Tag Archives: full time mum writing

Searching for the truth, at all costs #TallFamilyTales

As you will learn from reading this account, I was a perfectly horrible child in many respects and few stories reflect me in a poorer light than the one I am about to share. Sometimes the difference between genius and madness is failure. Other times, it’s a simple case of the idea being crap. This is the tale of an enquiring mind and a genuine desire to help turned bad. Very bad.

Gran-Gran, my dad’s mum, trained at the Royal Academy as a pianist. She used to play the piano at night when Dad and his brothers were frightened. The sound of Rachmaninov’s piano concerto drifting up from downstairs soothed him—still does. As a child, she, too was soothed by piano music drifting up from downstairs, but that was played by a friend of her parents; Chopin. I am ashamed at how little I remember of Gran-Gran, I know that at some point she had a nervous breakdown. After having a similar experience, but because of his Alzheimer’s rather than a breakdown, Dad told me how one morning Gran-Gran suddenly burst into tears at the breakfast table and couldn’t stop. He said it remains one of the most harrowing moments in his entire life. She went and lived in Bexhill for over six months with a companion. Then she was allowed to visit and finally, after over a year, I believe, she returned home.

When I was about eight or nine, I think, she got stomach cancer. Neither my brother nor I saw her for some time. Then she came to stay when she was officially recuperating from an operation to help it, although to be honest, I suspect it might have been classed as terminal by this time. She came to stay with us while ‘recovering’ I think to give Gin Gin, my grandfather, some respite from caring for her.

Before that point, I remember very little about Gran-Gran other than as a calm and benign presence—although I remembered more, then. She had dark hair—slate grey but it had been black, I think. She had a vein that stuck out a bit in the middle of her forehead, a joy which I have inherited, too. I can picture her sitting at the head of the dinner table in Byways, her and Gin Gin’s house, dishing out roast spuds and veg. She was a good cook, and I have the clock which hung on the wall beside her, a postman’s clock. Neither she, nor Gin Gin could ever persuade the number of dings, on the hour, to tie in with whatever number the hands were pointing to, at one point it even dinged thirteen times for one o’clock. I confess the dinger is in a chest, in pieces but I certainly intend to get it running at some point, although I’ll probably leave the bell side of it unwound. My husband and son did not grow up in a school so they are not able to sleep through anything quite the way I can.

What I do remember about Gran-Gran was that she was usually wearing the ghost of a smile and had a bit of a quiet twinkle around her eyes. She was also calm and lovely and clearly the glue holding everyone together.

However, after a two year absence being too ill to visit, when Gran-Gran came to stay with us, she didn’t seem to be the calm placid person that I remembered. Doubtless this was because she was ill, visually impaired and in a fair amount of pain but did that didn’t occur to young Einstein here? Oh no. Everyone else cottoned on but not me.

Gran-Gran’s blindness was caused by glaucoma. Everyone on both sides of my family has it. Basically, the blood pressure in your eyes gets too high for them and causes damage. There is no reversing this but if you get to it in time, it can be stopped. Gran-Gran would complain, often, that she couldn’t see although the evidence on many occasions suggested she could see a lot more than she thought—to my young eyes, at least. To be honest, I think it may have been less about not seeing and more about feeling a bit at sea, or perhaps it was a kind of shorthand complaint to sum up everything: that she was in pain and that she was, quite possibly, going to die of the disease she was fighting.

It must have been hard, staying with us; a draughty corridor-heavy house with a room at the top up about fifty stairs and the nearest bathroom down twenty six of them does not sound like an appealing place for an ill eighty year old. Unfamiliar surroundings, a strange and impenetrable heating and hot water system, a lavatory that would only flush if you pulled it just so … boys thundering around in adjacent rooms next door for most of the night, and the rats, of course, in the eves, behind the wall of our spare room, where she slept. The ones that scurried about above my bedroom. She must have heard those. And her Gin-Gin, my grandfather, who she loved, who tended to her at home, he wasn’t there—it was respite care, after all—and although she understood he needed a rest she must have felt very lost and lonely without him.

Now that I’m older, I realise she was pining for Gin-Gin and that she put up with a fair bit. But at the time it never occurred to me that our house was horrific by normal standards. Instead, I thought she complained a lot and I felt that was mean to Mum who was doing her utmost to make her stay with us as pleasurable and comfortable as possible. In my defence—though it isn’t much—I didn’t appreciate how ill she was. There were successes which I didn’t appreciate, too.

That stay, I believe, was the time when Mum discovered that Gran-Gran didn’t like burned toast but had it most breakfasts because one of her three sons, or Gin-Gin, my grandfather, would always burn and then spurn a slice of bread. Gran-Gran would eat it because she couldn’t bear to see it go to waste and eventually the myth was born that she liked her toast that way. At last, someone now realised that she didn’t like burned toast, after all. How happy she was to have a slice of normal toast that had not been purposely incinerated for her. She could have complained about the rats, too but she never once mentioned them, and she must have heard them. Mum and Dad were epic hosts, so doubtless she enjoyed the human part of the experience, or at least as much as she could through the trials of being ill and missing Gin-Gin. These are all things that were too subtle for me to see unless someone spelled them out in black and white, and that wasn’t the kind of thing you did in those days. All I could see was that Mum’s efforts seemed thankless and that Gran-Gran taking a great deal of my mother’s attention away from me and my brother. It was made worse by the fact that I was all at sea with this new grumpy Gran-Gran whom I felt I didn’t know. I wanted the old one back, without understanding that Gran-Gran no longer had the strength to be her.

With hindsight I know it was a difficult visit. Mum let slip just recently, that at the end of her life Gran-Gran kept bursting into tears, perhaps that was then. Perhaps that was the tension I picked up on. And of course, we had to respect Gran-Gran’s wishes at all times and they were wishes that weren’t always compatible with a lively eight and ten year old.

She would quite often ask Giles and I to keep the noise down or stop doing something or tell us we shouldn’t do something. We were told she wasn’t well and to keep out of the way so we did; as much as possible. That particular brief that was easier for Giles at boarding school than me at day school. She kept saying she couldn’t see but at the same time, it was amazing what she could see if it was a child licking a knife at the dinner table, playing corridor football or generally doing something they shouldn’t. She was not afraid to tell us off when Mum wasn’t around either which, we felt, was not her job. She would ask my Mum for help with certain things which we would then see her happily doing on her own when Mum was out of earshot or there was no-one adult around. What I now understand was her saving precious capacity and only using it when she had to, I thought was her blagging help to get attention when she didn’t need it. These days, I also understand that glaucoma comes and goes, so she would genuinely have had days where the light was more amenable and she was able to see way more than on others, and also, her reduced sight must have frustrated her terribly, but did I realise this then? Did I bollocks?

‘Mum, she can see,’ I said petulantly, one day while Gran-Gran was upstairs resting after a particularly difficult session. ‘She says she can’t but she can.’
‘No sweetheart, she can’t.’ My mum said.
Poor fool! I thought. She’s being hoodwinked! I must show her the truth.

And that is when I hit on a plan to prove to Mum and Dad that Gran-Gran could see. A plan so simple, so elegant, that would be easy to carry out. A test of her visual skills that, I believed, I could implement without harming anyone. A plan with the straightforward logic, intelligence of concept and validity of results you might obtain with … say … the ducking stool.

Yeh.

When my brother came home from school, I explained my plan to him. He was now old enough to have a least the beginnings of an understanding of subtlety and nuance in the emotional landscape.

‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea kiddo,’ was all he said.

I thought about it a bit, decided he was wrong, it was a great idea, so I did it, anyway.

Carefully, I tied piece of cotton across the bottom of the stairs, stretching from the iron banister one side to the leg of a small chest in which we kept the shoe cleaning kit the other. I made sure I did granny knots rather than reef knots because if my quarry didn’t see the cotton I wanted her to just walk on through it without noticing or being hurt. At the top of the stairs to the middle floor I did the same but I had to tape one end of the cotton to the wall.

Yes, I’m afraid you read that right, I set a trip wire for my eighty year old grandmother at the top of a flight of carpeted, but concrete underneath, stairs and genuinely thought that was OK.

The rationale was simple, as I’d explained to my brother, Gran-Gran would either not see the cotton, in which case, my crap knots would untie as she walked through it and all would be well. If she did see the cotton and complained about it it would prove that she could see.

Having tied the cotton in place Gran-Gran failed to surface within a few nanoseconds so I got bored of waiting, wandered off and forgot about it. Some hours later, I gather Gran-Gran did see it, proving, conclusively that she could see. Except that, looking back on it, what I suspect she proved was that my granny knots were a lot less likely to slip easily undone than I thought.

I remember little about the aftermath. Apart from Gran-Gran being very cross with me and Mum coming and finding me and telling me to go and untie every single trip wire I’d set AT ONCE! Gran-Gran left soon after. Unsurprisingly she didn’t come to stay again. I hope I apologised to her, but I can’t remember so the last words I actually recall having with my paternal grandmother were a robust defence of what she saw as a sustained effort to murder her, and what I saw as a service to the community—in proving that her blindness was selective and reinforcing my belief that it was done to attention-seek. I am so sorry Gran-Gran, if you’re somewhere up there reading this.

As I believe I mentioned, I really was a vile child.

Looking back at it now, I realise how black and white things are to you when you are small. I feel the same, inside, as I did then but I am not the same person. The subtleties of what adults say, as opposed to what they actually mean, are no longer quite so lost on me. True, I am incredibly socially lumpy but at least I do understand that now. I am more tuned-in to my inability to see the world the way normal people do. I am aware of the grey, even if I cannot always find it or sometimes find too much. And I guess it’s these kinds of horrific blunders that taught me to be a bit more circumspect about what I do and say, about blurting out my first emotional response to whatever has happened. To double think, I guess, before I act.

Interestingly, I don’t remember my parents being angry after my Mum’s initial stern instruction to remove all the cotton, but I do remember the feeling of overwhelming sadness emanating from them as they explained that yes, they knew Gran-Gran could often see more than she pretended but that she was old, and ill and part of love is being tolerant of a person’s foibles now, for the sake of who they really are inside, and would be, had they not a burden of pain (and in this case, terminal cancer) to carry. I think I apologised when my parents explained. I hope to heaven I did. Doubtless Dad had got an earful from her, too, but I was the one who deserved it.

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Smashingly non-expensive books alert!

As I write this, which, by the wonders of modern science happens to be last week, the weather here is very mixed. That’s right, like a cat confronted with a freshly opened door the sun round here doesn’t know whether it wants to be in or out. As a result it will raining and a bit chilly one minute be hot and steamy the next. Four seasons in one day. Although no snow, not yet anyway. But if you are missing winter you can always pretend you are in the southern hemisphere where they are enjoying it right now. Oh yes, it’s always winter somewhere. There’s a thought to contend with.

We are well are into the school holidays and I will be in Scotland when you read this, enjoying our first mini break of the holiday period with the McParents. McMini has finally had his birthday party and I even managed to produce one of my famous cake wrecks! In this case a football cake – he supports Man United – I suppose someone has to.

Now, all that remains is a quick session forcing him to write his thank you letters at gunpoint and we’re done.

Clearly, doing the Mum thing and holidays, the writing has slowed up – although there still seem to be a lot of ideas bubbling up for Space Dustmen, and obviously, The World’s Best Editor is doing her thang with the other stuff. The coming month also includes a holiday, which will be epic and involve lots of time to read. Hopefully I’ll have some recommendations for you towards the end of the month.

On other matters …

Authors cutting their own throats with 99c books!

Remember, a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Bookbub featured one of my books?

Well, as I was sorting that out, I noticed that there was another excellent promo from Patty Jansen, sci-fi author and general all round good egg, a few days afterwards. As a result, Escape From B-Movie Hell is also in that with over 100 other books.

If you’re thinking of nabbing a copy of Escape and haven’t done so, it’s still 99p and it will be in Patty’s promo with a lot of very good other books, but only until 6th August. Then it will go back to its original price.

So there we are, for some really good stuff to read, make a note to put 5th and 6th August in your diary for the Winter giveaway. Yes. Winter because Patty’s in the Southern Hemisphere where everything’s backwards – or forwards, if I’m backwards up here in Blighty.

To grab yourself some 99c or p books click on the picture below …

Lastly, more McMini.

He may be nine but he already has way more natural authority than I do. The other day he was trying to explain the rules of some complicated game he wanted me to play with him, probably to do with something I find a bit turgid like Transformers or Power Rangers because I’d zoned out a bit. And as my mind wandered I suddenly realised he’d stopped talking. I looked at him and he was eyeing me with a very stern expression.

‘Mummy,’ he said.
‘Mmm?’
‘I’m waiting for you to listen. Are you going to do this properly or are you just going to mess around?’
‘Sorry.’
‘That’s better. If you’re not going to take this seriously we won’t play.’

He also does a short version where he looks at me and says,

‘I’m waiting …’

when he thinks I’m not paying attention. I asked him if this is what his teacher said to him.

‘Yes, it is actually.’
‘Hmm d’you look out of the window regularly by any chance?’
‘Well, yes,’ he admitted, and he did have the good grace to look sheepish at this point. ‘I do. Quite a lot.’

Clearly a chip off the old block then. I have told him I’ll try to be more attentive for the rest of the holidays and he says that next term, he’ll make a special effort to be more attentive in class – although I think he may be a lot better than that sounds.

 

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Mind Expansion Anyone? #McMini #kids #parenting #children

McMini ‘wearing’ a head warmer.

Over the holidays I thought it would be fun to tell some of the funny stories about my family. There is ‘Catching Socks’, ‘Night of the Homeless Man’, ‘Tale of the Drowning Toddler’ and a famous one about my Mum for which I have no title, as yet.

However, I thought I would leave that for later because obviously, it being the holidays, I have been spending a lot of time with McMini and at the moment, he is in absolutely tip top form.

Indeed, he is greater evidence than anything else I’ve encountered that anyone who wants their mind expanding should skip the drugs and just talk to a kid.

McOther has his usual pre-holiday work panic on so after managing to clear the decks for sports day he had to miss the pic-nic lunch.

So there we were, McMini and I, eating our sandwiches and chatting.

‘Have you licked that spoon?’ asks McMini.
‘Yes, sorry,’ I say. ‘It’s covered in my yucky saliva.’
‘I don’t mind Mummy. My saliva is 50% yours. Your saliva is called Lady Penelope, Dad’s Saliva is called Geoffrey. My saliva is called Geoffrey Penelope.’

McOther’s reaction to this was to ask me if there was a source of mind expanding drugs McMini has access to about which we are unaware. But I think this is probably just how he is. I’ve never needed them, myself after all and McOther’s imagination is just as fertile so I guess it’s a given that McMini will come up with the kind of double dose that surprises even us.

Sometimes, McOther and I worry about what we have spawned …

Then this one…

Yesterday, I was happily minding my own business, reading the Searcher magazine on the loo when McMini appeared. It’s not so much you’ll never walk alone in our house so much as you’ll never cr- you get the picture, I’m sure. Anyway

‘I had a dream about you last night Mummy.’
‘Did you?’ I say. Uh-oh, I think. Dreams about me tend to involve my turning into some grisly monster and ripping his head off, dreams about his father, ditto.
‘Yes. It was quite scary, or at least it wasn’t exactly scary because it was funny but it was scary too. I dreamed I was in a kind of fairy tale. Cinderella was there but she had a black horrible face with red glowing eyes and she was dancing around and I accidentally went into her territory so she decided to kill me,’ – yep, her territory. I think we may have been letting him watch too many animal programmes – ‘But luckily you turned up, Mummy, and saved my life.’
Well that’s a surprise. I thought. ‘Oh dear,’ I said. ‘Still I’m glad I saved your life. Usually I kill you don’t I? so it makes for a nice change.’
‘Yes. But you nearly died. Cinderella had some zombie assistants, her ugly sisters were with her and they had crosses for eyes like when I draw dead people* and the Cinderella had a terrible secret weapon, she farted and that’s when you nearly died, the fumes nearly killed you but luckily I was there to save you by dragging you away.’

Have a kid and you, too, can have a loo like this!

When McMini plays video games, he doesn’t usually play the game that much, he spends hours dressing the characters in different clothes etc. He is clearly perfectly normal in this respect as the more recent the game the more secondary the actual game seems to be to all the extras, places you can go off menu, costumes you can unlock etc. But I found him playing Fifa 13 the other day.

‘Watch this Mummy!’ he said. Then as the goalie about to take a goal kick, he turned and put the ball in the back of the net. The game is not designed for people to do this so the Goalie then proceeded to put his head in his hands and look really upset. Which was kind of funny, in a surreal way.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘I’m being Chelsea. I don’t really like Chelsea so I have set myself up as Cheese McPiggyface, their player manager and I am making them lose so they are easier to beat next time.’
‘I’m not sure games work like that.’
‘Only one way to find out, Mummy.’

Hmm… well, I guess it’s cunning.

He also has a Ferrari driving game. To start racing you have to do some practise laps with Tiff Needell. McMini has never graduated to the actual racing bit. He drives the wrong way, backwards, into the wall and basically trashes the car.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked him.
‘I’m smashing the car. It’s hilarious! Look! I’ve cracked the windscreen.’
‘Why would you break a lovely Ferrari.’
‘Oh it’s much more fun than doing it properly, Mummy. Tiff Needell gets really cross.’

Ho hum … and don’t get me started on the weird stuff he puts in the freezer.

A lego figure in suspended animation. Our freezer is full of this stuff!

I dunno what’s going on here, more lego being iced along with a Kinder egg toy.

 

* And how The Beano draws dead things, too. Which is where he got it from I suspect.

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This week, I have been mostly thinking about #marketing #bookmarketing #indiereads

Oh yes I have.

Several things got me started, Tricia Drameh’s post:
https://authortriciadrammeh.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/become-a-millionaire-selling-books-on-amazon-or-not/,
Then something similar on Chuck Wendig’s blog about giving books time to ferment:
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2017/05/30/dear-writers-a-book-needs-time-to-cook/
And following on from that, a post doing the round on kindleboards:
http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,252168.0.html about what makes a 6 figure author.

Chuck Wendig’s words about letting books cook particularly rang true with me since I temporarily abandoned a new series I was working on recently, in order to try writing simpler shorter stories that are easier to handle with all the other shit that’s going down. The second of these; Jump, is a story about The Pan of Hamgee and it’s with the smashing editor now. The first has turned into a novel; 40k and rising, so it’s unfinished as yet.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m saying but it adds colour and makes the Facebook post more interesting.

However, while I was working on all these other projects, the new series cooked away quietly in the background and has really begun to crystallise. My hero is now a one-legged, muscle-bound ex gigolo with scar down one side of his face. He was working on Terra, the capital planet of the system, serving a niche market: rich trophy wives who wanted to pretend they were being ravished by an orc, only in the safety of their own homes by an orc who is keen to ensure they enjoy the experience. Naturally, he is very careful about who his clients are and insists any ladies who are attached tell their other halves – this is a different planet remember so most of them regard it as a nice thing for the wife to do, a bit of recreation that saves them a job.

Unfortunately, despite his precautions, he is stitched up by an angry husband. It’s not relevant to the plot really, it’s just his background but it’s how he ends up in the Salvage Zone, trawling the asteroid belt for space garbage to pay off his debts, and living on stinky P-Deck next to the Sewage Processing Plant in the Orion Space Station. Meanwhile my heroine has been in stasis for four million years and is currently floating around deep space in a box but she’s heading for the asteroid belt and guess who’s going to find her. It’s all stuff that wasn’t there, and has only arrived since I’ve left the story stewing. And it made me think that maybe, for the most part, I’m not letting my books cook for long enough – don’t laugh I know they take 2 years each but sod it, I’m working faster these days, the first one took 13. And my point is, there are bits of the new series that I could write down straight away, and I can see the characters so clearly in my head. It wasn’t like that before I gave up on it temporarily.

To get back on topic, I suppose what I’m saying is that it takes a while to tease my stuff out from being random fragments of ideas to something coherent with a point – not to mention a plot. Unfortunately, the marketing strategy that appears to work best: high volume, low price – mass production if you will – is untenable for authors such as myself, whose books, for whatever reason, take time. But does that mean we will never succeed? Well, thinking about it, the ebook thing probably hasn’t been going on long enough to know with any certainty. However, through my own mistakes and total unsuitability to the author career thing I have learned some stuff the hard way which I will share with you now.

To write to market or not to write to market? That is the question.

I spent too much time trying to be this guy. Yep, there’s me wanting to make my own way home when I should have hailed a taxi like all the others.

Actually, it’s probably not. Somewhat naively, I set out to write the kind of book I always wanted to read that didn’t exist yet. The reasoning was simple, I believed that if I liked my books other people would. While this might make sound creative sense, I’m beginning to suspect it’s commercial anathema.

The thing is, by very din’t of being an author I’m probably already several bricks short of a hod, all authors are. Therefore, we have to accept that what floats our boat is likely to have about as much appeal to the rest of the reading public as taking a lava shower! So over my five books and eight year writing career, I’ve learned that there’s a very good reason why the books I always wanted to read don’t exist. And that reason is that nobody else actually wants to read them. It doesn’t matter if they’re good, or even if people like them once they’ve read them. The point is, they don’t appeal initially so it takes a long time (if at all) for anyone to pick them up and start reading.

Sure, I still want to believe I’m an outlier but I have to accept that it looks unlikely. So my advice is that anyone who wants to write for financial gain should avoid genre mashing and make at least a cursory nod to market tropes when they start writing. Because I’m beginning to think that what people actually want to read is lots of versions of the same book, but slightly different, again and again.

Maybe what an author should ask herself, starting out, is this: are you going to write what you want to write or to make money? Maybe the folks who succeed in this game are the ones who manage to combine the two.

Ebooks have an eternal shelf life.

What!!!!? You are shitting me!!!

Bollocks they do!

Why do so many of the writers who are more like robots, or able to stop time, or who’ve made a pact with the devil or have supersonic typing hands (or something) absolutely insist that for success you must spew out a book every three months, like a Canada Goose crapping every 90 seconds on the grass of a London park?* I’ll tell you why, ‘the 90 day cliff’. After 90 days, there are various lists and initiatives on book retailers that your book will be removed from, lists and initiatives that get a LOT of traffic. Ebook or not, your work has a 90 day shelf life the same as a book in the shops because that’s what the algorithms on the book sites give it. Yep, just like the old days.

However, where there is a difference is that once someone reads your new book, the others are all there for them to find via the other books by links if they want to read the rest of your back catalogue. So they won’t be going out of print.

Know yourself, and understand your product. If your books were cars what would yours be?

This is not a quality issue, it’s more a case of are your books abundant or are they … rare.

Are your books one of these?

So most of the really big indie authors have a big backlist, or they are releasing books at the rate of knots. I have no idea how they do this, c.f. Mr Wendig’s remarks about books cooking. I need more books in the pot, I suspect. However, the point is, what they’re doing is the same thing as a company like Ford. Good product, high volume of production, low price and low profit per item but the millions sold make up for that. The high volume, low profit model is the best and easiest way to make cash doing anything. However it usually requires a big outlay up front; you have to make a lot of product before you start to earn your profits or spend a lot on advertising. Basically, you’ll have to bankroll your overheads with something for the three or four months it takes for the profits to a) turn up and b) actually reach you. Most arenas of consumer goods selling are similar. Why do you think there are so many huge companies that own everything? Yep. That’s right.

THIS is what the Kickstarter campaign will be about for my eyebombing book. Buying enough copies up front to get a low, low unit price and paying for production and design costs.

Or maybe your books are more like one of these …

Or you can do it another way. Because if you write one 200k, meticulously researched historical novel every three years, it is very difficult for you to be Ford. Sure you can do some shorts but it’s still tricky, even those take time. So you have to pitch yourself as Aston Martin, a premium product, hand crafted and painstakingly produced over a period of years, by craftspeople. And you have to make your unit price higher because, theoretically, there’s more ‘work’ in each one and there are less units produced.

Low volume, high profit margin.

This is the way I should go and have not gone. This also means that on sites like Kobo, you will be more likely to be accepted for a promotion or sale since a reduction from £6.99 to £1.99 is much more attractive than a reduction of £3.99 down to £1.99. If you try this with me though, you want to make sure you don’t get into a DFS situation, where you have so many sales that anyone who buys your books for  standard price is a mug. It’s also tricky to make the switch if you’ve been selling your books for reasonably low volume prices. Especially if your books are neither bespoke niche nor mass produced but something more like this …

Yes … we all think it looks cool but does anyone actually want one?

If you’re a natural Aston or er hem, grass covered ute, can you turn yourself into a successful Ford?

Sighs … I wish I knew.

Over time I’ve been writing books, it’s become painfully clear to me that if a person enjoys – if that’s the right word – the levels of demand upon their time and emotional energy that I do, trying to write stuff at anything approaching a sensible rate of output for a high volume low profit production model is extremely difficult. The more I see of this, the more I realise it is about four things:

  1. You need to be a reasonably prolific author in the first place – I actually am, I write a lot in the time I have there just isn’t much time available.
  2. You must be time-rich, or exceptionally good at making time, sleep like Margaret Thatcher (4 hours a night) and be extremely emotionally stable and/or emotionally robust so the difficult times don’t throw you off your game.
  3. Another thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of the folks doing well are extremely well organised; either with their marketing or their writing or both. So I think if you’re the kind of person who spends three quarters of each day looking for your keys, glasses, phone, trying to remember your own name etc, you’re probably stuffed, or at least, you’re going to have to work harder. So yeh, six figure authors appear to be ruthlessly efficient with their time.
  4. They are flexible. They seem to react swiftly to new developments in the market.

That, there, is not everyone’s personality or life. But then, not every car is mass produced. Aston Martin are successful, right?

Oh blimey! I only write one book every three years, what can I do? I’m stuffed!

Is your book a lemon?

Well, perhaps not. So don’t panic! Not yet, anyway.

Even though I know my life circumstances render a career pretty much dead in the water it seems that hope springs eternal. If you, like me, still keep trying and keep on writing because you have to, I sympathise. I’m an authorholic, completely addicted, and I really can’t stop so if that’s you, too (and I suspect there are plenty of you out there, c.f. my earlier statement that most authors are a bit nuts) welcome to authorholics anonymous.

Slow authors can up their rate of production a bit by writing shorter books, and folks like me, who’ve been selling at the wrong price point for years can then put the shorter books at a lower price point so at least people with less cash to flash still have something to read.

But I have stuffed the marketing up a bit. Quite a lot, actually. It’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. I was a marketing manager with a household name here in the UK. But I’ve still managed to build a base of readers who are almost certainly expecting something very different to what I’m offering, and a stable of four books that, are a really hard sell and one that is a complete and utter dud. I’m not talking about whether people love them, they do, but getting them to read the darned things is properly difficult!

Yep.

Frankly, if I was still a marketing manager, I’d sack me.

What have I learned from my many mistakes?

Lots, so here are some of the many things that I’ve learned the hard way so that you don’t have to:

  1. Despite being as ancient as the hills the best and most reliable way to keep direct contact with your audience still appears to be a mailing list. You just have to make damned sure it’s worthwhile and interesting.
  2. After a certain point, mailing lists cost money. That means you need to make sure you know how many books you will have to sell each month to cover your costs. You should also aim to pick your mailing service provider very carefully and keep an eye on the market so you can jump ship if another cheaper provider pops up who provides as high a level of service for less. I started with Mailchimp because the deal breaker was automation. However, MailerLite do automation now so I’ve just bought a year with them for the price of two months with MailChimp. I will keep a free MailChimp account but I am moving pretty much everything.
  3. This is a crowded market so it’s worth factoring that in. Things may take longer to happen than you expect: So if you are giving away your books with a view to people signing up to your mailing list, reading your free books and buying the others it’s worth noting that lead times have extended. I am now allowing four years, from sign up, to them actually reading the book and buying another one. That is how crowded the market is. When I started my list, odds are that 10,000 readers would be enough to get a newly launched book doing well enough to get some traction on the book sites. I’d say it may be more like 20,000 now, unless I’m launching in a couple of years when more of my lovely peps will have had time to read the free books I gave them. But I may just be really bad at this. Phnark!
  4. Plan for the long haul. On the whole, I think the only part of the multi-million sellers stuff I do well is reacting to new developments. The trouble is, my time constraints being what they are, I will always be behind the curve by the time I implement anything, even if I am one of the first to start.
  5. Write. Keep writing. Because the deal breakers seem to be volume of books as well as speed of output. If you can’t do speed go for eventual volume. Even if you only write two words today, they’re two words that weren’t there yesterday. It all adds up.
  6. Mix things up! If you write long expensive books try writing some shorter, less expensive books. If you write books that you love which are a hard sell, maybe try writing some that adhere strictly to one genre. If you’re writing the book equivalent of an Aston Martin remember that just like the real thing, not everyone can afford one. Shorts are good here. I’m currently trying to lob some 1970s Fiat 500s into the M T McGuire literary mix.
  7. Be realistic about what you want. Sure I’d love to make it big, but my real ambition for my writing is simply to earn enough from the books I have on sale to be able to produce the next one. I haven’t. But it seems to me that the trick is to just keep on keeping on and quietly dropping books out there into the void.
  8. Accept that sometimes, your principles may hold you back. I loathe the current fashion for having thin attractive women on book covers and I’m not overly keen on ripped man torsos either. I believe it is damaging to people who are not stick thin or ripped. I have banged on about this before so I won’t do it again, but I suspect the fact I refuse to feature idealised humans on my covers or keep the colour scheme to black plus one other may well explain why my sales in fantasy – which used to be good – are now even more piss poor than my risible showing in sci-fi.

Do us folks who write a little bit slower than the speed of continental drift stand a chance?

You know what, I sincerely hope so. The nearest successful author to me I can find – or at least the nearest in outlook – writes 4 or 5 books a year. She has been a midlister for sometime but I’d say her career has really taken off this year. She’s practical and no-nonsense and her advice to those like us would be to get the mailing list going, a website, a blog (possibly) and write. Because she says, again and again, that her income rises with the number of books in her back catalogue. She says you don’t have to be writing best sellers all the time if you have enough decent books in your backlist because each person who reads one will read them all. As the number of books grows, your sales grow and your author ‘score’ on the retail sites grows. There may yet be a chance for us molluscs to creep into profitability through the back door.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Keep writing books and see. Because it takes as long as it takes; and that applies to both success, on whatever level I judge it, and writing the books.

Relax and enjoy the journey.

The most important thing is to relax and enjoy the journey.

All we slow writers can do is put the framework in place and hope that after ten or twenty years, when we have twelve plus books in the ether, the chance to earn a decent living from our work will still be there for us.

*Factoid Alert: I’m afraid this is actually true.

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And now for something completely different … #eyebombing #eyebombthereforeiam

Eyebombing: the art of spreading googly joy

Saddled as we are with a thoroughly grim world landscape right now I thought everyone could do with a bit of cheering up. So it occurred to me that it would be fun to start a group about one of my favourite hobbies, eyebombing, possibly with a view to doing a book later on … if it goes well.

Eyebombing is the art, if that’s the right word, of adding googly eyes to inanimate objects to give them a personality. When I write, I love putting obscure jokes in my books; things that only a handful of people will get. Eyebombing has that exact same appeal. If I stick googly eyes on something, odds are only about one in ten people will see it. It’s a secret joke between a tiny and exclusive club of eagle-eyed, uber-noticing folks.

And it’s a little bit naughty …

and I’m not meant to …

and yet, it’s mostly harmless.

And it’s a lot more interesting than running through wheat fields! (Sorry, bit of British political humour there, although, to give her her due, running through wheat is a lot more outrageous than it sounds, she’d have got a proper bollocking from the farmer if he’d caught her.)

Eyebombing is something I’ve been doing since before McMini was born. Over the years I have built up a sizeable library of photographs. Looking at them with a couple of friends, the other day, they said, ‘why on earth don’t you do a book about this?’

So the long term project will, indeed, be to produce a book on eyebombing. But it will be a long ride because this is something that only, really, works in print, and as a result, it means that not only will it be a more expensive sell but I’ll also have to try and flog it to book shops and funny only sells there at Christmas which means I’ll have to work on the book all this year, get it ready to promote next spring – because book stores choose their Christmas funny in about March. Then I will launch it, officially, in October 2018.

To fund stock, editing and design I am toying with the idea of a crowdfunding campaign. If I do that, I can give backers their copy this year, a whole year before release, and sell any left over pre release copies at the Bury Christmas Fayre – if I get a stall this year – or keep them until next year.

Royal Mail being what it is, the postage outside the UK will probably cost slightly more than the book and the crowdfunding thing may not work. So I may have to get a ‘proper’ publisher. However, for now I’m setting up a group to share pictures, both mine and I’m hoping other folks will post their eyebombs too. It’s just something I thought I’d do and if it adds ‘social proof’ to applications to publishers, or my efforts to sell the book to bookshops, jolly dee. Going forward, if I do have to mount a crowdfunding campaign, am hoping folks in the group will share the link as much as possible.

If you want to follow the fun …

If any of these kinds of japes appeal to you, and you think eyebombing would amuse you, I’d be delighted if you joined me.

To follow the development of the book, not to mention any eyebombing activities undertaken, there are three ways you can keep up with it all online.

If you want to join in …

If you already have a packet of googly eyes burning a hole in your pocket are welcome to join in; posting your own photos, chatting about eyebombing and generally shooting the breeze on the very nascent – I formed it just a couple of weeks ago – EyebombThereforeIam facebook group. You can find that here:

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/369964093397829

Here are those links again:

Follow on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/eyebombtheschoolrun/
Follow on facebook: https://fb.me/eyebombthereforeiam
Join the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/369964093397829
Join the Eyebombthereforeiam e-mail Newsgroup here http://www.subscribepage.com/eyebomb

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Welcome to my GORGEOUS Life! On humorous giveaways and being embarrassed by your kids.

Jeez, well, this week’s been interesting. Welcome to what the lovely Dame Edna Everage would call, ‘my gorgeous life’ in all it’s technicolour glory! (Phnark.)

So, this week McMini had pukka actual gastroenteritis. He started feeling ill, was sick a lot, and then he was sick a bit more and then, just for a change he was sick again.

Then he was hungry so I gave him some toast.

Which he sicked up.

Rinse.

Repeat.

On Tuesday he was so lethargic and ill that I left him to sleep, sat in the next room and wrote 3,000 words! Yeh, a week and a half’s quota in 3 hours. That’s a seriously ill small fry. I thought it would pass though and he hadn’t thrown up … until 3pm.

Tuesday afternoon, he started being sick again.

‘Hmmm,’ I thought.

McMini is lively, and alert, and … well let’s just say there are a lot of donkeys around here with no hind legs and it wasn’t me who talked all of them off. He is full of beans and a chatterbox even when he’s ill. But he wasn’t, which was a bit of a worry.

Early on Wednesday, finally, we got the lovely green sick.

‘Ah.’ I thought.

I don’t think he feels very well …

He was getting incredibly lethargic now and with the green sick and him beginning to hurl more often again I was wondering about appendicitis, or dehydration – except the … er hem … wee colour was fine – or low blood sugar levels – snortle I nearly typed blud sugar there … you’re sugar’s low blud! Thanks dude – sorry, where was I yeh, with a sick McMini.

Clearly the time had come to take my little boy to the Docs. I checked his wee colour again and it was ‘silver’ as he called it – to the rest of the world that’s normal green. So I convinced myself that something worse was definitely going wrong. Because I am not a helicopter mum or anything. Mwah hahahrgh! But I was thinking blood sugar. So I took him down to the Doctor’s for their not quite emergency oops-you-haven’t-got-an-appointment-but-we-appreciate-it’s-serious-so-if-you-come-and-wait-at-11.30-a-doctor-will-see-you clinic. Snappy title huh?

Long and short, we ended up on Rainbow Ward at the West Suffolk with suspected appendicitis for evaluation, hello LOVELY people on Rainbow Ward. Yes, they genuinely rock.

The first thing they gave him was anti-sickness drugs.

McMini didn’t like the flavour. He made a face.

‘This is disgusting!’ he whispered, because he still felt to sick to talk. ‘Persevere, you need this,’ I told him. ‘Take it in tiny bits.’
‘OK,’ he whispered .

I don’t like it.

The nurse went off to get a glass of black current with the kinds of salts and sugars in it that people who haven’t eaten anything for four days are likely to need. When she came back he’d eaten all but a tiny bit of the dose of anti sickness. He had a 20ml dose of the fluid with the sugars in and took the last of the anti sickness with it. Suddenly, he was talking. Loudly.

‘How can you give me this stuff?’ he asked her. ‘You do know it’s disgusting don’t you? Seriously, it’s completely vile.’
‘Well it’s clearly made you feel better.’ I told him.
‘Yes but seriously Mummy. It’s revolting! It’s like that stuff you give me when I have a cough’ [medised] he turned to the nurse. ‘You’ve probably traumatised me for life! You know that don’t you?’
‘That’s not the way to go on mate,’ I told him. ‘Sorry,’ I added, to the nurse, as I cringed with embarrassment, ‘my son is a fussy little bleeder and he’s a bit of a thespian, to boot.’
‘It is vile though!’ he said clearly to get a laugh but I was extremely worried she wouldn’t realise and might take it the wrong way. Luckily she didn’t. She just said,
‘You feel better, though, don’t you?’
‘Yes,’ he said and then, beaming, added, ‘I can talk now, I felt so sick before, I could only whisper.’

We saw a student doctor first and while he examined us and asked questions, I had to feed McMini 20ml of salts and fluids every 10 minutes.  Two doses and McMini was firing on all cylinders again with added exuberance at feeling if not well then, a sod of a lot better than before. The Doctor was a lovely chap who laughed at McMini’s jokes and waited patiently while he answered yes or no questions with lengthy anecdotes and stories (can’t think where he gets that from). Then he got the non student doc he’d been shadowing in to see us. She was also lovely, telling us she was in hulk mode today (her top was green). We were probably quite lucky they had senses of humour as he did the whole ‘I’m traumatised for life’ routine again with them.

McMini has now served his 48hour purdah and I have unleashed him on the world again. Joyously, while I thought I was going down with it too, it may be that I just had an IBS attack. I love you Buscopan. Althogh McOther, ringing from Lisbon, had to hang up for a few minutes to hurl. Although he came back a lot perkier and thinks he might have sunstroke.

While I was telling to one of the lovely ladies who cleans our house about what McMini had said told me her daughter gave the nurse the bird when she had her polio injection. She was very good, didn’t cry but then as they got the door, her daughter upped her middle finger at the nurse and said venomously, ‘I hate you!’ She said she’d never been so mortified in her life and was wondering where the hell she picked it up. I told her about the time McMini got done for saying ‘Bollocks!’ at school and when they asked where he got it from McMini said, ‘Mummy.’ Jeez. Kids!

On the upside, on Wednesday morning, just before we went to the Doctors, ill feeble McMini said,

‘Sorry Mummy, I don’t mean to treat you like staff. I just feel so sick and ill it’s really hard to move.’ Which seemed surprisingly emotionally mature.

Then Friday morning, probably about the time McOther’s plane was taking off to fly him to Lisbon for the weekend, the phone rang. Mum’s carer. Mum had a ripping headache and thought she might be having a stroke. We had a chat about it. I did the whole fact thing with the carer and then I spoke to Mum. Mum does have ministrokes, and according to scans the bleeds are where her head was hurting, but her speech centre has always been the bit that goes first, so far.

So the carer and I discussed it a bit and decided that since we both know Mum hates hospital, rather than ring 999 and have her whisked in where she’d sit in a ward all weekend waiting to be evaluated when the non emergency staff came back to work on Monday, we would start by seeing if a local GP would come out to her.

Up side of that is that it’s probably not a stroke, Mum won’t have to go to hospital. But she might be sickening for something. On the down side, Dad has really sore feet and when the Doctor looked at those the news was not so good. She reckoned this was down to blood flow and that he probably has a blocked artery somewhere in his upper leg. She said they’d operate in a younger person but the risk would be too high to Dad. They treat this with blood thinners in the elderly and as he’s on those, anyway, there’s not much more to be done. So a bit of a worry about Dad but no mercy dash required which is, frankly, a bit of a … well … mercy.

So, after a week like that – spot the really unsubtle segue – I could do with some funny books to read, as you can imagine. So it’s just as well because there is a funny book giveaway going on. Mine is included, of course, along with a whole heap of others – 24 – from all sorts of different genres. These are all Instafreebie books so you are asked to sign up to the author’s mailing list so they can send it to you, but you can always unsubscribe and if you feel like a bit of levity in your life, this one is worth a go! It’s running until Midnight on Sunday 21st May which is probably midnight somewhere in America. And apologies for only posting this now. I meant to do it this morning but at least you have a day to fill your boots and some may still be available for a day or two afterwards.

Anyway, I hope you find some interesting books to read and I hope next week will be quieter or at least, a little less action packed. If you’d like to check out the books the link for the giveaway is here:

 

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Can I have fried brains with that? Time management/productivity hacks for writers #amwriting #writingtips #timemanagement

The longest blog post in the world … probably.

This week I will be mostly talking about making something out of nothing, or as that pertains to my world: time management.

As many of you will remember, my lack of minutes in the day to do … well … anything much was a continuing trope in many of my posts last year. The frustration of not producing any meaningful work while any ‘free’ time melted away faster than the polar ice caps was strong, and the whinging on my blog extensive, as a result. Sorry about that.

However, good news, I think. It looks as if I’ve fixed it, possibly, or at least, bodged the problem enough for my writerly mojo to return. And as I bitched and complained my way through last year, I did realise that I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing their duties to others and their requirement to write. So I thought I’d share the stuff that has worked for me in the hope that, perhaps, it will help anyone reading this who has similar struggles. So off we go …

A long time ago in a galaxy far away …

Last November, actually, Mum was in hospital again, and as I tried to sort everything out, and write, and be a mum to my own son, a good daughter, and be happy, burnout loomed.

Once we got her sorted out, and back home with Dad, I knew that if I was going to carry on writing I would have to make changes, even if it was just changes to my attitude. And I was going to have to make them fast. I’m an old hand at this now. The trick is not so much as to solve the problem but to alter my thinking so I see it differently. This time the ‘solution’ I arrived at was twofold:

  1. I couldn’t write the kinds of books I had been writing and deal with the things I needed to do in Real Life. I would therefore write shorter, less complicated books.
  2. It was clear that many folks who read my books enjoyed the K’Barthan stuff best. And I knew K’Barth well. There wasn’t so much time for experimentation right then – so that was easy. I’d write shorter, less complicated stories about K’Barth.

Enter the new series of 99p K’Barthan Shorts. In a bid to discover more details about the ‘market’s’ demands I asked what people would like to see more of. Gladys, Ada and Their Trev was the answer from everyone.

Roughseas asked me to write on about how Betsy, on Turnadot Street, started her Bordello. The answer popped up almost immediately. Meanwhile there was another one about The Pan of Hamgee’s early years on the Blacklist. That popped up reasonably fast too. So I had two ideas for short stories ready to go. All that was left was to write them.

Keenly aware that I can’t actually guarantee myself more than about 40 minutes to write in each day, it occurred to me that one of the problems with my rate of production was that its slowness sapped my morale, resulting in even less speed. So making some steady progress was essential to keep up my spirits and keep going. Obviously, as an authorholic, I am, literally addicted – stopping would have been much more sensible but it wasn’t an option. I decided to try and find a way to write more efficiently. I had a bit of a think and I came up with five ways that I could, possibly, give myself a hand:

  1. There might be some book production tools I could use to speed up and ease the process – such as writing software or text-to-speech software.
  2. Planning and plotting a bit before I start would help if I could tie it into the way I write.
  3. Writing shorter and less complicated stories would reduce the cerebral load (as previously mentioned).
  4. If I could improve my time management I might achieve more in the moments I had,
  5. My brain was fairly porridgey and I needed to find a way to re-enthuse it and sharpen it up while avoiding burnout.

1. Production tools

Yes, I am aware this sounds nuts but it occurred to me that one of the problems I face, writing, is that I usually keep the whole plot in my head. This is fine until I’m sad, or  stressed about other stuff, or my writing routine is constantly interrupted. Then, I can’t do it. I lose track of who is doing what, and with what, and to whom. When I make notes to help myself I still fail to remember, or at least, I fail to visualise what’s happening where, so written notes are unhelpful. So back in November 2016 I was spending three quarters of each writing session working out where I’d got to and catching up, and then about five minutes moving it forward before I had to stop.

As I pondered how to solve this knotty conundrum I saw a free seminar by a bloke called Joseph Michael about using a writing programme called Scriviner. Now, I confess, I’d never thought about using Scriviner, it seemed completely pointless, but I couldn’t help noticing, as I watched this free seminar, that the way you lay out a project in Scrivener appeared to cover a couple of my big writing problems.

  • Finding a way to list major scenes in a memorable way so I can work out a cohesive plot
  • Finding something that can remember what’s happened so far, and where I’ve got to, when my head can’t in a way that’s instinctive and at-a-glance.
  • Being able to put bits I like but can’t use yet somewhere close to hand so I can just nip over and cut and paste them in and out and remember they are there.
  • Being able to flip from my writing to my research easily  if I want to.
  • Being able to fit more writing into a short time.
  • In short, having all the information and prompts I need to write effectively in one place without burying one room of my house in post it notes.

The way Joseph Michael had his demo Scrivener set up, everything was laid out on screen where I could see it. My mental filing system is visual and it works horizontally. My ideal filing system would be a huge long table, with all the work in progress laid out on it. I’d walk up and down the table and see what needs to be done. If I try to file things vertically, in stacked trays or in drawers I forget they are there and cannot visualise what I am supposed to be doing or the shape of my task. I lose things in a pile.

My computer is a drawer – even using WordPerfect to write doesn’t fully ameliorate the impact of that, despite the fact it has its documents in tabs and I can switch from one to another with a single click. Things get lost and forgotten in my computer. Important things. Scrivener looked as if it might be the computer equivalent of a table rather than drawers, and when I found it on sale for  75% off, I decided to try it.

Bonus! Except While it was, indeed, the closest thing a computer can produce, in organising and filing terms, to a table, it was incredibly frustrating to use because it’s very much NOT intuitive in some respects. So I bought the training course for a truckload of money. BUT ONLY because it has a 365 day money back guarantee. No 30 day nonsense. A whole damn year. If I get stuck, I look up the problem on the course site, watch the video, which lasts about 3 minutes and I’m set. I am quite quick to pick up computer stuff but even so this worked very well for me. The way it’s set out is like an encyclopedia you can look things up in, rather than a course of long lessons which you annotate. Thus you sidestep the thing where your mind wanders as you take notes and you leave out a crucial click or step, one that renders your notes worthless and necessitates spending 30 minutes of your 40 minutes’ writing time watching a video, from beginning to end, to sort out where you went wrong. It’s way more useful than I expected, almost indispensable. Indeed, it’s probably paid for itself already to be honest. Bugger. Won’t be getting that refund then.

Around this time, I also saw McOther dictating email replies into his iPad and a light dawned. I could speak my books. However, after discovering that there is no way to teach my iPad how to write ‘eyebombing’ when I say ‘eyebombing’ and having the same experience with many other words like that, I reckoned it would be more trouble than it was worth. Even doing some dictation for my non-fiction book where I used the word, ‘spectacles’ instead of eyebombing – with a view to using search and replace, later – it was, frankly, too much of a ball ache. It occurred to me that the whole process of teaching speech-to-text software to understand my vocabulary, the correct spelling for the word arse and all the rest might take a lot more time than it would save. Doubtless I will give it a go at some point, but for the moment, I think I’ll put it in the someday-my-prince-will-come section of my list.

2. Planning and Plotting

Obviously what I envisioned achieving for myself here is far removed from compiling a comprehensive plot and then sketching the story by numbers.  I am, at heart, a pantser. However, it did occur to me that I could save myself a lot of time if I could kick the habit of developing so much backstory that my first scene ends up being one of the last ones. This is how I write: I get to know my characters, get interested in their pasts and before I know it, a new story has emerged. It’s usually a better one but having it turn up a bit earlier in proceedings would save me … well 60k of wasted words last year so, in short, the entirety of last year’s output (some of those words will be rescued or recycled but not all 60k).

I heard about a free seminar promoting a course called Story Engines. Story Engines sounds brilliant, but I can’t afford it. It didn’t help that there was only a short window, during the zenith – or is that the nadir – of the Christmas and post Christmas bankruptcy period. Why does everyone who runs a $500 closed course think a good time to open it up is December when everyone is skint? Sorry, I digress. The seminar was pretty good and opened my eyes to the kinds of questions I should ask myself. Questions which I thought I was asking already but clearly haven’t been. However, I could only afford one course and I thought that, possibly, I would work out more of the plotting stuff on my own than I would the workings of Scrivener. And the Scrivener course cost less. A lot less.

And I still have about 335 days in which to decide whether or not I like it! So I bought it.

3. Writing shorter

An absolute epic fail. For example, I’ve binned 20k of the ‘short’ about how Betsy’s bordello opened and I’m now just bubbling under 29,000 words into the new one. I think I may squish it into about 40,000 but it could run to 60,000. On the upside, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. Yeh. Thank you, Story Engines free training and lovely easy-to-see-what’s-going-on Scrivener layout. The magic is still happening, the picture is slowly de-pixilating and sliding into focus and the process is fun again. I also have a very much clearer idea of how Space Dustmen, the new series I’m working on, is going to go, and I’m really enjoying making notes and thinking about ideas. The characters are more focussed and yeh, things are happening there, too. Oh and there’s a non-fiction book.

On the writing shorter books front, then, null points. But on the writing, generally, a massive booyacka!

4. Time Management

We talked about the minuscule size of my writing window. How to make those minutes count then?

Scrivener was surprisingly useful and the plotting was helping but it was only a partial success. My efforts to write were still resulting in redundant words. Cf that 20,000 odd I mentioned just now and the other 40,000 from last year. Even though I will probably use three quarters of them, tweaked, a bit later in their prerequisite stories it was fairly essential that I did something to increase my rate of production and increase the suitability for immediate use of the stuff I produced.

So far, I’d some ideas plotted that I was really chuffed with, I’d laid out the basic chapters I thought I was going to write in Scrivener, added some notes, done the cards etc. But I needed more.

Somewhere, I read that comparing notes with other writers and posting your progress daily can really motivate you so I started a thread on a forum I visit. I’d also read that doing sprints works well for many people. You set a timer for twenty minutes and write until it goes off, have a 5 minute break and then rinse and repeat. I thought I’d see what I could do with that. I reckoned if I spent the first twenty minutes planning the scene and maybe writing a bit, and then the next twenty, going for it, I might get somewhere. No distractions, nothing, just writing the rest. So that day, I started my thread and explained what I was going to do. Then I turned off the internet, opened scrivener, sat down with the pinger set to twenty minutes and off I went.

Well.

That was a fucking eye opener I can tell you.

First sprint: 400 words, second 1000. Smecking Norah! Four weeks later, I have 28,800 words down. Even a hard, pulling-teeth-style sprint nets me 400 words. Just three of those sprints, ie an hour and a quarter given over to writing, and we are looking at 1,200 words, minimum. My record in one 20 minutes is 1,700. Typing. Every morning I can wake up knowing that, even if I only have half an hour to work that day, I can get a few hundred words done. Few things boost a writer’s spirits better than being productive.

I love the sprints and I love the camaraderie of chatting on the thread where we encourage each other and compare results. Definitely a really effective strategy, that one.

5. Avoiding staleness: saying, ‘bollocks’ to social media and making it quality time

With the sprints, Scriviner and even the plotting going well. I wondered if I could work on my freshness of approach. What I mean is, trying to persuade my times of  maximum brainpower to coincide with the times I had available to write.

After a lot of head-scratching it occurred to me that this writing game is a bit like a relationship in many respects. Sometimes, with dating, less is more. Three hours of quality time are worth many more hours of half cock time spent not really connecting that just make the whole thing go stale. I realised that, when quality writing time was thin on the ground, I was spending hours on social media while I did other things looking at emails, or generally staring at my iPad and phone to try and keep myself connected to the electronic ether and with that, somehow, to my writing. Even sitting at home in the evening watching tv, or while I was cooking, or some other situation in which I could never hope to produce any meaningful content for my books I would be gazing soulfully at the screen convincing myself it would help.

It didn’t.

While, on one hand, all this screen time made me feel as if I was maintaining the connection, on the other it fogged it, made me feel as if it was sapping my creativity somehow. And the more in touch with it all I tried to be, the more time was sucked into this faux ‘keeping in touch’, and the less time I spent actually writing. Across my wider life, writing was all I was doing … Oh and panicking about having no time. I did a lot of that. So as well allowing my brain to be gloopified by the wrong kind of screen time, I was starving it of stimulation. No fuel. Poor brain. How could I expect inspiration?

More head-scratching, and then I decided to try and make all the time I had count, across the board, not just in writing but in everything. So I limited social media and marketing time and added other things to my day, experiences, like coffee with a friend, a walk, reading, listening to music, shopping, eyebombing, etc. I also tried switching off the computer at six pm and not turning it on again until the next morning. I still checked my emails and social media first thing as I sat in bed with a cup of coffee. However, I started writing a to do list for the day at the same time. Then when I sat down at the computer after the school run it was easy to reorientate myself. I started experimenting with using sprints to write emails and social media posts. I listed things I needed to look at, set up a sprint to do it in and then stopped when the bell rang. I found I could achieve exactly the same amount of interaction in a fraction of the time. In the evenings, in front of the telly, I stopped checking Facebook on my phone and started knitting socks. Um … Yeh.

The results of this have been amazing. I have way more creativity. When I started this, a month or so ago, there was only really room in my head for one project. After a week, I started having ideas about a project I’d shelved because it was too complicated. After two weeks the short had turned into a novel. After three, a non fiction project popped up. It looks as if I may finish a novel this year. One that I only started writing in earnest four weeks ago. It is as if this simple act of giving my brain time to rest has jump-started my creative mojo. Yes I still get tired, I still get sad about my parents, I still have the odd week of PMT when I can’t meaningfully achieve anything but I also feel fulfilled and fantastic because I am creating stuff – and when I feel like that I create more stuff – and even when it’s not books, it’s very comfortable socks!

Conclusion

So what gave I learned here that might help anyone who has waded through to the end of this? D’you know, I think probably this:

  • Being open to new ideas and open-minded about trying new things can result in solutions you never believed possible. I am really surprised at how helpful Scrivener is, for example, and would never have tried it had it not been flagged as a godsend by a couple of the book selling gurus I follow.
  • Looking at problems from different angles can really help to solve them.
  • A writer’s brain is just like a computer, you need to put stuff in to get stuff out – although unlike computers, I find that putting rubbish into a brain doesn’t necessarily diminish output quality. But the biggie is input. Input has to happen for output.
  • Avoid getting stale.
  • Keep trying! I’m beginning to think that the people who achieve stuff are the folks who never give up. And I’ve discovered this by achieving stuff (in my own very small way but it feels big to me) because I can’t give up. So I’m beginning to think that, within reason, if you try to achieve something for long enough, and work hard enough at it, something WILL happen, even if it’s not what you were expecting. Or to put it another way, when life throws you lemons then yes, take time, lick your wounds, nurse your bruises, regroup … and make lemon meringue pie.
20160412_mandslemon

Pie-ify me big boy!

 

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