When Sparks Fly

A couple of weeks ago I ended up with a writing dilemma I had never experienced before and as a result I was left questioning what on earth I was going to write?

For the past few months I have been researching Amsterdam with a view of setting my novel there. I had wanted to embark on a project that I could learn and research about, something with a strong sense of place and Amsterdam felt like the ideal setting- my sister lives out there and I was soon going to be visiting so I would have ample opportunity to extend my knowledge about the area. The trouble was I didn’t actually have a story in mind, or even a vague idea of characters, but I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way. Sarah Waters when researching likes to get a feel for the people and era and from that she develops a story, and that’s exactly what I was aiming to do, to have something materialize organically from the research. Now in hindsight I can see that was rather optimistic.

The trouble was as I got deeper into the research I was no nearer to a story and the longer this went on the more unsettling it became. I had an awful fear that I was heading blindly into historical facts without any real purpose or sight as to where I was going with it. I was effectively just waiting for a spark of genius that might never happen.

Eventually and out of no where there was a spark, but it wasn’t the one I was hoping for or even anticipated. It was for an entirely different story set in a completely different era and location. What’s more I loved it. The more I thought about it the more the nugget of the idea seemed to grow and have everything I wanted from a plot plus it was a subject I was passionate about and already had some knowledge in. Then there was the dilemma, do I note down this great new idea to pick up another time while I continue with the research or do I abandon the research and go with the new idea?

It is a fact that you can be plodding along with a project quite nicely only to be side-swept by more appealing and seductive ideas and if you constantly fall for these then you’re unfortunately doomed never to complete anything. And that’s what worried me, was I giving up and going for the bright and shiny new idea because it was the easy option? Was it not better to persevere at the research? In short no. Yes I have invested time into the research but what makes a novel is the plot and so far I had nothing on Amsterdam and research is not why I want to be a writer, I want to be a writer to write and having a plot at least allows me to do that.

So that’s it, the research has been put to one side and one day I will more than likely revisit it, maybe then it will be ready to grow into something. Right now I’m actually working on something I’m excited about and that makes the world of difference.

Happy Writing?

The idea that the most creative minds are often afflicted with mental health problems is not a new one and there are numerous examples throughout history- Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf to name just a few. It may be that the creative and inquisitive mind is more vulnerable to mental health affliction but can exercising creativity also help improve mood?

The latest issue of Mslexia poses the question: Does writing help keep you sane?

71% of women surveyed said writing made them feel more positive about life

57% said it helped them to reduce their anxiety or stress

42% found it made them feel less depressed

These sort of findings aren’t surprising and further emphasise how valuable and useful writing can be in therapy. For me I always find I feel a lot happier when I’m writing but on the other flip side when I do feel low I feel it incredibly difficult to write at all.

So how does writing effect your mood and do you have to be in a sort of frame of mind to write?

Writing to a Schedule

Recently, in an attempt to take my writing more seriously, I have been trying to stick to something of a writing schedule and, surprisingly for me given I have been known to have the attention span of an dim-witted goldfish, I have stuck to it. I have been spending a couple of hours several evenings during the week and a few hours every weekend shut away in my study. The only problem is I’m not sure if this is actually working.

Finding time to write has always been a problem for me, I have a full-time job and I’m studying towards my AAT, but lack of time is only part of the reason for my previous lack of productivity. When you’re tired and are often kept busy it is all too easy to avoid anything that appears like an unnecessary challenge and, although I love writing, it is a challenge. Having some sort of scheduled time I quickly found helped with this, it was like keeping an appointment, and the vast majority of the time I found I was writing more than ever.

There was only one major problem- what I was writing was utter drivel! The biggest problem is right now I’m not working on a project as such, not in a writing sense anyway, so I was splitting up my writing time between research and what I called ‘writing something new’. The idea being I was keeping my hand in writing something.

I’m still not sure what is causing my inability to write anything of any quality right now. Maybe I’m a little out of practice, or maybe putting creativity on a schedule just does not work for me. Yes, the schedule has been positive in some senses, I actually feel I’m achieving something, but maybe, for me anyway, trying to write something new is not something I can pinpoint down into a set diarised event.

So do you have a writing schedule?

I’m crazy. I’m mad. I’m a Self-published author.

Guest Blog by Rosemary J. Kind

 

If you went into hospital and the person on the reception desk, having checked you in, then put on a porter’s cap and wheeled you to your operation, removed their porter’s cap and put a white coat on, scrubbed up and told you they were your surgeon for the day, you wouldn’t stay long enough to find out who the anaesthetist was. However, when you set out to self-publish a book that is exactly what we authors are doing. We can employ specialists to do the work for us and if we are self-publishing just to see our book in print and not doing it to earn money that is most definitely the best route, but what happens when you want to earn your keep through writing?

Most of the books I have written do not sit neatly in a standard genre. I’m not famous. I don’t have connections in the industry and I haven’t got publishing houses beating my door down, contract in hand. On the upside, I do have more determination to succeed than is strictly sensible and enough people telling me they love what I write to stop me from giving up.

I started with the easy option of e-publishing. I did my own editing and friends proof read for me. I put together an acceptable layout. E-publishing formatting is less demanding than for the printed form. I sent out my press releases for the e-book, but when you start getting enquiries of where people can buy the paper copy you start wanting to deliver what your public wants. That’s when I started getting quotes for printing. I put a business plan together which told me how many books I would need to sell, at which levels of discount, in order to break even. I factored in a significant number of review copies and the postage to send them out. It was only going to work if I did every step myself.

It isn’t a small project and certainly not for the faint hearted. Most Sundays’ find me giving myself a pep-talk about what I need to do in the coming week and much of that work is outside my comfort zone. I don’t want this to be a one-off venture so I looked at the best way to set myself up. I decided that in the long term I wanted to publish work for other authors so I started by setting up a company, Alfie Dog Limited and buying a web address www.alfiedog.com . I then realised if I was going to be a company I needed letterheads, logos, compliment slip and all sorts of records of my activities, so I frittered several happy hours designing my ‘brand’ and behind the scenes systems. I made a loan to the company that was enough to see my initial business plan through and opened a company bank account. Apart from making it easier to take on other authors, the company structure provided me with a better vehicle for tax purposes.

With the company out of the way, I began to prepare for publication. I was fortunate enough to place the winning bid in the ‘Authors for Japan’ auction for a professional book cover design and am delighted with the result. The cover for ‘Lovers take up less space’ is exactly what I wanted and has had a lot of favourable responses. The two most important things for publication are the cover and the ISBN number. You must have an ISBN to be stocked in bookshops and taken seriously by anyone.

Of course, layout of the book, content and print quality are all important factors too. I lost sleep worrying about my margins. I don’t mean if I was making money, I mean the distance from the printed words to the edge of the page and leaving enough on the inner edge for binding. Thanks to an article in Writing Magazine I reconsidered the font size and learnt how to put section headers on the tops of pages. I read up on what went on the copyright page, or ‘title verso’ as I learnt it was called.

I had a last minute panic when I realised the spine wasn’t in the right place on the book cover for the width the book made when printed, but fortunately was able to sort that out with the designer and get the cover reformatted before sending it to the printers.

I had the courage to order 1,000 copies. I can get a reprint with a three week turnaround. Ominously, on Friday 13th January, a week and a half ahead of schedule, ‘Lovers take up less space – an alphabet guide to the Tube’ arrived on a pallet from the printers. I spent ten minutes jumping up and down with excitement, rang my Mum, rang my husband and then came down to earth with a bump. Printing is only the beginning of the process. Now I had to sell them and before that I needed to move a quarter of a tonne of books from outside the front door!

I’ll come back in a few weeks to tell you how the marketing is going. I’m already in a number of bookshops and sales are going well, but I’ll save that for another time. In the meantime, what would I do differently? Not very much so far. I might have a matt cover instead of a glossy one, but otherwise it’s going rather well and my ‘smiling dog’ imprint most definitely has something to smile about.

Biography note

Rosemary J. Kind is the author of ‘Lovers take up less space’ a humorous guide to travelling on the London Underground, it is available through bookshops, Amazon and direct from www.alfiedog.com. She has also written ‘Alfie’s Diary’, ‘Alfie’s Woods’ and ‘Poems for Life’ which are available as e-books. Alfie’s Diary is available on a daily basis at www.alfiedog.me.uk

Keeping It In Sight

The first bit of news is that I am writing this from my study. In my last blog I talked about how I had got into the very bad habit of writing in the lounge whilst in front of the television but, following a spurt of renewed enthusiasm, I have now cleaned up my study and I am having somewhat of a ‘tie leg to chair’ attitude to writing. So, although there has still been the distractions- a printer needing fixed (which turned out to be unfixable), a camera I cannot seem to retrieve my pictures from, not to mention the endless procrastination opportunities offered by the Internet- I am staying in the room and so far it seems to be working, or at least it feels more productive.

The other thing I have done is made my current writing project more prominent visually. This is a tip I have read at some point from some writing guide/magazine over the years which I used to be more proactive at doing and it did help. Having a constant visual reminder of what you are writing about keeps you in focus and that’s something I need.

I find I tend to flit from project to project and get easily distracted, call it a low boredom thresh-hold, which of course I blame on intelligence and creativity but some may argue otherwise. I figure having something visual and constant can only help. And then there is also that hope that in having it there it may also have some self-consious effect in generating ideas and getting my brain going- unfortunately I think it may be too much to ask to be able to write the entire novel subconsiously but I live in hope.

So here it is, my visual prompt:

Basically it’s a cork board filled with lots of reminders of the prime location of the novel- Amsterdam. Obviously as I progress I can add to it or take anything away that has become less relevant. The point is it’s there and serves as a constant reminder that THIS is what is important and what I need to be thinking about.

So how do you keep focus? Do you use anything as a visual prompt?

A Space of Your Own?

Despite being lucky enough to have a room I am able to dedicate to writing, not just any room mind you but a fairly large room, with a big sturdy Ikea desk, I very rarely use it. More often than not I find myself instead cuddled up with my laptop on the sofa in the lounge.

Now this would be fine but I have a whole room dedicated for writing that I am not using and there is of course a recurring problem in sitting in the lounge and that is I inevitably get distracted. And the cause of the distraction television. I am not a tv addict, by any stretch of the imagination, but when I am sat with a blank screen staring at me and it feels awfully quiet I find myself thinking it a wonderful idea to put on some Grey’s Anatomy while I do my writing.

As you can probably guess this is not particularly beneficial to doing anything productive yet this seems to be a very bad habit I have formed but it is also something I have done for years. I don’t even mean just writing. In my teens I was one of those that would do my homework in my room whilst watching tv and the result was what could have taken my a mere thirty minutes ended up taking the majority of the evening.

So, the logical thing would be for me to go upstairs right now and use the study for the purpose intended but I won’t. Because right now I know my study is a mess and has become the general dumping ground for laundry. It’s also cold. There is something so much more appealing about sitting on the sofa in warmth and comfort than sitting at a desk.

Ultimately if  I want to be productive and get anywhere though something has to change. On a positive note though as I write this the tv is on ‘pause’ and who knows when the weather is a little warmer and I done that bit of spring cleaning my study may have renewed appeal.

So where do you write? And do you always write in the place that would be most productive?

The Good of Small Things

Guest Blog by Sundaygirl

Surrounded by the familiar, how many writers forget that creativity is closely linked to chaos?  The small wire piano may be there on the shelf, maybe a photograph of a holiday with friends, or a Moroccan box doubling as a pen and stationery holder…

The Familiar that surrounds us is easy to take for granted.  Easy to dismiss, to not really notice.  It becomes part of who we are…which begs the question – do we only get inspired by things we aren’t expecting?

Raymond Chandler sets aside time for inspiration – he’s been quoted as saying he “waits” for inspiration by setting aside at least 4 hours a day to write.  This time doesn’t have to be used for writing but he doesn’t allow himself to do anything else with the time – he either writes or does “nothing”.

This methodology not only forms the habit of making time for writing but also gives the writer a gift – the space for inspiration to come to the writer.

And while the writer might look around their writing space – their study, the kitchen table, the sofa with their laptop – they might be reminded that the small wire piano was hand-made by a stall owner on the Seine in Paris.  He made it while talking about the jewellery he was selling at the market, moulding the single strand of ‘fencing’ wire with a deft pair of plyers whilst talking in a second language to the girl who said she loved music.

The Moroccan box was also from Paris, on a different trip, a gift from a husband so new that he still smelled of love and sweetness – a boulangerie of pleasantries in his smile.

And the holiday with friends is a young person’s moment – the world breathing in before anyone else is awake, the sounds of exotic forest, the distinctive smell of dew-laden dust before the day becomes blue sky and sunscreen and overwhelming heat.

A poet once said she liked to have things in her office because, when she was struggling with an idea, she would walk around, feeling things – the cushions, the fabric of chairs, the wood or ornaments and the warm patch of sunshine from her window.  A tactile connection with beauty, with her writing environment, a moment of being instead of thinking.

Sometimes, inspiration is all around us, within arms reach, the opportunity for pleasure or newness in the unexpected familiar.  Our taking time to notice it is our link to present-mindedness, to the ‘now’ which is the moment of creation.

SundayGirl has had poetry and features published in the UK and Australia.  Currently living in Scotland, she is currently working on several plays, hoping a change of scenery might revive the audience.

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