The Worried Writer Episode #39: James Blatch ‘I Live And Die By Whiteboards’

My guest today is James Blatch. James is a co-founder and director of the Self Publishing Formula with bestselling indie superstar, Mark Dawson. SPF offers fantastic training courses for authors on advertising, self-publishing, and book cover design, as well as a brilliant weekly podcast and free ebooks and resources. James is also an author and is working on his debut novel, The Last Flight. We have an interesting chat about the writing process for a first book, the pressures (and benefits) of writing a debut as a visible figure within the indie publishing community and the tips and resources James has found invaluable in getting to this stage.

For more about James and his forthcoming book, head to JamesBlatch.com or find him on Twitter @JamesBlatch.

The Self Publishing Formula podcast, free resources and courses can all be found at selfpublishingformula.com

IN THE INTRODUCTION

I give an update on my writing this month and admit to falling foul of the ‘fear demon’. On the plus side, once I realised I was scared of finishing the book (because that means showing it to people!), I started to make progress again. Sometimes just recognising the fear is enough to diffuse its power.

LISTENER QUESTION

Maria asked:

How do you get back into a novel project when you’ve been away from it for a while, and your life and your responsibilities have changed?

This is one of two excellent questions from Maria and I answered the other one in my second, Patron-only mini-episode, along with another question from another Patron. If you want access to the mid-month audio extras, consider signing up to support The Worried Writer on Patreon. Thanks!

If you have a writing, productivity or publishing question that you’d like me to tackle in a future episode, please get in touch via email or Twitter or leave a comment on this post.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

IN THE INTERVIEW

James’s writing routine:

‘I try to maintain a family balance… But somewhere in there I’m going to have to find more time to write my book.

On motivation:

‘London Book Fair is always a good boost for me… As soon as I get there I feel like I should hand a card out to explain where I am with my book as I get asked about it so much.’

‘I live and die by whiteboards.’

‘I use a word count target and it goes onto the whiteboard and it gets crossed off and if it doesn’t get crossed off then a little piece of me inside dies.’

On writing ‘in public’:

‘People reading it… That’s the bit that worries me! That people will read it and say ‘what’s all the fuss about, this guy can’t write.’

‘I’m big enough and ugly enough to cope with the bit of glare that there is on me… So I’m fine, really, and I’m using it positively.’

On Dan Brown’s plotting:

‘He very cleverly makes sure the reader is ahead of him. The reader has worked things out two or three pages ahead and there’s a trick to that.’

On shifting from journalism to fiction:

‘I want to tell people what’s happening but that’s not what you do in a novel… I keep giving it away, which is why the plotting is important.’

‘I’m learning the craft and it’s not obvious, is it? You might think it is, it might look easy from the outside but it isn’t…’

On doing the interviews for SPF:

‘Every week I learn something.’

 

Recommended:

James rates author and teacher Joan Dempsey for revision advice and recommends her online course.

Joan was also a guest on the SPF podcast in episode 88.

The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne

The Bestseller Experiment podcast

Novel Factory software for writing (free trial available)

 

 

 

Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes (or whichever podcast app you use) that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast and make it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

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The Worried Writer Episode #35: Lisa Hall ‘We’re Living The Dream’

My guest today is Lisa Hall, author of the bestselling psychological thrillers Between You and Me and Tell Me No Lies, which Heat magazine called ‘breathlessly fast-paced and cleverly unsettling’. Not content with a successful career as an author, Lisa has also crossed the divide to the other side of the business by founding a new publishing imprint, Manatee Books.

You can find out more about Lisa and her books at www.lisahallauthor.co.uk or find her on Twitter or Facebook.

In the introduction I give a recap on my progress during 2017.

It was a good year – my most productive so far, in fact – but I am keen to improve and to make 2018 even better.

2017

In 2017, my main writing goal was to write two new novels and to finish, edit and publish the Worried Writer book.

I managed one new first draft, two lots of major structural rewrites on ‘old’ drafts (including Beneath The Water which is out next month!), and I wrote and published Stop Worrying; Start Writing.

I also narrated the audiobook version, which was very enjoyable but also quite tricky and time-consuming!  It will hopefully be up for sale by the end of the month.

My supernatural thriller is almost ready to go on submission to publishers. This is always a nerve-wracking time and I’m very grateful that I have other projects to distract me…

I got The Garden of Magic made into an audio book and created a short story giveaway for my reader group sign-up.

Phew!

Highlights

I’m trying to get better at celebrating small successes, so listed some of my highlights from 2017:

  • Talking about overcoming fear and self-doubt on The Creative Penn podcast. You can listen here or watch the video on YouTube.
  • The Worried Writer being featured in Mslexia magazine.
  • Getting a new publishing deal with Lake Union with Beneath The Water.

 

2018

I give a brief overview of my goals for 2018, but will put up a more detailed ‘Writing Goals’ post on the 2nd January.

Are you setting goals for 2018? I would love to hear about your plans, too.

Comment below with your goals, or get in touch with any questions on goal-setting, defining success, or productivity.

 

In the interview:

Lisa’s schedule:

‘Because I’ve got three children I have to cram quite a lot in those hours in the middle of the day. When I’m writing I aim for 2000 words a day… I try not to do anything in that period when the children come home from school and go to bed.’

 

‘I do work Saturdays and Sundays. Especially when I’m on a deadline or I’m in the zone… Even I only get 500 words down then I don’t feel so guilty about taking the rest of the day off and spending it with the kids.’

 

‘The first couple of hours in the morning I do admin stuff. With Manatee Books there’s a lot of admin… I keep hours in the afternoon free for writing. I mean, it doesn’t always balance-out! It balances out eventually, but it’s quite hard.’

 

‘I’ve always got a to-do list… So I can work through and I know exactly what needs to be done every day and then I tag my wordcount onto the end.’

 

Writing process:

 

‘I quite often go for a run if I get stuck.’

 

‘I hate the thought of editing and when I get my edit notes, I don’t want to open the email… But once I make a start I’m okay.’

 

‘I’m a massive planner… I can’t write any other way.’

 

‘When I’m working on a book it’s like the idea for the next book can’t fully come through until that book is finished… It’s like my brain won’t let me think about the full story so I do worry that the idea won’t come, but it’s been like this every time.’

 

On starting a publishing company:

‘I’ve had a really good experience with my road to publication and the way HQ have handled things for me… And I know there are people out there who don’t have such a good experience so I wanted to set up something where hopefully we give every author a good experience… It’s really really exciting when you sign the contract but I feel like that excitement should keep going all the way through… I just want everyone to have a lovely experience. We’re living the dream after all!’

 

‘One day I might run out ideas but even if I can’t write I’ll still get to be involved in books, in publishing and be surrounded by brilliant stories and that’s all I really want.’

 

‘We are open for submissions. Liz is always on the lookout for good crime novels. I prefer the more commercial crime novel but she is all about the quirky… I work on the women’s fiction side of it which I really love… I’m looking for good chick lit, nice holiday reading and I’m really on the lookout for a good bookclub read. Um, bit of romance – not too saucy.’

 

Lisa’s advice to other authors:

‘Building an author brand is a slow burn and you need to be patient.’

 

Thanks for listening!

If you can spare a few minutes to leave the show a review on iTunes that would be really helpful. Ratings raise the visibility of the podcast in iTunes and makes it more likely to be discovered by new listeners and included in the charts.

The Worried Writer on iTunes

[Click here for step-by-step instructions on how to rate a podcast on your device]

Also, if you have a question or a suggestion for the show – or just want to get in touch – I would love to hear from you! Email me or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

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10 Great Gift Ideas for Writers

Yes, it’s that time of year again when we all need to find thoughtful gifts to express our love to our nearest and dearest which, let’s face it, isn’t always easy!

If you have a writer in your life, these gift ideas might help.

Alternatively, if you are a writer, you could always forward this post to your family as a helpful hint… Or just treat yourself!

Stationery

I have yet to meet a writer who wasn’t at least a little bit in love with stationery.

This Leuchtturm 1917 dotted journal is perfect for keeping a bullet journal (planning heaven!), writing, brain-storming or doodling. I have been using the A5 size (in Emerald) for my bullet journal this year and I am utterly in love.

Why not create a bullet journal starter-kit by adding a fine-point black pen and some pretty washi tape and stickers?

Happy Planner Sticker Set

 

 

 

Or, just for fun, how about this Storyteller pencil set from Sharp and Blunt?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing fuel

Nothing is more important to me when writing than a cup of tea.* Okay, nothing except a computer or notebook!

Classic Penguin Books mugs come in a range of titles, including Pride And Prejudice.

*Technically, you could put a different hot beverage into this mug, but I can’t be held responsible for the results…

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t hold with the ‘tortured artist’ stereotype but if you know a whiskey-loving writer, this bottle might just be the key to a happy festive season.

Writers Tears Whiskey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When in doubt, chocolate is (usually) the answer…

This book-shaped packaging is lovely (and the caramel truffles sound pretty good, too).

House of Dorchester SeaSalt Caramel Truffles Book Box (pack of 2).

 

 

Pretty Things

 

 

The Literary Gift Company has lots of book-themed loveliness, but I particularly like this ‘So It Goes’ necklace (quote is from Slaughterhouse Five) and their range of ‘poems instead of a card’ pamphlets.

 

 

 

 

 

Books

A good reference section is useful to any writer. Once the basics (a good dictionary and thesaurus) are covered, you can branch out. I love Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase And Fable – it’s stuffed with eclectic facts and is perfect for browsing. Next, I’ve got my eye on this collection of quotes:

Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

 

 

 

 

 

Writers are learning all the time, so a book on the craft or business of writing is sure to be welcome. Stephen King’s On Writing is the most-recommended book on the podcast so it’s a good place to start.

Alternatively, if you know a worried writer, then there is always my book on the subject!

Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How to Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination

 

 

 

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The Life-Changing Magic of Finishing Your Book

A comment popped up recently and, after replying, I found it was still rattling around in my mind. I know it’s something that many of us struggle with, so I thought I would discuss it here:

Hi I am a new and yes very worried writer, so am thrilled to have found your podcasts. I have started several novels, but never finished them, I’m hoping that I will get inspiration and hints and tips to finish one. Looking forward to listening to the other podcasts. Debs

First off, a big thank you to Debs for listening and leaving such a great comment.

Reading this took me right back to where I was stuck for a very long time… Throughout my teens and twenties, I dreamed of writing fiction: I thought about writing, I talked about writing and I read endless advice books and blogs about writing. I was looking for the secret. The magic ingredient that would enable me to write a book.

I started stories. I would write an opening paragraph or scene and just run out of steam. Occasionally, I would manage a few chapters, but I never knew what came next so I stopped. Until the next character or opening line or bit of dialogue would pop into my head and I’d write it down, only to get stuck again.

Behind all of this stopping was fear. I was scared that I couldn’t do it and so I never forced myself past the initial spark of an idea.

Also, I was making a crucial mistake: I thought that feeling stuck meant that the initial idea was no good.

What I didn’t realise was that feeling stuck as a writer is completely and utterly normal: It’s part of the gig! 

That having ‘no idea what happens next’ doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep on trying. That, essentially, writing a book is hard graft, not divine inspiration.

Also, I hadn’t realised that nested inside my surface fears (of writing rubbish and not having enough ideas to fill a book) were deeper worries about finishing. If I finished, I would have to take the next step and actually show it to somebody else – argh!

Ultimately, I was terrified that if I did finish a book and it sucked, then I would have confirmation that I was a terrible writer and would never be an author.

It felt safer to dream of ‘being a writer on day’ rather than risk exposing my lack of ideas and talent through actually trying.

So, just in case you are where I used to be (or you are Debs – hi Debs!) I’m going to reveal to you the big secret about writing novels.

The reason you are finding it hard to finish your novel is because it is SUPER HARD TO DO.

But, here is the big secret… All you have to do is slog through this first one.

It doesn’t have to be good.

There is one rule: If you get to the end, you have succeeded.

If it sucks (and, fair warning, it probably will) that doesn’t matter. Every single author you have ever loved sucked when they started writing. Just think of it as a necessary stage.

And here is the best part – the magic lies in the act of finishing. Once you have finished that first book, I promise it will transform your writing life.

You might choose not to finish projects in the future, but you will carry with you the knowledge that you ARE capable of finishing them and that makes all the difference in the world.

So, having explained why I think finishing your book is so gosh-darned important, here are a few tips to help you get from beginning to end (or middle to end):

  • Don’t focus on the writing. Focus on the act of doing the work, not the writing you are producing.
  • Make finishing your book (no matter what) your one and only goal.
  • Break the goal into manageable steps and add a deadline.

Happily enough, there is a group writing challenge starting next week which will help you with all of these tips. It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and it starts on 1st November. You can sign up (free) here.

Or, you can set your own version of the challenge… Remember – the only thing that matters is getting to the finish line, not how you run the race.

Also, if you prefer your cheer-leading in book-form and liked this post, why not try my guide? It’s packed with tips and advice to help you start (and finish!) your book:

Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination.

AMAZON UK

AMAZON US

KOBO

iBOOKS

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading!

Are you struggling to finish your book or have you got a tip you want to pass on?

Got a subject you would like covered or a question for the podcast?

Join in the comments or email me anytime!

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The Worried Writer Episode #25 Marie-Louise Jensen ‘A lot of my writing was done in the car’

In this episode I speak to Marie-Louise Jensen who writes books for children and young adults. Marie-Louise’s books include Between Two Seas and The Lady In The Tower, both of which are published by the Oxford University Press and were shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Marie-Louise has also written for Fiction Express, which publishes books in an interactive, serialised format, and her latest book is a YA title, Sixth Formers: Year 12.

STOP PRESS: Finding Hope (Fiction Express) has just been shortlisted for the Portsmouth Book Award 2017!

For more on Marie-Louise and her books head to her website, Twitter, or Amazon Author Page.

In the introduction, I give a writing update and hint at some exciting publishing news!

I’ve been busy with a few different projects, including getting my novella, The Garden of Magic, made into an audio book. If you are interested in receiving a free review copy (as well as giveaways and exclusive content) do consider signing up for the mailing list for my fiction.

I also reveal the title of the forthcoming ‘worried writer’ book. It is… Drum roll…

Stop Worrying; Start Writing: How To Overcome Fear, Self-Doubt and Procrastination

I hope you like it! I will have a publication date set very soon, but it will be sometime next month (April 2017).

Also, I recommend a couple of other writing/publishing podcasts:

The Self Publishing Formula (with Mark Dawson and James Blatch)

The Bestseller Experiment

And I answer a writing craft question and mention my own mentoring service. More details here.

If you have a writing (or publishing) question that you’d like me to tackle in a future episode, please get in touch via email or Twitter.

I’ll answer it on the show and credit you (unless, of course, you ask to remain anonymous).

Please spread the word and, if you can spare the time, leave a rating for the show on iTunes. I truly appreciate your support.

In the interview:

Marie Louise explains her writing process:

‘I do tend to do my research first… I read and read and read and get myself steeped in that era.’

‘I never start a book until I can see the first scene in my head.’

Marie-Louise describes how she uses an A4 ring-binder for both collating her research notes and planning her book.

Her journey to publication and how her Masters at Bath Spa University led to signing with her agent:

‘It was kind of a dream walk-in to the world.’

School visits:

‘I think meeting kids and interacting with them is incredibly useful for the author and it’s just fun.’

Marie-Louise reveals the challenges of fitting writing into a family life:

‘A lot of my writing was done in the car while they [the children] were in gym or drama or whatever… I would write whenever I had time.’

‘I can write pretty much any time I’ve got the time.’

And the difficulties of self-promotion/marketing:

‘I’m absolutely rubbish… I can’t sell anything, let alone myself.’

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The Worried Writer Episode #24: Gillian McAllister ‘I write everything down’

Gillian McAllister My guest in this episode is Gillian McAllister. Gillian’s debut thriller Everything But The Truth is out on 9 March 2017 from Penguin and she is represented by Clare Wallace at the Darley Anderson Agency. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Everything But The Truth and it is an absolutely cracking read. It’s a twisty, compelling, domestic thriller and I highly recommend it.

I spoke to Gillian last year and it was really interesting to talk about the post-deal, pre-publication phase.

For more on Gillian and her writing, head to her website, or find her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

In the introduction, I give a quick personal update: I finished the Worried Writer book! Last month I put out a call for beta readers and was bowled over by the response. Thank you so much to all of you who offered, the list is now full. I’m sending out the manuscript this week (eep!).

One of the really positive things about doing a project like this is that it’s given my brain a break from writing fiction. I felt empty after finishing the latest draft of Beneath The Water and it was nice to change gears for a while. Predictably, I’m missing fiction again, now, and am looking forward to diving into a new novel.

Also, I mention that I have (finally!) set up a page on Facebook for the podcast. Please head over and give it a quick ‘like’ if you are so inclined… I would really appreciate it!

Let me know the kind of content you’d like to see there, too. I’m considering recording some Q&A videos or perhaps a wee tour of my latest planner system. Let me know on the FB page or in the comments section below. Or, of course, drop me an email.

As always, I welcome your feedback and questions!

In the interview:

On always writing:

‘I’ve had reams of diaries and lists and I write everything down it’s the way I organise my thoughts.’

On the road to publication:

‘I think when you get an agent you think ‘that’s it’ and I was quite emotionally unprepared for rejection… It was just awful.’

 

And on the adjustment post-deal:

‘I still sometimes wake up and I’m in the old mindset of ‘is my book ever going to sell?’ and then I remember and I’m like, my God, that happened … I’m actually just really relieved because it was such a cause of anxiety and strife for me as I had never wanted anything as badly as I wanted a publishing deal.’

Advice on submission hell:

‘I think somewhere deep in my brain I felt as though if I checked email enough I would get a publishing deal and that is an incorrect thought!’

Gillian is a full-time lawyer. On fitting writing into a busy life:

‘One of the biggest things was getting a MacBook and being able to write in moments where I’m not so busy. Like if I’m on the train and there is a delayed train for twenty minutes I don’t lose the time, I can open the MacBook and write and I’ve kind of taught myself to do that.’

 

On the difficulties of writing:

‘I do a first draft and I’m quite gung ho about it and then at the end of it I think… Oh, okay, this should have happened or it’s actually about this…’

On the psychology of getting published:

‘My mental health for the three months after I sold was very wobbly… It was actually about control and feeling like this was all I ever wanted but it’s hard sometimes… I had been worrying for two years about getting published and I had all these neural pathways… I remember actively worrying that I wasn’t as happy as I should be until my boyfriend said ‘that’s insane’.’

 

Thanks so much for listening! If you have a moment, please leave a rating on iTunes or share the podcast.

Also, I will be giving out a limited number of review copies of the Worried Writer book in March.

If you want to be first to hear about the book (and be in with a chance of scoring a free copy), please sign up here.

Thank you! 

 

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