April’s writing…

Writing progressLooking back, I seem to spend a lot of these monthly round-up posts justifying why I haven’t written as much as I should or would have liked to. There’s always something, whether that’s family dramas, crises of confidence, sheer bone-idleness or whatever…

This month has – predictably – been no exception to the life-getting-in-the-way problem. Almost on the spur of the moment, we decided to move house because we found somewhere that meets our needs better whilst enabling us to stay in the same neighbourhood. That meant we had to get a wriggle on in order to get our current house on the market. It was finished – the renovation was all done and it’s completely transformed from the scruffy fixer-upper we bought five years ago – but there was a lot to do in the way of making it look a bit more spacious and less as though we have a teenager and work from home. Plus, we’re fostering a dog at the moment until she goes to her new “forever home” (such a naff phrase) and you wouldn’t believe the amount of fur that she sheds. For all those reasons, writing has been shoved into odd corners rather than being the priority it needs to be in order to make serious progress.

Anyway, the house is now on the market and looking gorgeous if I do say so myself. Hopefully it will sell quickly and I can get back to concentrating on my writing. In the meantime, in between viewings and endless cleaning and all the seemingly unending admin that goes with moving house, I’ll carry on trying to sneak in some writing time.


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Life lately…

Life lately has been so busy. We were idly thinking about moving house but couldn’t find anything that worked for us and at heart we were reluctant to leave the neighbourhood where we live. The Colonies are a lovely place; a community as well as some of Edinburgh’s most interesting buildings. The Son’s school commute literally takes three minutes from front door to locker; the area is so convenient for everywhere and although we could buy a bigger house in the suburbs we’re not really suburban people – I either want to live in the very centre of everything or in the middle of nowhere. And Stockbridge was recently named the best neighbourhood in Scotland in which to live and I can’t disagree with that.

But then we found a house, one we’d ignored for weeks, and so we’re on the move, albeit without moving too far. The new place has a layout that will work better for us and although it needs some work, it’s nothing like as bad as this house was when we bought it. Our lovely electrician told us that if we weren’t living here he’d have condemned the wiring! Instead we made that our priority!

So this poor blog has been sadly neglected while we frantically clean and tidy and declutter and fix the fence in the front garden that we’ve been meaning to get round to for a couple of years. We’re now on the market though, living in a house which has never been so tidy and we can breathe again. All we have to do now is sell it!

Writing has also fallen by the wayside a little and I’m desperately trying to carve out some time for that. There are two chapters that I want to finish second drafts of this week so keep your fingers crossed that I can manage that!

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What I worry about when I worry about writing

What I worry about when I worry about writingThe worries I have about my novel are a random selection of middle-of-the-night mental rabbit-holes that my imagination plunges down. Oddly, unlike the myriad worries listed by Susannah Felts in this great post on Lithub, my night-time panics aren’t so much about the technical aspects of The Novel – I fret about those enough during the day – but rather about the terrifying leaps I will have to make when I’ve finished and finally have to send my novel out in to the world.

  • I worry that The Novel will be as good as I can possibly make it but that no agent will want to represent me.
  • I worry that I will find an agent who loves my work and wants to represent me but they will be unable to find a publisher to take the book on and I will be unceremoniously dumped.
  • I worry that I will be lucky enough to secure both an agent and a publisher but there won’t be enough in the publicity budget to promote it properly or that the cover will be off-putting to booksellers who will be loathe to give it precious shelf space.
  • I worry that readers will hate my book and leave bad reviews that will make me cry and kill my book stone dead.
  • I worry that no-one will review my book and so it will sink without trace.
  • I worry that because my book has been killed stone dead by the widespread opinion that it stinks I will walk through town and see huge piles of it languishing in the windows of every remainder bookshop.
  • I worry that The Novel will be deemed to have no merit whatsoever and so I will not be invited to bookshops and libraries and festival – events that are important for building that precious word-of-mouth and introducing your work to potential readers.
  • I worry that I will be asked to take part in festivals and the like but that no-one will turn up, leaving the interviewer and I to have a slightly awkward natter on our own over a cuppa.
  • I worry that my first book will do OK and that the publisher will want a second but I will be unable to write it.
  • I worry that I will write the second book and it will be rubbish and that the publishers won’t want it and so my carefully planned series of novels will turn out to consist of just one book.
  • I worry that no-one else will ever want to publish me after word gets out about just how bad that second manuscript is and that my writing career will be over almost before it’s started.
  • But mostly, I worry that this first novel will fail to be published and that I will have wasted so much time and energy vainly pursuing a dream.

And so I slog on, one word after another, page after page, each phrase and plot point carefully considered, each line of dialogue read out loud.

These worries are universal, the insecurities of every unpublished writer and many published ones. They are the insecurities that drive us on and make us strive to be better. But all the same, given these 3am circles of doubt, it’s amazing that anyone writes anything at all.

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Author interview: Sarah Hilary

Author Sarah Hilary, author of the Marnie Rome novels. Click through to read my interview with her. Tastes Like Fear (published today) is the third Marnie Rome novel by Sarah Hilary. Winner of the 2015 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year with her first, Someone Else’s Skin, it’s been a busy year and Tastes Like Fear (my favourite crime novel so far this year) looks set to consolidate her success. Sarah blogs about crime fiction reading and writing and it’s a blog to add to your bookmarks but in the meantime I’m delighted that she found time to be interviewed by me..

Q: Why do you write?

Itchy fingers, voices in my head.

Q: Were you a childhood scribbler or was writing something you came to later in life?

A scribbler, always.

Q: How did you get your big break?

Bloodymindedness, and a brilliant agent.

Q: How do you begin a new project? Do you plan in detail or just start writing and see where the story takes you?

My rational mind resists planning. Luckily my unconscious mind is dark and twisted and knows exactly what it’s doing.

Q: What’s your writing routine? Bustling cafe or silent solitude? Crack of dawn or midnight oil? Laptop or pen and paper?

I distrust silence. I need white noise, my Macbook Air and lots of coffee.

Q: How polished is your first draft?

Nothing that can’t be fixed with a ruthless rewrite.

Q: What writer do you most admire and what would you like to ask them?

Helen Dunmore. She has an alchemist’s touch. I’d ask her to keep writing, because her books are miraculous.

Q: What book would you most like to have written?

The Collector by John Fowles.

Q: Aside from writing, what skill or achievement are you most proud of?

Resisting the urge to give up, or give in.

Q: What talent or ability do you wish you had?

I wish I was multi-lingual.

Q: What is true happiness for you?

Being near the sea, and knowing my loved ones are safe.

Q: What aspect of the publishing industry would you like to change?

If someone could fix funding for libraries that would be ideal. And I’d like scratch and sniff books to make a comeback.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Always believe that the next thing you write will be better.

Q: What are you working on at the moment?

Marnie Rome book 4.

Thank you so much for finding the time for this.

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Ten reasons why you shouldn’t have an author blog. Or, managing your expectations

Ten reasons why you shouldn't have an author blog. Or, managing your expectationsI firmly believe that authors should have a blog, even if only updated on a weekly basis, as part of their website so if you didn’t see my last post about that then do pop along and do that. I’m assuming that you do realise that a simple website is a non-negotiable if you’re to have any sort of career as a writer. This is the 21st century and you need to be seen as professional so buckle up and crack on.

We’ll talk later in this series about the practicalities of building your website but for now, have convinced you that a shiny new blog is an essential element of your writing life, I want to run through a few misconceptions that newbie bloggers have and run through what to expect and – more importantly – not to expect.

So, having given you a load of reasons why you should blog, here is a run-through of the reasons why you shouldn’t set up a blog…

  • If you think it will get you a book deal. The heady days of bloggers being offered big bucks to turn their blogs into hugely successful books in the manner of Belle de Jour’s sexy stories have passed into publishing history. The role of your blog is to build a community around your writing, which may persuade a prospective agent or publisher to look a tiny bit more kindly upon you when they’re considering your manuscript.
  • If you expect instant results. I see frequent complaints from newbies along the lines of ‘I’ve been blogging for a month and hardly anyone is reading it’. Frankly, when you start blogging, no-one cares and, more to the point, no-one knows. You need to promote it in subtle and sensible ways (more on that in a future post) and to write interesting posts so that the readers you do attract have something to feast on and a reason to return.
  • If you expect to make money. Many new bloggers hope to emulate professional bloggers who make a living from their site. For starters, that’s nigh on impossible for someone who blogs about writing and books and secondly, that’s not why you’re blogging. You are blogging to promote your writing and any financial benefit will come from increased sales of your books.
  • If you don’t want to put any effort into writing blog posts. Good content that people find interesting or useful will be shared and that will increase your readership. Dull, slap-dash writing will not increase traffic or show your writing in a good light.
  • If you can’t be bothered to make it look good. This is the age of Pinterest and Instagram and readers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their expectations of the visual content of blogs and will judge you accordingly. Harsh but true. Find some sites you like the look of, look through the various WordPress free themes, avoid clutter and if you have a friend with any design training for goodness sake make use of them. Photos are essential and there are some great sites with free stock photos that you can use if you can’t face taking your own. That can make your site look a bit generic so it’s best to use your own images as much as possible. Top tip: if you’re not a good photographer you can transform things with a little tweaking on the Picmonkey website.
  • If you can’t be bothered to put any effort into promoting it. You need to be consistent but not force your blog down people’s throats. Like I said, we’ll talk about how not to annoy people with relentless self-promotion another time.
  • If you don’t want to interact. There’s no need to leap to attention – you are not there to serve your readers every whim – but it doesn’t take much to reply briefly to comments and questions and it all helps to develop your much sought-after community. I also use a WordPress plug-in (don’t worry about that yet) called Comment Luv that automatically adds a link to a commenter’s latest blog post. It’s a nice way to share the love.
  • If numbers are all you care about. Sometimes one of my posts will get picked up somewhere and I’ll suddenly see an influx of traffic and daily views for that one post might zoom up to four figures or so. It’s gratifying but it is relatively meaningless unless these visitors become regular readers. Those are the people you want to attract – remember, the point of your blog as a writer is to build a community.
  • If you don’t want to update. I admit (rather shamefacedly) that I am sometimes not terribly consistent, especially if I have a deadline but I try to blog at least once or twice a week. You cannot just set your blog up and forget it. You need to post at least once a week or once a fortnight and the less frequently you update the more you need to stick to a schedule. If visitors stop by and there’s tumbleweed blowing past then they won’t stick around or return. But really, 500ish words a couple of times a month is not a big deal. Don’t forget that one of the reasons to blog is because it provides new content for search engines’ robots to latch onto, thus pushing you up the search results.
  • If you write non-fiction then blogging alone isn’t the best thing. You need to be using it as a place to archive all the articles you write elsewhere or pieces of journalism, showcasing both your writing and your authority. And you can intersperse those posts with shorter pieces that give readers something fresher that they won’t have seen elsewhere.

So there you have it – writers shouldn’t blog imagining that it will bring them huge financial gain or that it doesn’t require any effort. But, like I’ve said before (and will undoubtedly be saying again) it is an important tool for today’s author.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the buzzword of the moment – branding. Don’t worry, it’s not as tacky, or as scary, as it sounds…

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