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Writing Goals: Should We All Just Shut The Hell Up?

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals is out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

So, Monday! The schedule says ‘A very long blog post’. Let’s see how that goes… 

This morning – it’s Sunday, I’ve brought the laptop into bed and I am armed with a vat of freshly brewed coffee – I planned on writing a year-in-review style blog post, one that looked back over the year I finally, after years and years and years of dreaming about it, got published. Except it would have a twist: instead of rehashing all the stuff you know about already (my book launch, the Irish Book Awards, etc.), I’d write about the quieter moments, the ones you don’t know about, like the simple tweet from a random reader that reduced me to tears it made me feel so good, or the Book Awards moment that had nothing to do with the ceremony itself where I was… Actually, come to think of it, a lot of these quieter moments involved tears. But anyway.

I’m not writing that post now. I’ll write that one for Wednesday instead. This morning, I want to blog about not blogging. To share some thoughts on not sharing. To wonder whether or not, when it comes to our writing, we should all just shut the f–k up.

Stay with me here.

I started off half an hour ago typing “A Look Back at 2016, The Year I Got Published” into the title box. I thought about how this blog was born at the beginning of 2010, and how many Januarys I sat down to write a New Year blog post, and how this was the first year I was finally able to say that the one thing I’ve wanted to happen in my life, my dream since I was eight years old, actually happened.

And I wondered what I had said all those other years.

So I went and had a quick look.

I could make a big long list of all the things I want to happen in 2011, all my goals and resolutions and dreams and plans and intentions, but really they all rest on just one thing: I want to get a novel published. It may seem naive to think that this will happen to me, what with the awful odds, etc., but what’s the point of even trying if you don’t believe that you can? You have to believe that you can do it. You have to have confidence in yourself, without being a crazy X-Factor auditionee.

from Happy New Year: What Do You Want to Happen in 2011?, January 2011

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 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 to keep in mind this year.

from Plans and Goals and Stuff, January 2013

I read Commander Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth just after Christmas, and Hadfield’s take on chasing dreams is wonderful: if you take pride in the every day work you do towards them, if you do everything within your control that will get you closer to your goals on a daily basis and you take pleasure and pride in that effort, you will be happy — even if the dream or goal never materializes, or doesn’t for a long time… [Hadfield] did everything he could to prepare for the opportunity to fly in space should it arise, and enjoyed every minute of it. Then, when his dream did come true, it wasn’t a relief but a bonus.

from A New Year, A New Routine (Or, The Problem With Goals), January 2014

Now, at first glance, you might think to yourself, Catherine gives good January. But I’ve pulled the good bits. These posts – and countless other ones in the archives just like them – are filled with me saying I’m going to work harder. I’m going to get up early. I’m going to write every day. I’m going to do x, y and z to finish project a, b and c and I’m going to do it by this date. I go on and on and on about all the things I’m going to write, how I’m going to write them and when I’m going to write them by, and this is a on-going theme all throughout the SEVEN years thus far of this blog.

But I never ended up doing any of things I swore I was going to do.

Yes, I finished a novel, but the time it took me to write it was 5% actual writing time and 95% moaning about how I should be writing. What if I had just stayed quiet? What if I’d just put my head down and got to writing? Did a constant reaffirming of my goals – on this blog, in various diaries, to my writing friends – get me anywhere, or did it just waste more time?

The hardest working writer I know never talks about her plans in advance. She just does it, emerging every few months to have a coffee with me and tell me what project she’s just finished. Another writing friend who is easily producing a book a year is the same. Both of them also have blogs, but their blogs aren’t a wasteland of ‘New Year, New Me, New Goals’ style posts. I, meanwhile, talk all the time about my To Do list, and yet Book 2 took so much longer to get out of my head than I thought it would. Am I talking too much? Talking about writing doesn’t get any writing done, but we do it because it’s so much easier than writing and it feels like it helps. But does it? Should we all just shut the fudge up and get back to writing?

There is another side to this, and it’s that I genuinely feel that when I read about other people’s writing goals/plans/strategies, it actually does help me. I mean, who hasn’t re-read Stephen King’s On Writing every now and then just for a shot of motivation?  I find Rachel Aaron’s From 2k to 10k (just 99p on Kindle) to be the ultimate commercial fiction writer’s pep talk. This post by Chuck Wendig, Here’s How To Finish That F**king Book, You Monster grabbed me by the shoulders and shook some much-needed sense into me this past week. (Thanks Hazel!)

I guess the difference is between writing blog posts about writing – after the writing is done – and announcing to the world what word count I hope to be at in six months’ time because I think that will bring some accountability and therefore help me get it done. The first one is good, the second one bad. Because it doesn’t help. And therefore writing that – when you could’ve been adding words to your novel – is a waste of time.

As I read over all my previous New Year posts, what I mostly felt was angry. Angry at Past Catherine – at 2012 Catherine, at 2013 Catherine, etc. – for not doing what she said she was going to do. And I felt like if maybe she had spent a little less time blogging about goals, new routines, To Do lists, etc. she might have achieved a bit more, and achieved it a lot quicker. This isn’t me being hard on myself, by the way, but realistic. I could’ve had three novels written in the last three years if I’d put my mind to it. (I know this because in the summer, I wrote three 2,500-word academic essays in almost exactly 24 hours, stopping only for an hour-long nap, and I got good marks on all of them. I can be a writing machine when I need to be, so long as there’s coffee around and horrible consequences breathing down my neck.)

Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about not blogging. I’ll never stop doing that, because I love it and might go insane without it. I’m talking specifically about not writing posts like this and then going off to watch The OA on Netflix, twice. (Because the truth is, that new routine I implemented? It lasted maybe three weeks.)

I guess what all of this is leading to is some advice from me: log-off, do the work, then come back online and tell us how you did it. NaNaWriMo aside, it’s probably best to write your book in private.

Does that make sense? (I have only had one coffee.) What do you think? How do you treat your writing goals on your blog, if you blog? (Or on Twitter, Facebook, over coffee with writing friends, etc.) Let me know in the comments below…

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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Your 732nd reminder: Distress Signals is out in paperback in Ireland and the UK now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.

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Sunday Morning Coffee Reads

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals is out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. Today is Sunday, which means we have a digest of the previous week’s activity plus some cool links I think you should check out… BUT as this really only started on Thursday, this is going to more of the links and less of the digest.

What You Might Have Missed

My 28-day blogging bonanza started on Thursday with a replay of an old post: Being On Submission Syndrome and, if you were following me on Twitter, me running all over Dublin town looking for my own book on the shelf. Then on Friday, a momentous occasion: my first ever (and possibly last ever) video blog. On Saturdays I’ve promised to point you in the direction I something I wrote elsewhere, and yesterday I sent you to Writing.ie to read what I wrote about setting yourself a big writing deadline in 2017.

Sunday Links

Assuming you’re settled on the sofa this Sunday morning with a big cup of coffee, here are some things I’ve come across that I think you might be interested in…

(Two of those I discovered only because of Iain Broome’s Shelflife, a newsletter I highly recommend you subscribe to.)

When Google Reader was still a thing, I read ALL the blogs. Okay, not all of them, but a huge amount. Then for some insane reason Google terminated GR, I just never got into Feedly or discovered any other blog reader that I was as comfortable with. These days, I do still read blogs, but it’s mostly because I see an interesting link on Twitter and follow it. So, tell me, what blogs do you really like to read? Please, DON’T say your own – I’m looking for actual recommendations here, not clearing some space so you can advertise in it (and I will delete any self-promo). If you don’t have a favourite blog, perhaps you’ve read a really good blog post recently and you can point us all in the direction of it? Let us know in the comments below…

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Your 54th reminder: Distress Signals is out in paperback in Ireland and the UK now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.

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Setting Yourself a Writing Deadline

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals is out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

Before we get started, what did you think of yesterday’s video blog? I’m in two minds. On one hand, I think with a bit more effort and pre-planning, they could turn into something worth doing once or two a month in the long-term. But on the other hand, it irks me when things are a little bit crap (i.e. I just used my webcam, the room was kind of dark, etc. etc) and I really have my doubts that people who like to read blog posts are also people who like to watch videos. Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below. I’m definitely going to do it for the rest of this 28-day craziness, because I said I would, but we’ll have to see how it goes after that. If you haven’t watched it yet, you can do so here. To give you an idea of what went on, this screenshot sums it up (sorta):

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Anyway, onto today. Saturdays, as per the schedule, are for pointing you in the direction of something I wrote elsewhere. Today, I’m pointing you to Writing.ie, where for the New Year I wrote about writing deadlines.

I don’t know in how many Januarys I opened a brand new notebook, smoothed down the first page and wrote ‘Goal #1: Get published’ at the top of it.

It was lots of them though. All of them, almost, up until the last one. (I’m writing this on the New Year’s Eve that your liver might still be getting over, the one in 2016.) Last year I didn’t have to write that, because it was already happening. I was going to get published in 2016 – on May 5, specifically. That’s the day Corvus published my thriller Distress Signals in trade paperback in Ireland and the UK. A goal reached and a dream come true. Plus, lots of bonus stuff: the TV rights have been sold, I was shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year in the BGE Irish Book Awards and Blackstone are publishing Distress Signals in the U.S. in less than thirty days’ time.

What was it about 2016? (Or 2015 rather, which was the year I actually signed my book deal. Or 2014, the year I got the amazing agent who got me that deal.) Did I write ‘Get published’ in a special pen? Select a notebook that had secret special powers? Accidentally inhale some pixie dust that I’d unknowingly brought into my house via some contaminated but adorable Disney World merchandise?

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE POST.

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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A reminder in case you’ve forgotten since the last paragraph: Distress Signals is out in paperback in Ireland and the UK now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.

Catherine’s First and Potentially Last Video Blog

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals is out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

Now today…

(Oh, god. WHY did I say I was going to do this?!)

My first – and potentially last – video blog. *hides behind sofa*

In this episode:

  • A tour of Distress Signals in paperback
  • Your questions answered (Some of them. Sort of.)
  • Christopher Pike books
  • Coffee
  • My doorbell

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2.

dsbb

A reminder in case you’ve forgotten since the last paragraph: Distress Signals is out in paperback now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.

Thoughts on the video blog? A question I can answer next week? A demand that I never do this again? Let me know in the comments below…

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Writers and Workshops

The very first writing workshop I ever attended turned me off them for life (I thought at the time). Fifteen years ago I spent three whole weeks* as a Lancaster University undergrad, taking Creative Writing as a minor alongside my science degree. To get onto this module you had to queue up in front of a specific table in a huge hall of similar tables and hand a writing sample to the lecturer who was sitting there. I had written my piece the day before, and it was about a writer who was trying to come up with something that would prove he was a good writer. (Oooh, meta!) The lecturer scanned the first couple of paragraphs, running her finger along the words, and then said, rather unenthusiastically for my liking, “Yeah, okay. Fine.” I was in.

A few days later I attended my first lecture; my notes from it could be condensed into a single line, and that line would be keep your ideas in a notebook. I’d already spent my entire adolescence reading books like On Writing, From Pitch to Publication and every new edition of The Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook. Keep a notebook? Um yeah, like, I know? But there was worse yet to come: a workshop where five or six of us would sit around in a circle, read a piece of work aloud and then brace ourselves while the others sandblasted our soul—I mean, our writing. I learned nothing except that we were all really, really bad and that a surprising number of people were writing novels about what “really” happened to Princess Diana.

(And this was 2001. It wasn’t exactly a hot topic.)

Flash-forward now to the summer of 2004. The ending of a long relationship at first felt like being dangerous unmoored, and then deliciously free. Single for the first time since I was a teenager, I spend one of my first weekends alone doing something that’s just for me: I book myself into a fancy hotel in Dublin and attend a two-day workshop at the Irish Writers’ Centre that I think might have been called Start Your Novel or Finish Your Novel or Stop Arsing Around and Write Your Bloody Novel, For Feck’s Sake. This workshop felt totally different. For one thing, it was useful. And for another, it was the first time I spent any time around people who were as serious about writing as I was. Going back down to Cork on the Sunday evening I was buzzing with motivation, buoyed by encouragement and, best of all, I felt like I finally had permission to write, to say, ‘I want to be a writer’.

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(Lancaster, all was forgiven.)

Then adventure distracted me. In 2005 I moved to the Netherlands to take up a seasonal job, had the best seven months of my life and then went back there the following year to have more fun. I went from there to working in Walt Disney World, and from there to backpacking across Central America. When I eventually got back to Ireland and I started seriously thinking about writing again, I was more focused on it than ever – which is why I ended up at an Inkwell Getting Published workshop in Killiney, Co. Dublin in April 2010.

This workshop has since become legendary. Monica McInerney and Sinead Moriarty dropped in to talk to us, and we all sat there in awe – and jealously, of course – wondering if we’d ever get published and if they had magic pens. “We” including Maria Duffy, whose sixth book will be published by Hachette this week, and Hazel Gaynor, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. The facilitator, Vanessa O’Loughlin, now writes crime under the name Sam Blake, and her debut Little Bones spent an amazing four weeks at No. 1 when it was published earlier this year. Oh, and there was me, of course. Five years later, Atlantic pre-empted my debut, Distress Signals, as part of a 2-book deal, it debuted on the Irish bestseller list back in May and has been optioned for TV.

(You know, just in case you’re new around these parts.)

There are benefits to attending a workshop that are obvious: you learn useful information that needed to know. That’s what you pay for. But it’s what you get in addition to that that I think makes attending workshops, seminars and other writing events really, really worthwhile.

If you want to be a doctor or a teacher or an entrepreneur, you will come across people in your normal, daily life who already do those things. But how often do you accidentally cross paths with a professional writer, and in a setting where you can pick their brains? And we all know that telling friends and family your career plans involve a 6-figure book deal doesn’t exactly result in a cheerleading routine complete with pom-poms, which is why it’s so important to spend time around people who not only share the same goal as you, but believe it’s possible too (because it IS).

And finally, giving an afternoon or a weekend over to your writing self isn’t indulgent, but necessary. Imagine your creative self is like a well that needs refilling every so often; spending time thinking, talking and focusing only on your writing will do that. On a more practical level, events like these can get you face-to-face with editors, agents and other contacts who might help you get a step up down the line.

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A little story: the first time I met Monica McInerney was at that 2010 Inkwell writing workshop. She had brought some of her books to show us and when the workshop was over she invited us to take home one of them if we wanted, and I wasn’t shy – I took one and asked her if she would sign it. She wrote in it that she was looking forward to reading my novel. In this picture, six years later, Monica is getting me to sign a copy of my novel for her, and I’m reminding her of the workshop, and I’m starting to cry. (I love this picture!)

What do you think? Have you ever done a writing or publishing workshop? How was it? Did it help?

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If you are in or near Dublin, the Dalkey Creates Festival kicks off next weekend. It has a stellar range of workshops including Writing Historical Fiction with the aforementioned Hazel Gaynor, Writing Crime with Louise Philips, Writing Memoir with Alana Kirk – and, yay for you, Vanessa O’Loughlin is doing a Getting Published workshop there too! There’s also a chance to find out exactly what editors are looking for from Ciara Doorley, editorial director at Hachette Ireland. Visit the Dalkey Creates website to find out more

*Well, one of them was Freshers’ Week, so technically it was two.

I Swear, I Just Made It Up (No, Really, I Did)

‘So I read your book,’ they say.

When someone I know personally – a relative, a friend, a former co-worker or classmate – says this to me, I never know how to respond. You cannot ask ‘And what did you think?’ because that puts them on the spot and anyway  I don’t want to know because it might be bad. Usually I either mumble a thank you, or giggle nervously and say that that’s good because now there’s going to be a quiz.

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Sometimes though, before I can do any of these socially awkward things, they get a bit of a glint in their eye and their face adopts a kind of suspicious-yet-bemused expression (trust me, this exists) and then they say something like ‘Who was x based on?’ or ‘Where did you get that idea?’ and everything – their tone, their face, the little pause they took before they asked the question – suggests to me that they think they already know the answer, and that the answers lies in my real life.

They refuse to believe that I just made it up. Or maybe they can’t believe it, and I get why that might be.

First of all, if you’re not a writer, making stuff up must seem like a bat-faeces crazy concept. Something from nothing? A whole 100,000-word book from a virtual blank page? What voodoo is this?! (The caffeine-induced kind, obviously.) I feel the same way at the start of the process, when I’m staring down that blank page, the first of 400 or so of them that I have to murder one-by-one in order to write a book. It is a kind of black magic. And over those 400 pages, there’s bound to be some person or some experience that’s common to us all, and people who know you are bound to read it and think that it’s based on your personal experience that’s common to us to all, and that actually this fiction is thinly disguised fact. Even though it’s not.

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Big surprise for me this week – Blackstone, my US publisher, did my ARCs (American for proof copies, don’t ya know) in hardcover! They look absolutely amazing – as do the “brochures” for a cruise aboard the Celebrate that are going to go out to reviewers, bloggers, etc. with them. We have a new US publication date as well: February 2, 2017. 

Second of all… Well, not all of it is fiction. Some of it is thinly disguised fact. Because while I don’t abide by the advice that you should write what you know, I wholeheartedly believe that you should, as much as possible, use what you know. In Distress Signals, Adam is a struggling writer surrounded by people who think he should get a proper job. (Ahem.) This was easier for me than, say, making him a biochemist, especially because I was so bad at the single year of Chemistry I did in secondary school that I wouldn’t have just failed the state exam in it, I would’ve been unable to say for sure if the exam paper I’d been handed was in fact the correct one. (Luckily I dropped it before such a scenario could occur.)

I’d never worked on a cruise ship, but I had worked in the housekeeping department of a colossal hotel, and in principle the running of a department that cleans cabins on a ship is exactly the same. I’d also had experience of living “on site”; back in 2006, I (briefly) worked as a campsite courier on a resort in France. During the day I cleaned sparkly new customer accommodation – tents and mobile homes – and afterwards I went back to the crappy old broken tent the company had given me to live in. Everything we had, from the pillows thinner than a slice of toast to the cracked patio chairs to the chipped mugs, had already been used and abused the paying customers – just like what Corinne and the rest of the crew have on board the Celebrate.

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There is a chance to win one of these beautiful babies, signed and personally inscribed, over on my Facebook page. Open worldwide until midnight GMT Sunday 18th September. 

And, yes, all Corkonians – most Irish people, in fact – do pronounce the word ‘film’ with two syllables, i.e. ‘fill-um.’ And ever since I started working abroad and being the butt of good-natured jokes about this, I have avoided using that word. I tend to say ‘movie’ instead, encroaching American influence on my language be damned, or very carefully pronounce the f-word. Adam does this in Distress Signals. Does that mean Adam is really me? No! Because if we take that logic to its extreme, I am also French and (potentially) a serial killer.

(And let’s just say, god help me for Book 2.)

I think there could be a third reason the non-writing people in your life believe that they see mutual friends or shared relatives in the pages of your book: because they want to. That’s what the suspicious/bemused look is about, the knowing smile, the wink. (Yes, sometimes there’s even a wink.) They think they’ve sussed it, spotted a secret hidden in plain sight, solved the clues – and maybe they think no one else has. Or maybe it’s not about them, but about me. Maybe they think I couldn’t have made it up. That I’m just not that talented or creative or imaginative. But moving swiftly on—

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Book 2 is finally FINISHED. Well, the first draft of it is but that’s the hardest part.  I bought this little bottle of champagne to drink when I typed THE END but it’s actually still in my fridge because I am awaiting verdicts from my agent and my editor. I love revising and redrafting so I know this is just raw material in many ways, but still it’s important that they think it’s good enough raw material. I’ll let you know if I get to open it! 

I made it up. That’s what fiction is, what being a writer is. I sit down at my desk, I drink coffee and I make stuff up until there’s enough made-up stuff to make a book.

So if you’re reading Distress Signals or you’ve travelled into the future and are already reading Book 2, rest assured, I just made it up.

All of it. Every word.

Well, except for that bit that’s obviously about you.

In other news, you may have noticed the e-book of Distress Signals has got new threads. Find out more about what and why in Distress Signals: The Cover Story over on Writing.ie. Don’t forget you can enter to win a HARDCOVER (ooooh!) ARC of it over on my Facebook page or, if you’re a book reviewer or blogger who’s based in the U.S., you can also request it from NetGalley

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How To Write a Novel (When You Think You’ve Forgotten How)

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a pathological procrastinator. I don’t know why, but I do know that I have never been able to delay gratification. So instead of rewarding myself with 7 hours of OJ: Made in America when the first draft of Book 2 is done and dusted and I can relax and enjoy it guilt-free, I watch it now and tell myself I will write after. I mean, I’d just be distracted by my wanting to watch it otherwise, right?

(Side note: OJ: Made in America is truly incredible TV.)

I joke that I’d call my would be productivity guide Don’t Start Until It’s Already Too Late – and that’s pretty much what I do. I can only work under pressure, while panicking. I read somewhere that the procrastinator’s sweet spot is the exact moment when the fear of creating something crap is overtaken by the fear of not having enough time to create anything at all. That’s almost always when I start work – and not a moment before.

This past year or so, my procrastination problem has got worse. This is the first time I’ve ever had to write a book under contract, and I’ve had to do it in a period of time that’s, at most, half as long as the time I spent writing the first one. So for starters, you’ve got pressure. I believe procrastination is something like 30% laziness and 70% fear. Distress Signals has been incredibly well received by critics, book bloggers and readers. It’s wonderful but it’s also terrifying. Can I do this again? How did I do it the first time? So, we’ve got plenty of fear in the mix too. I’m a binger, in that I do my best work when I can clear my schedule, lock myself away and write from dawn to dusk – or maybe through the night – without stopping, hopped up on caffeine and sugar. A slow and steady 1,000 words every day just doesn’t work for me.

But now, I’m much busier than I was when I was writing most of Distress Signals that way. Being in university full-time means essay deadlines and exams and more reading than any person who sleeps could possibly do (I maintain). Then there’s everything Distress Signals demands as a book that’s out in there in the world. Online promotion, U.S. edits, a one-day 10-stop bookshop road trip, a signing, an interview for a newspaper and preparation for a literary festival in a couple of weeks are just some of the things I’ve had to do in the last two weeks. So most days I just can’t binge-write any more. The schedule is too busy to clear.

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Last Friday I visited ten bookstores in Limerick, Shannon, Ennis, Newcastle West and Tralee. The Eason’s on O’Connell Street in Limerick had a side entrance onto Cruises Street – perfect! (Distress Signals is about a murder on a cruise ship.) 

So we’ve got more fear, more pressure and then more things to do/less time in the mix too. It’s the perfect storm. It’s the reason why the first draft of Book 2 still isn’t finished, even though my original goal – back in the rose-tinted days of last summer when the world was all rainbows, puppies and unrealistic plans – was to have a vomit draft by last Christmas and a first draft by the end of April, just before Distress Signals came out.

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(I really want to go back to Summer 2015 Catherine and slap her in the face. Hard.)

The good news is we’re almost there. I’m almost there. This is the last week I’ll work on this draft of the book. But I’ve had to sort of trick myself into writing it.I’ve had to hunt down procrastination, sedate it, bound and gag it and lock it in a basement room. (Hey, I’m a crime writer, okay?) In the process, I’ve been reminded of things – tips and tricks and truths – that I’d forgotten. In case you’re struggling with your project, here they are.

Build Write It and They Will Come

I’m a big plotter, so the first thing I have to do in order to write a book is sort mine out. I don’t plan everything out in advance, but I like to have some signposts along the way. I open a Word document and create a simple outline using numbering. It’ll be a longer version of this (the notes in square brackets pertain to my specific plot):

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Then what I’ll do is I’ll take my ideas for scenes, plot developments, etc. and fill as much of this in as I can. The problem was that when I sat down to do this for Book 2, I ended up with mostly blank space. Erm… Hang on a second. Do I even have a plot for this book?! I started to panic. Yep, totally screwed. I’m just an impostor. I knew I’d be found out. But because I was contracted to write this book, I had to sit down and write it anyway, which is when I realised/remembered:

The ideas come while you’re writing.

I’ve put that in bold and italics because it’s the most important point of this whole blog post. You can sit in all the cafes you want with your notebook, chewing on a pen, dreaming up plot lines and characters and killer twists. But – at least in my writing life – I will never come up with stuff that way that’s half as good as what I come up with while I’m actually in the midst of writing the book.

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This is what the plot of Distress Signals looked like by the third and final draft (the one with my editor at Corvus). But this is the end game. It’s okay to start with mostly blank space on your plot charts. You probably should. 

So don’t panic. You may have no idea what goes in Part 3 right now, or you may not even be sure you have an ending. Your plot plan may be mostly blank space. But don’t wait until you have a plot to start writing. A few signposts will do. The ideas will come. Until then, just concentrate on writing this chapter.

Early, First, Focused

There’s a difference between saying ‘I’m going to spend all tomorrow writing’ and ‘I will write for no fewer than six hours tomorrow’. I turned 34 yesterday, you’d think I’d have discovered this before now. But that’s one lesson that has really been driven home to me recently, because so many hours and days seem to disappear into time-sucking, pointless tasks, and I end up with nothing to show for them. It’s not enough to intend to write tomorrow or this week. When you’re a procrastinator, you need to plan exactly how, when and where you’re going to.

I get the most out of my writing days when I:

  • Start early. This is allowing for the fact that even though you may have eight hours free in which to write, you’ll be lucky if you spend half of them actually typing words into your manuscript. The other thing is that you don’t know what’s going to happen during the day. You could get an exciting e-mail or an unexpected invitation or a toothache. Best to start now, as early as you can, before real life wakes up and starts distracting you.
  • Do the writing first. It’s the only way. Otherwise you end up watching OJ: Made in America before noon. (Trust me on this.) Also, the best thing about doing the writing first is that it’s done, it’s out of the way, and you can spend the rest of your time not feeling guilty or anxious, but smug and overly pleased with yourself that you got it done.
  • Focus. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But as I said at the top, these were things I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten that the internet is like a fibre optic cable plugged directly into my brain – I can’t work with it. Blocking apps don’t work for me; I can’t bring myself to turn them on and whenever I do, I pick up my phone before they’ve timed out. The best thing for me to do is go to a cafe or a library, not connect to the wifi and leave my phone in my bag at my feet. I can get as much done in an hour without the internet as I can in a whole day with it, and I write much better when I’m deep in my fictional world as opposed to being yanked out of it every five minutes, distracted by shiny things.

Change of Scenery

When writers moan about how lonely a profession this is, I roll my eyes. To me, that’s like saying ‘I love being hairdresser but – ew! – touching people’s hair. Yuck.’ I love the solitude. I need it. But I work from home, and my home is very small (I’m a writer and I live in Dublin city centre, so I’m essentially in a telephone box), and lately I’ve been experiencing cabin fever. So now I get out.

I’m surrounded by coffee shops and live only 15 minutes walk or so from my university, where there’s a whole library I can work in during office hours that’s comfortable, quiet and even has plug sockets. I’ve been making the most of this. The best things about writing somewhere else are that (a) you have almost none of the distractions you have at home and (b) when you do come home, you can enjoy it. There’s a separation between work and play.

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Think outside the box. One day last week I was really, really fed up. The weather was terrible, I was struggling to write and I honestly could not look at these four walls for a moment longer. So I did something drastic: I went on Booking.com and looked for cheap hotel rooms available for that evening within walking distance of my home. If a hotel has availability and it uses a third-party site like that, it might drop its rates during the day to try and fill empty rooms that night. I got a bargain, threw my toothbrush and my laptop in a bag and walked 30 minutes down the road to the hotel. I refused the receptionist’s offer of the wifi password and brought enough milk and coffee with me to see me through the night. Then I wrote 6,000 words, falling asleep as the sun came up. It was ridiculous, but it was just what I needed.

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So there you go. I also recommend (i) whingeing and moaning to your writer friends over gin-based cocktails, (ii) re-reading Rachel Aaron’s From 2K to 10K on a regular basis and (iii) investing in a Nespresso machine. And reminding yourself that, hey, this is your dream job. Jobs are hard and sometimes they suck and you’re not going to love every single day, and some days will be more productive than others. But don’t forget about the “dream” part. These are all good problems to have. I mean, I used to have a job where I spent my days stapling things together for Satan himself, and my nights crying about my blackening soul in the shower.

This writing gig? It’s not all that bad…

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Distress Signals has a new cover! And it’s still only 99p! More exclamation marks! 

How’s your writing going? Do you suffer from procrastination? What do you do to help overcome it? Let us know in the comments below…