Movement & calm, earth & water: a residency in Iceland

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Home for the month

I’ve been in Iceland for one week, and I’m five days into the retreat. My place here was booked last year, when I realised that I would be coming out of contract with publishers and probably panicking about what’s next. A change of surroundings is, for me, the best way to calm a racing mind, so I thought it would be useful.

Many people think that as an author, you continue to write for the same publisher over and over, with an unending supply of work. While this may happen, it probably means you are continuing to work within a certain genre or you’ve made it as an international bestseller. Usually, you work to a contract and once that contract is up, it’s up.

And so, this is where I’m at… The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is officially completed. I cannot tell you what a relief this is. The slog was tough but I got there and I’m feeling really proud of that as the challenge was unreal. There’s just the proofing to go and that will be in October. So… what happens next? Basically, it’s back to square one.

Write a book. Edit the book without killing it. Try and sell the book.

Now, this is a daunting time for any author. The reality is, you may never sell a book again. Or even be able to come up with a strong enough idea in the first place. And whatever you do choose to work on, you had better be passionate about it, because it’s about to take up a minimum of one year of your life, before you even try and convince a publisher that they like it enough to buy it.
IMG_1889And so, Iceland has come at the perfect time. I have The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 coming out in February 2018, the freedom to work on what I want, and a fantastic agent to support and guide me. But my brain is restless, my ideas are too plentiful, and although I’m excited, my nerves are frayed.

Is there anyone else out there feeling the same right now? I bet there is. Whether you make stories through words, art, music, dance, theatre, film, animation … I think it’s a cyclical feeling that will never go away. All we can do is embrace it and ride it through. See where it leads.

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Natural hot spring

Thankfully, I have a new landscape to discover, new foods to eat, a language to try and understand (it’s not intuitive to hear/see written down), some cool new housemates to get to know, and lots of time to write. Even though I’m not 100% certain what it is I’m working on next. That’s part of my mission; to make sure the passion for the projects I *think* I want to work on is real. 

Somehow, I’ve found my idea for a commissioned piece of flash fiction; also, a short story I was stuck on is edited & submitted. So it’s a start. And it’s productive. But is it avoiding the question of which novels (I always work on two project simultaneously) to work on next?

I’m also enjoying hiking the hills and relaxing in the natural hot springs every day, and spending lots of time near the lake, appreciating its stillness. Movement and calm, earth and water: the perfect combination for settling a restless mind. Today, a new week begins and I’m determined to break into the novel. If there’s one thing I need, it’s to know what my next focus is – let’s see if Iceland can help coax it out.

What stage are you at right now? And how does it feel? I’d love to hear about your journey too. 

 

 

Pictures & Feedback from Readers :)

One of the best things about being an author is meeting readers. I love talking about books and writing, and I love to hear what readers think. My events are about books in general, not just my own, but I do love seeing how The Book of Learning has inspired people to create something else; a piece of art or work of their own.

Here’s a slideshow of some of the great work by St Patrick’s National School via Drumcondra library:

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And some more feedback I’d like to share, this time from Jamie, Realtín, Juli, Jack and Jamie…

  • Today was a good day. Thank you very much.
  • Elizabeth Murray’s talk was very good. We learned a lot.
  • We listened to a chapter from the Book of Learning.
  • We thought it was interesting but a little scary!
  • We then made up a story about a lady called Matilda.
  • Elizabeth told us that she keeps  a notebook for her writing. We think
    that this is a great idea. We met the author Rod Smith last week and he
    keeps a notebook too.
  • We asked Elizabeth lots of questions and she answered them all.
  • We thought she was very interesting and funny.
  • She told us that she takes off her shoes and socks when she writes!
  • We liked her blue hair!

Thank you so much to everyone for your comments and great work! Happy reading! 

Best Ever Reader Feedback!

Many people ask what it’s like to be an author, and I always say that the best bit is meeting the readers. Of course I adore the writing side; coming up with an idea, beating it into shape, then fine tuning it with the help on an editor or two. But once the book is in the public sphere, I also love the social side; literary festivals, interviews, radio, events in schools/libraries/bookshops.

Although it is also slightly terrifying, nothing beats getting feedback on your book. Whether it’s a review online (see goodreads and amazon) or it’s a person in front of you, telling you their thoughts about your book, meeting people that have enjoyed your work is an incredible feeling. And so, I thought I’d share some of the feedback… (keep going to see the video at the end!)

Bronagh

Huge thanks to Bronagh for adding me in her school magazine!

And huge thanks also to the girls and boys that filled out feedback sheets after the UNESCO Citywide Read events. Here are some of the comments I’ve received so far – they make me chuckle SO MUCH I had to share!

Question: Did you enjoy the event?

‘Yes, it was a very scary story and it was good to meet the author’.

‘Yes, it was very good. It was good to meet the author. Her book was awesome’.

‘Yes, it was funny’.

‘Yes, it was the best’.

‘Yes, it was a great book and I can’t wait to read the next one’.

‘Yes, I enjoyed today so much. We enjoyed it a lot and had fun. I hope we come again soon’.

‘Yes, it was fun. She was funny’.

‘Yes, she’s so kind and happy’.

‘Yes 🙂  She likes death’.

‘Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Amazing. I love it sooooooo much’.

‘Yes!!!! 🙂 I think she’s funny because she likes death :-p . It was a great book!!’

‘Yep!! The Book of Learning is my favourite book! I can’t wait for the second one to come out!!!

‘Yes, for sure. I hope more will be coming from her soon’.

‘Yes, it was amazing. I can’t wait for the next books. It was so good, and it was spooky. She is really nice and funny’.

‘Yes I thought it was great, I learned a lot about writing. I am going to read the next one’.

‘Yes, I liked it, I’d say 10 out of 10’.

‘Yes, so much. It was good 10/10 and I hope that we do it again J’.

‘Yes, a lot. The ghost stories are creepy and really cool’.

‘Yeah it was great. I haven’t finished the book yet but it was great as far as I read. It was just so good and I’d say the next book will be even better’.

‘Yes!! I really liked the book and Elizabeth is really nice’.

‘Yes, I thought it was amazing and I was so sad when I heard that the second one isn’t out yet’.

‘Yes, I thought it was really good and interesting’.

‘Yes, I really enjoyed the book and the talk. She was nice’.

‘Yes, I liked it and mark it 10/10’.

‘Yes it was great. It was excellent to meet the author and her book was amazing’.

My favourite quote from a review:

“I loved this book so much that I made Lego figures of Zach and Ebony, and I don’t usually mix up my Lego figures! My mind was racing when I was reading this book, trying to piece together the clues, but I had to read to figure it out.” (Mia, aged 12)

And here’s a real treat – a surprise rat rap from Pied Piper of Hamlyn

 

 

 

Real Places, Fantastical Worlds

When I started writing The Book of Learning (Nine Lives Trilogy 1), I was new to Dublin and infatuated with exploring this beautiful, friendly city. The parks, museums, theatres, cathedrals; there was so much to see. As I immersed myself in my new surroundings, the characters of Ebony Smart and Icarus Bean – who had been lingering in my head for some time – became so noisy and infuriating, that I had to start writing about them.

I always write my first draft in one month, and whenever I get stuck I take a walk. Wandering the streets of Dublin, the plot of The Book of Learning began to unravel, and the valuable role of this city emerged. When you’re writing about fantastical worlds, the details must be realistic so the reader will believe in your characters and your settings and I soon realised that Dublin’s hideaways and historical buildings suited my storyline and characters perfectly.

My Lower Hatch Street apartment transformed into 23 Mercury Lane, a Georgian house full of mystery and unusual events. The Botanic Gardens morphed into the secret Headquarters for the Order of Nine Lives and its villainous judge. The pond in St Stephen’s Green became a magical underground lair, and other landmark buildings like The National Library and The Natural History Museum provided the perfect backdrop for many weird and wonderful scenes.

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Days like this have to be taken advantage of – Schull

But this was only half of the story solved. I’d always planned for The Book of Learning to be set in two different locations, so when I visited Schull in West Cork for a writing break, everything fell into place. I needed a seaside setting, with hills and islands – but I also needed woodland. So, rather than basing this section of my book on one particular village, I took the essence of West Cork and combined different parts of the area to make my own fictional village – Oddley Cove.

Gallows Island is based on Long Island, with added cliffs and a cave. Gun Point is the name of a real place (though I have moved it geographically), and the channel is my version of Roaring Water Bay. There’s a scene in my book that involves a stormy boat trip, and this is based on real events; while I was visiting Cape Clear, we were caught in bad weather returning home, only I exaggerated events to make them much more exciting.

Hopefully when you read #TheBookofLearning you’ll recognise some of the places. And when you’re wandering your own streets, wherever they may be, let your imagination wander – you never know where it might lead!

(Note: This piece was originally written for the Eason Edition blog – direct link not included because the competition has passed, but go have a look what else is on there!)

It’s not all writing, writing, writing

I have chosen to live in a beautiful, countryside village so that I can enjoy the wonderful natural surroundings and the warm sense of community. I love cities, but I love country life too, and after years of city living, I’ve happily adjusted to my life in rural Ireland.

Although writing is part of my everyday life, so is enjoying the beauty around me. I make sure that I take walks every day; I watch the patterns as seasons change, the habits of birds, the cloud formations. And I also try to make use of the space and resources the best I can to stay balanced and grounded in a world that’s full of technology and social media.

Since signing a book deal, watching the physical book take shape and the sending it out into the world, a lot of my posts have focused on my writing. So, seeing a sI think balance is so important, here’s a brief escape from words and a return to the natrural world.

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Plenty of seed dug up, ready for next year

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Outdoor lettuce looking healthy enough, along with rhubarb (& weeds!)

making apple cider

Lots of sweet apples, windfall & picked, for making cider. Currently fermenting…

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The onions did well again this year – we have a whole wall to last through the winter

greenhouse growing

Lack of sun meant that the chillies and peppers are way behind. Just starting to fruit now! I’ll be amazed if we get any but I’ll keep trying 🙂

autumn leaves

Autumn is definitely here.

What does it feel like to get published?

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Cheesy grin award goes to me as Sarah Webb launches The Book of Learning

Being a debut author is incredible. If you write, there’s nothing quite like seeing your book on the shelves, or (even better) in someone’s hands as they sit, engrossed in your story. My book has been on the shelves for just two weeks now, and it’s been crazy busy, but oh so exciting. On occasion, I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s real.

Since being published, people have asked me if things have changed. In some ways, yes, they most certainly have. For instance, I now have a physical book and so I can do things like attend the Tyrone Guthrie centre to write, and I can facilitate school and library events and take part in conferences as a speaker. I finally feel validated as a writer, and in my own heart and mind I know that all the hard work was worth it.

But I’m only human and in some ways, no, things haven’t changed. Old fears have simply been replaced by news ones – like, what if people don’t like the book? What if I struggle writing book two? What if no one comes to my launch and I have to read to myself in a mirror (this was an actual recurring dream)? Etc. Etc.

These are just niggles, and the good stuff outweighs the wobbles BY FAR, but the niggles are still there, and I think it’s important to say this because there’s bound to be people out there creating a book, an album, a work of art – people that are feeling this way too. We’re a society intent on achievement, on success, and we’re driven by results. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but there’s one major lesson that writing with the aim to get published has taught me… and that’s to enjoy the journey.

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That weird moment when your book starts travelling more than you! (This is Melbourne)

So, what do the first two weeks of being a published author feel like? For me, it’s been the best experience ever, because everyone – friends, family, fellow writers, readers – has been so supportive and so kind, it’s truly humbling. But when I say it’s been hectic, I mean hectic – just how I like it, but a bit of a shock to the system!

As well as my next two books to deliver by November (different books, different genres, different publishers), and my freelancing work, there have been two launches to organise and a heap of publicity to get through, including an online book tour that continues through to December. I’ve been doing radio and newspaper interviews, and I’ve got quite a few library and school visits on the horizon. You can read the exciting list of upcoming events here.

Recently, I was at the incredible Children’s Books Ireland conference as an attendee, and as a speaker in their New Voices event. This involved reading to an audience of children’s book lovers (librarians, teachers, readers, writers, booksellers) in an incredibly supportive and warm environment. I also got to listen to some incredible speakers and immerse myself in children’s books for a whole weekend. *Sigh*

Writing is a solitary career, so I can understand why many writers shy away from this side of things, but to be honest, I love it – and I can’t wait for more! And yet, there will always be small worries and fears. But I think it’s possible to celebrate this huge achievement, to remain fizzing with happiness, confidence, and energy, and embrace the fears. They have a rightful place; it’s all part of the rollercoaster of being a writer or doing anything creative. And if we don’t have fears, how will we challenge ourselves, improve and grow?

I say, take the rough with the smooth. Accept the fears and keep going. And above all, enjoy the journey. I know I am.

Publication Day: The Book of Learning

E.R Murray - The Book of LearningIn 2009, I started a story about a girl called Ebony Smart. Today, that story, The Book of Learning, hits the bookshops – and I can hardly believe it’s real.

I didn’t work on The Book of Learning every day of those six years. It took around one year to write and another to perfect, but that’s how long it’s taken to see the book in print.

So a huge thank you to everyone at Mercier Press for making it happen, and to everyone who has supported me along the way.

For me, this is such a huge day.

Share it with me by taking an extra hour for yourself, to do something you love.

An update – this is getting real!

E.R Murray - The Book of Learning

They’re real!

I’ve been a little slow updating this blog lately, and for that, I apologise. This debut author thing seems to be taking up rather a lot of time! As soon as I signed my first deal with Mercier Press, I knew the hard work would begin. And when I signed my second deal with Alma Books, I knew I’d just upped the stakes somewhat. But the truth is, it’s incredible and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Yesterday, was the moment every aspiring author dreams of; I saw the first ever physical book with my name on it. Well, piles upon piles of them, if truth be told, as I signed several hundred to be unleashed on the world. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. Imagine… I’ve always loved books. They’ve been a part of my life forever, and now, there are some emblazoned with my name. It’s incredible, but I’m still soaking it all in.

The Book of Learning by E.R. Murray

Adding personal notes to review copies

Other little things that mean a lot are happening. Such as my first newspaper interview in The Southern Star. My first review from a 13 year old boy who loved the book. Congratulations from my neighbours in the village. Email requests and PMs asking where the book is available. Radio interviews are starting to roll in, and the review copies have left the building. I’ve got my launch lists underway and a little surprise for readers too (to be revealed shortly).

Meanwhile, I’m at my computer like clockwork, completing the edits for my next book (due out in March) and writing the second book of my trilogy. And all the while I’m pinching myself. Seriously – is this real?

This is what the five years of hard work has been for. And now, with review copies arriving on people’s doormats, and publication day (Sept 2nd) just around the corner, it’s about to get very real indeed. It is the most exciting yet most terrifying bit – hearing what people think. There’s no going back – it’s out there. Thankfully, I can bury my head in my future books and hope for the best.

For those of you aspiring to be in this position, remember – it’s a fine line between wanting a book deal and signing a book deal. You can be teetering on that line for a long time and it’s frustrating and terrifying and exciting all at once – but you have to just keep going. For what it’s worth, here’s a post I wrote on not giving up.

Trying something different… what do you think of video?

I’ve been on retreat in the south of France for the last three weeks and it’s drawing to an end. It’s been an invaluable visit (I’ll write about it properly in my next post) and, as well as being productive in my writing, I’ve also increased my headspace and enjoyed some thinking time.

One of the things I’ve been considering is my website and what interests its readers, so I compiled a list of most frequently asked questions. What I found was that they fall into two general categories:

  • What is it like to be a writer?
  • What is your writing process?

Both of the above are personal and different for every writer, and that could be why it’s so fascinating. I’m always delighted to hear about other people’s processes, experiences and routines; because you need to respond to your own body and brain to get the best from your day, it’s amazing how differently writers approach their craft.

I remember when I was a child, authors were mystical beings that you never saw or heard about. I love that the internet has helped to bring readers and writers together – but I believe that a writer’s online content should be just as appealing as their books.

So I was trying to come up with ways that give a more personal, rounded, and reachable view of a writer’s life. One of those options was video – and with today’s wonderfully advanced phones, I feel it’s an accessible form to try out. I’m hardly being innovative – just think of all the amazing YouTubers out there – but it’s something new for me.

To do video means overcoming a couple of things:

  1. Getting over seeing yourself on video (I look too pale/short/my hair’s not good enough/what was that face I pulled? etc etc)
  2. Getting over hearing yourself on a recording (oh god, my accent, *cringe*)

This said, I’ve given it a go and I’d like to know what you think. (I kind of cheated on problem 1 above, but hey, baby steps, right?)

What I’d like to know is…

Is there any value in short videos like this one? Does it feel any more accessible than a written post? Does it give more of a glimpse into a writer’s life?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts…

How to Keep Going & Get That Book Deal!

(This article was originally written for Writing.ie, but I’ve had a very positive response, with lots of people saying it’s really helped them to sit back down and write…So I’m posting it here, just in case it’s of use to even one more person. Apologies if you’ve already seen it! Otherwise, happy reading & happy writing!)

Just six months ago, I was sat in front of my computer, feeling like I was banging my head off the wall. I hadn’t written just one book to a publishable standard, I’d written two – different genres and for different age groups – and although I had faith in them both, it felt like I was never going to succeed in getting them on the shelves.

I had the agent, I’d put the work in (twice!), but other than sell my soul, what the hell did I need to do to actually get a book deal? And if it didn’t happen soon, how was I going to keep going and face more disappointment?

And so, I opened my computer, took a deep breath, and started another book.

The Book of Learning by E.R.MurrayThis was seriously the most challenging time in my life. I’ve had my fair share of tragedies and difficulties – who hasn’t? – but this was different. It was something I really cared about, something that I believed in, that I was desperate to make happen. I’d developed skin like a rhino, but after four years of writing every day, that toughened skin began to wither. Every slight knockback felt like an actual physical blow and I began to wonder – what if the truth of the matter is, I’m not good enough? Sound familiar?

Well here’s the good news…

After much frustration, several false starts and meltdowns, I received an offer from Mercier Press in autumn 2014 – a three-book deal for Nine Lives, my Middle Grade fantasy trilogy, and Book One, The Book of Learning is due out in August this year, with sequels to follow in 2016 and 2017.

And this week, less than six months later, I signed a deal with Alma Books for my other book, Caramel Hearts; a Young Adult novel about a girl with an alcoholic mum, that will be out in May/June 2016.

Two book deals in six months; I can still hardly believe it. And the reason this is good news for you, fellow writer, is because…

If it can happen to me, it can happen to you too.

I’m no different to anyone else; I just kept going. I put in the hours, writing every day for four years (including Christmas, birthdays etc), made some severe lifestyle changes to accommodate my writing, and deleted any form of social life. I attended the writing workshops of writers I admired, so I could learn more about my craft. In short, I gave my writing the focus, dedication, and determination it needed. And if you do the same, I believe you’ll get there.

Writing requires a lot of patience, and a lot of waiting. An irritating fact, I know, but the only way to improve is to sit down, write, rewrite, and rewrite some more. Then, put the manuscript away, pretend it doesn’t exist for a while, and reread it before… you guessed it, rewriting, and rewriting and rewriting…

The two books I’m about to have published aren’t the first two I ever wrote. There is an awful abandoned manuscript no one will ever see (I’d die of embarrassment, I really would), but I’m proud of it because it was my first attempt at writing something of that length. And if you speak to most authors, they’ll probably admit the same.

So don’t give up hope! After lots of practice and determination, the time will come when you know you’re close, that you’ve polished your manuscript to the nth degree and have written a really good book that’s ready to be sent to the agent or publisher of your dreams.

When you reach this point, push the pause button and do some thorough research. Make sure your manuscript fits what your choice of agent or publisher is looking for, and that you’ve matched all their requirements in terms of what to send, formatting etc. Trust me, you don’t want to get this wrong.

You must rein yourself in and stay focused because the worst thing you can do is to send out your manuscript too early, before it’s ready – or to not send it out correctly. You only get one chance with a publisher or agent. Screw it up by being too hasty, and there’s no going back.

That feeling when you hit send is incredible – it’s exciting and scary both. All you will want to do is hit refresh on your email account, ready for that instant reply that tells you how wonderful you are and how the book world will be fighting over you. But guess what? You’re back to waiting. And the rejections will probably come first.

Lots of writers get frustrated at this time. And pushy. I know I certainly did – and I believe that this is perfectly normal. Why? Because you had to believe you were good enough to keep going and write the damn book. And you also had to want it badly enough to have enough staying power to make your manuscript good enough to be published.

But remember – publishers and agents have massive piles of manuscripts to read. Their time is split between finding new authors, and supporting the ones they’ve already published. There are so many facets to the industry, most agents and publishers are overworked and tired; but trust me, they love their jobs and they are looking for new writers. They will get round to your manuscript and give you an honest reply – just not in the five minutes (probably not even in the five weeks) after you hit send!

So, bearing all of this in mind, how do you stay sane and motivated, and keep going when

1) you’re finishing your manuscript, or

2) you’ve been rejected, or

3) you’re waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher?

I’m no expert, but this is what worked for me at all three stages. If it helps you in any way, I’d be delighted…

Multiple Projects: Personally, I can’t bear the waiting process when you’re giving your manuscript some space, so I work on multiple projects at a time. I bring one novel as far as I can, then when it’s time to put it away and let it breathe, I immediately switch to another. I continue by switching between the two projects until they’re fully completed – which, I’ve found, is never at the same time. But that’s part of the fun. Sometimes, I even write another first draft in between, to mix things up a bit, so I can enjoy those feelings of joy and hope and freedom you experience when starting a new project. (I have three more first drafts lurking, waiting to be rewritten – or not. We’ll have to see if they still seem interesting in a year or two.)

Create a Personalized Routine: I’m allergic to actual routine – as in, I can’t even promise myself that I’ll sit down and have a cup of tea every morning before I start working – but you need to establish some form of routine that suits your personality to make sure the writing gets done. This needs to be measurable, so you can see your progress. It could be an amount of time, or a specific daily word count – you’ll probably find you need to adjust your routine when you switch from a first draft to a rewrite/edit – but the important thing is to know how you work best and to set yourself a daily goal. I honestly don’t believe in procrastination, and I don’t believe that successful writers suffer from it. After all, you’re the only person who can write your book – so if it’s your dream, why wouldn’t you just sit down and write?

Try Shorter Pieces & Submissions: Give stories, poems, or flash fiction a go. Writing something else keeps your brain interested and lets you enjoy a separate sense of achievement. I find short stories extremely hard to write, but there’s something magical about them – and about the idea that you might actually complete something sometime soon! Entering competitions or submitting to magazines gives you achievable deadlines, so you can feel like you’re enjoying some measure of success. There’s a great sense of achievement when you hit send on a magazine submission or competition entry – and an even bigger sense of achievement when you get longlisted, shortlisted, or published. Successes like these are a great way to build your profile, and possibly even get noticed, and any writing you do will improve your skills. As for rejections; don’t worry, they’ll help toughen your rhino hide for when you’re facing agents and publishers.

teaching Cambodia rural living

Volunteering in Cambodia for a month certainly helps you get perspective!

Get a Life: this might sound like counterintuitive-advice, but I believe it’s really important that you do something other than writing so you can restore your energy levels, enthusiasm levels, and stock up on ideas. Work, family duties, gardening, exercise, theatre, films, travel; these will take time away from your writing, but in truth, you can only write well for a certain amount of time anyway. All writers are different, but it seems the average daily word count is between 1000-2000 words. And besides, lots of the important stuff really does happen when you’re not at the computer. I find walking and gardening particularly meditative – and I often figure out plot issues or characterisation flaws when I’m absorbed in these activities. This ‘down time’ is the area I really didn’t give enough credence to when I started writing with a view to getting published and it’s still the area I find hardest to maintain – but it really is worth it, so I’m giving it a damn good try.

Every few weeks, I hear about another friend signing a deal with a publisher or an agent, and it makes me so happy. It also goes to show that achieving your publishing goals is not impossible – though it will probably take a lot longer than you initially hoped for or expected.

None of the above suggestions are particularly difficult or original, but they do require dedication – and balance – and they really did work for me.

It’s not long since I was feeling the heartbreak of wondering whether I was ever going to be good enough, so I’m writing this in the hope that if there’s a writer out there feeling as stressed and frustrated as I was, then maybe something will resonate and help to alleviate some of the suffering so you can keep going and get one step closer to your book deal.