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On Developing a Thick Skin: The Writer’s Task

 

You’ve slogged away at a book, you’ve received a publishing deal, or have put the effort into self publishing. You’ve written blog posts, updates, tweeted, talked everyone’s ears off about it, and you want people to buy it.

 

But what about when people do actually read it? What about when they review it? I hadn’t really thought about this part up until now, so focused on trying to drum up interest, secure reviewers and bloggers, that I didn’t think about what would happen when I get my first (inevitable) bad review.

 

How can you respond to the idea that someone doesn’t like what you’ve made? Well, in an ideal, rational world you understand that not everyone likes the same things, and you try to ignore it and remain proud of your work. But much as the internet has given us so much, reviews are fast and thick and from everyone. You don’t have to wait for the papers to give you a write up, instead you’re almost overhearing the conversations people are having about your work. 

 

Having looked at other author’s responses to bad reviews, seeing how they’ve almost felt personally attacked, and then had to shake it off, and try and continue, is powerful and admirable. I’m really nervous that a bad review will knock me down from what I’m writing now.

 

Writers (like all artists) are a strange mix of ego and self-doubt. We want to forge forward, secure in the knowledge that we’re making something we like, that has had some good response. That we are justified in doing what we’re doing. But half of us knows that we’re terrible, we’re no good, nothing we create will stand up to judgement, and what’s the bloody point anyway?

 

In these times, it’s good to remember two things: 

 

You’re doing this for you. You wrote your book for you. The process, the outcome, all of that was to make you feel something. Or simply because it was something you needed to do.

 

Also, Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight are bestsellers. So bollocks to all of it, really.

 

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Regardless of my own personal fear, reviews are welcome (and necessary!) if you want to get a review copy from netgalley- click HERE and if you want to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk, then go ahead. It’s released in ONE WEEK!

 

 

 

 

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On Living Without Stability:

Why we sacrifice ‘normal’ and what it means in the Real World.

I honestly thought I had gotten the hang of this self-employment thing. I can do my own tax returns without crying at the screen on the HMRC website. I can sit and sift through my receipts. I can publicise myself, live within my means, and am constantly looking for work and taking too much on.

 

But in the real world, unless you’re hanging with other artists, being self-employed makes you a risk.

 

Upon looking at flats, the face of the estate agent when I say that I’m self employed makes me try and give all the reasons I’m doing well, like I’m projecting all my Daddy issues onto the poor guy. ‘I make enough money to rent this flat! Honestly!’ I have savings, and good credit, and good references. But when you’ve only been self-employed a few years, even when your earnings are increasing, you’re not a safe bet.

 

I have seen people who are worse bets than I am. People who teeter on the edge of being fired, or never know how to keep hold of their money. I am a safe bet. But I was still too worried to say ‘writer’ when he asked me what I did. What did I say? Workshop facilitator. Which is also true. But how many fake made up terms could I have give him? Wordsmith co-ordination specialist? Personal Language Lecturer? Recreational Story Sharer?

People have an image of the artist as a layabout. And I have no doubt that unless I showed them my royalty statements, they would consider ‘writer’ to mean ‘unemployed.’ 

How do we challenge this?

 

-Appearances matter. I am quite a fan of hanging about in yoga pants and drinking so much coffee I think I’m going to shake out of my skull. But cliches are not your friend. 

 

-Arrogance. It’s important for you to know the value of your work and the value of what you have to offer. If you make it seem like it’s preposterous that you aren’t doing as well as a PAYE worker, then that’s the assumption that sticks.

-Know your facts and make compromises. If you know exactly how much you made last year, how much you can afford, and what your projected earnings are, then who’s going to question you. Know your numbers and you have your power.

 

-Don’t get rattled. People are going to doubt. They are going to think you can’t possibly live as a freelance artist. A lot of them are going to be irritated if you prove you can. But just chug along, like the little train who thought it could, and trust that your end goal is about more than just stability or normality, it’s about making a life you’re proud to live.

 

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Five Ways to Know If a Creative Project is Worth Your Time

As writers, artists and other creative entrepreneurs, we are often asked to do things for free. Or worse, we’re given ‘opportunities’ that turn out to be free labour. From internships to magazine work, freebies are a part of the creative work environment. But how do you know if you’re wasting your time?

1. You’re Getting Paid

Obviously, you’ll decide if it’s worth it- but if you get paid for what you do, that’s a good sign that it’s worth doing. Not only are you making moolah, but being paid is a legitimising factor. It’s a symbol of professionalism, and a mark of respect. And once someone pays you, the likelihood it they’ll continue, as will others who want your services.

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2.Feedback

There’s a reason facebook is so powerful, and it’s not its addictive quality or ability to pander to nosiness. It’s because of the information it holds. People’s likes and dislikes, their hobbies and preferences matter. And they should matter to you. If you get the chance to get feedback, professional or otherwise- it’s invaluable. It can help you hone your skills, get testimonials which can lead to further work. It’s also useful in marketing because you’ll know what your audience likes, and know where to focus your advertising.

 

3.Contacts

No artist is an island, and the greatest thing we can do is find contacts in our field. They might promote your work, they might pass opportunities your way. They might just be someone who works the same way you do, and can make you feel like you’re not so alone. This artistic life can be a bit lonely, and the more people you know, the easier your life becomes. Just don’t get sucked into trying to attend everything- be as supportive as you can.

 

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4. It’s good advertising.

Sometimes doing a freebie is worth it if it’s going to lead to further work. This summer I’ll be running a Write Here, Write Now writing workshop for kids as part of the Finchley Literary Festival. I’m doing this for free. But the hope is that the kids and parents who attend will know who I am and what I’m about, and know where to find me if they want to do further lessons. It’s also a great chance to give out some flyers, talk to interested people, and generally find out who is in the area. Doing too many of these freebies isn’t advisable, as people tend to think you’re willing to work for free. But the occasional work to get you into a new area, especially when you know people in that field are doing well, is very worth it. 

5. You enjoy it!

 

Sometimes, you won’t get paid for doing what you love, but if you love it, it can be worth it. I ran a creative writing workshop every week where only one child turned up. Technically, it would have been smarter to scrap the workshop and focus on new revenue streams, or writing my book, but I LOVED working with this kid. He was excited and talented and really appreciated the time I spent with him. And that excitement invigorated me in the rest of my work. Sometimes we forget about the joy- it’s a necessary component!

 

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Ten Things Writers Need to Know To Keep Upbeat

  • Yes, your current WIP might be rubbish right now. And that’s okay. No-one shits gold. Give yourself a break, keep plugging away at it. Rubbish written down is better than genius never created. You’re doing something, keep going.

 

  • Someone, somewhere will like what you’re doing. There is something for everyone, people are varied and random and have all different tastes. This is not to say you shouldn’t edit, or work harder, or be humble. But trust that if you like it, someone on this massive planet probably will too.

 

  • This brings me to the third realisation. People who are worse writers than you have publishing deals. They have agents. They occasionally create million dollar franchises based on moody teenage vamps or bondage. Some days, this can be depressing. Seeing five star ratings for something that makes you want to bang your head against a wall can be difficult. But flip the argument- if they can do it, you definitely can.

 

  • 50% of writing is marketing. If you want to get anywhere you need a solid understanding of blogging, twitter, readers and how to reach people. Do I particularly like that it works that way? Nope, but times are changing. If you’re writing, talk to people who might become readers. 

 

  • 50% of writing is ACTUALLY WRITING. Yes, social media matters. So does online presence, author profiles and all that other stuff. BUT, you are a writer because you write. There is no point having a great following, with people eager to read your stuff when you have nothing to present to them. That’s just a waste of great marketing.

 

  • Stop talking about your work. No, okay, I know that clashes with number 4. Reveal bits, ask questions, put up quotes. But your WIP is In Progress for a reason. I know talented writers who have been talking about the same book they’ve been planning to write for years. If you’re not writing it, eventually someone else will come up with the same idea. So get to it. The more you talk about it, the less you’re focusing on it. Writing is internal- keep your work safe until you’re confident in it.

 

  • Talk to other writers. Not necessarily about your work, but about your process, about how you find writing. Hell, sometimes you don’t have to talk about writing at all, but finding someone who shares that passion is important. I love having friends call up to discuss a plot point, or texting a writer friend when I’ve finally fixed a developmental character issue. It’s nice to be part of a group.

 

  • Check your ego. Ego is a funny thing when it comes to writing. You need enough of it to keep you going, but you also need to reign it in. Why? Well, for starters you become an arsehole who no-one wants to hang around with, but mostly because if you start believing you’re a writing genius, nothing you do will live up to your own expectations.

 

  • Think about why you started writing. Are you doing this just for the publishing deal? Or would you be writing anyway? Do you love what you do, does it relax you? Are you so wrapped up in your characters and stories that it brings you joy? If you’re only doing it to try and make a quick buck, well sorry Bud, this ain’t the life for you.

 

  • What would you do if you weren’t writing? If you packed it all in, stuck the WIP in a drawer, and never looked back- what would you be doing right now? Would it be as fulfilling? Would it change anything? Would it be creative? Give yourself some time to do these things, but hopefully it makes you realise that you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t writing.

 

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Rebirth, Renewal, Rethink: Taking off the Layers

Spring is on the way! At least it should be. All around us, nature is bursting into bloom, and we should be too. Shake off the weariness of winter, take off those protective layers, and let the sun warm our skin. How do we do this? We start dreaming.

 

This is always the time of year that I start to dream again. I dream of summer holidays and lazy days. I make lists of all the things that make me happy about this time of year, all the things I can look forward to as the days get warmer and longer. There’s power in lists, and power in dreaming. What are lists if not dreams aided by intention? You definitely want to do them, you’ve committed to them on paper! Whether you get around to it or not, you’ve taken it from the subconscious to the conscious realm. And that means something!

 

Are you feeling a little more hopeful now that spring’s rolling around? We become more curious when everything about us is changing and growing, don’t we? The days I’d rather stay curled up with a book and a cup of tea are behind, and now is the time I want to go walking in the woods, looking at everything with wander and excitement. It’s the perfect time to get inspired, and to be open to that creativity. 

 

Go on the walks you did as a kid- get excited by the sound of the ice-cream truck, the smell of the seaside. Dance to cheesy music and fall in love too quickly. Access the things you’ve not done in a while, and the memories will start flooding back. Capture these moments like polaroids, cherish them, swim in them. When we make ourselves open to the tiniest details, when we fine tune and really pay attention to the fabric our lives are made of, we become open to it.

 

So, dear writers, I encourage you to cherish the playfulness of life, to roll up your trousers and waddle out into the pool of your childhood memories. Make lists, make plans, get excited.

 

And if you’re feeling the renewal and revamp vibes this season, we have a couple more spaces left on the Writing for Wellbeing Workshop next week (Saturday 26th April) in Barnet. Plus we’re doing a special Easter Sale, so if you enter the Promo Code: FACEBOOK50 you’ll get the whole day workshop for only £32.50! 

 

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Get Creative? Get 50% OFF!

Who doesn’t love a bargain? For this week- we’re doing 50% off our Creative Writing for Wellbeing Workshop on 26th April 2014 in Barnet, North London. A whole day (10am-4pm) which includes all materials, drinks, snacks and a gorgeous lunch! 

We’ll be using creative writing exercises and tasks to work on ideas of containment, history, and learning a little more about ourselves through our stories. Wondering if it’s for you? Do you have some things you’d like to approach creatively? Maybe things that are a little uncomfortable to deal with head on? Feeling down on yourself? Missing someone? Feeling a bit stuck? Maybe there’s nothing going on with you, but you’re looking to get a little creative, or think a bit deeper?

It’s fun, we promise! And at the 50% off price of £32.50, you can’t really lose!

 

Go HERE to book tickets, and put the code FACEBOOK50 in the promo code box! It’s a season of renewal- the seasons are changing, the world is waking up- why not join it?

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GUEST POST: Carys Jones ‘Where I Write’

I’m excited to welcome Carys Jones, a fellow Carina author, to my blog this week! Her book Prime Deception is available now!

 

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I write all my books on my trusty pink laptop in the study of my house. My laptop isn’t connected to the internet so when I sit up there I am solely focused on my work.

As you can see, my desk is covered in lots of girly trinkets. I have up programs from all the ballets I have been to with my Mom, we usually go twice a year. I have a Little Mermaid snow globe as its one of my favourite Disney movies and the picture in the Minnie/Daisy frame is of my beloved cat Pepper who sadly passed away a few years ago. Behind the picture of Pepper is a picture of me and all my friends on my wedding day. 

There is also a Hello Kitty clock which I’ve had for years and has followed me from my parents’ home to my own house now. I’ve always loved anything Hello Kitty. When this picture was taken I’d finished working for the day, when I’m working there is always a large glass of water on the pink coaster! 

There are more pictures scattered around on the walls but they are out of the shot. I try and make my writing space really personal, my own little area where I am surrounded by everything that I love and find familiar. It means that when I’m stuck, or writing something particularly emotional, I can look up and smile when I see either a picture or a memory of somewhere I’ve been.

On the far left you can see a load of notes from the story I’m currently working on. What you can’t see are all my scribbling’s written all over it as I’m forever changing my mind and altering things from my original plan! 

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Authentic Storytelling: Writing the message or telling the story?

 

Writers have quite a responsibility when it comes to the stories they spin. We are constantly looking for the message, the bigger picture. If the good little girl gets rewarded in love, we feel like we must be good to get what we want. If bad characters are punished, we feel we must believe in that punishment.

 

But what happens when fear of the message takes over your storyline? What if you have an ethnic minority character who happens to be the bad guy? Are you a racist? What if your gay character doesn’t end up with a partner but your straight character does- are you prioritising who gets happiness in society?

 

Every web we create sends out vibrations, saying that our belief system sits within these words. And that’s not always true. Sometimes I don’t give another character a love interest because I don’t have time, or I don’t want to end it in a triple wedding like a Jane Austen tie up. Sometimes, the bad guy is just the bad guy, because you want to make it more interesting, and give them a backstory. Not because you’ve decided all people of a certain race are evil.

 

But people will call you on this. They will expect absolute answers for every decision you’ve made, when really, some of them are just based on the fact that they felt right. A friend of mine is currently trying to write a villain who happens to be gay. Now, is there a way to do this without demonising gay people? Yes, of course. But is there always going to be one person with a foghorn standing there and judging her for the choice? Probably.

 

People are complex creatures with endless facets, constantly changing and evolving. To represent one of those on the page clearly is pretty much impossible. But in writing (as in life) reverting to labels never helps anyone. My friend’s character is not evil because he is gay, or gay because he is evil. He is an evil character that serves a purpose of evilness in the story, and also happens to be gay because…well, because he is. Just like how people are, because they are.

 

And what if you don’t have a message? Or worse, if the message doesn’t fit the genre you write in? When coming up with concepts for my new novel, I’d just watched two awful movies ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Made of Honor’, both of which deal with the bullshit ‘We’ve been friends for years but now you’re getting married and I’ve realised I love you’ storyline. So I wanted to write a story where a girl and a guy live together, and are friends, and other people don’t get it, and keep waiting for them to get together. But they don’t. Because they’re friends. The message was there. Men and women can be friends, stop demonising it and making it all about romance because we all know that’s not true.

 

Except…well, no-one wants to read a story like that. Firstly, because it’s a story where nothing changes, and people want change, but also because people WANT the main characters to get together. They don’t care about the moral, or the message or what it means for society if we think our friends secretly want to shag us. If there’s a nice guy and a nice girl, and they get along, movies and novels tell us that they’re a possibility. And no amount of talking about the message will make that a satisfying read for people who have become used to the pattern of existing friendships in romcoms. I’m pretty sure we don’t do this in real life. We don’t look at a best friend of the opposite sex we’ve never been attracted to before, and suddenly decide they’ll do. And if we do, it’s more interesting to write about what takes that person to that point, where they are emotionally and how that affects the friendship.

 

My point being, we often feel like a story can’t exist without a message, but a message without a working story just feels like being hit over the head with someone else’s morality. Not fun. My chick lit books tend to work on the same theme, which is taking a chance and trusting someone. Do I do this deliberately? No, but I like writing emotionally distant and strongly sarcastic female characters, so the message comes naturally from how I enjoy writing. The message tends to reveal itself along the way, and if you’re already absolutely sure about what you’re trying to tell the world, well, just try and be careful you’re not hitting people over the head with it. Being able to enjoy a story, even if you don’t agree with it’s view of the world, is one sign of great writing.

 

Don’t forget my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop on 26th April, where we explore things like where our personal inbuilt narratives meet our characters on the page. If you want to explore how and why you write a little better, it’s the perfect opportunity! Plus, if you Quote: WORDPRESSCODE in an email to andrealmichael@aol.com when ordering, you get 10% off the ticket price! Bargain!

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Guest Post: Are You Overworked and Underplayed?

Excited to have Steven Sparling from The Thriving Creative doing a guest post today. I was featured on The Thriving Creative on Saturday, and it’s always the first place I go to for creative business knowledge!

 

As creative people, we can sometimes be a little OCD. You know how you get that great idea and suddenly NOTHING will stand in the way of you completing it. You forgo sleep. You skip bathing. You avoid Facebook and email in order to burn the candle at both ends.

And what happens?

Often you see what started out as a really good idea gets the life choked out of it as you surround it like a helicopter parent smothering it will love, labour and attention.

You’ve overworked your creative idea to death.

What went wrong?

You (and your idea) became overworked and underplayed.

Can you recognise the signs of overworking?

Try these on for size.
• are you bored with life?
• does everything feel like an uphill slog?
• do the things that once brought you joy now seem stale?

I’ve been feeling this way lately. Not really wanting to sing. Finding it a chore to sit and the computer and write. Not even wanting to leave the house.

But that feeling has shifted.

I can attribute it to two things.

1. Spring has arrived here in London. We’ve had some nice sunny days lately and I’ve been making a real effort to get outside for walks (I even tentatively started a running programme with the aptly named app ‘from couch to 5K’).

2. I’ve been re-reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and doing the exercises.

Every seven years, or so, I revisit this evergreen book. And every time I do it opens up new doors for me. So the question, “are you overworked & underplayed” is Cameron’s.

Her point is that when we get ‘stuck in’ with our creative practice, it can sometimes start to feel like work. When you are trying to meet deadlines, or trying to make things happen on the business front, or paying attention to your website, or keeping an eye on the bank balance (all the things that I advocate at The Thriving Creative http://www.thethrivingcreative.com) it can sometimes make it start to feel like….. well a job…. or a career.

Which it is.

But it’s also an art form. And art and creativity DIE without a sense of PLAY.

What we have to master is the ability to change roles. At times we need to put our adult hat on to update a spreadsheet tracking pending invoices, or to write the web copy for your website, or to make cold calls to potential customers.

But then you equally need to tap into that playful fun inner child and let him or her loose with the crayons and the spray paint and silly hats.

When we’re overworked and underplayed we just get BORING and BORED. And then everything seems like work.

So. Here’s three things to think about:

1. Schedule blocks of time for business work and EQUAL blocks of time for Play. If you spend 6 hours on the business and give yourself 30 minutes to play (or create) you are going to end up back in that overworked and underplayed place. On the flip side (and this is where many artists start) is that you give yourself 6 hours to play and only 30 minutes to deal with the business side — this leads to starvation. So schedule equal times for them.

2. Find ways to sneak play into the business work. Just because you are sorting out your finances doesn’t mean you can’t make a game out of them. Since January, I’ve been using Toshl (www.toshl.com) to track my finances. I chose it because unlike all the other software programmes I looked at, this one was fun. There are monsters, bright colours and funny sayings that pop up. It makes me laugh every time I use it. So I am accomplishing a business task (tracking my outgoings and incomings) while at the same time I am still keeping it fun.

3. Again borrowing from Julia Cameron — once per week get yourself out of the house, or out of the studio, and go out in the world for an ‘artist’s date.’ A time (even an hour) where you do something fun with no aim or objective attached to it. Time where you explore, get stimulated and reconnect with the pleasure of being amongst real people and fresh ideas. It might be a trip to a museum or it might be a visit to a flower market. It can be as high-brow or low-brow as you want AS LONG AS IT’S FUN. [Confession: I still find this one hard to do. I find it really hard to make time for this to happen. But every time I do, it’s like someone has lit a fire under my creativity.]

That’s it. Three ways to bring more fun into your life.

So next time you feel that cloud starting to hover over you and your creative work, know that it’s a pretty clear sign you need to go outside and play.

 

 

Steven Sparling is an actor, writer and teacher. He is a PhD candidate in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He teaches voice at the London College of Music, leads creative entrepreneurship workshops at Be Smart About Art and has appeared as an actor in the West End, in feature films and on tour throughout the UK and Canada. For weekly insight into creative entrepreneurship and how you can begin to thrive in your creative career, please visit http://www.thethrivingcreative.com and sign up for the free monthly newsletter.

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Giving Yourself Permission to Write

Even as a professional writer, taking the time to write feels a bit selfish. Yes, I’ve got a deadline, and yes, it’s a business, but still. I get to sit here and make up stories, and it feels a little self indulgent. I could be doing my laundry, or cleaning the house, or advertising the book. We often take the stance that this is procrastination, and sometimes it is. But other times, it can come from the idea that what we’re doing isn’t worthy of the time we’re spending on it.

Writing is something just for you. In many ways it’s a completely solo activity. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, people write in a group, and share stories, create together, but usually, the process of drawing out a story from within you to on the page, is a personal journey. Learning that the stories you have to tell are relevant and important is necessary to work well. If you think about it in terms of your feelings, regardless of how the work will be received or what others will say- you have a story within you, and you need to get it out. If the story stays untold, unacknowledged, it’s not going to be good for you. It’ll sit forgotten, itching at you. Like many things that reoccur and pop into our heads, nudging us for attention, it’s important to listen to them.

To ignore your artistry is to ignore how you work, and how you feel about it all. I run Writing for Wellbeing Workshops, and these are a fairly new and holistic way of using creativity. It’s thinking about the process and not about the outcome. Obviously, the writing you produced has a part to play, and often you’ll create some beautiful and meaningful work. The reason people come to these workshops is because they feel they need permission to spend the time on their writing, to take a break from their lives for the day, and focus solely on them and their creativity. It’s a brilliant atmosphere, and the hope is that when you finish the day, you’ll take away the sense that writing is good for you, and it’s not selfish to do it, but necessary and helpful to you.

There’s more details on the workshop here, but always try to remember that anything you do has purpose, and you can’t feel guilty about that.

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