I don’t often struggle to find something to write about when it comes to blog posts. A few minutes of thought usually brings a topic to mind and then I’m off and writing.
This week is different. I’ve thought for a few days about what I might say in this post and while quite a few ideas came to mind, none of them fired any real interest in me. Sure I could have written about them anyway, but that’s not why I write. If there’s no spark of real interest then I don’t write about it.
I firmly believe that if I’m a bit ho-hum about what I write, then that will reflect in the writing. If I can’t feel it, then how can I write it? I can only guess that most of you are nodding in agreement. Humans are generally emotive creatures, so why would someone do something like write a full-length novel if the subject matter doesn’t fire enthusiasm? For the money. There are authors who will study what’s hot in the best selling genres and write to suit. They may be quite successful—I don’t know. Quite frankly, I don’t care either.
I started writing because a story burned and burned in me, and I kept adding to it so that it grew too large to contain. And I kept writing and adding to it because the passion, the fire I feel for the stories and the characters continues to burn in my soul. Beth and Warren, Nell and James, Sam and Heather, Aden and Sarah, Andrew and Tait, Nick, Agent Burns, Ryan, Tom, and others that are waiting for their stories to be told—these people, these characters, live in my imagination and feed it with their stories. It’s a blessing I never cease to be thankful for. It’s my passion.
Why would I ignore them and write how others think I should?
I made a decision fairly early on in my writing that I would not care about the number of books I sold, or gathering reviews, or marketing the heck out of my stories—I would write what I wanted, when I wanted, and how I wanted. I would choose what I wanted on the covers of my books, regardless of what experts might say, and I would be true to my passion.
I have occasionally stopped and wondered how different things might be if I had listened to all of the advice, followed the thousands of other indie authors with pushing their books, writing the way others thing I should, and the kinds of things others think I should (Write hot sex scenes? Not happening). Okay, I may have made more money, but would I have felt the same satisfaction and joy I do having done things my way? I doubt it. Actually, no, I wouldn’t. I would be miserable, and the characters I love would have been forced into a mould that doesn’t suit them.
I take my hat off to the many writers who have been able to write as they wish and be successful (as defined in the publishing world). Good on them, and I hope they continue to succeed! But I promise you one thing. What you get from me will be honest, and written with passion and joy.
And I hope you will also find your passion if you haven’t already. Make the most of it, be true to it, and enjoy!
One of the questions I get on a fairly regular basis is how do I find time to write? I have a full time job and a family, and yet for the past few years I have written at least two books a year, as well as editing and publishing two books – both electronically and in print. Along with that does blog and social media posts, and all of the other aspects of a writer life. Yes, finding time can be a challenge, but I’m one of those organised people so I find the time.
And then I procrastinate (something writers are particularly good at doing).
I don’t have writers block, I usually know exactly what comes next or I can make it up as I go. The problem sometimes, for me anyway, is finding the courage.
Writing itself doesn’t take courage. It’s not hard to write something when you have no intention of letting anyone read it. I think this is one of the reasons Roses was so easy to write – I was never going to let anyone read it.
Since then every book has been written with the possibility of publication, or if I’m more honest, the expectation of publication. That can be a frightening thing.
The first person who read anything I wrote was my wonderful beta reader and first-in-line editor, Sarah. Handing the manuscript over to her was like giving her a part of my soul—a very private part of my soul. Terrifying. I couldn’t have given it to just anyone, but I trusted her to handle it with care. And she did. I have been lucky in finding her and my other beta reader, Mary. Both are honest and blunt, but they treat my creativity with respect.
Handing a manuscript to one person is a doddle compared to launching it into the world. Each of my books are edited and assessed by a professional editor, so I know they are as error free as I can make them, but the presentation isn’t the biggest part. Again it comes down to the part of me that I have put into the book, and it was going out to be judged.
I wouldn’t want to know what my pulse rate was like when I hit the publish button on Amazon for the first time. I reckon it would have been sky high! Every time I’ve hit publish since still sends my heartrate into overdrive.
While all of that is a long way down the line from writing the story, it’s the writing process that begins it, and each time I sit down to write it’s on my mind.
One of the best pieces of advice a writer is ever given is this: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles (Shannon Hale). The first draft is allowed to be rubbish—it’s supposed to be rubbish. And yet that knowledge of eventual release hovers overhead. That’s what I find difficult.
So I say the hardest thing about writing isn’t finding the time, it’s having the courage to sit down and write, and write badly.
Blog post 'Having Courage to Write' by Alison Clifford
by Alison Clifford
I’m a lucky writer—I’ve never had writer’s block.
This crippling curse of the creative writer can strike at any time and render the sufferer incapable of coming up with an idea. I’ve heard it said that writer’s block doesn’t exist, that the victim isn’t looking in the right place for inspiration. I don’t know about that, but as a visual person I’ve always been able to come up with ideas simply by looking at a picture.
Take this one as an example.
What ideas come from this image of a person walking in the snow?
Who are they? Are they lost? Are they the only person left in the city? Are they going somewhere, or are they returning? Do they like the snow, or are they sick of it and they’re walking to the airport to leave? Is anyone watching them from one of the windows? Could they not be bother to get the snow off their car? Have they just broken up with their partner? Do they love walking in the snow? Is the tree about to fall down on them?
I could go on and on and on, but I think you get the idea.
Why don’t you give it a try? Next time you’re looking at a picture, or sitting in a café and looking out onto a street, see what you can come up with. It’s fun!
by Alison Clifford
This week has seen a milestone pass - the second anniversary of the release of Roses. Sending my first novel out into the world was emotional - both scary and exhilarating. Letting someone read something you’ve written is akin to giving them a part of yourself, opening yourself up for critique and examination. It’s been worth it, though. To know I’ve given Beth, Warren, and the rest, life outside of my imagination is incredibly fulfilling. To give my imagination permission to come up with anything it can is exciting, too. Okay, so it can get a little scary, but it’s fun.
I’ve never regretted taking the plunge and writing Roses. Getting a story out of my head and seeing it come alive in words gave me a joy that’s hard to describe. Writing these stories is the force behind everything writerly related, so it was a bit of a shock earlier this week when I realised I had started to relegate my writing time down the priority list behind updating websites and social media, and the like. Not a good state of affairs! I want to spend more time doing the things that bring me the most joy.
This year is going to see the release of another two books, which along with writing, is going to take up a lot of my time. So, it’s with a bit of sadness I’ve decided to cut back on my blog posts. I started the year with a second blog, Write Mind, which has since merged with my main blog. I’m now going to post only once a week – for the time being, anyway. I’ll still write about writing, but it’ll mix with the rest. I enjoy blogging, but it takes time to put together a post, and time is limited. It may not sound like much, but it will ease the pressure enough to allow the rest to happen.
On a more exciting note (for me, anyway) this week also saw the arrival of my approved ESTA.
My what? It means I’ve been approved to travel to the USA (Aussies generally don’t need visas)! This year I’m going to see the streets Beth and Warren (White Rose series) walk, stay in the suburb in which they live, and visit the museum next to the submarine base at New London (Seeing Red). I’m getting a bit teary just thinking about it! Watch out for the blog posts in October.
Don’t forget – if you ever have any questions or want to chat with me, just send a message via my website or Facebook.
Happy Birthday, Roses.
by Alison Clifford
Character arcs are one of the essentials of any and every story.
What is a character arc? It can be summed up as the character’s internal journey through the story. It’s what changes within them, what makes them different from the way they were at the beginning. There may not be much change—it may only be how they have dealt with previously unknown situations and how they reacted.
This change can result from lots of things, but it links with what I wrote about characters fears and cares. It could be a fear they must overcome or a belief that is proven wrong, and they have to accept a new truth.
The arc happens as the character overcomes or adapts to achieve their goals.
An example of this is Warren in Roses (hey, I know my own characters better than any others!). At the start of the book Warren believes emotions are his enemy, and he must keep them under control and hidden to be strong. As the story continues he must learn to show emotion if he is going to achieve happiness, and in doing so, realises emotions don’t erode a person’s strength, but add to it. The Warren at the start of the story is quite different to the Warren at the end—his character arc has been completed.
Why are character arcs important? If a character doesn’t change at all, or never has to face a new experience to which they must adapt, they will be boring and uninteresting.
I have found with my own writing that I don’t usually need to think of an arc for the main characters—it happens naturally as part of the story. The only thing I do is once the draft is finished is find ways to make sure the arc is noticeable, i.e. ensure the arc is defined in some way by ensuring the characteristics affected by the arc are described, e.g. Warren recalling his estranged wife saying being married to him was “Like being married to an iceberg”.
Character arcs need to be kept in mind, but you may find they will occur naturally with little or no forethought. Either way, when you come to edit any story, make sure the arcs are there for your main characters.
by Alison Clifford
A short one today – some help and encouragement for those who want to write.
Starting to write can be scary. I can’t write or who would want to read my stuff are common thoughts, and not only for beginners. Every writer doubts themselves at some point.
There are three things to remember:
1. No one needs to know you’re writing. You want to keep it private? Then keep it private.
2. There’s no rule that says if you write you have to let someone else read it. Heck, even you don’t have to read it once it’s down in words. Write it, move on.
3. Don’t worry about how long or short the story is. It doesn’t matter if it finishes in half a page or in five hundred pages. It will be as long as it needs to be.
If you want to write, don’t let anything stop you. If you decide later you want to take things further, deal with it then.
For now, open up the door to your imagination and let it flow!
by Alison Clifford
Word counts are something all writers become familiar with. It’s one of those things no writer can escape—it will always play a role eventually.
A word count is simply the number of words in a body of work. Authors who write for traditional publishers will often aim for a specific word range, while indie authors can be more flexible. Copy writers, journalists, and those looking to submit to magazines have to be strict with a word count—too many or too few will cause serious difficulties with layouts, so editors make sure any item length is just right.
There are many different sets of guidelines for word counts when it comes to creative writing. Publishers will set guidelines for different genres, and different groups will state different counts for various works. The below word counts come from the ALLi website and were debated amongst members, and a consensus reached.
Novel – at least 40,000 words
As stated above, counts can vary greatly from genre to genre. Fantasy books are often over 100,000, while romance can often be at the low end of the range. Most traditional publishers require a word count of 80,000.
Novella – 17,500 to 40,000
Novellas are short novels.
Novelette – 7,500 to 17,500
A long, short story, or very short novel.
Short story – under 7,500
These can vary greatly and publishers putting together anthologies will usually state the length required.
Flash fiction – up to 1,000 words
These are usually a story within a single scene
Needless to say, when you’re an indie author, you can make the book as long or short as it needs to be—one of the many advantages of being your own publisher. Some will argue that readers expect novels to be a certain length, but I think that is changing. Page counts are included in Ebook websites, so the reader can check the length of any work before purchase.
Many writers use word counts as a goal when writing. By this I mean they will set a minimum number of words to write each day, week, or session. It’s a good way to keep momentum going and it’s a method I use all the time. I don’t have a strict daily amount; I set it each time, depending on how I’m feeling and how much time I have. For me, 500 to 1,000 is fairly normal for a week day, and I stretch that out to around 2,000 each day on a weekend. I don’t always hit the goal, but it gives me something to aim for. Most software includes a word counting function, making keeping track easy. When writing by hand it’s usual to work out an average count per page to use as a guide.
One thing the phrase Word Count brings to mind for many writers is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. This event is held in November every year and challenges each writer to write a novel in the space of thirty days. The word count goal is 50,000 (that’s 1,667 words per day). You reach that target and you are declared a winner—once you’ve verified your word count, that is. It’s a wonderful way of connecting with writers around the country and internationally. I’ve done NaNo a couple of times and won once. It’s a big commitment—50,000 words is a lot!
Having said all of the above, there is one thing any writer must keep in mind—don’t let word counts rule your writing. It’s too easy to add unnecessary words to make the count you’re after, but that only risks ruining the story. Word counts should be used as a tool, not an unbreakable rule.
How many words do my books have? Here’s a list in order of publication, rounded to nearest 500:
Roses – 74,000 (the first draft was 102,000!)
Retribution – 64,000
Seeing Red – 68,500
Deception – 68,000
And the next book will be around 70,000
Remember, one word is one word more than you had before!
by Alison Clifford
This is getting into some of the nitty-gritty of writing. It’s easy to say ‘sit down and write’, but what tools do you use for writing? What is the best way to write?
There are two main ways: use pen/pencil and paper, or use technology. By technology, I mean laptops, computers, and tablets in general. I’m not going to go into individual programs here.
Pen and Paper
Some argue that this method gets the writer more in touch with the creative process. There’s the texture of the paper, the feel of the pen, and the movements as you craft your words. I’ve read that it allows the creative process to flow better, for the imagination to be more involved, and it certainly works for many writers. The slower process of writing by hand allows the writer time to develop the story as they go, perceiving nuances and letting the subconscious be heard.
There are some drawbacks with writing with pen and paper. Editing a hand written manuscript can be messy, and at some point it will need to be typed up, which can be done as part of the editing process. Adding paragraphs can be difficult, but with care and organisation, it can work well.
I use a laptop when I write. I like to get the story out as fast as I can, and being able to touch-type helps me to do that. When I wrote as a teenager I used to get frustrated by how slow it was. I do agree that the faster process doesn’t always allow the imagination time to work, but it’s easy enough to go back and add things in later. Editing is much easier, as is inserting paragraphs, changing words, names, and locations using Find/Replace functions. One of the big drawbacks is technology can fail or run out of battery power. Having a good backup process in place can minimise any potential for loss, but once the battery runs out, unless you have access to a socket, you are stuck.
Technology also eliminates the need to type out a completed manuscript, and if you plan to self-publish, you will need your manuscript electronically.
When it all boils down, what method a writer uses is purely personal choice. There is no wrong or right way, it’s about what works for each person. Paper, technology, or both.
The most important thing is that they write.
by Alison Clifford
I came across the piece below in a blog post from ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors). There is a stigma attached to self-publishing, though it is beginning to fade as more and more indie authors prove that it's not purely about ego, and more about the desire to share. There are indie authors on best-seller lists, and several top-level authors are now self-publishing books as well as using traditional publishers.
This is wonderful pep talk for all indie authors and those thinking of self-publishing.
This piece is from the blog post Successful Indie Authors 2016: Part One, by Orna Ross, December 31, 2016 (a link to the full blog post is at the bottom).
'Indie Authors: Knowing And Owning What We’re Doing
Is it vanity to publish your own work? Wanting to write and publish certainly has ego in it, part of the struggle by the self for recognition, its wish to insist: I’m here. This is what I think and feel. Here’s what most matters to me.
In the doing, though, in the day-to-day hard work of meeting one creative challenge after another, the cry of the ego becomes something else. The creative process, what it asks of us, transforms us.
We start out doing it for ourselves and end up realizing we’re also doing it for everyone.
We need to understand this, to know what it means to be a creative, to recognize that the joy is not in the opinion of the worldly world, but in the act of writing and publishing itself. In the serving of our readers, the best way we can.
Comprehending our deepest motivations for writing helps us to hold the creative space where the magic of great writing, and great publishing, can happen.
Sure, lots of people don’t understand self-publishing, not yet. Maybe, despite our best efforts, they never will.
But the critics and nay-sayers and haters can only hurt us to the degree that we agree with them. We all have moments where we think the worst of our work but we cannot live from there if we are to get up in the morning and do what must be done to get another book out.'
Read the full post here: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/successful-self-publishing-2016-1/
The ALLi blog is one of my favourites. There is a link to it on the Write Mind Resources page.
by Alison Clifford
What do you think is the most devastating thing that can happen to a writer? Rejection from a publisher? Their book not selling? Or perhaps their copyright being breached?
It’s the loss of hours of work when a computer (or similar) crashes…and they haven’t done backups, and I’ve known this to induce panicked tears in others.
The world we live in is more often than not governed by technology. We work on it, and we play on it. Saving documents, games, emails, and the like is a common practise each day, but hitting the save button every now and then isn’t good enough - especially when you’ve just spent two hours perfecting that chapter, and whoosh, it’s all gone.
I use Microsoft Word to write and it does a regular ‘save’ without prompting, meaning I can usually resurrect a file if the program quits unexpectedly.
But what if your computer sudden had the dreaded blue screen of death? No amount of hitting ‘save’ would be of any use.
So I back it up.
If I do a couple of hundred words in an evening, I back it up. If I work all day, I back up several times. I can’t imagine losing two thousand words and then having to find them all over again!
There are a couple of options for backing up, which you probably already know. For those who haven’t thought about it, here’s what I do above hitting ‘save’.
I have a USB sitting in a drawer by my desk. This is what I use to do regular backups each day, or several times a day. I also have two dedicated USBs for each of my books onto which I save first drafts, edited files, cover art, etc. These currently live in my wardrobe, but I’m about to invest in a fire-proof safe for them. Why two? In case one becomes corrupt. It’s unlikely both will, so I think two is enough.
I use Dropbox, but I don’t have it auto-sync all of my files. This stops me accidentally deleting a file from Dropbox when I bin it on my computer. There are other Cloud type services around, so choose what suits you. Remember though – there is no actual ‘Cloud’. All that is happening is your files are being saved on someone else’s server. I wouldn’t recommend using a Cloud as the only backup. Cloud type services can be hacked, or the provider could suddenly go out of business, taking your files with them.
My daughter suggested this, and I think it’s not a bad idea. Email the files to yourself. The email and its attachment can be saved in a dedicated folder, and the older files deleted.
Another option I considered was an external hard drive, until hubby pointed out that I would lose everything if it corrupted. The USBs seem a safer way to go.
Each person needs to decide what method suits them, but please, make sure you back up your work!
If you have any other ideas for backing up files, please let me know.
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All about my writing life: news, research, books I've read, and more.