When Blogging Becomes A Struggle…

Confession time. I’ve been having trouble blogging for a while now. There are many reasons why, which I will go on to explain, not really in the hope of offering advice to anyone who may be experiencing the same struggles, but more to help myself make sense of them. As always in my life, I work things out better when I write them down! So…

In The Beginning…

When I first started this blog, I did so with great trepidation. I used it to post extracts from my works in progress, which at the time were my novels The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and The Mess Of Me.At that time, they were both unpublished and I had no social media pages or profiles set up. It was all very much the beginning!

I recall how nerve-wracking it was when I first published a post on this blog. I shared it on my personal Facebook page and couldn’t decide what would be worse; having no one read it at all, or having people read it and not like it! It was the start of me sharing my work and it had taken decades for me to gather the courage to do it.

Luckily, it went well. It was a positive experience, as a number of Facebook friends started to read the extracts and enjoyed them so much, they asked for more. And for a long time, that’s all this blog was used for. Extracts of work in progress, read by a very small amount of people who already knew me. Ahh, easy. Not much to worry about back in those days!

And then came the books…

But things progressed. Eventually, I self-published both of those books and decided to set up my Facebook author page, Twitter and Goodreads accounts. I was reluctantly embracing the realities of the indie life and the cross to bear that is self-promotion. By this point, the tone of the blog had changed a little too. Now that some of the books were available, I no longer shared extracts from my work. Instead, I started writing about everyday life. Thoughts and feelings and memories. Anything that sprang to mind. The reason for this was quite glorious. I had been bitten again by the writing bug, and the result of that was that the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, and the more I had to say until I began to feel like I was bursting with it. This felt like a very good thing.

I didn’t have many followers, but those who did read those first honest essay style posts, left lovely, encouraging comments. I had no urge to blog regularly. I had not even designed the blog site or customised it in any way. It was all still rather basic, but I was actually having fun. Every now and then, I would feel the urge to share something, and I would spew it out onto the blog, refine it, redraft it a few times and then hit publish. Again, fun times. Now that I had the hang of ‘blogging’ I was really enjoying it.

blog all the things!

I began to feel like a real writer…

As time went on, I published more books, as well as articles for Author’s Publish and a local parenting magazine. I began to feel like a real writer and described myself as one. Tentatively, I began also blogging about writing. Writing tips, writing problems, that kind of thing. Nothing too heavy-handed, after all, I was hardly in a position to advise anyone, but I did feel I had enough knowledge under my belt to share a few things and I enjoyed doing it. My blog was growing and evolving. It was becoming more confident and so was I.

realwriter.jpg

Around this time, a friend of mine also gave me some much-needed advice on how to make the blog more user-friendly. I customised it a bit, added the various share buttons and started using images and tags, and generally, became a tad more savvy about it all. I was still having fun. No pressure. I blogged when I wanted to. Sometimes once a month, sometimes more often if there was a lot to talk about.

I rebranded…

And then over a year ago, I rebranded the blog, again taking valuable advice from another friend. I thought about what one thing my books all had in common and realised that it was that all of my characters were outsiders. Proud ones. I renamed my blog The Glorious Outsiders, I thought more about who my audience was, what kind of people would like my books, and focused on drawing them in and talking to them. I decided to blog weekly from then on, having read lots of articles about how important it was to blog at least once a week.

It was easier than I thought to begin with. I found that the more I blogged, the more ideas for posts I got. I had undoubtedly put pressure on myself though. I decided to release posts on Wednesdays, which meant I really needed to have another idea decided on by Thursday, and a rough draft of it completed by Monday. I was now aiming to be a lot more smooth and professional about things, which meant I started putting much more effort into my posts, crafting them with more care, that sort of thing. Basically, they took longer to write and perfect. Or was I just getting picky?

Which brings us to now…

This routine has worked very well up until very recently, but now I have to admit I am struggling. I am struggling for a number of reasons. First, is time. Being an indie author means you do everything yourself. I go through phases of quite enjoying promotion, and phases of actually hating it and backing off from it entirely. I have so much I want to write, and like a lot of indies, I cling to that thin hope that the next thing I write will be snapped up by a big publisher, or will hit the big time, make me famous, bring me success and end my money worries. We all dream! But it’s not just a dream, it’s something you actively work at, day in, day out. Because I’m trying so hard to write better books, I’m getting fussier, and it’s taking longer each time to get them finished.This means, the many, many other books planned and plotted and waiting to be written, have to wait even longer. I just sometimes feel I do not have time to devote to weekly blogs if I am ever going to get these books written! And then other times, I know I have to blog and promote and be seen, in order to try and sell my others.

Decisions, decisions! Do I spend time on this or that? Crafting a blog takes time! It’s not just the wording and the structure and the focus, it’s the images and the tags! I am rubbish at finding images and making memes. Sometimes I will ditch a blog post just because I can’t be arsed to find images for it!

nogoodmemes

And because I am getting fussier about my books I am also getting fussier about my blog posts. I go over them again and again. Have I lost confidence? I don’t know. I can’t say what it is. But I must have about fifteen unpublished blog posts now. I keep writing them and not publishing them. They just don’t feel ready. They just don’t seem to have a focus. Am I running out of things to blog about? No. definitely not. I have a list and the list grows weekly, so maybe that is the problem? Another case of too much to write and not enough time to write it?

Maybe I am having a crisis of confidence? I’m pretty sure we all do from time to time. Being a writer is a delicate business and we all have fragile egos. I’m lucky that I have never had unpleasant feedback or criticism, not on my books or on my blog, but that could just be a reflection of the small number of people reading them. Still, I think blogging was easier when I didn’t think anyone at all was reading it!

Over the last few months, my weekly blog posts have diminished to fortnightly ones. I’m not going to be hard on myself for this. I would rather post nothing, than post something I am not happy with. My personal life is a bit fraught, and I can honestly say I have never known what emotional exhaustion is, until now. There is just only so much a brain can deal with, I guess.

So, you might ask, why bother blogging at all? Why not have a big break from it? Why put the pressure on myself at all? I don’t know. I suppose pressure is part and parcel of the indie life. I want to sell books because I wrote them to reach people. I know how much effort is needed to be seen, and I don’t want to go backwards or be forgotten. And also, I enjoy blogging. I love this little blog of mine and the journey it has been on. I’m quite proud of it really, and a bit like writing a diary when I was a kid, it gives me an outlet. A chance to express my views on just about anything. I’m not the best talker, but writing a blog post gives me the opportunity to argue back, to make a case, to ask questions, to reminisce or just be silly.

So, in conclusion…

I’m still here. And I have every intention of always being here. Thank you if you’ve been following me from the beginning and are still with me today. And thank you to anyone who is a new follower of this blog. I suppose my advice to anyone about blogging would be this. Yes, it is important and yes, it should be fun. Lots of fun. But if life gets in the way, and other issues suck up all your time and emotions, then don’t be hard on yourself. Your blog will still be there waiting when things calm down again.

 

10 Reasons I Love Writing and Reading YA

On the 11th August my next book The Tree Of Rebels will be released as an ebook. (The paperback is already available!) This will be my sixth release and my fourth YA book. My books fall into both the adult and young adult genres. I never really decide which it will be; that’s a job for my characters. It just so happens that all of my characters tend to be young adults, and in fact, even in my adult books, the young adult voice is very present.  When it comes to reading, I’m not too fussy about genre. I recently devoured horror, crime thriller, literary fiction, autobiography and YA. But it’s fair to say that I am more consistently drawn to YA books, to read and to write.  Here are my reasons for being in love with reading and writing YA;

  1. Inspiration – When I was a kid, the first books I ever really fell in love with were The Catcher In The Rye and The Outsiders. I had enjoyed many books as a child, and I had been writing stories for as long as I could remember, but those two books affected me in a way the childhood books had not. I fell into those books and got lost. I fell in love with the characters and saw them as utterly real. I could totally empathise with the feelings, emotions, and scenarios of both books. I loved the style and the voice they were written in. More than any other books I can remember, those two made me want to be a writer. I emulated them in my teens, writing similar stories with similar characters. From that point on I was always searching for books as good as those. I’m still not sure I’ve found any to top them.
  2. Nostalgia – For that reason, YA evokes nostalgia in me. YA books make me remember the surge of enthusiasm and inspiration I got from that genre when I was a teenager. They take me back to that time and remind me of the impact books can have on your life. This I think, draws me towards reading and writing YA. I’m not a rose tinted glasses kind of person by any means, but I do love a bit of nostalgia!
  3. Feeling Young – There is this. Not that I feel old. I really don’t. In my head, I am still a kid, and I always assume people are older than me and certainly wiser. I still feel new sometimes. I still feel like I have so much to learn. I like reading and writing about young people because I still feel like one of them! What I see in the mirror is not what I see in my head. When I read a really good YA book, I can totally recall what it feels like to be that young. I particularly love a good coming-of-age story. I think being a young adult is a totally unique time in your life. Too many people embrace adulthood too quickly and tend to put up walls, separating their generation from the ones below them. (You only have to look at the amount of millennial bashing that goes on!) I think YA books are important for this reason. They remind you of what it is like to be young, conflicted, confused, with those huge highs and lows, mixed with fear, ambition, self-doubt and hope. If you can read YA and feel young again, perhaps it helps build a bridge between generations.
  4. YA is so varied – This is true. YA is a genre with so many sub-genres and I love them all. I’ll even read Romance, if its YA! Horror, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, coming-of-age, historical, thriller… Having young adult characters just seems to make all these genres better.
  5. YA is fast paced – of course, there are exceptions, but generally I find YA books move pretty fast. Not that I mind a slow moving book. I’m not particularly drawn in by the ‘page-turner’ claim, but YA does tend to grip me. I can’t think of too many YA books I’ve read where I haven’t wanted to start a new chapter as soon as I’ve finished the one I’m on. (Michael Grant Gone series and Unwind dystology comes to mind!!)
  6. Gritty, edgy themes – I don’t want to be bored when I read or write. I want subjects I can really get my teeth into. YA has these in abundance. Frightening dystopian futures, post-apocalyptic disasters, family drama, domestic abuse, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, bullying, running away, sexuality, sexual awakening, poverty, race relations and more, YA is all about tackling difficult issues head on. As a reader and a writer, this is the stuff I yearn for.
  7. Characters that come alive – I struggle with characters in some adult books because I can’t relate to them. Like I already mentioned, I don’t feel like I am nearly 40, so I find it hard to relate to middle aged characters. I consider myself working class, and so much adult fiction is written by and about middle class people. YA offers a wider spectrum of characters who are flawed, still growing, changing and learning. This in itself makes them relatable and interesting. I’m thinking of Holden Caulfield and Ponyboy Curtis, but also Charlie (The Perks of Being A Wallflower), Katniss (The Hunger Games,) Theodore Finch (All The Bright Places) Leisel (The Book Theif) Jonas (The Giver) Todd and Viola (Walking Chaos Trilogy) and so many more! I really struggle to think of a character from an adult book that has stayed in my head…
  8. You are not alone – Reading YA as a teenager is a life saver. Whatever struggles you might be going through, you are going to find a YA character going through the same thing. There is a YA book out there that is going to help you and show you that you are not alone. This is so important when you are young
  9. Packs an emotional punch – The reason I love writing and reading YA books so much, is the emotional journey they take me on. Writing young characters opens up so many possibilities for reaction and action and motivation when you are throwing dramatic situations at them. They don’t just have the plot journey to go on, they have their own inner, coming-of-age journey going on as well, which I find, magnifies the emotions of everything else! YA books tend to pack an emotional truth and are not afraid to venture into dark or emotional territory. I need this when I am reading, and I find this cathartic when I am writing. What can I throw at these young people and how will they react? How will they change and grow and develop as the story unfolds?
  10. Offers hope – YA books may stray into dark waters, but they are never afraid to offer hope. The characters, being young, tend to veer on the optimistic side. They are not tired or jaded by life yet. They are not cynical. They believe things will get better. These books may not all have happy endings, but you can guarantee most will be fuelled by hope…

Over to you folks! What do you think about YA books? Do you have a favourite from your youth? Or have you discovered any great ones in adulthood? (PS – here are 12 of my favourite ones off the top of my head!)

  1. The Outsiders – S.E Hinton
  2. The Catcher In The Rye – J.D Salinger
  3. The Chaos Walking Trilogy – Patrick Ness
  4. The Unwind Dystology – Neal Shusterman
  5. The Gone series – Michael Grant
  6. The Giver (quartet) Lois Lowry
  7. The Book Theif – Markus Zusak
  8. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  9. All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
  10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
  11. The Shock of The Fall – Nathan Filer
  12. Vernon God Little – DBC Pierre

 

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?

Dealing with Self-Doubt

Writers are often plagued with crippling self-doubt and I am no exception. It’s always there, lurking, waiting for opportune moments to show up and throw me into a panic. I’m preparing a book for release, and I always find self-doubt shows up in a big way around about now, so it is something I am currently dealing with. But there are lots of other times I’ve experienced self-doubt about my writing, so I thought I would list them here as well as my tips for dealing with it.

  1. Childhood. When I was a child, I didn’t know what self-doubt was. Sure, I was shy and introverted, but I also had the child’s innocent optimism and I was utterly convinced that one day I would be a world famous author. Of course, life happens to children. Reality is dictated to them. You can’t do that, you can’t be that, you won’t make money, not many writers are successful, and so on. The worst thing you can do to a child is squash their creativity. If you were that child, be kind to yourself now. Remember that people probably had good intentions. Perhaps their ideals and aims in life differed greatly from yours. And if you know a child who wants to be a writer, for God’s sake don’t crush their dreams. Let them make mistakes. Don’t pick on their grammar, their spelling or their lack of plot. Just let them write! It can all too easily be discouraged in children these days.
  2. Adolescence. Writing helped me get through my teenage years. Without a doubt, it was my greatest friend and comfort. From the diaries I wrote daily, to the lyrics I scrawled onto my bedroom wall, I wrote endlessly. I was in a constant dream and my head was full of wonderful words. Self-doubt had found me though, and I now accepted I needed a realistic Plan B. I would have to decide on a day job to pay the bills. My advice to anyone at this stage would be this; keep writing. Keep dreaming. Don’t worry about structure or plot, or how many drafts it will take, or how similar your work is to your favourite films or books, or how pointless it seems putting down words that are unlikely to be read by anyone else. Perhaps right now they are only meant for you. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not useful, worthwhile or beautiful. Keep going. In private, in your bedroom, in your head, in snatched moments. It will all take you somewhere one day.
  3. Writing Group. Self-doubt may lead you to attend a writers group and they can be a wonderful help. Just remember not to compare yourself to anyone else. No doubt you will all be of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. There will be people there with more and less experience than you. There will be people there with a better grasp of grammar. There will be people there who can write the most beautiful prose. Don’t be intimidated. You are not them. Only you can do what you do. Use writing groups as sound boards and listen to any advice that is helpful but don’t let exposure to other writers encourage self-doubt. You are there to get better and to move forward.
  4. Twenties. Real life. Graduation. Jobs, Careers. Marriage and babies. All these things get in the way when you are becoming an adult, leaving less and less time and energy for writing. This is the period of life when so many leave writing behind, viewing it as a childish, foolish habit they must move on from. After all, very few writers earn a living from it, and there are bills to pay and rent to find and debts to cover and there will just never be enough time to sit down and write like you used to. And then every now and then someone you used to know will ask if you still do the writing. And saying no, not anymore, will break your heart. So write anyway. Even if it’s just a diary. Or a blog. Or scribbles and rants into a notebook. Even if it’s five minutes or ten minutes a day. Even if you don’t think it will ever go anywhere. Get back in the habit. NOW.
  5. First draft, We all get there eventually. The first draft. Self-doubt will plague you more than ever before. Are you wasting your precious time? Is everyone laughing at you? Is everyone expecting you to fail? Can you even write? Is anyone ever going to care? Something keeps you going, but self-doubt is clawing at you every step of the way telling you to go back, to quit, to stop before you waste any more energy. Don’t listen. Keep going. The first draft is just the beginning of a long journey, but if you can get it done, if you can get over that hurdle, then all the rest will come. You’ll have fostered the stamina and grit needed to pursue this idea until the finish.
  6. Feedback. Getting feedback is hard. You need it, but you dread it. You sort of hope everyone is going to gush over your work and say it is the best thing they’ve ever heard. But being realistic, what you really need right now is the cold hard truth. You need to be able to take it. If your characters suck, if your dialogue is stiff, if your middle drags or your ending is unsatisfying, you need someone to tell you. Then you need to take the time to think about it, digest the information and decide what you agree with. Don’t let self-doubt hijack you now. Writers never stop getting better. That is part of the fun.
  7. Submissions. Submitting your work is a brave step. Maybe it’s competitions, or magazines, or articles. Maybe it’s your novel to agents or publishers. You’ve done all the hard work and now you are handing it over to the ‘experts’. If you are lucky you might get some feedback. It might sting, it might be encouraging. Or you may get the long cold silence. Whatever happens, self-doubt will creep in to remind you that you are a crap writer and nothing you write will ever be published by anyone. Just keep writing and remind yourself that the more you write, the better you get. That rejection is part of the process for ALL writers and that all you can do is learn from it, and refuse to let it make you quit.
  8. The Final Draft. Nearing the end of a project is exciting and thrilling. Seeing the end in sight after a bumpy road of stops and starts and endless highs and lows, can be a huge reward for a writer. You have finished the book. You have rewritten and edited and proofread and copyread the book and you have probably done all of this so many times you have lost count. In your head, at last, the book is ready. It’s done. It’s the best it can possibly be so it’s time to let it go. But hang on…suddenly the doubts are back in full force. A dark paranoia that you were wrong all along, that no matter what you do to it, no matter how many more times you rewrite or go over it, it still hasn’t worked. It’s not the book you had in your head. It’s failed. You’ve failed. I don’t know why this happens when the final draft is done, but it always seems to happen to me. One moment I will be basking in the relief and the joy of a completed, polished manuscript, ready to move onto the next project, and the next I will be doubting every single word I have written. I will want to change my mind entirely, consider scrapping the entire book even. The only way I get through this is by reminding myself that I felt exactly the same about the previous books. And would I change anything about them now they are out there? No. When it’s time to let go, I think you get a gut feeling, followed by a flood of doubt and fear. Try to accept this as natural and ease it gently to one side.

Feelings of self-doubt are part and parcel of being a writer. They follow you about, peering over your shoulder and niggling at you. They will never go away, and that is perfectly normal. If we were full to the brim with endless confidence, I suspect we might start turning out some pretty poor writing. Self-doubt forces you to aim for perfection, to question yourself and your work again and again, until one day you know you have done all that you can.