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Reading Whilst You’re Writing

I love reading. One of the main downsides of writing is that I can’t read whilst I’m writing. Partly because I feel guilty – if I’ve got time to read, I’ve got time to write. The other part is the fear of what you read:

  • Either it’s too similar to what you’re trying to achieve and you’re panicked that you’ll end up stealing ideas.
  • Or, worse, it’s excellent and you’re reminded you’ll never write anything that good and you become depressed and stall in your project.

But sometimes you find a book that’s just different enough not to scare you out of your genre, and just brilliant enough to inspire you instead of depress you.

A friend recently gave me A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, by Natasha Lester.

It was beautiful and different and comforting. Also, I read it whilst the women’s marches were going on, and it was so empowering to read about a woman fighting the system she was born into. It’s set in 1926, and Evelyn Lockhart wants to be one of the first female obstetricians. In order to fund this, she works at Follies on broadway, dancing, singing and not wearing very much at all. It’s an empowering, energetic wonderful story about a woman setting her sights on what she wants and not giving up, no matter what. The book is glitzy, well paced and has a wonderful array of characters who are fiesty and loving.

It was exactly what I needed to read, and has left me feeling energised and excited to write! Plus, who doesn’t love a little dazzle from the 20s?!

You can find the book on goodreads and the audio on Amazon

and I really hope the book will be available in the UK soon!

 

 

writing tips

On Staying Silent: Review Etiquette

So…I had a little hissy fit last week. It was not my finest moment. Normally, I get a bad review and I react in one of the following ways:

  • ‘Damn, that’s a good point. Why didn’t I realise that before I submitted?!’
  • ‘Damn! THAT’S SO TRUE! WHY AM I AN IDIOT? CRAP!’
  • ‘Huh, that’s funny. I never noticed that. Better not do that in the next book.’
  • ‘Oh well, I wasn’t sure if that would work. That’s a shame.’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t choose the title! That’s not my fault!’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t choose the cover! That’s not my fault!’
  • ‘Dude, I didn’t tell you to read this book when you read one with a similar storyline last week!’
  • ‘Oh well, ya win some, you lose some.’
  • ‘Well…you really didn’t get what I was going for there…I’m not gonna question who’s fault that is, because a bunch of other people got it.’
  • ‘Oh…I wonder if you’re a writer who’s trolling…’
  • ‘Wow, I really feel like you know me and have purposefully tried to carve out my heart with a spoon- how can you possibly hate me this much?’

Last week, however, I was overwhelmed with the fact that I could answer a lot of the points this reviewer had made. That I could tell them I’d done the research, that in fact, yes this could happen. I wanted to tell them not to judge me on the title. I wanted to tell them that patting me on the head because 2 stars is actually pretty good due to their terribly high standards made me want to chow down on the living flesh of fools wandering in the woods at a full moon.

But I couldn’t. Because professionals don’t do that shit.

So what did I do?

I shouted at Twitter. In a series of 150 characters snippets, I shouted into the void. Not necessarily because I wanted to be heard, but because I wanted to justify myself. Reviewers have the power to determine sales of a book. They can create a buzz, share excitement and help authors become better writers. They can offer critcism because they read so much, but they can also be responsible for boosting a career when they’re a fan.

They also have the power and safety to destroy someone from behind a screen. To ensure a book never sells and never gets heard of again. To be snarky and sarcastic and even vindictive (and that is their right) because they have people who trust their opinions.

Do I think I wrote a perfect book? Hell no. Do I feel the really harsh reviews that tear things apart like scratchings against my soul? Not always, but yeah…sometimes. Especially if the reviewer forgets that writers are human. It’s harder to put something out there than it is to tear it down. There’s a lot more vulnerability in creation than there is in destruction.

Now I know what’s coming here- ‘Man the fuck up! You’re an author! It’s just part of the job!’ I’d like you to name another job where the people who pay your wages tell you on a regular basis that what you’re doing is perfect but is also shit and worthless and they hate you. In an ordinary job, you work to please your boss. In my job, if you do that, you’ll end up writing song-lyric-influenced-epic-wartime-love-story-between-a-werewolf- and-a-dinosaur-that-goes-back-in-time-to-save-earth-from-cowboys. Because every reader is my boss.

We have to write for ourselves. It is only in being marginally pleased with the result that we can put it out into the world less afraid, and with less excuses when the critics come to call.

Is the moral of this story to man the hell up and not care about reviews? No, I’ve met some lovely people through Twitter and the reviewing process. And their views do help make me a better writer. They also help me feel better when things feel a bit crap. So I didn’t shout out into the void when I justified myself to Twitter. I shouted out, and readers responded. And THAT is the moral of the story. Be upset by your reviews if you want, trust your own process, try to write for yourself. But know that somewhere out there is someone who loves what you do, and wants you to keep going.

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Why I Love my Kindle…And Why I Hate Myself For It.

 

I was a steadfast, never-changing, can’t-see-the-point, technology-goes-too-far defender of printed books. The ‘Original Book’ if you will. I spent a year on my MA in Creative Entrepreneurship listening to people defending the uses of e-readers, imploring me to consider changing markets and adapting writing to new ways of reading. I refused. The printed book will never be replaced, and I just wasn’t interested. However, when I needed to start editing other people’s books and stories, and my back was starting to break from dragging my laptop everywhere (which I still do, I’ve just added a kindle to the Big Bag of Doom), I decided to give them a chance.

Reasons I love it:

1. Instantaneous gratification

Ooh, I really want that book. Ooh, it’s coming out today! I can’t get to the shop today. My local bookshop doesn’t stock it. Oh, I don’t want to order it and wait for weeks, I want it NOW. Oh, BLAM, look at that! I have it. Shopping for books is one of the greatest pleasures, I may even prefer it to reading books. Seeing a book that grabs me, and instantly getting to read and enjoy it really feels good.

2. Holidays

I have always been a bookworm. When we went away on holiday, as a kid I had to think very carefully about my packing allowance. I always had three books for the plane (just in case) and five more in my case (for a two week holiday). No more using up all my packing space, weighing down my luggage, or having to make awful torn decisions about which book had to be left behind (poor little thing).

3. People can’t see what you’re reading

I think this was voted the number one favourite thing about e-readers. If I’m reading my typical maudlin YA fiction that I’ve read a hundred times before and probably has nothing to offer me, no one can judge. If I did want to read such absolute shite as Fifty Shades of Grey, or Twilight, I could do so without judgement. Which perhaps should be counted as a negative, as shaming people out of buying such things might be a good idea.

4. Supporting indie authors

It’s pretty easy to publish on Amazon for kindle, or even publish an e-book. For a minimal price, you can instantly support an author trying to make it, you can spend fifty pence and show solidarity without even really having to read the thing. It’s one click to make someone really happy. I’ve found some great stuff on twitter, downloaded it straight to my kindle, and it’s a bit like finding some hidden gems, it wasn’t what you were looking for, but you’re glad you took a chance.

 

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And some things I just can’t get over:

 

– People can’t see what you’re reading

As a Londoner, I’m quite averse to unnecessary communications on public transport, BUT sometimes it’s nice to have a chat with another book nerd on a bus. When I worked as a barista, it was really easy to start up a conversation with someone about their book. Reading is an internal thing, but the externalising is the talking about it.

You can’t lend books!

This absolutely drives me mad. I recently read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and it was one of the best books I’d read in ages. And whilst I was recommending it to everyone, could I force it on them by physically handing them a copy? No. So e-books are cheaper, but you have to buy them. Again, internalising reading.

On the beach

There’s something very anti-holiday reading about screens and glare and doohickeys and technology. I like the way my pages get crinkled in the sun, and sand gets between the pages. Getting sand on a kindle-fear.

I worry about getting mugged

No-one’s ever going to stop me for my copy of Harry Potter, but for an e-reader worth a hundred quid? My reading on the tube makes me feel like I’ve got to stow everything away going to the ‘dodgier’ parts of London. And that’s not nice.

The Smell

You know what I mean, don’t you?

 

As always, you can buy my book in physical print and on kindle. Because having the best of both is important, right?

 

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Reading to Write

So, it’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in pursuit of literary perfection must be an avid reader. Correct?

Well, responses differ. Generally, if you read a lot, and if you love reading, you typically have a better concept of structure, dialogue etc. Unless you’re reading bad books. Being constantly open to something means you’re likely to be affected by it. My only problem is that I start to imitate whatever I’m reading in my own work, so the narrative voice and style starts to suffer. So generally, I don’t read whilst I’m in the writing stage. Once I’ve taken a break, or I’m onto editing. Then it’s all good.

Books are a great way to get out of your own head, your own fiction and remember what you’re aiming for – a story that brings people into your world, and invites them to stay there for a few hundred pages.

Now, onto the concept of books on writing. There must be hundreds out there, how to write, how to get published, how to be famous, how to edit. Absolutely everything. And I don’t trust a one of them.

Sometimes, I really want one of these books, just to let me feel I’m staying in touch with the craft. But when wandering around my local Waterstones a few days ago, I have to admit, I was almost offended by the books on writing there. They were all telling me basic things I already knew. I may not be published, or have a book deal, but I do know about writing. Most of those ‘How to’ books just made me feel irritated and angry that some poor would-be writer could spend ten quid on a book that tells you ‘editing is important’ and ‘what a character arc is’.

There is so much advice out there, from all different sources. Here’s some in the Guardian from a variety of different writers, most of which contradicts itself.

The only books I trust concerning writing are:

Stephen King- On Writing

(I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read any of his books, but the man knows his craft. And his number one rule, which I agree with completely, is ‘be wary of adverbs, they are the devil’)

The Writer’s and Artist’s Handbook


These are great, not only offering all the info you could ever need concerning agents, publishers and magazines, but have great articles by people in the biz. Just a shame you generally have to buy a new one every year. They have a very thorough website that’s worth playing around on.

Now, there is a new book coming out that I am eagerly awaiting. It’s called The Art of Writing Fiction by Andrew Cowan. I had the great pleasure of being taught by Andrew Cowan when I did the Creative Writing BA at UEA, and I’m really pleased he’s collected his wisdom in book form. He was a great tutor, and always seems to be able to sift through the pretentious writings of teenagers to find the hidden point of it all.

The best thing he taught me was that my story should be guided by my character’s motivations and personalities, not by where I wanted the story to go. Characters should be people, walking through their own lives, not marionettes that you’re forcing into unnatural positions. Also, the point of dialogue is the actual voice, not the subtext. (I have a bit of a penchant for subtext).

So, I will be ordering my copy when it’s released sometime this month, and until then I’ll be revisiting Mr King. Because yes, being a writer is about writing. But never forget that it’s a craft, and it should be respected like any other. Making something is about determination, inspiration and love. So learning all about your craft falls into the love category, I think.

Happy Writing (and reading!)