IWSG, Writing

IWSG: Creativity is in Your Control.

For the past few weeks I’ve been feeling a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights; I’d like to move forward with my writing, but fear keeps me in place. I’m planning on self-publishing this year and with every small step forward I tend to come to an abrupt halt. Lately, I began to worry about things that were out of my control.

Once our work is out there, there are a lot of expectations that go along with it. With all the pressure on writers to maintain a regular output, I worry that I may not be able to meet that expectation of others. Once I press that ‘publish’ button (which is my greatest fear of all), I fear I will be proven correct that I’m not as good at this writing gig as I think I might be.

It was fortunate then, that I made a few recent discoveries. I read a recent article on JA Konrath’s blog on why your book marketing plan won’t work. I found it an interesting read from someone who has made a success from self-publishing and there are plenty of things to consider. Not only did I get some good advice, but one of the big takeaways I got from it was to stop worrying about what was out of your control.

The other discovery was while I listened to an interview with author Jane Harper on the podcast, So You Want to be a Writer? (yeah, it was a while ago, but I’ve been a bit behind 😉). She mentioned a talk she had given where she gives advice to other creatives. I’ve found her advice helpful and have included the video of it below. She, too, advises to concentrate on the things you can control.

As recently as last week, it took me about fifteen minutes to write an short email of a few lines to my editor, asking for an endorsement for one of my short stories. Yes, I agonised over every word, but I sent it anyway, coming to the decision that there was no harm in asking. I received a reply that same day, saying simply ‘Of-course!’ (Happy Dance! 😊)

Fear has held me back my entire life and I tend to agonise over many things, yet I have found over the years that sometimes when I ignore the fear and do it anyway, things are not half as bad as I thought they would be. The saying is true that ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself’.

We can’t control if other people will like our writing or not and if they don’t, then perhaps, they’re not our audience. Focusing on what we can control, that is our writing, makes for a less stressful and more enjoyable journey.

Do you worry about things out of your control? Have you found that ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself’? Have you found advice recently that has helped you to move forward?

The purpose of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Writing, Writing Process

5 Lessons from James Patterson’s Masterclass.

Before the end of 2018, I was given an early Christmas present. It was for James Patterson’s Masterclass. I had heard about this course for some time and had been wanting to do it for a while. I was introduced to James Patterson some years back, when I read his first book, Along Came a Spider, the first in the Alex Cross series. Since then he has produced so many books, it’s been difficult to keep up! It’s no wonder he has gone on to become the world’s bestselling author.

The course covers a lot of information and is great for new writers and for writers like myself, who already have some writing knowledge, but could do with more advice. With that in mind, here are five of the best things I learned from the Masterclass:-

1. Write Fast

In order to get the story down, you need to crash through. If you’re struggling, don’t torture yourself, just write ‘to be done’ and move on. This is helpful to avoid the dreaded writer’s block. The more you write, the better you get.

2. Work with an Outline

Everything needs to be in the outline. The outline should have lots of promise, so you can’t wait to write each scene. When you’re writing an outline, you’re thinking about the story. Write the story! James demonstrates this process in a detailed outline guide, and you will need to do the course in order to learn more.

3. Create Complex Characters

You want readers to love your characters or hate them; make the reader ‘feel’. Create characters the reader is not going to forget. In order to understand your character, you need to see the other side to that character by making them more complex and well-rounded. Villains need to be smart, clever and need to surprise you. The more you humanise the villain, the better.

4. Keep Raising the Stakes

Know your genre – know what’s out there in order to avoid it. Don’t write stuff that’s already out there, put a new twist on it. Find something that’s fresh and new. One of the biggest secrets of suspense is setting up questions the reader must have answered. Keep raising the stakes. Keep the reader guessing. Don’t give the answer away too quick; give it away slowly. Don’t assume that anyone is safe.

5. Stay Positive While Editing

Don’t start re-writing until you’ve written one draft. With the first re-write, try to get to the heart of your story. Keep moving forward; make it so that the pages turn themselves. Stay positive during the edit, break it down into parts to make it manageable. Think of editing as making it better. You didn’t make a mistake; you’re making it closer to what it should be.

The biggest take-aways for me were writing fast and working with an outline. Because I tend to think too much over my ideas, by the time I get to write them down, I can sometimes lose interest and look for the new shiny. 😉 Outlines have always been a part of my writing routines, but after doing this course, I’ve been using James’ method ever since.

The course comes with video and workbook, and you can work through them at your own pace. The video contains about twenty-four lessons and the course also contains access to the Masterclass community, so that you can share work and join the discussion with other students.

Because the course covers a wide range, some information you may have heard already, but it does contain advice you may never have heard of before, let alone considered (the gender breakdown of his readership, and how that influences his content is one example).

I felt one of the drawbacks was that James focused on writing thrillers, which is understandable as that is his genre, but it may not be what writers of different genres want to know about. Also, the course covers the topic on writing for Hollywood, which may be interesting, but not necessarily helpful to writers who don’t plan on going down this path.

If you haven’t done the course and you want to know more about it, you can read this helpful post to find out if it is worth your money or you can jump right in and sign up for the Masterclass.

‘If you don’t love it, you’re not going to finish the book. That’s okay. That’s telling you that’s not what you’re going to do. You have an interest in it, but you’re not that passionate about it. If you are passionate about it, you can’t help yourself; you have to write it. You’ve got to write that book’.

Have you done the Masterclass with James Patterson or are you thinking of doing so? What were your main take-aways from the course? What course have you done recently that you found beneficial to your writing?

Writing, Writing Process

New Writers: Writing a Series vs The Stand-alone.


When it comes to indie publishing, there are a lot of ‘experts’ out there giving advice, which makes it rather difficult for new writers. It reminds me of that old Far Side cartoon, where the kid in class raises his hand and says ‘Excuse me sir, my brain is full’. Yep, that’s exactly how it feels.

One piece of advice usually touted is to write a series to help build your readership. This is good advice, more suitably aimed for established authors, but what if you are just starting out as a writer or don’t have a series created just yet? I have mentioned before that what works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for another; as writing is a creative endeavour, we learn through trial and error. Experimenting with different writing styles, including short stories can be a good place to begin for indie authors.

I had heard the advice of writing a series for so long I decided to give it a go and wondered if I could turn one of my WIPs into a series. The more I thought about it, I realised that the possibilities were there, however my subplot tended to work far better than any main plot. Stretching a story out to become a series when it was not really necessary was not going to cut it. When it comes to writing a series, it involves a lot of planning to carry it out.

I was fortunate enough to come across an article recently that suggests it’s okay for new writers to write stand-alone novels. As beginners, we are still learning how to craft and write a novel in its entirety, let alone undertake the daunting task of writing a series. As new writers, our goal should be to practice, learn from the experience and get better with everything we write.

These ‘experts’ tout the series over the stand-alone from a marketing perspective, which I understand because as writers we would like to make money from our words. However, what really gets me is when I hear them say that the stand-alone is not profitable.

These past few months I have been fortunate to have a story idea that could possibly become a trilogy, but we may not always have a series to write. For writers and readers alike, a series represents familiarity and we may like a particular character or characters, but I’d like to think that our readers would be happy to read anything we write. 😉

I currently have a couple of stand-alone novels that I’ve written, novels that I may come back to and try to salvage. Some may even remain my ‘practice’ novels and that’s okay. This is how we learn and not everything we write needs to get published. In the meantime, I’ve worked on other ideas, other possibilities; working on improving my craft. It is irrelevant to me right now if they are a stand-alone or not, my main objective is to get them written.

My husband likes to remind me that a story is as long as it needs to be. Whether that is a short story, novella, stand-alone or a series is beside the point. The more we write and the more we put out there, the better.

Do you think it’s a good idea for new writers to write a stand-alone before writing a series? Do you prefer a series or a stand-alone? With so much information out there for writers these days, are you prone to just go with whatever feels right for you? What are you writing at the moment?

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Writing, Writing Process

5 Things Writers can do During Winter (Besides Writing).

It’s hard to believe we have made it to June already. June! Here in Australia, we are now officially in winter, so it’s the season where people like myself usually act like a complete hermit and hibernate for the entire three months.

We are now halfway through the year and it’s time to take stock on what has (or hasn’t) been achieved so far this year. Going over the goals I set out at the beginning of the year, I can see I have a lot of work to get through. So, besides writing, what exactly can writers do during the cooler months to improve their craft and help achieve their writing goals?

1. Read

This one goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway (after all I haven’t done much reading myself this year). 😉 When not writing, we writers should spend a fair amount of time with our noses firmly placed in a book, whether that is fiction or non-fiction. In order to improve our craft we should always aim at reading books on how to make our writing better, or perhaps even read books on marketing and social media. Reading as much fiction as possible in our chosen genre/genres ensures we are aware of our genres tropes and what is currently available on the shelves.

2. Research

Doing research for our novels and stories can either be conducted in our own homes, or we can use the excuse to leave our writing caves and visit the local library. Depending on our stories, we may even venture out completely and visit places of note that may inhabit our novels and perhaps take photos and talk to experts.

3. Do a short writing course

It is always beneficial to keep improving our craft, no matter what level we are at. Short courses can sometimes be held through writing groups and libraries and even on-line. Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer and take up a course that may be of help, or you may want something a bit more general. For a while now I have considered doing the online Masterclass with James Patterson and will be doing that during these winter months.

4. Listen to podcasts

The advantage of podcasts is that you can listen to them anywhere. So getting away from your desk and having a walk while listening to a writing podcast can be extremely beneficial in more ways than one. There are quite a few good writing podcasts out there, it’s impossible to list them all. You will find a listing here at Writer’s Digest to help get you started.

5. Attend a Writing Conference/Writing Retreat

Attending a writing conference or retreat during the winter months is a great way of getting out of our writing cave and meeting like-minded people as well as recharging our batteries as enthusiasm can sometimes wane during the cooler weather. If there is nothing available nearby, perhaps you can create your own retreat by going away for a quiet weekend and use that change of scene to get some writing done. This is the time when the thought of being nestled away in a log cabin by an open fire can hold some appeal.

Of-course, doing these things can be done all year round, but in the cooler weather, we may need a little bit of motivation in order to keep us going. 😉

Besides writing, what do you like to do during the winter months towards your goals? How are your writing goals progressing so far this year? Do you have a tendency to hibernate during winter?

Image courtesy of Pixabay

This Writer's Life, Writing

What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?

Many years ago, before the age of the internet, I was a great reader. As a writer, I used to envy particular authors the amount of books they had published. I would always make it a habit to look at the list of books a particular author had produced and whenever I saw a long list, I couldn’t help but envy them their output. That was the kind of writer I wanted to be.

These days, I would still love to be a prolific writer, but recently as I have taken a step back from social media, I have begun to look at things a bit differently. There is a life outside of writing; we have other interests, perhaps employment and a family and household to take care of. There is a lot of talk from ‘experts’ of what we writers should and shouldn’t do; that the only way to be successful is to keep on running on that hamster wheel.

Yes, there is a lot of good information out there; however, we also need to be aware of what kind of writers we really are. The majority of the conversation tends to be on writing novels, but not everyone can write one. A few years back I read a blog post from an indie author that basically said that writing short stories may be ‘fun’ but they are no way to build a ‘successful’ writing career. Now I get where this author was coming from, but this statement still managed to irk me. Who is to say that a short story writer cannot be successful? Besides, everyone’s idea of success is different, just like we are. What works for one person does not necessarily mean it will work for another.

The disadvantage to the internet is that there can be too much information out there, which is why it is important to take a step back occasionally. I was always one to devour blog posts from other writers, yet I felt the need to cut down on that too. It would appear I am not the only one feeling like my head is spinning from all that noise. Recently, author and blogger Kristen Lamb wrote a blog post stating that in this new age of publishing we have options – that it’s okay to take our time.

James Scott Bell had this to say recently on how to avoid burnout:-

The pressure comes when the writer who wants to make good dough at this thing (even a living) realizes that the only “formula” is to keep producing quality work at a steady pace. Notice that word, steady. I believe this is the key to avoiding writer burnout. Every writer has a sweet spot where production meets life and stays on its side of the fence.

I’ve found that spending less time on social media has been liberating and is gradually renewing my love for writing. As I’m unpublished, I have found social media has been great for networking and blogging has improved my writing skills, but now it’s time to take a step back and really focus on my stories. I want to go back to basics and do some courses (yes, I’m looking at you James Patterson) and brush up on my craft. As much as I’ve always wanted to be a prolific writer, I have also wanted my writing to be quality. As Mr Bell says, quality work at a steady pace.

Some authors may only produce one book or half a dozen in their lifetime, but their stories can create an impact upon their readers for generations to come (Jane Austen, the Brontes and Harper Lee to name a few).

If I could have a loyal fan base that felt that my writing was worth the wait, I’ll be a very happy writer. Anything else would be a bonus. 😉

Are you frustrated with all the advice out there? What kind of writer do you want to be? Have you felt the need to take a step back from the internet? What is your idea of success? Have you suffered from burnout?

Main image courtesy of Pixabay

Writing, Writing Process

New Writers: 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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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Writing

Writing Short.

short breakFor years, writers had been lead to believe that the best thing for them to do was write novels. For writers like myself, who were used to writing short, this usually posed as quite a daunting task (still does). Thankfully, with the introduction of self-publishing, writing short could become a relief for those who enjoy writing in the short form.

As a subscriber to Anne R Allen’s blog, I can be thankful that I am one of those writers that have always enjoyed writing short. Anne has written a number of blog posts regarding short stories and I recommend you read them if you haven’t already done so.

For me, writing longer projects has always seemed daunting. A few years back I had some writing assessed. Being fairly new to a complete stranger reading my work, I felt the need to apologise for my writing. I felt it wasn’t enough; that there wasn’t enough description. The reader, however, didn’t have a problem with it, believing that sometimes ‘less is more’. That’s when I began to write even tighter. Years later, this would prove a valuable skill when I undertook University studies. I became used to keeping what needed to be said in as few words as possible. Writing short is a matter of getting your message across quickly and is good practice for that all important ‘hook’ at the very beginning.

Writing short can take some time to master and can be a great starting point for new writers. I’ve found that blogging can be a great help in keeping your writing ‘on topic’ with each blog post. Writing short pieces, short stories, even personal essays are a great way to build up your publishing credits and prepare you for longer projects.

Anne told me that my writing is ‘just right for today’s market’, so if you also struggle with the longer form and like to keep things short, don’t be put off by it; instead, embrace that skill. In today’s market, you’ll be rewarded for it.

Do you enjoy writing in the short form? Do you struggle writing longer pieces or shorter pieces? As a beginner, have you ever felt the need to apologise for your writing?

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Writing

How Music Can Help Writers.

harpwithflowersBecause writing is such a solitary pursuit and can involve a great deal of silence, listening to music can help break that monotony. There is a quote that I find seems to sum up music pretty well – When Words Fail, Music Speaks. Of-course, as writers, we don’t want our words to fail; however, there are times when music can help us find exactly what it is we are looking for. Here are some ways in which music can help us as writers.

Motivation

I find listening to music can be a great motivator. In order to help with a positive start to the day and even get some writing done, listening to certain music can help. Find the music that cheers you up and/or songs with lyrics that get you motivated. My ‘go to’ motivator at the moment is Butterflies and Hurricanes by Muse (preferably the live version) – brilliant song and the lyrics are well suited to start writing.

Song Titles

Song titles are a great source of inspiration. After reading Anne R Allen’s post regarding book titles, I googled the discography of one particular artist and wrote down song titles that appealed to me. As a result, I came up with 55 song titles that could be used for ideas for short stories, novellas or novels. Through various other song titles, I have also come up with an idea that can be explored within a genre I generally don’t write in.

Video Clips

Watching video clips can often spark an idea for a story. They can also help envisage setting and/or a particular mood. One video clip that has always captured my imagination is The Perfect Drug by Nine Inch Nails. It has a wonderful gothic look and, combined with the lyrics, it helps conjure up ideas for one of my WIPs.

Soundtracks

Some people write while listening to music, but I find it distracting; however some music can be of benefit to setting a scene or a mood within our stories. Movie soundtracks, or music from video games or television shows can really fire up the imagination or bring a tear to the eye (The Death of Jane Seymour – A Howling Wilderness from Season 3 of The Tudors gets me every time). Feeling such emotions from the music we listen to can help transform that emotion into the scenes we write.

Can you think of any other ways in which music can help writers? Do you use music to help you get motivated? Have you turned to music for story inspiration? Do you listen to music as you write or do you prefer to write in silence?

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Writing, Writing Process

When Silence Can be Golden for Writers.

heart-lockRecently, I have been coming up with new ideas for stories, which has been great. At one point, I was unsure about how to approach one particular idea and was thinking of asking a question about it on an on-line writing group. I became hesitant simply because I was uncertain of the whole idea myself.

When we come up with new story ideas, it can sometimes be difficult to contain our excitement. We want others to be excited about it too. Many years ago, I would let my friends read the stories I was writing at the time. My friends were always interested in what I was writing and were eager to read more, but I would eventually reach the point where I had lost interest. I had no idea where the stories were going; there was no real plot and I only had the basic knowledge of my characters. It therefore came as no surprise to me that I never finished these stories, thus leaving my friends disappointed and I had many incomplete stories lying around.

Since that time, I have gone the other extreme and now think too long about my stories and characters, that I am lucky to send anything off (I really do need to learn when enough is enough). Whenever I am asked what it is I am currently working on these days, I only give the very basics away.

It may be different for other creatives, such as artists and musicians to describe a new project – people may have to see it or hear it in order to understand it better. For writers, however, we are perfectly able to give people the basics of what it is we are trying to create as these things are easier to put in words, which is our art form. Talking to others about our projects, before we fully understand them ourselves can destroy an idea before it really gets started.

So when you come up with a new idea for a story or working on something new, keep a lid on it; enjoy the process. You need to work it all out for yourself without having to let others either confuse you or discourage you. As Stephen King said: ‘Write with the door closed. Re-write with the door open’.

Do you tell others what you’re working on? Do you find it to be a help or a hindrance? Do you prefer to keep quiet about your work in progress? Do you find yourself thinking too much about a project before sending it off?

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Writing

3 Reasons New Writers Should Try Writing Short Stories.

ShortsA few years ago I began writing short stories and eventually took the plunge in submitting some of them into competitions.  After having little success, I became disheartened, especially after paying entry fees and receiving no feedback.  Eventually I gave up my short stories and began wondering if they were becoming a lost art.

Last year, however, I attended a Short Story Workshop and posted on my blog advice on Writing the Short Story.  Now I am delighted to see that lately there has been a bit of discussion about the short story form.  Due to people’s hectic lifestyles,  shorter attention spans and indie publishing, there is renewed interest – May was unofficially short story month.

On her website, Joanna Penn discussed 5 Ways Short Stories Can Boost Your Writing Career, and Anne R Allen had great explanations on why Short is The New Long: 10 Reasons Why Short Stories are Hot.

So for new, unpublished writers, I’ve come up with three reasons why you should try writing the short story:

1. Short stories help you get to the point quickly.

Short stories don’t need a lot of build-up on setting and character development, so you need to get to the action right away.  This enables you to help hook your reader in, which is a great help when you want to write longer pieces.  Also, getting to the point quicker can assist with writing your resolution – an added bonus if you struggle with endings.

2. Short stories tighten your writing.

With a much shorter word count than the novel, short story writing can help you with the editing process.  You need to use fewer words in order to get your message across, so you need to make every word count.  Entering competitions is a great way to help reach that all important quota (just because the form is shorter, it doesn’t mean they’re any easier to write).

3. Writing short stories helps build up a body of work.

Short stories are a lot less time consuming.  Novels can take months and even years to write – however, depending on the length, the first draft of some short stories can be written within a week, even within a day.  You receive quicker feedback from your beta readers, so you have a better understanding on how your writing is progressing.  A larger body of work can tell publishers that you are taking your writing seriously.

Feeling inspired by this resurgence, lately I’ve been bringing new life into some of my short stories – how about you?

What are your thoughts on the renewed interest in the short story? Do you write them? Have you ever entered any into competitions? Were you successful? Have you given up on competitions and submitted them to publications instead?

Image by Debbie Johansson.