A writing prompt advent calendar, woo!

Here’s a little silly little online advent calendar to make you smile while you’re procrastinating writing. Just click on the right date and your prompt will pop up box will pop up. Set a timer (5-20 minutes is good) and write non-stop. It’s excellent writing practice, will give you new ideas and it’s a great way of warming your brain up in the morning. Think of it as being like doing piano scales, only fun. And if you fancy a bit more, or want to get back into writing but are looking for a bit of support, let me point you towards the Writer’s Block Detox, which sends writing prompts and other exercises right into your inbox every day for 4 weeks. Enjoy!...

What would Neil Gaiman do?

Procrastination. Most of us do it sometimes. I have a sneaky suspicion that people who never procrastinate are actually robots. Sometimes you put things off because you don’t have enough information to move forward, and a bit of work or time will do the trick. Sometimes though the problem is internal, it’s about how we feel about our work and the stories we’re telling ourselves about how rubbish we are and how we’ll never do xyz. I’ve got a new game to help with this, and it’s called What Would Neil Gaiman Do?* You can probably guess how it goes. When you’re curled up in a ball in the corner of your bedroom rocking and wailing that you caaaaaaaant write! (this counts if you’re doing it mentally too), stop for a moment and just notice what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. Take a breath. Then ask, what would Neil Gaiman do? My imaginary Neil Gaiman does sometimes wail and clutch at his hair in a comedy manner. Sometimes he even sulks and watches bad films for the rest of the day. Mostly though, he has a quiet word with himself, along the lines of, ‘This is silly, Neil. You know you can do this. Look, here’s a biscuit. Eat it at the desk. Sit down. Good boy.’ Or he goes for a long walk and mulls over the tricky plot point and comes back ready to go. Or he wonders what might make this more fun and adds a dinosaur scientist to the story. Rooooaaaaaaaar! He knows that it’s just his head getting temporarily in the way, that none...

Stop feeling guilty about wanting to write

A lot of us seem to feel that we shouldn’t be wasting our time on writing and that it’s selfish. We feel bad because of all the other things we should be doing with our time, more worthy things. This is particularly a problem when we start to feel like our work will never go anywhere anyway, that we’re only justified in wanting to write if there’s the certainty of publication at the end. Well, I have a couple of questions about that way of thinking…   Let’s stop feeling guilty and just enjoy...

Setting writing goals isn’t enough. What do you need to actually reach them?

If you’ve known me a while you’ll know I love a good goal (2015 writing planner anyone?). Actually I think they’re essential if you want to live a fulfilling life. You can just drift about waiting for interesting stuff to happen to you and end up wondering where the years went, or you can work out what you really want to do/have/be next and take steps to get there. There’s just one problem. A goal alone won’t get you very far. The existence of the goal doesn’t magically mean that book will get completed, that you’ll be a better writer at the end of the year, or that you’ll make hundreds of sales. So what makes the difference between achieving your goals (or making good progress at least) and that sinking feeling of failure at the end of the year? Habits.   It’s not that you shouldn’t have big goals (you absolutely should), but even when they’re broken down into small steps the scale of the task ahead can be overwhelming. What would happen if, knowing that you had a goal of writing a novel this year, you put that aside entirely and focused all of your energy on writing 500 words (or doing equivalent work) every day? We have a tendency to think that we need to make big progress every time we pick something up to make it worthwhile, but if you were to sit and write just 500 words every day Monday to Saturday, you wouldn’t have written enough words for a novel draft by the end of the year. You’d have enough for two. The...

Be the hero of your own novel (and by novel I mean life)

I’ve been thinking recently about how the roller coaster of writing is a little like the ups and downs a novel’s protagonist goes through. So what can you learn from storytelling about being the hero of your own journey, whether that’s writing your novel or, well, living your life fully?   1. Be proactive Writing a passive protagonist (Hi, Fanny Price, I’m looking at you) is a great shortcut to a boring novel that it’s pretty hard to care about. We’re told to write active characters, to have them actually do something that affects the story’s outcome, but sometime’s we’re rubbish heroes in real life and act more like the dowdy friend who just sits in the corner. Want to write a novel? Want to move to Australia? Want to find love? Guess what, you have go out there and do it. It’s easier to float along and let things happen to you, but you’re the one in charge of your own life. Don’t be a Fanny (sorry, I couldn’t resist). You get to decide what happens… so what are you going to do?   2. It’s okay not to be perfect Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you’re flawless. FAR FROM IT. It would be lovely if you got up an hour early every day and knocked 1,000 words out, exercised, then arrived at work feeling all cheerful and fulfilled. Hahahahahahahhaha. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t written for six months, don’t have a creative writing MA, aren’t going to writing events, that most of what you write feels like utter nonsense and that you’re kind of crabby in the morning. You don’t have to be perfect (heroes rarely are), you just need to...

Your free 2015 writing planner

How can it possibly be January again? Your 2015 writing planner I’ve had a fantastically exciting year that’s included a number of weeks running retreats in Devon as well as London retreats, an online bootcamp, running a ‘plot your novel in an hour’ session at a fancy members’ club and, of course, the Six Month Novel. Alongside that I’ve taken trips to Portugal, Spain, New York, Iceland and Italy where I’ve been able to both work and write alongside travel. Alright for some, eh? It’s been an up-and-down year in writing terms, but I’ve found the more I just focus on getting the words out and not judging, the more I’m able to cope with the inevitable fears and doubts. I’m going to use this knowledge as a springboard into next year and practice rounding off pieces of work, focusing on faster drafting to improve my flow and finishing to get a better feel for story structure. What about you? What did you write last year and where do you want to be this time next year? For the last couple of years I’ve made a printable calendar and planner for writers as a gift, and here’s the new one for 2015. It’s a toolkit that aims to help you create a plan that will let you actually reach your goals, not just gaze longingly at them from a distance. After all, nobody just wakes up one morning and finds themselves half way up Everest. There are some things in life you need to set your mind to… I’d suggest printing it out and settling in with a cup of tea and...

Books writers love

One of the nice things about writing retreats is being able to geek out about books during breaks. And since I don’t seem to have read anything but books for children and teens in the last year (it’s research, okay?) I started collecting names of books writers love at the Devon retreats. It’s largely novels from the last 20 years, plus a handful of writing books (lists of classics, YA and sci-i/fantasy we loved to come) but if you’re looking for great book recommendations then there are worse places you could look than into the minds of writers. Of course I’m in favour of supporting local bookshops, but because it’s convenient for many people (and you might be in time to get them for Christmas), here are the Amazon links. You can also see them collected here.   The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. My list has a scribbled note next to this just says ‘lovely’.     The Moment by Douglas Kennedy. This made me cry like a baby.   Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2005 gets a lot of love from our writers, as does his earlier The Remains of the Day (which won the prize in 1989).   I still haven’t read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, set in 1960s Mississippi, but I often hear people say they expected it to be disappointing, but it turned out to be of those rare books that really lives up to the hype.   The Briefcase by Hiroki Kawakami (it seems to also be known as Strange Weather in Tokyo) is a quiet...

Beat procrastination with one simple question

Sometimes I put off writing (I don’t have the answer to something, my room is too cold, I don’t like my main character, doing a synopsis is EVIL, any reason big or small), and then time passes and another week has gone by and I’ve still done nothing. You know you’ve done it too. Then a coach asked me a very simple question: what would it take to make this feel delicious? Because, she said, if it feels awful you’ll keep putting it off, but if you look for ways of making it feel better it will, er, be nicer to do. The woman is a genius.     The thing that would make your current writing problem feel better might be something practical like buy myself a better chair or more vague, perhaps know where my story is going. What you’re aiming for is something that’s do-able and specific, so I’ve asked two bonus questions designed to get you from, ooh that sounds lovely to practical steps you can take right now that will help things feel easier and better. Sometimes it’s little things that will shake things out and let us move forward again, but if you’ll need much bigger changes then at least you know what it will take and how to get there. Then you can get on with your writing and the world will be a happier place. So. What would make your writing feel amazing? And what can you do today to get a little bit of that feeling?   For me? I needed to let go of the big picture and let myself doodle with words, ask questions and find...

Be careful what you wish for: what’s it really like to be able to write full-time?‏

Today’s guest post comes from Siân Rowland, who is Rocking in the Freelance World as a writer and education consultant (see how I’m putting the writer bit first, Siân?). Last year she…. no, wait, I’m just going to let her tell this story. But I’d like to point out though that Siân is very modest about her achievements and though there were undoubtedly some lows in her year, I can count at least 3 things in here that would have me throwing cartwheels all the way round the garden and bathing in prosecco. —   It was a snow day in 2010 and the local government office where I worked was shut. I was working from home at my computer dressed in warm, comfortable clothes, a cup of tea by my elbow and the radio on. Without the commute and the interruption of phonecalls, office gossip and school visits I managed to complete loads of admin and planning and had time to polish up a short story to submit to a competition. As I gazed at the snowy world outside (don’t worry, it’s all going to hit the fan any moment…) I mused on a perfect world where I would go to work on four days of the week and on the fifth day, like some literary deity, I’d be at home and Write Important Stuff. I wondered what my employer would say (in 3,2…) I never found out because not long afterwards (…and 1) I was told that funding for my role had been cut. Compulsory redundancy…sorry…hand in your passcard and here’s your P45. Please don’t weep all...