Has Being a Writer Changed You as a Reader?

Some years ago I read a book that was popular at the time. It was not normally one that I would go out of my way to read, but there was so much talk about it, my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I borrowed the book from the library.

The book began alright and I gradually worked my way half way through it, when after a while, I felt the need to put it down. I began to wonder. ‘Is this it? How much longer does this go on for?’ The problem was – nothing was happening. There was no conflict, just people going about their business. I knew something had to happen eventually, so I picked it up again and persevered with it some more, but still, nothing was happening. There were no ‘blips’, just one long endless flat line. Boring! I didn’t waste any more time with it and returned it to the library.

A few years after this incident, another book came out that once again, people were raving about. My husband had become curious and eventually bought the book. He began telling me about the plot and thought the characters (made out to be intelligent people) must have been incredibly stupid if he could solve the problem before they could. Of-course the writer in me paid attention to that one straight away. My husband suggested I take a look at it. In all honesty, I could not make it past the first chapter. It was full of clichés and my writing brain couldn’t take any more. I began to wonder how this ever got published.

From these experiences I’ve come to learn that it is in our own best interests as writers to read widely. These two books may not have been ones I would usually read, but it made me aware of particular trends. It also gave me the courage to continue writing and work harder at my craft.

I quickly discovered that when a book doesn’t do it for me, to put it down and move on. Perhaps the real lesson here is that I shouldn’t fall for books that generate a lot of ‘hype’ and follow my instincts. 😉

How has being a writer changed you as a reader? Do you read books that ‘trend’? Is there a book that you’ve read recently that you just couldn’t finish? Do you see some published books as a way to improve your own writing?

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Having a Writing Plan.

Giving up work to write full-time I think is every writer’s dream come true. The thought of simply writing what we want to write in whatever hours that suits us, sounds appealing, but that’s far from the reality. I’ve found out the hard way that writing takes a lot more time and energy than what we’ve all been led to believe.

A few months after I got married, I handed in my notice to my employer of almost ten years. It was a decision that was not made lightly, but one I knew had to be made. I had tired of my job and as far as I could see there was no future for me there. It was time I moved on to something different.

Excited by the prospect of fulfilling the writing dream of writing full time, I gathered enough notebooks and pens to last me a good while. I spent time making sure the computer had enough space to accommodate my works, and living in the Blue Mountains at the time, I had an inspiring view of the Grose Valley from my balcony. I was in a perfect situation in which to write.

With so much time on my hands, I began to squander it. Projects I had eagerly begun were tossed aside for the next project, only to see the process repeated. After these ‘failures’, doubts began to fester until I dreaded starting anything new and spent less time writing altogether. It was about this time that my husband landed a job in the country, and we relocated, giving me the chance to have some casual work within the same department. Almost two years later, I became pregnant with my first child. Writing during this time was very much on the back-burner.

Looking back, I realise that although I wanted to write, that period in my life was not the time; clearly I was not ready. Also I did not have a plan. It may sound simple, but in my eagerness, I had no idea where I going. Before handing in my resignation, I should have put more thought into what exactly I was going to do, have some kind of back up plan, consider finances, etc.

These days, I’m working to two different pieces of advice: plan your work, work your plan and finish what you started. Planning ahead can save you a lot of time and effort. It also allows you to focus on the task ahead and gives you the confidence you need to reach those goals.

Have you ever stopped working to pursue writing full-time and it didn’t work out? Do you feel guilty when you squander your time rather than write? Do you have any writing projects that are incomplete? 

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5 Similarities Between Writing & Weight Loss.

Recently, I read an interesting article regarding the health risks of being a writer. Like any desk job, it is a helpful reminder of the need to get out of the chair and get active. Yes, this can be particularly difficult to do when working to a deadline, or being in the ‘zone’, whether it be writing or from studying, but getting away from your desk every 30 minutes is good for both your body and your mind.

The article was also timely, because only a few short weeks ago, I went on a diet. Winter is a difficult time in which to lose weight; your progress can be hampered by weather conditions. I also have a tendency to hibernate, be a couch potato and curl up with some good books. In the winter months, combining weight loss and writing can sometimes be difficult. It made me think of the similarities between the two and the different ways to get through it*.

1.It Takes Time: In a world where everyone wants instant results, it’s just not possible when it comes to both writing and losing weight. Years ago, I joined one of those famous weight loss programs and lost 10 kilos in 6 months. Great result, however, no sooner did I stop the program, but I gained all that weight again (and more). I learned the hard way that doesn’t work; instead slow progress is still progress. When it comes to both writing and weight loss, little things over time do add up.

2.You Need to Stick to a Routine: It may sound monotonous, but the only way to make any real progress is to have some kind of routine and stick to it. Writing and exercise every day should be as much of a habit as cleaning your teeth. It becomes so common place that when you don’t do it, you’ll notice. Once the habit is broken, it’s difficult to get back into the way of things again.

3.It’s Hard Work: Learn to push yourself. There will be days when you won’t feel up to it. Those days can be really hard because writing (and sometimes exercise) can be a solitary endeavour. Once, I was so tired from exercise the previous day, yet I forced myself to go out for another walk. After doing so, I came back refreshed and energised once more. Times like these, you have to learn to be your own motivator. In both writing and weight loss, you need to be in it for the long haul – it’s so easy to give up when you are not seeing instant results. That’s when you need to ask yourself how badly do you want it?

4.Sometimes You May Need Support: Have one or more people encourage you to reach your goals. Find someone who is prepared to undertake fitness with you, become a beta reader, accountability buddy, mentor, or perhaps join a group of like-minded people (a gym class, writers group). As keeping fit and writing requires determination, sometimes a little encouragement from others can go a long way.

5.You May Need to Try Something Different: Sometimes we can grow stale; things that used to work and give us results may not work anymore. We may grow tired of a particular genre or writing longer works. We may not see the same progress walking every day used to give us. We need to change – our mind/body demands it. Broaden your outlook and try something different; experiment. Step out of your comfort zone. It will give you renewed enthusiasm and a reason to keep you motivated.

Do you struggle with writing and/or exercise during the winter months? What routines do you have? Do you find it hard to keep fit/write on your own? Do you need to use a timer to get you out of the chair?

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*This is an updated version of a previous post I had written two years ago.

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5 Lessons Learnt in Writing a Novella.

book-419589_1280Last week I finally completed the first draft of my first novella (yay)! I’m still short of my intended word count, but I’ll leave that for later when the ‘real’ writing starts – that is, the dreaded edits and re-writes. 😉

Some years ago I made my first attempt at writing a bush poem and during a critique it was recommended that I could convert it into a short story. That idea grew to the extent that I decided to try my hand at writing a novella. So now that I have a rough draft behind me, what exactly did I learn when it comes to writing a novella?

1. Do Some Research Before You Start

In order to help with the plot for your novella, it’s handy to get some research done before you start. Even if you have some idea of facts for your novella, when you stew over your plot you may find you require a bit more information. You don’t want to leave a hole in your plot while you are writing, as this only prevents you from moving forward (note to self). By having some research up your sleeve before you start writing frees you up from having to do a lot of it when you’ve finished.

2. Do Up an Outline

Like short stories, in a novella, you need to concentrate on one plot with a limited cast of characters. I tend to sit on the fence a bit when it comes to being a plotter or a pantster. I usually do up rough outlines for my ‘novel’ ideas, whereas for short stories, there is no planning involved; I have an idea and run with it. In the case of writing a novella, I found that doing a rough outline helps. It allowed me to help focus on the relationship between the two main characters (in this case a husband and wife) and how they came to be in the situation the novella finds them in. Breaking the plot outline down into each scene also helps build tension and conflict.

3. Know How it Will End

As I was converting my bush poem into a novella, I already had my story’s ending. I found this quite helpful in telling the story, because from there I could work backwards by asking myself the ‘why’ questions, resulting in digging deeper into my characters personalities and their relationship with each other as well as helping with the plot. Because I knew the ending, this was one of the first scenes I actually wrote. This helped with the setting, giving me a better picture of what time of year the events took place and setting up the mood for the rest of the novella. Writing the last sentence also gave me an unexpected idea that could possibly be worked into the novella.

4. Don’t Think about Word Count

You need to make sure that both your characters and your plot are strong enough to last anywhere between 20,000 – 40,000 words. I’m used to writing short stories (the longest short story I have written so far is about 2,500 words), so stretching for a longer word limit appeared somewhat daunting. I was reaching a point where I became more focused on the word count than the actual story itself. My husband, being the helpful accountability buddy that he is, mentioned that the story itself should dictate how long it will be. It was at that point in time when I told myself to worry about that later in the re-writing/editing phase.

5. Go Where the Story Takes You

I know this flies in the face of what I mentioned before about doing an outline, but bear with me. There are occasions when stories can go off in a completely different direction than what we had originally planned. Sometimes characters can take a life of their own; you want a particular character to go one way, when they decide they want to go another. Like a determined child, no matter how much you try to rein them in, things don’t always work out the way you want it to. That’s when you need to give up and just go with it – you may find that the character knows better than you do. The same can also be said if a novella takes you along the path to an entirely different genre. Experiment, but above all, have fun!

Have you written a novella and what did you learn from the experience? Are you a plotter or a pantster? Do you worry about word count when you’re writing? Have you found your plot and/or characters take you on a completely different direction than what you had planned?

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Having an Accountability Buddy.

couple-1343944_1280Recently I read a blog post that clearly struck a lot of writers. Being a solitary endeavour, when we start out as writers, we can have a tendency to wonder why we even bother. Does anyone really care what we do? Does anyone really read what we write anyway? We can ask ourselves these questions when we reach our lowest point, which is why it is so important to have someone – at least just one person who is prepared to encourage us to keep on going.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of listening to the naysayers; those full of negativity who try to keep you down from achieving something or doing something which makes you happy. Finding someone, whether they are a partner, friend or relative that believes in you and is prepared to help you any way they can, can be beneficial to writers. Joining a writing group or even a couple of them on-line can help lift you out of the doldrums of your writing cave as mixing with other writers helps you to understand that you are not alone. Even in a group, you may find yourself drawn towards certain people, working up the courage to ask them to be beta readers and/or accountability buddies.

An accountability buddy can help keep you focused on your writing path and help steer you towards meeting your deadlines. They are also helpful in giving you the kick in the pants you need when you begin to slacken off, yet supportive in those times when you feel you’re not good enough. Being with a group of writers as accountability buddies can help energise you towards your goals as you may wish to emulate the success others may be having; proving that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.

I’m fortunate that my husband believes in me enough to be my accountability buddy. Yes, he does indeed give me the kick in the pants I deserve, insisting I avoid listening to the negativity of others. I still have a long way to go, but I know that without the support of that one particular person, my goal of becoming a published writer would never have come this far.

Do you have someone who encourages you to keep writing? Do you have a partner, friend or relative as an accountability buddy? Are you part of a supportive writing group?

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The Freedom to Write What You Want.

tea-381235_1280Some years ago, I read a particular piece of writing advice that has always stuck in my mind. That advice was this – ‘Don’t write what you want to write. Write what a publisher wants to publish’. Yes, I understand that in order to get published, one has to keep an eye on the marketplace and what is currently being published, however, such advice can be overwhelming for the new and unpublished writer.

As unpublished writers, one needs to spend time concentrating on perfecting the craft, finding your writer’s voice and even experimenting with genres and different styles of writing. Like any art form, writing is no get rich quick scheme. You need to be writing for the love of it, and if you really enjoy doing it, then you are prepared to work at it. You are willing to place some of your own heart and soul into your writing and it is this very emotion in your stories that readers remember and are prepared to come back to. If you don’t feel passionate about what you’re writing, readers will notice that too.

This is why lately, I have been thinking about this very subject and I’m so glad to have stumbled upon other writers who have been thinking the same way. Author Kyla Bagnall also believes in the value of the writing process and being familiar with your genre, while author Rachel Aaron suggests that if you write the book you love and do it well, it will sell; you will find your audience. I guess there is truth in the saying ‘If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it’.

Being creative is being free to express your artistic side, whether it be writing, art, music or film. We may talk about our fictional characters evolving; so too, should we allow ourselves as writers to evolve. Through experimentation, we may find ourselves going down totally different paths and therefore discovering something about ourselves. As long as you find something you are passionate about when it comes to writing, you will find your audience.

In an age where discoverability is important, do you think about your potential audience/readers when you write or do you prefer to concentrate on the writing process? Have you found a topic or genre that you feel passionate about?

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Dealing with Writer’s Doubt.

keyboard-621832_1280For the past few months, I have been doing a fair amount of soul-searching; family health issues have made me question my own mortality and goals in life. This is why last month I wrote about perfectionism and self-criticism; criticism that also comes from those around us, which can sadly include family members. Such criticism leads to you doubting your own abilities, which therefore sets you up for failure.

So, what can we do to fix these self-doubts when it comes to our writing? I have come up with these five ideas:-

1. Become part of a writing community: Being with other like-minded people helps you understand that you’re not alone and they can help you get out of that rut that you find yourself in. Such communication helps to cheer you up, which can motivate you to keep moving forward in your writing goals.

2. Find some beta readers: Finding the right group of beta readers can take time, so you need to be clear in what you want from them. Letting other people read your work helps you to work on your strengths and weaknesses, as well as developing that thick skin.

3. Work to deadlines: If you don’t work to deadlines, you will never get that work finished; having no deadline helps you to procrastinate. If you don’t have a deadline, create your own and make sure that you will be held accountable when meeting that deadline (eg. sending work out to beta readers).

4. Blog: There are many benefits to writing a blog, but the main reasons for new writers to blog are that it gets you writing, you are sharing your writing with the world, creating a community and learning to work to a deadline. You are learning to put yourself ‘out there’ and making a name for yourself which is beneficial for when you publish your other works.

5. Sending work out: This is the big one, but if you really want to get published, you need to bite the bullet and just do it. If you have the support of a writing community and beta readers, this will help ease the fear and after sending your first couple of pieces out, it becomes a habit. As the saying goes, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

Writing is a pursuit that not only should be habit forming, but one that needs an awful lot of perseverance. It takes time to make any real progress with this writing venture, so you cannot afford to waste that time on self-doubts and listening to those who insist on placing those doubts in your head in the first place (and yes, I’m taking my own advice 😉 ).

Are you too hard on yourself? Have you spent too long believing in the negative opinions of others? What do you do to overcome your self-doubts? Do you believe life is too short to worry what other people think? Have you had a health scare that made you question your own mortality?

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