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Writing and Jealousy: A natural marriage?

I am a fairly zen person. I do yoga, practice mindfulness, try to treat people with respect, and I regard jealousy as a negative, and pointless, emotion.

But being a writer is a job unlike most others, and it’s easy to see the success of other writers in your genre, or in your area and think ‘Goodness, I wish I had that’ or even, ‘Hey, why the hell don’t I have that?’

That doesn’t mean you are denying these other writers their good luck or the rewards of their hard work, but where in other careers there is a clear path to the top, the rungs of promotion and targets, writing doesn’t have that.

A debut author with no blog, no concept of blog tours or social media and no fanbase can get to the top of the charts. An author with more friends than you might get more reviews, so that the system feels skewed.

When you’re down, when the words aren’t flowing and the sales aren’t coming in, these things can feel unfair. And it is easy to dwell on this unfairness. Because, for all that writing is a wonderful community of friendly, creative people, connecting online and sharing their knowledge, social media shows us how much of a rat race writing is. Absolutely everyone seems to have written a book, to be vying for a top Amazon spot, to be tracking their metadata and using titles and covers that seem similar to previous bestsellers. Because writing is a business. And if you’re going to act as a business person when it comes to your writing, then you have to accept that sometimes you ARE going to want what someone else has, you ARE going to feel like you’re more deserving, or have worked harder, and finally, you’re going to have to accept, that business, like life, is unfair.

The confusing thing about writing is that so much of it is about community and friendship, and yet it's a business. You will compare your success to that of your colleagues, and sometime

 

But, this does not mean you are destined to be a jealous, embittered writer who never feels like they get the breaks they deserve. It means you have to start looking at your work like a business if you want those results.

  • Quantify your goals (how many books do you want to sell, what ranking do you want to reach, how many books do you want to bring out in the next few years?)
  • Ensure your goals are realistic (you are not going to win the Man Booker Prize for your romantic comedy, but if prizes are important to you, look and see what’s around).
  • Assess your weaknesses and create an action plan (Need more reviews? Want a longer blog tour? Want to merchandise? Want to get involved in the local community?)
  • If other writers are achieving the things you want, ask them how they did it! Turn jealousy into motivation!
  • Keep writing the things that make you happy, and make you proud. Slipping into a genre you don’t care about, and writing inauthentically and without heart, just to make a few bucks, is not good for your brand or your soul. If writing is a business, it should also be a joy.

 

I would also suggest assessing what your personal success story looks like – how do you define success for you and your books? Everyone always holds up the big names as examples of success, but it’s the writers bringing out content, writing great books and managing to survive who really impress me.

My personal goals:

  • Take a writing class/go on a retreat. I’ve been running workshops for so long it would be nice not to be responsible, and just enjoy someone else leading it. Also, I see this as a craft, and you have to practice your craft.
  • Talk to people about what I want from my books, and how to get it. If I want to write a book that is turned into a movie, what do I need for that? It’s all very well yelling into the Twitterverse that I want someone to take on my books, but what about learning to write a book that would be easy to adapt for screen?
  • Get an agent to tell me how to do a lot of this, and fight my corner. Currently working on a book for this, but so many books to write, so little time.
  • Be engaged as a writer more prominently in my local community. Whether this means running things, building relationships, joining a writing group…

 

What do you think about the place of jealousy – do you ever get jealous of other writers? What are your goals for success, and do you have any tips for other writers to manage their expectations or reach their goals?

 

Also, in case you missed the news earlier in the week, I’m excited to announce I’ll be writing three books for Canelo, The Martini Club series, with the first book out in the summer to be Cocktails and Dreams. I’m also running a Writing for Wellbeing workshop in Watford Waterstones, FOR FREE, on Thursday 27th April at 6pm.

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10 Responses to Receiving Structural Edits on Your Books

I think it was in Plato’s Republic where he said the best person to be in power was the person who didn’t want to be? Writing a book is a bit like that. The people who make good writers, the ones who write with instinct and heart and certainty, who forge ahead through doubts and make sure the damn thing is written…well, they’re probably the least likely to respond well to edits.

Our job is literally to get feedback on this thing we put pieces of our soul into. And then we take that constructive criticism, and put more soul. And then we send it out into the world, where people can either tell us it made a difference to their day, or add us to lists on Goodreads entitled ‘This Author Must Die.’ (Yeah, apparently a thing – don’t people just suck?)

Every author knows the edits pain – it’ll pop up on Twitter ‘Disappearing into edit mode’ ‘Dealing with these edits’, ‘Preparing myself for edits.’

I think edits are great. It’s a wonderful thing to be given feedback from someone who not only knows good stories, but knows how to sell them. Taking out a character, changing a name, adapting the structure, these things are not always about good writing, but are about making something sell, making it fit the market, and genre and exceed expectations. And I am so grateful for that chance to receive that insider knowledge.

But receiving edits can be fraught, and full of emotion.

So I present to you, 10 thoughts authors have when dealing with edits:

  1. Yes! Yes! I KNEW THAT! I freaking knew I should have gotten rid of that dog, he must be like a hundred years old by the end of the story.
  2. These are going to make the book AMAZING. How AWESOME is this story going to be?!
  3.  Ugh, why am I such an idiot who needed this many edits. I must be so awful.
  4. This is going to take forever. Where is the chocolate?
  5. But…but I LOVE that character/scene/paragraph. I know it adds absolutely nothing to the story but I LOVE IT. Goodbye, sweet darling. I loved you.
  6. Nope. Nope. In the name of artistic integrity, I am NOT adding that scene.
  7. …Oh crap, I really need to add that scene.
  8. Wait, I said my character was 8 years old in 1996, but if he was driving, and his mother…did his mother have him aged 11? How did I do this?
  9. I am THE WORST. Why did I think I could do this?
  10.  DONE. YES! Please, please, PLEASE, let there not be another round of edits. I can’t even BE IN THE SAME ROOM as this manuscript anymore.

 

 

And these aren’t even the line edits, where you will spend ten minutes wondering if something is meant to be hyphenated and end up staring into space all ‘WUT R WORDZ?’

Editing is a necessary part of the craft, and I would encourage you to engage in them fully, take on criticism, and acknowledge your moments of resistance. Is that intuition, loss or ego talking? Sometimes I don’t want to give up things just because they’re mine and I’m stubborn. Sometimes, a suggestion sparks a hundred more and I can’t wait to get fixing.

And sometimes, when you should be diving into your edits, you write a blog post about it instead.

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Guest Post: The Friends to Lovers Trope in Romance Novels – Darcie Boleyn

Today I’m excited to welcome the fabulous Darice Boleyn to my blog. Darcie has written a great many wonderful romance books, and her novel Something Old, Something New was one of my favourite reads last year. Her writing is warm, funny and honest, and I’m really excited to hear about what she’s working on next!

 

I’m currently writing a story that features the good old friends to lovers trope. It’s one I’ve used before and one I’ll no doubt use again.

As I was writing this morning, I asked myself:

Why do I like this particular trope?

Why is it a favourite amongst readers and writers of romance?

The main characters in my current story have been friends since school. They grew up together and liked and admired each other. But… they never got together. They almost did. They certainly knew that they cared about each other, but there were several reasons why it never actually happened for them. This is part of the layering of the story and I really enjoy this element of the creative process.

In the friends to lovers trope, there might always have been a spark between the characters, perhaps they even shared a kiss, but when they meet up years later—as my hero and heroine do—that spark becomes a roaring flame. It’s a form of Wow! You’re all grown up now and I like you even more than before!

But there must be conflict, otherwise the story would be over and done with far too quickly and where’s the fun in that?

The hero and heroine need to have a common past, however long or short that is, but there must still be things for them to discover about each other. If they’ve been apart and been through different experiences, this can enhance the journey for the reader. Perhaps they’ve been hurt by the loss of a loved one, shunned by a loved one, or even society, and this makes them doubt themselves.

Whatever happens, this lovely trope gives an author plenty to work with, as well as plenty of challenges.

As I plot then write, I constantly ask myself:

What does this mean for my hero / heroine?
How has it shaped their journey to this particular time and place?
At what point will they change / see things differently / re-evaluate what it is they want?
What will hold them back and create the ultimate emotional ‘black moment’?

The important thing about friends to lovers stories, is that the relationship needs to be built on more than just physical attraction. The characters might always have been aware that the other is attractive, but something got in the way – whether it was the importance they placed on their friendship, the fear of rejection (perhaps one of them didn’t feel the same, or they were both unaware of the other’s feelings) or there could have been a third party in the friendship, creating a kind of love triangle complication. But when the hero and heroine eventually get together, a shared past means that their whole relationship deepens.

So to summarise:

There should be tension and layered conflict.
There should be a lot to lose, otherwise the hero and heroine might get together too easily.
There should be depth to the relationship and to their shared past.
But ultimately, they have to be prepared to take the risk to lose it all… because if they get together and it goes wrong, then their friendship is on the line.

Then there’s the Happy Ever After.

Predictable? Maybe. Desirable? Certainly. Achieved through different journeys? Of course.

And that’s why us romance readers keep coming back for more.

To make it even more interesting, tropes can always be blended together, so, as an example, you could mix friends to lovers with secret baby, widower and fake engagement. There are many possibilities…

What are your favourite tropes and why?

 

You can check out Darcie’s books HERE (and you should!)

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A Q and A with me and Lynsey James

One of the best things about writing is the people you meet and the friends you make.

Lynsey James is not only a superbly prolific, sensitive and funny writer, but she’s an excellent human being. We’ve developed something of a super team this last year, supporting each other through the ups and downs of writing life.

Seeing as we’re both busy working away on our new secret projects, I thought a little Q and A where we’ve asked each other the questions might be fun.

Andi’s questions for Lynsey:

Who is the favourite character you’ve written, and why?My favourite character is Ivy St. Clair, the jazz singer from Just the Way You Are. She was so much fun to write and I loved the way her story intertwined with Ava’s. Although they had a lot of differences, they’d each lost the chance to be with someone they loved.

What books are getting you excited in the publishing world at the moment?
State of Grace by Rachael Lucas is really exciting me. It’s written from the point of view of a teenager with Asperger’s and I can’t flipping wait to read it. I’m also really looking forward to reading your top-secret books…
What thing really irritates you about writing?
The thing that irritates me about writing is how easy people think it is. They only see the finished product and sometimes don’t realise the amount of work that goes into them. Or the sleepless nights!

What’s your long term writing dream?
My long-term writing dream is to make a comfortable living from my books, and to get into print one day. Obviously, a film deal would be incredible too!

What would be your advice to someone wanting to write a novel?
The best advice I could give to someone who wants to write a novel is to write. You learn so much from playing with different narrative techniques and styles, so experiment as much as possible. And read as much in your chosen genre as possible!
Lynsey’s questions for Andi:
What book do you wish you’d written?
Shadows of the Wind, The Night Circus, I would absolutely love to have written something as complex and beautiful as these two books. They’re the inspiration for my new secret project.

I loved The House on Camden Square series! Do you have anybody you’d love to play your characters on screen?
Natalie Dormer would play Ruby, I think she’d be awesome. Killian would be played by Colin O’Donoghue (stole the name Killian from his character   on Once Upon a Time). The others, I have no idea! They are kind of fuzzy in my head, I hear their voices, not see their faces. But if a production company wants to have a crack at it, that would be great.

What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
The beginning is the most fun, that spark of an idea. And about three quarters of the way through, just after the hump, when I really get my flow going and get all excited about people reading it! Edits can be a pain, but they remind you that writing is a craft.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Half and half. I start plotting, then I don’t want to know too much, so I start writing, then I have to plot a little bit more towards the end, to get the final speed up.

What books are on your TBR pile at the moment?
Annie Lyon’s The Choir on Hope Street, The Escape by C.L. Taylor and I am SO excited by the new Phillip Pullman, The Book of Dust, as I loved the His Dark Materials series.

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Approaching Writing as a Job and the moral dilemma of ‘tapping’ into a market.

This week, I was on holiday. Which meant I just allowed myself to read, relax, day dream and do all the other things completely necessary for a pleasant existence and a head full of stories.

Of course, I’m nothing if not a guilty energiser bunny who needs to be doing stuff. So I read a bunch of books and finished writing my ninth novel. And as I finished, I realised it gets easier. Not the writing necessarily, but the understanding of your own process. I know I will rush right into the beginning and think about fixing it later (but never will). I know I’ll get sluggish and peeved until I get to the love interest, and then I’ll throw myself into despair that it’s just a love story and wonder what the hell the point is. I know that at SOME point, however far down the road, after a bit of a breather, I’ll read certain parts, giggle to myself and say aloud, ‘Hah, I’m a funny arsehole sometimes.’

Knowing your process is as important as knowing your characters. It’ll allow you to keep hold of the sails in rough seas. Just as important – knowing your DIRECTION. Where are you sailing, and why? Why are you doing this, what’s the point?

What is the answer when someone asks you why you do the thing you love? The thing that makes you feel special and alive and truly understood for the first time in your life?

For me, I’m not so good in the real world, I’m awkward, often insensitive and goofy. I mistime my sentences and misjudge the room. But when I’m silent, when I’m writing a story, when I’m not required to talk or interact, I read the room like nobody’s business.

So how do we translate something that we love, something that we are, into a job? It’s not just booking blog tours, learning the lingo and scurrying after agents with the furore of a rabid Winnie the Pooh looking for a honey fix. It’s not just fighting about pricing and promotion and Bookbub.

It’s the question I have been on either side of over the years:

Are you a business, or an artist?

Now, of course, you can be both. That’s the obvious answer. But that choice comes down to a million little choices that fork off. Do you write a genre that doesn’t inspire you because it’s selling well? (business) Do you write something that might not sell because you’re in love with it? (artist) Do you make cut throat decisions based on the market, over your storytelling, do you explore and expand, or do you stick with what makes you the money, even if it doesn’t inspire you anymore?

I was listening to two podcasts this week. One was Joana Penn’s The Creative Penn, focusing on writing romance, in talks with an author called JA Huss. The other was an interview with C.L. Taylor about her newly released book The Escape, which I can’t wait to read.

The difference in these two podcasts, is one made me want to scratch my own face off with the unfairness of it, and the other made me feel uplifted and safe in the hands of my own craft. Both Huss and Taylor have written more than one genre, both have been bestselling authors.

Huss spoke about the romance genre with disregard, that it was boring and uninteresting, with the same tropes again and again. She said, in a blase manner, that she didn’t even read that genre, because she found it uninteresting. Her romance books were just a way to grab readers and then gradually make them read the darker books in the series. Don’t get me wrong, her books sounded great. Except the idea that someone can ‘tap into’ the romance market because it’s ‘easy’ (her words) to write and it sells best, when they don’t even read or respect that genre is really fucking irritating. It’s arrogant, dismissive and pretty much shits on all of us working within the genre to confront stereotypes about our readers and us as writers. But it’s all business, right?

Thankfully, after desperately searching around for someone to moan about this to, I instead listened the Cally Taylor on the HarperCollins book podcast. She talked without arrogance, with a great sense of gratefulness and joy about the dedication to her process, to the ideas that haunted her and demanded to be written, and the choice to write the safe book to fulfil her contract or to follow the story that wanted her to write it.

Taylor mentioned that writing authentically, writing the story that wanted to be written was the key. Not just jumping on the bandwagon to make money.

It was what I needed to hear. Maybe I will never be a bestseller because I don’t want to bend to the trend. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone – some of those books are beautifully written, packaged to look like other things because that’s how you sell them. But I needed to hear someone who’s had success tell me it’s possible to do it whilst still loving the stories you’ve created.

So, two sides, both alike in success, but two different approaches. What do you think? Where do you fall? Would you ever write a genre you didn’t enjoy reading because you might sell well? Is one genre easier to write than another?

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On Pushing Boundaries and Remembering Your ‘Why’

I am not an academic.

I am not about facts and figures and backing up when I say with appropriate sources. Perhaps I should be, in such politically fraught times, but I’m afraid my writing style is more about making people feel things than it is about winning an argument. That has always been my way, and that will probably always be my way. That’s my job.

I am struggling to finish this dissertation. I have two weeks, and whilst I used to be quite good at (and quite proud of) my ability to compartmentalise, this dissertation is pushing all my buttons. Why am I STILL studying? Why has it taken me longer than it should? Why aren’t I married with kids? Why can’t I afford a house? Why is everyone else moving on with their lives? Why am I crap with money? Why aren’t my books bestsellers? Will they ever be? Can I do anything about that? What’s the point?

Those are WHYs focused on comparison and expectation. And the answer to most of them is ‘because I wanted to/didn’t want to/didn’t want it enough to prioritise it.’

These are the WHYs I should have been asking:

  • Why am I doing this research?
  • If I don’t think they’re selling well, why am I writing these books?

Because, of course, the answer is that I wanted to. It’s hard to remember that when something becomes hard, but I CHOSE to do this. I wanted to do research that might become a useful tool for people in recovery from eating disorders. I wanted to write books because they make me happy, and occasionally they make other people happy too, which in turn makes me happy again.

comparison

In thinking about this, I had to admit, I’ve come from a place of privilege. I was raised with the very lovely idea that if I just worked hard enough, I could achieve anything I wanted. Isn’t that lovely? Isn’t that the greatest gift a child can be given? Complete faith in their abilities and the fairness of the world?

And it’s been a shock to realise that might not be the case. I may just not be able to do this. Which is terrifying. I have worked multiple jobs at the same time, I’ve written books on no sleep, I’ve met ridiculous deadlines and I’ve moaned A LOT, but I’ve always managed it. But that’s just been a case of energy and dedication, which I used to have a lot of. I’ve been ridiculously lucky – I’ve always found writing to be easy. I’ve found it a joy. I haven’t had to sit there writing and rewriting one line at a time. Sure, edits are messy and writing is work, but it’s never been particularly difficult or unpleasant. This academic writing, to me, is unpleasant. It makes me feel unsure of myself, like the readers are  a bunch of facebook commentators,  waiting to cite sources that prove me wrong.

know-your-why

But, those things we find difficult build character, right? I think the frustrating thing is that no one made me do this. I chose the difficult, exhausting, overwhelming path because that’s who I am. I make things difficult for myself because I have something to prove. Apparently.

So this is a reminder to think about your WHY – why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you love it? Is your WHY enough to sustain you? And on pushing boundaries, well, it’s good for you, right? I’d rather have a nap and stay in my comfort zone, writing zippy one liners and describing aubergine parmigiana, but if one person reads this work, and feels enabled, or nourished, or touched, then I can say I conquered the hardest thing I’ve come up against, and provided something for someone else.

And, just because I think we need to hear it, no one else has their life together either.

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Are you here for a good time or a long time?

This was a phrase I first heard when doing my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship. Another student (actor, journalist, singing teacher and all round entrepreneurial badass Steven Sparling) gave a talk on what success in the arts might look like.

I had never heard the phrase this way around. It’s usually:

We’re here for a good time, not a long time.

It’s a pretty great song from Trooper. And it works when we apply it to life, because we aren’t here for a long time, in the grand scheme of it, so carpe diem and all that.

 

But you can’t apply that philosophy to your career, and you certainly can’t apply it to your writing.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt about what being a writer is about, and what being a successful writer might look like, it’s that miracles are achieved through consistency. The same as everything else. The consistent drop of water that steadily cuts through rock. That’s what writing it.

Everyone dreams of big windfalls, of those big sparkling moments. Of being signed, receiving an advance, getting an agent, holding your printed book in your hands, doing signings…these are not the things that make a writer. The thing that makes a writer is writing. The person who has been doing this day in, day out for the last however many years. The person who has been finishing books, getting them out there, and getting right on to the next one. Everything else is just decoration.

I’m not saying those things aren’t exciting – of course they are! But what determines whether you will be a successful writer is not getting a whole heap of promotion or thinking one book is going to change your life. Everyone holds up Harry Potter as the example of good publishing and writerly goals – Harry Potter does not happen to everyone. And even when it does, the hysteria and love didn’t build to hugely famous levels until book three. You know why? BECAUSE SHE WAS CONSISTENTLY WRITING THEM.

I have made sacrifices to live this writing life. Whilst my friends and other people my age are buying houses and starting families, I’m still scraping along with my Mac book that’s missing keys, and ignoring how there is entirely too much mould in my flat. And yes, that’s my choice. That’s not because I think I’m one day going to write a bestseller and my life will change forever (though seriously, a film deal wouldn’t go amiss) but because I believe the slow plod of perseverance, increasing my back catalogue and improving as a writer, will eventually lead to a slightly more comfortable life. And if not, well, I lived the life I wanted and told the stories I was passionate about.

I’m not here to burst your bubble or spit on your dreams, but I think the media promotes an idea of ‘the book deal’ as the end of the story. We see stories about celebrities like Zoella making millions, when the reality is, even prize winners and highly respected authors who write the books that surprise and overwhelm us, people who write the books we love, don’t make that much money.

So the question I invite you to ask yourself is this:

Are you here for a good time or a long time?