Where Are the Words?

The ideas keep coming. I frantically find a way to capture them. When I sit to transfer the ideas on the page, the words aren’t there. I scrunch my eyes. Concentrate. My fingers feel the keys. Some words stumble their way out. Oh, but the way they were strung together in my head comes out in broken chunks that I am unable to place back together. I chip and polish with all the tools I have acquired. Then I stand back to admire the work, and shake my head in shame. This hurts. It pinches around my chest. 

Let’s label it a creative slump. I’ve had those before, but never to these depths. The creativity is there, in my head. However the execution is way off target. There are many things I can point the blame at. It is probably the culmination of these things that have brought it on. How can you be fresh when you are stuck at home for months. And doing that with young kids means there is little time to sit at the desk to type. Not that my study is my sanctuary anymore. I’m grateful that hubby is able to continue working, but he has taken over half my study and I think it is ok to be slightly resentful of the intrusion. The days are long, the nights restless and anxiety knocks on the door. Fatigue is the word I am using now. It sums it up best. Over it, weary from everything and unable to do much about it. Guess it was only a matter of time before it would infect my writing. 

Staying at home with nowhere to be should produce ideal writing conditions. Turns out, not for me. Clearly I could never be that writer who hires a cabin overlooking a scenic vista for two weeks with no technology. Day one, I would knock up an hour or two of writing, take off for a walk and head straight towards the village to get myself back to the chaos of home. But home has more chaos now because it has no structure. Nothing to mark the days. Except virtual church on Sunday and the daily one hour of exercise. Even that is getting boring. 

So much to say, no words to say it. I am in the depths of a second novel. Story has been set up, main players introduced, an abundance of tension and battles and I know how it will all plan out. I can joyfully sit outside in the (now) spring sun and immerse myself into that world. It plays out perfectly in my head as though I am sitting in the cinema watching. Yet I shuffle a few metres inside to the computer and fumble my way through the scenes before calling it a day. Or, week as it has been. That hurts. It has never been this bad.

The words are resisting me, so time to stop pushing. I need something else I can immerse myself in. I crave knowledge, the ability to fill up the well with new information on something I know nothing about. Recently I found myself tuning my ear into my environment and picking up on the bird calls. If I had any slither of coolness attached to me, it has been stripped off as I now declare myself an amateur birdwatcher. Naturally there are apps for this and so far I’m up to 31 different bird species I have successfully witnessed. Not satisfied with just watching, I had to step it up to taking photos of them. And here opens a new vortex to tumble into. I won’t go into details except to say I finally know how to use the digital camera that I had given up on thanks to the camera phone. I have no doubt a future novel will contain a character who is a twitcher, or an ornithologist. Actually, probably a wildlife photographer, for just a little street cred.

Have I found the words? Not yet, but I have managed to open the tap a fraction more. 

5 Quick and Easy Editing Tips for Non Writers

5 Quick and Easy Editing Tips for Non Writers

Nothing screams unprofessional more than bad writing. It is the fastest way to put potential new customers off. Here are my quick and easy tips on how to polish your writing before you hit post. 

  1. Step away from the words. Just as an author never publishes a first draft, you should never hit publish on the first group of words you knocked together. Go and do something else. Wash up, make the bed, take a walk, pour a glass of water. Even if time is pushing, take half an hour to step away. With fresh eyes you can return to your work and the errors will jump off the page. 
  2. Kill your darlings. This is a famous expression among authors which means to cut all the word that doesn’t move the story forward. Flowery language, big words and wafting trains of thought all pollute clear communication. Whatever you have written can always be trimmed (10% minimum). Cutting words forces you to ensure you written message is clearer and concise, your readers are time poor after all. 
  3. Say it once. Treat your audience with respect, you are not writing a speech for preschoolers. As you reread are you also repeating yourself? Think about the world now, if one more person tells you to stay home to save lives, you could reach your tipping point. Outside of an introduction and conclusion, body text should state one point, then move onto the next, seperate point.
  4. Read aloud. Reading is an auditory skill and our ears have the ability to distinguish when something doesn’t sound quite right. When you read your work aloud you will find yourself stopping mid sentence to make corrections. This is also a fantastic way to pick up on spelling errors.
  5. Scan for white space. The visual presentation of your words is as important as the words themselves. Chunky paragraphs with little white space (or blue or yellow, whatever the background colour is), hurts the eyes and produces a reluctance to read on. Break your words up into short paragraphs and clear bullet points to encourage the reader to stay on your page.

Follow these steps before you hit publish and have confidence you have sent out a professional message into the world.

Why You Should Be Reading Fiction

Elissa Johnston Why You Should Be Reading Fiction

We are bombarded with lists of non fiction books to read right now. Books to make us: smarter, richer, healthier, popular and to run ourselves and our businesses more effectively. But where do fiction books fit in? There are numerous benefits to adding novels to your reading pile and I am going to share just a few. 

The reason non fiction books even exist are to solve our problems by feeding us solutions. Yet novels are based entirely around problem solving. Throughout a novel the protagonist (main character) spends time solving problem after problem in order to make their way through to the climax (after which the story ties itself up and finishes). In a good work of fiction the solution to each problem is not solved straight away with a step by step formula. Instead, the answers are drip fed to the reader and oftentimes are messy and incomplete. Quite simliar to how life works.

Problem solving also gets us, the reader, thinking. When you read (quality) fiction how often do you think about the story so far when you are not reading the book. As readers we think about what the protagonist is facing and work out how they will get out of the situation. We hypothesise on what they will do, which course of action to take, and how that will affect the rest of the story. Many times we even predict how the book will end. This is problem solving at it’s core and we don’t need a non fiction book to tell us how to do it, because we already know.

Non fiction books centred around relationships speak in depth about emotional intelligence. This is done in theory with ideal practical applications, but life as we know doesn’t fit a straight line. Novels centre around relationships and by connecting ourselves with the main characters we are able to grow our own emotional intelligence. We develop empathy towards characters in a story. We side with them, or against them; get angry at injust treatment; sad in times of loss; and we even get excited reading about the thrill of new love or the victory of the chase. Fiction takes us through the gamut of human emotions and we don’t even need to leave our house.

While non fiction books are often dry and lack imaginative thought, well written novels pump up your imagination. When snippets of information are given, it is up to our imagination to fill in the rest. We might be told a character has chestnut hair and wears a white shirt. But what does their face look like, how do they speak, how do they walk. Or when we are told a character enters a room with a desk under the window, what else do we see in the room? It is amazing the colour our imagination provides to a story, filling in intricate details the author has not mentioned. Perhaps the author never convinced those details given we all will see it differently in our individual minds. Of course, using your imagination is another tick for getting those creative juices flowing.

And finally there is pleasure. Reading non fiction often feels like a chore, but a novel is done purely because of the pleasure it brings. Sometimes there is nothing better than curling up on our favourite spot on the sofa and losing our senses deep into a novel. Escaping into another world slows down our current world and there is immense joy in the luxury that brings.

So tell me, what novel will you be adding to your reading list?

The Torment of the Unpublished Author

“Are you published yet?”

Through gritted teeth I respond no. I don’t add anything else. The answer is quite complicated and I know the person asking the question is trying to be polite. They most likely don’t want to hear about the agonies of the unpublished author. I watch their face. They nod, slowly. Wondering how, when the world moves so quickly, I can still be unpublished. Almost always they decide not to dig deeper and the conversation will move onto anything else. 

I am asked this question surprisingly often. It pains me in many ways, yet I also am comforted by it. How lovely it is when someone shows an interest in what you do. Yet this question touches nerves, because I ask myself the same thing. Why am I not published yet?

Unfortunately for the unpublished author, the publishing industry is painfully slow. Not slow as in a government department, but slow as in, are we still in the industrial revolution? There are rules to follow with traditional publishing, most often being thou shall only submit thine manuscript to one publisher at any one time. Once submitted thou shall wait six months before assuming a hard no. Six months when you are waiting for your big break is an excruciating time.

Then there are the stories, of those who have gone before you. Stories of how after six months, a now published author received a phone call and was signed up to an agency. Or another who shares their elation at having had their manuscript discovered through the slush pile. These stories provide hope and a belief that yes, you too can join that elite group.

However, the experts say different, and often they dismantle the belief. Perhaps your manuscript isn’t good enough and never will be and it’s time to lock it up in a cupboard never to see the light of day. You are aware of the statistics and realise this could very well be the situation you are facing. There are stories that go along with this course of action. Of authors who persisted and after years they locked it away and now they have a large collection of published books but that first one is still hidden from view. Maybe if they never let it go they would still be unpublished. 

The belief wavers. One day it’s there, the next it’s gone. You believe this manuscript is The One. But what if it actually isn’t. How many manuscripts do you have to write, edit, polish and repeat to become a published author? Then there are the well meaning, non writer, friends, who offer you what they call inspiration. “You know how many times JK Rowling was rejected don’t you?” Yes, I know. We all do. But that has already happened and won’t happen again in this lifetime. Other stories are shared, about authors who never gave up and after exhausting almost all publishers were offered a contract. Is this what we are holding on to each time we submit?

There is another way. Self publishing. By gaining a few more skills I could be holding my manuscript in my hands in book form, ready to sell. There are stories about Indie authors too. Ones who make six figures each year from their work. Who wouldn’t want that. Yet I don’t jump ship. Is it because I’m not backing myself or because I am clinging to an out dated childhood dream?

So I wait. I am forced to be patient. And at this point the second novel has found its way onto the pages. Because if I don’t keep writing, if I don’t have another project and a whole new cast of characters to get to know, the agony of waiting will destroy my passion.

No, I am not published, yet. But ask me next time, because you just never know when you will wake up one morning and find your dreams coming true.