Why Writing Community Support Matters

fullsizerender-77The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 is officially out in the world! That’s the third book published in 12 months (my Dublin launch was exactly one year to the day of my debut launch) and as you can imagine, it has been a crazily fun but pressured year. I can hardly believe that I have three books hurtling into readers’ hands, as it’s all been so fast – so thank you all for your support! I always say that the writing community is really special, and once again, it’s been proven.

After launching my book, I stayed on in Dublin to attend the Children’s Books Irelandconference and I have to say – what a wonderful weekend it was. The speakers, general organisation, discussions, and enthusiastic audience – it was exactly the tonic I needed after such a hectic schedule. I have genuinely never been so tired in my life and being able to sit back and be inspired by some of the world’s best children’s authors and illustrators was such a treat.

And once again, I was on the receiving end of such kindness from the writing community. So many people came up to offer their congratulations and wish me well, not minding at all that I was a gibbering wreck. We were all there to celebrate everything children’s books and the atmosphere was fantastic – because this is what the book world is about. From writers, to readers to booksellers to librarians to publishers – we’re all in this together for the same reason: a love of books.

I genuinely believe that support from friends within the writing/publishing/book community is a key ingredient for any writer to keep going. It is wonderful to do something that you love but it is also hard work, and a roller coaster. There are many uncertainties – sometimes, as many downs as there are ups – so a strong network of people that understand what you’re trying to achieve and wish you well is essential.

This is relevant for writers in all stages of their career and this is why I will continue championing all of my writing friends. Trying to get that initial publishing deal is really, really difficult and it takes guts and determination – so when someone tells you they write but don’t have a book deal yet, it’s important to listen respectfully; after all, we’ve all been there and you could be talking to the next JK Rowling.

fullsizerender-76When someone signs a deal, try and celebrate their achievement, even if your own writing isn’t quite going to plan. Editing the manuscript for publication is really, really difficult, so there’s an uphill struggle ahead; then there’s the blog tours and launches, as well as marketing. The pressure is on and it’s all new, which can be quite daunting – at times, support and encouragement will be needed.

Even when books hit the shelves, there are further challenges to meet: coverage, sales, getting stocked, earning enough cash. And even after winning a prize, there are no guarantees. The writing world is always unstable, so if someone tells you they’re tired or struggling, it doesn’t mean that they’ve forgotten their achievements or successes – it just means that they’re human.

Writing is a job that never ends and is also difficult to measure in anything other than sales and prizes and how much you earned as an advance or whether you got a movie deal. As a result, most writers feel anxious a lot of the time, looking sideways to see what achievements they should aim for next and noticing opportunities they have missed. And yet many people don’t talk about this side because they are so appreciative of being published, they don’t want to seem disrespectful or ungrateful.

Yes, these things are important and I thoroughly applaud ambition, but at the very core, writing and being a writer has to be about books. About our stories and characters. About writing the very best book that we can and being proud to hold it up and say – I did this! It’s about staying focused on our writing, our own journey, and writing really good books while (hopefully) inspiring others along the way.

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the murk and lose sight of why you’re writing, butif we all continue to stick together and support each other, then we’ll always find our way back. And more wonderful books will be written. What could be better?

(Note: originally posted on Writing.ie)

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What does it feel like to get published?

Book of Learning launch

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.

the book of learning australia

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.

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.

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.

 

Looking for writing advice? (Part 1)


Over the last month I’ve received over forty emails/tweets/messages asking for advice on writing. This is a pretty high number – and more than I’ve received before in such a short space of time – so I’m guessing there’s something in the air that’s making people feel extra frustrated/blank/exhausted/lost.

mayaangelou

Although I’m hardly an oracle, I love that people feel they can come to me and that I can help in some way. It’s a real honour and a pleasure every time. But I suspect that for every writer that manages to ask another for support, there are several others struggling with aspects of their writing career suffering in silence.

I know that I’ve relied on other writers to vent frustrations, ask advice, get a second opinion. But I also know that I’ve worried/stressed/suffered in silence from time to time. I can’t say why exactly – I don’t know why but sometimes, that’s just the way it is. I’m guessing fear is probably the culprit. Fear of failure, of success, of *insert worry here*.

So, in an attempt to help anyone that’s feeling a bit lost but doesn’t know where to turn, I’ve compiled a list of my most popular posts – the ones that seem to be helping people most with the questions/difficulties they’re facing – below. I hope they help.

  • For the love of writing, keep going! – a look at overcoming the feeling of failure by enjoying what we do.
  • The Wolf We Feed – a post about taking responsibility for our writing and writing career.
  • Is your routine good enough? – drawing on other writers’ experiences, this post considers how we write, whether it gives the results we’re looking for and what we can do to make positive changes.  (PS My routine has changed completely – maybe it’s time for an updated version of this post?)
  • Writing without payment – should we or shouldn’t we?
  • Thick-skinned – can rejection ever be positive?

Feel free to post links to some of your own useful posts below. Next time, I’ll be posting a list of recommended blog posts from other writers that offer further advice, inspiration and encouragement.

Is your routine good enough?

Early to bed and early to rise,
Is the way to stay healthy, wealthy and wise… (Ben Franklin)

Unfortunately, the above saying doesn’t quite fit everybody’s lives, otherwise things might be a bit simpler. People change more frequently than the seasons, and so it’s important that we evaluate the things that matter to us on a regular basis. We need to take stock of our goals, our priorities and – perhaps even more importantly- take a look at whether our daily routine can make the magic happen.

How do you approach your day? Does it give you the best results? Does it leave you feeling satisfied?

Are you aiming for the sky?

Recently, I’ve found that my usual writing routine is no longer working. Using time like a sliding tile puzzle, I’ve been slotting set chunks of writing time around other daily demands. Writing is my main ‘job’ and my top priority, but increasingly, the day-to-day stuff has taken over.

This summer, for instance, around the usual requirements for writing novels, tending an acre of vegetables, helping on the farm and running my social media business, we’ve encountered runaway calves, freak weather, crop disasters, summer floods and especially crafty foxes.

Although I’m achieving my goals, I’m frustrated. I still write every day but it doesn’t feel as productive or high quality. In short, I’ve grown tired and irritable – and this is proving counterproductive.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It took a while to notice that my routine wasn’t serving its purpose any more. Work smarter, not harder has always been my motto, but somehow it’s slipped. I need a change and it has to be more rigid. This might seem obvious, but to be honest, I balk at the idea of doing anything rigidly. I usually find that I produce better quality work when I’m allowed to mix it up to fit with my mood that day. Until recently, that is.

So, what better way to get on the right track than by throwing my conundrum out on twitter?

Oh dear tweeps, I’ve realised something that makes me shudder: I need a routine. There, I said it. ROUTINE *quakes under pillow*… Would anyone like to share their routine to help me get back on track?

As you would expect, the replies varied, but each offered its own bit of wisdom:

@HazelGaynor Up at 6am. Make cuppa. Write. Feed & entertain kids (repeat ad nauseam). Hopefully eat. Put kids to bed. Pour wine. Write. Sleep.

This is a serious writer with a super-busy schedule who is using the best of her free time to make sure that writing still has priority. This is how I used to work when I had a demanding office job – and it’s what I’ve still been trying to maintain. But I don’t have kids, my day is my own and I’m free to write whenever. However, the rigid approach is key.

@angelreadman I go to desk every weekday morning with 1st cup of tea, every weekday (I don’t usually do weekends), if I don’t day takes over… it’s crucial. I go away for lunch, do other things, come back later for short bursts when I’ve recharged- weekends sun, allotment!

Wait – days off? No-one said that was allowed as writer! Angela is a genius!

In seriousness, I’ve maintained writing for hours every day and guess what – it may work for some but it doesn’t work for me. I’ve been burning out and then forcing more words which aren’t that great and need a lot of work. Hence the feeling of unrest – I’m not rested!

@mariam_kobras I get up around ten (yes, I know, late; but bear with me!), make coffee, read mails, check twitter and facebook, and write…
about 500 words until lunch. Then in the afternoon I write another 500 to 1500, and in the evening I work with the publisher…
who is in NY and hence in a different time zone, which is why I rarely go to sleep until after midnight…

Hang on a minute – we don’t have to be up with the larks? This makes complete sense. In the summertime, I’m often out working in the vegetable field until 10.30pm, but then I continue writing and go to bed around 2 or 3, still insisting on getting up at 7. One word comes to mind: pointless. Mariam continues with even more great advice:

The trick is to see writing as a job, in my case a full-time job. I have to finish this book by January, so I better get cracking… I’ve found that two hrs in the morning and two in the afternoon work just fine for me.

Another amazing insight: sometimes less is more. You cannot sustain good quality, gripping writing for as long as you think, so you’re better off writing for shorter, more focused sessions (see also a great post by Alison Wells on distance and immersion). Full time does not have to mean 9-5 every day for everyone. Like Mariam says, sectioning off hours without any interruptions is a productive approach.

@kenmooney I’m quite the opposite, I have to do it when it comes, even if it’s just putting on a text to myself on bus… Think that suits me though as I write at lunch in work, that kinda thing.

Although I approach my day more like Mariam and Hazel, Ken speaks sense. When I was commuting to work, I’d spend the journey jotting stuff down – title ideas, opening lines, observations. If you’re writing full time, scheduling your own working hours, you shouldn’t forget to grab those unexpected glimpses when they come.

@ProofreaderGill I found NaNoWriMo was good at forcing me into a routine, not sure I could do it for longer than a month though!…. Since writing, like housework and gardening, doesn’t pay me any money I pick and choose according to the weather.

…or lost in the fog?

I love Gill’s approach. Every time I write a new book, I write the ‘draft zero’ in one month. Then I spend another month redrafting it into what I consider the first draft. I find it more thrilling to work on a book when I have a chunk written. But Gill also highlights an important point: you have to live and if your writing is not bringing in any money, it may have to take second priority sometimes.

So how do you write full time, using a schedule to suit you, and still have enough time to make money/socialise/rest/withdraw/sleep etc?

I think Mariam got the answer spot on with this bit of advice:

‘Set yourself fixed times for writing, when you do nothing else. Schedule the rest of your life around those, not the other way.’

The fact is, I’d been letting other things filter in too often and they were frequently stealing my best working hours – the times when I’m most relaxed, creative, energetic and alert. Thankfully, I have a host of amazingly generous writerly friends who are willing to share their own approaches and help me out.

So, with all this in mind, I’ve established a new routine. Here goes:

07.00-08.00:   Automatic writing in notebook & tea
08.00-09.30:   Exercise and breakfast
09.30-12.30:    Writing
12.30-14.00:    Exercise, lunch, emails/twitter/facebook
14:00-16.00:    Writing
16:00-18.00:    Blogs, business

Today is day 1 – wish me luck!

If anything here sounded familiar, why not take a look at your current routine? Is it still working or is time for an overhaul?

I’d love to hear how you get on!

Back to Basics (Part II)

Still growing…you can’t rush nature!

This is the second looking at what my local environment has shown me as a writer. (You can read Part I here).

Rushing fails – This year, I had some flourishing courgette plants ready for the garden. At the beginning of this month, I planted them out, pleased with their progress. Within two weeks, they were all dead. I’d ignored the possibility that the shift in conditions may be wrong – and I paid the price. Likewise, there’s no point trying to suddenly bang out a 2000 word short story a week before a competition closes. I know, I’ve done it. The work was inferior and had no chance of getting selected. I might as well have donated the entry fee as a gift.

If you’re not so good at being rigidly organised, keeping a stock of half-finished stories is a good habit to adopt; you can pull out them for final shaping as competitions approach. But if you’re not happy with your work, don’t submit. It’s fine to decide not to enter a competition or submission because your writing isn’t quite ready. I’ve done that twice this year already. It’s better to get a piece of work right and rehouse it elsewhere at a later date than submit something that’s not good enough.

Flexibility rewards – Sorry to keep banging on about my courgette plants but once again, they’re relevant. I’ve been propagating more seeds in the tunnel and shoots are starting to show. Despite my earlier haste, I’ve given myself enough time to grow more. We won’t have as plentiful a supply as we would have had if I’d not rushed, ignoring the conditions and external factors, but at least I’ve come up with a solution that means we’ll have some produce for the table.

The infamous courgette (Round 2)

When writing, you need to stay flexible. After all, every time you share something you’ve written you’re open to criticism, rejection and opinion. Some of the feedback will be constructive, some useful and some not. But be ready to sift through the advice and take the relevant stuff on board, adapting your work accordingly. You also need to be flexible in terms of how you grow as a writer. If the narrative isn’t working in first person, try swapping to third person. If a character is proving tricky, figure out where the gaps are and amend accordingly. If you’re always writing prose, try poetry instead to hone different skills. Even if it’s not to a publishable standard, you’ll gain from the experience.

Learn from your mistakes – If you’re submitting a novel to publishers, for instance, and several editors suggest that the pace is too slow/your novel is too plot driven/a specific character is unbelievable – then guess what? They’re probably right. Several people noticing the same issue probably means that it needs work.

If you’re writing short stories or poetry and have spent months working on a piece but still had to rush at the end, make a note to give yourself more time in the future. If you’ve a story idea that just isn’t working, store it in your reserve file and work on something else. It may be that the timing’s not right or that the idea isn’t as good as you initially thought. You’ll know the answer when you revisit it at a later date. (And yes, you guessed it: my courgettes won’t be going out until June next year.)

What can your environment teach you?

(Huge thanks to @derekF03 for inspiring these posts. You can read Derek’s blog here.)