NaNoWriMo Update

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I just thought I’d give you a quick update on how NaNoWriMo is going. I’m pleased to say I’m well ahead of schedule, which is good as I won’t have the chance to write much over the next couple of days. The story is flying. As it’s a completely new world for me I’m finding I’m over-writing – long descriptive passages, far too much detail – but this is helping me get a real feel for the world I’m creating and can be pruned hard during the edit.

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As a plotter I’m finding the story is roughly going ahead as planned. That said, I’ve already changed the main occupation of my lead character, introduced characters who had just appeared out of nothing and created two religions, all of which may not make the final cut. As you might guess, I’m having an absolute blast pulling everything together.*

So how are the rest of my fellow NaNoWriMo writers getting on? Are you on track or are you struggling? I’d love to hear from you.

 

*Remind me of this during the next update if I complain about how difficult this NaNoWriMo malarkey is!

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How we write – a discussion with Geoff Le Pard part 2

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 July

This is the second post in a two-part discussion on writing with Geoff Le Pard to promote his new book, My Father and Other Liars. Part one of this discussion can be found here.

In this part of the interview we discussed plot and story development, beta readers, research, empathy and the secret to writing a bestseller.*

*I’m lying about this last point.

 

GLP: You have a nice twist at the end of Second Chance; was that something you planned up front or did it come as the story developed?

DSH: The twist in Second Chance was something I’d had planned from the beginning although it underwent a few changes during the editing process. For me this is one of the strengths of plotting a story, even if it’s at a very basic level, it allows you to identify what to reveal when, to ensure the twist’s full impact is achieved.

That said, the real heroes for this are my beta readers. They’re the ones who let me know whether a twist worked, was far too obvious, or came totally out of the blue with no foreshadowing so they felt cheated. It’s really difficult when writing a thriller or mystery for an author,  knowing the full story, to get this right on your own.

How many Beta readers do you use? How do you choose them and do they change book to book?

GLP: Beta Readers. Yes the unsung heroes. I don’t have either a set number or a consistent group.  For My Father I had both general and specialist. A major component of the story is around genetic research using human embryos, and especially the current attempts to develop pluripotent stems cells from skin rather than embryos. I wanted the science to hold up – I gave up biology at school at 13 – so was fortunate that two of my daughter’s friends at school studied biology at Oxford and read the book. Not only did they make comments on the story but gave me great feed back on the science. In a similar way I decided to based my fictitious church in Oklahoma (why oh why!) but never having been couldn’t be sure my scenes there made sense. I found, via blogging, Paula who had spent the first 25 years of her life living in the Oklahoma panhandle in a staunch Baptist family. Her insights, both into the setting but also the religious family context, were invaluable. Otherwise I think a minimum of two beta readers are needed at the final stages; before that it’s really up to you and how comfortable you are showing a raw piece of work to people.
This has tied into my research; you have a significant storyline around the damage of climate change; did that involve much research? Were there areas where you worried that the science or settings or whatever might not pass muster because of the depth of research you were able to undertake?

DSH: Yes, I did plenty of research into the effects of climate change, especially how high sea levels need to rise to cause major devastation, along with future technologies. In fact I did so much research the hardest part was leaving most of it out. Most, if not all went into the first draft but on reading it back I realised just how dull these passages were so took most out. For me, the key to my fiction isn’t realism but plausibility. As long as the majority of reader believe it’s possible, I’ve done my job.

As of this moment I’m about a quarter of the way through My Father and really enjoying it. There’s one passage in particular that caught my eye, when you go into detail about the Church of Science & Development’s belief system. You’ve mentioned already that you’re an atheist but the way you’ve combined scripture with science is very believable. Is this something you developed yourself and if so, do you think you’re subconsciously trying to marry your conviction in science with a need to empathise with those of faith?

GLP: That’s beautifully put. Yes, I feel annoyed at the Dawkins and Hitchens, and indeed the Frys of this world who, in their articulacy, appear, in some cases possibly innocently, to patronise those of faith. No one has all the answers so who am I to say there isn’t a guiding hand, for want of a better expression, behind everything? I don’t believe it because it seems wholly improbable that something so creative could create something so random and bizarre as the universe. So I try to empathise all the time.  The Church of Science and Development probably came about after hearing a debate between Richard Dawkins and a professor of physics who was a committed Christian. Frankly I was on his side because I loathe Dawkins’ sneering so it set me thinking: was there any way to reconcile science with the bible, with basic Christian theology? And this was the closest I came.

When I read Second Chance I was very taken with the Scrambles. It was a very vivid creation and easy to feel oneself inside it. I loved, though was surprised (in a good way), the way it took centre stage at the start of Absent Souls. When I created Beaumont for the home of the Church and the University I found it a struggle and it was one of the areas I felt was still weak even at the end of the process. How about you and the Scrambles? Was that always the plan or did that develop through the writing? And what did you base it on, (other than a warped imagination!?)

DSHThe Scrambles came easy to me because it was based on somewhere I know very well, the Düsseldorf Altstadt. While the Altstadt (or old town) isn’t quite the same den of iniquity as the Scrambles, it’s a very concentrated area of bars, restaurants and clubs in the historic heart of this modern city. 

Having a very specific geographical and even architectural lawless zone appealed to me as I believe strongly that while socially and intellectually humanity has advanced significantly, emotionally we’re still the same as we’ve been for millennia and without some form of release valve, things could go downhill very quickly.

I know you’ve been writing a long time but have only recently started publishing your work. Even though both your books have been in the works a while, do you feel your writing has progressed from one to the other and if so, how?

GLP: I started My Father before Dead Flies (but not by much).  The biggest change – improvement – is, I hope, in the show don’t tell area. As a lawyer (I have to blame something!) our drafting had to be explicit. Any contract worth its salt is clear and unambiguous. Sometimes that is why a contract clause may use up all synonyms to cover all bases ‘to repair, maintain, remedy, renew, improve, replace, restore, reinstate, refurbish…’ Of course, transfer this to a novel and it is 19th century literature at its most clunky. This form of writing has a legal term – the ‘torrential style’ – and that was my biggest challenge. That apart, I tend to be clever for clever sake, to add descriptive curlicues for the sake of them and then miss out something fundamental. My first beta readers pointed this out. ‘Where are we?’ ‘What does she look like?’ Because I have always had a fine sense of my characters, sometimes I forget my readers don’t and I underdo some description. I don’t think I will ever do this naturally. My first edit almost always consists, not in correcting plotting errors or continuity problems but adding in descriptions of some places and people and removing overblown descriptions of others. In many ways that’s why I enjoy editing: I know how much better it is going to be because my first drafts are so much rubbish. And they are rubbish because I do not plan.
What about you? What are your biggest failings that you’ve corrected and what do you still do that needs correcting at the edit stage. What do you find hardest? For instance, I love dialogue and think – is this hubristic? – that writing dialogue that is natural is one of my strengths. You’ll now turn to the page to something awful!

DSH: There are a couple of areas I struggle with. Like you, description doesn’t come naturally. I either add far too much or not enough to provide grounding for the readers. My writing style is naturally light on description anyway as I personally hate wading through pages of pure description, but I learnt early on that you can take this too far. You do need enough description otherwise the readers feel lost. That said, the brief descriptive style in Second Chance is deliberate as we’re seeing the world through the eyes of people who spend most of their lives looking inward rather than outward.

I too love dialogue. I think it comes from having spent my whole life re-running every argument I’ve ever lost in my head, testing all the permutations and snappy one liners I could have said. It’s been good training for the natural ebb and flow of conversation.

I’m also hopeless at spotting typos, which is why having a good editor and proofreader is essential for me. I made the mistake of publishing Second Chance with a large number of typos (despite having the support of a number of friends to look for errors) but was luckily saved by some very kind readers which allowed me to correct the manuscript before too much damage was done. I knew this area was important but I didn’t realise just how many rounds of checking were required to get a book in shape for publishing. Now I’ve a much more stringent process in place, which was proven with the launch of Absent Souls, but it’s still an area I know I need to work on.

One of the things I like doing is leaving ‘Easter Eggs,’ for my readers, little things that would appeal to people from certain backgrounds. There are one or two characters who are named after villages local to where I live, for example, and one of the locations in Second Chance is named after the founding father of climate science. I’ve also included phrases my children use as a little surprise for my wife. Do you do anything like this? Are there any messages or in jokes you leave in your books?

GLP: No, I don’t think so. I like to write around  places that have a meaning for me in some way but apart from that, I don’t consciously do that.
One of my problems is using words repeatedly. ‘He/she/they turned’ for instance. Do you have words that you really try and remove yet often can’t think of anything better?

DSH: I’m a serial passive language offender in my early drafts. I have an editing crib sheet I use when proofing with over one hundred words or phrases I need to check, including any time I use could, had, was, should or were to see if it’s in a passive context, along with seem. I also overuse the word ‘look’, especially as a beat in dialogue and work hard to use alternate words instead.

Now that I’ve finished My Father… I’d like to talk endings. In it I reached what I thought would be the end point, only for the story to (successfully) continue on to a different resolution. How do you know when to end a story? Is this something you have planned in advance or is it a voyage of discovery?

GLP: You must have had that dilemma, with endings for a trilogy? So important to get that right. Enough to satisfy the one off reader, enough to hold them for the next instalment. You’ve done a great job but how easy was it? If I think about it, I’d say book one felt vey natural, very satisfying but more of a full stop than two. In book two a lot more feels unresolved – a lot of pent up energy waiting to explode.
My ending? I hadn’t decided where it would end when I started writing save that it would end on an upbeat note. In two (different) versions I killed off both fathers but it was a bit grisly and felt like Alice in Wonderland meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In fact the ending came reasonably soon – maybe the third or fourth edit – in the original draft Mo and Lori end up back in San Fran but that was too forced. The part here you think it ends is in fact a much later edition after a fried read it and said how sad she was that X didn’t happen in Nic (no spoilers) and that’s when I had an epiphany and added in the extra scenes.

 

I hope you enjoyed our (not so) little conversation on our writing processes. I’d like to thank Geoff for being such a wonderful interviewee/conversationalist. I feel we could have carried on for days but sadly we both have our next books to get finished!

 

My father and other liars final for kindle 6 JulyMy Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

dead flies kDP 20 10His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, can be found here:

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

 

 

Geoff and his number one fanGeoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.

10 Reasons you stop writing your book and why to ignore them

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There isn’t a writer alive that hasn’t stopped writing, whether as a planned break or simply because they got out of the habit. It’s happened to me in the past and I’m sure it will happen again in the future. When it does, we often come up with excuses as to justify why we’ve stopped writing, but the majority of the time that’s all they are, excuses. The trick is recognising them for the lies they are and dealing with them. Here are the ten most common reasons people stop writing and why you should ignore them.

1 Your writing isn’t very good

You’ve just read back what you’ve been slaving over for the past few weeks/months and are horrified at how poor it is, so much so you’re questioning whether you’re a writer at all. I’ll let you into a little secret, every writer does this. OK, there may be a couple who write perfect prose straight off but we don’t talk to them. The key to being a productive writer is allowing yourself to write badly. We all write lumpen prose and stilted dialogue at times, as well as falling back on clichéd descriptions. This is alright because we know we can fix anything during the edit. So go ahead, stop worrying and get back to your writing.

2 You’re tired

Most of us have other jobs or roles which leave us drained at the end of the day. The most productive writers know this and either change their routine to compensate (by writing first thing in the morning for example) or learn to write tired. Unless you are lucky enough to be a full-time writer you need to find a regular slot you make your own and get into the habit of writing then. It will be hard at first but if you do it on a regular basis you will soon get used to it.

3 You’ve fallen out of love with the story

This can be a tough one. You started out writing your story with a fire and passion for the new but somewhere along the way you’ve fallen out of love with the story, possibly even questioning whether it’s any good. This is a normal reaction. A writer’s emotions vary wildly during the writing process. It’s important to recognise this and work through the down times. When this happens to me I have a number of ways to rekindle the fire. I’ll read back the start of the story to capture some of that initial passion. I’ll also switch to writing a scene I’ve been looking forward to. I’ll also stop writing win the middle of a scene I’ve been enjoying so I can’t wait to get back to it the next day.

4 You’ve written yourself into a hole

This can happen to any writer but especially to those who prefer to free write rather than follow a plan. Finding yourself in a hole can be really deflating because once you’ve written something your brain automatically tells you this is ‘how the story is, how it was and how it will always be.’ This is nonsense. You have full control over your story. You can do anything with it. If you’ve written yourself into a hole, go back to a point where just before it went bad and change it. Throw in something new, something unexpected. Don’t get disheartened, use it as an excuse to play around with things and be creative. You’ll soon find your story moving again.

5 The imposter syndrome

You’ve been writing for a while but you’ve realised you’re not really a writer so you’re giving up. It could be because of a bad review, some feedback you’ve received about your manuscript or just the way your friends smirk when writing is mentioned, but no matter how much encouragement you’ve had from others, there’s this nagging voice in the back of your mind telling you you’re faking it. You aren’t a real writer. Some point soon you’ll get found out for the imposter you are, writers everywhere will point at you and laugh and all the doubters will be proven right.

You aren’t alone.

Nearly all writers suffer from the imposter syndrome, from award-winning novelists to newbies. And it’s a good thing. Rather than let it crush you, harness these doubts about your own ability to fuel the desire to improve, to never settle with where you are but learn and get better.

6 You don’t have the time

When I was younger I thought my day was full. Then I took on evening classes and realised my day hadn’t been full at all, it was just an illusion. I had plenty of time, I just didn’t use it effectively. Then I had children and realised doing evening classes was a breeze in comparison. I’d thought time was tight before but boy was I wrong. Everybody has time to write, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. The question is never if you have time but what are you prepared to give up to free up your writing time.

7 You’ll do it later/tomorrow

You’re going to write, sure you are, but not today. Today you’ll catch up with that boxed-set you’ve been watching, or finish polishing the family silver. Tomorrow will be your writing day. And when tomorrow comes, there’ll be another reason to delay getting back to writing.

You’ll do it tomorrow is one of the most insidious excuses for not writing because you genuinely believe it to be true, yet how often have you said this only to find that two weeks later you’ve still not written a thing. If you can find time to write tomorrow you can find time to write today, it’s a simple as that.

8 It’s a pain

Writing is a real pain, especially when you move from the lovely, free-flowing creative part into the painstaking grind of the edit. If writing was easy, everybody would do it. But you’re not everybody, you’re a writer. You’re don’t do this because it’s easy, you do it because you want to tell your story. The main reason people stop is not because the work is hard but because there is so much to do. They can’t see the finish line, just a seemingly endless pile of work that’s stopped being fun. The thing is, there’s no time limit to writing a book. It takes as long as it takes. Instead of worrying about how much there is to do, simply do. Then look back after a week, a month, and see how much you’ve achieved. You’ll be amazed.

9 The muse isn’t with you

For those of you who have a job other than writing, I dare you to go to your boss/business partner and let them know you won’t be working today because the muse isn’t with you. If you’re lucky, they’ll just laugh in your face. The most productive writers treat writing as a job. They sit down whether they feel creative or not. They learn to grind out words on the bad days and enjoy the rush on the good days. If writing as a hobby by all means sit back and wait but if you want to be a writer you need to treat writing like any other job by turning up and putting in the hours.

10 A fire has destroyed your home and all your belongings

OK, I’ll let you off this time, but you could always borrow a pen and a notepad to record just how you feel and use what you’ve written to fuel your next blockbuster!

So what about you? Do you recognise any of these or are there others I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

There are easier ways to sell books than through blogging

Girl Scout Cookies

At the recent Bloggers Bash, one of the questions asked was why people started blogging. Many bloggers came up with the same answer, because they’d been told they needed to have a blog as an author platform in order to sell their books. When asked if blogging had helped, the answer from everybody was ‘not really,’ and while the answer wasn’t a ‘no,’ it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

This isn’t my first blog. I started blogging three years ago with another blog all about my writing journey (because nobody had thought of doing that before, right?). Over time I got bored about writing about writing so decided to start this blog where I could write about about anything, and I often did. However, I always had that piece of advice in the back of my mind, an author needs a platform to help promote and sell their books.

Eventually my blogging came full circle and I now blog about writing, or more accurately life as an indie writer as there are many more qualified bloggers out there that can help you with the nuts and bolts of how to actually write. I’ve met many wonderful bloggers, some of whom are novel writers, and I’m sure I’ve sold a handful of books on the back of them getting to know me through this blog.

During this time I’ve also got to know some writers who are making a real success out of self-publishing. I’m not talking about a Hugh Howey level of success but they are selling enough books to either make a living or heavily supplement their income. One thing links all of these writers.

They rarely blog.

Many have blogs but use them as a means to inform of new book launches or as a landing page for their mailing list. Some are active on other forms of social media but many aren’t. I don’t know whether the advice on the importance of an author platform passed them by, or if they chose to ignore it, but very few of them have an interest in building a social media presence. So how on earth did they become successful?

Blogging takes a lot of time and effort. In the two years this blog has been around (I’m ignoring my other one – as most readers did) I’ve written around two hundred posts. Each post varies between 500 and 1000 words in length. Add it all together and it’s the equivalent of nearly two novels worth of words. Then there is the amount of time I’ve spent creating posts, editing posts, replying to comments, not to mention all the time I’ve spent reading and commenting on the many blogs I follow.

I’ve listed below five things I could have been doing instead to sell more books:

1 Set up a stall in my village high street or a local town and harangue passers-by into buying my books

2 Contact all my local libraries and bookshops in an effort to stock or promote my books

3 Work a part-time job to raise money to pay for advertising through book promotion sites, Facebook and Amazon

4 Give them to the Girl Scouts to sell with their cookies for commission

5 WRITE MORE BOOKS

There’s a reason point five is in capitals. While nothing is guaranteed in the self-publishing world, the more books you have published, the more chance you have of your books gaining visibility. I said there was one thing that links the successful authors together but I lied. There are two. All of these writers have released five or more books over the last two or three years. I’ve released two and have a third on the way, but I could have released more if I hadn’t blogged so much.

When these successful writers aren’t actually writing, they work on their marketing instead, either to develop their mailing lists, creating direct promotions through promotional sites or by contacting book reviewers asking for honest reviews in return for a free book. They treat writing as a job rather than a hobby. They don’t wait for inspiration, they work every day regardless of whether they feel like it to not.

Of course, as I’ve said before, doing all of this doesn’t automatically guarantee success, but it increases the chances.

This isn’t to say there aren’t writers who generate sales through blogging. There are a number who do just this, although the majority I know make more money writing books on writing or self-publishing than through their own fiction. There are, however, other ways to increase sales that are less time consuming and with a higher chance of success.

So why should writers blog?

Because it’s a wonderful opportunity to write something different, to let off steam, to connect with like-minded should, to find comfort and community, to help others much earlier in the process than yourself and be helped by those further down the line. It’s a way of making new friends, for discovering excellent books and for improving your craft. It’s a place to be yourself, to be someone else or to be the person you’ve always wanted to be.

Most of all, you should blog because you want to, not because you feel you should. Blogging is a wonderful medium and I don’t regard my time blogging as being a waste, and nor did any of the bloggers I met at the Bloggers Bash. I just wouldn’t recommend it as a way of selling books.

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

On Violence in Fiction

Violence

Violence is a very seductive tool in a writer’s arsenal. Most good fiction involves some form of conflict and although not all examples lead to an act, or acts, of violence, most do, including mine, but my thoughts on writing violent scenes have changed during the writing process.

In the first draft of Second Chance I had people committing acts of violence all over the place. There wasn’t an argument that didn’t lead to some form of physical altercation. Characters were swinging at each other at the slightest provocation. Too much sugar in your coffee? Bam! Didn’t like your haircut? Kerpow!* The longer the book went on, the more violent it became.

And it was a blast to write. It had action, pace – there’s nothing more satisfying than ramping up the tension to the point it explodes – and my word count rocketed as I went from one conflict to the next, giggling to myself at my inventiveness.

Then I got to one scene, set in an office, where two characters came to blows and it hit me**. I’d worked in an office environment for 25 years and, despite some very stressful, tense and emotional moments, not once had I seen people come to blows. Not once. I’d seen seething anger, shouting, gritted teeth and exasperation, but never physical violence. It made me ask myself a simple question. Why am I writing in this way?

In the western world we have a very strange relationship with violence. On the screen or in a book, we celebrate violence and those that partake in violence. We justify this hypocritical (and I count myself in this) stance of violence categorising it into two different camps: ‘bad’ violence: strong preying on the weak, and ‘good’ violence: strong stopping the bad people preying on the weak or weak standing up to the strong. On the screen, especially, we glamourise violence by putting it to music and creating almost balletic fight scenes. We cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys. It’s entertainment.

Yet in real life, most of us rightly abhor violence. While not unknown, witnessing violence first-hand is a thankfully rare occurrence and most people are shocked and appalled by violence in even its mildest form.

So why was I writing this way? Why so much violence?

The simple answer was because it was easy. It didn’t take much thought. It meant I didn’t have to deal with nuance, or depth, or any of those other things that are hard to convey in words. Rather than treat a scene realistically it was easier to go straight to the action. It was lazy writing.

I’m not saying all violent scenes are unnecessary, but using violence as the first resort, as opposed to how it is in real life, a last, is pure laziness. And not only that, it’s perpetuating the myth that violence is a solution, as opposed to a failure.

I went back through my manuscript and took out the majority of violent scenes. I searched long and hard for other ways to increase tension, only resorting to violence if there was no other plausible alternative. But at the same time I made another decision. If there was to be violence I wanted it to be realistic. I wanted it to be shocking. I didn’t want it to be toned down, or glamorous, I wanted it to be ugly and brutal. I did this not because I enjoyed writing that way but because I abhor violence.

As writers we have many choices, not just about what we write but how we write it. It’s very seductive to follow the cultural norm, to be swept along with what everyone else is doing without necessarily questioning the consequences of what we do.  By watering down violence in literature***, or even worse glamourising it, I believe we are perpetuating the myth that violence is OK, that it’s not too bad, that it’s honourable.

I realised I wanted to show the true impact of violence and its corrosive effect on society. And not just its effect on the victims of violence, but on those that perpetrate it too. I wanted to show how believing violence is a solution, whether the perpetrator believes it is justified, takes away their humanity. I wanted to strip the glamour from violence to show it for what it is.

Not everybody will agree with me, and not every reader will want to read violence depicted in this fashion, but I believe my books are much better for taking this stance, and my conscience is clearer for writing this way.

So what about you? What is your stand on violence in books, or in your own writing? I’d love to hear from you.

 

* This is an exaggeration but you hopefully get my point.

** Pun intended

*** I’m talking about fiction for adults, I have a different view when it comes to books for children.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

Before the edit starts

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When you start out writing it’s easy to look at authors with two, three, four or more books under their belt and believe they somehow have it easier than you, or that your struggles mean you aren’t meant to be a writer. This is very far from the truth.

I’m writing this as the first draft of my third book, Genesis Redux, merrily prints away beside me. I say merrily, but in some respects it’s feels like the creak of a trapdoor beneath your feet while you have a noose wrapped around your neck. My first draft has been resting for over six weeks now and it’s time to get back to work. However, to show you that all writers have doubts and apprehensions, I want to capture the what’s going through my head now, knowing that I have months of editing ahead of me.

Confronting fear

Above all is the fear. It’s the fear of reading my first draft and realising it’s irredeemable. Note I didn’t say terrible. Terrible can be dealt with, in fact I’ve dealt with terrible at this stage in the process twice before. First drafts are meant to be mostly terrible but with enough encouraging signs that there’s a good story in there somewhere. What I’m scared about is that the first draft is so bad, so teeth-clinchingly, sickness-inducingly bad, that there is no way it can be recovered and I’ll have to start the whole thing all over again. This fear is so strong my stomach just flipped as I wrote that sentence. That’s how much I fear what I’m about to read.

I’ve been told this feeling never changes, no matter how many books you’ve written.

Pressure of expectation

Then there’s the pressure of expectation. The nicest part of writing your first novel is that you are the sole source of expectation. That level of expectation can still crush some, but for most of us the challenge is to get to the finish line, to have written a book, and then to see if anyone else will enjoy it afterwards. This is the third book of a trilogy. I’ve been lucky enough to have received glowing reviews for both books but this doesn’t make the writing process easier. It makes it harder. Because what if it’s rubbish? What if I’ve lost whatever it was that people enjoyed so much in the first two books? What if I screw the ending up? Not only do I have to bring this book to a satisfying conclusion, I have to conclude the whole series as well. What if I…

No. I have to stop thinking about it otherwise I’ll never go any further.

Overcoming laziness

I always look on in awe at those committed individuals. You know the ones I mean, those who seem to thrive on pressure, who produce and produce and produce as if they’re in a competition with the rules of physics on how much one can achieve in a set period of time. I’m not like that. I work hard, but inside there is a very lazy person just waiting to break out, and it’s at times like these, just at the brink of committing to something huge, that my inner lazy man speaks the loudest. “Why bother? Two’s a good effort, much better than some. Nobody will hold it against you. Forget about it…”

Time pressure

On top of the above is the knowledge of the sheer amount of time this will take, time I’m struggling to make available. Like all writers, I too have a life outside of writing. I have a job, and if that wasn’t enough I’m also the chair of our local preschool. I have friends (stop snickering at the back) and most importantly, I have a wonderful wife and a young family who fully deserve my time. I’ve written before how writing is a selfish act, but it’s at this point in a project this really hits home.

The tyranny of deadlines

Finally, I have that other form of time pressure looming up ahead of me, the deadline. I’m n indie author so I don’t have a publisher breathing down my neck waiting for the finished book, but I do have my own expectations as to when the book should be ready to go. My first book took 18 months tow write. My second book took just over ten months. This time I’d like to do the same, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

And then there is the pressure from my readers, who expect the book to be available in September BECAUSE I TOLD THEM IT WOULD BE. The things we do to ourselves.

Of course, none of these feelings will stop me from editing, which is the madness behind being a writer. There is a story inside me and it needs to be told. I’ve already committed months of my time to get this far, what’s a few more months to finish it off? Plus there’s always the next one to think about…

What about you? Does any of this ring true? I’d love to hear from you.

Morality – a writer’s best friend

moral-compass

Image source: brucemctague.com/rediscovering-the-moral-compass

 

One of the things I enjoy most about writing is exploring morality. At its most basic level, morality is just a question of right and wrong. It’s a black and white issue. Take theft, for example. The definition of theft is:

Theft

The dishonest taking of property belonging to another person with the intention of depriving the owner permanently of its possession

Not many of us would disagree that theft is wrong, but is it always wrong?

To punish a thief?

A young woman is caught stealing from a store. Theft is wrong and she should be punished. But what if it was food she was stealing for her hungry children? Is it still wrong? What if she had recently lost her job and had no way of feeding her children? What if the job she’d lost was at the store and the sore owner owed her a month’s wages? What if the the reason she’d lost it was because she’d turned down the unwanted advances of the store owner?

With each new piece of information, the case for punishing the woman decreases. As a writer, this is a simple but effective means of drawing a reader deeper into a story, turning what appears to be a unsympathetic character on the surface into one the majority of readers could identify with. But even in such cases there will still be those who say the woman should be punished for theft and others who believe she should be let off.

But surely in every situation there’s a right and wrong?

It is very easy to create a situation where one person is in the right, another in the wrong, but this doesn’t necessarily make great dramatic tension. Take murder, for example. For most people, the definition of murder is the premeditated killing of one person by another. To murder someone, you plan to kill them, then act upon your plan. It’s black and white. However, the actual definition of murder is slightly different.

Murder

the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another

The key word in the definition is ‘unlawful,’ killing somebody outside of what is allowed by law. What is legal and what is moral are two very different things. You only have to look at the controversy surrounding the recent film, American Sniper, to understand that what to one group of people is a completely understandable act can be seen by others as unjustified murder.

Morality is subjective, and it is this subjectivity that makes it such a useful tool for writers.

Would you kill a child?

Most of us would see the killing of a child as abhorrent, the worst type of murder. There couldn’t possibly be any justification within the law for doing such a terrible thing.

But what if you’d been sent back in time and had the chance to kill the young Adolf Hitler? Would you do it? Could you kill what was at the time an innocent child to save millions?

Clearly, this an extreme hypothetical situation unlikely to happen in real life, but it shows that morality is never a simple black and white issue. There are people who would say the killing of the young Adolf Hitler would be justified, others horrified that anyone would think of doing such a thing. From a human perspective this type of dilemma is the stuff of nightmares, but from a writer’s perspective it’s gold dust.

How I use morality to fuel my writing

Second Chance is set in the near future where humanity has pulled back from the brink of environmental disaster. Those terrible events are now in the past and the people live in what many of us would view as a Utopia, with plentiful clean energy, a stable climate and relatively little crime. However, as the story advances it starts to become clear that there is a hidden price to pay for such stability, a price some would find too high and others happy to pay.

One of the moral areas I wanted to investigate was around ‘the common good.’ It’s a great phrase, meant to represent doing what’s best for everyone. In this case, saving the world from disaster is a good thing, but what about the price? The problem with the common good is that it’s often used to justify terrible actions. Those in power tend to decide what is the common good but power distances individuals from reality. Power corrupts, yet these are the people who define how much bad can be allowed in the name of the common good. And if the benefit is saving the world, who could argue with a bit of bad?

When creating characters or plotting stories, playing with these types of moral quandaries can give real depth to your work. While some authors use these situations to promote their own ideas and thoughts, I much prefer to keep myself out of the story. To me, the best books are those where all characters are portrayed realistically, protagonists and antagonists alike. It doesn’t mean you have to root for the antagonist, but you should be able to clearly see where they are coming from. What’s even better is when the countries blur until it’s difficult to know who’s right and who’s wrong.

What about you? How have you used morality in your writing? Or what the best moral quandaries from your favourite stories? I’d love to hear from you.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

How To Take Charge And Write Your Own Way

A great post* from Sacha about the importance of discovering ‘your’ writing process.

*And no, I’m not just reblogging this because I’m mentioned 😉

Sacha Black

How To Take Charge & Write Your Own Way

I love reading blogs written by other writers, editors, publishers and general creative bods. I particularly love reading blogs on ‘writing’ and how to write better. That’s why in my own blog I like to explore the lessons I’m learning as I progress on my journey to be a writer.

But there’s a snag. In reading all those posts, without realising, I got myself caught up in thinking I should be doing something a certain way. Using a character template for example, and then getting caught up in which specific template I should use, whether I should be using one for scenes or settings, having to outline, or not outline, style of note taking, being a pantser or a plotter, editing as I go or writing to the end and then editing… the options are endless and I wrapped myself up in a big knotty ball of stress trying to figure out which was the…

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The benefits of publishing through a publisher 

shaking hands

licensed under creative commons. Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/89228431@N06/

 

I’ve written many times about why I decided to self-publish and the pros and cons of going down this route, often by comparing a positive of indie publishing compared to a negative of going through a publisher. Because of this, I may occasionally come across as being against anyone trying to gain a publishing contract. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Publishing isn’t a black and white issue. There is no universal right or wrong. When you are looking to get your book published, all routes should be investigated and only once an author understands the positives and negatives of each option should they decide which route is right for them and their book at that particular time.

Below I’ve listed the benefits of publishing through a publisher. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list and is written from the perspective of somebody who has decided to go the indie route for his current series of books. Also, the level of benefits will clearly differ depending on whether you are being published by one of the Big 6 (or 5) publishers, a specialist publisher or a small publisher. However, compared to indie publishing there are plenty of benefits to publishing through a traditional publisher.

No financial risk

When an author signs up with a publisher, it is the publisher who takes on the financial risk of whether their book succeeds or fails, not the author. The publisher takes on the cost to get the manuscript into shape, all physical (and digital) production costs, organises and pays for the promotion of the book, and pays the author an advance. If the book flops, the author isn’t responsible for recouping these costs. Taking on this risk is why the the publisher expects such a large percentage of the profit from each book sale.

Advance

Most good publishers pay the author an advance for the rights to publish their book. While these advances may not be as large as they once were, they are still much larger than the advance you get as an indie author – $0.

It’s also important to realise that many books do not pay out their advance. That’s to say, despite having the support of a large organisation behind it, the book doesn’t sell in enough volume for the author’s royalties to exceed the amount of the advance. That doesn’t mean the publisher necessarily looses money on the book, but the author receives more money than they would have done through royalties alone.

Access to professionals

One of the great benefits to going through a publisher is that you have access to a number of professionals. There are developmental editors, to help shape the story, line editors to help smooth prose, and a number of copy editors to pick out those nasty typos and grammatical errors. Then you have book cover designers and book interior designers, there to give your book the best chance of success. To pay for all this support would cost an indie author many thousands of dollars, and many of us have to choose just how much to invest at each stage, but if you have a publishing contract you get it all as part of the price for giving up some of your profit.

Marketing support 

There have been many articles written by traditionally published authors bemoaning the declining marketing support from their publisher but even if the marketing budgets are at a lower level than before, an author still gets access to marketing professionals help support their book launch. These professionals develop adverts, create and produce point of sale, send out arc’s to generate reviews and organising book signings. On top of this you have the publisher’s reps who push the author’s book when at bookstores.

Distribution

Probably the biggest benefit, and one that us indies look on with some jealousy, is that when going through a traditional publisher, an author has access to all distribution options. There have been some indies that have negotiated contracts with distributors or wholesalers, but the majority will tell you that they do well just to get their book in a local store.

Traditional publishers can get your book into the major stores, independent stores and supermarkets (if you are very lucky). This gives the traditionally published author a massive advantage in the area most difficult for an indie author, being seen.

Sense of validation 

This point isn’t true for everyone, but some authors feel as if they haven’t ‘made it’ until they win a publishing contract. The fact that publishing professionals have selected their work out of the many thousands of manuscripts they receive each year is a major boost to the author’s self-esteem. I’m sure there is nothing better than having friends and family see your book in their local store.

 

As I said before, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to publishing, just what suits you at the time, but to say publishers don’t have anything, or even enough, to offer writers is way off the mark.

For those of you who publish through a publisher, what are your thoughts on this? Have I included everything? Am I viewing publishing through a publisher with rose-tinted glasses? Is there anything I’ve missed? For indie authors, what out of the points above is the one thing you wish you had access to? I’d love to hear from you.

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here. 

You don’t have to be selfish to be a writer

writing life

image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/simplybike/ licensed under Creative Commons

 

Writing is a selfish act. Writers lock themselves away, often for long periods of time, day after day while you live other people’s lives. Even when they are with loved ones, their thoughts are often elsewhere. Writers can very easily stop participating in life and instead become an observer, separating themselves from others to better capture the big picture, or the tiniest, most pertinent detail.

It takes writers a long time to write a book, hundreds of hours of solid effort to craft and shape their story so that it comes close to the image in their mind. For writers of a series, those hundreds of hours can turn into thousands of hours, often spread over many years, if not decades, of time. Most writers, even traditionally published writers, have jobs on top of their writing, so their writing time battles with time spent with loved ones, friends, or pursuing hobbies they may enjoy. The struggle between the need to create and the need to have a life is one all writers understand all too well.

Then there is the time needed for promotion. Blogging, social media, managing adverts, sending out review requests, taking part in interviews; the list goes on and on, all eating into that precious commodity, a writer’s time.

It’s no wonder people see writers as selfish people.

But it’s been my experience that writers can be the most giving, considerate and empathetic of people.

Writers understand more than anyone how tough writing can be and love to support other writers, whether that is to provide helpful tips, to beta read or critique the work of their peers, or to simply provide encouragement when a fellow writer is feeling low.

Writers are also readers. The most amazing thing about writers is that most don’t see other writers as competitors, but as brothers-in-arms. Clever writers think nothing of promoting books we’ve read and loved by our fellow authors, because they know that promoting good books helps all writers, not just the author in question.

Great writers celebrate the successes of other writers because they know just how much work has gone into creating that success.

Just because writing is a selfish task, it doesn’t mean writers have to be selfish people. What kind of writer do you want to be?

 

Do you like intelligent thrillers? If so, join my mailing list and get one of my 5-star rated near-future dystopian thrillers absolutely free. The mailing list is guaranteed spam free and I will only contact you if I have a new book launch or an exclusive short story to share. To sign up, please click here.