Self-care for writers

August tends to be a slow month; school is out, lots of people take time off work and go on holiday or visit family. The weather is usually good (depending on where in the world you are, here in the UK we get equal parts sunshine and rain!) and the days are long and can be as filled with activity and excitement, or as lazy and relaxing as you please. Personally, I like a good mix of the two.

This year, however, I haven’t spent August enjoying the peace and quiet, or going on fun days out with my family and friends. This year, I entered Pitch Wars and have spent the last few weeks polishing my manuscript, submitting it for scrutiny by several potential mentors and anxiously waiting for requests. I’ve been frantically trawling the Pitch Wars hashtags and refreshing my inbox more often than’s healthy, agonising over whether I’ll be picked from the thousands of entries and whisked out of obscurity.

But, with announcement day just a week away, I’m finally starting to calm down and accept my fate. I don’t jump at every email notification or scroll through my private list of mentors’ tweets constantly…anymore. I’ve actually started to take some time for myself, after months of stress with the competition, moving house, my job etc. And it got me thinking: what can writers do to look after themselves and replenish the creative well?

Self care for writers Lyndsey's Book Blog

Read

This one’s not for every creative, not all writers can read when they need a break from work, it’s a fundamental part of what we do and switching off the part of our brains that analyses the writing of others and tries to find ways of improving our own craft is nigh on impossible. My tip is to read outside your genre, pick up that new thriller everyone’s been talking about while you’ve been busy writing a historical fantasy, grab a light, summery contemporary to contrast your horror WIP. Try a graphic novel, or a classic you’ve always fancied but never gotten round to.

Read for fun and remember why you enjoy it, if you can’t switch off the analytical part of your brain don’t beat yourself up, use your new experience to feed your creativity for your next project.


Travel

Get out of your comfort zone, you don’t have to go far to benefit from the change of scenery. If you can get away for a few days abroad, a city break is a fantastic way to research the setting for that story you’ve been daydreaming about between editing your manuscript. If a staycation is on the cards, why not rent a cottage in a beautiful location or even go camping and spend a few days getting close to nature, reconnecting with your nearest and dearest.

If you can’t stretch to more than an afternoon at a time, try being a tourist in your own town. I’m lucky to live within a short drive of lots of historic towns with castles and cathedrals galore. You might stumble upon inspiration in the quiet corners and cobbled streets, but if not you’ll still learn something new about local history and have fun exploring your own hometown.


Get creative

A lot of creatives don’t just limit themselves to one outlet, they have a number of skills and talents they enjoy using to express themselves. If you love to draw or paint, knit or sculpt, take some time out of your busy schedule to return to your other artistic passion and get another part of your creative brain whirring for a change.

Try something new, check out local craft classes like photography or flower arrangement, join the Women’s Institute or a choir. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, as long as you express your creativity via an outlet other than writing. It can be just for yourself, gifts for your friends, or you might even end up opening an Etsy store and selling your makes. The sky’s the limit!


Rest and relaxation

Do nothing. Enjoy lazy Sundays in bed with a pot of tea and a new Netflix series. Bake a cake or a loaf of bread and eat it warm from the oven. Sit in the garden and feel the sun on your face (which is probably deathly pale from spending so much time indoors at your laptop). Have a glass of wine. Heck, have a whole bottle! Share it with friends and laugh and dance. Fill your days with the small things that bring you joy, wear your favourite outfit and go window shopping or grab a frothy coffee in an independent cafe. Paint your nails, or let your kids paint them. Cuddle your dog (or cat, or guinea pig).

Whatever you do, be truly present. Don’t worry if your mind wanders, but bring it back round to the moment and enjoy where you are, who you’re with and let your senses be filled with the experience. You’ll feel a wave of contentment wash over you, and nothing will go to waste when you next sit down at your laptop, it’ll all be there in the back of your mind, informing your writing and enriching your stories.


Indulge your muse

If you absolutely can’t go without writing for more than a few days, why not open your little book of plot bunnies and write a piece of flash fiction or a short story based on one of your ideas? You can always expand it into a longer piece later, but for now just write whatever comes to mind, get it all out onto the page until you’ve satisfied the craving.

It can be difficult when the thing you enjoy most is also the way you make a living, it becomes a challenge to find other activities to unwind and replenish the creative well, but as long as you don’t let yourself slip back into ‘work mode’ and start thinking about deadlines you can get away with doing your favourite thing just for you. We’re lucky really, not many people love their job so much they can’t stop themselves from doing it during their down time! Just remember to separate the two, writing for work and writing for fun.


I hope you like my tips for self-care and avoiding burn out as a writer, let me know in the comments what you do to relax and recharge your creative batteries!

Lyndsey

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Self care for writers Lyndsey's Book Blog

Killing your darlings

This month, as I’m working on polishing my manuscript in preparation for Pitch Wars, I wanted to talk about something all writers struggle with, and that’s being ruthless in the editing process.

Killing your darlings Lyndsey's Book Blog

What does it mean to kill your darlings?

We’ve all heard the phrase “kill your darlings”, whether you came across it while reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, or you’ve seen it used in the online writing community. There’s even a film with Daniel Radcliffe as poet Allen Ginsberg, who has been attributed (amongst many others) with inventing the saying, called (of course) Kill Your Darlings.

The basic message is that, during the editing process, writers should cut their favourite and most self-indulgent passages for the betterment of their manuscript. It’s a tough and painful lesson all writers learn when they come to revision time. First drafts are almost never good enough for publication, and even the most famous authors rewrote their works several times before sharing them with the world. Take a look at this post, How many drafts does it take to finish a novel? to see how many times some authors rewrite!


A bit of background…

For those of you who might not know, I finished my first novel recently and plan to submit it to Pitch Wars next month. I wrote most of the first draft during NaNoWriMo 2016, and finished draft two in May. Since then, it’s been out with several beta readers who all really liked the story and gave me a few comments and suggestions which I’ve worked on incorporating into the text. (Check out my previous Author Toolbox post on the ABCs of beta readers).

My beta readers, however, are not fellow writers. They’re friends who love reading and who I trust to give me their honest opinion, but they aren’t familiar with the craft of writing.


Preparing for Pitch Wars

In the run up to Pitch Wars, a raffle was hosted by last year’s mentees – writers who got picked by the 2016 mentors – offering to work with this year’s hopefuls on their competition entry, which comprises the first ten pages of your manuscript and a query letter. I entered the raffle and was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the winners, meaning the amazing Kristen Clouthier would take a look at my pages and query and give me her expert opinion on what I could do to improve them, and therefore increase my chances of getting chosen by a mentor next month.

I pinged off my pages and waited patiently (lies, I was so nervous and anxious!) for Kristen’s reply and her suggested edits. She replied really quickly with a few questions to give her a better idea of my MS and a couple of thoughts she’d had whilst reading. Her advice was to cut the opening scenes and start the story later, as I had started it too early and the inciting incident was several chapters in. She was absolutely right and I think I’d known that all along, having worried my beta readers would find the start boring (it’s a fantasy novel with no fantastical elements for several chapters, what was I thinking?).

Kristen recommended I cut everything up until the action really starts, and then send her my new first ten pages so she could critique those instead. I set about chopping a good 8k words off the beginning of my book, and do you know what? It didn’t even hurt. If that isn’t a sign that Kristen was completely right and my story started way too soon, then I don’t know what is. I polished up those opening pages, readding some of the important information from the cut segment, and sent them off. Kristen loved the new opening, and even though it still needs work and lots of spit and polish, we both agreed it was definitely the right place to start the story.


My dead darling

OK, I lied, one part did hurt, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Kristen said that she wouldn’t be surprised if someone down the road – a Pitch Wars mentor, or future agent – would ask me to cut the prologue. I wrote about my prologue here on my blog, you can even read the original, first draft version when you subscribe to my email list, and I discussed the pros and cons of prologues and reasons why they’re so controversial amongst writers and editors. That didn’t stop me writing it and including it in my manuscript. But, as Kristen said, it was really just a huge spoiler for everything that happens later in the book, so I knew that, with the new beginning being more action packed and gripping, it had to go.


The five stages of loss

So, I killed my darling, I cut my prologue. I saved a copy of my original MS so I can keep it for posterity, and to see how far it has come by the time it gets published, and maybe that took the sting out of removing the prologue and first three chapters. I didn’t delete them and send them into the void, I can still refer to them and use snippets here and there throughout the rest of my MS.

If your manuscript is finished and you’re ready to start the revision process, here are five steps to killing your darlings:

  1. Give your writing to beta readers. You can reread your work yourself, but the bits that need to go tend to be the writer’s favourites. When your betas tell you something didn’t work for them, or it felt clunky and unclear, believe them.
  2. Cut the word/phrase/passage and paste it into a new document, or wherever you keep snippets for yourself. Don’t just hit delete and erase it forever, you never know when you might be able to reuse at least some part of your cut segment.
  3. You now need to fill the gaping hole you’ve created. This will probably either be with a completely reworded version of the original, or a sentence or two that smoothly transitions the reader into the next part of the story. Read the couple of pages before your MS’s new hole to immerse yourself in that part of the story.
  4. Write. Don’t worry that you might not be able to come up with something as brilliant as your dead darling, all of your words come out of the same person, good or bad, and you will write wonderful words again.
  5. Go back to step 1, give the new version to your beta readers and see if they prefer it. If they’re happy, you’re good to go.

Writing is a very personal experience, but ultimately your writing needs to be aimed at your readers and not just an exercise in self-indulgence. That’s what diaries are for. Be brave and ruthless in your editing, and try not to take it personally when readers don’t connect with your favourite passages. Kill all your darlings, and your novel will be the better for it, I promise.

Lyndsey

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Killing your darlings Author Toolbox Blog Hop Lyndsey's Book Blog

The ABCs of alphas, betas and critique partners

Today, I want to discuss the stage of writing that I’m currently at, which is sharing my writing with readers!

I recently finished my first novel, The Fair Queen, and sent it to a few trusted friends and family to read. Some of them are actually proofreading it – I keep getting messages with grammatical errors and misspellings! I’m really grateful to them all, and so far everyone’s really enjoyed it, which is amazing to hear.

As scary as it may be, letting people read our work is the only way to progress – whether that’s improving our writing skills by getting feedback from readers and editors, or seeking to publish by sending our stories to agents and publishers. It’s an integral and crucial part of being a writer.

Let’s talk about the process of sharing our work with others.


Critique Partners

From what I’ve read, most writers recommend having a Critique Partner. This is someone who really gets your writing – they most likely write within your same genre and age range so they really understand the requirements and standards of the genre.

A critique partner is basically a really good friend who loves your style of writing and enjoys reading your stuff. It should be a mutual relationship ideally – well, all the best friendships are! They should compliment the bits they like, critique the bits they don’t, and explain why it’s not working for them (if they can, it’s not always cut and dry). Ultimately, your critique partner should help you see past any blind spots you have for your own writing, and push you to improve your craft. Their work should inspire you to be a better writer, and yours should do the same for them.

The usual process with critique partners is to send short segments of your writing as you go, rather than sending a full manuscript at the end. You can agree on a frequency that suits both of you, whether that’s chapter by chapter, or 1,000 words at a time.

There are some great blogs about finding critique partners, I’ll leave a few links below rather than go into the how, as I haven’t actually got a critique partner so I’d rather you learnt from someone in the know!

And if you’re ready to find your one true critique partner, pop along here:


Alpha Readers

I’ve seen the term alpha readers bandied about online, and from what I understand they are the people you love and trust to read your finished manuscript first. They’re the friends and family members with an eye for detail and a firm grasp of the English language who you know will appreciate your work and give you a list of notes to help make improvements before it goes out to beta readers.

They might not be big fans of your genre, or know anything about the writing craft, but they want to help you be the best you can be, and they’re willing to give you another perspective.

Not everyone uses alpha readers, or they might not call them that, they just give their MS to their husband/wife, or mum, and get another pair of eyes on it before anyone else sees it.


Beta Readers

Now these are your potential fans, readers who are willing to read your polished MS and tell you which characters they love and hate, which plot twists they saw coming a mile off, and which romantic relationships felt forced. Beta readers probably won’t proofread, they might not even suggest any edits, but they will tell you what they liked and didn’t like about your book, and that is crucial to any writer. If you want your book to sell, it has to appeal to people other than yourself.

Beta readers might be fellow writers, if so it’s polite to offer to beta read their work in exchange for them reading yours. At the end of the day though, beta readers are just that – readers. They will look at your novel from the perspective of a reader and help you to make it as enjoyable as you possibly can. They’ll point out plot holes and inconsistencies, they might even act as sensitivity readers if they have experience of any of the issues within your story.

ABCs of alphas, betas, critique partners Lyndsey's Book Blog

Not every writer will want or need to use CPs, alphas and betas, but the more eyes you can get on your writing before sending it to a professional editor or submitting it to agents, the better. At the very least you should let a few people read your completed manuscript and highlight spelling/grammar issues and any plot holes you may not be able to see as you’re too close to the project.

You want to iron out as many creases in your work as you can before sending it to agents and publishers, querying can be an uphill battle and first impressions really do count. Don’t waste your chance at publishing by sending in a sloppy first draft that has never been seen by another human being.

I know how scary it can be to share your precious story with someone else, but it’s the only way to make it better, and if your intention is to publish then one day someone is going to read your work and you need to prepare yourself for that! The more people who tell you how great your writing is now – even if they critique it – the less it will hurt when that first negative review rolls in, and it will. It’s a fact of life for all writers. You can’t please everyone, and nor should you try. Write for yourself, or that one person you know will enjoy it, I promise you will find others who feel the same way.

Be brave, writer friends! Send your story to a friend today and start building your support network of readers, they’ll be the ones cheering the loudest when you bag that agent, sell your novel, and see your book on the shelf for the first time.

Lyndsey

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ABCs of readers Lyndsey's Book Blog