Doubt

mysterybookWhy is it that self doubt is one of the biggest things that we struggle with as writers? Writing itself is an isolated activity seldom done in groups and we reluctantly share only after we have polished and polished our WIP. No one gets to see the agony of getting words down on paper (screen?) when each one feels like it’s being sucked out of mud and splattered on the page, dirty and inadequate, when nothing we what to say comes out right and every piece needs to drafted again and again.
Each time we look at it, we see it’s imperfections and want to draw it towards us and hold it fast and never let it go for others to examine and criticize. And yet we do. And we feel the agony of having those words exposed, muddied and sub-standard in our eyes and available for everyone to judge and criticise.
We are either mad or passionate, whatever, we keep on doing it. And every time I being out a new book, I still expect people to jump out at me like school-yard bullies and declare “You can’t write for toffee nuts!” And a part of me would believe them too.
I think that’s why we hanker for the publishing contract, the agency representation, the positive review, something, anything that validates what we do, and conversely why a scathing review is so crushing.
Like any artist, we have to believe that what we are doing has merit, that our words, no matter how inadequate they may appear, still need to be written. That someone, somewhere will take to heart what we want to convey and give praise, or just acknowledgement.
And yet we still doubt, even when acknowledgement is given, when awards are won. I believe it is this that keeps us striving for perfection and is something that is necessary for each writer. For the moment we fail to perfect what is imperfect and lose the passion to improve ourselves as artists, we will henceforth be satisfied with imperfection.
So maybe doubt is a good -isn’t it?

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One Year Anniversary as an Indie Author

This weekend marks the moment, a year ago that I started my self-publishing journey.  I never meant to be a self-published author but it was a progression born out of necessity. After Pear Jam Books closed and I, like so many of the other authors, was left in limbo, I knew that the only way to pursue my goals and achieve my dreams was to do it myself.

So what have I learnt in a year?

I can’t do it all

While the world had opened up in terms of being able to publish your books in all kinds of forms and in all kinds of places, it doesn’t mean that you should do everything everywhere.  For a start, trying to keep a track of what is where and at what stage it is at is daunting.  I cover the bases by publishing ebooks with KDP and Smashwords and print books with Createspace. I don’t chop and change, neither do I try to upload direct to Kobo or iBooks which I know can be done. Audiobooks are gaining ground as are books with sound tracks and I may do these one day but at the moment there’s enough to be getting on with. 

I can’t do it all

You will need help with something, you cannot do it all yourself  – the least you will need is a cover designer and a copy editor. A beta reader is also a help, to cast a discerning eye over your words, as is a support network of other indie authors who share your triumphs, disasters, problems and solutions.  What has come out strongly with this new publishing world is how indie authors help other indie authors, creating a community that makes the whole indie industry strong.  I value my network of fellow indie authors.

Money is not the prize

One day I would like to make enough money from my books to be able to write full time…one day.  That day is not going to be any time soon, if at all, but I can dream.  What has become more valuable to me these days is the words, “I really enjoyed your book” or even better, “I couldn’t put it down” (this from a 12 year old girl whose mother was struggling to get her to read).  One day these words will convert into full time income but for the moment it is the empire building on which I need to concentrate.

It’s hard work

I work full time as well as write so working on a book, or preparing it for publication has to done at the times that I am not working which is usually at the evening or the weekend. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) I live on my own which means that if I want to delay dinner in order to get something done, I can. However, it still involves sacrifice, giving up a relaxing evening of mindless TV in order to bash out a chapter or two, or get the formatting done on a manuscript in order to upload to Smashwords, or suggesting changes to a cover design.  We all have things that get in the way of our writing but we can get around these by giving something up. And yes, whatever it is, it will be hard to do so.  No one said it would be easy.

I’m excited by what’s ahead

It is being said that right now there is no better time to be a writer.  For many years the big publishers have been the gatekeepers for authors, the guards that stand in the way of getting a book from an author to a reader.  That barrier is being removed.  Now authors can connect directly with their readers and vice versa.  It’s a scary brand-new world. More and more it is the reader who is deciding what is good and what is bad.  There has been criticism that now the floodgates will open for all the bad writing that is out there and while this may be true, who are we to deny an artist a means to display their art to the world.  We’ve done this for eons by displaying dubious artworks and declaring it ‘art’ and the masses accept it because it is viewed as a right of expression. Now we view with distain the same process for written works, but who are we to judge?  Good art will always endure and it is also true to say that even the most marginal art form will have an audience. 

Go out and find yours!

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An Unintentional Self Published Author

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For a long time I resisted the call of self publishing. For a start it seemed like a lot of work – working platforms, building brands, learning how to format books into epub and mobi and all the other formats out there. I could see the attraction but I couldn’t face all the hard work.

 

Not that I don’t like hard work. I work fulltime in a job totally unrelated to writing and I write in my spare time. “Spare time” – that’s a misnomer if I ever heard one!

 

But then the publisher of my book “Where the Flag Floats” closed unexpectedly and I was forced to consider the fact that, if I wanted to be published, I was probably going to have to it by myself as I could no longer rely on other people to do it for me.

 

That meant learning a whole new skill set, like how to format a book for epub and mobi; how to convert a file to pdf.; how to hyperlink my chapters; how to get the books that were sitting in boxes in my study out into the world.

 

I wilted. It all seemed too much to do. How was I going to learn all this? Well the same way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. (Not that I would eat an elephant, there’s too few of them left in this world!)

 

When the rights to In Too Deep, my first published book, reverted back to me I started the process of converting it to an ebook. It was my practice piece and I took it a step at a time, following word for word the style guide provided. It took two afternoons of a long weekend and I was done.

 

There was some satisfaction in seeing that up as an ebook. I’d done it! I listed it for free and sat back and watched the download numbers climb. I promised myself that when it reached 100 downloads, I would upload the next in the series – Three Times Dead.

 

I uploaded the next book a month later.

 

I started experimenting with Print on Demand. Using Createspace I managed to produce a fairly presentable print edition. There’s nothing like having the actual print edition in your hand.

 

A chance encounter at an evening function introduced me to my book distributor. Not afraid of taking on a book by a self published author, they soon exhausted my stock of books produced by the now defunct publisher and I was forced (in the nicest possible way) to reprint my own edition of Where the Flag Floats with a new ISBN.

 

This year I have started by producing another book making a total now of three in twelve months. When I look back now at those first unsteady steps I took in June, I’m amazed at how far I have come but aware that I have still more to learn. It is still ‘one bite at a time’ stuff and as one task is accomplished, I find another one looms but as each is learnt, practised and mastered, I feel more and more empowered.

 

To round it all off, on 29 March the book that started it all – Where the Flag Floats won a Notable Book Award from Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust in the Junior Fiction category. The publisher was noted as “now defunct” but the demise of the publisher in June last year was a beginning not an end and I have now come to the conclusion that losing my publisher last year could possibly be one of the best things that happened to me, not that I realised it at the time.

 

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Taking shots and hitting targets, and writing

09shootingduo 160214“You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky (Quoted from Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant)

For those of you that don’t know, my sport is target shooting. I shoot air rifle in structured shooting competitions. I don’t shoot live things, apart from the badly injured rat my cat dragged in one night.

Sometimes writing is like shooting – you have to keep on doing it to win. So, the lessons from shooting that I can apply to my writing:

Hitting targets
You only need to hit more targets than your nearest rival to win. You don’t have to hit 100% of the targets to win, you just have to hit more than your competition. You could hit 50% of the targets but if your rival hits 45% of the targets you still win. Hitting 100% of the targets or gaining a perfect score in shooting is almost impossible, not totally impossible but almost impossible. So if you hit more targets than your opponent, then you are going to win. In writing, if you gain 25% of the readers in your genre and another author writing in the same genre gains 20% of the readers, you win.

Hard work pays off
So often at the range, we see people turn up, full of enthusiasm, bright shiny rifle in hand, wanting to take some shots. We shoot competitions, we don’t ‘plink’ but we allow them to sight in, get comfortable with the handling of the rifle, give them a low-down on the range rules and after a certain time they’re on their own. We never see them again. Why? Because they realize that hitting targets is hard work. There are so many variables that affect your shots: your stance, the weather, the course, your mood on the day. Hitting and obtaining good scores is hard work. You have to turn up religiously, in good weather and bad, no matter what mood you’re in, just turn up, shoot, good or bad, put it down to experience, go away and then come back again. Eventually it gets easier, you hit more than you miss, you start coming third, second and then the marvelous day you come first! You did it, but then you have to come back and do it again. When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go and that’s down unless you work hard to stay at the top.
Its the same with writing books – it’s hard work, you have to keep coming back to your latest project, you have to keep having another go, you have to start hitting more than you miss but there is no fast track way to becoming a successful writer, just as there is no way to fast track becoming a successful shooter. Practice, practice, practice and just get out to the shooting range (in this case computer, tablet, pen and paper, whatever) and just do it!

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To Infinity and Beyond

imagesXBA7BYPCNew Year is the time when we look back on what has been and look forward to what might be. Both can bring about tears – of happiness or of sorrow.
I don’t want to be dreary but in some respects, 2013 was a bad year for me. I lost three things – a good friend to cancer, my publisher Pear Jam Books and my long-time and trusted companion Milly the fox terrier. Some of these events were expected, some were not and some I thought I would never get through but the resilience of human nature ensures that we do.
I gained three things too – my own publishing company, Standfast Publications, a new grandchild (still percolating at time of writing) and a daughter’s engagement. These things should offset the losses but somehow the losses always seem to dominate when you look back at a year in review. Even newspapers and magazines bring out a list “who did we say goodbye to in……” *insert year here* Let’s face it, bad news sells.
But let’s not dwell on the negative. The year that was 2013 is over and 2014 has just began and I find myself facing the New Year with much enthusiasm (no doubt buoyed by the thought of my first grandchild and a wedding to look forward to) Is this the year when it all turns around for me?
Who knows? We can only do what we can do with what resources we have in the time we have allocated for it. Taking part in NaNoWriMo last November taught me that there are a lot of things I don’t need to be doing if I want to be writing. And lots of books/blogs etc convince me that I might just make out there in the ebook world if I just hit the right marketing platform – the elusive writing Eldorado.
And while I continue to breathe, I will continue to write and, if only one person comes back to me and says “I loved your book!” I know I will have done something right, if only for that one person.
So my mantra is: Life is a journey, not a destination. I journey on.

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What I learnt from NaNoWriMo

Dishes can wait
Stir fry is my friend
Housework? What housework?
Sunshine and fresh air are overrated
Fifty thousand words is a LOT of words
The temptation of Facebook is hard to resist.
Revelation: I can write 600 words in 15 minutes
Writing without editing/revising/checking is liberating.
There is a lot of stuff on TV that I really do not need to watch.
Write until the story ends and if it isn’t quite 50,000 words, then so be it.

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Walk it!

ImageAfter two hours of driving and 5 hours of sitting, it was time to clear the head and stretch the legs – time to go for a walk.  So I explored Hamilton city on foot.

I’d been to Hamilton several times, usually just passing through on the way south but I’ve never taken the time to walk it; time to amend that.

I took off with no particular route in mind but with a map in my backpack in case I got lost and I quickly found myself in dead end from which the only choice seemed to be to turn left away from the river or turn back the way I had come but an elderly couple seemed to know where they were going to I followed them.  The route took me over the ClaudelandsBridge and into the city centre, from there I found the river pathway and walked to VictoriaBridge, Memorial Park and River Road and thus back to my motel via Grey Street.

You can’t know a place until you’ve walked it, there are some things that can only be observed when you slow down to walking pace and not rush past in a car.  The task, as a writer, it to walk and observe, to soak in the sights and smells and sounds of the city and store it away for those times when you need to recreate the experience. 

What did I store up?

The scent of the roses that hung over the front fence of someone’s yard, the sound of the train as it clunk-clunked its way over the bridge, the fluid whirls and swirls of the river as it swept past the river bank, the shuffling of a thrush in the undergrowth stopping every time I turned around, the hooded youths in the park sending a prickle of wariness down my spine, the dilapidated hull of the Rangariri rescued from its grave on the side of the Waikato River, the replica of the Spitfire in Memorial Park, the shouts of the children in the playground, the campervans  at Claudelands Park for the A&P Show, men on their way to the mosque for prayer, a child banging on a door to be let in. 

None of these individual and seemingly simple things can be conjured into a story just yet but they can be stored away into a neat box labeled ‘future reference’ to be taken out when needed – often dropping into my head seemingly from nowhere. 

Well, that’s the idea anyway.  Whether any of these things will make it into a story is just speculation, but as a writer, none of this can be classed as wasting time.  If nothing else, at least I got an hour’s worth of exercise!

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