Category Archives: Writing

When to consider the market

This question really is quite academic for me at the moment. In truth I have *no* market, so I’m not restricted in what I write. For the most part the short story magazines I sub to don’t care if I previously wrote like-genre stories. In fact half the time they strip your name from the submission so the short story stands alone, regardless of the author.

Novel publishers are different. They care deeply about what you have published previously, or what else you can give them if they pick up your book. I’ve always had the attitude that I’ll worry about that when my first novel gets picked up. But that approach was easy to have when I only had two novels written.

Now I have written a YA science fiction novel, an adult fantasy novel, a YA dystopian future novel, an Adult near-future science fiction novel and a YA science fiction novella. Recently I re-started an adult fantasy novel I’ve been picking at for over a decade, but then walking home the other day I kept thinking about a YA horror novel that is finally falling together. Not to mention that my adult horror novel keeps bugging me, asking me why I left it hanging.

None of these novels are similar to each other. Right now, if one of those pieces got picked up I would struggle to get any of the others shoe-horned into a similar genre. Which begs the question of what should I be working on next? Do I continue to write what I want to write, or do I start trying to specialise? Given none of the novels I’ve finished so far have been picked up, maybe I’ve gone totally wrong with what I’m writing anyway, and I should experiment with something totally different? Is it worth considering the market with my choice of what to work on next?

If I’m honest with myself, I’m starting to think that none of my novels will ever get picked up. I’m seriously considering the possibility that my only readers will be me, my beta readers, and possibly whoever clears out my crap when I pass off this mortal coil (in the very, very distant future).

So I guess that really does answer the question; my market is me, so I should continue write what I want to write. Now all I have to do is work out what that is. Easy 😐

Motivation

Writing a novel takes a lot of time. Editing a novel (for me) takes even longer. There are a lot of hours in a novel, or even in a long ‘short’ story. My experience has been that exuberant enthusiasm has never held on for long enough to get me to the end.

Motivation to write generally falls into two different categories; carrot and stick. The carrot is things like imagining typing the words ‘the end’, visualising your novel in a book shop, or the burning desire to get your characters through this testing time and see them out of the terrible situation you put them in.

Then there is the stick, which is where pretty much all of my motivation comes from. The stick is things like not wanting to stay in your day job, knowing how disappointed you’ll be in yourself if you get to the end of the week without having written any new words, and the old chestnut of all-pervasive writer’s guilt – which sucks the joy out of all non-writing moments, rendering even the most delicious Haigh’s chocolate unpalatable.

Recently I have tried to find a different carrot method by looking at other successful people and asking myself ‘what would they do if they wanted to be a writer?’ These people don’t have to be writers, they just need to be people who have pulled their finger out and succeeded at something through hard work and determination. They also need to be people you genuinely admire.

How it works is this; you find yourself spread out on the lounge with the cat curled up beside you and some terrible reality TV on the screen. You’ve had a tough day in the office and you are considering finishing off that bottle of wine you opened on the weekend. Then you ask yourself ‘What would <insert person-you-admire’s name here> do right now?’ If you’ve picked the right person it will hopefully get you off the lounge and into your novel.

I’ve been using this for over a year now, and it has helped me get to the computer time and time again. By the time I write my first sentence it all becomes about me again, and wanting to finish the story, but when it comes to getting the computer fired up and the TV turned off I really need to give credit these other people.

Of course the previous two weeks where I didn’t write a word show that this doesn’t work all the time, but it has worked often enough that I’ll continue to use it. And to be honest in the last week I have written nearly 5,000 words and the question I’ve been asking myself is ‘what would *I* do if I was serious about being a writer’ and that feels a whole lot more positive. It also means I can appreciate my Haigh’s chocolate again.

Wake up call?

In the past two weeks I have done no fiction writing. I don’t feel bad about it (like I usually do) but neither do I feel particularly good. If I’m honest it has left me a little empty. I have also been struck by how much free time I actually have. Now I understand why my friends with kids and families to organise question what I do with my days. I had no idea how much time I filled with writing until I stopped.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not spent all that time on the lounge in front of the TV (but a big chunk has gone that way). I’ve been gardening, exercising, cooking proper meals and giving my friends and family the attention they deserve. I’ve enjoyed this time away, but I can feel the hole inside me opening wider every day. I chose to ignore it, until now.

Yesterday I started coming down with my first cold in many months. Maybe even years. I can’t actually remember the last time I had a cold. I can’t help but wonder if my dropping the ball on my writing might have contributed. My body is telling me that I’ve got the balance out of whack.

I know people will think it is a long stretch to draw this conclusion, but I am a big believer in mind over matter, and I know that right now things feel wrong by not writing. I wrote more in the past 24 months than I had in the previous 6 years and I have been pretty healthy in the past 24 months. I truly believe my life was nicely balanced then. Now it is not.

My muse is not with me, and I have no ideas for stories, but today I’m going to write. Just putting those words down has sparked a flicker of excitement in my belly. Let’s see if I knock this cold on the head before it really takes hold. If it does, then I think I have to accept my fate and commit to writing for the rest of my days. I really like that idea.

Top 10 Writer things to do – get an online presence

I did think about not putting this one in. I have to be honest, I’m struggling with the whole online presence thing at the moment and am starting to question how much value there is in it. But if you do get published, it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for people to find more of your writing if they go looking for it. That means being online.

After seven years of blogging, I wouldn’t sing the praises of doing that, besides which, I’ve heard that blogging is so ‘naughties anyway. I know that kind of begs the question about why I am here now, well… I’m very pig-headed and when I start something I struggle to let it go. I also find the weekly blog is good for my discipline.

Nearly all writers have at least two social media accounts; twitter/Facebook/Instagram/stuff I’m too old to know about, but I also think that going the whole hog and setting up a website is worth the effort. Even if you don’t get many hits for the first few months (years/decades) it is the place that someone who finds a short story of yours will invariably end up if they like your writing. This gives you an opportunity to let readers know a little bit about you, provide links to more of your writing, and even give you a place to publish stories.

As for using social media, I would encourage you to set up a writing-specific account/page. Look into the rules for the app in question, because some do not allow for multiple accounts for one person and if you do it they can shut you down. In those cases, set up a sub-page or something that is just for writing info. You need somewhere that you share just with your friends for when you want to do your Trump rants after a few too many red wines, that somewhere is NOT your writing account.

Finally, set guidelines for how much time you are going to spend on this side of your writing career. Particularly when you are not making money from your writing it is easy to burn hours chasing a few more followers which really won’t translate into much value compared to if you spent that time creating your next story. There is no point having writer presence online if it means you stop writing!

Find me at:

Twitter: @nataliejepotts (yeah, I know, I should have gone for something much shorter)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nataliejepotts/
Website:  www.nataliejepotts.com

P.S. I’m no online expert, so please don’t look at my content as an example of what you should do. Think of it more as encouragement to just to do something!

What would I know?

Okay, so I thought I had the answers about how to get stuff written. I was wrong. This new, dark novel is killing me. It’s like wading through a cold tar pit in the dark with a blindfold on. I have no idea where I’m going, my progress is slow and it is terribly uncomfortable. I’ve decided that I can’t spend this much time is such a bleak space. It is making me depressed, and this isn’t what I want from writing.

I get the feeling I would need to be in a super-happy place in my life to have the resilience required to write this novel, and something tells me that if I was fortunate enough to find myself in that place I wouldn’t want to write the novel. I really can see that there is a reason why I have only written dark short stories before. If you can’t close the door on the story with a ‘the end’ before you walk away from the computer, it follows you around.

So for the first time in two years I’m going to have to concede defeat; I’m quitting the novel. I have decided it is best for my mental health, and it is much better to make this decision two weeks into the project rather than two months (or more). It also leaves me quarter of the year to finish something else. And after the two weeks I’ve just had, I think it is going to be something fun.

It will be interesting to see how my outlook on the rest of my life changes (if at all) when I start spending my imaginary life in a better place. I think there might be a much bigger crossover between my two worlds than I realised. I’m still not sure what is crossing over which way though. I hope changing the fiction will change the fact. I can’t keep eating this much chocolate.

Project promiscuity

Okay, I know I’m inviting a bunch of really bad spam from that title, but it was the most accurate way I could think of to describe my old approach to writing. I’ve been writing all of my adult life, and until the last few years I was a big believer in writing what I felt like writing. Our moods change a lot, and when you are happy you don’t really want to get bogged down in a depressing or dark piece of fiction. So I always used to have a number of projects on the go at once.

I ended up with a lot of novels that only got to chapter 5. I also had a lot of partially written short stories. What I had very few of was finished pieces. I also did almost no editing because the lure of new words always won.

About three years ago I decided I needed to finish stuff, so I tried to focus on just one project at a time. It didn’t work, as soon as I got to a difficult bit in my story I’d set it aside and start thinking about another story. Thinking turned into writing, and next thing I knew I had another novel that only made it to chapter 5.

Not many people know this, but a few years ago I spent a week believing I had a brain tumor. My doctor prepped me for it with too much conviction, and due to a whole manner of mishaps it took a week between the doctor’s diagnosis, my CT scan and getting the results that the doctor was wrong. I had a bunch of really bad symptoms that gave incredible verisimilitude to my incorrect diagnosis, so needless to say I did a LOT of thinking about the future, and more specifically, how short that future might be.

Above everything else I wanted to finish my novel. Despite my symptoms and stress, every night after work I came home and wrote like a machine. I’d hit a tough bit and I would slog through it to get to the next part where I felt more comfortable about what was happening. I didn’t let any other projects distract me.

By the time I discovered my brain was clear (and disappointingly showed no signs of secret microchips implanted by alien abductors), I had realised that I could force myself to focus. That novel was EveryWere, my pantser novel, and I finished writing it in just over 3 months.

That was a game changer for me. Since then I have picked just the one project at a time and regardless of mood, inspiration, or haunting writing daemons, I work on only that project. I have finished another novel, two novellas and five short stories since then. Probably more completed words than in my entire writing career before that time.

A lot of people enjoy project promiscuity, and they can make it work for them. But if you are like I was, and you aren’t finishing anything, then don’t wait for a terminal diagnosis to get yourself focussed. Try being faithful to just one project. You might go through some tough times together, but you may also find yourself in a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your writing than you have ever had before.

Happy writing.

Adult pantser novel

I loved the process of creating my YA pantser* novel. I loved the abundant writing of it. I loved the wild unknown and the surprises it threw at me. It also terrified me. I had no idea how it was going to end, and at times I thought it wouldn’t.

As great as the full pantsing experience was, I was relieved when it was over. Since that novel I’ve written a novel and a several short stories that had elements of pantsing about them, but I knew how they all ended before I started them.

Another pantser novel has just started haunting me. I can see the opening. Every time my mind goes blank I see the opening. I’m living it, breathing it, feeling it, dreaming it. But I have no idea where it goes after the opening. It scares me.

Not only that, but I’m starting to see it everywhere. It’s like those moments when you spot the cute guy from the bus in the supermarket, or at the coffee shop when you don’t expect it, and you get that little flutter of excitement. Except the pantser novel doesn’t have the disappointing likelihood of actually having a wife and three kids at home. No, the pantser novel is all mine. For better or for worse.

I thought that if I ignored it that it might go away and find a bit more direction before coming back to me. But it refuses to leave. It is my last thought when I go to sleep and the first thought in the morning. I’m carrying it like a weight around my neck, and I know there is only one way I’ll be free of it.

I have to write it.

There are equal measures of dread and excitement about this prospect, but if I’m honest, the excitement is winning. I am so ready to throw myself completely into a new novel, and I think this one might be the one… for now. Wish me luck.

*Pantsing = writing by the seat of your pants without a plan, you only find out where the story is going when you write it.

Publication!

I have to warn you, this story contains the F-word. Yes, there are farts in it. I was brought up properly, where a lady does not fart (unless asleep, but even then we deny it)… but that got me thinking about when else a lady might fart. And so A Reluctant Zombie was born.

I’ve been warned against publishing this story as it has a bit of a pull my finger quality that is perhaps not becoming of my writing career. I actually sat on it for nearly two years before finally deciding to send it out. There is no deeper meaning and no call to arms to make a difference in the world. It is just a silly story, written by a silly girl in a silly mood. Sometimes I can do that.

The other difference with this story to my usual offerings is that it is unashamedly biographical. The girl starts out watching my TV on my lounge, she lives with my cat, goes to my old office, and shocks my old boss. You could say it was me except for the lack of vegetables, and of course the farting. My mum brought me up right, remember.

So please, if you are going to read it, say no to the plastic bag at the supermarket, take your keep-cup to the coffee shop, and please turn off your standby power equipment at the wall. My story won’t tell you to do that, so it will make me feel better if you do.

I hope you enjoy A Reluctant Zombie, but please, put on your silly hat first. And no, I will not pull your finger.

Top 10 writer things to do – Visualisation

Eye

Okay, I’m not going to go all ‘the secret’ on you, but visualisation is a powerful tool. I’m a qualified hypnotherapist (scary huh?) and almost all of what hypnosis is about is visualisation. The difference is that when under hypnosis you can bypass your RAS (let’s just say conscious mind, look it up if you are interested) and work on your unconscious mind. If that sounds a bit too fluffy for you, then cut out the expert, and work directly with your conscious mind with a bit of visualisation. It takes a bit longer, but can still get you there in the end.

For you scientists out there, who don’t believe in destiny, think of it this way; every day you make decisions that take you in the direction in which you expect to go. Regular visualisation primes your mind to expect to go toward whatever you are visualising. If you don’t visualise, your mind doesn’t really have a goal so it will opt for the decision that keeps the status quo. Fine if you want to keep working in that day job.

Writers, perhaps more than any others, are perfectly placed to make visualisation work, because we are always imagining our stories, so are very comfortable in the imagined world. The problem is that writers also tend to be a bit bad at positive self-talk. I have my own theories on why, but that is best shared face to face over a glass of wine. I know that personally, I’m shocking at making time for visualisation. Even when I add it to my weekly list of things to do, it is inevitably forced out late on Sunday night just so I can cross it off the list. Not an ideal way of going about it.

The key to visualising well is to have a specific event to watch; walking up to receive an award for your published book, a book signing with a line of people going out the door, a room full of people attending a reading that you are doing. Got it? Be specific and be as detailed as possible. Don’t just hold a copy of your book in your hand and know that it has sold well. But be sure to see your book in your visualisation. You have to know what your aim is; success can come from many things, so we want to tie this to your novel.

The next major thing is not just to imagine the scenario, but let yourself feel the emotions of that scenario. Feel the excitement that so many people love your book, feel the relief that you no longer have to go to the day job (hmmm, a bit of a recurring theme for me), revel in the joy of someone else knowing your characters as intimately as you do. When you feel those emotions in the visualisation you feel it in real life too, and your body will want more.

The final key to good visualisation is to do it regularly. Hurriedly imagining you goal on a Sunday night once a month isn’t going to cut it. I would even say once a day is not too often. To this end, I might take my own advice and make it part of my nightly routine, just like brushing my teeth. Let’s see if it helps?

Now I won’t promise that this will get you published, but it might help you to overcome the sloth you feel at the end of long, hard day at work, so that instead of sitting in front of the TV you write. After all, it is getting the words on the page that will eventually get you published, so anything that helps with that has got to be good.

The lows of writing

Every story, no matter how good or bad, has a lot of work in it. Even if you are a total slacker and you send out your first draft, not even bothering to re-read it, you’ve still put a reasonable effort in to get it finished. For me, I edit and re-edit my stories seemingly endlessly. I cannot read them without wanting to change something. A flash fiction story of 500 words can easily take six hours to get to the standard where I think it is ready to send out. That’s a big investment.

After so much work it is hard to forget about it once it is out in the big wide world. You are so eager to see if it is going to get a chance to be read by the public. I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that when I have a story out, every time I check my emails the first thing I do is skim the subject headers to see if there is a response. 99% of the time there is nothing. It is not unusual to be waiting over six months to hear back from a publisher, even for a short story, and that’s if they respond at all.

This part of the process is the one that most undermines my desire to get published. I don’t mind rejection, even form letter rejections (a generic response sent to all rejected stories), but hearing nothing, that’s disheartening. You can’t help but speculate that the story got lost, or wonder if anyone read it at all. What’s even worse is when it was ahead of the pack months ago when you sent it, but now everyone is subbing stories on that topic. That’s the main reason why I try not to write topical stories anymore.

A particular low for me was when an editor announced on social media that they hadn’t received any stories of a certain category that were up to standard for their anthology, so they wanted more of that category. My story fell squarely in that category and I had subbed it a month earlier. So I knew it was rejected, but the editor didn’t send me a formal rejection for another two weeks.

I know editors get inundated with subs, and they often have day jobs, not to mention their own stories that they are trying to write. But I wish they wouldn’t give indicative response times on their sites if they don’t meet those. I also really hope the public rejection before personal rejection doesn’t become the norm.

The whole thing has inspired me to write a story specifically for self-publication. This way I control the timelines and if nothing happens for a while, it’s because I’ve dropped the ball. I’m pretty excited about it too. It’s wonderful knowing that I will be able to count on it being out in the world by a certain date, instead of waiting, potentially for years, for others to reject or accept it.