsession that I started to view the same way I viewed writing. I had to do it. If I didn’t do it, I didn’t feel good. It would ruin my day. I felt like bad things would happen. I’d lost a lot of weight, between that and some very silly eating habits at the time that haunted me into adulthood, and I really, really, really did not want to risk ever putting that weight back on. I’d been fat and life had been hell. I never ever wanted to be that girl again.

I sometimes wonder where I would have ended up had I not become a mother at the age of 24. I think my obsession with running and my growing fear of food would have got worse. I think I would have carried on writing and possibly would have got published a lot sooner than I did. I don’t think I would ever have let either of my obsessions go.

But motherhood changed everything and rightly so. I was now amazed at my body and in awe of what it had done. When one little girl became two, I had my hands full at a young age, and I also knew that I shouldered a huge responsibility here. I did not want my problems with food and weight and body image rubbing off on them. Writing fell by the wayside. Hard to believe that now, but it really did. I was far too exhausted, overwhelmed and obsessed with my new life as a mother. I was in love and there just wasn’t the time or the energy.

Over the next decade, I had a third child and I sporadically forced myself to run and write. I tried and failed and tried and failed to develop those habits again. I told myself I did not have the time or the energy for either. I told myself I was wary of getting obsessed with them both again, because that wouldn’t be good for my children. And this all went well for a while. I was too busy to consider anything else.

Writing came back to me, or I came back to writing, I’m never sure which way around it was, in the summer of 2011. My then youngest child was due to start school that September and at the time there was no plan to have any more. I suddenly felt horribly afraid and set adrift. I didn’t want him to go to school as not only was I losing my last baby, I was losing the identity I had spent the last decade carving out. Chantelle, the mother.

I hadn’t forgotten about the old me…I just didn’t think she was relevant anymore. I still remember the moment my writing whooshed back into my head, and it was kind of blunt, terrible and painful. I was reading a book and the young character in it reminded me of a character I had created and believed in when I was just 12. I’d written and rewritten his story many times over the years…could I do it again? Could I write again? Was I a writer? As a child and teen that was all I had identified as, but it had been gone so long, did I have any right to try to reclaim it?

I started writing again after finishing the book that had reminded me of my long lost character. I was so embarrassed at first, I wrote in a notepad and hid it if anyone walked in the room. I didn’t dare tell anyone what I was up to because I was suffering badly from imposter syndrome! And I wrote every day, without fail and that built the habit back up and the habit soon became an obsession again. It devoured me. I started writing every evening without fail and any other spare moment I had. I started this crazy, up and down writing and publishing journey and the arrival of a fourth child did nothing to slow me down and I have not looked back. I could never, ever stop writing now. I still can’t believe I let it go for so long…

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

— Franz Kafka

But what about running? Could I claim that obsession back too and was it healthy or sensible to even try? Over the last year or so I’ve noticed major fluctuations in my mood which I am now blaming on the perimenopause. If you’ve not heard of the perimenopause, don’t worry, neither had I, and I will be blogging about this another day. In short simple terms, its the period of time before the actual menopause and women start suffering from a variety of symptoms that for a while, they probably won’t attribute to anything other than life stress.

I don’t want to go into it too much in this post but the way I had been feeling for no real reason, was very, very similar to how I felt as a teenager. That intensity of mood and emotion that can shift at the slightest thing. Intrusive thoughts about how rubbish I am, cruel thoughts about how pointless my life is. Lovely stuff like that. Incredible anger. Deep sadness. And most of all? Just wanting to be alone. The worrying thing was the effect on my mental health, particularly before I did some research and found out about the perimenopause. I was feeling horrible, to put it mildly. I was crying a lot for no reason. I was focusing on body image more than I had done in a very long time, and given my past issues, this was not a good thing.

One night I was sat writing and crying when I suddenly felt the most powerful urge to move. To get up and run. It was like my mind telling me to get the hell out of there and move. It seemed stupid and my other mind tried to talk me out of it. I was too tired, it was nearly dark and so on. But I ignored that one and I did it.

Now, what normally happens with me and running since I became a mother almost 17 years ago, is I can keep it up for a bit and aim for 3 times a week, not be too hard on myself etc, but that’s not enough to build a habit. Inevitably I miss a few, and that turns into missing a few weeks and the weeks turn into months, just like what used to happen with writing.

This time? I have decided to run every single day without excuses. I do have the time. It’s 20 minutes usually. I have managed to stick at this for over a week now and the difference in my mood is astounding. I have not felt down, sad or angry once this week. I have felt more energetic, more motivated, more rational than I have in a long time. I feel proud of myself too. And we’re not very good at that are we? But I am proud of myself. It feels good. It feels right.

We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, and most of us know that writing is also good for it. Very good, I’d argue. If I can manage to hold onto both of these habits (yet try to stop them becoming obsessions) then I will be very happy indeed and heading in the right direction. I just might be able to get through this perimenopause thing unscathed and have the energy and mind power to deal with the actual menopause!

Advertisements

I Confess…I Write My Books For Me

I think it’s time to admit the truth. Who am I aiming to please when I write and publish a book? Well, mostly it’s me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. 2018 was an endless round of editing and revising for me, as I prepared Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature for release in October, and revamped and released The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Parts One and Two, and edited Parts Three and Four. Because of this amount of editing, and the fact I was taking part in a reading challenge, I didn’t get a hell of a lot of reading for pleasure done last year.

Which made me think about a few things. One, I really, really enjoy reading my own books, no matter how many times I’ve edited or read through them… Eek, I know, sounds big-headed, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I love my characters and my storylines have me hooked so much they keep me awake at night. Every single book I’ve ever published has a sequel bubbling away inside my head. I just can’t fully let any of them go. I’d miss them too much.

So, when I edit, revise, read through, proofread again and again and again, I enjoy it. I genuinely do. I become immersed in these characters lives. I enjoy the drama and the twists and the turns, even though I know how it ends! Weird, right?

Well, maybe not. After all, why do writers start writing in the first place? I’ve been thinking about this. Now, I’m sure for some it’s the dream of money and fame, of making it ‘big’, becoming an international, award-winning bestseller, who has all their books made into films. JK Rowling or Stephen King, in other words. I mean, it sounds amazing, so who wouldn’t want that?

And I’m sure for some, it’s the urge to entertain, to spin tales, to amuse, to awaken, to entice, to deliver a message.

But for others, I think it’s something different, something they’re not entirely in control of. And I think reading sparks it off. Reading a good book at a young age, then reading more. Becoming utterly drawn into a made-up world that holds your attention, keeps you amused, enthralled, or terrified. The kind of book you don’t want to end. The kind you want everyone else to read just so you can talk about it with them. The kind where you want the characters to be real, and almost believe that they are.

And then, because this is just so exciting, you start to wonder. I could do this myself. I could entertain myself. Then I’d be in control, and it need never end! I can create worlds and lives and people just how I want them, and I can make it funnier, or scarier, or sadder, whenever I want to. Forever!

'If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it.'-Toni Morrison.jpg

And thus, a writer is born. A writer who originally set out to please only themselves.

That’s definitely how it was for me. Throughout my childhood and my teenage years, I was totally addicted to writing. I wrote early versions of some of the books I have since published or are working on. I wrote short stories, poems and endless, endless diaries and outpourings of words, thoughts, feelings, and dreams. My writing kept me sane, and it kept me entertained. I was never lonely or bored. I absolutely adored this game of make-believe, and I still do.

I write what I want to read, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Maybe this is true of a lot of writers, I don’t know. It’s no coincidence that the kind of books I write are the kind of books I am always searching to read. I long to read books with amazing, complex characters, the type you never forget, the type you love and loathe in equal measures, the type you can empathise with and root for. I love realistic dialogue and prefer that to too much exposition. I like to read about characters I can relate to, which is difficult as so many books contain middle-class characters. I like to read gritty, hard-hitting storylines. I like realism.

So, there you have it. When I write a book I am mostly writing for myself. I want to write something for me to read. That’s not to say I don’t then spend years trimming it, honing it, revising it, proofreading and editing it until it becomes something I am proud to put out into the world. That goes without saying. I do want people to read my books. Desperately. I do want those reviews and those messages. Without a doubt, I would like better sales! And of course, my ultimate dream is to have all my books made into films or TV series! You got to have your dreams, right?

But in the beginning, it’s me I’m trying to please.

And I think that’s okay. At the very least, it means I will never stop writing!

 

 

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?

Being A Self-Published Author; Is It Worth It?

This is a question I ask myself on a regular basis. And let me be honest, for many reasons, I would not choose to be self-published over having a decent traditional deal with the right publisher who knows how to market my books. Let’s get that out in the open. There are many proud indies out there who feel very differently, and I admire them greatly. Perhaps their books are selling so well they have been able to give up their day job. It does happen! Perhaps they are earning enough to keep a smile on their face and self-doubts at bay. Perhaps they are natural promotional and marketing wizards, or have experience in this area. I salute them.

But for many indies, the self-published route is a hard old slog. That’s not to say it’s without its joys and successes. It’s thrilling to finally publish a book. It’s exciting to work on a cover, and it’s challenging to learn how to craft a decent synopsis. There are a lot of positive aspects to self-publishing, and I would never ever deter anyone from trying it. You learn innumerable skills, you run your own business, you hit the ceiling with joy when your book connects with a reader so much they send you a personal message or leave a book review that blows your mind. Believe me, there is a lot of fun to be had.

But let’s take another look at the hard old slog of it. Let’s take a look at what it can take to get a book finished and out there, to push it and promote it, and then see a trickle of sales reward you. Let’s think for a minute what it is like to remember that literally millions of other indies are publishing books, that the market is swamped and that it is getting harder and harder to be seen and heard.

So, first, you write a book. Which might take a year or two out of your life. There will inevitably be blood, sweat, and tears. There will be semi-breakdowns and outright temper tantrums. There will be a neglected family and or partner who know you are never really listening to them when they talk. There will be a day job for you to try to focus on. There will be housework and life and this crazy, messed up world. But somehow, you do it.

baby-215867_640

Of course, the hard work has only just begun. Now you must rewrite it, redraft it, edit it, proofread it, cry over it some more, enlist beta readers, cry some more when they tell you what sucks, feel like giving up, bang your head against the wall and do it all again, and again and again until you know it is done.

Then you try to find a publisher because you’ve heard how hard self-publishing is. You’ve heard that it costs money to edit, create a cover and get it marketed. You don’t know how to do all that stuff, so you want a publisher. You want someone of authority and experience to grab your book and demand to publish it. You want that recognition that all that hard work was worth it. That your book is worth it. That you are in fact, really and truly, a writer.

Next, you face rejection. You get sorry not for us, right now. You keep going because you know how many times Stephen King and JK Rowling got rejected, but eventually, you realise that self-publishing may be your only option.

If you are made of tough enough stuff, you don’t balk at this. You want to be published and decide to grab onto this adventure with both hands. So you start doing your research, network and make contacts, maybe go to workshops or events and you start to feel good about this. You can do this. This might even be fun! It’s a challenge!

can you tell I'mhaving fun-

You read articles and secure a cover and pen a synopsis and do everything the best you can, although you will always harbor a sneaking feeling that it all could have been much better with more money and experience behind it. You plan a book launch. Exciting, indeed.

Exhausting too. This was me the last few weeks, months even. Reading up, reaching out, building hope. Sending the book out to agreeable ARC reviewers, which is something I have not done before. I decided to focus more on reviews than sales with this book to see what difference that makes. Because everything with self-publishing is experimental and trial and error. No one thing works for sure. What works for one person will do nothing for another. You have to keep trying different things.

As I got closer to launch day, I panicked. I panicked that the book was not good enough. Two people found a few typos, so there was panic in getting these amended in ebook and paperback, and in both cases, I managed to mess up the formatting and had to ask for help to fix it all again. In the nick of time, all was well for release day. In a negative mindset by then, I decided that no one would come. No one would join in. Most of my FB friends had ignored it. What was the point? It wasn’t worth it. None of this was worth it. I was well and truly down about it. And feeling down about self-publishing is not a new state of mind for me, it’s a pretty regular one. I have down days and then something happens to lift me up again. It’s a good old fashioned roller coaster of a ride, all right.

headinhands

 

I spend a hell of a lot of time on this. Writing and crafting the books, keeping my social media and author platform engaging and consistent, reading and absorbing new trends and information. The list goes on and on. This is not a game for the faint hearted or the easily dissuaded. This is also not a game for anyone banking on instant success, money or fame.

Nevertheless, I persevered.

And launch day reminded me why.

Launch day reminded why self-publishing is worth it.

Launch day kicked off with 6 instant reviews on Amazon, courtesy of those amazing ARC reviewers. By the end of the day, I had 12 glowing reviews. One review was the longest I have ever had for any book! The reviews left me in no doubt that these readers had got the book, enjoyed the book and been affected by the book. Over the moon does not go close to revealing how this made me feel. I believe reviews are fuel to writers. They feed us and warm us and keep us going when we feel like quitting. These reviews will fuel my journey for some time to come.

Launch day saw my online Facebook party start at 1pm and end at 11pm. I managed to juggle this with childcare and domestic duties, and though I had been dreading it and wishing I hadn’t started it the day before, I ended up really, really loving it.

I shared news of my release in a Facebook group called Book Connectors, and had a great response there with a few people buying the book and coming over to join in the party. I’ve already had a great response from bloggers in that group for this book and some of the others. It’s been a brilliant group to be part of.

Feeling more confident, I launched the party and to my surprise, things really took off. Lots more people started joining, loads of people shared the event and each post and giveaway got a really great response. It was tremendous fun!

I sold some books, gained new likes and followers, enticed discussion, gained reviews and had a great time. A few days later and I am still selling books and gaining reviews. I keep telling myself to enjoy it while it lasts, and prepare myself for a slow down or a stall in sales. I am sure there will be another down day, another ‘this is not worth it day’, but until it comes I am determined to bask in the glory of the now and let people know how much I appreciate their help and support.

So, going back to my original question; is self-publishing worth it?

Yes.

Will you ever make back the money you spent?

Yes. One day you will.

Will you ever feel like you are worthy after the rejections of traditional publishing?

Yes. Given time, patience and increased work and attention to both your craft and your promotional activities, you will. Not all the time. But enough to keep you going.

Because self-publishing is one thing above anything else. It’s an opportunity. It’s a chance. It’s not easy, and it does not guarantee sales, reviews, recognition or respect. You have to earn all those things and yes, in time, they do come. It’s an opportunity to get better. To become a better writer with every book you produce, to become a better promoter, to improve your author platform, to network, to keep trying, to work harder and harder.

 

What do you guys think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Have you tried self-publishing? What are your thoughts on how easy or hard it is to succeed?