New Week, New Writing Leaf

Last week I wrote about a writing wobble, and you were all so lovely, giving me encouragement and reminding me what it is I love so much about this blogging community – thank you all so much for your support.

This week I have a week off, the first in while, and I’m back where Ambeth began, the park where Alma disappears between the trees just a few minutes’ drive away. Today I’m heading further west to Wales, where her story continues, and I’m hoping that the combination of some free time and seeing these places again will immerse me fully into that world once more.

For now I am re-reading Under Stone, making small adjustments but not yet quite ready to don my editing hat. Which is kind of a problem, as I’m supposed to be doing Camp NaNo, and the edit is my project. Oh well. We can only do what we can do.

And perhaps, that is the lesson here. That you can’t force things. That, unless we’re lucky enough to be able to write full-time, life has to be addressed. The creative urge is a powerful one, for writers no less than any other, and it can be difficult, sometimes, to find that balance. I know for me that my blogging life is not as active as it once was, and I am woefully behind when it comes to reading, my TBR pile teetering, my Kindle stuffed with unread titles.

Still, it’s not the end of the world, is it? To be able to inhabit other worlds, whether as a writer or a reader, is a privilege. And I remain forever grateful.


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

 

 

Out For A Walk

img_1249Today I decided to walk to work. It’s a reasonably long walk, about forty minutes, but the morning was bright and I had the time. It’s a nice walk, along a main residential road, past fields and under a railway bridge, along a reservoir and, finally, crossing a sylvan canal basin and heading up past what is reputed to be the site of a king’s hunting lodge. Nothing remains now except a fragment of red brick wall with a Tudor rose on it, incorporated into the more modern (but still a couple of centuries old) house now on the site.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a really long walk. And today I realised how much I’d missed it. I still do the school walks each morning and afternoon, but my days being what they are at the moment I don’t usually have the time to wander further. However, today’s walk made me determined to find the time.

Apart from the exercise, I find walking to be a wonderful time to think. I’ve worked out countless plot points, untangled knotty problems and generally put my life into some sort of order. For some reason it works for me. However, I do need a destination – I can’t just walk aimlessly.

Apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the lyrics to his wildly popular Hamilton while on his afternoon walks, while William Blake, Wordsworth and JK Rowling are just a few of the many other writers who found inspiration while out for a wander. Recent studies have found that, when we walk, our brain activity increases, as does connectivity between important brain circuits, boosting our mood.

Today I managed to sort out some time management stuff, as well as reconcile a couple of character threads in my current WIP. I also got some exercise and fresh air, arriving at work on time. I realise I’m fortunate to be able to walk to work – however, even when I had to take public transport to previous jobs I always managed to fit in a walk of some kind, whether it was by getting off several stops early or heading out during my lunch break.

So it was nice to rediscover the joy of walking today, and to feel the familiar story telling wheels begin to turn once more in my mind. Looking forward to seeing where the walk takes me next week…

‘Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.’  Henry David Thoreau


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Following My Heart’s Desire

img_3702I published this post in October 2014, back in the early days of my blog. I came across it the other day and realised that it still rang true. So I thought I’d share it again.

As I walked home from school after dropping my daughter off the other morning, I pondered, as I usually do, the latest plot twists in the book I’m writing. Then it struck me that this is what I do now. I thought back to a couple of years ago, before I started writing about Ambeth and all the other stories coming through me and was amazed by how my life has changed.

‘Will I always be like this?’ I thought to myself. ‘Is this it now, or will I look back in a few years time, shaking my head at how obsessed I was, how writing was a compulsion, a daily requirement?’

You know what, I really do think this is it. After forty something years of life, three different continents and a myriad of jobs ranging from martial arts instructor to waitress to casting co-ordinator and photography producer, I think I’ve finally found my groove. My place to stay, my happiness, as they say. Sure, I’ve been writing all my life, just like my bio says, and for the last eleven years or so have been writing for other people. But this is different. This is writing for myself, tapping into the muse and weaving stories to life, words shining silver in the slippery darkness of the pond, fossils emerging from the forest floor. It is discovery and catharsis and creation and desire all rolled into one, a wonderful compulsion to put words on the page, to bring characters to life and tell their stories as they come through me.

So lucky me. I will say this, I have never given up the search for my heart’s desire. Through jobs I’ve hated and tolerated and thought perhaps I liked, through moves across town and state and country lines, I’ve always needed some sort of creative outlet. For a long time it was painting – I’ve sold a few, been exhibited once (just a small show) and several pieces adorn the walls of my own home. There is a peace and joy in painting once I get into the mood, music and brushstrokes a form of meditation. But it is nothing like the fire and excitement I get from writing, the pictures in my mind coming on to the page so much more easily than they did onto the canvas. There are times when I laugh a little and sigh, that my passion is not for some sort of fiendish financial calculation whereby I can make a fortune, but I am rich in so many other ways. Writing has conferred upon me a freedom, a confidence to be myself and express my thoughts, a confidence that grows and brings me back to the true self I came so close to losing some time ago. There is more value in that than in anything else I can think of, for it allows me to love and be free, to care for those around me and appreciate small wonders in the world, seeing them for the story they tell.

I love writing and, even though there are rejections and frustrations to suffer, none of them do anything to change that fact. So I thought I would write a post on how I feel about writing, letting my fingers flow. And so they have, reminding me of why it is that I write now, and why it is that will always be so, as long as I have ideas to dream of.


If you enjoyed this post and want to read more, you can find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ,  Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, A Thousand Rooms, is now available on Amazon.

Writers In The Attic, Friends Around The World

sometimes-all-you-need-is-a-friendToday I’m quite honoured to be visiting author Louise Allan’s blog, as part of her Writers in the Attic series. Please do pop over and take a look, and also check out some of the other writers featured in the series – each of them have a story to tell, whether it’s about how they came to be writers, what writing means to them, and how they approach the creative process.

In her introduction, Louise talks about the idea of penpals, and how our digital friendships fostered through blog posts and email are the modern equivalent – I would absolutely agree. Through messages, comments and emails, Louise and I have forged a friendship I value, and I know that one day, when we eventually meet, we’ll greet each other as old friends.

In fact, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to meet some wonderful friends through this site, with whom I might never have otherwise connected. And so I just wanted to say thank you.

Happy Monday, everyone 🙂

 

Take The Scenic Route

IMG_2301There are a lot of articles around these days about “Life Hacks’. Ways to do things quickly, so you can move on to the next thing and not waste any precious time. Some of them are actually pretty cool and useful, but at the same time I feel that, as the pace of life grows ever faster, we are losing our capacity to wait for things, to work for things, to enjoy the reward that comes after time spent moving towards something. You see it in queues, in shops and restaurants, people getting frustrated when they can’t have what they want straight away, instant gratification, constant moving between this screen and that screen, updating emails, Instagram, Facebook. Hack, hackity, hack.

I’ve studied martial arts for many years and one of the basic tenets is that ‘The journey is the reward.’ That the years you spend training, improving your technique, working with other students, mastering breathing and focus and control and becoming the best person you can be, is the real reward. At the end of it, sure, you get a belt. A signifier of the journey taken, a signpost in the road. But black belt is only the beginning. There are levels above it requiring even more study and dedication. You can’t hack this stuff. And I believe that to be true of creative endeavours as well. Of course there are always going to be prodigies, people in whom talent shines so bright it is oozing from their pores at an early age, their lives dedicated to that one thing that fills them. But for most of us creativity grows and changes as we do – the things we write or create or dream a product of our experiences, of the journey we’ve been on. And writing a book is a journey in itself. Resting your manuscript is essential, it really is. For a minimum of six weeks. You can’t ‘hack’ this, there’s no way around it, you need to leave it alone.

I sometimes think about ‘what might have been.’ I think most of us do. About what would have happened if I’d chosen a different path. Sacha Black wrote a post the other day asking us why we write, and I responded by saying I wrote stories where characters explore choice and consequences, how one act or decision can change everything. This was actually a bit of an eye-opener to me. While I knew this already on a sub-conscious level, it was interesting to acknowledge it and put it into words. I suppose when they say, ‘write what you know,’ perhaps they mean ‘write what you want to explore.’

So, when I chose not to do the Creative Writing degree I was offered at eighteen, I set myself on a different path. But I don’t think I’d be the writer I am today if I hadn’t had the life I’ve had. That all the years in jobs I really didn’t love, the time spent travelling, the people I’ve met and the things I’ve experienced, have brought me to this point. I know that I’m fortunate to have had a lot of choice in life, and so I choose not to hack any of it. It’s far too much of a gift to fritter away.

I’ll end with a Douglas Adams quote I particularly enjoy: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

This is an updated version of a post first published in 2014, when my blog dwelt alone in a barren wasteland, and no-one ever came to visit. I’ve re-worked the first two paragraphs, but the rest is new.

 

To Retreat, Or Not To Retreat?

Get away from it all...
Get away from it all…

I’ve been thinking recently about writing retreats. I know that organised retreats are popular, the amount of ads in Writing Magazine alone testament to their popularity. And I can see how, for many people, spending time somewhere with the express purpose of writing would be a wonderful pathway to creativity. However, I’ve never been on one myself.

It’s a tempting idea, to sit in a room with nothing more pressing to do for the next few days or weeks or however long than write. Ever since I’ve started writing, it’s always been with a backdrop of other things to do. A child to care for, work to go to or complete, a house to manage, appointments to get to, phone calls to take, classes to attend – you know, the usual bits and pieces of a busy life. Sure, I take walks and work out plot points, but those walks are usually to or from somewhere, like school or the shops or the dojo. When I’m on holiday, I always take my notebooks and part of a WIP with the best of intentions, yet I usually go home without much progress made.

I was talking to my brother about this a while ago – he’s a musician and artist, so is very familiar with the creative process. He agreed with me, that he’s always more creative when he’s busy. On his rare downtime, he finds he doesn’t really write many songs – it’s only when there are lots of other things happening that the music flows.

I know that writing retreats work for other people – I’m just not sure they would work for me. The idea of waking up and knowing I’m supposed to be writing would seem like the worst sort of pressure. And I personally feel I would find that counterproductive.

There’s a place quite near to where I live called The Booksellers Retreat. I had thought it a writing retreat sort of place, where you could rent a room for a day or week or longer, expressly for the purpose of concentrating on writing. However, it is something different to that, as I’ve subsequently discovered and, after some more research, I will write a post about it. But it got me thinking about the idea of a writing retreat, and whether it’s worth getting away from it all to write.

So I’m putting it out there. Have any of you attended writing retreats? And, if so, did they work for you? Or do you thrive on being busy, preferring to write as and when the muse comes to you?

I Can’t Pay My Mortgage with ‘Exposure’ – Why Creatives Should Be Paid For Their Work

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I don’t usually post rants on this blog – it’s not really my thing. I actually wasn’t even going to publish this piece at all, but I had a short online conversation about it with Ali Isaac, and so here we are. And perhaps this isn’t so much a rant as a collection of thoughts. But I feel the need to talk about the idea of ‘free’, and the seeming value placed on writing these days.

I would like to be clear that I am not talking about choosing to list our own books for free, nor am I talking about writing guest posts for other blogs. This is because I believe that offering books for free can be a strategic marketing tool leading on to more sales, especially if you have several titles on offer – Nick Rossis recently featured an excellent guest post on the subject, well worth a read. Besides, offering our books for free is optional. As independent writers we can price our books however we like, and still remain in control. And guest posts are a great way to exchange information with other bloggers – more often than not, you get the same in return.

Rather, I am talking about the expectation that creative work be offered for free to other businesses, with no expectation of return other than that elusive beast, ‘exposure’. One obvious example would be Huffington Post, which has come under a lot of flack lately after the UK editor-in-chief, Steven Hull, stated that:

‘If I was paying someone to write something because I want it to get advertising, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy. When somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real, we know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.’

So. A multi-million dollar company basically saying that they made their money from people writing for free. And pushing the idea that we, as writers, should be happy to do so, because we ‘want to write.’ Well, I do ‘want to write’, but I also want to eat, and maybe pay the mortgage. And I’m afraid I don’t entirely buy into the concept of working for ‘exposure’ – apart from the creative arts, is there any other field where people are expected to do their job for free, in the hopes that they might impress someone enough to actually get paid?

Here’s what I think about ‘exposure.’ Maybe ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, when the blogosphere wasn’t saturated, when content wasn’t raining down at 73 tweets per second into our feeds, exposure might have meant something. But these days we are more likely to simply disappear into a digital forest of a billion trees or more, each with something different to say. And I know there will be those of you out there who say ‘but I posted a blog on HuffPo (or similar) and my stats went up and I sold x amount of books and it was AWESOME.’ To which I say, well done you. You beat the odds. Because it’s a gamble, at best. A gamble that people will find your post, will click on it, will read it, will follow through to your blog or website, then follow through again to your books and buy them. You might then say ‘Well, why are you blogging? You don’t get paid for it.’ True. I don’t. But I do get the benefits of being part of a blogging community, knowledge sharing and support for and from fellow writers, plus the chance to write whenever I want, about whatever I want. And, you know what – I’ve met new readers and sold books too. And I’ve done it on my terms.

This sort of exploitative behaviour isn’t limited to writing – Sainsbury’s in Camden recently ran an ad looking for an artist to decorate their company canteen. For free. Incentives included ‘doing what you love,’ and ‘a chance to leave your mark.’ All very noble, I’m sure, but you can’t exactly pay the bills with this sort of stuff. Sainsbury’s were ripped apart on social media, and rightly so – the ad was pulled and the company apologised, adding that the ad had been run by the store in question, rather than by the company itself.

As a writer, I work every hour I can – writing, honing ideas, editing, planning, marketing, designing, reading, studying craft books… well, you get the picture. And I’m sure I’m no different from the majority of writers out there. We all know that, for the most part, we’re doing it for the love of the craft, for the joy that writing brings us – with the average yearly writer earnings in the UK working out to an underwhelming £11,000, the vast majority of us are not in the game to get rich.

I’ve been fortunate, over the past ten years or so, to be paid to write for other people, bringing in a reasonable income. My books, however, are operating at a loss – the cost of a professional edit has not yet been offset by sales, although I’m close to breaking even. But once again it’s my choice to have an edit done because I wish to present the best, most professional product I can, and so I consider the expense to be worth it. I’m laying foundations too, eventually planning to have several titles available – therefore I’m starting as I mean to go on. Building a brand, so to speak. And all of this takes time and study and practice, as does gaining proficiency in any other type of job.

So why should I, or any other creative individual, be expected to work for free?