laughing on the outside: rainy day writing, manuscript soundtracks & more

Lifestyle, Writing

When I was doing my A Levels, my best friend Amy would send our group of friends an email every single Friday wishing us a good week and linking us to The Cure’s Friday, I’m in love. That was my soundtrack this morning, when I was cleaning my house; I danced around with my mop and vacuum and thought of how simple life was back then… As it stands at the moment, I have edits to do on one of my novels, plotting and writing to do on the other, a part-time job, and a Masters degree to contend with. Oh, younger Beth, you really did have it easy, kid.

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After blitzing my house (a regular past-time whenever I get a day off work), I escaped to my nearest coffee shop – which is now, amazingly, about three minutes walk from home. God bless Costa for opening a store on every street corner. My laptop is fully charged, which is a miracle in itself, and I’m armed with notebooks and iced tea – all the necessities for a good writing day. My background music for today is the soundtrack of The End of the F**king World, which, by the way, was a pleasure to watch. I’ve already stolen several songs from the soundtrack to add to my own manuscript playlist…

Speaking of, manuscript playlists are something that I find hugely helpful when writing. My current work of progress has very dark vibes and a confusing and fragmented narrative, and I find it so much easier to get into the head of my protagonist when I’m listening to music with the same kind of twisted undertones. I’m forever trawling through Spotify and YouTube for more songs to add to my playlists: I always feel better when they’re 2+ hours long, so that I’m not distracted by hearing the same songs over and over and can focus on my writing.

Yesterday was deadline day (hooray), which means the first five chapters of my latest novel have now been submitted to my manuscript editor for review. I don’t have to think about edits for that one until the end of February now, so in the meantime… I’m writing. Beginning a novel is always my favourite part of the process: probably because I’m not really a planner so when I’m writing, I tend to have little to no idea of where my characters will be taking me. A little uncertainty is always fun.

Anyway, I’m 14,000 words in at the minute and really enjoying the motifs that keep cropping up and the characters that kind of seem trustworthy to start with and are slowly becoming less so as the plot thickens. I’m hoping to reach around 70,000 for this particular manuscript, as it’s for a YA audience. My first draft of my first novel ended at around 55,000, but now I’m discovering that I have far more words to play around with and probably should have written way more to begin with – while I was in the flow of that particular story.

I’m thankful I headed to Costa when I did, because it’s just started pouring down outside and I didn’t bring a coat. It was sunny earlier! Unpredictable British weather. You’d think I’d have adapted by now to living in the South of England by carrying an umbrella or bringing a spare jacket or something, but that rarely happens… I think when you’ve come from the North, there’s a certain element of pride when it comes to cold weather. Duh, I’m from the North. I can hack it. Brolly?? ‘Course I don’t need a brolly.

I should probably get back to working on the manuscript. I hope everyone has a great day! It definitely feels like a day to be creative, if you’re that way inclined. Enjoy.

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Avoiding the void: staying social as a writer

Writing

I think it’s safe to say that most writers would consider themselves quite solitary people. Let’s face it – writing is a solitary activity, there’s no getting around it. But nobody ever made a bestselling novel by holing themselves up in their room for three years. As writers, we need the support and inspiration from people around us to feed our writing – and there are so many different ways we can keep in touch with the outside world while still focusing on our works in progress.

One wonderful way to stay in the loop without even leaving the comfort of your home is social media. That’s right: get tweeting people. I find that Twitter is one of the more useful platforms for writers. Set yourself up with a profile if you haven’t already, and really delve into the different writing hashtags that crop up every so often. For children’s authors in particular, Twitter is invaluable for showing new and upcoming writers what agents and publishers are looking for. There are different conversations happening all the time, and sometimes there are scheduled chats that you can get involved in. There’s always room for new ideas – and sending your opinion via a tweet is so much less nerve-wracking than if you piped up in person. Get involved!

Beth’s Tips: Children’s and YA authors should try looking out for #ukyachat #MSWL and #manuscriptwishlist!

Another great way for us writers to stay in touch with the dreaded ‘outside world’ are writing groups. This can be a terrifying concept for some people, but the only way to find out if you like a writing group and the dynamic the writers share is to go and find out. Try out a few different writing groups and see how you feel, see if there’s anyone you click with, anyone who’s writing similar stuff to you, anyone who couldn’t be more different but seems like a laugh… Writing groups are really wonderful places where you can seek manuscript feedback before sending your work out to agents. If an agent is given a manuscript with spelling or syntax errors in the first few pages, they won’t be looking much further into the piece. This is why it’s so important to be involved with the writing community to get support editing and beta-reading your work before it’s sent off!

Beth’s Tips: Rather than relying on Google, UK writers should check out Writing Magazine for tips on what writing groups are available in their local area.

Writer’s festivals are also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people and off-load all of your writing problems. When I visited my first Writer’s Festival, I was blown away by the amount of people who swarmed together to complain about all things writer-ly: the amount of celebrities taking over the children’s book market, the uselessness of Scrivener, having to waste their lives at boring jobs to support their writing… Writer’s know how to complain, and it warms your heart to be able to share in it together. Festivals are also great places to attend inspiring and motivational lectures and seminars, and to share your time and experiences with writer’s who are in a similar position to you. So much knowledge and advice is exchanged at festivals – there really is nothing like it!

Beth’s Tips: My favourite UK writing festival is the Winchester Writer’s Festival – I had a wonderful, inspirational time when I attended last year. Scholarships are available worth £400 if you’re between 18-25 and passionate about writing. Find out more on their website here.

Finally, the support network that is already in place – your friends and family – can be a great way for you to avoid slipping into the dreaded void of loneliness. Schedule breaks in your writing to give your mum a ring, or meet up with a friend. Something I regularly do is make plans to have a coffee with a friend at about 2 in the afternoon. This means I have the whole morning to write, I can then walk twenty minutes to town, have an hour or so chilling with my friend, walk twenty minutes back and get right back at it. Be sure to always give yourself breaks when writing – the moment it starts to feel like a chore, the harder it’ll be to get those words down.

Beth’s Tips: When you have a designated ‘writing day’, draw yourself a cheeky timetable the night before so you know which chapters you’re supposed to be focusing on every hour – this way you can also schedule in some time with friends or family to break up the day.

I hope you found this article helpful! If you’d like to add any other ways to stay social as a writer, please do leave a comment below. Happy writing!

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Keep your eyes open: inspiration is everywhere

Writing

It was only this afternoon, when I spotted an abandoned antique shop on the way to Callen‘s house, that I realised how much of my writing is influenced by normal, mundane, everyday things.

A bit of context for you – I was heading to my friend’s house because he has the new Taylor Swift album and, uh… I need to listen to it. On repeat. So, I was POWER-WALKING through Bath, desperate to go and listen to some banging tunes, and then I saw this antique shop. It’s kind of run-down. Decrepit, really. It’s so dirty that the windows look grey, and there are old rusting bars across the door, and Scott’s Antiques is written along the top in a creepy, willow-y font. I had to stop. Look. Take it in.

I’ve already decided that this particular antique shop will be picked up from picturesque Bath and plonked wherever I decide it needs to be in my novel. I have so many ideas already – haunted objects, illegal squatters… All of this came from that one shop, a shop that I’ve walked past a thousand times and never noticed. Maybe if I had been even more desperate to listen to Taylor, or if I’d crossed the road at a different point, I never would have seen it at all.

“You cannot wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Every Creative Writing lecturer or guest speaker will always tell you the same thing – carry a notebook everywhere. I used to just kind of ignore that little bit of advice. Uh, I have things to do? I can’t just whack out my notebook in the queue at Starbucks because I see some woman has cool hair that I want to use for a character. But, flash-forward a few years, and I rarely go anywhere without a notebook / laptop / some form of writing instrument.

It’s not just settings either – cool antique shops or whatever catches your eye – it’s everything. People can inspire characters, certain places invoke certain feelings, and any kind of sensory experience is absolute gold-dust when you’re writing in first person. As a writer, I believe your brain is already hard-wired to look out for this kind of stuff. You’ll store anything you see automatically, but you might not actually use it unless you’re paying attention. When you see something that inspires you, make a note of it so you can integrate it into your creative work later.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if another writer tells you that it’s important to always have a notebook… don’t ignore them. You’re wasting time. Get a cheap (or expensive, whatever floats your boat) notepad and just keep it with you. Because, honestly, ideas can flit so quickly out of your head. You know when you have a cool dream and then you can’t remember it in the morning? Same kind of deal. Just make sure you have something to WRITE with when inspiration strikes.

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Naomi Louise Jenkins

Aspiring Writers Series, Writing

Aspiring author Naomi Louise Jenkins (teatimewithnaomi) talks mental health, writing essentials, and how she’s finding the process of writing her first full manuscript.

Tell us a bit about your current work in progress.

It’s about a young woman in her mid-twenties, rebuilding her life after a failed suicide attempt. The novel is set in Wales, where my protagonist tries to reintegrate herself into family life and resolve conflicts that have been years in the making. Through a series of flashbacks, the reader learns about what pushed her over the edge, and why she so desperately ran away from who she used to be, and where she came from. I’m really enjoying the process of getting to know these characters; it’s a novel about relationships, mental health, and more than anything – new beginnings. There’s always time to start again – to chase the life you really want to lead.

You focus a lot on mental health issues in your current novel. Why do you think it’s important for readers to engage with literature that tackles tough subjects?

You know, I think mental health is so stigmatised. It’s getting better, but it’s still not something that people openly talk about, so I think literature is our way of having a silent conversation with ourselves. When you think of reading books, you think of going on these wild adventures, but sometimes a character’s adventure is more introspective and emotional. And sometimes – that’s the adventure we need to read.

So many people suffer from mental health issues these days – my main hope is that people will come away from the novel with a sense of understanding, and maybe even a sense of belonging. One of the worst things about mental health is how lonely it makes you feel, but that can change. I want readers to know that it will get better. It will. And maybe the novel will be able to help the friends and families of sufferers – these people are the support systems, and sometimes it can be hard for them to truly understand how their loved ones feel.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I love writing in cafes. I love watching people interact, listening to conversations – I especially love sitting near a window with natural light, and just really connecting with the world around me. Although my eyes tend to be glued to my laptop, I am, essentially, writing about life, so I like to be somewhere where life is bustling on around me.

Do you have any writing essentials?

Without a doubt, I have to have a cup of tea. Always. I have to have a notebook with me, even if I’m writing with my laptop. It’s kind of my anchor, in a way. If I get stuck on what I’m writing, I’ll turn to my notebook. I’ve always found it easier to write when I’m putting pen to paper – the traditional way.

I used to listen to lyrical music, but now I prefer classical or ambient mixer. I like to find ambient sounds that match the scene I’m writing – it’s a great way to connect to your fictional surroundings and really immerse yourself in what you’re writing.

Who is your favourite author at the minute?

Louise O’ Neill. Her honesty is just beautiful. Her courage to write about important, and sometimes difficult, topics is hugely admirable. She’s the author I take most inspiration from, and I aim to have the same kind of honest, raw emotion in my own work.

How do you find the process of switching between writing your blog, and writing your manuscript, a much longer piece of work?

At times it can be difficult, especially times when I’m deep in my manuscript and know I need to write a blog post. There have definitely been times when I’ve neglected to write a blog post because I’m just too committed to the novel and the path it’s taking. However, the break is nice, and sometimes it’s good to write something shorter and grounded in my world, and then flit back to writing about these fictional characters. Often, my blog posts will inspire certain elements of the manuscript as well, or prompt me to think more deeply about an element of my plot. So they kind of go hand in hand!

Finally, do you have any advice for young aspiring writers?

Always have a notebook with you. Always. Don’t compare yourself to other writers because the work you’re reading has been edited a million times, and you’re only just beginning. Write the story you would love to stumble upon in a bookshop because, chances are, there’s someone else who wants to read that book, too.

 

You can keep up to date with Naomi’s writing journey on her blog.

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♡ Productive days (and why they’re fun) ♡

Lifestyle, Writing

First off, let me just say that I am probably the least productive person on the planet. So, when I actually have productive days, it’s something of a surprise. A miracle, some might say.

This morning, I started my day by blasting Taylor Swift’s new tune and cleaning my kitchen. Laugh if you will, but dancing around gets me moving and wakes me up – and the only way I can suffer through cleaning is by making it (semi) fun. Call it what you want (get it?), but I’m calling it productive.

I cleaned, I got dressed, I made breakfast – all huge achievements. While I was relaxing with my green tea, my good friend Callen was on his way over to my house, and we spent the day manuscript editing (because my deadline is Friday, in case you’d forgotten. I most certainly have not). My novel is split into Part One and Part Two, and today we smashed the edits on Part Two. I have lots of revisions to type up, and a final chapter that needs reworking completely – but I’m going to tackle all of that tonight.

It was really helpful to talk through all of Callen’s notes, and to decide which characters I can afford to lose, and which one’s need to be developed further. We have our Master’s course on Wednesday’s, and I’m heading to London on Friday… So, I only have three solid days in total to finish the rest of the revisions. Which is fine. Totally fiiiine. *Inserts Ross Geller’s overreaction GIF*

We’ve drawn up a timetable for the chapters that need the most work, so I’m feeling confident about what needs to be looked at. I have five chapters to do tomorrow, eight to smash on Tuesday, and, uh, the rest of the novel on Thursday. (I’m fiiiiine.)

Overall, I think today was super productive, and I’m thankful I have such a wonderful writing buddy to rock up at my door with co-op meal deals and endless words of support and encouragement (and sometimes firm, “Nope, cut it” ‘s that are equally important and appreciated).

Anyway – I’m procrastinating now. Lots to write / edit / cut out completely. Enjoy Bonfire Night everyone! Be safe!

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Editing your manuscript: how to start and what to look out for

Writing

So you finished your manuscript! Congratulations! Now comes the hard part… editing that bad boy to high heavens. *Taylor Swift voice* Are you ready for it?

The first thing to do when you’ve finished your manuscript – when you’re sitting in front of that final page wondering how the hell you managed to do it – is make yourself a brew and revel in your achievement. You’d probably benefit from leaving your manuscript for a week or two and just enjoying that life you weren’t able to have whilst writing it… But, if you’re like me and you just want to leave it a few hours and get cracking – here’s what you want to do.

Identify the elements you need to look for. Good ones to start with are the broader elements: plot, characterisation, setting and voice.

  • Plot – When you’re rinsing through your manuscript looking at the plot, you’re focusing on plot holes and inconsistencies. Sometimes it helps me to write a timeline as I’m reading through, so I can see exactly what I wanted to happen to the characters, and what actually ended up happening.
  • Characterisation – Time to whack out those character profiles – you know, the ones you drew up six months ago…? Get them out, pin them up, and make sure that you’ve been consistent with each character throughout the novel. This is not just about your protagonist! Every little walk-on or secondary character needs their own individual plot-line and motivations. (Top tip: look at your protagonist in the first and last chapters — have they developed enough? Or not at all?)
  • Setting – Setting is something that you don’t need to get too caught up on, but you still need to give a significant amount of thought to. Have a rinse through the novel and see how frequently the setting changes, and when it does – have you been consistent in your descriptions? If you’ve described an empty church at night-time, make sure it isn’t sunrise five minutes later – that kind of thing.
  • Voice – This is a big one. There are some incredible novels that use the voice of their protagonists to show character development (see: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff). Does the voice of your protagonist employ this technique? Do they start off with an accent that slips a few chapters in? Is there a certain phrase you wanted them to use throughout the story? …You get the gist.

When you’ve had a look through and narrowed down the broader aspects of the plot (and bear in mind, this might take anywhere from a week to several months…), you can move on to looking at the smaller elements. I say ‘smaller’, but these things are equally important. Grammar, syntax, layout… Allll the boring stuff that is actually ridiculously vital if you want a publisher to even pick up the manuscript.

There are standard formats and layouts that most publishers or literary agents will be comfortable with (clear fonts like Arial or Times New Roman, double spacing…) – but it is 100% worth checking the website of who you are likely to submit your work to. Its almost a guarantee that the few agents you pick out will be asking for the same kind of thing, but it’s always worth checking. Always.

If grammar isn’t really your thing, this is where you want to get your beta readers involved. These are a few people that you trust – and nah, this doesn’t mean your mum. Often, you can just drop a tweet into the inter-webs and see if anyone is up for reading your work. If you’re writing YA, for example, you’re going to want someone who likes to read YA and might be a potential reader in the future – these are the kind of readers who know what they’re looking for in a character or plot. You want to choose a few people (I’d suggest 3-5) who have an impartial opinion (aka not your mum or granny) and might actually know what they’re on about.

I, personally, wouldn’t bother paying a professional editor if you have people in your life that are decent with grammar and punctuation that could help you out. Don’t waste your cash. If you can get your formatting and syntax sorted for agent submission and manage to bag an agent on the quality of your plot and characters, an editor is something that they will sort out for you further down the line.

I hope all of this makes a decent amount of sense… good luck, guys! Happy editing – and if you have any questions about editing, manuscripts, or the whole process of finding beta readers for your novel, drop them below.

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Writers for children should cling onto their imagination for as long as they can

Writing

An important question: can adults still act like kids and get away with it?

(An important answer: yes.)

I’m lucky enough that two of my closest friends are following the same career path as me. We are all aspiring children’s authors, which is wonderful and wild and an awful lot of fun, but sometimes it’s easy to slip, from writing kids stories, back into adult mode. Particularly when you have to flit from thinking of a great name for a magical kingdom, to wondering what date you’re supposed to pay council tax…

This weekend, my two budding kids lit writers and I had a sleepover. It was wild. I think – particularly if you’re writing for a teen (11-14) audience – having grown-up sleepovers is hugely important. It’s wonderful to forget how old you are for a second and immerse yourself into the nostalgia of your teenage years.

Of course, there are little details that remind you that you’re still kind of in the adult world. For example, rather than getting our mum’s to drop us off at Callen’s house, Sophie and I drove to Sainsbury’s to pick up all of the necessities (junk food, face masks, etc) and then dropped ourselves off at his house. Weird. But, still.

When we arrived, it was an immediate let’s all get into our PJ’s and listen to Taylor Swift on repeat moment, which is obviously the moment we’re all waiting for at a sleepover. We watched Beauty and the Beast (the new one, obvs! Emma Watson is stunning) and then took a ridiculous amount of photos – most of which ended up looking like awkward family portraits.

The point of this is: after we all went back to our respective houses on Sunday, I sat down to immediately write. There’s something about acting like a bit of a kid that will really open up your imagination, and suddenly it’s as if you are literally fifteen years old and you can delve right into the head of your character.

Getting into the heads of your intended target audience is a very common (and practically compulsory) technique when writing children’s literature. If you are writing for 8-12’s (middle grade, for American readers), then why aren’t you outside making magical ‘potions’ in the garden – or curled up in a makeshift sheet-den watching Spongebob Squarepants?

Maybe it’s easier for those writing for young adults (14+) because that’s the age we were most recently… but even so, get out there and do whatever your character does on their average evening. Go roller skating (if you’re skilled enough), or shopping with your friends, or go drink smuggled alcohol in a bush or smoke behind the bike sheds (no judging – if that’s the kind of character you have, roll with it).

Allow yourself to be a kid, for as long as you need to be. Think like your character, become your character – and then you can write in their voice so much easier.

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Read Callen’s blog here.