3 Productivity Tips I’m Going To Try

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 was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. tomorrow (!!!!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

[UPDATE: I just realised, a couple of hours after I posted this, that I forgot to mention something kinda important. Today, 1 February 2017, is this blog’s 7th birthday! Yes, seven years ago today, 1 February 2010, catherineryanhoward.com was born. Time flies when you’re a very sporadic blogger. Thanks for hanging around!]

Guys, it’s the penultimate day of the DS Blogging Bonanza! Distress Signals will be out in the U.S.A. in hardcover, e-book and audio in mere hours.

In a few weeks’ time, Book 2 will (hopefully) be ready to move to the editing stage which means it’ll be time for me to get started on – GASP – Book 3. The problem is that (a) I just had a completely self-induced nightmare binge-writing the last draft of Book 2, which is something I never want to repeat again and (b) right around Book 3 Getting Started Time, I’ll have 3 x 5,000 university assignments due and an exam to study for as well. I want to be organised, relaxed and on a normal person’s sleep schedule, while also getting s–t done. There’s no point, I think, trying to change habits or implement new ones while there’s a deadline looming – now is the time to do it, pre-emptively.  So here’s a few productivity tips and ideas I’ve come across that I’m going to try…

DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN

I’ve blogged about this before, but since when I do it I find it really works, I thought it was worth mentioning again. Don’t break the chain works something like this:

  1. Get yourself a calendar, wall planner or at least something that has a box for every day, and hang it somewhere prominent
  2. Commit to writing a doable amount of words every day, e.g. 500
  3. Every day you do this, put a big red cross in the corresponding box
  4. Do this every day for at least few days and—
  5. Ta-daa! You have a chain. Now, don’t break it.

Tip: it is immensely satisfying to start this on the first of the month, on a gleaming, clean new page of a month-to-a-view calendar. I have my lovely new Parisian Life calendar all ready to go.

HAVE A CHANGE OF SCENERY

I really find it difficult to write anywhere except at home but at the same time, I realise this is just a habit. And this isn’t always a good thing, because although it’s lovely and quiet where I live, my coffee machine, Netflix and about 831 other distractions live there too.

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Do you know where this is? It’s the Swan and Dolphin! Well, the Dolphin technically – the resort where I used to work in Walt Disney World

The good news is that there’s about that many coffee shops within a twenty minute walk of my place too. This article on StylistForget working from home: coffee shops are the key to freelance success – is really food for thought. I think there’s a lot to be said for getting dressed, getting out of the house and ‘going to work’, even if it is just you and your computer in a different spot.

UNPLUGGING (A BIT)

Late one night I was watching TV with one eye on Facebook. In my absentminded scrolling, I spotted a link that said something like If you’re reading this, you’re probably depressed. Catchy title, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it piqued my interested so I clicked…

And read with horror about how the author of the piece was horrified about the fact that the average teenager spends 61 minutes on social networks a day.

Um… 61 minutes?

A day?

Dude, I start my day with 61 minutes on social media! I’ve usually clocked that during the several post-snooze, pre-alarm interludes I enjoy before I get out of bed.

Now I am not one of these people who goes on a complete digital detox for the sole purpose of returning to Twitter to smugly announce its conclusion a week or month later. Blackouts are not the answer – and they’re not practical for me. I need email, Twitter, Facebook and my blog for work, and I need the internet for college stuff and, you know, online stationery shopping (!). I don’t think the presence of the internet is the problem anyway. I think it’s that my attention span is shot.

Rather than avoid the internet, I think I just need to contain it more. Here’s three ways I think you could do this:

  • Delete all e-mail and social media apps from your phone. I have to admit, this makes me feel a bit nervous. I’m not sure about the e-mail, because I use e-mail like telephone calls and text messages, and I don’t let the idea of being out of contact all day if I’m out and about. But Twitter and Facebook? They can definitely go. Instagram really only works on your phone, but I don’t use that anywhere near as much as the others anyway.
  • Put devices out of reach. To give you an example: I am currently watching the TV while writing this post, and my phone is on the couch with me. Once I put the laptop away, I’ll have the phone in my hand. That’s just terrible, isn’t it?
  • Re-think bedtimes. The last thing I do before I go to bed is check that my alarm is set for the next morning – but it’s on my phone, so that usually means I do a quick social media account check as well. And the first thing I do when I wake up is turn off that alarm, and then… Well, you get the idea. I don’t think it’s too bad in the morning, but it can’t be good going to bed with blue light and tweets in your head, especially with all that’s going on in the world at the moment. So: must stop this.

What do you think? Are there any productivity tips, tricks or books that you think are good? Let me know in the comments below.

Join me tomorrow for the last day of this mayhem which will include a video blog and me picking a winner for a special, signed hardcover ARC of Distress Signals. Anyone who left a comment on any post published here since January 5 is eligible to win. If you haven’t entered yet, just leave a comment on this post. One entry per post. Open globally.

See you tomorrow!

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#TBT: How Did I Get My Agent? (The Answer May Surprise You)

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 was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2 (one week from today!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

Thursdays are for throwbacks, so a replay of an old post. This one was originally posted in March 2016. 

(What an awfully clickbaity title, I know. Guilty as charged. But I think it will.)

It’s easy for me to answer the question “How did you get a book deal?” I only need two words and those are Jane and Gregory, i.e. my amazing agent. She took me on, we worked hard on revising the book and just five days after she sent it out on submission, we had a pre-emptive offer from Corvus/Atlantic for a two-book deal. My debut thriller Distress Signals will be out in mere weeks and you can find out more about it here.

But how did I get my agent?

Let’s back up a bit. Let’s go back a bit, to about seven years ago. That’s when my journey to publication really began.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I’d always, always, always wanted to write a novel but, despite daydreaming about this full-time and buying every How To Get a Book Deal: No Really, THIS Book is the One That’ll Make That Happen-esque title I could get my hands on, I was missing a crucial ingredient: a good idea for one. In the mid-2000s I stopped worrying about this and went off to have adventures working abroad instead.

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After moving to Orlando, Florida and taking a job in Walt Disney World in September 2006, I started keeping a diary about my experiences that eventually turned into a non-fiction book, Mousetrapped. I submitted it to various agents and publishers, who all said thanks but no thanks. One agent, however, really loved my writing and said she’d love to see some fiction from me if I was interested. At the time I was working an utterly awful job that was turning my soul more and more necrotic every weekday, so I made a drastic decision: I quit my job and used my savings to rent a holiday home by the sea for 6 weeks. (Note: I was living with my parents and had no real financial responsibilities.) I finished a novel – finally! – which was a kind of chick-lit meets corporate satire thing that I described as The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.

firstdraft

I also self-published Mousetrapped. This was back in early 2010 and, being in Ireland, I benefitted from big fish/small pond in a big way. The book did well and I quickly established a blog, Twitter following, etc. I was interviewed on national radio, featured in various newspapers and even appeared on TV. I was invited to give talks and lead workshops and participate in panel discussions at various literary festivals and writing seminars. I even got to do a session at a Guardian Masterclass, to lead the first ever self-publishing workshop at Faber Academy in London and got put up in a dream-like 5* hotel in the English countryside by the (very generous) organisers of ChipLitFest. Because Irish publishing has, like, 50 people in it (okay, slight exaggeration…), I also got to know a lot of people who were in the industry and made lots of great contacts and new friends. The first year I went to the Irish Book Awards it felt like the office Christmas party, I knew so many people there.

One of these new friends was Vanessa O’Loughlin, who founded Writing.ie and works as a literary scout (and who, under her crime-writing alter-ego Sam Blake, is about to release her debut crime novel Little Bones). She loved my Prada/Weightwatchers novel and she gave it to an editor at Penguin Ireland, who called me in for a meeting. They didn’t love that book but they liked my writing, and wanted to see something else. For a couple of years I tried writing Something Else, but I was making a few mistakes, the biggest being writing what I thought would get me published (women’s commercial fiction) and not what I really wanted to write (crime/thrillers).

Looking back, I think I was scared to. It was all I’d ever wanted to do since I was a teenager – what if I couldn’t? Luckily in the summer of 2012 I got a clue and started writing Distress Signals.

In the meantime though, Penguin Ireland had a title coming out that they thought would really benefit from some focused social media marketing and since I’d had success using it to promote my own books, they asked if I’d be interested in trying to make it work for them. I was and it did – and so they gave me more projects. That was in the autumn of 2012 and although I am winding down my work for them now – because, in the midst of all this, I went back to college and got a book deal so I don’t have the free time that I used to! – I have been working for them, freelance, ever since.

Got all that?

So to recap: it’s September 2014 and I’m a writer with a novel that I dream of getting published, who has already successfully self-published, has media experience, does well speaking in public and has been paid to do it, works for the biggest publishing house in the world (after the merger, anyway) and has a proven track record for selling books, not just her own but other people’s too.

Surely, I thought, there’ll be a queue of agents ready and waiting to snap me and my book up. I look so good on paper. Everything is in place. I’m a publisher’s dream.

Right?

Jane wasn’t the first agent I submitted to. I actually had no plans to submit to Jane at all, because it’s like deciding you’re going to gatecrash an Oscar party and then aiming for the Vanity Fair one. The chances of success are better for winning the lottery. She gets 5,000 submissions a year, takes on 2-3 new clients annually and only allows a submission in the first instance of the first ten pages of your work. Plus her roster of clients reads like the Female Crime Fiction All Stars team. I thought there was no hope.

So before I submitted to her, I submitted to a few other agents – more realistic choices, I thought at the time. Below is the actual text of the (loooong) cover letter I sent to them.

(FYI: Distress Signals was called Dark Waters back then and this letter is a couple of years old.)

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Great, right? I was downright smug about this cover letter. I was the mayor of Smugsville.

But the agents I submitted it to? They weren’t impressed. They all said no, because they didn’t like the book that came with it.

On a day in September 2014, I remember very clearly sitting at my desk – where I’m sitting now – browsing the Gregory and Company website. I couldn’t get over the idea of the ten pages. How could they possibly tell whether you were good or not from a mere ten pages? I read over mine and thought they’d never cut the mustard. But… What did I have to lose? So, feeling like I was probably completely wasting my time, I sent in my submission.

Time out here to say something very important: follow the submission instructions to the letter. To. The. Letter. I didn’t send nine pages. I didn’t send eleven. I sent ten, which is what they asked for, even though this left them hanging mid-chapter. I had done my research; I knew Jane specialised in crime fiction. I personalised my letter. I sent it to the e-mail address they specified. I didn’t telephone to ask any questions, I didn’t email five days later to check if they’d got it and I didn’t Google Map their address, fly to London and post a chocolate bar through their letterbox with a note saying, ‘Something to enjoy while you read my submission!’ I just did what I was told. Nothing more, nothing less.

The vast majority of submissions that come into agents’ offices – and for as long as I live, this is something I’ll never understand – don’t follow the agency’s submission guidelines. Even though they’re right there, on the website. I just don’t get it. You’re hoping this person will enter into a long-term business relationship with you, that you’ll become partners at the wheel of your career. That they’ll risk investing time in you that they might never get paid for. And they’ve never met you. All they know is what you present. And you start off by completely ignoring what they’ve politely requested you do?

It reminds me of the time I was working in a B&B and we needed a new part-time member of staff. I put an ad online that asked for people to email a CV and, because the B&B was incredibly busy and we barely had the time to answer the phone to prospective guests, I specified that application was by e-mail only (important because the position would involve a lot of emailing with guests, etc. and the e-mail itself would provide us with an insight into their skills in that area) and that the person doing the hiring would not be at the property itself, so please don’t call. But what did people do? They called. And they called to ask questions that were either answered by the ad or that weren’t appropriate to ask at that stage of the application process. Of all the calls like this I answered, not one caller had a legitimate reason to call. So it may sound harsh but anyone who called got put in the “No” pile – because, by calling, they had proved that they couldn’t follow simple instructions and other people who wanted the job had proved that they could, so…

In summary: follow the instructions. Just by doing that, you’ll already be putting your submission head and shoulders above most of the rest.

Anyway, a couple of weeks after I sent in my submission, Gregory and Company asked me for the full manuscript and a couple of weeks after that, they offered to represent me and I celebrated with Starbucks and champagne. (Thanks, Denise!)

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It all had all been worth it. That’s what I thought. All those years – five of them, at this stage – that I’d spent worming my way into the publishing industry, establishing myself, selling books… It had all been worth it because now I had managed to write a cover letter that had convinced an agent – the agent – to take me on.

Except I hadn’t.

Because Jane wasn’t interested in the cover letter or its contents. When we first met, she asked me a few things that made me suspect she hadn’t even read it, or perhaps someone else on her team had and they’d just recapped the highlights for her. She was only interested in one thing: the book. She made her decision based on one thing: the book. I got a book deal based on one thing: the book.

The other agents rejected me because my cover letter theatrics weren’t enough to make up for the fact that they didn’t like the book. They didn’t “love it enough”. Not one of them said, “Well, I think this is good but I don’t think it’s great… But I’m so impressed by everything you’d done over the last few years and I think you could still manage to flog a few copies of it even if it isn’t great, so… I’m going to offer to represent you anyway!”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I have had a lot of fun since 2009. But I always had my eye on the prize. Whenever I got an invite to somewhere cool or I met someone important or I was interviewed by a newspaper whose name everyone would recognise, there was a part of me that mentally banked it for the cover letter that I’d ultimately send in with my submission. That’s always what I was working towards. And there was, admittedly, a part of me that also thought, Even if they don’t think the book is great, wouldn’t they still take me on because of all this stuff? I’m such a catch! 

Sometimes I slipped in little puddles of despair and looked around at all my friends with agents and book deals – some of them friends who didn’t have blogs or websites, or who rarely used Twitter – and got annoyed. Why didn’t I have agents and book deals, eh? Hadn’t I done my time? Paid my dues? And then I’d remember the big difference between us: they’d all finished books. I’d been too busy adding to my CV to finish mine.

Maybe you had the thought, when I was on here squealing and exclaiming about getting a book deal or getting an agent, of course she did. She works in the industry and she has great contacts. That’s fine for her but I don’t have those advantages. I don’t have a platform and I don’t know anyone on the inside. 

But I’m here to tell you – and this was as surprising to me as it might be to you now – that when it came to it, none of that mattered. It really didn’t. It was only about the book. I didn’t know Jane and Jane didn’t know me. I just went to the website, got my instructions and submitted the first ten pages of my book, just like approximately 5,000 other people did that same year.

And I’m not the only one whose story is like this. Most of the writers I know, their stories are the same.

(Of course, there are exceptions. Some people meet their agents at novel fairs or conferences or even online. Meeting at conferences seems to be a big thing in the U.S. And I’m guessing celebrity memoirs and celebrity novels aren’t quite all about the book, because at the end of the day the clue is in the name – it’s called the publishing industry – and brands sell books. But we’re not talking about celebrities, we’re talking about you and me.)

For us, it’s all about the book.

So don’t worry about anything else. Just make your book the best book it can be. When you start agent-hunting, you’ll have just as much chance of success as anybody else.

Well, provided you follow the instructions anyway.

(Guys, we just have ONE WEEK left of this blogging craziness! Almost there…)

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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!

Fireworks Walt Disney World

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!

dsbb

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.

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.

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…

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.