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How Much Time Do You Need To Write?

29 Sep

In a few weeks’ time I’ll temporarily relocate to a lovely apartment in the south of France, making it three years in a row that I’ve done that, and I’ll try to complete my novel while I’m there, making it three years in a row that I’ve done that too

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The key word there is try. Why can’t I just finish this damn book?

In my defence, things are quite hectic in Catherineland. (But then people with far more hectic lives than me write books all the time.) And it hasn’t been the same novel for the last three years. (But it was the same novel this time last year.) And some progress has been made. (A messy ‘discovery’ draft completed, but what since then? You finished that at the end of July, for feck’s sake!)

Time is definitely a major factor—and I don’t mean a lack of it (because we all know you can make time for anything when you really want to) but more so, how much of it I need to write anything at all. I can’t remember who said it but years ago I heard an author say, ‘I need the whole day to write for an hour, the whole week to write for a day…’ (possible paraphrase alert) and I totally understood what she meant. It might only take me an hour to write a thousand words, but in order to write those thousand words, I need to feel as if I have the whole day, or at least a great big chunk of it. I’ve never been one of these writers who can get up an hour earlier and cheerfully bang out ten pages before work. My process is more like bang out a few paragraphs, swim around in them for a few hours, tinkering and changing and rearranging, bang out a couple more, repeat as required.

I know a writer who sits down at her desk and just writes, one word after the other, sentence by sentence, never looking back or even having to look back, until a perfectly coherent draft is completed. She immediately whisks it off to her editor, and the edits are always little polishes, never major reconstruction. To me, this sounds like voodoo. HOW IS SHE DOING THIS?!

My method, on the other hand, is very circular. That’s the only way I can explain it, and perhaps it’s not the best explanation. But although I know what has to happen in each chapter, I don’t know how I’m going to write about how it happened. I have all the words, and the facts, and I scribble down all of them onto the virtual page, and then I mess around with them for hours on end, seeing where they go, changing where they went, moving that line from the middle to the end, etc. etc. I’m constantly coming back to the start of the chapter to start again, afresh, until I’m somewhat satisfied with it. Only then do I move on. As I said above, I swim around in my chapters rather than write them from start to finish.

Is this normal? I’m starting to doubt it. But then is there any ‘normal’ way to write?

A few years I happened upon a documentary about John Banville that, quite honestly, made me want to throw things. In a scene set in his writing room, he introduced the audience to his writing process. It begins with him sitting at a desk, writing in longhand until he has perfected a sentence. This could and apparently does take all day. Then, when he has a perfect sentence, he turns to a second desk that’s at a right angle to the first and types that sentence into the MS Word document of his novel’s manuscript. Then the process begins again.

Now maybe that’s why Banville has won the Booker, may win the Nobel Prize and writes lines like the past beats inside me like a second heart, while I can’t kick an adverb habit or even finish my novel, but I just can’t fathom spending this much time dwelling on single lines.

Tell me: how much time do you need to write? What’s your process? How many words do you get done on an average day? And could you even imagine writing your book the Banville way?

11 Signs You’re Meant To Be A Writer

1 May

Yes, things have been a little quiet around here lately, but that’s only because, first of all, I was so busy there for a few weeks that I couldn’t even think straight and then, second of all, once the busyness was over, I awarded myself a whole day off—I didn’t even check my e-mails—and instead curled up with Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother, and that felt so good that I gave myself another day off, and then I started feeling light-headed and strange and had to come back here (here being The Desk), and get back to work. So while I play catch-up with the 391 e-mails from people who still don’t seem to understand that I don’t review books, my lovely blogging friend Laura Pepper Wu is going to entertain you with a guest post I’m sure we can all relate to: 11 Signs You’re Meant To Be A Writer. And let’s play a little game: leave the number of things that apply to you in the comments. Welcome, Laura!

laura‘Since you are reading Catherine’s blog, you’ve no doubt accepted by now that you’re a writer. But just in case you haven’t or if you’ve been having doubts of late, here are 11 signs that you truly are meant to be writing – and always have been!

1. You bust out long emails without even flinching, and even your signature is like a paragraph long. Sometimes you start an email with the words “In a bit of a rush, so just a quick reply,” and still manage to bang out enough text for a Kindle Singles essay.

2. You’re the person who buys 10 postcards on holiday and actually delights in writing them. Oh, and each one has a different story on it, because writing the same thing to all 10 of your friends would feel like cheating.

3. You’ve dreamed of sitting in front of a typewriter/ computer and pouring your heart out on to it ever since you can remember. Whether your first inspiration was Clark Kent working at the fast-paced Daily Planet, or Carrie Bradshaw staring longingly out of her window in her knickers and a pair of sparkly earrings, you’ve wanted to do that forever.

4. You work your thoughts out better with a pen and paper than discussing the situation through verbally. If you’re trying to make a decision, make sense of something, or plan ahead for the weekend, it’s that trusty notebook and pen that you make a grab for first.

5. Staying home on a Friday night with a glass of wine and a good book sounds pretty much like you died and went to heaven.

6. You read the back of cereal packets and think about what you would write in place of the current copy (and think to yourself how you’d do a much better job at it).

7. You’re able to articulate and get your point across far better with written words than over the phone. Whenever you’re given a customer service number, your first question is, “is there an email address I can use?”

8. You’ve actually Googled “Can I expense coffee/ tea?” before.

Laura's newest venture, The Write Life magazine.

Laura’s newest venture, The Write Life magazine.

9. You read everything you can get your hands on, including the free leaflets from the supermarket or the book of coupons from the drug store.

10. You can’t walk past a stationery shop without popping in, “just to have a look.”

11. While you couldn’t give a hoot about playing Monopoly or Settlers of Catan, put a box of Scrabble or Scattegories in front of you and you suddenly get very competitive. That dinner party just got way more interesting.

How many did you nod your head along to? Many of us have wondered at one point or another what we need to do or achieve before we can legitimately call ourselves “a writer.” If that sounds remotely like you, stop that. If you truly love writing you probably know it and you always have, and that’s the only permission you need. Okay?’

Thanks, Laura! My number is 8, and it’ll be 9 in a minute after I Google “Can I expense coffee?”. My favorite part of Sex and the City was when Carrie sat at her little desk to write, but alas, my reality of this involves sweatpants, a tiny box room and a view of suburbia. Oh, well. 

Laura Pepper Wu is a writer and the editor for The Write Life Magazine: a lifestyle magazine for those of us who write. Check it out at TheWriteLifeMagazine.com. Laura is also the founder of Ladies Who Critique and 30 Day Books. Outside of her many writing-related ventures, she spends her time walking her spoiled dog in rainy Seattle, checking out local coffee shops, and learning (quite hopelessly) how to sing jazz. Connect with Laura on Twitter @laurapepwu.

My Favorite Plotting Book EVER* (*Contains Cats)

4 Feb

It was September 2006 and Ihad  just moved to Orlando, Florida. I didn’t have much money, no car and my job hadn’t commenced yet, so I basically knew no one. I spent most of my days wandering around Downtown Disney, tracing a path which always ended up in the Virgin Megastore on Westside (which is no longer there, sadly). Upstairs there were magazines, a bookstore, and a cafe: the perfect place for me. The bookstore wasn’t the kind where you could walk in with a book you wanted in mind and find it there on the shelf, though; this place was more of a let’s go in with an open mind and see what we find type of place.

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One day I found Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Synder and started to flip through it. Not only did it make me laugh, standing there in the aisle, but it also explained story in a way I could understand, and used examples from movies I was familiar with to show that like it or not—and done consciously or not—all the movies that leave us feeling really satisfied, that have us walking back out into the light after seeing it in the movie theatre and saying to our friend, ‘That was really good, wasn’t it?”, adhere in some way to these principles.

Even though I shouldn’t have been spending any money at all, I just had to buy the book so I could take it back to my crappy little apartment and read the rest.

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Have I shown you this before? This was my crappy Orlando apartment (the one I shared with partying Russians who never locked the front door). I believe that’s called 80s Office Chic. 

Which is where I discovered that this screenwriting book is amazing for plotting commercial fiction.

It’s even more amazing if you’re asked for a chapter-by-chapter outline, as I once was, before I’d even written a word of the book.

Need a one-page synopsis? Or your entire book down pared down to just three paragraphs? Whip out Save the Cat!, flip to the beat sheet page (my copy now just falls open there) and fill in a sentence—one sentence—for each of the fifteen beats. Divide into three, jazz up a bit and there you go: your one-page synopsis.

And if you can’t fill in a sentence for each of those fifteen beats? Then your structure might have a weak spot. There’s room to improve.

Putting The Fun Back Into Story

If you’ve read Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat! is like that only in a language you’ll understand and a length that won’t fry your brain. Save the Cat! is actually a fun read, and something you’ll return to again and again. The book isn’t that thick, even. Story is just too much for me. I can’t take it all in. It also seems to squeeze all the fun out of it, every last drop, until it just gets so technical and nit-bitty that it can only leave you feeling totally overwhelmed (I think).

Another thing I love about Snyder’s books is that he assumes you know what you’re doing. He takes it for granted that idea, characters, etc. are all already there. His beat sheet is more of a test, something you can lay down over the story you already have to check it for structural integrity, for weak spots and holes.

Now, yes, I am aware that I’m supposed to be writing books, not screenplays. But if you write commercial fiction, there is no real difference between you and a screenwriter in terms of the plot beats you should aim to hit. Only the novelist, I think, faces a much deeper, wider and darker chasm (100,000 words) than the screenwriter does (120 pages) and so if there’s help out there, why not take it? Especially when most of us have a great idea for a beginning, a vague idea for an end, a cast of characters and not much else.

How are you going to fill in the middle, eh?

‘Story Structure’ Does NOT Equal ‘Formula’

Let’s just take a moment here to address those of you whose teeth are already grinding and eyes are already a-rolling at the thought of doing anything to our work other than letting it run free and wild across the blank pages of Pretentious Meadow. A beat sheet isn’t about writing to a formula. This is about the elements of story which, if you’ll recall, is what all this is supposed to be about in the first place.

For example, let’s say that I came rushing up to you, breathless, and said, “Oh my god, you will not believe what’s just happened to me. I was sitting in traffic, right? Waiting for the light to turn red. Next thing I know this guy comes running up to my window and starts pounding on the glass!”

And then I abruptly stop talking.

What would be your reaction?

Wouldn’t it be to ask, “Yeah, and? What happened then?”

Because every story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and I clearly left out the ending of my traffic tale. Therefore, it doesn’t sit right with you. You know it’s missing something. You knew it as soon as you heard it, because you’re wired for story. So you have a natural, human reaction to hearing the beginning and middle of a story: you look for the end.

This is exactly what Save the Cat! and other “plotting” books, devices and advice is all about. The only difference is that they go much deeper than the basics of beginning, middle and end. For instance, Snyder can break a story into two halves (Opening Image <- Midpoint -> Final Image), four quarters (Act I, Act II Part 1, Act II Part 2, Act II) or fifteen by way of his famous beat sheet (see the first Save the Cat! book for this).

But you can just take what you want or need, and leave the rest. For example, when planning my current WIP I thought of the story like this:

  • Half way through is the “midpoint”, where the hero does something that means he can never return to his “Before” life, a point of no return
  • Act II up until the midpoint is all about the hero being proactive, moving into a new life (without committing to it)
  • Act II after the midpoint is all about the hero resisting the (inevitable and permanent) change that’s up ahead
  • Act I is the “Before” or Old World, where if the hero keeps doing what he’s doing, life will be pretty sucky
  • Act III is the hero deciding to move into his “After” or New World, and settling there
  • At each turn (end of Act I, midpoint, end of Act II) there’s a significant stakes raise, greater than the one before.

My constant re-reading of Save the Cat! helped me fill in all the other bits as I went along, but when you’re first faced with the question Is this idea enough for a novel?, being able to figure out if your story has a beginning, middle and end can save you a lot of staring-out-the-window time.

I’ve mentioned this book before, but I wanted to post about it again because I recently re-read the other two books in the series, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies and Save the Cat! Strikes Back, and remembered just how wonderful they are. Tragically Snyder passed away suddenly at the age of just 51 before Strikes Back had even hit the shelves, but not before he’d become famous (and appreciated!) in screenwriting circles and was traveling all over the world to help other writers with their scripts.

So if you’re struggling, give Save the Cat! a chance and see what it can do for you. At the very least, it’ll make you giggle.

Find Save the Cat! on Amazon and visit Blake Snyder’s website here.

Plans and Goals and Stuff

2 Jan

Happy New Year!

I love fireworks, and here is a video of my favorite fireworks of all, Wishes at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Honestly, nothing can instantly improve my mood like watching this video. Because I recorded it, you can also hear me giggling with pure delight from time to time, and the crowd around me oohing and aahing. (And also cheering because they think it’s over, when it’s not even properly started yet.) The whole thing is about 12 minutes long, so if you just want to skip to the finale, go to 10:45.

So I thought I’d use this, my first post of the New Year, to tell you about what I intend to do with this blog and my whole self-publishing misadventures for the next twelve months, and then you can use the comments section to tell me what you think.

Blogging Bits

1. Write one blog post a week

At the end of every year I use Lulu to make a little hardback book of my blog posts just for me to keep and hopefully look back on sometime in the future with a warm, fuzzy feeling (as opposed to embarrassment and regret), and a by-product of this is I get to see how many words I’ve blogged in the last twelve months. I haven’t done 2012’s book yet, but I know it won’t be anywhere near as thick as 2010’s or 2011’s. I was a lazy blogger. (This wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t also a somewhat lazy writer, but we’ll come back to that in a sec.) So in 2013, I plan to write one blog post a week, except for the weeks when I’m traveling.

Or busy.

Or catching up on The Walking Dead.

2. Start a Sunday morning coffee break link fest

As my Twitter followers will have copped by now, I use my favorite social media-related app ever, Buffer, to tweet interesting links when I’m otherwise engaged, not writing and/or watching The Walking Dead. (While we’re on the subject, I’ve “gone awesome” on Buffer, paying $10 a month for unlimited buffered tweets and multiple accounts, and it is so totally worth it.) But there’s an awful lot of interesting stuff out there, and so I have to have some kind of system or I’d waste (more?) hours reading every interesting blog post or article that comes my way. So what I tend to do is check Twitter a few times a day—in the morning while I’m waiting for the kettle, while watching TV, etc.—and I mark anything interesting as a favorite. I also “star” items on my Google Reader and if all else fails, e-mail a link to myself. Then on a Sunday morning I go through everything I’ve marked for the week and read it, buffering what I think other people should read too, while drinking lots of coffee. It’s like my version of the Sunday papers.

But over the course of 7 days it’s a lot of reading, and some things are more interesting than others. So I’ve decided that in 2013, I’m going to post my favorite links of the past week—found in the past week, not necessarily posted—on a Sunday morning, so we both have something to read with our coffee.

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Come on, new Scrabble mug. LET’S DO THIS THING.

3. Find the fun again

Blogging about self-publishing and I nearly broke up in 2012. Honestly, I just got so fed up with it. The whole “Why I Unpublished My Novel” post was a low point. I made a business decision—not to waste time on a product that wasn’t selling—and was accused of being shallow or all about the money. Dark corners of the internet told me I wasn’t “cut out” for self-publishing, without knowing a single other thing about me other than that post. I make part of my living from delivering workshops on the subject, and I started imaging scenarios where the organizers would ring up and say, “Nah, Catherine. Forget it. This anonymous person on the internet who hasn’t as much as published a Post-It says you’re not cut out for this, so…” And what’s funny is when self-publishers make bad decisions that are detrimental to the bottom line, they’re accused of being silly romantics who don’t understand that publishing is a business. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) I just felt like I couldn’t win, and I definitely wasn’t having fun.

If I’m doing something in life that isn’t fun, I stop doing it. That’s my rule, credit card bills permitting. So I either had to rekindle my blogging fun, or put an end to it. What had made it fun in the beginning? Figuring out how to do this self-publishing thing, having the proof copy arrive or seeing an Amazon listing of mine for the first time (the night Mousetrapped went live, I stared at it for nearly an hour) and getting messages and comments from other self-publishers saying I saved them time or a migraine. So this year, this pink blog is going back to being about me, to my experiences with self-publishing. There’ll be no commentary on the Us Vs Them debate, analogies involving the Irish potato famine or calls to action. There never was, really, but I felt I might have been creeping towards that place, or that people were expecting me to. So, no. It stops. The blogger who wrote this post is back.

Self-Printing Plans

4. Mousetrapped in hardback

I’m struggling to believe this, but on March 29th Mousetrapped will be out three years. THREE YEARS. What the…? Seriously, where does the time go? Since Mousetrapped basically changed my life, I feel it deserves a little celebration to mark its anniversary, so I’m investigating releasing in hardback via Lulu, perhaps with a new introduction. It will really be for me more than anyone, but I think it’ll be an interesting experiment—and make for good blog fodder. If it goes well, Backpacked might get the same treatment on its two-year anniversary in September.

5. Travelled in bits

As I detailed in this post, my next self-published travel book, um, Travelled, will be released in four parts over the next twelve months: 3 e-book only installments of 3-4 essays a few months apart, and then the completed book in both e-book and paperback just before Christmas.

6. Operation Full Distribution

I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, but in 2013 I’m taking some of my eggs out of Amazon’s basket and going for full distribution (Amazon, Smashwords, my own website, anywhere else that’ll have me) with all my books. It was this post that really got me thinking and when Smashwords announced that they were starting to accept ePub files, well, logic prevailed. The fact that Amazon.co.uk spent Christmas dumping 20p traditionally published books into Kindle owners’ hands didn’t exactly warm my heart towards them either. (You might not see the 12 Days of Kindle page on Amazon if you click that link; it depends on where you are in the world/whether or not you’re signed in.)

erincondrenplanner2013

I picked the Erin Condren Life Planner with the most suitable quote. (I hope!)

7. On the road

I’m a very busy girl in 2013. Workshops and speaking gigs in London, Dublin, Waterford, Chipping Norton and London again, it looks like. Last night I was planning a trip in February that will have me on four different flights and staying in four different hotels in eight days. (And I can’t wait for it. Think of my travel document wallet!) You can find out more about all that in this post.

Writing Goals

8. Writers write, don’t they?

2012 was a shameful word count for me. SHAMEFUL, I tell you. If that whole 10,000 hours before success thing holds true, I should be getting published…. hmm, sometime in December 2067. And writers are supposed to write. Talking about it doesn’t count at all, and thinking about only counts a little. (Also not counting: perfect notebook hunting, file re-arranging, index card coloring, how-to book reading, plot planning, etc. etc.) On St. Stephen’s Day—what we Irish call The Day After Christmas Day—I saw Joanna Penn tweet about Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k, so I downloaded it (yes, I read e-books now), read it and then felt something stir deep down inside…. is that…?… do you think it could be…?…that feels like… well, hello there MOTIVATION! Can you even imagine a world where you’re writing 10k words a day? What would that world look like? I think it’d be like the Gumdrop Forest in Elf, but that’s just me…

So I will be writing a lot and, as per Aaron’s advice, keeping track of what I write and how long it takes me to write it. (Blog posts, too. I’ve been at this for about an hour now and I’m up to 1,391 words.) There will be a spreadsheet. There will also be a year planner above my desk, with red marks (a la Don’t Break the Chain) on the days I’ve written, and nothing but white space FILLED WITH GUILT on the days I don’t.

For the record, in the next twelve months I want to:

  • Write a blog post most weeks (approx 60k words, let’s just say)
  • Finish My Current Novel Project, proper draft (totaling 100k)
  • Write A Second Novel, rough draft (100k)
  • Write Travelled, for publication (60-70k)
  • Write a new introduction to Mousetrapped, for publication (2k)
  • Write a new non-fiction project that I’m thinking about, rough draft + proposal (70-80k).

And sleep and eat and travel and finally watch The Killing, of course.

Come to think of it, when’s Dexter back on FX?

9. Writers read, don’t they?

In 2012 I did the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and managed 48 books out of my goal of 52. This year I plan for the same—52 books—but I want to be more organized about my reading, now that a Kindle is involved. I also need to sort out the two Amazon wish lists I’ve had going for years (one on Amazon.com and one on Amazon.co.uk, totaling about 1,500 books) and decide what I’m going to buy in Proper Book and what I’m just going to read in Pretend Book. We’ll see how that goes.

10. Remember why we’re doing this writing malarkey in the first place

My best friend lives in New Zealand and after her recent visit home, we decided to get back into letter writing. She’s not big on e-mail or Facebook (I know—how are we friends?! The answer is, we met when we were 13!) and so we used to send actual hand-written letters, but we hadn’t been too good at it of late. So when I was in London shortly before she came back, I went to Paperchase on Totterham Court Road and bought us both ample supplies of pretty letter writing things, and we’ve got back into it. When I was in Nice I sent her a letter in which I described my novel-writing anxiety… and then went on to talk myself down off the ledge I’d climbed up on. And I did it by telling her the story of why I want to do this whole novel-writing thing in the first place.

In Ireland, you start school around age five, in what we call “Junior Infants.” (Cute, I know.) When I was in Junior Infants, my teacher—who may or may not have been called Ms. O’Sullivan—would sit up on her desk at the top of the class with her legs on a chair and read to us, holding the book open so we could see the pictures. When I’d get home in the afternoons, I’d line up all my Barbies and teddy-bears and basically anything with a face, on my bed, all in rows and all facing front, climb up on my dressing table with my short little legs swinging above a chair, and “read” to the assembled toys, holding a book open so they could see the pictures (which I totally believed they could, because I was convinced toys had a secret life we didn’t know about, which Pixar have since confirmed). But I couldn’t read yet, so I had to make the stories up as I went along. And that’s how I started telling stories.

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Me, Christmas morning, age 7/1989 (I think).

Which is what this is all about. Forget, for a minute, the submissions and the query letters and the manuscript formatting and the e-books and the author platforms and the workshops and the word counts and the beta readers and the advances and the twenty-year-old with a seven-book deal and how the latest ghost-written pile of celebrity crap sets your teeth on edge and what the Randy Penguin merger will mean for your writing dreams and your favourite authors. FORGET ALL THAT FOR A SECOND. Or try to. And think instead of what this about, what this is really about, why we want to be writers and entertain readers and see our names on the spines of books.

It’s because we want to tell stories.

And that, more than anything, is what I’m going to try and keep in mind this year.

But seriously—does anyone know when Dexter is back on FX?

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NaNoWriMo: I’m Only Going To Say This Once, Okay?

22 Oct

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on November 1st.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is that you pull out all the stops to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days, or around 1,670 words every day during the month of November.

Every year around this time, something else starts too: NaNoWriMo Snobbery. Professional writers, who the other eleven months of the year seem like the nicest, most generous and friendliest people, suddenly start tipping their noses in the air and saying or even writing things about how NaNoWriMo and the people who partake in it are belittling their profession, ridiculing their craft and making a mockery of the 1,670 words they write every single day of the year in order to make a living.

Now, usually I just grit my teeth and try to ignore it, but this year I’m finding it impossible—and we’re not even T-minus 1 week to go yet. (Also, I can’t think of anything else to blog about today.) So I’m only going to say this once, okay?

***RANT BEGINS***

The NaNoWriMo Novel = Messy First Draft

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write a messy first draft, the one that “rough” would be a strong word for, the one that’s for you and you only, the one in which you work out the answers to the questions Would this even work? and What comes between the beginning and the end? No one in their right mind thinks you can go from a blank page to a finished novel ready for readers and their shelves in 30 days, but National Write a Messy First Draft That Might One Day, With Countless Rewrites, Become a Novel Month, just isn’t very catchy.

Also, keep in mind that most commercial novels these days are around the 100,000 word mark. If you thought that the idea of NaNoWriMo was to write a finished novel in 30 days, then the goal—50,000 words—should’ve been your first clue that honey, that just ain’t the case.

NaNoWriMoers = Writers

A couple of years ago I read a heartfelt blog post by a professional, published writer who truly felt slighted by NaNoWriMo. She said that this was her profession, her vocation in life, and the fact that “some people” thought they could come along and do it in the month—do the thing she had spent her adult life perfecting the craft of—made a mockery of it and her. She asked if there would be similar support for National Become a Doctor Month or the like, and ended her post by saying that she dreaded Novembers because of NaNoWriMo.

Now, first of all, get the lady 10 ccs of chill pill. STAT. (See? I could totally do National Become a Doctor Month…) The world really doesn’t need to take arbitrary challenges so seriously. But secondly, who does she think does NaNoWriMo? Sure, there’s a probably a few people in there who have never as much as read a book who suddenly decide to drop everything and attempt to write one during the month of November. But all the people I know who do it are writers.

They are already writing, have always been and for whatever reason, find it difficult to fit writing into their lives every single day. I hate that thing about there’s no such thing as no time to write, because who are we to say what people can or can’t fit into their lives? We know nothing about them. We don’t know what responsibilities they have, or what they’re struggling with. I know someone who works two full-time jobs, survives on less sleep than the average insomniac and has children to take care of. Would you tell him to “just find” the time to write?

Some people, myself included, write more when a deadline is sending us daggers from the edge of our computer screen. Some people write more when they are spurred on by being part of a group whose members are also trying to write more at the same time. And some people have so much going on that they feel they can’t set aside time to write all the year around, but that NaNoWriMo gives them some kind of official permission to do it, just for thirty days.

NaNoWriMoers are, for the most part, writers. Not “some people.”

What Are You Worried About, Mate?

Oh, you write 2,000 words every day of the year, do you? When I say “NaNoWriMo” you say “Welcome to my life”? In the immortal words of Chandler Bing, is your wallet also too small for your fifties and your diamond shoes too tight?

SO THE FUDGE WHAT if you already do NaNoWriMo every month of the year? What has that got to do with other people trying to do it for one month? I just don’t see the connection. That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym… [Sorry, burst into a fit of giggles there; let me try that again.] That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym and work out every day for the next thirty days, and being belittled and mocked and generally held in contempt by people who already do it, just because they already do. There is something missing there, and it’s ALL LOGIC AND SENSE.

On September 11th, Ricky Gervais tweeted about taking a moment to remember all those who had perished during the terrorist attacks. A tweeter from the UK asked him why the world makes an effort to pause and mourn on 9/11, when they don’t necessarily on 7/7, the anniversary of the London terrorists attacks. And Gervais’ response was “What are you worried about, mate?”

Now obviously we’re talking about two entirely different points on the Things That Matter Scale, but Gervais’ response to that has really stuck with me, because I’m sure that tweeter couldn’t answer it. (Because what was he worried about? Non-reciprocated  sadness?!) And so, if you are a professional writer and you don’t like the idea of people doing NaNoWriMo, what are you worried about?

(Side note: agents and editors can probably answer that question because they do have something to worry about: the influx of newborn manuscripts that start arriving in their mailrooms come December 1st from the small minority of people who think you can conceive, draft, rewrite, edit and polish a novel in just 30 days. But for the rest of us, what does it matter?)

NaNoWriMo + Time = Bestselling Books

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Cuckoo by Julia Crouch and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (which, by the way, was one of the most unsettling, nerves-on-a-knife-edge thrillers I’ve ever read) all started their literary lives as NaNoWriMo projects. You can see the full selection of published NaNoWriMo projects here.

Fun: Have You Heard Of It?

The whole point of NaNoWriMo—more so than writing 50k, I’d say—is FUN, as in, the having of it. During NaNoWriMo, you can sign up for groups, even meet those groups in your town or city, and create a buddy list that will help spur each other on for the month. It’s great craic, as us Irish would say.

And sometimes, having fun is reason enough to do something, all by itself. This is one of those times.

So NaNoWriMo Snobsters, stop taking a dump all over it, would you please? And bring your nose back down until it’s parallel to the horizon while you’re at it. Thanks ever so much.

***RANT ENDS***

What do YOU think?

(P.S. What do you think about NaNoWriMo, NOT what you think about 9/11, 7/7 or Ricky Gervais. I know how this internet thing works and I’m telling you right now, that’s NOT what this post is about, okay?)

Replay: (Some) Writing Dreams (Still) Do Come True

9 Aug

Apologies for my recent blog silence but I’ve been flat out working on Self-Printed 2.0 while simultaneously watching world-class athletes push the human body to its absolute limits while scoffing tea and biscuits in a semi-horizontal position on my couch. This morning I’m en route to Dublin for the launch of Maria Duffy‘s second book, The Terrace, so I thought I’d repost my thoughts about the publication of her debut, Any Dream Will Do….

I often wonder how much content the blogosphere would be left with if everyone with a form rejection letter-shaped chip on their shoulder suddenly stopped venting their misplaced anger, bitterness and contempt towards the “evil gatekeepers” who they believe are hell bent on preventing them from achieving their published writer dreams. What would happen if every blogger, Tweeter or Facebooker who thinks that all agents and editors do is sit around all day with just two things on their mind – money, and new ways to keep us ordinary folk from joining their exclusive, published writer club – suddenly got off the Bad News train?

(Why it never occurs to these rejected writers that the problem is not publishing, but them, that they might just not be good enough, is a mystery to me. But that’s a matter for another day…)

Right now, the self-publishing evangelists would have you believe that it’s easier to get struck by lightning in the jaws of a shark while holding a winning lottery ticket than it is to get published, and statistically, they’re probably right. But as I’ve said before, the statistics take into account all of the books and all of the writers. If you’re a good or great writer, and you write a good or great book, and you write that book at the right time and the book ends up in the right place, then your chances are significantly improved. Then, instead of a pie in the sky dream of publication, your chances of seeing your book on the shelves becomes not only possible, but likely.

I can say this with some certainty because today, I have one very happy and very deserving Twitter friend who is waking up this morning with probably just one thing on her mind: the launch of her debut novel, which is taking place in Dublin tonight.

Well, I’m not friends with Murakami…! 

I first met Maria Duffy on Twitter. When you’re an Irish woman writer, aspiring or otherwise, the best thing you can do is to start following Vanessa O’Loughlin (@inkwellHQ) on Twitter, because as the owner of Inkwell Writers workshops and services and the founder of Writing.ie, she tends to know us all. I have a vague recollection of Vanessa “introducing” me, on Twitter, to Maria and telling me she had just signed up. With “writer” in her Twitter username – @mduffywriter – I knew we had a common goal: to achieve our published writer dreams, to pursue them at all costs despite occasionally overwhelming unlikeliness.

I first met her in person at an Inkwell “Getting Published” workshop soon afterwards, where Maria spoke of her novels and her hope – her dream, really – that she would one day be published. The next time I saw her was at another Dublin writerly event, this time at Irish PEN, where she whispered her exciting news to me: she’d got an agent. And not just any agent, but one who has had phenomenal success with a dizzying array of Irish women writers, many of them household names. Then, a few months later, the big news came: Maria had signed a two-book deal with Hachette Ireland and her debut novel, Any Dream Will Do, would be released in November.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous. Of course I’m jealous. But only a tiny bit. What I really am is hopeful. What I really am is encouraged. What I really am is happy. Because Maria’s success means that people are still getting deals. Writing dreams are still coming true. Readers (and so, editors) are still looking for the kind of books I hope I write.

One of the first things I’m going to do when I get home (from here) is visit my favorite bookshop to pick up a copy of Any Dream Will Do. But for now, I’m just going to tell you about it. Because despite what the self-publishing evangelists, digital revolutionaries and the Angry Army of the Rejected would have you believe, writers are still getting published. Writers are still getting book deals. Traditional publishing is still happening.

Writing dreams are still coming true.

So don’t give up yet. Next time, it could be you.

Congratulations Maria. Enjoy tonight! x

You can follow Maria on Twitter here, or find out more about her books on her website. And since using social media as a platform for your writing seems to be getting beaten to a bloody pulp with a stick lately, how about this: Twitter has played a crucial role in making Maria’s publishing dreams come true. 

Do You Ever Want to Go Back?

4 Jul

A question you often hear published authors being asked is when did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Well, today I’m asking when did you know that other people wanted to be writers too? And do you ever dream of returning to the time before that, when you thought you were the only one? Do you ever want to go back? 

Once upon a time, I was the only person I ever knew who wanted to be a writer.

As a child, it seemed as if it hadn’t even occurred to anyone else that someone was actually sitting at a desk and typing out our Point Horrors and our Babysitters Clubs. In secondary school there were certainly other girls who had a flair for the written word, but I was the only one writing articles for a student newspaper, entering writing competitions and generally flouncing about the place as if writing a book was a dream that was mine, all mine. There is no time as ripe with possibility like the summer after you finally finish school, and it was then that my published writer dreams really kicked up a notch. I started to devour every book I could find on the subject, daydreamed about query letters, synopses and Courier (double-spaced), and even though I had recently abandoned my aspirations to be a Level 4 virologist specializing in the Ebola virus—and had made my peace with the fact that I was never going to be a NASA astronaut—I still had I want to be a writer, which was exotic and unusual and exciting and dreamy and great.

And still mine, all mine.

By now I had encountered a few other aspiring writers at workshops and the like, but they were always my seniors by twenty or thirty years. This reinforced my delusion that I was the only twenty-something in Ireland who wanted to be a writer, and so the only twenty-something in Ireland who would—could—become one.

Then one Friday night, through the magic of television, I discovered that there was another one—and she was also blonde, also Irish, and also in her early twenties. Except she had just become a writer,  signing a slew of deals worth over a million euro for her first novel, P.S. I Love You. She was me except for the fact that she had closed the gap between daydreams and reality, and she had done it in spectacular fashion. To say I took this news badly is like saying that Cecilia Ahern has sold a few books. Her deals and subsequent success hit me like a bad break-up: it took me a couple of years to really get over it.

While I was working abroad, I wasn’t thinking about writing or writers, other than reading books that other people had written. When I came back home and started to take my own writing dreams seriously, one of the benefits was meeting scores of other writers. This time around knowing that other people were trying to achieve the same things as me was more comforting than it was unnerving. It made me feel a little bit less crazy about my so-called crazy dreams.

But it had—has—its downsides too. Knowing what’s going on in the publishing world means that you can be a better writer and a better bookseller (when you’re selling your own books), but it also means that you know way too much about everything that’s going on. Every morning a lovely little e-mail drops into my inbox telling me who just signed a deal, what books publishers have just acquired, and how many copies Shades of Grey has sold this week. Then there’s all the blogs I read, the clued-up Twitter types I follow, and the gossip at writerly events. (And please don’t suggest that I cut myself off from it because if I did, I’d have to unpublish Self-Printed, stop writing this blog and find something to do with my life other than try to make a living from my self-published books, because you CANNOT operate successfully in a world you refuse to learn anything about. I have to keep up to date so that I can keep up to date. I could cut myself off if I wasn’t self-published, perhaps, but I can’t because I am.)

But sometimes I daydream about not knowing about all the amazing deals other writers have got, or who just signed with my dream agent or how a novel that contains the phrase “I rolled my eyes at myself” is earning its author seven figures a week. (That’s you again, 50 Shades.) Sometimes I daydream about going back to a time when ignorance was bliss. Like Jack, sometimes I want to go back to when I first wanted to be a writer, and I’d no idea that millions of other people wanted to be writers too.

What do you think? Do you ever want to go back? 

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