Secrets of a bestselling author

author Lesley Cookman
Lesley Cookman

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!

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14 ways to WRITE THAT BOOK

You have the blockbusting idea.

You know all the novel-writing techniques.

Your favourite cousin works for a publisher.

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?

Writer stares at computer screen
All you can do is stare at the screen…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. logo_book_awardsEnter 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.
  4. Find an app that helps you stick to a schedule. For instance (NB I have no connection to these examples): Monday calendar or Unstuck.
  5. floss cover cropped
    Commission a book cover

    Commit money to your book: commission a cover illustration or hire an editor.

  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Apply for a writing bursary or a grant – put a bit of pressure on yourself to meet the standards you’re set.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!
  13. Group of people in a room full of books
    Talk writing with other writers

    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.

  14. 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…
  15. 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.
  16. 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?

Writing your first…

…illustrated children’s book. This is a great insight into some of the challenges and solutions for writers itching to get their story told: a piece by Michael Gallant for the BookBaby blog. Read, then get writing!

Shel Silverstein The Giving Tree
Illustration from The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

 

When your idea takes flight…

COVER dragoniWhen a hint of a thought of an idea catches on fire in your head… and you find yourself chasing your characters through the skies over London until the story comes to satisfying close, it’s a great feeling.

When the story becomes a paper-and-ink reality, 192 pages with a fabulous cover, and you spend two days at a big book fair launching it, that’s something else. Exhausting, but exhilerating.

To be told (as I was today) that the initial print run of 3,000 copies have sold out, just 6 days after the launch – THAT’s a real buzz!

My dragons are being reprinted now, as their story seems to be rather popular. Nice…

So never give up on a story because you think it’ll never be published. Look at me and my dragons! Have faith in your story and make it happen.

Thanks to Booklet Fiction for their faith in the story, their publishing expertise and their enthusiasm…

IMG_1502 bookfest - Dina's pic

We MUST boost our kids’ confidence

Cartoon strip of child being indoctrinated
Cartoon by Eduardo Salles: Cinismoilustrado

Who gets this? Me too. The negative messages we hear over and over again during our childhood and teens can take root and grow into our reality.

What a waste of potential! What a way to destroy children’s lives before they start… What a way to strangle confidence and curiosity. What a way to squash the whole of a society. Please can we stop?

Do you identify with this? Can you see this happening around you? How do you think it affects our whole way of life?

Mr and Mrs Cloudface

Cloud faces; cloud-watching, Magura Transylvania, faces in the sky

Do you like seeing faces in clouds? It’s one of my favourite occupations, cloud-watching. And the other evening, two characters emerged from the blueness of the evening sky over my house in Transylvania.

Do you see them? The white cloud is a fat-faced chap with a bristly moustache, a blobby nose, untidy hair, a double chin and droopy cheeks. His right eye is closed.

Next to him is his blue-faced wife, who’s smiling broadly, her sharp teeth just showing, her sharp nose poking from her chubby cheek, her eyebrows raised and her eyes crinkled up.

Not the most handsome couple, but there they are.

That’s what I see, anyway. I could tell you more about them – where they come from, how old they are, their background, even what they like to have for breakfast. I have an idea what she’s grinning about, and what his expression’s for.

But I’d like you to find out for yourself. Why not write their story? If you feel so inclined, post it here as a comment – I’d love to know what you see…

Imagining good and bad

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It’s St Valentine’s Day tomorrow – 14th February – the day which has been colonised and commercialised by the hazy notion of romance. If you don’t spend, you don’t care, and if you’re not in a couple you’re nowhere and nothing. If you feel alone – even if you’re at the centre of a busy family – then the fuss around this one winter’s day can be overwhelming, making you feel worse than ever.

BUT…. turn it to your advantage! Make imagination your friend instead of your enemy, and write yourself out of those lonely feelings. Leap out of the round-and-round whirlpool of miserable feelings and leap into the limitless worlds of possibility in your imagination. Spend the day (which is, rather conveniently, a Sunday this year) writing furiously, inventing, exploring, what-iffing.

Use Valentine’s Day as a prompt, if you like. Write Mr Right… or Mr Wrong. Write your perfect romance, or the nightmare romance. Not everything that happens on 14th February is lovely – remember the St Valentine’s Day Massacre – Chicago 1929. How could murder happen on this most loving of days?

Use your feelings, feed them into your powerful imagination, and create something great with the force of love behind it. Wherever that takes you.