I’m so grateful to my long-time friend Lesley Cookman for revealing some of the secrets of a bestselling novelist‘s life. Read today’s guest blog to see what you have in common with her, and get a sneak preview of the cover of her next book (which won’t be published for months yet).
Lesley is the author of the Libby Serjeant series of murder mysteries, with the eighteenth recently published – Murder by the barrel. Each new book whizzes to the top of its category on the Amazon bestseller charts, but despite Lesley’s success, the writing life is still not easy. But it is rewarding… Read Lesley’s guest blog here – and do ask questions in the ‘comments’ bit!
You have all the gizmos and apps that a writer could ever want.
Your characters zap, your dialogue zings.
But you can’t get down to writing the actual, chapter-by-chapter, 80,000 word manuscript.
You want to, you yearn to, you’re excited about it… but you can’t find the time. You can’t find the motivation. HOW DO AUTHORS DO IT?
All published writers – authors, journalists, scriptwriters, dramatists – will tell you this unhelpful secret:
“Just apply your bottom to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard.”
Gee, thanks. But they’re right. It’s the only thing to do. So here are 14 ways to trick yourself, persuade yourself, bully yourself, cajole yourself into doing it. Try them all. See which works best, and stick to it.
Set the alarm half an hour earlier than usual. Get up, drink some water, have coffee if you want, then shake yourself all over and sit down with your laptop and start writing. Do this for half an hour every morning, and you’ll see the word count rising remarkably quickly.
Go to a book fair and get inspired. All those luscious books! Imagine yours among them. See your name on that book cover, imagine yourself signing books for an endless queue of fans paying good money for your story.
Enter a contest with a reasonable deadline. Give yourself three months to get the synopsis and first three chapters written. And a cracking title for the book (or short story). Three months sounds a long time, but believe me – it comes round scarily fast. Make sure you meet that deadline and get your entry IN.
Find an app that helps you stick to a schedule. For instance (NB I have no connection to these examples): Monday calendar or Unstuck.
Commit money to your book: commission a cover illustration or hire an editor.
Hang a treat above your head, like a chocolate bar or a bottle of beer, and allow yourself to grab it when you’ve written 1,000 words.
Meet up with a writing pal every weekend (at least) to compare notes, bitch about the writing life, laugh at yourselves, swap sob stories, and egg each other on.
Apply for a writing bursary or a grant – put a bit of pressure on yourself to meet the standards you’re set.
Imagine a very hungry monster outside your room, trying hard to get in and eat you. Every 100 words you write hurls the monster 100 meters further away.
Set this up with someone reliably fierce: every day that you DON’T write, pay that person some money – £2, €3, $5, 10 lei – to spend on something really annoying, like a cause you don’t believe in, or a film you hate. Or a scrumptious treat that you love, and can’t bear to see someone else eat instead. A bit of money might not seem much for one day, but that bit builds up very fast if you don’t write for a week. Ouch. That starts to hurt.
Agree with a friend (ideally one that suffers from the same problem) to swap chapters every week for constructive criticism, or at least congratulations on another chapter written. Failure can be its own punishment, or you can agree forfeits, like buying the other a drink, or lunch. Or a book.
Join NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is an American thing that’s spreading all over the world. It’s a plan to get you writing your novel, and challenges you to write 50,000 words or more in the month. Great scheme. November’s coming soon!
Go on a weekend writing retreat to get yourself started. After a weekend’s dedicated work in the company of other writers, you’ll be in the flow.
Create a local Meetup group for writers, for mutual encouragement, constructive criticism and reviews, commiseration and motivation. Promise yourselves something fabulous as a joint treat once you reach a certain threshold, like 40,000 words, or ten chapters, or three short stories…
Yes, I said 14, but here’s an extra tip: Start at Chapter 1 and go on to Chapter 2, 3, 4… Don’t jump around writing your favourite scenes – you’ll struggle to fill in the less interesting bits later.
One final tip: Don’t revise till you’ve finished the whole book. Every time you sit down to write (every day, of course – at least) read through yesterday’s work and continue straight away. Don’t rewrite anything – just keep going till you’ve finished. That’s the first draft. Put it away for a week or a month until you’ve forgotten exactly what you wrote. Then have a look and start revising. Rewrite as you go and you’ll never finish.
So, tell me – how do you motivate yourself? What gets you to the keyboard and the top of Page 1?
It’s always there. We all have it, in bucketloads. Getting at it is not always easy, as the previous posts showed.
I get too many ideas to handle, but when I try, or think about it, my imagination is shoved aside by the enemy to creativity – the rational left brain. The bit of our brain that thinks and analyses and keeps tight control.
How to free your imagination
Shutting up the left brain isn’t easy. It helps enormously to have someone else lock it out for you. Handing over control to them for a few minutes at a time, the left brain has nothing to do and your right brain can let loose and the damned-up torrent of creative imagination can flow straight from your unconscious mind – a deep ocean of rich inner life inside every human being.
Are you aware of what education is about?
We are taught from the cradle to control our bodies and our minds, to think and learn, to conform and perform to expectations. School, university and employment reinforces the importance of left-brain control. No wonder most of us end up thinking we have no imagination, or are not the creative type!
You can choose now
You’re grown up and out in the world. You can choose how to use your mind. I want you to realise that you’re not going to run amok and cause chaos if you let your imagination loose… And I’m sure you understand how good it is for your mental and emotional well-being to give your left brain a rest and exercise your right brain now and then.
Take a brain holiday
A change is as good as a rest… so change your mind (at least change sides) and get all you’d have from a holiday – fun, novelty, relaxation, stimulation, new sensual experiences. You come back refreshed and ready for new challenges. Fresh ideas, new directions, new possibilities, new opportunities.
How did you do? Did ideas flood into your writer’s mind, or did you get stuck?
I’ll time myself and see how I do in 60 seconds – I have no idea…
1. er… blank brain.
1. 20 secs gone…
1. 35 secs…
1. 45 secs…
1. Next door neighbours, boy and girl both called Valentine
2. too late…
It’s not easy. I’m usually full of them, but under pressure, when you’re challenged to think of ideas then and there, the mind goes blank. My mind goes blank.
The only idea I produced was a true fact – a couple who lived in our village were both called Valentine. They were married for ever, so something worked. But as an idea for a novel, it’s weaker than my will in the face of cheesecake.
Ideas don’t usually come to order, at least when the thinking brain is in control. When the left (thinking) brain is distracted or ignored, the right (creative) brain lets loose. I’ll see what pops up as the day goes on, when I’m cooking lunch or booking my flight home.
I need someone to do my thinking for me, so my imagination can run away with itself.