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.

A Coventry Win, And A Guardian Article – Happy Weekend!

If you’ve read my Author Bio, or my About page, you’ll know that I grew up in Coventry, England. My family have deep ties to the City and most of them still live there, so I visit often. When I returned to the UK in 2012, I spent my first six months back in the country living there again, only moving away due to my husband’s work. It’s a place that holds a lot of happy memories for me.

Coventry is also the real-world setting for my Ambeth books. Alma lives on my old street, and the Gate of Oak is in the Memorial Park, a place that has always held magic for me. It is telling that, when I sat down to write my first book, Coventry was the inspiration and starting point. It is a city I still hold close to my heart.

So, when Coventry was named 2021 UK City of Culture this past week, I was thrilled! I tweeted out my congratulations, adding that I thought it a well-deserved win. Less than an hour later, through the strange workings of Twitter, The Guardian newspaper had contacted me. Would I like to write a piece about the city and why I love it, they asked. Would I? I jumped at the chance, even though they needed it done that afternoon and I was at work – there was no way I was missing this opportunity.

I was given 700 words and a short brief – truly, I could have written double that amount – and feel I only touched on the many layers of history and culture the city holds. The article was approved, and is now live on the Guardian site, less than 24 hours after my original tweet. (If you’d like to read it, click here)

And that’s it! A wonderful, and quite unexpected, start to my weekend 🙂 Wishing you all a great weekend wherever you are and, #happywriting.

xx

Telling Tales

It came to me a while ago that perhaps we, as humans, are built to be storytellers. That it’s in our DNA, some vital part of us that cannot be denied.

From the dawn of humanity when people gathered around campfires or in sacred spaces, taking their turns to add their voice to a tale, we have always shared stories. Before written word it was how we kept records of our ancestors, of our people, of the things that happened, weaving them into songs or epic poems or tales for the dark nights as winter drew in. We painted pictures on cavern walls, blew bright ochre onto rock faces, describing happenings and visitors and successful hunts, religion and family and daily life. Paintings became carvings, pictures became writing and we kept telling stories, about commerce and battles and dark fantasies from the past, using words to frighten people into submission or to uplift them to their best selves. Bards became a class of their own, keepers of the stories, each one adding their own pieces to the puzzle, carrying our ancestors’ deeds forward in time.

And now, in this modern age, it seems we still have stories to tell. Agents are inundated daily with manuscripts, writing clubs and online communities abound, and competition to be published is fiercer than ever. I cannot count the number of people who, when I tell them I’m a writer, say, ‘I’d like to write a book as well.’ Apparently in Iceland one in ten people will publish a book and most people will write one – an entire country of people with stories to tell.

So what is it that has caused this apparent upsurge in writers appearing, a generation of storytellers born anew? I wonder if social media has something to do with it, giving us all a voice, a chance to share our life with the world whenever we choose to do so. Every person has a story – now with Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and blogging all you need is a phone to share it with the whole world. We are encouraged to write every day, to post new statuses, update our stories as they happen, 140 characters to tell of each unfolding event. Small wonder then that this daily writing exercise may have inspired us to do more, awakening the urge to weave a bigger, better, more exciting tale and get it down on paper (so to speak).

For much of what we write these days is digital and it makes me wonder whether our words will be around to be deciphered a millennia from now, or if the ephemeral nature of electronic files means they will simply fade away, a forgotten crackle of energy. Personally, I still enjoy holding a real book in my hand and have published both my books in paperback as well as Kindle versions. And perhaps some scholar, centuries from now, will hold a copy of it in white gloved hands (or maybe it will hover, unsupported, above a pristine surface) to be read, my words analysed for whatever secrets of this present time they may hold.

Interesting to consider, isn’t it?

This post appeared in its original form back in November 2014, when I was participating in my first NaNoWriMo, and far fewer people came to visit my blog. Oh, and that NaNo book? I did finish it, though it took me almost two more years to do so – it became A Thousand Rooms.


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.

A Productive Day and A #ThursdayDoor

I had a very productive writing day today. The kidlet went back to school and (even though I missed her) I managed to clear a bit of clutter out of my office, plus take a walk in the freezing cold sunshine. And it seemed to pay off. A nagging structural issue in Under Stone (Ambeth book four) that had been plaguing me for the past two months was finally resolved. Plus I managed to catch up on a few other bits and pieces, which was nice.

I wanted to write a blog post as well and, as it’s Thursday, thought I might post a Thursday Door. It’s been a little while since I’ve done so, though I did have a few door photos hanging around – I think the blogging challenge I did last month threw me a little bit off course.

Anyway, I digress. Here is my door:

img_2509It’s a rather nice church door, isn’t it? And here is the church:

img_2527As you can see, it’s missing a few components like a roof, an aisle and any sort of interior. This is St Dunstan of The East, a Norman church in the heart of old London. Built around 1100, the church was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666, after which a tower and steeple designed by Christopher Wren was added. However, when the Church was badly damaged during the WWII Blitz, it was decided not to rebuild and, in 1970, it was opened as a public park.

img_2526It’s a tiny park, as parks go – about the size of the ground floor of an office block. But it is a magical space, twined with ivy, glassless windows looking out onto modern London, an oasis of calm seemingly out of time.

img_2503This was my response to the Thursday Doors Challenge, courtesy of Norm 2.0. For more doors, or to add one of your own, head over to Norm’s site and click the link.


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

30 Day Writing Challenge – Day Twenty Six – Song

IMG_0271It’s actually Christmas Eve as I write this post, and I’m listening to Christmas music as I work. At the moment it’s John and Yoko’s Christmas carol – I think Mariah is up next.

I often listen to music when I write – I find it can get me into a flow where the music inspires the writing. Each of my books have a song or piece of music that ‘belongs’ to them, which is handy when I switch between WIPs. For example, I just have to hear the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th to be instantly transported to Ambeth, while Savage Garden’s ‘I Want You’ is Silver and Black‘s song of choice. Sometimes I just put the playlist on shuffle and see what comes up – you never know.

But at this time of year it’s Christmas songs whenever I can get them. Shane McGowan has just started singing, and I’m about to be transported to New York for a love story with a dark twist.

However you’re spending the holidays, I hope you enjoy them.


How about you? Do you have listen to music while you write? Do you have a favourite song? This was my response to Day 26 of the 30 Day Writing Challenge, and the prompt: Song

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