Creative Flame – How Trying To Write To Market Made Me Lose My Way

I think I mentioned, when I came back to blogging, that I’d taken some time off to work on a book called The Last Raven. It’s one of the most complex stories I’ve ever written so I needed to focus on it, and also on my goal of getting a traditional publishing deal.

So how’s that going? Well, it turns out that The Last Raven, in its current state, is an ‘almost’ book. I’ve had several full manuscript requests, from both agents and publishers, but nothing has actually come of it. Lots of people have liked it, think it’s an original concept, and have given me advice and feedback. I’ve taken my story apart and put it back together again. But still, nothing.

Apparently, when you get to this point, when you’re getting feedback and requests and people are interested, you’re ‘thisclose’ to getting representation or a publishing deal. Which is somewhat heartening. But close, as they say, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. So, after yet another rejection, I felt it was time for me to revisit the manuscript and see what I could possibly do to it to take it over the line.

A recent re-read had revealed that there were some structural problems. However, these were as a direct result of my chopping and changing scenes around to try and fit the advice I’d been given in order to make the story ‘better.’ Still following that path, I continued chopping and changing things around until Wednesday night, when I stopped, utterly convinced I would never ever get to the heart of the story and I may as well give up on it. Not a great place to be.

I woke yesterday morning, still feeling discouraged. But then, when discussing the situation with some writer friends, I had the following revelation: I’d been so busy trying to make the story into what I thought other people wanted it to be, I’d forgotten what I wanted it to be.

This was profound, dear reader. It was as though a weight dropped from me (to use a cliché). As soon as the thought came into my head, I knew what I needed to do.

The dog needed a walk, so she and I headed out into the early morning, my head spinning with ideas. I knew I needed to revisit the original story as I’d first written it – yes, it was far from perfect, and there was a long saggy middle section that I’d been wise to remove. But there were some scenes in there that I’d chopped in the name of ‘pace’, which I now realised were integral to my main character’s progression. And there were some new scenes popping into my head that made my knees buckle and fleshed things out even further. I needed to go through the story, chapter by chapter, and piece it back together again. It would mean more work, but it was work on my terms, true to my creative vision. My heart full, I headed home.

The thing with this writing game is that it is incredibly competitive. There are SO MANY BOOKS out there. Which is a wonderful thing, if you love books like I do. However, when agents receive thousands of manuscripts a month yet only end up signing maybe five people over the course of a year, getting past the gatekeepers into the world of traditional publishing is a difficult quest, at best. Of course we can watch the market and write what we hope will be the next big thing, but what perhaps can be forgotten in such a pursuit (and certainly was in my case), is that writing is an expression of our creative selves, and we need to honour that creative flame and let it burn. There’s nothing wrong in writing to market – in fact, it’s a good way to make money in this business, so if you can do it I’d recommend it. However, in this instance, when I twisted and changed my story to try and fit an ideal, it lost some integral part of its soul in the process.

My original manuscript did need work – I do recognise that. And some of the chopping and changing did bring new threads and details to the surface which were necessary to the story. However, I went too far, and lost sight of what I’d started out to achieve. To use another metaphor, I was all at sea. I’d tried to make my story into something it wasn’t, or at least not what I’d intended it to be. And in doing so, I lost the creative flame that had sparked it into being. So now I’m heading out to buy a big whiteboard and a stack of sticky notes – strange tinder, I know, but I’m sure it will get the flame burning again.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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?