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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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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How do we balance our creativity?

Lifestyle

There are too many things I want to write / paint / create – and I have to squeeze a real life in my schedule, too. I imagine this is a problem that lots of Creatives have. There are so many things we want to dabble in – so many projects that we start but never finish because we get distracted by something equally wonderful – so how do we combat it?!

Balancing my creativity is something that is a huge issue for me. As well as writing children’s fiction, I’m also a singer and songwriter, with a bit of a thing for art as well. Tonight, for example, I know that I have to edit the final chapter of my novel. It needs work, I have a deadline on Friday, and I actually want to get it done. But then – BAM – out of nowhere, I get an idea for a song that is just screaming to be written. So… I’ll just sit down and write it, right? Surely that’s the only way to get it down and out of the way?

How am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy?

Sounds easy enough to just take five minutes out of my editing schedule… But then, that five minutes magically morphs into two hours, and I’ve written two and a half semi-decent songs that I know I will do nothing with… and done none of the edits on the final chapter. As if this wasn’t enough, I can now feel a short story idea blooming and have a sudden craving for hummus.

Alright, so the hummus thing isn’t that creative. But how am I supposed to manage all of this creative energy? How do I balance trying to be creative in so many aspects of my life – and also do “normal” things like go to work and pay the rent? IS THERE A SIMPLE ANSWER?

I spoke to my mum recently about getting a job that will be flexible enough to fit around my studies. She suggested doing some bar work.

“It’ll just be evenings and weekends,” she said. “You can fit it around university and still have time to write!”

My response?

“… But evenings are when I write.”

My mum sighed. “Well, can’t you just write in the mornings instead?”

I wish it was that simple to change my creative pattern, Mum. But things never seem to work out that way. Sometimes, I sit down at my desk at 9am and bash out a few thousand words before proceeding to tell myself I am basically Stephen King now and I can retire in a mansion brimming with pride. Most of the time, though, I go an entire day feeling terrible because I haven’t written anything, go to bed that night… and then wake up suddenly at 3am with a wonderful idea that insists I sit and write until 7.

Sure, it’d be great to get those wonderful ideas at a more convenient time. Would I like an undisturbed sleep pattern? Yup. A nice job doing bar work in the evenings to get some extra cash? Sure. But can I sacrifice my creativity just so things are a little easier for the time being? … Probably not.

Alongside this, I have the classic problem of never being able to finish anything. Sure, I finished that one novel, but the edits are taking forever and I can’t keep my mind focused on it enough to get everything sorted. I have another novel I’m writing on my MA that I’m super excited about and want to give all of my attention to, a picture book that needs a fair bit of work, songs to be written, paintings to be painted… There must be a way to stick to a project without getting distracted. Right?

Basically, I’m writing this post to let you all know that I’m screwed. We all probably are. I can’t seem to find a way to a) have a normal life without sacrificing my creativity and b) stick to one project and finish the damn thing. 

I found an article called A Much Better Way to Think About the Work-Life Balance, which includes some good advice like finding out when you’re most creative and integrating that into your schedule, being open to change, finding time to do the things that you love… I just have such a passion for writing and being creative that I feel like sitting in a part-time job, just to make rent, would just be soul-destroying. So dramatic, right? I keep taking short-term, temporary jobs in creative fields (reviewing shows, working at festivals) to keep myself afloat, but in the long-term, I might need a more realistic plan. But being realistic is not really my strong point (and it’s boring).

Have you found a way to balance your projects and your personal life? Or are you in the same sinking ship?

Who knew being creative could be such a nightmare?

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Quick Fire Questions: Sophie Victoria Rowe and Callen James Martin

Aspiring Writers Series

Sitting in their favourite writing spot, budding authors Callen James Martin (Type Write Read) and Sophie Victoria Rowe (write me wild) answer a series of writerly questions over several rounds of tea and poached eggs. (The tea was for Sophie… the eggs were for a slightly hungover Callen, who channelled his inner Gaston).

What is your favourite genre to write?

S: Contemporary, because I feel I can connect more with the characters. They’re more vivid in my imagination.

C: I’m not really fussy. I like an element of Gothic in my stories; the aspects of mystery and the need to solve something really resonate with me.

 

If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?

C: I’d want the bookish smarts and moral sense of right and wrong of Hermione Granger, with the fierce loyalty of Katniss Everdeen.

S: Sophie from the BFG. She was my childhood goal, and I saw her ambitions as my ambitions.

C: Could I also have Matilda’s independence and her… what do you call it?

S: Gumption?

C: I’d have her gumption. Her go-get-it attitude; here is an issue – and I’m going to solve it.

 

What is your favourite age range to write for?

S: Definitely Teen. I feel like I know a lot about being a teenager, and I know a lot of teenagers who are able to help me make my characters as realistic as possible. When I was a Teen reader, I’d look for books that had protagonists that I could see parts of myself in – whether that be physically or emotionally.

C: It used to always be YA… recently, though, I’m discovering a passion for Teen and Middle Grade. I’m really liking Teen at the moment. I like realistic characters making their way into unrealistic worlds.

 

Do you find it easier to write protagonists that are the same gender as you are / that you have lots in common with?

C: Absolutely not. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to write a male character, and in a way… I’m finding that harder. I keep wondering whether I’m writing this male character from my own experiences, rather than something that will be relatable to a wider audience of young boys.

S: In some ways, I find it easier. I can imagine it, and I know what it’s like to be a girl. Particularly when covering female topics or issues. When it comes to teenage boys, I find myself struggling to create a realistic character. I’m more likely to slip into stereotypes to write my way through.

C: See, I only had girl friends growing up, which is why it’s probably easier for me to relate to a female readership. Like Sophie said, I do worry about slipping into stereotypes.

 

Can you both give me a brief overview of your current writing projects?

S: I’m currently working on a contemporary novel, for a Teen readership. It dabbles with a variety of conflicts that arise at that age; social hierarchies, first loves, friendships and personal development. The novel follows Piper and Erin, two fifteen-year-old’s who used to be best friends, but have grown apart over the years. They are forced back together when Piper’s mum becomes ill and Piper has to move in with Erin and her family (including Erin’s brother – Piper’s crush, Ethan). Throughout the plot, the girls have to figure out how to deal with the situation, whilst trying to retain their social boundaries.

C: I am studying an MA in Writing for Young People, and my current project is a contemporary coming-of-age novel for a Teen readership. In a nutshell, my novel is about choosing to be who you are, not who others want you to be. It follows Noah, aged fifteen, as he deals with his sexual identity, his restrictive home life… and a stalker who knows everything about him – things he doesn’t even know himself. (Oh – and there’s a dog, called Chestnut!)

S: …who I named.

 

Who is your favourite children’s author at the moment?

S: Sara Barnard. Without a shadow of a doubt. She just has such an elegant way of displaying such personal disasters. Her characters are my friends by the end of the first chapter, and I’m hooked on their journey until the last page. You never know what’s coming next with Barnard, and I’d love to be able to take readers on the same journey. Characters in Teen fiction are so important – so having ones that a reader can really identify with really makes a difference.

C: My current Oh My God author is Robin Stevens. She has a knack for creating fully-rounded antagonists that, as a reader, you can’t help but feel things for. Not only that, but she’s not afraid to comment on cultural and social differences between characters. As an author, she deals with the Big Things – she makes you laugh, cry, or feel whatever you need to feel for the characters at that moment… Like Sophie said, she creates characters that I want as my best friends. Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells — where you at, gals?!

 

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

S: Write, write, write. Read, read, read.

C: I agree. For myself, the biggest learning curve that I’ve recently realised is sometimes, you can plan a novel and everything seems to flow… but other times, you’ll sit there with a blank piece of paper and nothing will come. Some ideas can’t be planned, you can only figure them out by diving in and blindly writing them.

S: Yeah, I never plan. I know the basic idea of what I want to write, and then I just write. It’s never in the right order, my scenes don’t match… and sometimes they don’t even get included.

C: –very true. When you’re blindly writing, be prepared to throw away thousands of words – not everything is going to be included in the final cut. It’s important to have done it anyway, though – through it, you’ll get a better sense of character. It’s all part of the world building.

S: No matter whether it’s included or not, it gets you into the routine of writing. Even if it is rubbish. It’s words on a page. It’s something. Write, write, write.

C: …read, read, read.

 

You can read Callen & Sophie’s blogs here.

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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.

Calling all unpublished / aspiring writers

Writing

Are you a writer currently working on your first novel, second novel, collection of poetry, script, blog, or, like, any other project? I want to interview you!

One of my favourite things about the online writing community is, a lot of the time, I can pick up advice and support from people who are in the same boat as me. Many of us writers are just starting out on our journey – and there are many writers out there who have been writing for decades and have still yet to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. Whether or not your work has been published or widely distributed to the world – if you write, you are a writer.

I’d like to start a new series on Quills & Coffee where I publish one interview a week with an aspiring writer, novelist, poet, etc. I think it’d be great for us to hear more about other writers’ processes, favourite writing places, most helpful bits of advice… And it would be a great way to promote your writing if it’s out there on the internet for us all to see!

If you’d like to be featured, please send an enquiry to quillsandcoffeeblog@gmail.com or comment on this post. Send me a few lines about you – what you’re currently writing, where you’re from, and if there’s anything you’d like me to promote on the post. When I hear from you, I’ll email you back and let you know if I’d like to feature you, and then I can send you over some interview questions!

I’m really excited to hear from you! Writing is a solitary activity, this is something that all of us know, so it’s always good to have a great online support network to root for you and keep cheering you on.♡

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