How Much Time Do You Need To Write?

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?

Now Showing: Writers Web TV

If you’re writing for children or young adults, be beside your computer on 28th September for the launch of WritersWebTV.com: top-class, online free-to-watch-live writing workshops (and they are broadcast from Ireland!). Upcoming courses include: Getting to the Heart of it: Writing Women’s Fiction on Tuesday, October 15th, Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction on Wednesday, October 30th, and Getting Published on Saturday, November 9th. 

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Getting Published will cover trade publishing but also Hazel Gaynor will be discussing how she created her own opportunities to land a US agent and a trade deal for her book after self publishing The Girl Who Came Home. The workshops are perfect for anyone trying to cram writing in around the rest of their life as you can don’t even have to get out of bed to watch them live, and can download to watch them back if you missed bits (so you can just enjoy them – no need to take masses of notes!)

Featuring Irish and international best-selling writers and industry professionals, these workshops are aimed at new and aspiring authors from all backgrounds and genres. Led by Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie, the panel will cover the key elements of fiction writing at every workshop, and give you with tips and advice to help you polish your writing and get it on the path to publication. As Irish Adviser to the Alliance of Independent Authors, and an independent author herself, Vanessa has experience in trade and self publishing and understands the challenges of both. She says, “My aim has always been to get writers published, whether that’s through self publishing or trade publishing – and often self publishing is a better route for a particular book – for all the reasons you chose to self publish Mousetrapped – writers need readers and reaching those readers and delivering the best quality product is the goal.”

The first workshop Writing for Children and Young Adults will run on Saturday, September 28th 10am-4.30pm (Dublin time) with picture book authors & illustrators Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and Michael Emberley; Emmy award winning director Norton Virgien of Brown Bag Films, and Literary Agent Polly Nolan. They will be joined by international bestselling YA authors Meg Rosoff – whose film of How I Live Now is out in the next few weeks – and Oisín McGann, all giving their sage advice and talking the viewers through the colourful world of children’s and YA fiction.

You can watch the workshops for free when you watch them live and can talk to the experts the studio using Twitter, Facebook or email. You can also take part in each workshop exercise and get on-screen feedback. If you want to download a workshop or watch it later, you can pay to keep the course.

The shows are streamed from a multi-camera broadcast studio, complete with an in-studio audience of aspiring writers who will present some of their work for critique by the best-selling authors. Led by Vanessa O’Loughlin, founder of writing.ie, the panel will cover the key elements of fiction writing at every workshop, and furnish you with tips and advice to help you polish your writing and get it on the path to publication.

Vanessa told me “In this workshop we’re bringing together all the threads of children’s writing to give writers a really intensive workshop that will give them the inside track on the whole industry. Even if you’ve never thought about writing a picture book, the story telling techniques that Maire Louise and Michael bring will make you think about your own work in a whole new way. And [Literary Agent] Polly will be answering as many questions as she can. For anyone keen to get their book to the top of the Amazon chart, she’ll be explaining a whole range of essentials that create bestsellers in trade publishing. The key to writing, whatever your route to publication, is to make your book the best that it can be, and the best way to do that, is to learn from the experts. It has to be said that in the almost ten years I’ve been running workshops, I’ve never run one with quite as many moving parts as this one – a full camera crew, a gang of people working social media and if the pilot was anything to go by, there will be a LOT of people watching, but the best thing is that we have great fun on set and the level of expert knowledge imparted is incredible. Often it’s the questions from the audience or from home that spark a great debate, and the interactive nature of Writers Web TV means that we can target our answers to cover much more than a normal workshop.”

Find out more at www.writerswebtv.com, and sign up for notifications or enroll for the course, email us at info@writerswebtv.com or get in touch through Facebook or @writerswebtv.

And if you’re in Dublin and interested in self-publishing, I’m at the Irish Writers’ Centre on October 12th.

A Starbucks on Main Street USA and Other Stories

So… I spent last week in one of my favourite places, Orlando!

*happy dance*

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But I’m back now.

*grumpy face*

And still recovering from a missed night’s sleep (got a wonderfully cheap flight on Expedia but it involved flying through the night and then a nine — NINE — hour layover at Manchester airport), tackling the mountain of e-mails that built up while I was away and processing the truly devastating news that the awful people at Nabisco have evidently STOPPED MAKING OREO CAKESTERS.

*holds back tears*

When I was in Orlando in February I couldn’t find them in any supermarket, and only managed to bring some home because I found a stash of snack-packs in a 7-11. But on this trip: no Cakesters anywhere. The Oreo website only lists two disgusting Cakester flavors and there appears to be no mention of the original and best. This is just awful because if I’d known this was coming, I’d have ordered a few cases of them from Amazon and instructed everyone I know Stateside to buy up whatever stock they could find and mail it to me. I’ve tweeted Oreo for confirmation of this terribly upsetting news:

So far, no response. Stand by for details of me establishing a post-Cakester world support group.

Anyway, onto happier things…

Like a STARBUCKS IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM!

(Yes, we’re using a lot of superfluous capitalization today. Deal with it.)

Starbucks was always at Universal but never anywhere on Disney property, at least in Orlando. Until now. (Or until June, apparently.) Andrea and I nearly lost our tiny Starbucks-lovin’ minds when we headed for our traditional first stop on a Magic Kingdom morning, the Main Street Bakery, only to discover a familiar logo hanging outside it. And just LOOK AT THE CUTENESS:

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Keeping with the beverage theme, we also enjoyed some Butterbeer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal’s Islands of Adventure and cheesecake fudge from Honeydukes:

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I also enjoyed what must be in the Top 5 Coolest Days of My Life at the all-new Kennedy Space Centre, where I not only saw the Space Shuttle Atlantis — the SPACE SHUTTLE ATLANTIS! — but I did a special behind-the-scenes tour that took me INSIDE the Vehicle Assembly Building.

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Think about it: that’s a SPACE SHIP you’re looking at. A SPACE SHIP!

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*shakes head in disbelief at memory*

I also bought a lot of coffee, as per usual:

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And read a lot of books by the pool (I managed an amazing 10 books over 10 days. My Goodreads Reading Challenge 2013 is SO in the bag!):

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And found these ADORABLY APPROPRIATE notecards at the airport:

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So that’s what I’ve been up to.

Now: what have I missed?

(Besides Jonathan Franzen acting like an entitled tool and Jennifer Weiner putting him in his place. Oh, Internet: I’ve missed you!)

PicMonkey Makes The Perfect Accessory For Your FB Page

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I’ve sung the praises of PicMonkey before, but the PicMonkey feature I love the most is the one that easily creates a stylish and, most importantly, perfectly sized header photo for your Facebook page.

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Dead Good Books, my favorite Facebook page, makes excellent use of their header space, but then they’re Random House. Me sitting at home trying to make this myself — and make it the right size — would only end in tears.

Remembering that a Facebook page is one you ‘like’ (not a profile that you connect with as ‘friends’), the header photo is the one that appears across the top of the page, above the profile picture and the info bar that contains things like ‘About’ and links to areas such as Photos, etc. Technically it shouldn’t be used for advertising, but any self-publisher worth their salt will have something connected to their book in there. And if it’s a self-publisher like me, it’ll all be supremely matchy-matchy as well. Um, obviously.

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One I Wrote Earlier, a Facebook page from Penguin Ireland. Made with PicMonkey, correctly sized with saintly patience. 

Making one is a pain in the arse though, because it’s so hard to get the sizing right. If you just take a 3 x 5 pic, you’ll only be seeing a strip of the image cut lengthways. If you make your own graphic, good luck with getting just the right area to fit into the header space — it can be done, but it takes a few attempts, the frustration compounding with each failed one.

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Evie Hunter, the bestselling Irish erotica author, has used a PicMonkey template for her Facebook header page. She has three titles in the ‘Pleasures’ series, each with a matching cover — perfect for this type of Facebook header collage.

Enter PicMonkey, and their Create a Collage feature. They have special templates for Facebook header photos and — hooray! — they’re not only SO simple to use (just drag and drop, people) and all stylish-looking, but they are perfectly sized too.

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My sparkly new Mousetrapped Facebook page header, compliments of PicMonkey. Using photos from my time in Orlando makes a cute design, and I still have my book cover as my profile picture, which displays just below it.

They also do templates especially for Pinterest. I saved that bit for the very end because I know you’ve just rushed off to PicMonkey.com

Out of the Office (And Some Suitcase Essentials)

For the next two weeks I’ll be out of the country on Proper Holidays.

Proper Holidays, if you’re not familiar with this term I just made up, is when you take a holiday (vacation, American friends) and while you’re there, you actually take a holiday. You don’t read your blog comments. You let the e-mails build up. You avoid any work-related social media. And as a consequence of this, you actually manage to relax.

I’m imagining this is what a Proper Holiday is like, anyway, because I haven’t taken one in forever. Yes, I travel a lot, but the fact that I do it often means I can’t afford to abandon the To Do List every time I go. I always do some work, getting up a bit earlier in the morning to spend an hour with my laptop before sightseeing or an hour by the pool, racking up enormous cell phone bills thanks to the ridiculousness that is the price of data-roaming abroad and generally leaving everyone back here with the impression that I never left.

Well, sod that. I need a Proper Holiday. So although I do have some blog posts scheduled (yeah… I couldn’t help myself), they’re (probably) all you’ll see of me for the next two weeks, save for some jealousy-inducing sunny pictures of cocktails stood next to good books with the blue waters of swimming pools in the background.

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at my suitcase essentials...

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1. A Kindle (And, Um, Some Books)

I bought a ticket to the Dark Side at the start of this year, but I rarely go there. I think I’ve read maybe 3 books on my Kindle, and they were all during my last holiday. But we can’t have a repeat of what happened the last time I went to Nice, and books weigh a lot, which means less room for Eight O’Clock Coffee and Oreo Cakesters. So this is when Catherine’s Kindle has its day in the sun. (Or not, because it seems to get pretty hot when you sit with it in direct sunlight. And you can’t use it during take-off and landing. And it might run out of battery. And I might want to read while sitting in the pool. So I’m bringing some actual books as well.)

2. One-Cup Coffee Filter

I can’t be doing with those Fisher Price coffee ‘machines’ they have in hotel rooms these days that only take crazily-sized ‘pods’ that look like mutant tea bags and take an age to produce one tiny lukewarm cup of mulch. No, thanks. (Or no, you’re grand, as us Irish would say. Loosely translated and depending on the tone in which it’s delivered, it means are you f–king kidding me with this?) So I bring my own portable one-cup coffee filter and some paper filters to go inside it. Easily transportable, only needs hot water and coffee grounds to work and, hooray, you can try some new, proper coffee before you even get home again.

(This is technically a two-cup coffee filter, but that’s one cup to me. 2 cups = 1 Catherine mug.)

3. The Bag Within A Bag

If you’re planning on coming home with more stuff than you went out with, a bag within a bag is the perfect solution. It works in so many ways.

(Well, okay: three ways. I still think that’s impressive.)

  1. Extra room for the way back. Put the smaller bag inside your larger, checked luggage on the way out. (As I have above.) On the way back, fill them both to the brim and carry on the smaller suitcase, presuming it’s cabin-friendly. You can also put heavier and/or more delicate items in it.
  2. Force yourself to pack light. If you really want to pack lighter than you’ve ever packed in your life, ONLY use the smaller bag (but still put it inside your checked bag for the outbound leg of your journey). This results in maximum shopping space, but you might find yourself at the mall in your PJs.
  3. Lost luggage avoidance. I once landed in hot, sunny, humid Florida in clothes I’d been wearing in cold, foggy San Francisco since the morning of the previous day, and then had to spend a day hanging around the hotel when I could’ve been out at the pool because although I’d made my flight connection, my bags hadn’t. It. Drives. Me. Crazy. Especially because delayed luggage is one step closer to lost luggage. So if I have a bad feeling about a flight connection, I pack everything I need for one night and one day into my smaller bag, and carry it on. Then it still works for No.1 on the way back.

4. Zip-Lock Bags

I should have shares in whoever makes these bags, because I securely wrap every single liquid item that could possibly leak into one of them before it goes in my bag. When I’m being really organized I wrap individual bottles, because then any leaks will be completely contained. #NAILEDIT

They also double as a place to dump all the change you couldn’t be bothered trying to figure out how to spend for your way back.

5. Bubble Wrap

I know this might look strange and strangers going through my bags — and there WILL be strangers going through them, at least on the way back, because I always buy coffee and did you know drug smugglers use it to hide drugs?! They always leave me a polite ‘We rifled through your stuff’ note though. It’s a nice touch–but I always buy souvenir mugs on holidays and they never come properly wrapped. Even when they come in a box or with a slip of bubble-wrap, there’s rarely enough to make the journey back to Ireland safely and securely. So now, I bring my own.

6. Laptop

I said I wasn’t going to be working, but adding to my novel’s word count isn’t work, and considering the time I’ll spend waiting to board flights, on flights, waiting to board other flights… Well, I shouldn’t waste it.

And my hotel room has a pretty comfortable-looking desk.

Online Self-Publishing Course: Yay Or Nay?

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A while back—okay, months ago—I asked you what you’d think of an on-demand, online self-publishing course. I’m planning to take the one-day self-publishing seminar I’ve done for the likes of Faber Academy and The Inkwell Group (and which I’ll be doing for The Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin on October 12th) and offer it to people who can’t feasibly travel to Dublin or London via videos and other online material which they can access whenever they want from wherever they want.

I asked you three questions, and this is what you said:

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The results were surprising to me. Far more of you would turn to something like an online video course than I thought, which is great, and 66% of respondents thought the price was about right. (Although 26% thought it was ‘a joke’, so I might have to look at that again!!) I think the takeaway here is that if you’re in the business of dispensing self-publishing advice, the three main ways people want it are: blog, book and online course.

But…

Some of the comments that questioned why I would charge money for them just left me dumbfounded. One in particular suggested that I turn to Kickstarter to raise funds for my costs and then offer the courses themselves for free.

*facepalm*

Guys, this is a business venture. Its goal is to generate an income from providing a service that there’s a demand for. I’m a nice person and all, but I need to make a living too. It’s like the guy who harassed me via e-mail for a while looking for a free copy of Self-Printed 2.0 because he’d bought Self-Printed 1.0, and then told me not to ‘forget who your friends are’ when I didn’t reply.

(????!!!!!)

***RANT BEGINS***

I know people don’t like to talk about money and there’s plenty who say they don’t care about it, but GET REAL.  You may not care, but I’m sure your landlord does. And the electricity company. And your credit card company. And as I’ve said before, if you don’t want to make money from your writing then I can only conclude that you don’t love writing as much as I do, because it’s the thing I love to do the most and I want to do it all the time,  and if I don’t generate an income from it, I have to do something else, something I don’t love, for the majority of each and every day. And that would suck. That doesn’t mean I would only write if there was the promise of financial compensation, but if there is financial compensation, that’s obviously better, because it means more time to write.

With this blog and my book and talking about self-publishing, yes, helping people through the ocean of information on self-publishing does make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside and I really enjoy doing it, but sadly, warm and fuzzy feelings isn’t on the list of payment methods the electricity company accepts.

***RANT ENDS***

I’m going to go ahead with this course, but in all likelihood it’ll be a 2014 thing now, and I’ve actually had another 2014 idea that could go hand-in-hand with this quite nicely…

So stay tuned!

(In the meantime, I wrote a 120,000-word book about all this, y’know.)

Welcome to La Rentrée

Ah, September! How I love thee… It’s the month of dewy, crisp sunny mornings. And stationery sprees. And fewer children in public places on weekdays.

It’s also the month I moved to Orlando, which was really the start of this whole thing—5th September 2006 was The Big Day.

But what I really love about September is that it’s a fresh start, a perfect little package of time between now and New Year’s Eve in which you have every chance of achieving your goals and sauntering smugly into 2014 with a smile on your face.

I subscribe to the French notion of la rentrée, which is to say that I let the summer months pass without too much thought for goals and To Do lists, but then I pull my socks up and stride into September with a newly recharged motivation and determination to get things done. Roughly translated it means the re-entry, and I’m ready for mine. Although I haven’t spent my summer actually lazing about (far, FAR from it!), I did ignore almost all e-mail, social media and self-publishing obligations in favor of getting one, simple thing done: the first, messy draft of my novel. So now I must take that draft and get down to the business of writing a version of it someone else might be able to read one day, as well as everything else I have to do in order to finish up 2013 as a happy camper.

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The  current To Read pile

Right now the list looks something like this:

  • Get back to regularly blogging, tweeting and reading blogs (and so get used to Feedly)
  • Self-publish two more installments of Travelled
  • Schedule and complete A Big Online Clean-Up (more on this in a future post)
  • Think more about the cool idea (I think!) I’ve had for blogging/self-publishing in 2014 (e.g. Can I do it? Should I do it?)
  • Get working on a online/video version of Self-Printed
  • Make a 2013 installment of my blog book
  • Read another 19 books
  • Finish A Proper First Draft of the novel
  • Reward self with 2014 Erin Condren Life Planner (because rewards are oh so important…!)

I’m going to start by blogging more about some of these goals and tasks this month, but until then, I want to ask you: what would you like to achieve between now and December 31st?

You’ve still got lots of time, you know…