B is for…

While I (a) struggle to believe that today is the last day of May, (b) try to drum up the motivation to clean my apartment and (c) prepare for binge-watching 24 with my brother tonight (I’m STILL waiting for someone to say, ‘Send it to my screen!’), I have a few things to tell you…

B is for #BookADay

Starting tomorrow, June 1st, Harper Collins are inviting book-lovers everywhere to participate in #bookaday. The idea is that every day for the month of June, you share a book a day on Twitter.

I’m doing this, and I can tell you: I’m doing this seriously. I’ve already made my picks, photographed them unnecessarily and queued them all up in Buffer. In four short weeks I’ve to leave my beloved apartment and embark on a move to Dublin, and who knows what kind of grim bedsit I could end up in there, so this is kind of like a just-in-case goodbye to my bookshelves, as they may have been banished back to a storage unit by the end of the summer. (Nooooooo!)

Here are a sneak peek at some of my choices (although, if you’ve been around these parts for a while, none of them will come as a surprise to you):


I think this is going to be so fun, and we all might discover some new books to add to the TBR pile. And bonus: it gives you something to tweet about too.

B is for Belfast

Two weeks from today (Saturday 14th June), I’ll be in Belfast with Alison Baverstock and Andrew Moore, at LitNetNI’s Way with Words: Literature Development Day.


The afternoon will focus on self-publishing with an inspiring and revealing session fromAlison Baverstock, a hugely experienced publisher, trainer and writer on all aspects of publishing, marketing and reading. She is the author of The Naked Author – a Guide to Self-Publishing. The session will explore the publishing process in an informative, practical way and there will be lots of opportunities for questions. This event will feature Catherine Ryan Howard, writer and blogger from Cork whose self-publishing adventures began with the release of her travel memoir, Mousetrapped, in 2010 and Belfast writer AGR Moore who self-published The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black in 2011 and a picturesque fable A Boy Named Hogg in 2012. Find out how they published without the backing of a mainstream publishing house and pick up tips on how to raise your profile, promote, market and sell your book.

Find out more about the event and the Belfast Book Festival here.

B is for… Um… Well…

So okay, there’s no ‘B’ for this, but UK TV fans, I’ve a public service announcement for you: Amber starts on BBC Four this week.

You have been warned.

The Infinite Sadness of Unfinished Work

Recently I came across the Nicholl Fellowship, an initiative run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (that’s the nice people who give out the Oscars, FYI), which invites amateur screenwriters from anywhere in the world to submit a feature-length screenplay to compete for one of several $35,000 bursaries, the idea being that in their fellowship year they have some financial wiggle room to take a step back from the 9 to 5 and produce a new script. (You also get invited to a very swanky luncheon in L.A…) There is a small fee to enter which pays for the time of the industry experts – and Academy members – who read and critique the entries, and the only entry requirement is that the entrant has earned less than $25,000 from screenwriting.

It’s a prestigious prize and one, I imagine, that’s not easily won. The deadline just closed for this year and last time I checked, they’d received upwards of 7,000 entries. The number increases every year, presumably as more and more people find about it, and more and more people put pen to paper. (Or finger to keyboard while Final Draft is on screen.) There’s been some notable winners: the screenplay for one of my Top 100 Favourite Movies, Arlington Road, was a Nicholl Fellowship winning script, and other notable winners include Jeffery Eugenides (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex) and Susannah Grant, who’d go onto win an Academy Award for her script Erin Brockovich. Finding Forrester, frequently cited in favourite-movies-about-writing-and-writers lists, was also a Nicholl Fellowship script.

But none of that was what struck me about the fellowship.

Also on their website is a section where you can catch up with past winners, a kind of ‘Where are they now?’ just for Nicholl Fellowship recipients. And yes, while a few of them are winning Pulitzers and winning both themselves and Julia Roberts Oscar statuettes, the vast majority of them are not. The vast majority of them are working on another screenplay.

Now maybe it’s just the way it’s worded, or maybe it’s because the best thing for a one-line bio is the name of the project you’re working on now and not the fifteen scripts you’ve finished that are languishing in a drawer, or maybe I just reading into this too much altogether, but it struck me as sad that all these people were the best, the absolute best, out of thousands of people at doing something, and yet here they are, years later, saying they are still working on their next project or admitting that they’ve moved on completely to something else.

Why haven’t they finished them?

Well… Pot Kettle Black Alert!

Too much of this...

Too much of this…

Now I certainly have not been proven to be the best at anything except consuming caffeine, online shopping and getting through TV show box-sets, but I have had some success. Since dramatically (and, perhaps, foolishly) quitting my job in the summer of 2009, I’ve self-published three full-length books and sold a few of them, done a whole load of speaking engagements, seminars and workshops and started to work on social media projects for a major publishing house. I’ve got to a place where I only need do book and writing-relating things full-time. I have a popular blog with lots of followers. I now know a good group of people in the publishing industry; I have contacts. I have a busy writing CV filled with evidence that I have an established readership and that I’m prepared to get out there and sell my books. And, perhaps because of this, in the past couple of weeks I found out that I’ve been offered a place to study for an English degree in one of the best and oldest English departments in the world, at the country’s most prestigious university.

(More on that another time. Right now it’s overshadowed by the fact that I have to move to another city this summer. STRESSFEST.)

But I still haven’t finished my novel.

I mean… I can’t even believe I am still in a position to write that sentence.

I still haven’t finished my novel.

What the fudge HAVE I been doing? Because all that stuff up there, in the paragraph above? That’s, like, maybe one year out of the last five, if you added up all the time it took. I put the first edition of Self-Printed together in a month. Backpacked‘s first draft took two weeks. I don’t blog or tweet or use Facebook anywhere near as much as I used to. And I don’t have a spouse, kids or a full-time job to worry about. My time is my own, more or less.

So what the hell have I been doing with it?

Publishing, however you’re doing it, can be an extremely frustrating endeavor. If you’re chasing a deal or an agent, you’re dependent on someone else’s ‘yes’. If you’re self-publishing, your success will depend on the reading tastes of the world at large, as well as things like timing, price, luck, etc. There’s little about the outcome, on either side, that you can really control, in the sense that you can say ‘Well, if I do x, y and z, I’ll definitely end up selling a trillion copies…’ But there’s one thing you can control, and none of the other stuff will happen if you don’t do it: finish your book.

... and not enough of this.

… and not enough of this.

Catherine’s Stressfest Summer 2014 officially begins on July 1st. I have until then to finish my novel, which is entirely feasible. I have to do it, because after that I’ll be moving, and after that I’ll be in school. I have no choice this time. It has to happen. It will happen.

Because for all the frustration, all the uncertainty, all the rejection, rewards and success — none of it, none of it, can happen if you don’t finish your book.

Let’s do this.

[UPDATE DECEMBER 2014: I finished it – and I got an agent!!! Woo-hoo!]

Are you haunting by unfinished work? What prevents you, do you think, from finishing it? Do you agree that you’d find the time if you truly wanted to? Let me know in the comments below…

11 Inspiring Quotes from the World’s Best Writers

The last time we had a guest post from Laura Pepper Wu (11 Signs You’re Meant To Be A Writer), things went a bit nuts, with her post getting nearly 100 comments and being shared nearly 200 and over 400 times on Twitter and Facebook respectively. Today she’s back to share news of her new app, Write On! Daily Kick-Ass Writing Inspiration: 365 Tips & Quotes from the World’s Best Writers, and 11 of her favorite such quotes for those self-doubt-filled, motivation-lacking, no-amount-of-coffee-can-get-this-going bad writing days. Welcome back, Laura!

‘Having a bad writing day? Read (and bookmark!) these 11 quotes.

We all have ‘em once in while – awful, dragging, low writing-motivation days. The last thing you want to do is open up that folder on your computer, the one marked ‘WIP’.

You're a writer

Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone (you’re definitely not), and that this too shall pass (especially with a glass of wine or two). For me, it always helps to read words of wisdom from an admirable writer too. Here’s a collection of my favorites taken from the new app Write On! Daily Kick-Ass Writing Inspiration 365 Tips & Quotes from the World’s Best Writers.

1. “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Take the pressure off yourself by focusing on simply getting some words onto the page and not worrying whether the result is good or bad. The refining and shaping can come later.

2. “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” – Author Unknown

Know that writing is not meant to be all butterflies and rainbows, and that sometimes the crappy days are what make you a stronger writer!


A screenshot from Laura’s new app

3. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

Choose to go pro, and know that a big part of that is not allowing yourself to give up.

4. “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

If things are really bad, aim to write just one good sentence. Not only is it better than a hundred bad sentences, it might also give you the encouragement to write more.

5. “Asking “Why?” can lead to understanding. Asking “Why not?” can lead to breakthroughs.” – Daniel Pink

If you feel stuck with a chapter, section, or storyline, think about the problem in another way. Turn the question upside down and you might just have the breakthrough you need!

6. “Alternating the thoughtful task of writing with the mindless work of laundry or dish washing will give you the breaks you need for new ideas and insights to occur. If you don’t know what comes next in the story… clean your toilet. Change the bed sheets. For Christ sakes, dust the computer. A better idea will come.” – Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve found this over and over again; doing something mindless (but somewhat productive), allows me to tap into a different part of the brain that comes up with ideas. Now I’m no neuroscientist, so I can’t tell you why, but I do know that this works. Exercise, especially stretching, seems to have the same effect. Try it!


7. “I find it hard to start writing in the morning; but the dejection lasts only 30 minutes, and once I start I forget all about it. – Virginia Woolf

If you don’t feel like getting started, commit to just 30 minutes (or 15, or even 3), and more than likely you’ll keep going past that mark. The hardest part is often just getting started, but once you’ve started you’ll find that you might as well just keep going!

8. “To feed your muse… you must still take long walks around your city or town, or walks in the country by day. And long walks, at any time, through bookstores and libraries.” – Ray Bradbury

Take a hike! I have my best ideas while walking the dog, and frequently have to hurry home to get them onto paper. There’s something about being out in nature, or being inspired by people and objects around us that can trigger new ideas and motivation. Plus, the act of moving forwards can extend onto the page. When in doubt, take a walk and you’ll get back to your desk refreshed.

9. “It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writers block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think.” – J.K. Rowling

Get thee to a cafe! (Catherine will no doubt agree with this suggestion to go get caffeinated…)

10. “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! – William Faulkner

Feed yourself a diet of books, and you’ll probably see that it helps improve your writing. If the writing isn’t happening, I never feel guilty for opening up a book and reading a chapter or two. After all we’ve got to remember why we’re doing this in the first place!

11. “The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.”- Jules Renard

Take the pressure off yourself by imagining that you’re simply a conduit, conducting your story from the air and onto the page. Somehow telling myself this takes the pressure off, and I get out of my own way and let the words fall onto the page. Interestingly, the Grammy-award winning artist Pharrell believes that all his work is created this way, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s definitely good enough for me!

Over to you… Have a favorite quote that helps you get through the bad writing days? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear it!’

LauraPW-Headshot-CroppedLaura Pepper Wu is the founder and editor of The Write Life Magazine and 30 Day Books. Write On! is her newest app. Each day you’ll get an inspirational or instructional quote from one of the world’s best writers. It’s available for $0.99 (for a limited time) in the Apple App Store here.