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.

Opening The Gates


So I’ve been thinking about this for a little while. About the concept of creativity and the different forms it can take. There are the obvious ones, like painting and sculpture and music and song. Some people have a talent for designing clothes, able to visualise the way fabric drapes around the human form, while others can manipulate numbers and data, their minds seeing complex patterns with ease. And then there’s writing.

Writers are beset by the same compulsions as any other artist – the desire to create, to tell tales, to engage with an audience as they share their story. However, unlike most other artists, many writers were doomed until recent years to have their work unseen, unread, unshared. An artist can exhibit at a local gallery or market, while musicians sing in small bars or busk on the streets. Designers can make clothes for themselves, wearing their art for all to see. And there will always be a place for those who can work with numbers, as long as there are money and statistics and stocks to be manipulated. (at least, that’s how I see it – forgive me if it’s not the case).

The writer, however, works alone. We cannot force people to read our work, or exhibit it in public. We may press our stories on accommodating relatives and friends, who may or may not read them, but until recent times there really were no other outlets for us. We could submit letter after letter to agent after agent, harass publishers with copies of our manuscript, but unless one of them took us on board the doors to publishing our work remained firmly closed, the gatekeepers holding the key.

But self-publishing has changed all that, opening the gates to all. And I am grateful every single day that I’m writing at a time when it’s possible to produce a well laid out version of my work to share with others, where I can place an order and have a box of my paperbacks, the quality as good as anything you’d get from a large publisher, delivered to my door. Where I can post a blog whenever I feel like it, about whatever happens to come into my head (like this one!) Of course there have always been avenues for self-publishing, but they were usually expensive and the end product not always what was promised, as well as often taking rights from the writers as well. But now we have the same freedom as other artists: to create and share our work with the public and retain control of our ideas.

At my recent author event I briefly discussed the idea that readers are the gatekeepers. And that I think it has always been this way. If a book isn’t good, even if it’s been picked up by a publisher and given a big splashy launch, it’s not going to sell much beyond that if the content isn’t there. Word of mouth is the only way to get consistent on-going sales. If readers like your book, they will tell other readers. Conversely, if your story sucks or is riddled with grammar and structure errors, they’ll tell people about that as well.

So for those who complain about the quality of self-published works remember – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it. But just as genius can be found in small galleries or hidden dive bars, so too can it be found in the realms of self-published works – it just takes an open mind to find it.