Category: Survival Kit

A slowly-growing survival kit of tips and tools for writers. The focus is on staying healthy, emotionally, physically and mentally. Being a writer can be an isolating business, and surprisingly dangerous – Vitamin D deficiency and various muscular-skeletal problems are par for the course. I will discuss my experiences and ways to make sure that you eat well, don’t over-consume chocolate (although I’m not very successful at this), get some exercise, change out of your pyjamas and occasionally even get out of the house. The survival kit posts will also look at ways of coping with the ups and downs of rejection, unexpected hitches with the publishing process, and even the roller coaster of excitement and post-excitement slumps that writers can experience. I have a background in social work so I have been trained in counselling, burn out, stress and other health issues, so I will bring some of this post-writing life knowledge to my posts.

Wander from the Beaten Path in 2018

Wander from the Beaten Path in 2018

Have you made your New Year resolutions yet? If not, I have a suggestion for you. Alongside all the usual ones, can I suggest you wander from the beaten path in your reading habits this year?

I was lucky enough to become a published author in 2017, a dream come true. There were some unforseen side effects as a result, one of which I had never imagined. I discovered I had become part of a family. Odyssey is a small press and to be honest, I hadn’t heard of it until I started exploring publication options beyond the big five mainstream publishers. I had received rejections from all the mainstream publishers I could access (which weren’t many due to their submission policies). So I looked at who else was out there. A fortunate conversation with Tamasine Loves, author of the timeslip novel Remhurst Manor (Made Global Publishing) led me to discover Odyssey.

I loved what I saw on their website – the tagline ‘where books are an adventure’, caught my attention immediately. Their submission page begins with ‘we love stories’. Since my central character, Mina, becomes an accomplished story teller, this felt like a perfect fit. And it’s been wonderful being with a small press. Harlequin’s Riddle has beautiful production values. I’m proud that it sits alongside many amazing books on the Odyssey list.

The only frustration I have is that not enough people know about Odyssey and their authors. This is not just an issue for Odyssey though – it’s a problem for any smaller publisher or independent author. Marketing costs money, but that’s not all – many bookshops are very conservative in what they will place on their shelves (and according to some blog posts there may be financial incentives for certain books to be given more exposure). I’ve had some wonderful responses from booksellers when I ask if they can stock my book, but others have been less than receptive. Big publishers have easy distribution channels. They have large marketing budgets and interest from mainstream media. But that doesn’t mean their books are necessarily any better.

Does marketing prove a book is good?

I was in a chain bookstore recently and I realised that I was struggling to find anything that wasn’t by a ‘name’ author. We’ve moved into an age where everything’s worth is related to its potential to make money, not its literary merit or being a damn good book. It strikes me as a catch-22 situation. Certain books are hyped as ‘the next big thing’ and they sell really well. But are they selling because they are good, or because they are being given a lot of attention? You may think these books rise to the top because they are the best out there, to which I could respond with certain inevitable examples of terrible books that have sold enormously. But I don’t need to name names- just go to any op shop (thrift store) and you will find them in large quantities. You know which books I mean.

For some big publishers, the marketing department is influential in deciding which authors will be offered a contract. The decision then becomes ‘will it sell?’ instead of ‘is it a great book?’ The beaten path is safe, but it can begin to look ‘same-y’ after a while. Small presses take more risks. They value good writing and great stories. They champion unknown writers. They champion books that are a little different.

So be brave…

Since it’s the end of 2018, I’ve seen a number of people posting ‘books I read in 2017’ lists, and I’ve been dismayed at how mainstream their reading choices are. Few lists have had books on them that I haven’t seen marketed to death. This dismays me because there are wonderful books that are languishing simply because people don’t know about them. So in 2018, I encourage you to leave the beaten path. Explore the websites of small presses and splash out on a book from an unknown author. When you find books you love, tell people about them. Give great writers who aren’t with the big publishers a chance for recognition and a future where they get to keep writing books.

Some great Aussie small presses include: Odyssey Books, Christmas Press Picture Books, Eagle BooksCSFG, Clan Destine Press and IFWG Publishing Australia.

There are some fabulous books at Made Global Publishing (UK) too.

Stories can be the key to recovery from writer’s block

Stories can be the key to recovery from writer’s block

I wrote a while back about having writer’s block and not realising I did. It’s often hard to see what’s going on when you’re in the middle of it. Things are definitely better now. My first book is coming out in four weeks. A children’s story is going to be in an anthology by Christmas Press. I have appearances lined up at Continuum, the Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference and the Bendigo Writers Festival. Best of all, I have many ideas for stories.

A year ago I wasn’t feeling so optimistic. I used the word ‘burnout’ a lot. Someone else looking at it might have called it writer’s block. I didn’t feel like writing. The ideas weren’t there. Partly this was probably an inevitable result of completing a PhD – 4 years of stress and pressure leave you feeling pretty drained.  Most of my fellow students had some kind of emotional, physical or mental crash at the end of the process.

The other issue, though, was that I felt my stories didn’t matter. In my thesis I had argued for the importance of stories in changing how we see and respond to the world, and particularly climate change. One of my examiners completely ridiculed my ideas. I had also written a young adult novel as part of the PhD. This examiner’s entire response to the novel was ‘this novel is of PhD standard’. That was it. Seventy thousand words, years of my life, went into that manuscript, and all he wrote was one sentence, whilst simultaneously spending page after page ripping apart the arguments in the academic component. I was shattered.

It took me a long time to hit upon the solution. I nearly gave up writing altogether. But in the Princess Bride, when things look darkest, the Spaniard, Inigo Montoya, goes back to the beginning. So I did too. I asked myself why I started writing in the first place. The answer lay in the wonderful books that I’d read in primary school, and the incredible authors who had transported me to other worlds. No matter what some jaded academic said, I knew stories matter. They made a difference to me as a child. So I used the healing power of stories to restore my wonder and to reawaken my creative imagination. I visited old friends, like Susan Cooper‘s Dark is Rising series and everything by Diana Wynne Jones. I made new friends, like Derek Landy’s brilliant Skulduggery Pleasant series.

When you spend a lot of time studying writing and talking with writers, stories can lose their magic. And they shouldn’t. Stories can transform. By approaching stories with the openness and wonder of a new reader, I found a way to heal and restore myself. And stories re-entered my life.

 

How can you tell if your writers group is toxic?

How can you tell if your writers group is toxic?

For writers, getting feedback is a valuable way of improving what we do. There are different ways to do this. One popular method for novels is to have beta-readers. This is great for checking consistency, readability, plot holes and anything that seems problematical. It’s probably less useful for developing your skills as a writer. Writer’s groups can be great for this though. It can be a case of the sum being greater than the parts. When you get several people together, they will tend to notice different things and have a range of skills that you can learn from to you extend your own.  However, sometimes writers groups can be toxic, by which I mean they can cause damage to one or more of the members. But how can you tell?

Well, first up, how do you feel when you go home? If the answer is ‘great’, then it’s probably not a toxic group. If you go home feeling inspired, energised and ready to get on with some hardcore editing, pat yourself on the back for finding a great group. However, if the answer is ‘ripped to shreds’ or ‘oh, what was I thinking, I’ll never be a writer’, take it from me, that’s a little clue. Likewise, if you dread going, also a sign. If the group session leaves you feeling just a bit icky, continue reading.

Warning Signs of a Toxic Writers Group

Is one of the group games ‘Trash that writer’?

Ok, writers aren’t as bad as actors, but they aren’t lacking in bitchiness when it comes to talking about best-selling authors who appear to be lacking talent, editors or the ability to write a convincing sex scene. Nor are they short on opinions when some great writerly sage (read, writing celebrity) makes huge pronouncements that might just be a little stupid. However, there’s a difference between analytical criticism, which can improve writing skills, and plain old putting the boots in. Especially if the writer is someone people in the group may know. If your instincts are telling you the discussion has tipped over from analysis to envious, it probably has.

Do people in the group play the Monty Python game?

You know the one I mean – ‘well, I used to sleep in shoebox in middle t’road’. ‘Shoebox? You had a shoebox..?!’ If you have achieved something, does someone pull out the tattered memory of their last achievement rather than congratulating you? Whether it’s an up or a down comparison, the effect is still the same – to draw attention away from you and back to them. They may compare your successful funding grant application to the time their grandmother predicted their gift book on chihuahuas in bow ties would be a best seller (hang on, it probably would – give me a minute while I write that in my ideas book…), or they may talk about how your shortlisting for an award reminds them of the time they won first prize in various prestigious literary competitions. A good group is one that allows everyone their chance to shine.

Is everyone expected to play ‘oh great guru’?

Does the group exist to prop up the ego of one person? Do people wait to see what this person’s opinion is before putting forward their own? Does all conversation stop when this person opens their mouth? Sometimes it’s not quite that obvious – sometimes it can be a tug of war where that person believes in their guru-ness a little more than others, but it still makes for a difficult group dynamic. Every member of the group should be equally valued for their contributions and writing ability.

A final word…

Writers groups can be really valuable, if they are supportive and nurturing. Basically, trust your instinct. It can take a few tries to find a group that really gels, and where you can feel safe. Good writing requires a baring of the soul. When you find a group where you can comfortably do that, you will thrive.

* Note to the pedantic – the missing apostrophe is deliberate – it is a group OF writers, not a group belonging to writers!

Be a writing angel, not a demon

Be a writing angel, not a demon

Writers have plenty of demons. They constantly battle the demon of self-doubt. At night they try not to listen to the demon of unfinished projects. Sitting at their computer they try to ignore the more prosaic demon of social media. There are many voices whispering in a writer’s head, sabotaging their efforts. Niggling away at them. They honestly don’t need more. What they need are writing angels, voices that will lift them up and encourage them. With this post I’m hoping to convince you to be an angel to other writers, not a demon.

A Writers’ Mindset Matters

Writers can be exceptionally good at empathy – you have to be to put yourself into the heart and mind of any character that you create. Yet all too often there seems to be a sense of ‘scarcity’, as though providing any level of support to another writer will somehow take away from your chances of getting published or being successful. This mindset can make writers suspicious or jealous of each other, which can then manifest in criticism that is more about their own insecurities.

Even worse, such criticism can take the guise of ‘friendly fire’ – ‘I’m doing this to help you’. I’ve seen and heard of this again and again in writers’ groups.  Writers should feel safe to share their writing babies. These groups can be a great way to develop your skills, but they’re not all constructive. I’ll come back to this in another post. For the moment, my point is, writers that come from this kind of mindset don’t tend to uplift their fellow writers.

Then there are the writers who are self-important or self-absorbed, and the ones who have given up, are bitter about it, and take it out on others. There are a lot of reasons why writers might be less than supportive of others. However, the good news is there are a lot of wonderful writers out there who genuinely hold their fellow writers in high regard. Who support them through kind words, through celebrating their successes with them, through buying and reviewing their books. Small acts of kindness. Larger acts of mentorship. Providing thoughtful, caring, constructive feedback on the writing if they are in a position to do so. Because they know what it is like – how hard it is to expose your writing jugular to others. How much of your soul you have put into it.

Sometimes You Meet a Writing Angel

Over the course of years as a writer, I’ve met all types of writers – the bitter, the self-absorbed, the supportive. But I think I’ve only ever met one genuine, fully fledged writing angel. That’s not to put down many of the other wonderfully supportive, caring writers out there.  But there is one writer that I have been incredibly lucky to meet. She is of the opinion that the writing world is big enough for everyone. She is generous of spirit and has the biggest heart of anyone I know. She informally mentors and supports writers of all ages and stages, from absolute beginners to those who have several books under their belt. She shares her knowledge of the industry, she gives her time to read others’ work and she always, always remembers that someone’s book baby is precious, giving feedback in a careful and caring way.

For me, this is the kind of writer I’d like to become.  We all have enough demons sitting on our shoulders, whispering to us as we plot our novels and write our words and create our worlds. We need more angels, standing on our other side, telling us that we can do it – that our writing is worth something.

 

Are you the boss of social media or is it the boss of you?

Are you the boss of social media or is it the boss of you?

Once upon a time, when a group of writers got together, they would talk about their WIPs (works in progress), or the difficulties with their publisher/not having a publisher, or how good the coffee was. Nowadays, apparently inevitably, the conversation always seems to end up on social media. What’s the best one? What gets the best sales? How do you manage having so many different ones? How often should you blog? And so on.

In the discussions I’ve had with various writers, many feel social media is necessary but a pain. Necessary, because we all want to be noticed in the sea of writers out there. A pain, because they’d rather be writing. As far as I can see, that means there are two challenges to social media:

  1. how to get noticed
  2. how not to give your life over to it

There are lots of posts and training courses out there offering advice on point 1, so I’m not going to answer those questions. Instead I’m going to look at:

How NOT to get stuck on the social media roundabout.

First of all – keep in mind the WHY, not just the HOW. Why are you on social media? It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in all those questions I mentioned, like finding the best platform, how often to post, trying to turn posts into sales etc. Yes, we need to be able to be found, but the reaso

n for that is because we want people to read our writing. If you keep this in mind, it will help you stay motivated to keep your writing as your number one priority, and to make social media a lower priority. Of course, if your aim is to be a social media personality, not a writer, then you can stop reading this post right now.

Next, take an honest look at time versus outcome.  How many sales do you actually get from spending hours on Twitter? How many of your followers are actually buying your books? Each platform has ways you can measure this, such as ‘click throughs’ and other analytics. Work out how to use these! It’s nice to get warm, fuzzy feelings from having lots of followers, but if this isn’t translating into genuine interest in your books then either you’re wasting your time, or you might need a different message. This may mean tweaking what you post, or it may actually mean focusing your energy elsewhere.

Also, find a time management tool that works for you. I use an ap called Writeometer to focus on my writing without distraction. It turns my phone into a timer for 25 minutes. If I try to exit to check social media it asks me sternly if I really need to break my writing time. There are other aps that will lock your access to social media for a set amount of time. Look, social media is addictive. It’s designed to be that way. Which is one of the reasons writers feel it is a pain – because they know it takes away from writing time but they can’t always help themselves. At the end of your life, do you want your Wikipedia entry to have 12 books on it, or 5? Is it worth sacrificing all those unwritten novels to flick through funny cat pictures? Seriously? So if you’re addicted to scrolling, don’t be ashamed to use electronic tools to help break the cycle!

Finally, and most importantly, write good books, or, as Neil Gaiman says, ‘make good art’. There is no magic formula for getting noticed – some of it is luck, some of it is perserverance, but some of it is being good at what you do. You may spend ten hours a week crafting a huge social media presence, but if your writing doesn’t sing, if your story doesn’t excite, you won’t sell books. Ok, I can think of a couple of exceptions to this (terribly written books that have sold very well) but bestselling authors are usually at the top because they are VERY good at what they do, which is write compelling books.

While you’re sitting on the social media roundabout, spinning endlessly, you could be improving your writing craft. You could be catching the fireflies of inspiration, listening to the whispers of stories waiting to be told, crafting characters that want to be in the world. Thanks for reading. Now go write!

 

Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

Full disclosure: I am not a marketing expert. I’m a writer. I do live with a computer geek, which gives me a few insights. But mostly I respond to social media as a participant. This is not going to be one of the billion posts about how to maximise your social media. It’s a post about what to avoid doing, particularly if you’re new to the whole ‘self-branding’ thing. Social media mistakes can cause all sorts of unexpected problems.

First, an anecdote. Once there was a writer (not me, a friend!) who wanted to get her book accepted by a publisher. She had been told by others (but not me) that the way to do this was to have a strong social media profile. The word around the traps was that Stephanie Meyer and the 50 Shades of Grey author (does anyone remember her name?) had been picked up by mainstream publishers because of their social media profiles. Ipso facto, to be picked up by a publisher you need to be huge on social media.

So in order to shine a light on herself, this writer (still not me) put a fair bit of money into building a website, getting a Facebook author page, jumping into Twitter and exploring other social media platforms. She got active chatting in groups, she did various ‘launches’ of her presence, she generally tried to be noticed. And in the process, she swiftly built up a reputation.

Unfortunately, it was exactly the wrong kind of reputation. People started telling each other that she was someone to be avoided. Her name began to have negative associations, including with publishers that she tried to friend online. At the same time, she was being exploited by those who make income out of aspiring authors, paying a lot of money for, at times, dubious results. Her social media presence was working against her, rather than for her.

What went wrong? Here are some of the things I think might have helped.

  1. Learn the etiquette of social media. Just like in real life, there are certain things that people disapprove of online. Extremely personal disclosures in very public groups, controversial comments for the sake of being noticed, appearing extremely judgemental – these are all things to be avoided. I’ll talk about crafting a profile in my next social media post, but the rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t stand in Bourke St mall and shout it, it’s not appropriate for social media, where what you say can be heard by just as many strangers – and will stay around long after you’ve jumped on the tram! Be particularly careful with the ‘extremely judgemental’ one. Read your comments through before posting – can they be misinterpreted in a way you didn’t intend?
  2. Learn the etiquette of groups. If you are part of a group on social media, it will often set out its rules on a ‘pinned’ post or sidebar. Read these and follow them. If you don’t, you may be shouted down or even kicked off.
  3. Don’t friend spam. Nobody likes to feel like they are being used. If you make friends with people solely to promote your book to them, they’re going to see right through it. Just because someone is online, doesn’t mean their brain has been eaten by zombies. I know it can seem like it from some of the comments, but most people are still just as intelligent as they are in real life.
  4. Don’t friend spam other people’s friends! Don’t go through your friends’ ‘friend’ lists and contact all those people asking them to be your friend. A lot of people have a policy of only accepting requests from people they know, so will delete random requests. Others will accept them once they’ve looked at the profile, but if they see that your profile is all about ‘being an author’ they will know you’re wanting to friend them for promotional purposes. Also, you may well upset the people who ARE your friends by contacting all their friends – it can make them look complicit.
  5. Be mutually supportive. If you say you’re going to follow a writer friend, don’t forget to do it. Then put them on your ‘white list’ or your ‘definitely need to keep following this person’ list so you don’t accidentally end the connection. Then retweet or like their posts and engage in friendly online dialogue – don’t just tick them off as a ‘like’ and forget about them. Better still, buy their book and review it. They’re more likely to return the favour if they feel there is a genuine, supportive connection between you.
  6. Remember who your followers are. If Facebook is mostly friends and family, don’t put endless posts publicising your books. If Twitter is mostly fans or fellow writers, tweet about writing or book events, but don’t tell them about your underwear. Make sure your content fits your audience.

It’s a big scary social media world out there, but like any new arena in life, you can spend some time doing research. See how others behave. Talk to friends. Read various blogs and information sites to see how different social media platforms are used. It’s difficult to fix things if you’ve created a bad impression so it’s worth spending the time to get it avoid costly social media mistakes.

Sometimes writer’s block wears a disguise

Sometimes writer’s block wears a disguise

After I finished my PhD in Creative Writing I went through a prolonged period of writer’s block. I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t even read. I felt no desire to put words on a page. There were no stories bouncing around inside my head. Ideas no longer blossomed in the middle of the night. It was like driving along a highway. Everything was banal and unchanging: there was no beauty and no joy. But I didn’t realise I had writer’s block. I told myself I was burned out. A PhD is an exhausting marathon. I’ve been lucky, I guess: before this the ideas were always reliably there, even if I didn’t have time to catch them. So I thought I was someone who didn’t get writer’s block. I didn’t recognise it.

Only now, when the ideas and words are flowing again, have I seen it for what it was. And I’ve realised I didn’t recognise it because it didn’t look like a ‘thing’, a solid, rectangular block sitting in the middle of the road to creativity. Instead it was a pocketful of excuses: recurrent ideas and anxieties that robbed me of my confidence and my sense of myself as a writer. Now that I’ve grabbed these whispers and dragged them screaming into the light of hindsight I can see that together they form a seething shape that looks suspiciously like a block. So I thought I’d share a few in case they’re hiding in your pockets and cupboards too. That way you’ll recognise them when you find them.

The Voice of Writer’s Block

“I don’t have anything to say…” – true, it’s all been said before. And if you look around, someone else is probably saying it right now. But they are not you and they not saying it from your experience and perspective. So just say it and someone is going to appreciate your unique perspective.

“I’m too busy with my real job” – okay, it’s important to earn money, but sometimes we prioritise by accident, not by design. I realised I was prioritising my own writing to the bottom of the pile even when I could have made space for it. Sometimes ‘too busy’ hides a sense that what other people want from you is more important than what you want for yourself.  The solution is to prioritise consciously and place greater value on what you want to do.

“My cat/dog/child/cactus needs me” – yep, they probably do. But how much? I’m guessing not 24/7.  Now’s a great time to teach them a little bit of independence.

“I’m not a real writer” – no matter where you are on the climb up Writer Mountain, there’s always someone ahead of you. Someone who hasn’t got a publisher thinks the person who has is the ‘real writer’. Someone who has only one book thinks the person with three is. And so it goes on. If you put pen to page, you’re a real writer. Forget comparing yourself. Just write!

“But none of this helps me overcome writer’s block,” I hear you say. “It just makes me argue with myself.” So what did I do once I recognised these voices and saw them for what they were? Well, that’s a whole other blog post.

Decluttering for Writers

Decluttering for Writers

So, have you been following the decluttering craze? I have, and it took me a while, but I realised why it calls to me so strongly. It was after I read a few articles about famous male writers like Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway that I realised why I have thrown so much energy into decluttering (and, let’s be honest, reading decluttering blogs and drooling over ‘after’ photos on Pinterest). These highly lauded, canonised writers had households full of women to tidy up after them. I don’t. In fact, the reverse is true – I have a family that tend to leave bits and pieces everywhere. Now, I’ll say upfront my family are wonderful at doing allocated jobs – putting away the dishes from the dishwasher, feeding our crazy pets, the daily tedium of letting the chickens out and putting them back to bed… But somehow, that surface clutter always keeps trying to creep in there. Computers on the kitchen table. Clothes draped over chairs. Notepads dropped on every flat space.

I love that my family are creative and always onto the next thing. But once that accumulation of clutter starts, it can be hard to stop, and then you (I!) get to the point where it is driving me nuts. Where I realise I can’t get on with my writing because there’s nowhere to put my laptop, or too much dust for the asthmatic family members. Where the call of clutter on my brainspace is too strong. Now, that takes a while because I’m not keen on housework. But it does reach a point where a mighty clean needs to happen. And I don’t want to be spending my time cleaning – I want to be spending my time writing.

Decluttering is Better than Tidying

One of the key ideas in decluttering is that everything has its place, and should be put back there when not in use. Great idea, doesn’t always works. If there’s too much stuff for the available space things tend to get shoved in, then spill out, or they’re just left lying around. So it makes a lot of sense to me to get rid of the stuff that’s just taking up space, getting shifted around, requiring cleaning or mending or dusting but not really loved or used. This may seem ridiculously domestic of me, but it’s actually the opposite. The less stuff I have, and those around me have, the less time we need to spend organising it, and therefore the more time we have for what really matters – like writing (or *insert whatever your passion is here*).  Now it is possible to write in a chaotic space, but I’m not that person. It is impossible to ignore the piles around you, but I am not that person. (Inspirational Lord of the Rings speech reference – tick!).

So, getting rid of stuff helps. Then you can teach people to put their stuff away… An accompanying issue with this is teaching everyone in the family how to cook, so you don’t have to stop writing that incredible scene to put nachos together, but perhaps that’s another blog for another day.

Doing a Creative PhD – Things to Think About

Doing a Creative PhD – Things to Think About

In 2013 I completed my PhD by artefact and exegesis, submitting a young adult novel and a thesis. During and after that time I have had extensive contact with other students of creative PhDs. I’m on a facebook group where people sometimes ask about signing up to do one of these. The response is always overwhelmingly positive – people encourage others to go ahead and apply.  From my perspective, I am really pleased I obtained my PhD, but I believe anyone starting the ‘journey’ should have their eyes wide open. So this post discusses some things to be aware of.

The University Context

Probably the biggest factor at the moment for creative PhDs is that the university sector is being squeezed financially. And of course, like the broader social arena, the arts is always one of the first areas to lose funding. Potentially this might mean less funds available for going to conferences, less time allocation for supervisors to provide support during candidacy (so less face to face meetings) and less availability of other support (scholarships, research skills training etc.).

I had a conversation with a Visual Arts student recently on the day she discovered her supervisor had been made redundant. She was told there was no other potential supervisor on the horizon in the immediate future and was rightly devastated. Doing a PhD requires a lot of support. It’s hard to see how far these cuts are going to go, but one of the safeguards that can be put in place is to establish really good support networks with other students. Then if cuts do impact, you’ll at least have others to turn to who understand.

Your Goals

Be really clear about why you want to do the PhD. If it is to find a job in academia, see point 1! The traditional pathway of PhD to tutoring to lecturing to academic security is not a given any more. If this is your aim, it would be wise during your candidature to publish as much as possible, to develop excellent links to established academics who might be willing to mentor you, and to volunteer to help out with journals, conferences etc.  Show that you have a lot to offer. If you are doing the PhD because a scholarship is more income than a writer normally receives in a year and you don’t intend to become an academic, that’s fine – but see point 3! The point is, be clear about your expectations before you go in.

The Supervision Process versus Your Writing Process

Creative writing (and other creative arts) for a PhD is different to writing outside the university sector because you are subject to ‘The Gaze’. Whatever you write will be scrutinised closely to ensure it reaches PhD standard*. The ethics process can also impact. This means your project may be more collaborative than you are used to. For me aspects of the ethics process meant I had to entirely re-shape my novel.

For others, a supervisors’ input meant they took their writing in directions they were not initially keen on. Whilst this is akin to working with an editor, it can happen much earlier in the process than usual. Prior to my PhD I never showed my writing to others until I’d reached at least draft 3. However, during the PhD a supervisor wants to see that you are producing work, and may well want to see a first draft. Finding a supervisor you can communicate with is really important to find your way through all of this.

Creative Writing Versus Academic Writing

Your preferred emphasis and the university’s might not be the same. On paper a creative PhD is (depending on the uni) 70% creative project and 30% academic text. In practice, this is often reversed. Creative artists coming in are highly skilled and experienced at their arts practice, but usually less so on academic writing. It can be a shock to realise there is a huge expectation that you will spend the majority of your time on the academic work. Supervisors need to be sure you will tick all the boxes in terms of getting research and thesis chapters written. Friends of mine have (to their horror!) been told to put their novel aside for months whilst they focus on the academic text.

Do Your Research….

The best way to go into the PhD with your eyes wide open is to have some really good conversations with others who have gone through it, and with your potential supervisor to really sort out expectations. Good luck!

*PhD standard may be very different to publication standard!

The secret to being a writer

The secret to being a writer

For a long time this wasn’t a secret that was made readily available to people. It was a deep, hidden truth that was not spoken about. But in recent years I have heard a few authors break the silence by talking publicly and honestly about what makes you a great writer. And I’m going to reveal that secret here today. It comes down to this.

Write.

Yup. That’s it. Write today, write tomorrow, write the day after. Keep writing, and you will keep getting better. There is a bit more to it, of course. That’s why there are millions of books out there, and lots of courses, workshops and degrees. But it begins with writing. Regularly.

Okay, now here’s some of the ‘more’. Write with the right attitude. Once you’ve finished the first draft of your first novel, congratulations, have a drink, love your work. But PLEASE don’t decide that’s it, you’re done, and start sending it out to publishers on the premise that you are so darned talented that the first person who gets it is going to snap it up. That way lies frustration and anger when it’s not snapped up by the first reader, or the second one. Or the third…

How Published Authors Got There

Authors with an established track record of published books edit their work. They don’t just decide that the first draft is perfect. They know writing takes effort, a critical eye, and a willingness to keep doing the job until it is done. You’re not doing yourself any favours if you decide after a first draft that the responsibility is now in the hands of the publishers to recognise how amazing your novel is. The reality is that the responsibility is still in your hands to get it to amazing.

So when I say the secret to writing is to write, what I actually mean is to write, then re-write, then re-write some more. Be open to recognising that writing takes work. Take the time to read through what you have written, but remember to keep your brain open. Have the attitude that you want to be a good writer, not just a star, and recognise that that takes work. Oh yes, and one other thing. Read. A lot. But that’s a post for another day.