Tag: writing

Should I self publish my book or go traditional?

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This is a question that gets asked a lot in The Dragon Writers, where we have a wide spread of both kinds of authors.

The short answer is: with self publishing, or “indie” you get a bigger slice of the pie but you have to work harder for it.

Choosing to self publish should never be about having a back up plan, it’s not something you should do just because you’re tired of rejection.

Self publishing is being CEO of your own business.


You are the manufacturer of the product (the book), you are the person responsible for finding a team to quality control the product (editors and proofreaders), you’re the person responsible for getting the product to market (uploading it on retailers, choosing which retailers are best, deciding whether to print local copies or use distributers to get it into book stores), you are the person responsible for marketing the product (ensuring the cover is not only professional, but that it communicates to the end user what to expect from the product). You will also have to be your own compliance officer, which is what many people don’t talk about. You need to worry about rights, and taxes and GDPR and all that jazz.

Like all businesses, making and selling books requires a capital outlay to start with.

You will probably need to pay your team. I say probably because if you’re fortunate you will be able to make arrangements with qualified friends and barter, but if you’re not in that position, you’re going to need to pay someone real money.

Even if you don’t end up paying for that, you’re going to have to pay for marketing. There was a time when Amazon first started their print on demand service when you could be discovered without spending money on marketing, there was a time when having an organic Facebook audience was enough for any business. This is no longer the case. People don’t stumble upon new authors accidentally.

You’re probably going to have to spend money on training. Sure, there are tons of free resources out there and you can probably learn a lot of what you need just by joining the right Facebook groups, but it’s likely that you will end up buying at least one book or course to train you in advertising or strategy.

The people who do well at self publishing are the people who thrive on the challenges of the business side.

They’ve got entrepreneurial hearts. They want to be involved in all this. They want to be in control. They love experimenting, and chatting to readers, and networking with other writers.

If you aren’t that yet, you can become that. No one starts off good at anything in life. You learn.

But if the very idea fills you with horror, then that’s where traditional might be right for you.

You see, in the traditional model a writer is just a writer.


You manufacture the product and that’s that. Well not quite. Like all manufacturers of any other product, you have to get someone to buy it to take it further. You have to pitch. You have to be rejected. You have to keep trying. You get better at pitches, you get better at creating products that fulfill a market need. Eventually someone buys your product and agrees to distribute it for you. You will probably have to make some adjustments, and you will get a very complex contract explaining what you each expect from one another.

Used to be that after that point it was out of your hands. Now the thing is if you want to sell another product to that buyer, you’ll want to do a bit of marketing yourself. But it’s not expected of you. Your book will end up in stores, you might get speaking opportunities and things like that, and you don’t have to worry about any of it.

If you only want to write and not worry about the business side of things, then traditional is probably for you. Yes, it’s a slow process, but it’s a process that frees you up to do what truly makes your soul happy. Don’t let people put you off if you know that this is what’s right for you. Just be patient and keep working at it. Your day will come.

The thing that makes traditional publishing so difficult is also its greatest benefit. Since there is such a huge barrier to entry, the assumption is that books put out by traditional publishers are top quality. Yes, there are many that aren’t. However, people who see the brand names of the big publishers on your book will assume that your book is up to scratch because it made it through that selection process. You don’t have that with indie. You have to create your own brand and it’s up to you to prove it’s quality even though it’s mixed in with a lot of books that are not quality at all.

The in between

Vanity presses (sometimes called hybrid publishers)

are like that greasy guy with the slicked-back hair twho show up at your door or networking event to tell you they’re onto the next big thing and if you just give them cash you can be in on it too. Sure, some of them are legit (I mean I’m sure there must be one somewhere out there that’s legit) but you have to be so careful.

Rule of thumb is that if someone is asking for money to publish your book it’s one of these. And no matter what they tell you, all they will do is help with the manufacturing of the product. You’re still going to be CEO. You’re still going to have to sell it and market it and make a bunch of legal and regulatory decisions. However, they will (in theory) get the book edited, laid out and organise a nice cover for you, which takes a lot of the admin out of doing it yourself. Just be wary, look at other products they’ve produced before and ask around to see if they’re up to scratch. Since they’re getting their money from you, they have no incentive to make a book that will sell.

Authors’ co-op

This is what I do personally, so I may be a bit biased. You’re still CEO and everything that I said about self publishing still applies. However, you can exchange your own skills with other authors so that it keeps the costs down. Find some friends who are very good at what they do (look for talent, not just friendship. This is crucial). Someone can be in charge of covers, someone can be in charge of interior layout, someone can be in charge of editing, someone can be in charge of proof reading, someone can be in charge of marketing, etc. You don’t have to do everything yourself. You’re a team and you work together to produce the absolute best products you can, but you still have complete control over your own publishing journey.


Publishing is hard. There’s no way around it. If it wasn’t, then traditional publishers wouldn’t be a thing. But just bear in mind, you’ve got time to learn. No business expects you to know everything on day one. In the end, you have to decide what’s important to you and what you want to get out of publishing and that will inform which method you select. 

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How to write a novel in Microsoft Word

My trilogy is currently sitting at 316,078 words, which amounts to 732 Microsoft Word pages. It’s all in a single doc.

I’m not saying that to impress anyone (it still needs to be edited down!). Only because a few people I’ve chatted to seem to think that you need some fancy writing software to write anything of that length. I actually find Word really easy to use, and it’s all because a few years ago I figured out how to structure a document for a novel.

Here’s what I do, and hopefully it can help you too.

1. Navigation Pane

Under “View” on the main menu, check “Navigation Pane”. This is the key to the entire thing. The Navigation Pane allows you to view the document by headings, pages or by search results. The headings is the important thing, as you will be able to navigate directly to each heading by clicking on it.

2. Scrap yard and Marker

The first thing I type is Scrap Yard, the second is Marker. Both of these should be on their own lines and set to Heading 1. You will find Heading 1 under Styles on the Home tab of the main menu. Then they show up in the Navigation Pane. You want to start typing your novel above this.

3. Using headings to structure the novel

Something that I know I vastly underestimated when I started writing was how much time I’d spend skipping back to check stuff. Whether it’s a character name, a piece of dialogue or what the hell happened in That One Scene, I do it at least three times in every writing session.

Now for each section of a story that I write, I will use headings so that I can easily find that part again.

How you do this all depends on how you want to break down your novel. For the 316k monster I mentioned above, I have Heading 1 for the book titles, Heading 2 for settings, Heading 3 for key scenes in that setting.

I’ve also been writing a fanfic in Google Docs, which also has this navigation system (called Outline). In that one I use Heading 1 for chapter numbers, Heading 2 for the point of view character and Heading 3 for the scenes within a chapter. You can see how nicely they nest under each other.


With this system, it’s easy to find That One Scene because of my descriptive Heading 3 that lets me find it easily. 

4. What was that about a Marker? 

So, remember that Marker Heading 1? That’s basically a bookmark. Because it’s the biggest heading, it will never be nested under anything and you can use it to always find your place.

If you write your novel from start to end, then it’s no problem finding where you left off. But if you’re like me,  you’ll constantly bounce back to fix stuff or make adjustments, and this is where this fellow is really handy. Just make sure you keep the Marker at the bottom of what you’re currently writing and you will never ever lose your place, even if you have to navigate away to check something quickly and accidentally only return to your document in six months. 

5. … And the Scrap yard? 

The Scrap yard is where all the murdered darlings go.

You know the phrase “kill your darlings”? It typically means that sometimes you need to cut out bits of your novel that you really love, but that just don’t fit where they currently are. My junk yard (or “Spares” as I call it in the trilogy) is a maze of descriptive Heading 3s. Sometimes I manage to use those darlings elsewhere in the novel, and then I just change the Heading 3 to reflect this. But even if I never use that bit of writing, it at least makes me feel like no effort is ever wasted. 

And that’s how I use Microsoft Word for writing really long documents easily. 

Do you have any of your own tips that I should try? Add them in the comments 🙂 

Categories: Blog


How I beat procrastination

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When I say “beat”, I mean “beat” in the present tense, of course. Because beating procrastination is an ongoing battle. For someone prone to procrastination, there’s no such thing as winning. You’re pretty much working against your own brain constantly in order to get important things done.


Alledria Hurt started a discussion in my writing group earlier about self-motivation. Some people are encouraged by positive rewards at the end of achieving their goal (get 1,000 words down, have a chocolate). Some people are encouraged by negative consequences (if I don’t get these words down, I can’t watch TV today).

For me, neither of these things seem to work. Negative consequences make me panic and procrastinate more. And positive consequences make me sad that I can’t have the positive things now and grumpy about doing the task at hand. Not ideal. 

Winning the Procrastination Battle for me is all about trying to outwit my brain, and these are some strategies that I’ve found do work.


Understanding the enemy

Everybody’s brain is different, so tricking yourself might be different from how I trick myself. As with any war, the first step is knowing the enemy. That means understanding exactly what thoughts lead to procrastination. For me it’s usually one of three things:


1. This is a large task

This is a big undertaking, I should probably get the little things done first so I can undertake it in one chunk and really focus.

If I start that task now, I won’t get a chance to do the other things I want to do today/tonight. I should probably do those first. 

If I start now, I’ll probably be interrupted by a meeting/visit/obligation. I should wait until that’s done before starting. 

I don’t know where to start.

This task probably isn’t for me. I’m going to mess it up because it’s too large and important. 


2. This is not the right time to do it

I’m not feeling very focused now. I’m too hungry/sad/tired. I should rather do something else now and tackle that task when I’m better equipped.

I’m not inspired now. If I wait a while, inspiration will hit. 

It’s too late at night/early in the morning/close to meal time. I’ll do it later. 


3. I’d rather do something fun

I have to do this task, so it’s automatically the devil and not fun. 

This fun thing will only take a moment and then I’ll feel better about life in general and do better work. 


The art of war

Once I catch myself having these thoughts, I know that I am faced with my enemy, Procrastination. This is the battle plan I use.


For “it’s too large” thoughts:

    • Strategy 1: It’s really not that big If you can, you need to convince yourself that the huge task that seems huge is not really that big. It helps to compare it to other tasks you’ve done that are similar and you’ve done successfully. For me this is my monthly reports for work. They seem HUGE but I have to remind myself, I somehow manage to do them every month. It will nearly always feel larger in your  mind than it really is.

    • Strategy 2: break it down into parts. It’s the old “eat an elephant” thing. If you can break it down into smaller, less-scary, tasks then it’s easier to tackle. I like to make a list of all of the parts/steps that need to happen. If you’re having a crisis of confidence in your ability to do the task, choose a single step that you feel comfortable with and start there.

    • Strategy 3: “just a tiny piece” If the list is still overwhelming, choose one of the easiest places to start and tell yourself you only have to do that little bit. This is a great strategy for novel writing, I find. Cat Hellisen does #Gimme100 on Twitter, which is a challenge to write only 100 words a day (and often turns into writing many more words). My version is “open the laptop”. The battle is practically already won if I can sit down and open up the doc with my novel in it and read a few lines. I tell myself “you don’t need to solve the problem with Chapter 20 today, you can just read the intro line and see if you have anything to add.” And usually, once I get stuck in, I’m hooked and end up solving the problem with Chapter 20 anyway.



For “this is not the right time” thoughts:

It is the right time. That’s the trick. It is always the right time. Inspiration doesn’t matter (you had it with you all along, like Dorothy’s ability to click her heals and return home). If you’re avoiding doing a task, you’ll never be in the perfect mood for it.

Also, it helps to accept that interruptions don’t matter that much either. In fact it can be good to take a break, even in the middle of something big that needs a lot of focus.

Trying to find a large chunk of time when you feel inspired and in a good mood is like trying to find the holy grail: a terribly costly endeavor that is likely to be fruitless. Start now, because there’s probably not going to be a better time.


For “I’d rather do something fun” thoughts”

You have to give it to these guys for at least being honest. Most of the time your brain will use excuses like “it’s too big” or “now’s not the right time” when it really means that it wants to do something more enjoyable.

The secret to this one is that you need to drill down into exactly why you think this thing you need to do is not enjoyable. Sometimes my own tricksy brain tries to tell me I don’t enjoy writing. Like what? Seriously?

Writing is my dream. I love it more than anything.

But once it’s something you have to do, it feels like work. It feels like it’s much easier to just pick up a videogame and space out. But, you know, if you set a deadline on playing that video game you’ll procrastinate about doing that too. I know all about that, I’m marrying a game reviewer.

No matter how much you love something, if you make it something you have to do, you’re going to resent having to do it. That’s just how we are.

So how do you get around that? Well, this is where some people find bribery works. You lead your brain into the task with the promise of something fun later and then, when you end up actually enjoying the task, it’s a wonderful surprise. But for me, that just makes me more resentful about not being able to do the fun thing. I need to find the fun thing in the task itself.

With writing it comes down to remembering the good parts of the story, the reason why I decided to write it. I read through my favourite scenes (or go through them in my head if not yet written) to “find my passion” for the story and convince me that I really want to write it after all.

With other aspects of life I also try to drill down into the task to find a small fun aspect. Even if it’s only very very small. Colour-coding notes worked for me when I was studying, or illustrating them with funny pictures. When it comes to social media reports, I like finding out which posts do the best and trying to figure out why.

And if all else fails, and “finding the fun” is impossible, you need to look at the reason why doing the task is important. Zoom out and look at the bigger picture. This is slightly different from “fear of negative consequences” (I’ll get in trouble if I don’t do this report! I’ll punish myself if I don’t write!). It’s more about seeing how this thing you need to do will improve your overall wellbeing and happiness or even alter the world for the better.  (“If I pass my exam, I’ll have a qualification and be able to get a better job”, “If I discover which Facebook ads work best, I’ll be able to offer businesses advice that makes a real positive difference to their lives”, “If I finish this novel, other people will be able to enjoy the story I’ve been telling myself for years”).


One final trick

This is the one that I call “bait and switch”. If you’re very sneaky, you can get your brain to do something that it would rather avoid by making it think it’s avoiding something else.

So for example if I’m procrastinating about writing, I give my brain a choice: do writing or clean the house.

Which do you think it’s more likely to choose?

The house, of course. But there are worse things than having a clean house.


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The best Twitter hashtags for authors

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If you’re a writer in this day and age, you’re probably on Twitter. And whether you’re an indie author or not, you probably want to do some of your own marketing.

Even if you’re already a social media expert, hashtags are super confusing. Googling for a list of “popular writing tags” or “book promotion hashtags” brings up hundreds of suggestions, and if you were to use all of them you wouldn’t have enough characters to say anything about your books at all. So how does one choose?

Well, I wrote down the top 40 that kept coming up in my searches and I used some online tools to examine which are actually being used. I hope that my research will be useful to others as well.  I also made a note of how many of these uses were retweets as retweets are important for marketing purposes. Essentially you want about a 50% split, to show that tweets using the hashtags are actually being shared and not just going into a void.

Below is a graph showing the amount of times a hashtag has been used in a week. The tool I was using had a limit of a maximum of 1,500 tweets, so the tags that hit the 1,500 line are actually used more than that. I’ve listed the hashtags alphabetically.

hashtags1 hashtags2

The top 10 hashtags

  1. #Storytelling
  2. #BookGiveaway
  3. #AmEditing
  4. #AmReading
  5. #AmWriting
  6. #FridayFreebies
  7. #Bookstagram
  8. #TeaserTuesday
  9. #WeNeedDiverseBooks
  10. #IndieAuthors

As with everything social media related, popular hashtags are very trends-based. What’s fashionable to use today, might fall away completely by this time next year. For instance #ReadWomen2016 only had 71 uses last week while #ReadWomen2014 was incredibly popular at the time. It’s important to keep experimenting.

Are there some hashtags you enjoy using and have had success with that I haven’t mentioned here? Please leave a note in the comments!

Authors Magazine – Surviving the First Draft

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This article originally appeared in the digital publication Authors Magazine.

You have a brilliant new idea, you’re just itching to write. It’s so easy for the first few pages… and then it becomes gradually more difficult. So you give up. Sound familiar? Every author has been there.

So how do you defeat the twin foes, Sir Procrastination and the fabled beast Self Doubt?

Before you start writing…

Like any decent soldier, you want to go in prepared. You need to accept that a time will come when this brilliant new story will turn on you. It will feel sticky and wrong and you will doubt yourself. That’s part of the process. You can head off a lot of these doubts by having a plan of attack.

Erika Bester, director of Fire Quill Publishing and author of numerous novels across genres under different pen names, says that she never struggles to finish a first draft, mostly because she knows the story she wants to write before she even puts pen to paper.

“Know your characters like you know your friends. Know the twists and turns, the conflicts. The beginning, middle and end and even the fillers in between,” she advises. “You will be surprised how fast.you finish that first draft without having to push through or experience obstacles.”

Joanne Macgregor, author of seven books for teens and young adults, agrees that often planning is the key to an easy ride, “Many writers experience that trial of the tough middle and are tempted to give up and start something fresh. I think it’s often a consequence of not having plotted the story and structure well enough before beginning, and of thinking that one idea or concept is enough to carry a story. You need multiple plot threads to interweave with your theme to give you enough impetus to carry the story to its climax.”

There are many writers who find that plotting doesn’t work for them (fondly known as “pantsers” because they like flying by the seat of their pants). For these writers, a first draft is less like instigating a well-organised plan of attack and more like entering a dark and gloomy dungeon, feeling the way forward towards treasure. You learn about the plot and the characters as you go. There is nothing shameful about this method, in fact the results can often be more surprising and organic, but it does mean that you need to store up an arsenal of weapons to combat the foes you know are likely to leap out at you from the dark.


Enemies to watch out for in the dark

Even if you have plotted, there will be times that you find yourself fumbling in the dark, needing a link between scenes, to bulk out some characterisation or to reach the next plot point. This is where some of the first-draft-halting enemies most love to strike.


The Cliché Hunter

When you’re writing a first draft, stumbling around in the dark looking for that mythical next plot point, the very last thing you need is to encounter the Cliché Hunter.

Like all demon hunters, he has a very important job. He’s just not needed in a first draft. If he’s out hunting micro clichés – the kind that pop up in dialogue or description – you might get caught in one of his snares and that will slow your journey forward immensely. (Which is more than a little frustrating when you’re not even sure you’re on the right path and might end up rewriting this bit anyway). But he’s at his most dangerous when he’s out hunting macro clichés – looking for overdone plot elements or characters or the very story itself. That’s when he puts his crossbow to your neck and demands to know “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”. And when you can’t answer he might even kill you. Well, kill your novel.

Sometimes clichés can be a useful means to an end – a way of moving the plot along. Keep them in as placeholders, and worry about them later. If you stress too much about being original, you’ll never finish that novel. Because the secret is, there is no such thing as true originality.


Sir Procrastination

He sits at his campfire, frying up some delicious snacks. He invites you to sit with him. What you don’t realise is that he’ll never let you leave. He’s a crafty devil. Sometimes you won’t even realise that you’re stuck until months have gone by and you’ve completely forgotten that there was ever any treasure in the first place.

Luckily he has a couple of weaknesses.

The most effective way to defeat him is developing a writing routine. The well known BOCHOK method has been proven an effective weapon (butt on chair, hands on keyboard). Force yourself to sit down to write every day – or at least every second day. It doesn’t matter if only a sentence comes out (and it’s a bad sentence), you’re moving forward and you’re sticking with the story on the path to that fantastic treasure.

Macgregor suggests that when you do this, you turn off your internet connection (“BOCHOK doesn’t refer to procrastinating on the internet!”). She also suggests that if you’re really stuck, you can set a timer and challenge yourself to reach a certain number of words before it goes off (known as a “writing sprint”).

If that doesn’t work, you might want to up the ante by visiting a site called Write or Die that will delete words you’ve written if you don’t continue to type. The less extreme version is Written? Kitten! that rewards you with a picture of a cute cat if you meet a wordcount goal.

The other major weapon against Sir Procrastination is nagging. In other words, make sure you have some social accountability. Tell your friends, your writing group or random people online how many words you aim to write. You’re more likely to avoid that cozy campfire if there’s a chance that other people in your life will see you sitting there being all lazy. Nothing provides a kick in the pants quite like the question, “how’s that novel going?”.


The Middle Marsh

About half way through the journey, there’s this vast marsh. It stinks. It’s full of quicksand. Every so often bubbles of methane rise to the surface – and we all know what that smells like.

Welcome to the Middle. Every author ever will tell you that from the mid point to the three quarters point is a horrific no man’s land where the beast, Self Doubt, roams for prey. Perhaps the passion is dry, perhaps the plot is dry. Perhaps you’re just bored. Getting across here can be even more tricky than getting away from Sir Procrastination. But worry not. Many brave adventurers have faced these marshes before you. And while the skeletons of some do lie beneath the bog, plenty of others have made it safely across.

If you’ve tried the methods you used to defeat Sir Procrastination and they haven’t worked, here are some other things Macgregor suggests you can try:

  • Try writing in another mode (longhand in a notebook, or dictating into a voice recorder).
  • Shift your brain from verbal to visual: lie down in a dark room and imagine the “movie” of the next scene, then capture it into words – quick!
  • Read! A great book will inspire you, and a crappy book will motivate you because you know you can do better.
  • Read some poetry before sitting down to write.
  • Get a trusted writing friend or beta-reader to check what you’ve written so far – your block may be due to a problem with your story.
  • “Interview” the character you suspect is causing you problems. I do this as a Q&A written exercise and it’s amazing what new ideas and character elements emerge.
  • Commit to a deadline. If you want to be really serious about this, upload your (incomplete) manuscript onto Amazon’s KDP for pre-order. You’ll have about 80 days to submit your final manuscript, and if you miss the deadline, you’re banned from publishing there for a year.


The Siren of Other Project

This lovely lady likes to strike you when you’re at your most desperate. Perhaps it’s while you’re having coffee with Sir Procrastination, or up against the wall with one of Cliche Hunter’s knives to your throat, or stuck on an island between quicksand and smelly bog water in the Middle. She will appear as a silken spectre of temptation and beckon you towards starting something new. Something new that won’t be as difficult as this is (she promises). She lies! Don’t listen to her!

Macgregor suggests there might be a way to incorporate the essence of your new idea, character or emotional heat, into your current manuscript. If not, make a note of it somewhere and let it stew at the back of your mind. Ideas don’t expire. You might be afraid that if you don’t act on them straight away, you’ll forget them. But the best ideas, the ones really worth something, will hang around.

The other option is to try your hand at writing both at the same time. But beware: the shiny new story will want to take over all your writing time… until you reach the middle of that one.

Read the full article: 

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Authors Magazine – Get Connected

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This piece originally appeared in the digital publication Authors Magazine.

When I was a young girl, I had this impression that an author was a lonely figure sitting behind a mahogany desk, tapping away at a typewriter while a dark and stormy night brewed outside the window (thanks Snoopy). Imagine my surprise when I realised that that archetype is as dead as the typewriter. It’s true that writing is still a solitary profession, but the advent of the internet has ensured that it need no longer be a lonesome one.

Online writing communities have been around since the days of dial-up modems, and as the internet has become more social, they have grown into the safe spaces, classrooms and social escapes of the modern author. No matter what kind of writer you are, or your level of technical ability, there’s a place for you. And the best part is, you don’t even have to leave your manuscript to go there.

Social Media

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know about social media. But in case you’ve been locked away in an office behind a mahogany desk for the last decade, social media is the latest fare on the fast food menu that is the Internet. It allows you to get what you want right at the point when you need it most.

Twitter, with its 160-character telegrams of information, is perfect for quick and dirty research and is preferred by authors as famous and well-established as JK Rowling. It’s also become an essential means of keeping in touch with your readers. Joining Twitter can be overwhelming, and a feature that can certainly help with this is Twitter Lists. Create lists of fellow authors to check in with every day, or follow hashtags such as #amwriting and #amediting to find others slaving away behind their keyboards. You might even find that engaging in some real time sprints or word wars (where you compete to achieve the highest word count in a short space of time) with these “tweeps” gets you through the tough in-between parts of your latest novel.

Facebook is the other big player in social media, and no doubt you’re already logged in, sharing memes and pictures of the kiddies with your family and friends. Using Facebook as an author doesn’t necessarily mean merging these two aspects of your life. Closed Facebook Groups offer a safe space to share the trials of the writing life with like-minded people, and to learn from those with more experience. Find a group by typing “writing” into Facebook’s search bar and navigating to the Group tab. Note that a Closed Group means you’ll need to apply to join, but also that only members of the group can see what you post there.

There are tons of other social media platforms to explore. Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ and Snapchat to name but a few. My advice would be to choose your platforms wisely and only use those that you feel you get something out of. The fast pace of social media is rewarding, but it can also be draining if you take on too much.


Of course, you may decide that social media isn’t for you at all. Teddy Raye, a well-known fan fiction author who is currently working on her first novel, feels that these networks have limited usefulness.

“The thing about Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc, is that is seems like one is constantly on transmit.”

She feels social media is great for promoting your book once it’s out there, but in terms of helping with the actual journey? She happens to agree with another author you may have heard of, George R R Martin, who maintains a LiveJournal.

LiveJournal was established in 1999 as one of the earliest social networks – a blogging platform with a comments section. What sets it apart from something like WordPress is the ability to add other users as friends and join interest-based communities.

According to Raye, LiveJournal is ideal when it comes to feedback on larger works and building close relationships with other writers.

“The acceptance, support and encouragement I found there from almost the moment I became part of the community was overwhelming. I had at my disposal a wealth of writers and readers from all over the world, from all walks of life and all kinds of experiences and lifestyles, who opened up my eyes to the myriad possibilities of becoming a serious writer,” she says.

“If I ever have any success as a writer, it will be because of the people who nurtured me on LiveJournal. “

There are a few sites like LiveJournal. Dreamwidth, for instance, is a popular choice for writers because it’s aimed especially at “people who create”.


Travelling back to the time when connecting to the web meant shouting at miscellaneous family members to get off the line, forums were the in thing – a magical way of connecting with other purveyors of the world wide web.

South African author, Cat Hellisen, credits the Absolute Write forums (still active) with being the classroom that gave her the building blocks to get where she is today.

“As with all kinds of writing groups, you can get bad advice and misinformation, and it’s best to do your research,” she says. “But writers work in isolation, and sometimes this can feel very depressing and lonely, so I do think having the support (online or real life) of a constructive writing group is invaluable. Not only that, but I’ve forged friendships with writers and readers of all kinds and levels through online forums. For those friendships alone, using AbsoluteWrite changed my writing world.”

While the concept may be dated, forums have in fact grown from strength-to-strength, offering a level of specialisation and an aspect of anonymity that social media does not.

Romance writer, Amity Lassiter, is an active member of a website called Romance Divas that has a thriving community forum. There’s something to be said for a community built around a single genre. It can address challenges specific to that particular category of fiction, and more established writers can pass on knowledge that might only be relevant to others working in the same area.

“It’s how I connected with my idol,” says Lassiter, “She made seven figures last year with her self-published books. If I could just have a fraction of her career!”


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A year of writing, a year of doodles

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I’m a doodler, doodling is what I do. I learned a long time ago that I needed to have a notepad in front of me at all times, otherwise tables got scarred and my parents got tremendously unhappy.

Anyway, a year ago I shared a portrait of the main character of my Camp NaNoWriMo project, Tarra. Now I can officially say I’ve been working with her story – essentially living with her in my head – for a year. So in honour of our anniversary, I thought I’d share some of the doodles and drawings I’ve done of her and her universe over the course of the year.


To give these a tiny bit of context, this is the blurb I have at the moment:

When Tarragon’s world faces enslavement by the dimension-crossing Cloaks, only Tarra’s mother – the High Sorceress – stands any chance against them. But she’s disappeared, along with the rest of the ruling Council and it’s up to Tarra, a young alchemy teacher, to find her and save her world from domination.

It’s interesting to see how far things have come since the initial sketches. Some ideas – now key to the plot – first found their way to consciousness through the odd doodle during a meeting or while on the phone.


Very rough character and scene ideas. 

IMG_2903-200x200 TSD sketch TSD sketch 2

IMG_2900-200x200 FullSizeRender_3-200x200 IMG_2910-200x200

Digital art


2  calli-592x1024   tarra   


Categories: Blog NanoWriMo

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How to keep writing


The 1st of April will mark a year that I’ve been working on the same novel. And I am astounded.

Seriously, I’m not the kind of person who sticks to routines. I’m the girl who has five separate routes to work so that I don’t get bored of one, who can knit and draw and crochet and embroider because choosing one craft and getting good at it goes against my grain. I don’t finish projects, or computer games, or even TV series.

So how on Earth have I managed to stick with this novel for this long?

Well, I’ve given it some thought and I’ve put those thoughts into writing here in hopes that they can help others who, like me, tend to get passionately involved in new things only to abandon them a few weeks later with nothing to show for their hard work.

Write every day (or so)


Lots of famous writers, from Rowling to King, preach that sitting down and writing every day is the key to great success.

Neil Gaiman famously said,

When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into: ‘House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.

The idea is that if you can just get a few words out every single day, they will turn into a novel and you will develop a routine and it will eventually get easier.

This is all 100% true.

It’s also an unrealistic expectation for many people. Some days your family needs you more. Some days you’re too tired. Some days you just don’t feel like it.

And when you have one of those days, you’re so overcome with guilt that you feel like you’ve messed up this routine thing and what’s the point?

So the rule that works for me is that I’m allowed a day off, or even two, as long as it’s never three. Skipping three days means my mind is wandering. It means I’m getting swept up in other things, and swept away from the project.

Testing the rule

When I finished my first draft at the end of November, I switched to editing, but I kept the rule in place. Then I decided to take February off. I was rearing to go with writing in some new sections on 1 March… only to find writing just wasn’t working out the way it had before my break. writing-860x350


My lesson: writing all the time is very important if you want to stick with a project and not have it feel like you’re slogging through molasses every time you open it up. But writing every day is a huge commitment, so it doesn’t have to be every single day as long as there isn’t a huge gap between days. 

Social accountability


I don’t think I would have been able to force myself to write (almost) every day for this long if it wasn’t for my Facebook writing group.

Firstly, we have a spreadsheet where we challenge ourselves to a certain number of words a month and fill in our words daily. Everyone can see the number of words you’ve done and if you don’t write for a number of days, or don’t reach your target, they know.

Truthfully, no one is going to laugh at me or judge me if I don’t keep up (I hope!) but somehow, subconsciously, it helps to know they’re watching.

Secondly, being part of a group of people doing the same thing makes you want to keep on doing it so that you can keep contributing to the conversation and excitement.

Thirdly, people following your journey start to care about it and you can check up on each other. When one of my writer friends messages me asking how it’s going, the last thing I want to tell them is that I’ve given up.

My lesson: Never underestimate the power of social influence. Make it more humiliating to stop than it is difficult to keep on going. 

Discover when works for you


Filling in the group word count sheet also gave me something else: data. I was able to look at the rhythm of my writing and I was surprised by the results.

17.5% of my book was written on a Tuesday! Making Tuesday my second most productive day after Sunday. Why? How?
day-of-weekI would never have guessed that I got more writing done on a Tuesday than a Saturday and I never would have known that Thursdays are practically always useless for me.

Another thing I never, ever would have guessed is that I can write in the mornings. I’m a night owl by nature so my top writing time is always 10 pm onward, but at my current job I only have to leave for work at 08:50 am, so that gives me an hour of writing in the morning. And that writing is usually a lot cleaner than the writing I do at night after a long day (even if it is more difficult to get the words on the page).

My lesson: try writing at lots of different times and make a note of what works for you. Everyone is different and your own brain might surprise you. 

It’s okay to fumble

lamp-1024x350 (1)

Not all writing days are good ones. Or weeks even. There was a period – you can even see it there on the chart, August last year, – when I kept writing and rewriting the same few scenes for four weeks. So my over all word count wasn’t going up, so the social accountability wasn’t working (I felt humiliated anyway!) and the “sitting down and writing (almost) every day” rule was in serious danger of breaking for good.

What I discovered during those dark, dark weeks was that writing is sometimes the glorious scribbling down of hallucinations that flash before my eyes faster than I can catch them… and sometimes its fumbling around in the dark for a candle to light up the next one. I will almost always know what the next one is. It’s that scene I envisaged right back when I plotted this thing. But getting there… getting there can sometimes feel impossible. The plot ahead twists and changes, the characters feel wooden when you want them to do as they’re told, you’ve written yourself into a corner where no solution seems realistic or even exciting.

Sometimes, you just have to do what you’d do if you were stuck in the dark – feel your way ahead. Write the next bit. If it doesn’t fit, rewrite it. Then write the next bit. If that doesn’t fit, rewrite it. Hit a dead end? Backtrack and rewrite it.

Fumbling around like this doesn’t mean that your book is rubbish, or that you’re a useless writer. It means you’re finding the path. Sometimes, it’s the only way to find the path.

I think I always expected this to not happen if I plotted enough before I started writing. I’m sure it does happen more if you’re a pantser, but I’ve also discovered, at least in my experience, that some things you can’t know until you’re really there, no matter how much planning I’ve done in the lead up.

My lesson: a story is like a dungeon that you’re guiding the reader through. It’s up to you to cut the best path and that means that sometimes you end up stumbling around blindly for days. And that’s okay. 

Clichés are okay


Wait! Before you jump down to the comments to tell me I’m wrong, let me explain.

I’ll let you in on a secret: the fastest way to take the wind out of my sails when it comes to a writing project is telling me it’s clichéd. If writing a novel is a battle, that’s my Achilles heal. Why? Because calling something a cliché is declaring it void of creativity. And if writing is not creative, is it even worth it?

There are two breeds of cliché. The first is what I call the micro level cliché. Becoming too aware of that can cause paralysis on a line-by-line level. For example: should I have used “wind out of my sails” up there or is that over used? Are people bored of the term Achilles heal? The second is the macro level cliché. A clichéd plot, cliché characters. Becoming too aware of those can cause you to toss out an entire manuscript.

When you’re writing a first draft, stumbling around in the dark looking for that mythical next plot point, the very last thing you need is to encounter the Cliché Hunter. If he’s out hunting micro clichés, you might get caught in one of his snares and that will slow your journey forward immensely. Which is super frustrating when you’re not even sure you’re on the right path and might end up rewriting this bit anyway. The real danger is if he’s out hunting macro clichés. That’s when he puts his cross bow to your neck and demands to know “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”. And when you can’t answer he might even kill you. Well, kill your novel.

So take away his hunting permit until you’ve got that first draft down. And give it back to him when you’re in editing mode, the way ahead is all lit up and pretty, and you have time to spar.

But this section isn’t called “clichés are okay in a first draft”. So now I’m going to get on to the really controversial stuff.

Sometimes clichés are just okay.

If you go back in time, all stories were pure cliché. One of the earliest forms of theatre, the Commedia dell’arte, had the same specific cast of characters for its plays (called “types). Many of Shakespeare’s plays are retellings of old stories that had been told before.


south-africa-1112849_640Carl Jung, the psychologist, gave these repetitions of the same stories with the same characters a name and it wasn’t “cliché”. It was “archetype”.  There are things that hold the same significance for all humans. Figures like the wise old man or the shadow or the hero. We can keep telling stories about these people or events because they resonate with a very old part of what makes us human.

Some people say that the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are essentially the same story. Of course, they aren’t. But they include the same archetypes. Archetypes that one expects to find often in their particular genre.

Which brings me to the last point on this subject: genre conventions. How many romances have a rich, handsome man as the love interest? How many thrillers have a psychopath tracking down the detective who’s investigating him? If you like a genre you often like and even expect the conventions. The story isn’t 100% original, it’s the way it’s told that captures you or the mix of interesting characters.

With this particular novel I started out with a dream. No, literally, I had a dream. It was about a zombie apocalypse and a ship and a spy. It made me feel something. Something that I’ve been holding on to for over two years now and trying to capture on paper. But there was nothing particularly original about that idea. So, early on, when I first started playing with this idea, long before I sat down to write it, I made peace with the fact that there would be some clichés.

And you know what? A lot of them disappeared as I really got to know my characters. A lot of them fell away automatically from the plot as I started questioning cause and effect within my own universe. I’ve set the Cliché Hunter on the trail of a bunch of them, particularly the micro kind. I probably won’t find all of them. The ones that bother the beta readers will end up at the business end of Hunter’s crossbow and the rest… the rest are okay.

My lesson: Don’t be so terrified of going where others have gone before that you don’t go at all. 

All you need is love


Talking of clichés… here’s one. In the end, love is all you need.

What I mean is, you need to isolate one thing that you love about your novel, that gets you excited about it. It’s very likely the first thing that made you want to write it down. It might be a key scene, it might be a character, it might be a relationship… whatever it is, make a note of it. Hell, make a Pinterst Board of it. Because that’s the thing that’s going to get you through those dark tunnels. And whatever you do – do not let the Cliché Hunter get hold of it.

I won’t tell you what mine is because hopefully you’ll read it for yourself one day, but I know that if it weren’t for that one good part that I love, I definitely wouldn’t still be going a year later.

My lesson: anticipate there will be times when you’ll lose faith in your story and keep that One Thing on standby to make you fall in love again.  


Categories: Blog


Writing: Control Issues

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I never much liked my narrative lecturer. He came across as pretentious and seemed determined for us all to fail. He’d read to us. Poems mostly. Sometimes extracts from post-structuralist literature that we didn’t understand.

In a room full of wannabe journalists, we didn’t really care about focal point or the significance of a female romantic lead eating potato chips.

Irony is, his is the only advice about writing and story construction that I ever remember.

One of the things he spoke about was power. He loved to speak about power. The idea of violence being taking just as much as it was about hurting. The idea of scopophilia (feeling power through watching). According to him, a writer did not have total power over their work.

I didn’t understand then. I think I even laughed about it.

When you’re writing a novel, especially a fantasy novel, you have an extraordinary amount of power.

You build worlds. Not just now worlds, that characters move through and interact with, but then worlds. Real history and told history. Relevant history and history of places your characters will never even see.

You control people as they move through these worlds. You get to choose who lives and who dies. You get to decide whether they are born into war or into peace.

You have all the power.

Except that you don’t.

Now I finally understand.

As I work through my first revision, stressing over imagery and symbolism, asking whether I’ve been clear enough or too blatant, questioning whether my characters are even likable… a certain thought from my narrative classes keeps coming back to me.

In any work, there is a triad of actual authors: the writer, the audience and the context.*

Here’s the thing. No matter what you write, the reader comes to a story with a bunch of baggage from past experiences and reads a story at a contextual point in their lives that has nothing at all to do with you as the author.

Your work being well-received depends on so much more than you writing the best story you’re capable of. If the wrong person reads it, if they read it at the wrong time, they won’t like it.

There is no single work of art that absolutely everyone loves.

In a discussion about Harry Potter, there will be people who will tell you it’s over-rated. If you dare bring up liking Twilight in certain circles you’ll be scoffed at. I don’t like Dan Brown, but some of the people I respect the most love him.

I watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a kid and it is, to this day, one of my favourites. I watched it with Graham the other day and he thought I must have been high to like it. I wasn’t high. It found the right me, at the right time.

So the broader implication of this “triad” of “authors” can be both scary and liberating. Firstly, the scary part: no matter how hard I work on this novel there is no way that everyone I know and respect the opinion of will love it. But the liberating part: if I can’t hope to please every instance of audience and context, then I might as well please my own audience and context.

And just hope that if I like it, somewhere out there, there is someone who is a similar audience to me, in a similar context to me, who will love it too.

If not, at the very least I will have created something that makes me happy.

*(Okay, so I tried to find a proper reference for this idea and Google spat up an essay called “Implied Author, Authorial Audience, and Context” and it started with this: “Neo-Aristotelian rhetorical theory has been mainly developed by the second and third generations of the Chicago School of criticism. It is widely believed that all three generations of the neo-Aristotelians share a concentration on textual form… [link]” And I had terrible flashbacks.)

(And if you’re reading this, Mr Narrative Lecturer, I’m so sorry I never listened to you back then.)

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Writing habits

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I’ve been trying to write every day since I started this Nano2015 project back on 1 April. My rule is that I’m allowed to take a day off and, if I really just can’t, two days off. More than two days of not writing is not allowed, even if on Day 3 I glower at Word for an hour and end up just writing a sentence.

I’ve been recording my progress day-by-day since July and have discovered quite a few interesting things.

Firstly, the more planning I have done about a section before I get there, the more I write per day (this one should have been obvious but it’s cool to have physical proof. I’m officially a plotter).


July’s bit was well-planned, especially the bit that I got to write mid-July (that huge spike) which was the turning point of the novel. In August I hit the doldrums and I’m actually really proud that I made it through at all considering how bleak it got. I think I spent about four weeks writing and rewriting the same section. Which brings us to…


I’ve written 174,710 words! It’s taken six months, but I’ve stuck with a single project for six months and I’ve written almost Goblet of Fire. In fact, by the time it’s done, it will probably be the size of Goblet of Fire (I am hoping I can cut it down significantly in editing). You can see the doldrums of August there quite clearly. I was writing every day but the total word count didn’t change because I got stuck in rewriting. As soon as I broke free of that, things started to climb!

New words added per month:

July: 38,515
August: 14,513
September: 23,541

For me, this is the most interesting graph:


Weekends are obviously great for writing because there’s so much extra time, but before recording my writing every day I would never ever have guessed that Thursdays were such a bad day for writing. In fact, I skipped last night as well (which wasn’t included in the sample). My average words per day: 832. My average words per day on a Thursday? 367. Ouch.

Hopefully October will be the last month of this particular project’s first draft. I’d like to try something new in November, applying the same habits and hopefully using this knowledge of my own writing process to win.




Categories: NanoWriMo