My first year as a full-time author. Not quite as expected…

An old friend and I exchanged news on Messenger this week and she asked if I was still writing full-time. I replied last night that I was and it had been about a year. And then it struck me that it had been pretty much exactly a year and I might even have missed the anniversary. I had. So this is a bit of a belated post!

Tuesday – 8th June – was the one-year anniversary of me being a full-time author. What an amazing year it has been for my career as an author with so many wonderful goals achieved, but it has also been the most peculiar of years thanks to a global pandemic changing everyone’s lives.

This isn’t a blog post about goals achieved or about the strange world in which we live. Instead, it’s about how I’ve found writing full-time…

I thought I’d start this post by sharing an amazing cartoon my husband drew for me to represent frustrating days in my previous role as a distance learning HR Tutor. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job … most of the time. I don’t think there are many jobs that don’t have a few niggles but the ones in mine had become more frequent and increasingly challenging so the steam coming out the ears had become a regular thing!

So how has the first year been as a full-time author? Not quite what I expected. I say this not because I’m not ‘living the dream’ by doing exactly what I want to do, but because my approach to the freedom to write full-time hasn’t been what I expected and I find myself unexpectedly working more hours than I’ve ever worked.

I used to be able to write a book in 2-3 months squeezing my writing time into evenings and weekends around my demanding more-than-full-time day job. I ran evening webinars so I didn’t even have every evening free to write. I therefore assumed that, with full days available, I would get so much more writing done and at a quicker pace.

Wrong!

I have mastered the art of procrastination. I continually break from what I’m doing to:

  • Check my emails
  • Scroll through my social media feeds
  • Check my chart positions
  • See whether I have new reviews

The last two points are fair enough when it’s publication day or there’s a promotion on but it isn’t necessary several times every day outside that.

I don’t need to repeatedly check my emails and the scrolling through social media feeds is completely unnecessary, especially when the way I do it is so ineffective. I frequently find myself scrolling aimlessly, not resetting Facebook to ‘most recent’ so I am seeing posts I’ve already seen and I’m not interacting with any of them.

I dread to think how many hours I waste each day doing this. Yes, we are talking hours!

Linked to the above, I have absolutely no routine. I plonk myself down at my desk on a morning and am usually still there past 10pm. Argh! That’s not good.

When I had very little time to write, I used to just crack on with it. One hour to write? Okay, let’s do this!

Not so much now. With the whole day and week spread out before me, I don’t use it effectively. I spend ages staring into space. Sometimes I’m thinking about a plot point or piece of dialogue. Most of the time, I’m not. 

I get distracted doing little bits of research when I would previously have put ‘CHECK THIS’ in the middle of my manuscript (MS) and come back to it later to avoid disrupting my flow.

I used to use the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) approach of just getting the words on the page and editing them later but I’ve started editing as I go again or spending ages trying to think of the perfect words to use instead of getting the intention down on the page and perfecting the words later.

I think having so much time spread before me is the problem. At the back of my mind, I knew this could be an issue as a very good friend of mine had become a full-time author a couple of years earlier and she experienced the same issue. When you have very little time, you’re very focused with it. When you have loads of time, you waste it.

I need to be so much more focused with my writing time.

As you can probably guess from what I’ve said about how many hours I spend at my desk, I don’t have one of these. I can’t remember the last time I did.

Last summer, I wrote a week-long series of blog posts about imposter syndrome and it was quite a revelation for me pinpointing what had triggered mine. It went back to my early twenties and continued throughout my working life where I was bullied in the workplace and overlooked for promotion on several occasions.

We all know when we’re good at something or not (even though it’s very British to downplay our abilities) so I’m going to be very non-British and bold and declare that I was excellent at my job but I wasn’t good at playing the game. I didn’t network with the ‘right’ people. I didn’t ‘big myself up’ at work. I didn’t get involved in work politics. I didn’t stamp on others to get to where I wanted to be. I always hoped to progress on my own merits instead of because of who I knew. That strategy didn’t work! I therefore developed a workaholic approach, putting in way more effort and hours than were required in order to prove myself. And that approach became part of me and has never quite left me.

I find it very difficult to relax. I don’t like not being busy. I’m always doing something work-related and this isn’t good. This has exacerbated during the pandemic. Stuck at home? Might as well work then. So I did. Yet, as already stated, it hasn’t been time spent constructively.

Looking back, I have achieved a lot. In the year I’ve been a full-time author, I have:

  • Written three full-length novels, one of which required a complete re-write in edits
  • Completely re-written one of my backlist books as I wasn’t happy with the way it was written
  • Undertaken a full edit on another of my backlist

But I could have done more and … here’s the rub … in fewer hours if I hadn’t procrastinated, if I’d found a routine, and if I’d given myself a work life balance.

I think that the latter is one of the reasons why I procrastinate and don’t have a routine and it’s a vicious circle. I’m shattered because I don’t have any downtime so, when I do sit down at my desk, I can’t concentrate for long so I write a few hundred words and then get distracted. The words come more slowly because I’m tired but that means I need to sit at my desk longer to get the book written which means no work life balance which means I’m shattered so I procrastinate…

What can I do?

Only I can make the change. My husband challenged whether I should write fewer than four books a year to give me more time, but four books a year is absolutely do-able. The problem is that I don’t use the time effectively so it’s not the volume of work I need to change; it’s how I work.

I was fascinated by listening to a Facebook Live last week from fellow-Boldwood author Shari Low on the publication day of her latest novel, One Summer Sunrise. Shari talked about how quickly she writes her books and I was fascinated by it. She pretty much shuts herself off for a week or two and blitzes it. She doesn’t look at social media or go out. It’s a very intensive period with very long hours but the book gets written. Wow!

I wondered if she might put a huge amount of planning into it so that she knows exactly what she’s going to write but she’s a pantser, like me, just getting on with writing the idea she has. So this could work for me. If she’d planned first, that would be no good. I’m definitely not a planner with my writing.

I have started writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – and it’s going very slowly. This is partly because I have to do some research first and I’m struggling to find the detail I need so that’s holding me up, but it’s also because I’m procrastinating and because I have no routine. Next week isn’t a good week to try Shari’s approach as I am meeting up with my writing bestie, I have a hair appointment, and I have a cover reveal at the end of the week so need to be on social media. However, w/c 21st June is relatively clear in the diary so I’m going to come off social media for the week and see what happens if I try to blitz the book. Even if I could write half of it in a week, I’d be thrilled.

Every author is different and what works for one isn’t going to work for another but they say that the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I’ve been doing the same thing for the past year and it’s not effective so it’s time to experiment with something a little different. I’ll let you know how I get on.

I hope this approach does work for me as I love the idea of an intensive fortnight to write a book and then time to do other things and be with my family outside of that. Of course, the process of writing the book doesn’t stop at that fortnight. There are still two rounds of edits, copy edits and proofreading stages but I think something radical is needed to stop me from working all these crazy hours.

Wish me luck!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Working on one novel at a time? Pah! Let’s go for three and a novella!

When I set up my writing blog, my intention was to post at least once a week, preferably twice. I’m lucky if I manage twice a month at the moment. I do have a good excuse for the lack of posts, but I’ll come onto that shortly.

P1050559My good writing friend, Sharon Booth, is currently posting on her writing blog on a daily basis (every day except Sunday) and it puts me to shame. However, there’s also a good reason for this. You see, Sharon is taking part in the A-Z Blogging Challenge where bloggers blog every day (except Sundays) for a month, working their way through the alphabet in order. When Sharon first mentioned that she was going to do this, my first reaction was that it was a crazy idea. Where on earth would you get the time and inspiration from in order to generate posts for each letter of the alphabet? Sharon’s debut novel, ‘There Must Be An Angel’ (click on the link to buy it) had just been released, and she saw this as a great opportunity to promote aspects of her novel. What a great idea! Suddenly the A-Z Challenge made sense to me, so much so that I worked out my own alphabet of posts linked to the launch of ‘Searching for Steven’. Sharon had participated in the A-Z Challenge in the month following her launch, but I was going to do mine in the month leading up to the launch of mine. I was quite excited about it.

P1030956Thankfully I got no further than the list of potential posts because I’d completely misunderstood one vital aspect of this Challenge: it was a National Challenge for the month of April and bloggers signed up to it in the same way that writers would sign up to NaNoWriMo for the month of November. Oops! So I’ll hang onto my list of ideas and perhaps sign up to next year’s A-Z Challenge in the run-up to the launch of book 2 instead!

I’m also relieved that I no longer plan to do my own A-Z Challenge in May because, quite honestly, I don’t know when I’d have time to prepare the posts in-between working on three novels and one novella. Surely that’s more than enough for one writer to manage at one time.

Let me explain…

10933962_422724554553053_2755676624398073407_nMy debut novel, ‘Searching for Steven’, will be launched on 3rd June (oh my goodness, that’s only 44 sleeps away!) The MS has been edited, proofread and formatted so I now have the pdf. But there’s one last opportunity for a final read-through before it goes to print. My wonderful publishers, So Vain Books, have said that I don’t have to do the final read-through (as they’ll do one), but I feel that I want to so that I can give a final seal of approval before it goes to print. I’m away with my day job for four nights this week – lots of alone time in a hotel which is perfect for reading – so I’ve committed to having that done by the end of the weekend.

My second novel, ‘Getting Over Gary’, will be released in 2016. This is the sequel to Steven, although it can also be read as a stand-alone book. I’d edited Gary recently, but I felt that I hadn’t quite got there with a particular plot-point and I needed some direction. My lovely writing friend (and publishing company buddy), Jo Bartlett, had offered to do another beta read of it. Sharon had recently read Steven for the first time and also offered to beta read Gary for me. The feedback came back and they both had a couple of suggestions that I wanted to work on. Originally I’d agreed a deadline of end of May to get the MS to So Vain Books. This was well in advance of 2016’s release, but there didn’t seem any point in delaying putting Gary to bed. However, when I received the pdf of Steven, I flicked through to the back where the release of Gary was announced and it struck me that we were missing an opportunity to promote him properly. I had an email conversation with SVB’s Publishing Director, Stephanie, and we agreed that it would be great to include Gary’s blurb or, even better, the first chapter. But SVB would need to read Gary before we could finalise either of these so I’ve been working like crazy over the last week to do the final edit and another read-through. I emailed Gary to Steph last night. I confess I’m slightly nervous about this. What if they don’t like him as much as they loved Steven? Eek!

P1030967My third novel, with a working title (likely to change) of ‘Discovering David’ is the final novel in the trilogy. The plan is to release it in 2017 and you might think this is ages away so why worry about it now, but I want to be able to park the whole trilogy and move onto new stories before the end of the year. As someone who has a full-time day job as well as writing, it’s really important that I try to have several books in hand so that I’m not always trying to write to a deadline that I’d struggle to meet. While Sharon and Jo had Gary, I returned to David, and had got into a bit of a flow with him so I’m keen to return.

Finally, I have a novella on the go! Steph suggested that, as a good way to promote my writing, I might like to consider a short story relating to the trilogy. I knew that the heroine would need to be a minor character from the trilogy so that I didn’t give away any secrets. The obvious character was Callie who is the sister of my hero, Nick, from book 1. She gets married near the start of book 1 and I wanted to tell her story. I’m not known for short, short stories, so I was thinking that this would be more like an eight to twelve thousand word story. The problem is that, when I started writing it, Callie wasn’t content with being a short story. Her personality and her life grew and I suddenly had a twenty-four-thousand word novella on my hands. Oops! I emailed it to Steph with an apology that I’d sort of failed to deliver what we’d discussed. Thankfully, she loved the story – ‘Raving About Rhys’ – and could see great potential in launching a novella instead. Phew! It needs some minor editing as there’s a part of the story that happens a little too quickly (I completely agree). I don’t have the luxury of time, though, as this was meant to be released BEFORE Steven so it needs editing, proof-reading and getting out there fast. So I’ve also committed to returning the new and improved version by the end of the week.

P1050434I’m really excited about the challenge ahead, although I’m also looking ahead to the point when David is finished (hopefully early summer) so that I can relax for a bit. I’ve worked so hard for so long. A typical day for me sees me working until 6.30pm in the day job, getting home, checking social media while my daughter’s in the bath, then doing two to three hours of writing before bed. I try to have one evening off a week, but it doesn’t always happen. Thankfully, hubby understands. He’s self-employed and frequently has work to do himself on an evening, but I do feel that I neglect him so hope to have some office-free time soon.

Although book 4 keeps screaming at me to be written…

By the way, I hope you like the pictures. The official cover-reveal of ‘Searching for Steven’ will be this coming Friday (24th April) so I couldn’t include any images of the book. Instead, I’ve posted some snaps I’ve taken of Scarborough, North Yorkshire (except the one of me, of course, which hubby took) which is the inspiration for the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay where the trilogy is set.

Jessica xx

To script write or not to script write. That is the question

Last week, I blogged about a script writing workshop I’d attended on Valentine’s Day and explained that it was a bit of a taster for a six-week evening programme at The Stephen Joseph Theatre. My dilemma was whether I would want to join that programme after Easter. The plan was to attend ‘Plays & Pinot’ where some of the scripts would be showcased and then make a decision. So I attended last night.

And I still haven’t made a decision.

There were sixteen 20-minute plays put on over four nights and last night was the third such night. Four tables were laid out in a square in the middle of the restaurant with a reading lamp on each of them. Three or four actors per play would seat themselves at one of these tables and read through the script (in an acting voice, naturally, with accompanying facial expressions and the odd gesture) whilst a narrator set the scene and provided stage directions. The audience were seated round all four sides of the room.

_MG_0221All of the plays had been written around the theme of love using the same prompt pictures we’d been given on our Saturday workshop. There’s apparently a theme each year and they vary massively – last year’s was WWI – and they are always based on prompt pictures. The first play was about a single mum reacting to her son’s revelation that he was gay. The second was about a policeman who was seeing the 17-year-old daughter of his boss against a backdrop of drugs and club raids. We then had an interval before the next two plays. The first of these involved a wealthy student trying to befriend and support a prostitute working in the area, and the final one was an elderly couple and the revelation by the woman that she’d discovered her husband had fathered a child before they’d met. Very eclectic mix of subject matter!

P1060181My favourite play was the first one because it made me both laugh and cry and I really like books/plays/films that hit my emotions. I think the final play was probably inspired from the same picture I chose to write about.

Three of the four writers were present and they ran a Q&A session afterwards. I didn’t stay for that as I had an early morning for bootcamp this morning.

I had hoped that I’d leave Plays & Pinot with a clear decision that it’s either for me or not. But I didn’t. I enjoyed the evening, despite being there on my own, and I was impressed with what had been produced and brought to life by some amazing actors. I’m curious as to how much writing experience the writers had because, if it was none, then they’d done exceptionally well. I’d probably have found this out if I’d stayed.

I kept imaging how it must feel watching a piece of your work unfold. What an amazing experience that must be, particularly to observe the reaction of the audience (laughter, tears, applause etc). It’s not something an author will get unless their book is made into a film so it’s a pretty unique opportunity.

The tutor seems incredibly experienced and supportive and it sounds like there is great support as a whole cohort in developing each others’ plays.

So what’s stopping me signing up immediately? It’s that I’m chasing my tail at the moment, as reblogged a few days ago from a post I wrote on the Write Romantics blog. I honestly don’t know if I have the time to do it. Will working on a play detract me from my “core” work … or will the feedback and learning be invaluable and support me with my “core” work? Tricky. What do you think?

Maybe a compromise is to wait until September instead rather than sign up after Easter. It’s not like they’re never going to run another workshop.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as I’m torn at the moment.

Thanks

Jessica xx