Interview with Author and 1000words Editor, Natalie Bowers

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I met Natalie when my short fiction piece, North Norfolk Coast, was published online in 1000words at the beginning of July. 1000words publishes flash-fiction of up to 1000 words in length, written in response to an image. I have been impressed with the site and the quality of the work for a while. Natalie’s response to my submission was really professional and friendly, and I have enjoyed reading some of her own fiction (more on her work at the end of the post). I was thrilled when she agreed to an interview, so thank you for joining us, Natalie, and for answering some questions that I think authors often ask, or want to ask.

When and how did 1000words begin, and what inspired you to start gathering flash fiction?

1000words began in 2012 as part of the first National Flash-Fiction Day. I’d just finished an online flash-fiction course with Calum Kerr, the brains behind NFFD, who’d said he was looking for people to organise events, online and off. I’ve always had a secret desire to run my own fiction magazine, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to start one. I also love photography, so what better way was there to blend my two main interests and fulfill an ambition than by starting 1000words?

 What is flash fiction, for those who are new to the form, and how is it unique?

There are as many definitions of flash-fiction as there are people writing it, but for me, flash-fiction is simply a very short story. Although at 1000words we accept stories of up to 1000 words in length, I actually prefer reading and writing stories no longer than 500 words. When it comes to flash-fiction I like to be punched in the gut. I like flash-fiction to be short, sharp and to take my breath away.

 The idea of using an image prompt from the Pinterest page is very creative. How do you decide which images to use?

I go with my instincts. If I see an image and find myself immediately making up a story, I pin the image. I’ve pinned quite a few of my own photos on our Pinterest boards too, as I always have a camera on me and am constantly on the lookout for story ideas.

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There is a wonderful range of stories on the site. How do you chose what will be published, and what are you looking for in a piece of fiction?

Again, I go with my instincts. If the opening few lines grab me, I know I’m likely to enjoy the whole piece and will most likely publish it. What I’m really looking for is a consistent narrative voice. It doesn’t have to be a confident voice, but I need to feel as if the narrator is a real person and believes in the story they’re telling. I’m also looking for something special: a surprising simile, a poignant observation, a subverted cliché, an old story told in a new way, or a new story told in an old way. It’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.

Is there anything that will automatically send work to the rejection pile, and are there any submission tips you can share? 

There’s nothing that will automatically send work to the rejection pile. If I decline to publish a story, it’s usually due to a combination of factors such as an inconsistent narrative voice, unnatural sounding dialogue, cliché imagery or plot or over-explaining (not leaving enough to the reader’s imagination). If a story has a lot of grammatical mistakes and doesn’t look as if it’s been proofread properly then I’ll probably turn it down, as it’ll be too much work to prepare it for publication. One of the biggest turn-offs for me, though, are stories with a twist ending where the twist hasn’t been sufficiently foreshadowed or where it’s been so obviously sign-posted that I’ve guessed it before the end. It’s a difficult balancing act, and one I struggle with myself.

Tell us a little about yourself and your own writing?

I’ve always written stories in my head, if not on paper. I remember writing and illustrating a book for my little brother when I was about ten. It was a complete rip-off of the children’s TV series Jamie and His Magic Torch, but I put my heart and soul into it! In my early teens, I graduated to Star Wars fanfiction, but I didn’t write much at all in my late teens and twenties, I was too busy with school, university, work and then babies – I did science A-levels, a degree in Biochemisty, a PGCE in secondary science education, taught for a few years and then gave it all up to raise two lovely children. I’d had depression and anxiety after the birth of my daughter in 2005, and the doctor advised me to find something with which to occupy my brain. Writing seemed like a good idea, so in 2007, after a bit of dabbling, I took The Open University’s Start Writing Fiction Course, and I haven’t really looked back since. I’ve written quite a few short stories, but flash-fiction is where I feel most at home and I’m pleased to say that I’ve had a fair few pieces published here and there. Right now, I’m working on a collection of summer-themed flash-fictions and in September (if I get enough punters) I’ll be teaching my first ever writing course in the adult education department of my local secondary school. Bit scary!

Are there any short fiction authors who are a particular inspiration? 

Loads! I have a ‘Recommended Reading’ page on my website where I list lots of my favourite authors and stories, but if I had to name just a few, they’d be: Calum Kerr, Nik Perring, Kevlin Henney, Shirley Golden, Cathy Lennon, Lorrie Heartshorn, Angela Readman, Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Elmore Leonard, Annie Proulx and Kate Atkinson. These are the people whose work I rush to read. (That was more than just a few, wasn’t it?!)

Friends of 1000words are flashandzoom, Paragraph Planet and Stories with Pictures. Can you tell us a bit about each of them?

flashandzoom is a photography and poetry project run photographer Jaime Hill and a writing pal of mine, Zoe Mitchell. The aim of the project is to provide a fresh perspective to photography and poetry, and to create art that reaches people on a number of levels. It’s been a bit quiet of late, but what they’ve produced in the past has been beautiful.

Paragraph Planet publishes a 75-word paragraph (fiction and non-fiction) EVERY SINGLE DAY of the year, which is an amazing feat. You can also read author interviews and there’s a sister site called ‘Writing Workout’ where writers can do all sorts of writing exercises. I’ve had a couple of pieces published on Paragraph Planet and intend to send more soon.

Stories and Pictures is a site that brings writers and artists together in collaboration. It’s chock-full of beautiful stories accompanied by beautiful pictures. Some of the stories have been inspired by pictures, and some of the pictures have been inspired by stories. I’ve had a story and a photo published there too.

  natalie 2 Natalie Bowers, along with Heather Stanley, is the editor and publisher of 1000words online flash fiction magazine. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, two children and a growing collection of ukuleles. Natalie has a degree in Biochemisty, a PGCE in secondary science education, and has taught Science and A-Level Biology. Her short stories have appeared in print and her flash-fiction has been published in various online journals. You can find a list of her publications on her blog, and she is a fellow Ether Books author. You can follow 1000words on Facebook and Twitter.

 

An Interview With Author Emylia Hall

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What gave you the courage to leave an advertising job in London and launch into writing?

After five years in London straight after university, I’d reached the point where I felt as though I really needed to make a change. I was caught up in a very busy day job, one that didn’t leave a lot of headspace for much else.

For quite some time I’d felt that I wanted to do something more creatively fulfilling, something that was more for myself, but it was a matter of choosing the right point at which to make the change, as there were things I really liked about my job, and London life. My husband and I have always loved snowboarding, and we’d talked idly about doing a ski season many times. Going to live in the French Alps, and working as chalet staff, was a great way to break from our old routine, and explore new horizons – literally and figuratively. That was when, and where, I began writing. I think when you make a decision that’s from the heart, but you’ve also really thought it through, it doesn’t feel like courage comes into it all that much.

What have you learned about the process of writing and the publishing industry since you first put your ideas down? 

While I was writing my first novel, The Book of Summers, my biggest concern was that it would get lost in the slush pile among all the other hopeful manuscripts, never finding its way into the right pair of hands. As soon as I had an agent on my side, the brilliant Rowan Lawton, I felt much more confident – I still knew that publication wasn’t guaranteed, but I felt like I was on the right path. When I got ‘the call’ with the news that Headline wanted my book, I was floored. The thing I’d been working towards for some years, and had wanted almost more than anything else, had actually happened. It felt like a dream. That was July 2011, and sometimes I have to remind myself of how incredibly lucky I am, and what a privilege it is to write full-time. It’s easy for it to feel normal, and I don’t want that to happen. It’s not normal – it’s wonderful – an extraordinary way to spend your days. But for all the joy, there are aspects that make writing a job like any other, days when putting pen to paper feels like a chore, and my daily word-count target like an insurmountable mountain. That’s when a well-timed and self-administered kick up the backside is just the thing. Be rigorous, be tough, and make yourself work even when you don’t feel like it. That’s what I’ve learnt. It might be my dream job, but it’s also very real work.

You have talked previously about poetry being an inspiration for your work. Do you have particular favourites or other key inspirations?

I wrote a piece for Book Slam recently on this very subject, which you can read here.

My favourite poem is probably Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas – I love the evocation of a rural childhood, and the melancholy of the poet’s ability to recollect, but never be fully able to return. A desire for some kind of time-travel, driven by nostalgia and longing, lies at the heart of much of my writing. I almost always start a story with ‘place’, and those places are often landscapes that belong to my past, or hold a particular kind of allure for me, mostly of the unreachable, or faintly exotic, kind. I live in Bristol, and I love it here, but I have no particular interest in setting a story in the city. That said, if I moved away I’m almost certain that I’d think ‘ah…. Bristol’ and want to do something with that feeling.

The Book of Summers, your debut novel, has been translated into eight languages and was a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick in 2012. How did it affect your profile as a writer? 

I think Richard and Judy probably made a huge difference, and certainly introduced many more readers to my work – for that, I’m hugely grateful. Having their seal of approval also gave me a wonderful confidence boost, it’s something to hold on to. I’ve always had great respect for their book club choices, and have found some of my favourite contemporary novels thanks to them. The translations of The Book of Summers are really exciting to me, it’s a real thrill to hold a foreign edition of your work in your hand, especially for a travel-junkie like myself. I’ve been to Hungary and Spain for promotional visits and literary festivals. One of Budapest’s biggest bookstores devoted an entire window display to The Book of Summers, which was a real thrill to see, and my Spanish publisher ran an amazing publicity campaign that included radio ads and an aeroplane trailing a banner in the skies above Malaga…. Surreal, and brilliant.

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Your next book, A Heart Bent Out of Shape, was published last month in the UK (and will be released as The Swiss Affair in the US in 2014). How did the books differ in the length of time that it took you to complete them and are there any similar threads running through both?   

I wrote The Book of Summers over the course of about four years, in quite a meandering fashion, most of the time writing alongside a day job. I did however take a clear six months off to give it ‘the final push’, and then another six months working part-time in a bookshop while finishing it. I burnt through my savings, but never regretted giving myself this kind of focused time on the book. It really worked for me. A Heart Bent Out of Shape was written under quite different conditions. It was the second book in a two-book deal, and I quit my part-time job in a Bristol marketing agency in order to write it to deadline. It took about a year and a half, from start to finish. During the process I sometimes wondered if I was trying to move too quickly, but then it all came together, and the last six months of work, with the wisdom of my agent and editors filling my sails, turned out to be the most pleasurable.

I share your love of the slopes but am happier on skis than a snowboard. How important do you think it is for writers to have passions that take them out of the writing process and away from their book?

I love what snowboarding gives me; it’s exhilarating in every way. I love the speed, the way sometimes you can scare yourself a little, but ultimately always feel in control. And the setting… I love the mountains, and the beauty of a blue sky and powder day is, in my mind, unsurpassable. I also have a big crush on alpine style; the architecture, the food, the rugged exteriors and the cosy interiors… it all comes together to be, for me, the perfect pastime. We spent two winters living in Morzine in the French Alps, and I had a year in Lausanne as a student, so the mountains never feel far away; there are seven snowboards in our house, and I’m a sucker for vintage ski art and old resort postcards. As to writers and their passions, I think the great outdoors is the best tonic for us solitary, desk-bound folk. A beautiful view can’t help but give perspective, and it’s good to feel your heart pumping and your muscles straining, giving your mind and body something else to think about. My third novel has a bit of a surf element to it, and I’m keen to take some lessons down in Cornwall.

Your books are set in Hungary and Switzerland. Is travel important to you and how do you create a sense of place in your work?

Travel is really important to my work. I love books that transport the reader, emotionally and physically, and give a real sense of place. They’re my favourite books to read, and therefore my favourite to write. So far I’ve chosen places as settings that I love and feel a real connection with, so conjuring the detail of them, trying to capture their essence, is a really enjoyable process and feels quite natural. Desk-bound travelling! The book I’m working on at the moment is set in Cornwall’s Far West, and the wildness of that landscape really appeals to me. I grew up in Devon, and so it doesn’t feel like a world away, but retains enough of an exotic edge to make me interested in writing about it. I think a lot of my obsession with writing about place comes from my rural childhood. I lived in the same cottage in a tiny village until I went away to university and moved to London, and as a child I always had a great curiosity about other places, and other people’s lives. We travelled quite a lot as a family, always driving across Europe each summer, and those trips have really stayed with me. I grew up holding onto the memory of one trip, and looking forward to the next, always savouring the details of our travels, and loving sharing them as a family. When I went to university I made sure that a year abroad was part of that experience, and I chose Lausanne, in Switzerland, which became the setting for A Heart Bent Out of Shape. I guess I have the kind of mind that holds on to the details of a place, and the kind of imagination that wants to do something with them.

Are there any books that have taken your breath away or left a lingering sense of another world?

Many, but to name just a few… The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  The White Woman On The Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey. The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher. Each conjures place so vividly, be it Congo, Trinidad, or a remote Scottish island, and I was utterly lost in their worlds. I really admire the writing of Daphne du Maurier, and love how central Cornwall was to her work, inspiring her life on the page, and beyond it. And Ernest Hemingway’s epilogue to Death In The Afternoon is, to my mind, a truly perfect piece of writing about place… the opening line ‘If I could have made this enough of a book it would have had everything in it,’ exactly sums up how I felt when writing A Heart Bent Out of Shape. My greatest desire was to do justice to my memory of Lausanne, to capture its beauty and convey that very particular feeling of being young, and abroad, and everything seeming full of promise. I wanted to write the whole city into that novel, every view, every scent, every sight, but in the end you have to step back, write what’s right, and keep the rest for yourself.

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After studying at York University and in Lausanne, Switzerland, Emylia spent five years working in a London ad agency, before moving to the French Alps where she began to write. The daughter of an English artist and a Hungarian quilt-maker, Emylia enjoys travel and snowboarding. She now lives in Bristol with her husband, also an author. Her first novel, THE BOOK OF SUMMERS, was a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club pick in 2012. It’s published by Headline in the UK, MIRA in the US & Canada. Her second novel, A HEART BENT OUT OF SHAPE (or THE SWISS AFFAIR, in the US) was published in September 2013 (Feb 2014 in the US). Emylia’s writing and short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, including ELLE magazine, the Book Slam anthology, Too Much Too Young, and broadcast on BBC Radio 6 Music. She is currently at work on her third novel.

You can find Emylia on twitter and her website and blog.

What do you gain from reading eBooks?

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I promised to balance a previous post on The Joy of a Bookshop with a look at the advantages of reading eBooks, so here it is. Much as I love browsing through bookshops and holding a physical book, turning its pages and enjoying the cover and the scent of the paper, I am currently reading many more eBooks. The reasons for this are varied:

I can download a sample of a book to see if I like the style and am, therefore, experimenting with new writers more than I perhaps used to. I can take a chance on a writer I do not know and not have to part with any cash until I decide to move on or to download the whole book. This has honestly revolutionised my reading as I download samples as I find them, they are automatically sent to my kindle, and when I am ready to read they are there waiting all in one place.

The price is usually lower, which means that I can download more books and I have never read as many books as I have since I was given a kindle last year. E-books are less expensive to produce and can be sold at a lower price. Although it is not always the case, more often than not the price is a good deal lower. E-books are also encouraging younger readers to pick up books as they are already familiar with mobile devices and tablets, although paperback and hardback books are still more popular with the youngest readers.

I can travel with more books as I can download them and slide a fairly slim device into my bag. Gone are the days when I threw six books into a suitcase and removed several items of clothing, only to then take out four of the books and put the clothes back in. I can now take as many books as I like with me anywhere I go and not worry about bulk or weight. Hallelujia!

I can highlight and annotate the text and see popular sections of a book highlighted by others. The annotation function works well for me when editing my own books but it also gives me a place to make notes when I am reading non fiction, in particular. I can also highlight parts that I want to return to, both with fiction and non fiction. I like to be able to see highlights from others, as it makes the reading more of a shared experience. If you can see what other readers enjoyed it enriches your own experience. Some of the best quotes from books are highlighted, enabling you to skim through them before or after you read and to have them saved for later reference.

I can search for keywords. This is a really useful function of eReaders when you are reading eBooks. It allows you to find passages if you want to go back and check anything or, in the case of non fiction, it helps you to find key points of reference. With fiction, you might want to reread a part which you enjoyed. This can be more difficult when you are turning the pages of a paperback.

The immediacy of downloading an eBook, as opposed to waiting to get to a bookshop, means that you download books which you might otherwise not get around to buying, especially if copies are not available. This is of particular relevance to me as I live in a country where English is not the native language, but I read in English. Instead of waiting to get to a bookshop with an English section, I can download a book within minutes.

These are just some of the many advantages I see but I hope the two will continue to coexist so that readers continue to be presented with a choice. The more ways that books can be put into the hands of readers, the better.

For those of you who enjoy statistics, I’ll leave you with some information from Nielsen who predict that “ebooks will overtake sales of print books in 2014, with total sales expected to rise to 47 million units. This will put total ebook sales 300,000 ahead of their print equivalents and mean that electronic books account for 48% of the overall fiction market.” They also recorded a dip in sales for 2013 and projected a mixed outlook with this information included.

You can read the whole article from Publishing Technology here. The following infographic shows statistics from the US in 2013: libraries-are-forever-972-640x4094                                              dailyinfographic.com, Feb 2013

The Joy of A Bookshop

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There are current and heated debates about paperbacks versus eBooks in every crevice of the book-loving community, and for good reason. Some fear the closure of many and, possibly in the future, all bookshops, but I believe and hope that this will not be the case. I posted a while about about library finds and old books and the pleasure of finding a unique or out of print book. I want to delve into what it is about bookshops that give people so much joy. I promise to balance this by looking at eBook purchases and the benefits of this in another post.Bookshop-Window

In my years of living in London I spent many hours in Waterstones and Borders (admittedly now closed in the UK) scanning bookshelves and sinking into a seat with a stack of books to skim before buying. The feeling of being surrounded by books gives me a sense of calm and brings with it a dose of quiet anticipation, a hope that I will stumble across something brilliant. Recommendations are wonderful, and I often go in search of specific books, but I love finding something fresh and unexpected, picking up a book by a new author who I have not previously heard of, and sinking into an unexpectedly good story.

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The look and feel of a book cover appeals to me aesthetically, it says something about the nature of the book and the author; it provides just enough of a taster to know what to expect of the book in terms of genre and style. I really appreciate striking and unusual cover design and, as much as you can see the thumbnail image online, it is never quite the same experience as holding the paper between your fingers.bookshop

I love the scent of the paper and the physical turning of the pages, the ability to flick back and forth. I like to see books on a coffee table and the spines of the jackets on bookshelves. I enjoy the colours and the graphics. It is a pleasure that I miss when reading an eBook (and I do also read many eBooks).

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Physical books, for me, hold a nostalgic quality and stimulate my senses in a way that eBooks don’t. I often buy hard copies of books that I have read and particularly enjoyed on kindle, just to be able to keep a physical copy. I like to keep classics and travel books in paperback or hardback. I will never tired of the experience of bookshops and I hope that eBooks and paperbacks will continue to live in relative harmony and without the need for a fight.

I’ll leave you with a look at more bookshops and reading spaces and this short video:

Photo credits:

foxedbooks.com, aprettybook.com, bookmania.me, global.oup.com, artstheanswer.blogspot.co.uk

Don’t Be Discouraged

Before I begin, I just wanted to say a couple of things; firstly, a big THANK YOU to Rebecca Bradley for my blog award. It is very much appreciated. Do check out the other blogs on the list, as they are really good and full of great articles. Rebecca is a crime writer and her posts are a great source of inspiration.

I also wanted to let you know that you can download my short story, The Bench, for FREE until midnight US time tonight and extracts of my work and two new flash fiction pieces, ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Lines and Space,’ can now be read on Readwave, so do take a look.

I have spoken to several writers recently, both new and established, to discover that they have all been through periods of discouragement and wondered whether to give up, and whether the difficulties were worth it. After my wax lyrical post from last week on the fact that I love writing and would keep going, whether or not the world continued to read, I thought that this week I might try to balance things out by highlighting some of the tougher parts of writing and encouraging people not to give up.

Writing can be an isolating pursuit and it is a long haul process. There are no quick fixes with writing a book or getting published. The journey is long and unpredictable and you can’t always find the breakdown tools when a chapter doesn’t work or a scene grinds to a halt. The weather can be too murky to see ahead and the characters can sometimes feel out of reach; you try to pin them down but they refuse to show themselves. If you have felt lost in the maze of the first draft, or so fearful of finishing that you edit and re-edit until you remove all trace of the story that originally griped you, refusing to let go, read on.

There are readers who do want to hear your story, lives that will be changed by your unique view of the world. Don’t subscribe to the view that there are already too many books on the shelves or that  your voice won’t count. If you have a story that wakes you in the night and follows you through the shadows of the day, if you begin to know your characters in a way that makes them real, and if you feel somewhere in the pit of your stomach that you HAVE to tell THIS STORY, then let nothing stand in your way. You may need to overcome obstacles and juggle commitments, you many need to learn more about the craft or read a wider range of books, and you will need to be disciplined enough to sit down and type until your head rolls onto the keyboard, but it will be worth it. Don’t let people tell you it can’t be done or that you’re wasting your time. Don’t give up before you reach the end.

Fix your eyes on what you want to achieve and then move any mountain to get there.

I want to give you some encouraging stories from writers who have not given up and whose work will be read by people because they persevered. Some are self-published, some began self-publishing and signed traditional book deals on the back of their success, or moved from trad publishing into self-pub, others secured agents and publishers. Whatever path you choose to take, fix your eyes on your readers and your story, muster up a fierce resolve and get going. Don’t give up until you reach the finish line.

Hugh Howey, self-published a sixty page postapocalyptic thriller, titled Wool, in 2011 and within a year of publishing it on Amazon it grew into a USA Today  bestselling novel and was picked up by Ridley Scott for a film deal. Howey has kept the rights to the eBook but signed a print deal with Simon and Schuster.  He has sold more than half a million copies.

Claire King, author of In The Night Rainbow, blogged about her experience of contacting agents and she charts their responses and then her success. She points to the difficulties of the publishing industry being “incredibly risk averse and subjective.”

Vanessa Gebbie interviews Sarah Hilary. Her agent Jane Gregory signed Sarah on her fourth manuscript and it was her fifth and sixth books that were sold to Headline in a two book deal this year. She talks to Vanessa about not giving up: “[the book] went to auction, but for every two publishers who loved it there were four who didn’t, or not enough to offer for it. ‘All it takes is one’, as the adage goes, and you should certainly never give up – or make radical changes – based on what appears to be a loose consensus. Unless or until your gut (or your ear) tells you that what you’re hearing is the truth.”  I’m very much looking forward to reading Someone Else’s Skin when it comes out in 2014.

Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of 20 books, moved from traditional publishing to self-publishing eBooks on Amazon. She found herself at the top of the Amazon kindle charts this morning with her book, When I Found You, after Amazon promoted it. Her book, Pay It Forward, was turned into a film. Her early successes came from writing short stories, at one point racking up more than 122 rejections before being first published, and since then a total of more than 1500 rejections resulting in about 50 published stories.

Blogging for Writers

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My earlier post about blogging received a huge amount of interest and it appears to be a subject close to the hearts of many readers. I promised to come back to it, so I’d like to start with a post on blogging for writers. I’m aiming to look at blogging for readers in a separate post.

Many people warn against blogging about writing, or blogging at all if you write fiction. I would disagree, for the following reasons:

I have gained a huge insight into writing and publishing from a range of authors who blog about the process of writing, editing or publishing. I have learned about both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Some agents and agencies also blog and their comments can be really helpful in finding your way through the rabbit warren that is the publishing industry.

Drawing in other writers who understand the process, and can support you, is essential. I would go so far as to say it as essential as gaining readers. Writing can be an isolating business and blogging can help you to connect with others with a certain level of freedom. I have gained so much from the comments on this blog from other writers, and by following blogs written by writers.

It limbers you up and keeps your words flowing. The process of writing for a blog is very different to the process of novel writing and it can teach you things that you won’t necessarily learn from writing your manuscript.

Reader responses are immediate and interactive. I would say that this is one of the biggest joys of writing blog posts. I really enjoy the comments and suggestions. I like to meet new blog readers and discover new blogs and books. The debates which are sometimes struck up from a particular topic can be really invigorating and will challenge your various perceptions.

Although you can blog about your subject area – crime, if you are a crime writer; relationships, if you write women’s commercial fiction; a specific area of expertise if you write non-fiction – I find that blogging about writing helps me to formulate ideas and to share what I have learned with others who are travelling along the same path.

I find that readers are also interested in finding out about the writing process and I receive emails from people who are just starting out or who would love to write but are nervous about putting their ideas down onto paper. Some readers are just interested in how writers tick and like to know what goes on behind the pages.

Any thoughts? Do any of you find blogging about writing helpful?

First Drafts

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The previous post about blogging received a record level of traffic and an unprecedented response, given this blog’s short life span, so I’ll come back to it and write more on the topic soon. It is clearly a subject that people feel strongly about and I had not realised the level of passion and dedication behind so many blogs.

First drafts is the issue I’d like to tackle today.  I am in the stage of the first draft of my next novel and I have been thinking about the changes through each stage of writing up to final publication. There is something unique about a first draft; a freshness, an expectation, a certain level of hope.

The first draft is the place of mountain peaks and valleys, it is the place of the Eureka moments and the what ifs, it is the place of ‘first thought’ excitement and of apprehension, the place of originality and of doubt.

In writing your book for the first time, before you go through rounds of editing and rewrites ad infinitum, there is an enthusiasm about where you will take the reader, in fleshing out your characters and plot, in travelling to new places. There is also an apprehension surrounding your words; questions, doubts, fears. Will I be able to keep up the tension and the pace? Will people want to read it? Will I be able to finish it? Is it going to be too long/short? Did I choose the wrong topic/genre/setting? Do the scenes link up? Is there enough cohesion and consistency?

There are endless questions that seek to counter balance the moments where you get lost in the the sentences, your fingers running away with themselves, tapping furiously at the keyboard and you forget to eat.

What is it about first drafts that make them so enticing, yet so difficult to wrestle with? Give an artist a blank canvas and paints, give a singer a microphone and close them in to a sound proof recording studio, give a dancer a stage and a preview audience. There will always be fears surrounding your ability, your audience’s reaction, the longevity of your career (if you are thinking long-term). All art forms are highly subjective, creating a range of responses. I recently scanned some well promoted and popular books, only to find a great and confusing diversity of reviews. This, I think, reflects the fact that no two people will love the same books, music or art. Although there are varying levels of skill among writers, the result, as the publishing industry well knows, can be unpredictable.

How, then, do you wrestle with the first draft to produce your best work? I have struggled with nagging thoughts of what people will think when they read it, much more so now than with any of my short stories or my first novel. I think it is partly down to the fact that there is more pressure with each book that you write to make it better than the last, to keep up reader interest, and to prove that you want to be able to keep writing. There are several people in publishing who are waiting to read my current novel and, whilst it is encouraging, it is also nerve-wracking. When I self-published my previous novel I had complete control over the process and the outsourcing; the deadlines, the cover design, the editing, and it felt safe in many ways. Now I feel a sense of pressure and, sometimes, of impending doom. I have felt paralysed by the need for the first draft to be perfect and to be commercially viable. The truth is no first draft will ever be perfect and nobody can predict what will sell.  Whilst I have been surprised by the sales of my first book, I am under no illusions about the state of flux in which different types of books remain.

My response  to these doubts when they creep up on me, as they always will, is to write as though noone will read it. That’s it. It’s really that simple. Write your book without wondering how good it will be or if it will sell. Imagine that it will never be read and write it for yourself. You do need to be aware of your audience when planning, but I have found that since I made the decision to stop thinking about reader response and beyond, I have moved from writing around 500-800 words a day to up to  2,000 or 3,000. I know it won’t happen every day but it is liberating and freeing. So, here’s to days of carefree writing before you apply a scalpel to the parts that you won’t need, before you carve and sculpt your work. Here’s to writing for the love of writing.

Photo credit: A Leonardo da Vinci notebook with diagram of a potter’s wheel, c. 1508-1509. Flavorwire