The Worried Writer Episode 13: Mel Sherratt ‘You have to face that fear’

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My guest today is bestselling author Mel Sherratt. Mel writes gritty crime dramas and, as her alter ego Marcie Steele, romantic comedies. Since 2012 she has published ten novels and she has sold over half a million books. Mel started out as a self-publishing sensation when she released her first crime thriller, Taunting The Dead, as an indie author. Within six weeks it hit the Kindle top ten and was number one in Police Procedurals. Mel has since released two more books featuring DS Allie Shenton from Taunting The Dead, four books in The Estate Series and a standalone psychological thriller called Watching Over You.


We discuss daily routine, the importance – and difficulty – of staying healthy as a full-time author, and the how perseverance wins the day. It took Mel twelve years before she became an overnight success and I think her story is both reassuring and inspirational.

 

Find out more about Mel and her books at Amazon or melsherratt.co.uk or find her on Twitter @writermels.

In the interview:

Mel on getting help with research for her police procedurals and how she turned her lack of police experience to an advantage by focusing on the point of view of the criminals and victims.

‘On the third one I think I’d realised that yes, maybe I can do this, it’s just storytelling… It isn’t write what you know, it’s write what you can go and find out and make sure it’s good.’

 

On feeling the fear but self-publishing anyway…

‘I put my women’s fiction out as a guinea pig first. So Marcie Steele I kept a secret for three years.’

 

On routine:

‘If I don’t do it first thing in the morning I will be the worst procrastinator.’

 

And fear:

‘You have to face that fear and you have to get up everyday and face that fear.’

‘I think my self doubt will always be there and I think that’s a good thing. It keeps you grounded.’

 

Books recommended:


Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert


Quiet by Susan Cain

Mel also loves to read lots of short ‘how to’ craft books to keep her in the right frame of mind.

Other recommendations:

Mel uses a Fitbit to remind her to move around more often and to help avoid the health problems associated with long periods of sitting still.

Mel and I are both fans of Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn). Check out my interview with Joanna in episode #8.

 

Also in the show, I answer a listener question from Susan Mann (@susankmann on Twitter). 

Susan asked:

‘I’d like to ask how you tackle editing after the first draft. I don’t have a lot of time with work & family life. It’s a daunting task of editing the whole book. Writing bit by bit was easy. But how do you break it down into a re-write that doesn’t seem over whelming?’

I give my answer in the show, but if you have any tips on editing that you would be willing to share, please leave a comment on this post.

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I give an update on my experience trying Headspace (meditation app) and mention (oh so casually!) that my new novel, In The Light of What We See, is out in one month.

Here’s the link to pre-order, just in case you are interested…

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.

Thank you for listening! 

Five Productivity Hacks That Will Help You Write More

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As the recovering Queen of Procrastination, I know more than a little about this subject.

Let me begin by saying that I know it’s not easy. If you are procrastinating horribly and repeatedly, please be kind to yourself. You are most likely operating from a place a fear, and your procrastination is your subconscious trying to protect you from that fear.

The good news, however, is that practical productivity hacks really do work.

I am writing this article, for example, because it is scheduled. I have another forty minutes in which I must write, edit and post it. That puts me against the clock and helps me to focus.

The deadline also helps me to get the thing finished and published before the self-doubt prevents me from putting it out into the world or my perfectionism convinces me that I need to do another three days of research before I write it.

1. So that’s my number one productivity hack: Make scheduling your friend.

Block out time in your diary for writing and then protect that time with the ferocity of a mama bear.

2. Set a timer.

Regular listeners of the podcast, will already know my love of using a timer. All kinds of dispiriting tasks (cleaning the kitchen, writing 500 words when I’m stuck and tired and not in the mood, business admin) become instantly manageable when tackled for just ten or twenty minutes.

3. Treat Yourself. Often.

I’ve mentioned my love of using stickers to track my progress, but they also work as a reward. Who doesn’t like a shiny star sticker? You wrote 2000 words? Fine, you get a biscuit, too.

4. Eliminate distractions.

I’ve used Freedom in the past, but am currently using Chrome extension, StayFocusd. (The developers spell it without the ‘e’. I don’t know why.)

I also recommend headphones with music. If you don’t like writing to music you could try ambient sounds such as stormy weather, rainforest or crashing waves, or even just silence via noise-cancelling headphones. Anything to help you cut off from reality and enter the world of your imagination.

5. Develop your own rituals.

I know that it’s a job and that we should all be disciplined enough to scribble words whenever and wherever, but I think optimum writing performance and productivity can be achieved through considered use of ritual.

You can use a particular type of tea, scented candles, a special writing place or dedicated writing machine (or pen/notebook) to signal to your brain that it is time to write fiction.

Do make the rituals things you are happy (and able) to continue daily throughout your working life, however. And it might be best to avoid rituals which are seriously detrimental to your health such as chain-smoking…

How about you?

Do you use rituals for your creative time? Or do you have any productivity tips to share? 

 

How Your Muse Can Set You Free

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As Mark McGuinness notes in his book Motivation for Creative People, the idea of an external muse or divine inspiration has rather gone out of fashion. Up until the Enlightenment, the general idea was that artists, musicians and writers were visited by a supernatural force which worked through them to bring forth the Art (capital ‘A’).

In this modern, rational time, we don’t believe in such things. Now the artist’s inspiration or muse is part and parcel of the human meat-sack. It is a function of our brain, no different from the mechanism which decides whether to have pasta or rice for dinner.

While I love rationalism with all my logical heart, I have decided that this isn’t actually a very helpful construct for the workaday creative. If Everything is down to us, then we both live and die according to our own inspiration. If we imagine an external muse, however,  we aren’t entirely responsible for the finished piece, and this can be wonderfully liberating.

As a freewriting, non-planning type of writer, I’m used to the feeling of diving in and hoping that the act of typing will release something good. I’m used to the sensation of discovering the story and the getting to know the characters as I write. It’s a small leap to imagine that the act of working (including writing, editing rewriting, and learning my craft) is the only thing under my control, and that I must trust my ‘muse’ to take care of the creative spark.

I am certainly not the first writer to decide that a Muse might be a useful thing to have around… Jennifer Crusie calls them the ‘girls in the basement’ as a homage to Stephen King who calls his inspiration the ‘guys in the basement’. Stephen King also said (in an interview with Neil Gaiman):

“I never think of stories as made things; I think of them as found things. As if you pull them out of the ground, and you just pick them up.”

I find this a reassuring and helpful way to view the creative process. The thought that I am mining for stories which already exist makes me feel connected to the age-old tradition of story-telling.

In order to honour that tradition and to invite inspiration to visit, I simply have to show up and work hard. Focusing on this aspect, while hoping the muse sprinkles some magic while I type, has really taken the pressure off my psyche.

By choosing to believe in a muse*, I have set myself free.

owlwithheadonside*Mine is this owl. I don’t know why.

Picture credit: Leonardo Casadei/Solent News & Photo Agency

The Worried Writer Episode 12: Mark McGuinness ‘Start with your curiosity’

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Mark McGuinness is a poet, creative coach, and author of non-fiction. As well as coaching individuals and businesses, Mark runs two highly successful websites for creatives, Lateral Action and Wishful Thinking. Mark’s first non-fiction title, Resilience, offers practical ways to deal with two mainstays of the author life: rejection and criticism, while his latest book, Motivation For Creative People, shows the reader exactly how to break down their own barriers to productivity.

Mark has been coaching creative people for twenty years and saw the same issues repeated; resilience, procrastination, lack of motivation, and creative block.

In Motivation For Creative People: How to stay creative while gaining money, fame and reputation (see my review here), Mark describes the different types of motivation and how they can be harnessed to increase productivity and satisfaction.

Find out more about Mark and his books at lateralaction.com. To sign up for Mark’s free creative course on becoming a creative professional head to lateralaction.com/pathfinder

One-on-one coaching is at lateralaction.com/coaching and his poetry is at www.markmcguinness.com

In the interview:

Hypnosis and meditation for unlocking creative block.

How Mark built his confidence through blogging and how the blog led to the book.

On choosing what path to follow:

‘Start with your curiosity.’

‘Your body is your best coach… If you pay attention to your body and your heart, the physical sensations will let you know how strongly attracted you are to it or not.’

On the tension between art and business:

‘I’ve spoken to hundreds of creatives and they all say the same thing. You have ambitions for your career and, yet, as soon as you achieve them or are close to achieving there is this pressure and there is a conflict… But that is normal… It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you personally, it’s an occupational hazard.’

Mark talks about the power of focusing entirely on one thing at a time and being

‘Cocooned in the world of an individual chapter’.

He also mentions the benefits of meditation and practical tips such as finding physical/habitual ways of marking out the different states (creative writing state distinct from ‘answering emails’ state for example).

And I ask Mark what he would advise a creative person who feels blocked or has fallen out of love with their work.

Links mentioned:

headspaceappI’ve been using Stay Focused, a free Chrome extension to moderate my internet use. Highly recommended!

Headspace: I’m going to give meditation a try and I have heard good things about this meditation/mindfulness app. I will report back next month on how I get on…

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.

Thank you for listening!

Motivation For Creative People by Mark McGuinness


Subtitled ‘How to stay creative while gaining money, fame and reputation’, this book sounded right up my street… And it was!

I like my self-help to have a strong practical side and this book delivers that in spades. While it focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of getting (and staying) motivated, it does so in a very clear and jargon-free manner.

It’s also written by a creative entrepreneur – someone who walks the walk as well as talking the talk. Mark is a poet, psychotherapist, writer of non-fiction and a coach to creative professionals, and his experience shines through.

The book covers getting started (working out your true passion in life), and the different sorts of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic, social and personal motivation, as well as the roadblocks to using these (such as resistance).

It’s full of tips to keep you productive, but will also help you to reflect (honestly) on your own unique set of values and influences. I think discovering the factors which affect your own inspiration, creativity and productivity could be genuinely life-changing.

I also love the way he addresses the tension between art and commerce – and the challenge of remaining inspired when your pay packet relies on that inspiration.

Mark also offers a free 26-week email course. I’m following it at the moment and you can sign up here.

I’m excited to announce that Mark will be a guest on the podcast very soon. If you have any questions for him, please let me know in the comments!

Finally, here’s the link to the book: Motivation for Creative People: How to Stay Creative While Gaining Money, Fame, and Reputation

I bought the book and this is a genuine review, but this link is an affiliate one. (If you use it to purchase the book, I make a – tiny! – amount of money).

 

 

 

My 2016 Writing Goals

 

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As I may have mentioned before, I adore setting goals. I also love reading about other people’s goals and find them inspiring and motivating. It really helps me to know that I’m not the only person who plans and strives in this way.

Although I feel a bit silly writing this post (who on earth cares about my plans for this year?!) I am going to do it anyway as it will make me more accountable (to you lovely folk!) and, hopefully, help me to stay on track during 2016.

Please feel free to join in and share your own goals in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

1.FICTION

Write more:

For as long as I can remember I have made some version of this goal in January, but this year I wish to improve on good writing habits developed over the last couple of years and to push my own personal boundaries.

For example, I’ve been saying that a good writing day (for me) is 1000 words. Well, that may be true, but I have never really tested it. Not really. And I do know that I’ve written far more than that when heading towards a deadline… So, this year I’m challenging myself to write more on a regular basis. I would like to make 1500 words the new ‘normal day’ and to reach 2000 words on a regular basis. Since this is my full time job, that really should be possible!

New books:


Last year, I wrote a novella and did rewrites of In The Light of What We See  (out this April from Lake Union), started a follow-up novel and wrote a messy first draft of an urban fantasy/supernatural thing.

This year I want to finish the supernatural book and get it ready for submission.

Finish my WIP (working title: Beneath The Water).

Write the first draft of a completely new novel.

In other words, by December 2016, I want two completed novels and one brand new first draft.

Keep on learning:

I am as obsessed as ever with books about productivity, writing and creative business and I plan to continue reading and learning.

I am also going to take an online course or two. I am booked on an ‘introduction to screenwriting’ course in February and I’m looking at other options/subjects.

Look after my creativity:

Yes, that’s pretentious-sounding sub-heading – sorry!

However, I do want to make sure that I take time to refill the creative well this year with lots of reading, watching great TV and films, and with travel/new experiences/visiting art galleries and museums. Basically the stuff that feels like bunking off but is essential to keeping the ideas coming (as well as maintaining sanity).

I’ve made an excellent start by binge-watching all of Jessica Jones on Netflix and reading several novels over the Christmas holiday – hurrah!

Celebrate the successes (every day wins as well as ‘big news’ items) and, as Miranda Dickinson so brilliantly put it in this episode of the podcast, keep on finding the fun in my writing.

 

desk2.NON-FICTION:

I will continue to release a new podcast at the start of every month. I’ve got some great guests lined up and I’m super-excited about speaking to them!

I want to further develop the Worried Writer site and add lots of new (hopefully helpful) content. My goal is to add a new article every week (at least) and maybe add some video, too.

Write The Worried Writer book and publish it. A guide to overcoming fear, self-doubt and procrastination which will include my (extensive!) personal experience as well as the best tips and advice gleaned from the podcast interviews.

3. COMMUNITY

Go to a ‘real life’ conference, workshop, blogger meet-up or writing festival. I would love to meet some more of the lovely writing community in person and I think 2016 is the year!

Send regular newsletters from both my author site (www.sarah-painter.com) and The Worried Writer, create more subscriber-only freebies and run some giveaways.

Your turn! What do you want to achieve in 2016?