Tag Archives: trying to be a writer

When it feels right but is … wrong. #writing #indiebooks

This week: you have another opportunity to benefit from the vast store of wisdom I have earned by royally fucking things up so that you don’t have to.  

It started like this.

Wednesday; visit the parents day, and this week I arrived in extremely dire need of a wee. It is fairly usual that the pint of water and two cups of coffee I need to kick start my day turn into about five pints by the time I’ve driven fifty miles or thereabouts and I drive the next ninety in some agitation. This Wednesday was no exception.

At Mum and Dad’s the downstairs loo is just off the lobby before you go into the house proper and I usually use it before I announce my presence, otherwise the ten minutes of hellos can be a bit excruciating for my poor bladder. Into the loo I rushed, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as what felt like about a gallon of wee went into the pan. Except that each of the lavs at Mum and Dad’s has a riser for people with dodgy hips, and if you sit on the riser in the downstairs loo wrong, the wee runs down the inside of it and despite being positioned over the bowl, the gravitational wonders of surface tension bend the wee round and under the edge of the riser and it then falls over the side of the pan onto the floor. Well, it came from a skip, still in its wrapping, you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But yes, you guessed it. A significant portion of my wee deluge had missed the pan entirely and puddled on the floor.

Joy.

The original dribbly-wee loo riser of doom (centre) among other skip scored offerings.

There I was. I’d done the right thing, sat on loo, weed into hole but somehow, despite following the instructions it had all gone somewhat awry. I spent the next five minutes wiping it up with loo roll and anti bacterial floor spray. It’s not just me, the foibles of this particular loo riser are a known problem and I soon had it all ship shape again with no harm done. The point was, sometimes, even when you do things the right way it all goes horribly wrong.

So how does this tale of substandard urinary aim have any connection with writing?

Well, it’s like this.

There’s a quote that appears on something I use – my Kobo Writing Life dashboard, I think – that goes like this:

‘If you want to read a book that has not been written yet, you must write it.’

Way back in 2008 when I finally finished my first decent novel that is, exactly what I had done. But to be honest, while this is great advice, it only works if you are in touch with the popular Zeitgeist on some level. I sell my books on the internet which, to all intents and purposes, is American. It is devilishly hard to reach non Americans but back then it was even harder (except on Amazon at that point).

Therefore, I shot myself in the foot instantly by writing a very British book set, mostly, in a fantasy world but when it came here, it came to London. Yes Dr Who is like that but it was put on by the BBC and when they first did it, they had a captive audience comprising all of Britain. I wrote British because I was bored of books and films where the main protagonists are American and the setting America. I wanted to see some shizz go down in my own country. What I failed to grasp was that there is a reason the vast majority of books are about Americans in America. It’s to connect with Americans; the biggest and most easily reachable group of readers in the market place.

Yes, I’d done kind of the right thing but … wrong.

The problem wasn’t even that I was writing a book that could well hold more appeal to British or Australasian readers. It was that I hadn’t researched my market – I thought I had but, no. That’s why I didn’t understand how hard to find they would be. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I would be unable to reach British readers without taking special measures. OK so that was 2008 but even now, in 2017, you have to work at finding international readers and even harder at finding readers who buy from sites other than Amazon.

Likewise, I’d read a lot of Victorian and Edwardian fantasy: the Narnia Books, The Five Children and It, The Incredible Mr Blenkinsop (I think that was its name) the Borrowers, the Wind in the Willows, The Lord of The Rings. I’d seen films like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins and Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, I’d read Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett. In most of those books, the writer has invented a completely new world, or a new creature, or a new something. The point is, while they may have broad themes that are similar, good versus evil baddie, etc, each one takes place in its own fantasy world or hidden world within this one, often there are specific and new creatures created for purpose of the story. The notable exception is Terry Pratchett, who took the tropes other people used and poked gentle fun at them.

In the same way that I thought, at my parents, that rushing into the bog, sitting down on the ice cold, thigh freezing riser and letting it all out was enough, and discovered that oh it so wasn’t, I genuinely thought putting my book on sale and supporting my efforts with advertising on the big promo sites was all it would take to find readers. It wasn’t. I wrote weird books, that are funny and I had covers made expressly to say, ‘this book is like nothing you have ever read’ because when people saw my books, I wanted them to think, ‘Pratchett’. When I got reviews that said that, I quoted them. I wrote my book the old way. The E Nesbitt way. And I sold that as an asset … the wrong way.

When people talk about wanting ‘different’ I suspect that what they really mean is that they want the same old ware wolves and sparkly vampires but with … say … slightly different lighting.

That is where Sir Terry cleaned up. He kept to the standard tropes, and spun them differently. If you want to succeed financially, I think, possibly, the trick is to write something bang on genre that has a different angle; a standard, boilerplate, trope made interesting enough to you for you to be able to stand writing in it.

When it comes to making choices, I guess it’s wise to think through the ramifications, but with writing it’s hard to anticipate what they might be sometimes. If you like writing wacky but want to produce a well edited book with a professional cover, it’s worth looking at how much cash you have to throw at it and how long for. When I started this game, the estimate was that once you’d produced six books you’d reach tipping point; momentum would be easier to maintain and sales would rise.

‘Great!’  I thought, ‘I have budget for six novels.’

Now that I’m writing my sixth book, that magic tipping point number is more like twelve! Things change and move. How long can you sustain your business without making a profit? OK now double it. Hell, quadruple it to be safe.

Likewise, when you plan what you’re going to do to reach readers, I’d thoroughly recommend keeping as much of it under your control as you can. This is why so many writers ask readers to sign up to their mailing lists. I had an amazing three months back in 2014 when I optimised my book listings for UK readers and started getting a ton of downloads on Amazon and, even better, a really good read through rate – seriously it was massive, about 20% of the folks downloading the first book bought the others But then Amazon changed the algo – which they do around April or May each year, it seems. Overnight the downloads of the free book ceased. And that was that.

These days, however many author lists readers are signing up to, I still believe that if you can make your emails personal, fun and interesting enough they will stay with you. Just don’t make them too fun or your readers will sign up for the emails rather than your books or if they do, be prepared to monetise your blog posts, newsletter etc – either as non fiction books or paid content. The great thing about mailing lists is that if someone doesn’t get on with your books they can unsubscribe so you should end up with a list of folks who might, eventually, read your books! If you’re really lucky, some will part with cash for them.

Once you have some readers, it’s also worth listening to them. I always sold my books as fantasy and when asked to cite comparable writers I’d suggest Holt, Prachett, Rankin … When people started reviewing them, the bulk of them cited Douglas Adams. I now publish them in sci-fi. They don’t sell as well there as they did in the days when I could put them in fantasy and they’d be actually visible. But now that fantasy is kind of, ware wolves and shifters with a small corner for epic, my books definitely do better in sci-fi! Sci-fi seems a bit less rigid in the genre factors required, too, hence the next series, Space Dustmen, is going to be sci-fi with the odd planetary visit.

To sum up, what I am trying to say, I guess, is that now, more than ever, you need to think long and hard before you even start to write that book and you need to keep pretty nimble afterwards. So, if you’re thinking having a pop at writing or are working on your first book, maybe you should ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are you are writing for?
  2. Where you you find them?
  3. Can you find them easily and inexpensively?
  4. How often do the authors they read release new books?
  5. Can you keep up with book production rates for your genre? or to put it another way …
  6. How much time do you have? Even if you give up your job.
  7. What kind of writing career will fit with your life?
  8. How and where will you sell your books – it’s no good being wide if everyone in your genre whose books you like and who might like yours too and do mailing swaps or promos with you is in KU.
  9. How long before you need your books to start funding themselves to keep going?
  10. Are there other ways you can monetise your writing to support book production until such stage as your book business is self financing.
  11. How big is your social media following? Are you up to a kickstarter to fund book production?

The way I see it there are two broad choices about what you decide to write.

The first choice is to conform. You, write to market, so if it’s fantasy, you write about ware wolves or witches and yes you light them differently or whatever it takes and you write about six books (minimum) a year. And you thank your lucky stars you’re not in Romance where you have to write one a month!

Alternatively if you really can’t face the prospect of writing about creatures someone else has already invented or making your hero American, or 101 other must haves for the best selling book, accept that you are unlikely to earn diddly squat for a long, long time and just go for it writing the kind of stuff you love, that fulfils you as a reader and writer, stuff you want to read that hasn’t been written yet. But if you choose this route, you have to be extremely pragmatic about your chances of earning anything for many years and extremely lateral and original about what you do to earn from your books in other ways.

It’s quite good if you can avoid combining motherhood to a small child and trying to look after sick, elderly parents, at the same time as trying to have any sort of career, too.

This is where I am right now. But hey, my sixth book will be out next year and who knows, 2027 I may even have written twelve and if I market the hell out of them, well who knows, they might pay for the thirteenth book.

Mwahahahargh! I can dream.

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Excerpt from one of the W.I.P.s #amwriting #comedybooks

This week, another joyous example of the logic of children. The children in question being me and my brother. This is also another story that will be making it into my family stories book: Setting Tripwires for Granny (and other tall family tales). And yes, as per, neither my brother nor I is reflected in the best of lights. Anyway, enjoy.

No parking …

When he hit the age of eight, my parents made the difficult decision to send my brother to a nearby boarding school. According to Mum, he was beginning to strongly resent the amount of time Dad spent in the house and wasn’t enjoying living in a school. So off he went.  It sounds draconian but by the time the events in this story happened he’d been there some time and was thoroughly enjoying it.

Every Sunday, we picked him up and he came home for the day to have lunch with us. Four weekends each term he was allowed home for the night and these weekends were red letter occasions. At the end of each Sunday, my brother had to be back in school at around six pm. Meanwhile, the boys at Lancing who’d been out for the weekend, or the day, had to come back, too. Lancing operated with Saturday night out every other weekend and the boys (and the girls, there were girls in the sixth form at that point) had to return for evensong at six pm. This meant there was always a difficulty with us leaving when the tide of traffic up the drive was coming the other way.

The building we lived in fronted onto the car park for the next door house, Fields. We had a small fenced off terrace, but otherwise it was Fields House parking and then Fields House Lawn. Obviously, there were usually cars parked everywhere. There was one particularly tidy spot at the end of our terrace but if anyone parked there, the angle was such that you couldn’t get our car out of our garage. Usually Mum remembered to get the car out before the boys came back and then park it in a lay by a little further down the school drive so the family cars of the Fields House boys wouldn’t box it in.

However, on this occasion, our car was still in the garage. When Mum found out it was boxed in, we knew she would be all in a dither. She’d have to venture into the twilight zone that was Fields and find the owner. It was a job of sleuthing that always took ages and on one ghastly occasion the person was in chapel. Mum was not good company when she was all in a dither so as far as we kids were concerned, anyone who was inconsiderate enough to put her there was bad news.

One day, when my brother came home for the weekend it snowed. We were only a couple of miles from the sea so this was something of a rarity although it did tend to hang around slightly longer, on top of our hill, than it did in the valley. After a weekend of high jinx, snowman building and tobogganing it was nearly time for my brother to go back to school. With twenty minutes left, some parents turned up and buttonholed my Mum and Dad in the kitchen. My brother and I were upstairs, looking out of his bedroom window when we noticed that there was a car parked in The Spot; the one that blocked our garage. We knew two things about this car.

First, we knew that Mum had already asked the owners not to park there on other occasions, two, it was occupied. There was a woman sitting in it reading a book. We knew a third thing, too; Mum hadn’t moved our car yet, it was still in the garage.

My brother immediately had horrors about Mum failing to get the car out in good time and him being late back to school. I should point out here that, for him, being late to school involved missing a meal rather than missing evensong which was an altogether more disastrous outcome for a ten year old boy. And also there were plenty of other parking spaces, the car didn’t need to be parked there. As kids, it never occurred to us that Mum had probably seen it too, and seen the woman in there, so known she could just pop out and ask when the time came. No, all we saw was bad person parked in bad car.

We opened the window to get a better view and we looked at the car. It was something big, executive and expensive; a Merc or a Jag.

‘Let’s give it a couple of minutes,’ my brother said. ‘If it doesn’t move, I’ll tell Mum.’

It didn’t move and Mum was still busy with Dad and the parents in the kitchen.

Perhaps we could help Mum by making the car move ourselves?

We would ask but the lady was unlikely to pay any attention to our request because we were children. And anyway where’s the fun in that?

I think it was my idea to go downstairs, out of the door at the other side of the house, onto the upper quad, make a couple of snowballs and bring them back. One of the wonders of living in a school is the weirdness of the accommodation; a handful of rooms, miles of corridor and an astounding variety of exits, should the incumbent housemaster wish to escape from rampaging parents, or the kinds of talkative ones he couldn’t afford to let himself run into when he was late for lessons—housemasters pack a lot into their days so they are usually late for something.

Off we went, sneaking out quietly because we weren’t one hundred percent sure that our parents would approve of our actions, and into the upper quad where we made a couple of snowballs each. Back indoors we trundled, trying not to spill any tell-tale drips of melt water or giggle too loudly as we made our way back up the stairs to my brother’s room where we had opened the window, a fair bit but not too much. Standing well back so that we were indistinguishable to anyone looking up at the windows we lobbed the snowballs out. Our attempts to avoid being seen hampered our aim a bit as it took a fair bit of skill to get the snowball through the window on the right trajectory from a safely anonymous distance back. They landed near the car with a satisfactory splatting noise but not near enough to make an impression on the woman inside. We waited, just to see, but she didn’t react or move the car.

Back down we went through the house, out of the door, down another flight of concrete stairs into the cloisters and through the archway into the quad. We made another couple of snowballs each using the snow on the grass and retraced our steps to my brother’s room. This time one of our efforts skimmed past the wing mirror, sputtering the window with water droplets and the other landed on the roof with a hugely satisfying bonging noise. The woman inside was royally startled from her book and looked about her. We watched from well back as she tried to work out what had happened. Clearly deciding that a lump of snow must have fallen off the roof of our house and hit her vehicle in some freak episode, she settled back into her seat and carried on reading.

She didn’t move the car.

Foiled!

The snowballs weren’t doing enough. Or maybe the rate of fire wasn’t fast enough? Yes, that was it, we decided. We needed more ammo for a sustained attack.

We got the old nappy bucket the lived under the sink in the bathroom and headed down to the quad, filled it with freshly made, if somewhat claggy, snowballs and returned to my brother’s room. Standing well back from the half open window we subjected the car to what I guess you might call a fusillade of snowball fire, culminating in a particularly slushy one, thrown by my brother, which landed with a massive splat right across the windscreen. The woman looked up at the anonymous windows of our house and scratched her head. She seemed thoughtful for a moment but then she did, finally, move the car.

She never parked there again.

PS, if you like the picture you can buy it as a greetings card from here: https://www.zazzle.co.uk/frosty_the_abominable_snowman_card-137112259617806813

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A surprise house guest.

Today, an experiment. This is a chunk of one of the many works in progress. This one allows me to write when my heart is too full of family stuff to do fictional things. Basically, it’s the folklore of my family, stories passed down, mostly by my Mum so far because they’re easiest to remember but I hope to get some more of my Dad’s, if not from him, then from my uncle. Some are about me and my brother, too. I thought it would make the blog fun but also, reading Dawn French’s biography, there might be some mileage in it as an ebook. If I can make it funny enough.

If …

The appeal is more in the characters involved than in what they actually did, I think, so a lot depends on how much I can bring their personalities out in what I write. At the moment, it tends to be just the bare bones of each story. The stories are officially true yet very possibly embroidered a little. Were we a tribe somewhere, these are the tales the shamen would tell. So this week, I thought I’d share a story about a hurricane we had in Britain. Here it is:

When I was at university, in 1987 there was a hurricane in Britain. They have happened on rare occasions and in this case the hurricane hit Sussex. Obviously, the trees and the houses of the Weald aren’t really designed to take this kind of punishment so there was a fair bit of damage both to houses and trees—half of Chanctonbury Ring disappeared and huge trees were blown down left right and centre, including one in my parents’ garden. Later the tree surgeon who came to fix it (a Mr Fish) said that on the morning of the hurricane it had taken him an hour and a half to drive five miles and he could only do that because he was driving a pick up with tree lifting equipment and a chainsaw in the back!

In the months afterwards, my Great Aunt, who had married a farmer, told me this story about one of the other farmer’s wives she knew.

The lady lived on a farm that had been in her husband’s family many hundreds of years and still occupied the original tudor famhouse. Like most of these, the house had a large chimney in the centre and the rooms were built around it so the chimney kept everything warm. As the winds began to rise, the lady decided that it was probably best to sleep downstairs so she got out a camp bed and bedded down next to the chimney in the central hall, which had the fewest windows. She reckoned it was also the most structurally strong part of the house and therefore the bit most likely to stay upright, and protect her, if the rest of it fell down. The power went off but she had a hurricane lamp and she sat and read for a while and then fell into a fitful sleep.

In the middle of the night she woke up, there was a massive bang and the sound of breaking glass. She guessed it came from the spare room, which was on the side of the house which was being most battered by the wind. She thought about going upstairs to investigate but decided that if the window had blown in there was little she could do other than get herself soaked for no reason and the door was closed, so the mess would be contained in the room, so she stayed put.
In the morning, she looked out of the window and could see bits of tree, garden furniture from the neighbouring farm and other detritus strewn about the lawn and farmyard. Taking her courage in both hands, she went upstairs to the spare room to see how bad the damage was. She opened the door and sure enough the window was smashed. However, the hole was a round hole and she surmised an object of some sort must have been blown through the glass. That’s when she took in the actual room and noticed what the object was. Standing implacably in the middle of the carpet, apparently unharmed, was a sheep.

What happened to the sheep? Well, believe it or not, it was fine. The lady discovered that it came from a field a couple of miles away and that it belonged to a nearby farmer. She had tracked him down and he’d come to fetch it by the end of the day—on foot, with a sheep dog I suspect since most roads were blocked with trees. It had been blown over two miles so it must have had a few stories to tell when it returned to its friends in the fold.

It’s Sean the sheep, it’s Sean the sheep … he even hangs around with those who … actually I’m not sure who he hangs out with to look like this. He was Meditarranean chicken.

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Meh and un-meh. Thoughts, ramblings and a progress report.

It’s confession time. I’ve been in a bit of a slump recently because we’ve reached a new stage in Dad’s illness and I’m still adjusting to the grimness. If someone you love has dementia then there will be stuff they say when you know it’s the illness speaking, rather than them. Over the last three of four months, Dad’s condition has deteriorated rapidly to the point where his illness is doing far more of the talking than he is. It’s been pretty stark.

On the upside, there have been a lot of big events in the family and among friends to keep me busy, although some of them are going through tough times too. But there’s been less down time and no more than a few hours in any of the last five weeks to plan, gather thoughts and generally sort myself out. If I’m a bit maudlin, this is usually good. The more I socialise and the more stuff I do, the less time I spend in the Slough of Despond. Also we all know the writer who wants to get stuff out of their head has to put stuff in. I even have a book cued up to read for the holidays. I think it’s called put your pants on, or possibly pull your pants off but it’s about finding ways to plan your writing more effectively. I’ll review it when I’m done!

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, hectic life. When things get too busy the time for everything else but the household chores disappears and trust me in this house, even they are a bit, er hem, rushed. Or neglected. Phnark. And my house is hardly a smoothly oiled machine at the best of times. I mean, it has McMini and me in it. But if there’s not even time for chores or the myriad stuff I have to remember for McMini’s school (sad stuff there too) I do tend to get a bit flustered. And guilty. And sad. And on top of already sad, that’s not good.

And what with the state of the world right now, and the shit we’re all in, I slightly feel that if I can’t say anything positive it’s best not to say anything at all. Hence the significant lack of posts on here and the shockingly low quality of my email newsletters. Sorry anyone reading who also receives my emails. The interesting stories will return. Soon.

Because I’ve realised something.

It’s time to have a word with myself!

So, first of all, I apologise if my posts and emails seem faux jolly, as if I’m going through the motions (when they appear at all). In a sense, they are and I am. But it’s important that I continue writing them. A huge part of the trick of managing life-grimness, for me, is to keep on keeping on. The small every day things become harder and harder to do, but doing them anchors you in reality, in normality, and stops you from floating away into some kind of mad disjointed netherworld of despair. That’s why I write, of course. Because – don’t laugh – writing all this stuff that is madder than a box of frogs keeps the rest of me sane and grounded.

Keep calm and carry on. That’s my life and I’m this bloke.

Right, that’s that off my chest, let us move swiftly on to other things.

News

Mmm. The 10k short is with the editor, although she has RSI and due to the vagaries of the power companies where she lives she is currently in the process of going off grid – ie switching to solar – so I’m not sure when it will come back. Which reminds me, I must look and see if there was anything I was meant to be doing to it.

Meanwhile, McMini’s birthday party is finally in the bag so I must do an invite. It’d be much easier to draw one but the lamp in my scanner has gone so I suspect I will be doing something with clip art. Oh dear. He and 9 other little darlings are going to do den building and fire building in a local park. Luckily I have help in the form of my friend Jill so if it all goes tits up at least we can laugh about it later.

With this and the rest of the holidays fast approaching my writing may well slow but I’m going to try and do the 20 minutes a day thing because that worked really well.  Whatever happens, I will be doing some reading. Both the aforementioned keep your pants on book and one of my own for editing/developmental purposes. I’m 40k into a 60k novel. It’s not my greatest work because I’m experimenting with keeping both my plots and my books simpler and shorter so I can sell them cheaper. However, it’s not bad and I think it could well be better by the time I’m done with it.

If the pants book helps I hope to be doing a bit of outlining over the holidays. There have also been more developments with the one about the ex gigolo space dustman who lives on P deck. I’ve been working out how he gets there – I think that will be a long short that I can give away to folks who join my mailing list (or who are already on the other one). Also working on how he gets his ship – I think he builds it from scrap but I’m not sure. It may be a lease ship. And how Admiral Ash, the female lead, ends up being de-thawed from her stasis pod. Thinking she might be in his ship with him now, rather than in space. Depends if he builds it from spare parts. I also need to draw a cover for Jump because I can’t afford a proper one. I should be able to use the scanner in my parents’ printer for that one but the invite is more time critical. It has to go into school tomorrow because it’s the last week.

On the eyebombing book front. I am slowly getting there with working out kickstarter layers. It’s really hard to do because I have no cash so it has to be benefits in kind, like taking them for an eyebombing walk, so I’m scratching my head about international sponsors at the moment. All I can give them is books and their name in the front. I have to get about £15 for each book to be able to afford to have it printed and send it to them. Thinking this might have to be more of a local endeavour. We shall see. Might have to look at a different size too. I was going to do stocking filler 6″x6″.

Also, if anyone’s thinking of forking out for Escape From B-Movie Hell hold off, I’ll have some good news for you on that front next week!

That’s all for now, pipple toot!

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This week, I am mostly ranting about … everything

STOP! There is swearing.

Aroogah! Aroogah!

Let’s kick off with a profanity warning: there will be some.

There.

So if you don’t like the F word, do not read this. Especially do NOT read this all the way though and then complain it’s full of swearing or I will flipping well lamp you. And if you’re a bit iffy about swearing, but can cope, you’re probably alright for most of this post but you will want to avoid the song at the end.

_________________________________

OK, if we’re all sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

Right now, I feel a bit like this. Not crap exactly, just a bit … blergh … or possibly meh.

The fact is, while I think I might be quite loving, I doubt I’m a very nurturing person. I seem to be bad at caring for people. I need too much space and time alone to get my head together and that is not conducive to surrendering any sizeable amounts of your life to the needs of others, however many times the head says go, the heart sometimes says … well, not no exactly because it’s willing … more like, can’t.

But obviously, I have to. Can’t isn’t one of the options. I have a commitment and it’s nothing close to what most people have to put up with, but the mental and emotional energy it takes to do the negligible amount I do for my parents seems to be disproportionately huge when I add it to the other commitment of being a mum.

This week there was a small blip. Mum and Dad have some living aids in their house that they pay for on lease. It started last week, when they had a call asking if they still wanted all of it, and thinking it was cold callers Mum told the company to take everything way.

Yesterday, I get a panicked call saying, ‘They’re taking the red alarm button, and the alarm that goes off when your Dad gets out of his seat, stop them!’

Except I was at kid’s church, with McMini, so my brother got the call, and mistaking the carer’s phone number for a friend’s, and being in the middle of ‘Comedy Club’ – he’s a teacher and yes, it’s an extra curricular activity at his school – he proceeded to show the boys and girls a thing or two about the art of mimicry. In this case, by answering the call in his impression of David Bellamy (it’s absolutely tip top, I have to hand it to him; imagine a version of Lenny Henry in white, that’s my brother). He then suddenly had to transform to serious, which probably taught the kids far more about comic timing than anything he could have actually planned. I’m still getting giggleback about it though. Mwah hahahargh! I swear I couldn’t make this shit up! And if I did, I’d be panned for making it unrealistic.

So, as McMini and I left the service and I turned my phone on I got a call from my brother. Cue frantic ringing round and I got a company name and a number to ring. After a night stewing, I spent the next day ringing round to get to the bottom of it. Turns out that what we’re paying only covers a fraction of what is in the house. None of us know how we’ve had all this stuff for a year for free but they seem OK with that so long as we pay the full whack from now on or just keep the things we’re actually paying for. Mum remembers their call but didn’t understand what they were talking about.

As the cost of leasing the other stuff is a fair bit, 6 month’s rental is about the same cost of new equipment, I bought replacements for the bits that we hadn’t been paying for which arrived the following day, during my visit, so I was able to install those. The engineer came out to put the other stuff back the following day, too, so all is now peachy. In addition, I explained to them that Mum has dementia too and they will now ring me with any enquiries. I found out some useful stuff, too, like where the heck we got the seat and bed alarm from and whether we are leasing it or own it outright! I had no clue and if Mum ever had, she doesn’t now. So that was a bit of a bonus, even if the method of delivery was less than fun.

Anyway, on the Tuesday, after I’d organised this, I turned to the clock and, joy unbounded, I had a hour left before school run time in which to write. I’d had to send a form declaring my parents have dementia to get the VAT back on the stuff I’d ordered so I’d  photographed it and emailed it off. Needless to say, the moment I sat down at my computer, the company contacted me to say I’d done it wrong so I had to quickly do another one. Then at last, with 20 minutes in hand, which is 400-800 words if I concentrate, I sat down to write.

And I couldn’t.

I was just mentally dead. My mojo had flown and, indeed, it’s been AWOL all week. I like to think it’s pissed off on a drunken bender and will crawl back to me in the equivalent of the wee hours (next week sometime, probably) slurring,

‘I’m sho sorry. I really am. Are you angry with me? Schay you’re not angry with me. I love you Mary, I really really love you, hurrgh bleargh [splat]. etc.’

My mojo is the one on the right. Don’t look at the stain on the carpet or you’ll know I’m a slattern – as well as foul mouthed.

However, I also fear it may be sobbing in a corner somewhere so I have made the odd effort to find it. I managed about 400 words where I knew what was going to happen and just needed to describe it, in my time after sorting the crisis, no creativity required. You know, when you have to get a character from one part of the house to another kind of thing and they walk through a hall which you need to describe, briefly, for later. That kind of thing but there was still no sign of the mojo. Whatever it’s doing, I hope it comes back refreshed.

After that I threw in the towel and heated up some filter coffee, wrote a shopping list of the things I needed to get for supper on the way home with McMini and set off to pick him up from school. We walked home, past the supermarket.

Did I remember to go in and get the shopping?

Did I bollocks?

Did I remember before we’d walked all the way home? Of course not.

The distance I am away from the thing I’ve forgotten is directly proportional to the amount of knee pain I am experiencing at the time. Needless to say, I remembered as we walked into the house, so we had to turn around and go back up the hill. The only positive I can take away from this is that despite my temptation to turn the air blue with invective, the worst word that escaped me was, ‘sperm.’

Snortle.

Yes I said, ‘Oh … sperm!’

Mwahahahaharaargh!

But hey, at least I didn’t say, ‘shit! or fu-beep! or cu-aroooogah.’

Back we trudged, got the stuff, came home. I had to make biscuits with McMini, because I’d promised, even though we didn’t really have time and I was shattered and just wanted to sit down. Then I prepared the veg and the bits of supper I was cooking. According to my fitbit I did two miles back and forth around the house. I just finished in time to squeeze in a quick shower before we ate.

The following day, I did the Sussex run. It wasn’t quite such a good visit, they were both tired, indeed Mum fell asleep over her dinner prompting Dad to shout for me because he was afraid she’d died (bless), and they were less on form, but I did, at least, cheer them up and the carer was around when Dad filled his Tena boots this week, not me. Result!

And this is why I find the care thing difficult. Not because I don’t want to do it. It’s not like it would cross my mind to do anything else. Lord knows they’ve looked after me and now it’s my turn to look after them. I love going to see them because they are hilarious and they are still great fun. Even with the short term memories of a pair of goldfish they are like pied pipers of people – and it’s not as if the memory loss is very noticeable because neither of them has ever been able to find their keys, well … OK the lack of memory is showing with Dad now but he’s got away with it for 12 years.

They are wonderfully, gloriously eccentric and everyone who crosses their path is drawn in, grows to love them, grows to care for them. It is really extraordinary to watch, and kind of cool. Everyone always has, but then, they have always been dynamos in the community, caring for people, visiting them, looking after the elderly the sick and the lonely – even people who are alone for a jolly good reason – and generally just being epic. They’ve had a tramp to stay for the night and Mum has saved two people’s lives that I know of, while Dad, as a teacher, has shaped countless others. They are still working their magic and I want to make the most of it. Likewise, McMini is a gem so I’m not giving up on any of my mum time either.

In short, I wouldn’t do this any differently, I just get frustrated, sometimes, that I seem unable to do anything else as well.

FFS …

The events of those 36 hours sorting the alarms etc pretty much lobotomised the rest of my brain until I sorted it out, and then left it shagged well beyond functionality for some days afterwards. Perhaps that what pre menopausal dementedness comes to when added to the dementedness of the pre menopausal dementia sufferer’s actually, properly, demented parents, and everyone has a little bit of a go, and nobody remembers what in the name of Pete they did.

See how smart he looks? Yeh, that’s a lot smarter than I feel.

Who knows. But I have more and more admiration for people who have no cash to pay for care, who have to look after sick family members 24 hours a day, with no breaks, no let ups. How do they cope? How do they catch a bus or pay a bill or organise a fart in bed with that going on full time? Blimey, I have trouble stringing two sentences together and I don’t have it like them. They must be fucking saints. I have been trying to channel my inner saint. However, he is clearly not like theirs. It is quite clear to me that my saint is like those early hermits; you know, the kind of guy who sat on top of a pillar for 40 years in the desert without speaking – except to shout angry obscenities at anyone who came near so they’d fuck off again – probably while throwing handfuls of his own faeces at them.

And I also have a huge admiration for people who earn a living as carers. They don’t earn that much, and they take a serious amount of flack. My dad gets properly shouty sometimes, usually when he’s feeling undignified. He was heaping invective on the carer on Wednesday, as she changed his tena pants and she was just calm and kind and sweet with him. We all knew he was only shouting because he felt humiliated and wanted it to be over, but there’s a difference between knowing that and not letting it get to you. In her place, I’d have told him to get knotted.

Sometimes, I get how Dad might feel though, why he might be shouty! Jeez I feel like that a lot of the time. There is so much administriviatative shite to do and there are days I want to tell life to just piss off and leave me alone! It wasn’t helped by the fact I had multiple trouser failure this weekend and with one pair left – in the wash – I had to go buy more. All my trousers are through at the arse because I’ve been waiting until the effing shops came up with a choice that was wider than black, black, denim, denim or denim, dark blue or white. Although I do usually like to have one pair of dark blue canvas jeans, but I don’t wear them as much as the others. Indeed they’re not through at the arse, but the zip’s bust. Even so, finding anything else … it’s like the Monty Python Spam sketch.

‘Don’t complain darling, I love black, I’m buying black, black, black, black and black.’

‘Well bully for you but you can sod off! I’m not. I don’t wear black if I can avoid it and certainly not every day.’

I did find a pair of red trousers in H&M but they were three quarter length with faux rips in. I’m too old for faux rips and I’ll knacker them myself soon enough. Then I found some lovely pink ones but only in three quarter length. That said, I have hopes that the pink three quarter lengths may turn up in longs before the year is out. The gentleman in the shop thought they would. Even so, let’s chalk that up as another thing that can piss off! Fashion. I put ‘coloured jeans’ into google and I got a whole load of black, dark blue, denim and white trousers.

‘WHITE AND BLACK ARE NOT FUCKING COLOURS YOU BLIND BASTARDS!’ I shouted, making the cat jump.

Do you mind keeping it down? I’m trying to relax here.

On the upside, despite spending a whole morning looking for trousers, I did manage to replace the three pairs of threadbare-arsed winter trousers I own which haven’t quite gone through. Rock on Mistral’s basement outlet section. And there was me thinking it was a trendy shop for young thin people with no tits! Mwah hahahargh! But I was wrong. I got three pairs of moleskin trousers in light green, wedgewood blue and maroon for £7 a pop. A saving of £105 I think it was. They’re a bit flarey so I’ll have to take them in a little but never mind. Every cloud has a silver lining. I shall return there. Oh yes I will.

Swings and roundabouts, but the mental theme of the entire week in MTM land has definitely been, Fuck Off World!

And when I get like that, I often turn the work of Ian Dury because he was really very good at FOW but in the kind of amusing way that makes it faceable again.

For this particular malaise, a dose of one particular song, ‘Fucking Ada’, does wonders. I suspect it’s not really about a never ending quest for time to think, or the ensuing burn out, or at least not, per se. I should imagine it’s either about the failure of a relationship, or the humiliation of being unable to perform at a one night stand after a culmination of too many one night stands, too many drugs, too much alcohol and altogether too much rock and roll. It could be about depression, too. It could be about all of those things.

Bollocks to that though, because there are sections that perfectly sum up that FOW feeling. And when I’m sad, and angry with myself for not being able to bounce back, and I want the world to just bugger off and leave me alone – not indefinitely, but just for just ten sodding minutes so I can complete a thought – this song is a peach.

There are few things as cathartic as shouting along with Ian for a few minutes. Just make sure the kids are out and you don’t have the windows open. Here it is for your delectation. Words first, vid second.

Fucking Ada, by Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Moments of sadness, moments of guilt
Stains on the memory, stains on the quilt
Chapter of incident, chapter and verse
Sub-heading chronic, paragraph worse

Lost in the limelight, backed in the blaze
Did it for nine pence, those were the days
Give me my acre and give me my plough
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother me now

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada
Fucking Ada, fucking Ada

Time’s at a distance, time’s without touch
Greed forms the habit of asking to much
Followed at bedtime by builders and bells
Wait til the doldrums which nothing dispels

Idly, mentally, doubtful and dread
Who runs with the beans shall not stale with the bread
Let me lie fallow in dormant dismay
Tell me tomorrow, don’t bother today

Fucking ada, fucking ada
Fucking ada, fucking ada

Tried like a good un, did it all wrong
Thought that the hard way was taking to long
Too late for regret or chemical change
Yesterday’s targets have gone out of range

Failure enfolds me with clammy green arms
Damn the excursions and blast the alarms
For the rest of what’s natural Ill lay on the ground
Tell me tomorrow if I’m still around

Fucking Ada, fucking Ada (ad nauseam)

S0ngwriters: Ian Robins Dury, John George Turnbull

Well, back to running with the beans … It’s Friday and it’s about blummin’ time I wrote something. Well, something other than this gargantuan rant, I mean book something, and hey, I’ve twenty minutes left this week.

In the meantime, here’s the video.

Don’t forget to sing along now.

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Filed under General Wittering

Mailing lists: the all embracing panacea or the hamster wheel of doom?

As you know, I’ve been writing books and attempting to sell the results since about 2010. I still think my books are good. I think the books I’m writing at the moment will be good too – or at least as good as I can make them and good by my standards, ie they’ll be more of the kinds of stories I’d like to read but that don’t exist.

However, for all my efforts, I’d be lying if I said I was doing well as an author, but the fact I write the books I want to read, rather than what ‘the market’ is after could be posing a problem there.

Originally, in the absence of a following to ask, my marketing strategy went like this.

‘Hey Sensible M T I’m going to write a book.’
‘Great plan Ditzy M T. What about?’
‘I’m going to write the books that I’ve always wanted to read but no-one has ever written.’
‘Is that a good idea Ditzy M T?’
‘Of course it is Sensible M T.’
‘But, if people wanted to read them, wouldn’t someone else have written them?’
‘No Sensible M T, I believe I have spotted a niche.’
‘Oh yeh?’
‘Yeh. I’m a person, I’m bog standard, so surely whatever I want to read will be something a whole group of other people like me want to read too, right?’
‘You think there are other people like you?’
‘Of course.’

Unfortunately, Sensible M T is correct. People like me are rather rarer than I anticipated so it’s taking me a bit of time to build an audience … and I think a lot of folks are getting mailing list fatigue, which is understandable, but a pity. Although at least, now, there are enough folks following my writing for me to be able to ask them what they’d like: hence the K’Barthan shorts, and there will be some, I promise once I’ve finished the K’Barthan accidentally long I’m working on – that’s hit 50k today, by the way. I have a nice properly short story brewing about how The Pan ended up jumping off the bridge (he mentions it to Ruth in the second book).

We’re on the road to nowhere!

As the Talking Heads said (blimey this is getting a bit Alan Partridge). But I do feel that I am running faster and faster to stay in the same place. Sales are a bit … well

That’s right. Pants.

Looking at my sales spreadsheet over the last umpteen years, I can’t help but notice that I am putting in more and more effort to achieve the same results. This last month, April 2017 if you’re reading this 400 years from now in a post apocalyptic world where electricity and computers have only just been reinvented, was one of the worst on record. It was the first time more than two days passed between book sales, for me, since 2013. Then came this month, gulp. There were several big blocks of four or five days when I didn’t sell a thing. The total earnings are £30. The lowest month for ages. Naturally, I thought I’d see if I could find out why.

First up, I tried a different type of mailing promo last month and it’s too early to tell if it’s worked yet. Second, the month before that, I didn’t do a promo. That’s two very compelling explanations, right there. But is there more.

Looking at onward sales I discovered these lovely factoids:

  • There are 4,247 people on my mailing list.
  • They have bought a maximum of 662 copies of the K’Barthan Series books in a combination of books 3 and 4  at $4.99 a pop (sales are about level pegging which is a good sign) or the box set at $7.99.
  • I’ve sold about 400 copies of book 2 since I started all this free book malarky – even though I give it away free to folks who join my mailing list.
  • That said, about 750 have bought Unlucky Dip, the short story, for 99c.
  • On the day of launch only 14 people bought the K’Barthan Box set.
  • Only 280 have bought Escape From B-Movie Hell.
  • If I take just one group of 1,000 mailing list members, I can see that 280 of them clicked on the links to find out more about the paid books when I emailed them about it. That’s actually not bad.
  • After three quarters of a year, or thereabouts, I survey my mailing list peps. You’d be amazed how many answer the ‘did you enjoy the books’ style question with, ‘I haven’t read them yet.’ Even after eight months or so some of them are clearly a little nettled to be even asked.
  • A couple of folks have joined my mailing list and then emailed me to say they downloaded the book two or three years ago, never got around to reading it and are really glad they have this time – there’s even a review that says that!

What do these pieces of information tell me?

  1. That I should be writing more short stories. Hmm.
  2. That information pages I send them to about each book on my website need an overhaul.
  3. That the books might be too expensive.
  4. Or that people are feeling a bit, what’s the point? about brexit and our impending ecological and nuclear doom and don’t want to shell out for a book any more.
  5. It reinforces the argument that a higher rate of output comprising shorter books at a lower cost is probably the way to go – I’m thinking 50k for $2.99 and 10/20k for 99c/p maybe. At least I have to have something between 99c and $4.99 – currently there’s only the stand alone.
  6. That if I’m smart, some or all of the future books I write should be about K’Barth.
  7. That anyone on my mailing list who is interested in reading the K’Barthan Series had already done so, with knobs on, when the box set came out and that any who might be weren’t ready.
  8. That folks who are interested in reading the second K’Barthan book often buy it straight after reading the first one, they don’t wait four days to get it free. That’s great because clearly they’re into it.
  9. That, in turn, could tell me that people who are less worried about money purchase my books and perhaps this is more evidence for shorter books that I could sell at a more accessible price for folks with less disposable income.
  10. That I need to make it clearer to people that they can borrow my books from libraries – but they have to ask because the librarian won’t have bought them (I’m not famous and not a sure bet). In short, I need to make sure that they realise that they can get access to my books, even if they are cash strapped.
  11. That the average reader has a to-read list that is well over 8 months long and reads the books in order.
  12. That while I have always assumed that a fair few of the people on my mailing list won’t have read my books 7/8ths is quite a lot higher than I expected.
  13. That the read through rate is only as high as 7/8ths if every single person who has bought K’Barthan book 3 and 4 in whatever format is on my mailing list, which I doubt.
  14. That the percentage of people who are actually reading the book I give away is gob smackingly low. Nowhere near the 20% I thought it was (going on Amazon downloads of the free book and totting up subsequent copies of the next books sold in 2015.
  15. That, possibly, the people who do read the book I give away in return for their email address are the ones who read it straight after downloading it. This could explain why they zip through the first book in a couple of days and then get stuck right into the rest of them rather than waiting for the free second book.
  16. That until a couple of years have passed, I won’t really know the results of my efforts to upsell since it will be a very long time before many folks get to the first book.
  17. For the long haul tbr people, at least regular mailings from me will keep them in touch and help them not to forget about my books.

What about the risible rate of earnings?

Hmm… what about it? More factoids.

  • It was 70% down on my £100 monthly average.
  • The worst since February 2015 when I had 70 friends and family on my mailing list and hadn’t worked out about permafrees with optimised listings – which worked then.
  • It is in keeping with the time of year. The worst month for sales always seems to happen in spring: Feb, March, April or May.
  • As I mentioned, it may be down to the choice of giveaway book in April.
  • I didn’t do much in the way of promo in March.
  • There has been no uptick in sales at the beginning of May, usually at the start of a month there is.

What does this tell me?

  1. That net worth of my efforts to upsell my other books from information I give on my mailing list is currently worth £30, or thereabouts, from an average £100. Possibly. But I’ll never really know for sure.
  2. That it’s very important to have a promo planned every month.
  3. That you need to be lot more savvy these days, and do a lot more to get your books in front of people, to achieve the same results you could have done with less effort a year ago. Mwah hahaharhgh so nothing new there!
  4. That promos do drive sales.
  5. That the merit of giving folks a second book as well as the original freebie they downloaded might be debatable. Is it getting read by many folks? Difficult to tell but it looks unlikely. Then again, I won’t really know until the long haul people kick in (if they do).
  6. That if I give the short away as a second book, instead, it might get more people reading because it’s accessible, but it might people off because it’s crap.

It could be that I am gaining a lot of new mailing list followers, but very few readers. But just as easily, it could be that I will need to wait at least a year before a big proportion of the folks on my mailing list get round to reading any of my books. Only time will tell.

So? Patience young paduan?

Yeh, looks like it. It takes a lot of time and effort to sort out my mailings, find interesting things to include or fun stories to tell. But, clearly when I join the right kinds of promos folks are downloading and enjoying the first book in the K’Barthan Series, it’s just catching them while they’re still enthused in a way that doesn’t annoy the ones who don’t want to be reminded for a year or so. It’s also juggling not earning much with the cash. I’m moving my mailing list to another provider but currently it costs me £40 per month to entertain 4,250 folks. If my £30 per month earning streak continues I will need to uncover a way to monetise my list slightly or I’m going to be in certain doo-doo.

Yep. Doo doo. Scary huh?

Mailing list factoids.

  • Open rates have dropped but only a little.
  • Open rates are slower. I would have a decent idea how a mailing had gone down in two or three days a year ago, these days it’s two weeks before the percentage of opens stops creeping up.
  • Click rates are down. A lot. From a fairly reliable 20% – 40% to about 6% -13%.

What do these factoids tell us Noddy?

  1. Perhaps there is a mailing slow down. It’s clear that folks are still reading my emails but taking longer. Also, a couple of unsubscribe comments along the lines of ‘I love your emails but I am on so many authors’ lists and I just don’t have time to read them’ might bear that out.
  2. Many authors are doing giveaways now, or promos, or things where groups of similar books are offered for free to readers in return for them singing up to the authors’ mailing lists. It may simply be that a lot of readers have already heard about the promos I’m taking part in from other authors involved before I tell them.

So what can I do?

Sit tight and keep doing what I do.

Once again, on this one, I am, dangerously, doing what works for me. This does not mean it’s what works, generally or even that it’s what other people like. After all, if I wanted to sell books to the normals I’d have a really attractive thin woman on the covers and they’d be that shade of green, taupe, blue, brown or red.

For the record, what I want to discover, from mailing lists I join is whether I find the author interesting, as well as the stuff they offer. I like to hear about their books, their progress on new work and about any books they’ve read and enjoyed. I also like it if the emails, themselves, are amusing, or chatty, like a letter to a friend rather than a ‘professional’ offering. Furthermore, as my readers will undoubtedly be getting loads of emails from other authors as well as me, I want to make mine stand out, in a good way. I want them to get enough enjoyment and value from the things I send them to make time for them.

So far, the feedback is good. I think it is weeding out the kinds of people who are going to like and enjoy my books from those who’ve downloaded them free but will probably never read them. Hopefully it will. I’d much rather have an engaged list of 500 people, than a list of 4,500 who aren’t interested.

These days, twenty or thirty folks unsubscribe from my list in a month. That would have come as a big surprise a year ago. But people still write back and interact so I must be doing something right.

I have come up with some practical answers for improving the usefulness of my emails and, therefore, open and click rates but when it comes to onward sales, or library borrows, I’m kind of scratching my head. Maybe my books are shite, except if they were, why are the reviews mostly good? And the bad reviews, with a few exceptions, tend to say things that suggest the reader was the complete antithesis of the book’s target market anyway.

Any other cunning plans?

Well … I need to ask folks questions, find out a bit more about what they are after and then give them what they are interested in. If I set this up right, I can send free books to the people who want free, paid books to the people who want paid and can avoid sending amazon offers to readers who use only Kobo or vice versa.

But while that might help me make the information more pertinent and useful, I’m not sure what I can do about the ten thousand free books they need to read before it’s the ‘turn’ of mine. I also wonder about the 19,000 folks who downloaded Few Are Chosen while it was permafree. Six hundred onward sales from those isn’t a very good track record.

But for what it’s worth, here’s my plan.

I have two weapons and two weapons only. I’m weird and sometimes I’m funny. This pertains to everything: my books, who I am and what I do. In all, the weird and the funny are key. Some people find that hard work, others really like it. So hopefully, if I can carry on being the way I am, I will, eventually, build up a group of follows who appreciate the weird and funny of me, at least, even if they haven’t read the damn books. And maybe, eventually, they will find one of my newsletters leaves them wanting more … enough to dig out the K’Barthan Series, Book 1 and start reading.

It’s my only answer. So I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope. I’ll let you know how I get on.

On a final note …

If you’re one of the 3,500 out of 4,247 on my mailing list who hasn’t read my book, I am absolutely agog to know two thing:

  1. What on earth you’re doing there?
  2. What on earth you’re getting from it?
  3. Your reasons for not reading the book yet – i.e. your to read list is too long, the book is too long, you’re a book blogger/reviewer and haven’t got round to it, you’re never going to read the book in a month of Sundays but you love the reviews and special offers on other people’s books etc.

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Filed under General Wittering, Good Advice, Marketing Ideas, self publishing

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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