Tag Archives: advice for writers

Breakthrough

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how often a breakthrough (in life, in work, in whatever) is preceded by a breakdown – or, at least, what feels like one.

Last week was not a good week for me in terms of writing. I worked through a panic, during which I felt the story falling apart.  I had taken a misstep somewhere, and I wasn’t sure where, or how to fix it. That bad decision (both the misstep, and the idea that if I just kept on ploughing through it was bound to all come together in the end) meant that everything started to unravel, which deepened the panic, which lessened my ability to focus on what I was doing, which meant – of course – that it all got worse, and fast. Last week, I went through various stages of telling myself ‘You can’t do this writing thing’, followed by ‘How could you possibly think you had any hope of making a career of this?’, which segued neatly into my assertion that  I was nothing but a silly twit who’d never had a good idea in her life.

So. Not a lot of fun. Lots of befrazzlement and staring into space and interior darkness, but I think that’s sort of expected, when you write.

Then, the weekend came, and my very clever husband decided to distract me by bringing me places where I couldn’t think about the book. We went to hear a concert band playing, and we visited a craft fair, and we relaxed. We both needed it.

And on Saturday night – very very late – just as we were about to drift off to sleep, I suddenly started getting ideas. Breakthrough ideas. ‘Bring-it-back-to-its-last-known-good-setting-and-work-from-there’ ideas. I lay, listening to my husband’s quiet breathing, knowing he wasn’t quite asleep but almost, and thought. I made a plan for a new plot and went through it a few times, over and back, examining it from all angles like it was a diamond. It seemed to work; certainly, I was excited at the thought of putting it down on paper. It was dynamic, and fresh, and it connected the characters’ arcs in just the way I’d been looking for, and it was nicely sleight-of-hand in terms of diverting the reader’s attention. It was, in short, a possible solution to the knot that I’d managed to tangle myself up in.

Eventually, however, I dragged myself out of my head and realised I was lying in a quiet, darkened bedroom, where the slightest move would disturb my (by now) almost certainly sleeping husband. But I also realised that I couldn’t trust myself to remember the details of this new plot. I couldn’t face the idea of waking the following morning grasping at the threads of it, watching as it dissipated before my eyes like smoke from an extinguished candle. That has happened to me too often in the past. It’s not too bad when it’s an idea for a short story or just a general ‘idea’, to be used somewhere at some stage, but something like this? I had to hold onto it at all costs, and I knew it.

So. I think we can all guess what course of action I took. Here’s an apologetic dog, just to soften you up for what’s coming next.

Image: unsplash.com

Image: unsplash.com

I grabbed my phone and started to tap a note into it, whispering ‘sorry!’ to my blinking, confused husband. The light from the screen was bright in the gloom, and it dragged him up out of whatever dream he’d just been relaxing into. Luckily for me, he took it well, and settled back down again quite quickly.

My note, of course, was riddled with errors; between the fact that I was gazing at the screen out of one eye (due to the contrast between its glow and the darkness all around), the fact that I was tired and – most importantly – the fact that I was in a hurry to get this out of my head before I forgot it, I think about five percent of the words were spelled correctly. It’s a testament to my desperation that I didn’t linger over my work to make any corrections, and when I read it over the following morning I laughed at how some of my sentences had turned out. Luckily they all made sense, and I’ve even kept the spelling mistakes to remind myself how important it is to listen to the little voice in your head that suggests a way out of whatever issue you feel you’re irretrievably lost in, no matter what time of day or night it starts to speak to you.

Naturally enough, the following morning my beleaguered husband was glad I’d had this breakthrough and even gladder that I’d managed to write it down, but he did make a humble suggestion: why don’t you get a pen and paper and leave them by the bed, instead of using your phone? Perhaps I’d better listen to him. He did have the great idea to go away from all work at the weekend, after all; without that, I’d still be bunched, spiralling further into my panic-maelstrom.

It is a shame that we need to reach our lowest point before we can start coming up again, but it’s important to always have hope that this upward progression is possible, and that it will happen. No plot problem is ever insurmountable, whether we’re talking a plot you’re writing, or one you’re living. Take some time out. Breathe a bit. Go and see a concert band and watch some kids dancing, totally carefree. Hold the hand of someone you love.

The words will be there when you’re ready.

 

Some Writerly Advice

Last week, the wonderful Elizabeth Rose Murray wrote this fantastic post on her blog. It was a compendium of her most popular posts on writing – the art, craft, graft and ‘secret’ of it – gathered from her experience as a successful writer, blogger and social media professional. Elizabeth is much further down the road to success (if there is such a thing) than I am, but she nevertheless asked if I’d be interested in compiling an advice post of my own, gathering together in one place some of my most read posts on writing.

I thought it was a fantastic idea.

Image: nickis.yourmarketingsystem.net

Image: nickis.yourmarketingsystem.net

When I checked my readership stats, however, a funny thing emerged. It turns out that my most read – sometimes, also, my most commented-upon and liked posts, though not always – were the ones which dealt with failure, disappointment, and how to carry on when it seems like a task too far. In a strange way, I am quite proud of this. I like to think that my musings on how to keep going when things get tough were an inspiration for others.

So, without further ado, here are some of my most read posts, grouped loosely by theme. I hope that they are helpful (some of them are quite old, so even if you’ve been following this blog for a while, they might seem fresh), and a reminder of how far a person can come. Just so you know: most of the stuff I worried about when I wrote these posts never came to pass, some of the stories I recount struggling with have subsequently been published, and every hard-won lesson I learned about editing, drafting and submitting has been vital in my journey so far.

When you feel like you’re not good enough, and the self-doubt is building up inside you:

Try this post, about how to distinguish between good and bad self-criticism, or this one about slaying the dragon of self-doubt.

When you feel like you’re running out of things to say, or you’ll never have a good idea again:

Try this post about how to respect your own idea-getting process (because you do have one, no matter what you might think). You could also give this one a go when you feel like your ideas are going to dry up forever – remember, ideas are everywhere you look.

When you feel afraid – of being read, of not being read, of being successful, of failing – or when you’re wondering if you’re doing the right thing:

Try this post, which takes you through the fear I used to have about being read, back at the beginning of my writing career when I hadn’t published a single story. I have published several since then, and with every one the fear drains away a little more. You could also try this more recent post about how, sometimes, we feel like frauds, and how the fear of success can be a crippling thing. Or perhaps try this one when you feel unworthy, whether it’s unworthy of following your dream or of succeeding at it.

I can't resist using this image again...  Image: teamliquid.net

I can’t resist using this image again…
Image: teamliquid.net

When you do decide you’re going to start submitting, and you’re wondering how to go about it:

This post is about the importance of having a polished opening to the book you’re submitting to agents and/or publishers, and how it’s important not to overlook your first 10,000 words. You can check out this one, this one and this one when it’s time to write your pitches, synopses and cover letters, and the very best of luck to you. You can try this post here if you think you know better than the agents to whom you’re submitting, and when you’re tempted to chuck their advice in the bin and go for broke (not usually a good idea). You can check out this one when you’re wondering what the flippin’ point of editing is, and why you need to go over your work again and again and again. (Tip: everyone has to do this).

And when you’re dealing with rejection and disappointment – for, sadly, this is something that happens to us all – and you’re wondering how to keep on going:

Try this post, which – because it was written before I’d really experienced any disappointment – is a good way of mentally preparing yourself for the inevitability of rejection, and how to separate yourself from your work. You could also look at this post if you’re wondering why you’re bothering, and whether your voice, and your words, have any role to play in the larger picture. (Hint: they do). Finally, try this one when you’re a little further down the road of rejection and the ‘No thank yous’ have started to get a little more encouraging – for that will happen, too. Try to take the good out of every bad situation and the advice out of every ‘no’; it’s there. You just have to look for it.

And always remember the most vital advice of all: Get your butt in the chair, get the words on the page, and finish your work. Never give up. Tell the story you need to tell.

And when the world is ready, it will listen.

Image: lyndasgrainsofsand.blogspot.com

Image: lyndasgrainsofsand.blogspot.com