Replenishing the creative stores

Happy February folks! I think February might be my favourite month (except maybe August, because it’s my birthday). Both my brothers’ and my Dad’s birthdays are in Feb, and of course we have Pancake Day and Valentine’s Day, so plenty of excuses to celebrate and eat lots of yummy treats. It’s short, which means payday is right around the corner, and if we’re lucky there are a few mild days and the snowdrops and crocuses come out, reminding us that Spring isn’t far off.

In today’s post, I wanted to focus on one of the most important non-writing elements of being a writer – consuming content to replenish the creative stores.

Replenishing the creative stores Author Toolbox Blog Hop Lyndsey's Book Blog

As you’ll know if you’ve been around here a while, I’m currently trying my hand at a slightly more contemporary YA story, rather than my usual fantasy, and I’m finding it kind of hard going. Something I’ve realised recently is that, whilst I’ve read hundreds of YA fantasy novels in my life, I haven’t read anywhere near as many contemporaries, and I now see why my first novel, The Fair Queen, came to me so easily, and my current WIP is eluding me at every comma and full stop. I need to build up my contemporary creative stores – or completely rework my WIP to make it a full on fantasy, instead of the wishy-washy contemporary-with-fantastical-elements I’m currently churning out like a particularly stubborn batch of butter.

While I decide how to proceed with that, here are a few tips and ideas for replenishing your own creative stores in between writing projects, or when you’re struggling to connect with your muse.


Read widely

When you’re deep in drafting or editing mode, you might want to avoid reading other books in your genre for fear of seeing similarities everywhere you look. However, when you’re trying to formulate an idea for your next WIP, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on as many new novels in your chosen genre as possible, so you can see what’s currently popular, what the publishing houses are buying and your potential readers are loving. In addition, you should throw in a few bestselling books from other genres and age ranges – if you write YA, pick up a couple of MG and adult novels; if you write fantasy, grab a few contemporaries and historical novels.

Reading widely will give you a much bigger pool of plot devices to draw from, inspiration for new characters and settings, and maybe even sentence structure and word choice ideas. Plus, borrowing from novels outside your own genre means any similarities in the end result of your novel will be almost completely unrecognisable – and, honestly, there’s nothing unique in this world, so it won’t matter to agents or readers (as long as you don’t plagiarise, of course).


Watch more TV

There you go, I’m giving you a legitimate excuse to binge watch that new series on Netflix! Seriously though, you don’t have to take all your inspiration from books just because you’re an author, the writing on some of the best shows and movies is just as good, if not better than many books (sacrilege, I know). I don’t mean literary adaptations, which are almost universally inferior to the original, I think we can agree, but when a screenwriter has crafted a beautiful story that works perfectly with their chosen media, it’s definitely a valuable source of inspiration.

One thing TV and film do well is dialogue, with a tight word limit to work with, keeping conversations short, to the point, but still gripping and effective is a real challenge. If one of your writing struggles is crafting credible dialogue, keep a notepad next to you when you watch TV and scribble down any snippets that could come in handy when you next sit down to write. It’s less about the specific words and phrases, and more about the overall flow of conversation, where the natural pauses fall and how you could convey tone by describing body language and actions in between lines.


People watch

Is this anyone else’s favourite pastime? You’re out and about, surrounded by strangers with lives just as full and fascinating as your own, listening to their conversations and imagining what they do for work, who they love, where they live. It’s basically a free character creation prompt.

Real life people aren’t as good for dialogue inspiration as you’d think, we pause too often, stumble over our words, repeat ourselves and change subject mid-sentence. Written dialogue needs to be cleaner, more concise and always have a purpose, you can’t afford to waste your word count on pointless pleasantries and nonsensical ramblings.

However, people watching is absolutely perfect for picking up mannerisms and reactions, for spotting the things we do when we think no one’s looking, and understanding the behaviour of people different to ourselves. If you’re an adult trying to write a YA novel, watch the teenagers you pass on your next day out, see how they behave around each other and how it differs when they’re with their parents. If you’re single and writing about a character who’s married with kids, keep an eye out for the mum in the supermarket trying to wrangle her toddler whilst stocking up on groceries for the family, what’s she buying? Is she patient with the kid, or visibly stressed out? Eavesdrop on the couple at the next table when you’re out for dinner, try and guess how long they’ve been together, how they met and what they’d do if an armed robber burst into the restaurant right at that moment. Would he protect her? Would she hand over her purse, or refuse?

Make it a game and you’ll never struggle for character ideas.


Get back to nature

One of the main things that inspired me when I was plotting and writing The Fair Queen was my local area (I lived near Sherwood Forest at the time), and I never failed to come back from a walk with my dog filled with inspiration for the setting of my next scene. I always have my phone with me, so I often took photos of interesting looking trees, or local wildflowers so I could Google them later and use them to inform my descriptions.

Even when I didn’t need any more direct inspiration for my novel’s setting, just going for a walk and getting some fresh air always helped me craft the next scene in my mind before heading home to write it. Whenever I struggled over a particular plot point I’d go over and over the idea in my mind whilst out for a walk, until I’d worked it out completely and unstuck myself. I can’t recommend it enough, even if you live in a city centre, just changing your environment for a while and possibly discovering a part of your home town you’d never seen before could provide you with the solution to your writing problem.


Writing requires a huge investment of creativity and conscious thought, so it makes sense that we need to refill the cup every now and then before we can pour from it again. These are just a few tips that have helped me when I’ve needed to replenish the creative stores and get inspired, hopefully they’ll work for you too. If you’ve got any other ways of making sure you’re not running on empty next time you sit down to write, leave them in the comments, I’d love to try some new ones!

Lyndsey

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In the query trenches

Hello lovely folks! As you’ve probably come to expect, I’m going to focus my post today on the stage of the writing/publishing process that I am currently at, which this time around is querying.

In the query trenches Author Toolbox Blog Hop Lyndsey's Book Blog

My querying journey began back in October, after a little over a year of plotting, drafting, editing and polishing (read: procrastinating) my first novel. After entering Pitch Wars and not getting chosen, I didn’t have any more excuses to put off querying, so I decided to bite the bullet and jump into the trenches.


Crafting your query

As part of the Pitch Wars submission requirements, I had to have a query letter prepared, so I already had mine ready to go. If you’re just starting to think about writing your query letter, one of the best explanations I found for how to write a killer query came from bestselling author of Truthwitch, Susan Dennard’s blog:

Fortunately, as part of the PW community, I had the opportunity to share my query with hundreds of fellow writers and get a few opinions and suggestions (also known as critiques). It’s just as crucial to have a polished query as it is to have your manuscript at its absolute best, so once you’ve drafted your letter ask a few writer friends to give it a once over, or post in one of the many amazing Facebook groups for writers and see if anyone would be willing to take a look. A few of the writing groups I’m in that have been invaluable for support and advice are:

  • Your Write Dream (Kristen Kieffer)
  • Edit & Repeat (Zoe Ashwood)
  • #PITCHWARRIORS (Morgan Hazelwood)
  • PW Query Team! (Morgan Hazelwood)

Writing a synopsis

Most agents request a synopsis along with your query letter and sample chapters, and the usual format is one page, single spaced. The key difference between a synopsis and a query letter is whilst the query doesn’t give away the ending of your story, the synopsis does. Again, the best explanation for how to write an amazing synopsis that I found was from Susan Dennard, this time on the Publishing Crawl website:


Researching agents

Now your submission materials are ready to go, the next step is to make a list of the agents you want to query, their submission guidelines and contact information. As I’m in the UK, I use Lit Rejections list of UK literary agents to find out who accepts my genre (Young Adult), and where I can find them online. Websites and Twitter accounts are really handy resources for learning more about an agent, their tastes and what they’re looking for. Don’t just rely on the list sites as you never know how up to date a particular site may be, always check the agency website in case an agent has moved, or their preferences or submission guidelines aren’t correct.

Other places you can research agents include the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter or the Manuscript Wishlist website, Query Tracker and Publisher’s Marketplace.

I keep a spreadsheet of all the agents I want to query, with columns for the agency name, the agent’s name, email address or submission website,  submission guidelines, when I sent the query and whether/when they responded. I highlight the agents green when I send a query, and red when I receive a rejection, as well as putting the dates in, so I can see at a glance how many queries are still out.


Sending your query

A few tips to make sure you’re not rejected immediately, before the agent even reads your sample chapters:

  • Don’t paste the email address into the recipient box until you’re ready to send, that way you can never accidentally send a half-typed email.
  • Use the agent’s name and make sure you spell it correctly! (Simple, but effective.)
  • Triple check you’ve met the submission guidelines before clicking send – you can’t take it back once it’s winging its way through cyberspace.
  • Make sure you’ve formatted your pages and synopsis correctly – single-spaced, one-page synopsis, double spaced pages with indentations at every new paragraph, except the first of a chapter/scene.
  • Give everything one last read through before sending, I’ve seen agents say a misspelling or two in a query won’t put them off but it’s better to not give them any excuse, especially when the slush pile is huge. You want them to want to keep reading!

Expect rejection

We’ve all read stories of authors who bagged an agent within a week of starting to send queries, but the truth is that most agented authors sent over a hundred queries before they finally found their match. Rejection is a necessary part of the publishing journey, unfortunately, so get comfortable with the word no and don’t take it personally when your carefully crafted query receives a less than enthusiastic response.

One of my very first queries received an almost immediate rejection at 11pm because the agent didn’t accept YA. I’d been reading the bios of a couple of agents from the same agency and gotten muddled – well it was late and I’d probably been researching for hours. So that was a pretty embarrassing faux pas, but we all make mistakes and you’re unlikely to come out of this query trench without a few teensy snaffoos of your own!

This week, I received my first real rejections (I don’t count my little error as a real query) after starting to send queries back in October, and I couldn’t be happier! As my Dad said when I told him, despite some mild confusion as to why I was so excited to receive a rejection email, “You’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince”. The first was a form rejection, but the second was personal and stated that my submission had stood out amongst the many they received. Unfortunately, they just weren’t enthusiastic enough to represent my novel, but they wished me luck with it. It doesn’t get much more positive than that as a rejection!

And that’s where I am on my query journey, one step closer to finding the right agent who will fall in love with my book and want to represent me and it on the long road towards getting published. Fingers crossed 2018 is my year!

Where are you on the query journey, just starting out or deep in the trenches like me? Let me know how it’s going and what your most positive rejection email has been so far. Here’s hoping we all find our agents this year – next step, publishing deals!

Lyndsey

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In the query trenches Lyndsey's Book Blog Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Writing dual timelines

Hello friends! This month, I’m taking you guys along on another research mission for my current WIP, COCKLE SHELLS AND SILVER BELLS. After outlining the plot months ago, I’ve now decided to add a second timeline set forty years earlier, using a secret diary as the mode of delivery for my additional POV. I’ve never done anything like this before, so I’ve been reading everything I can on the subject, and I thought some of you might be interested in what I’ve learned.


Adding a second timeline

Whose point of view?

So you’ve decided to add a secondary timeline to your novel, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it. First things first, you need to decide whether the POV will be your MC, or another character. Are you trying to show how earlier events lead to your character’s current situation? Was it their own doing, or a parent/ancestor? Maybe you’re writing a thriller or crime novel and want to include a timeline with one of the killer’s previous victims to show what could happen to your MC if they don’t get away. Dual timelines can (and should) both build tension and include exposition to keep your readers’ interest, so keep that in mind when deciding whose POV to use.


How to frame it

There are several ways you could frame the second timeline, aside from simply stating the name and date at the beginning of each chapter. Here are a few fun ideas:

  • A diary or letters
  • Flashbacks/memories
  • Cassette tapes, a la 13 Reasons Why (or a vlog perhaps)
  • Police records and interviews, a la Carrie
Dual timelines Lyndsey's Book Blog
How often should you switch between timelines?

Next, you need to think about the weight you want to give your secondary timeline. Is it strong enough to take up 50% of the novel? Is it more of a supporting subplot? It’s your choice how much of the story is spent in timeline number two, but it should be a significant enough amount that it couldn’t be cut without seriously affecting the story.

Whether you alternate every single chapter, or throw in a flashback every fifty pages, make sure your secondary timeline plot is essential to the story. You don’t want readers to skip to the next chapter whenever they reach a time change, but don’t worry too much about readers preferring one to the other – they probably will.


Writing your dual timeline novel

There are two main methods for writing your novel once you’ve decided on your two POVs and their plot points:

  • Write each timeline continuously and alternate them during editing.
  • Flip between timelines and write the novel as you intend it to be read.

Each has their merits, and it’s up to you to decide which one works best for you and your story. For my WIP, I plan to write through the main story from start to finish, leaving bullet points in the places where the diary entries will come up so I know which bits of narrative exposition have been revealed. Then I’ll go back and write the diary so I can really immerse myself in my second POV character and her 1970s time period.


A few final tips

As with any multi POV novel, your character voices need to be distinct. Even if your second timeline is still in your MCs voice, it should be clear that something has changed, especially if your character is considerably younger/older in your two timelines.

Make the transition between POVs connected in some way, i.e. make the exposition relevant to the main timeline and your MCs current conflict. If you’re writing a mystery, you could include a series of clues and red herrings, and use each time change to reveal the significance, or insignificance, of each one. This will keep your readers guessing and make sure they don’t skim over your secondary timeline, as they’d miss crucial exposition.

Read as many books with a similar narrative style to your planned WIP as possible before you start. This is where I’m up to with my outlining, so if you have any recommendations of books with a secondary timeline and POV using diaries or letters pop them in the comments please!


I hope you found that as useful as I did! It’s not as daunting as it seems at first glance, all it takes to write a novel with two timelines and two POV characters is a little extra planning and research. Good thing I’m a card carrying plotter then!

Until next time!

Lyndsey

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Writing dual timelines Lyndsey's Book Blog