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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Let’s stop trying to get our lives together

Lifestyle, Mental Health

You know what I realised the other day? Now that I’m in my twenties, the most common conversation I seem to have with my friends is how do we get our lives together?

You know when I had this revelation? Five a.m. I was trying to make a cup of tea for my friend and I, having been awake essay-planning for many, many hours, and I dropped a bag of sugar on his floor. He doesn’t have a hoover. There was bleary-eyed laughter and fumbling over the dustpan and brush and the inevitable conversation: when do we become real adults?

Will there be a time when we magically transition into adulthood? A time when we own sugar-jars and hoovers and have more than two forks washed up and ready to use in the kitchen? At what point will I know the words to God Save The Queen rather than literally every Taylor Swift song? When can I expect this magical transition to happen?

Every part of my life as a twenty-one-year-old is focused on trying to set myself up for the future. Get that degree, that Master’s under your belt, get a job, work experience, build up your writing portfolio, remember when the bins go out,  learn how to cook chicken properly… But I wonder when I’ll actually stop trying to get my Survival Pack for Real Life together and be able to enjoy everything that’s happening now.

When I was doing my BA, I was working towards getting onto my MA. Now, I’m on it and coming to the end of my first term and… where’s my sense of achievement, universe? Why is there always something else to work towards?

“I always wanted to be somebody. Now, I realise I should have been more specific.”

There’s nothing I hope to achieve from writing this post, as I realise this is probably something that most of us in our twenties feel (and, hey, maybe the Real Adults feel this way, too?). I just… I don’t know why we aren’t laughing at ourselves more! Why does it have to be such a worrying thing that we have no goals or direction in life? Can’t it just be hilarious? Safety in numbers, guys. And at this point, we can really only laugh… or cry.

Some of us still don’t know how to cook chicken without inadvertently poisoning ourselves. We’ve tried putting fairy liquid in the washing machine when we’ve run out of laundry detergent and ended up with a sea of bubbles coating the carpet. We’ve rocked up to lectures unprepared, sleep-deprived, still drunk from the night before. (These are all totally hypothetical, by the way. Totally.)

What I’m suggesting here is a group pact to not take ourselves so seriously. To not let the looming threat of Real Life force us into forgetting how much fun we’re having right now. We have to assume that at some point we will morph into Real Adults and we’ll know exactly where we’re going in life, so… we should probably enjoy this clueless-ness while we still have it.

So, next time I drop a bag of sugar at five a.m. and ruin my friend’s kitchen floor, I’m going to revel in that moment. Look how hopeless you are, Beth, I will say to myself. Look at how hilariously hopeless you are.

I will laugh, because that’s all there is to do. Life doesn’t have to be a super-serious, inescapable web of council tax and University fees. I reckon, no matter how daunting the future seems, if we try hard enough… we can probably laugh it off.

We’re millennials, for Christ’s sake. Everyone else is laughing at us, anyway.

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: Niall Cunniffe

Aspiring Writers Series

Aspiring novelist Niall Cunniffe talks vampires, teenage fiction, and finding your own place in the writing community.

Could you give readers a brief introduction to what you’ve written, and what you’re currently writing?

To date, I have written one and a half books, including several short stories. I wrote my first book one summer while at University, having failed to find a job and wondering what to do with all my time. I’d been studying English Literature, so I thought, why not write a book?

I didn’t have much of a plan, apart from write a modern Gothic story for today’s readers. The book is called Elm, a character I was then obsessed with. I got up every day, started writing at 10am, and didn’t stop until I wrote 2,000 words.  Only about half way through the book did I actually know where the story was going. I think I finished it in about a month, and have been editing it since – that’s when the real work begins!

I am also currently writing a vampire book, and hopefully series, for teenagers as part of NanoWrimo. I’ve just hit the half-way point so wish me luck!

Do you have a place you always go to write, or somewhere you feel most inspired?

I wish I had my own ‘writing place,’ but my current lifestyle doesn’t allow for such luxuries. It’s difficult to find somewhere quiet in London. I tend to write best at home, in Ireland, as there are few distractions and I can let my mind wander. Thinking is very important, and undisturbed time. Libraries close too early, so that’s out. I get very distracted writing in cafes, as I am drawn into conversations and sometimes find them more intriguing than my writing! It’s terrible, I know, but I think all writers are curious like that.

Who is your favourite author at the moment?

Oh gosh – I admire so many for different reasons. I don’t think I have a favourite author. I mean I admire J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Dan Brown, but all for very different reasons, like how they have contributed to the publishing industry and beyond, not necessarily because of their writing. In terms of writing, if Madeline Miller has a follow-up to The Song of Achilles, let me know.

Do you think having a writing community is a good idea for aspiring writers?

Absolutely. It is important to stay motivated, and having others around you for encouragement definitely helps. Writing is a lonely pursuit, plagued with self-doubt. Ensure you surround yourself with encouraging people, unless of course you are one of those lucky few who have the utmost belief in themselves.

What is your favourite age range and genre to write for?

I would say teenagers and young adults. I read a lot of books as a teenager, so I feel I know how to write for that age group. Books helped me a lot as a teenager, so I feel I should help others struggling in that age group too. My favourite genre would be horror. There’s so much you can do with it, and so many sub-genres to explore.

If you have one piece of advice to offer to young aspiring authors, what would it be?

Believe in yourself. There won’t be a word on the page if you don’t believe in yourself.

 

You can keep up to date with Niall’s writing on his twitter or on his blog. Big thanks Niall for taking part in the Aspiring Writers Series!

If you are an unpublished writer with your own writing journey to share on Quills and Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. 

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Interviews with Aspiring Writers: E.F. McAdam

Aspiring Writers Series

From her hometown of Manchester, aspiring author E.F. McAdam talks noisy writing places, the importance of Young Adult fiction, and why you should grab yourself some writer friends, ASAP.

Firstly, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your current writing projects?

I’m Eleanor McAdam and I’m a Bath Spa Creative Writing graduate. At the moment I’m working on a seven book series of which I’ve completed two and started the third (that’s not including editing). The series is about a post-apocalyptic world in which Gods can be seen in human form: sitting on clouds, trampling cities and the like (I’m sure you can see now why it’s post-apocalyptic). The series follows Hara, Demigod of Sin, who is struggling to find his place in the world and protect the people he loves, namely Liliana, a girl who he gifted at birth. In a world with monsters, magic and some seriously messed up cults, the series follows Hara and his companions in the hope to regain a semblance of balance between the Creator Gods, Life and Death.


Are there certain must-haves for you to create your writing environment? 

For me (and I know I’m weird on this one), I need noise. I write best with other people, with music, in a bustling environment. Ideas come best to me walking on or the bus, so I’m sure to carry a notepad wherever I go. But when I need to get some serious words on paper, I usually sit in a coffee shop. The downside to this? It’s expensive! At home, I struggle to write, especially if it’s quiet. I can write while watching TV or a film, but mostly prefer it when my boyfriend is playing a game (and it helps when the genre is the same to inspire me!). But other than the actual environment, all I need are my notepads, coloured pens and my laptop. Then I’m good to go!


What are your favourite age ranges and genres to write for, and why do you think it’s important?

I am a fantasy and science fiction writer mainly, and usually stick to either adult or YA (most people tell me I’m best at YA). Everyone knows why YA is important: it’s the safety of a children’s book with all the real life issues and tragedy of an adult’s novel. My own novels (if they are indeed YA as I’m starting to believe) are horrifically awful, but that’s the point – it lets teenagers read it from the safety of their own lives.

I believe fantasy and science fiction are undervalued as a genre. They not only allow imagination to grow and an escape from our own horribly boring world, but they are often metaphors for real life. I can never completely make up a new world, whether fantasy or alien, so I use our own world as a base. I take the weird and wonderful and often atrocious events and places from our own world and explore. It’s the perfect way to highlight the terrible things we do: such as colonising a new planet and killing all the aliens, just as colonists have done hundreds of times in our lifetime.


Where’s your favourite writing place?

It’s changed over the years: first, the end seat on the sofa at my childhood home. For some reason, I’ve always loved that spot. I’d spend days on end there, barely moving (apart from snacks) and it has produced a lot of stories.

When I went to university, I was amazed to find my bedroom in second and third year was perfect. I didn’t use my desk, just sat in the chair and had my legs up on the bed. From that position, I could see through my window and watch the traffic of Bath bustling by.

Now, it’s a cute little café Nero by the river in Manchester. I love the barristas and I love my little booth at the back (anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that!). I’ve written both the books in my novel there, and I intend to keep that spot for as long as I can.


Do you think it’s important for writers to have a writing group to workshop with?

Before university, I wouldn’t have agreed. I hated showing anyone my work, but after that got beaten out of me at Bath Spa, I loved it. I value every single one of my friends’ opinions and I know they are honest and truthful. The key is to not only find someone with whom you’re comfortable enough to share honestly, but someone who writes just as well as you do. Non-writers are great readers to give a clue of the audience’s reaction, but real editors your own age are the best. I’m so lucky to have met so many at Bath Spa!


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

It’s cliché, but just keep writing. It was one of the hardest things to get my head around, but you need to just write. Don’t get too crazy on the right word in the right sentence; just write something and move on. My first drafts are awful, but my second is better. I’m a total ‘write first edit later’ writer. If somethings on the paper, not only will you feel better about yourself, but you’ll be able to finish things much quicker.

And lastly, believe in yourself. Anyone can be a writer and anyone can get published. You just have to want it.

 

Big thanks to Eleanor for a fun and inspiring interview! If you’re an unpublished or aspiring writer and would like to be featured on Quills & Coffee, drop me an email at quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com. Or if you’ve been motivated by this interview – leave a comment below!

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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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Set short term goals and create your own timetable for life

Lifestyle, Mental Health

Tonight, my wonderful friend and I were talking, and she was telling me about how she feels a failure when she has to ask for help with things, or when she isn’t at the same point in life as everyone else, because she’s in her mid-twenties now. Life can be so difficult when we convince ourselves we should be doing something or should have achieved something by a certain age – and there are so many pressures around us that we have to fight to create our own timetable in life.

Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

Creating your own timetable doesn’t mean deciding you’re going to be married by twenty or have your first novel published by twenty-five. Creating your own timetable means recognising your strengths and weaknesses, and being able to set realistic goals to achieve without restricting yourself with time limits.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be.

Everybody marks success in their own different ways – and it’s vital to remember that when you’re setting your own goals for the future. I don’t want to be a chef, or an athlete – so I don’t need to train hard in the gym or spend my days preparing for my Masterchef debut. Someone else’s success of running a marathon might be my equivalent of eating a cheeseburger – our different achievements are equally valid, but rarely perceived that way by others.

It’s also important to remember that your life isn’t just a big timeline of everything you’ve done. It’s everything you’ve learnt and achieved along the way – the little things that help you build the person you want to be. Think about what you’d like to achieve in the long-term, and rather than setting a date you want to achieve it by, think about the steps you can take every day to get there.

For example, I want to write another novel. I’m not setting myself a date that I want to complete said novel by – because if I don’t meet my self-imposed deadline then all I’ll feel is guilt and failure. What I can do is set myself a little goal of writing 1,000 words a day. That way, I know that I’ll have a draft of my novel in less than six months, and then I have lots of time to edit and polish that draft before sending it to publishers.

Sometimes, even small goals (like 1,000 words a day) can be risky – any kind of goal can be risky, when you think about it, because it opens you up to the prospect of failure. It can be a vicious cycle, but I always remind myself; if I don’t set goals, I won’t feel like a failure… but I won’t feel like I’ve achieved anything, either. The only way to achieve success is to set yourself reasonable goals to achieve. You’re working towards something. Learning. Growing.

If little goals seem insurmountable (and they often do, depending on how we’re feeling), then set yourself a goal that has a little more flexibility. Another example – if I’m having a busy month with lots of writing deadlines and other commitments, I set myself a writing goal of 5,000 words a week. That way, I can get away with writing nothing on a couple of days, and 1,000 or 2,000 words on others. I can trick myself into meeting my target by making things just a little bit easier for myself in the short term.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen.

Moving on to things that aren’t wholly creative – those ‘real world’ jobs, for instance – we also need to factor those into our life timetables. Sometimes, we need to recognise when our mental or physical health is taking a turn, or when we just aren’t happy in the place we’ve ended up. Taking time off from your job, or taking a break in your career, can help you to truly understand yourself and your needs.

When you take a break – from work, your studies, whatever is causing you stress or unhappiness – you have time to listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to your body. Just by quieting the other things around you, you can learn when you need to sleep, eat, create – and let your body and your mind fall into a routine again.

Below are some little short term goals that I’ve set myself (with no time restrictions or limits to achieve them):

  • Write 500-1,000 words a day (more, if you feel like it!)
  • Read something new every week (a novel, a children’s book… even a blog post!)
  • Try cooking a new recipe once a month
  • Make your bed every morning
  • Clean the house (properly) at least once a week
  • Say yes to new opportunities (if they feel right)

I tell myself this all the time, so I want to tell you guys, too: there will always be people who seem ‘ahead’ of you in life. There will be people who are married with kids before you are, people who put a mortgage down on a house before you do, who get a dog before you do, who finish a novel before you do… and there will be people who complete these things way after you – or not at all. You are individual, unique, and worth no less than anyone who seems to have achieved more.

Your timetable for life will be just as unique as you are. It’s all about moving forwards.

What little goals have you set yourself recently? Let me know in the comments below.

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