Stay Motivated & Write Your Book

The New Year always brings out a feeling of potential and new possibilities in people, but this enthusiasm can quickly wane as the realities of returning to work, and real life, kick in. Personally, it’s been a busy start to the year with manuscript edits, new freelance clients, and lots of events organisation, and so my blog has been neglected (unlike Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog which is currently on fire – check it out!!!).

At the moment, although I’m on top of everything, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and so I’m spending lots of time in nature on long walks, rather than online, to counterbalance the stress levels. We’ve survived Blue Monday, but just in case you’re suffering from January writing blues, here’s one of my most popular posts, originally written for Writers & Artists, about staying motivated to write your book.

Enjoy…

“Everyone has a book in them.” How many times have you heard this said? I’m guessing lots. But how many writers have you heard say this? Probably very few, if any.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone’s got a book in them. I do believe that everyone has an idea or ideas – some good, some bad – but a book? That’s a different matter entirely, and I’m sure that anyone actually writing a book will nod his or her head enthusiastically when I say this.

fullsizerender-78? Because writing a book takes a huge amount of time and dedication, grit and determination – especially when you’re starting out. You have to take the germ of an idea and get it down on paper. Not just a bit of paper, either: around 70,000 to 120,000 words worth of paper, depending on your story and your intended readership. And that’s just the start.

When you get to the end of your initial draft, the actual work begins. Your plot has holes, your dialogue isn’t always realistic, and your characters aren’t quite as consistent as you had hoped. As Hemingway famously said, ‘the only kind of writing is rewriting.’ Your initial draft will not be good enough for publication, and it’s in the rewriting that a real book will form. But to get to this stage, you need to first complete your manuscript.

It’ll be a slog, and sometimes, without any guarantee of an agent/publisher/anyone else ever wanting to read it, you might even feel like giving up. But remember why you’re doing this – your love of books, reading and writing, and it’ll help you stay on track. You can have the most supportive partner/family/friends in the world, but the only person who can motivate you to keep going, is you.

So how do you get to the end of your manuscript without losing heart, enthusiasm, or both?

I don’t have a foolproof method – if only! But I can share the things that work for me. And if this helps just one more writer out there, then I’m happy. Here goes…

Top five motivation tips:

Try the NanoWrimo model – this means getting 50,000 words of your novel down on paper in one month. This may sound like a huge challenge – because it is! – but what this approach does is focus you on your book and help you to get your word count down. Immersing yourself with such intensity keeps the writing fresh and exciting, and you quickly learn to forget about editing as you go along. Nanowrimo is traditionally in November, but you don’t have to wait until then to try it out – you can use the basic principle at any time. This format works so well for me that I adopt it for the first draft of every book. I see it as giving me the clay to sculpt. Who cares if it’s rubbish in places? It’s better than getting stuck at 15,000 words. I find the intensity really liberating and I’d recommend anyone – especially those of you who find you over edit or can’t move forward –to give it a try.

Jump scenes – if you’re really stuck on a scene, it’s likely that you have other scenes bouncing around in your head, begging to be written. So write them. You don’t need to write your scenes in order; the truth of the matter is, it’ll probably all change around anyway when you do your first rewrite. And it’ll definitely change by the next draft. I find that approximately 20% of my initial draft (which I think of as a draft zero) is still present in the final version; so don’t get hung up on perfection when it comes to plot. Some people need to plot and plan to get started writing, and if this is you, don’t be surprised if you start to veer off course. And if you do, go with it – you can always fill in the gaps later.

Give Yourself a Breather – this is probably one of the most difficult aspects of writing because you love writing, you love your idea, and you’re hungry to get on. I wouldn’t recommend you stop completely, but taking a break and giving your work enough distance for it to breathe can sometimes help the story to grow in your head. Doing something mundane and repetitive is really useful; like ironing, weeding, or walking – it can help you to figure out where you’re going next, or solve a character issue. Your brain will still be mulling things over so if you’re really stuck, take a break for an hour or so, and then go back. This is the important bit: you must go back and write a little more to get any real benefit. You’ll probably be surprised how much more productive you suddenly are.

Reward Yourself – no matter how much you love writing, there are going to be tough days. There’ll be knocks, and self doubt, and struggles – and this is all completely normal. As humans, we tend to focus on the negative, especially when we’re doing something we really care about, and so you want to make sure you counterbalance this with lots of positives. Rewards can be small, such as a morning off to see a friend, a new pen or notebook, an evening at the theatre or a ticket to an author event or conference. Whatever it is that puts a smile on your face, reward yourself for small achievements. A book is going to take a long time to write, so keep it joyful to help cope with the challenging times ahead.

Keep learning – no matter how much you have improved on your writing journey, there is always more to know and more ways to challenge yourself. Learning your craft should be a joy, not a bind, and an integral part of your journey to completing your manuscript. Read lots and widely. Attend festivals and author events. Join a writing group for moral support. Talk to other writers on social media. Take a workshop or two. There’s no better motivator than a deadline or a critique. Choose the options that suit you and your personality, and enjoy in moderation – you still need time to write.

These suggestions are easy to add to your working day and they don’t take much effort. Maybe only one or two will work for you, but if you’re stuck in a rut or finding your motivation ebbing, then it’s worth giving them a try.  What do you have to lose? I’d love to hear how you’re getting on – happy writing!

Note: This article was originally written for Writers & Artists 

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)

Interviews, bullying & class: new writing on the web

Deadlines looming - look what I'm missing!!!

Deadlines looming – look what I’m missing!!!

I’ve competed my first draft of The Book of Revenge and I’m onto draft 2, but the deadline is looming :October 31st is not far away, especially when I’m booked out for the whole of October with events. This means that the manuscript needs to be almost complete by the end of September – the pressure is ON!!! So if you’re wondering why I’m a little quieter online at the moment, that’s the reason.

I’m away on retreat from Sunday to get some focused writing done, and then it’s time to launch The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 (details to follow)! In the meantime, I thought I’d put a post together with some of my recent ramblings around the web, in case you were looking for a quick read during your break…

Happy reading and I’ll see you all back here with details of the launch(es) soon!

#1stdraftdiary Week 3 (28K to 36.5K)

IMG_5818One of the most amazing things, and something I didn’t expect, is the amount of people joining in with #1stdraftdiary. Although I’ve been finding my own journey this time around to be disjointed and frustrating, I’m loving the response it’s getting from others. From people thanking me for being honest about the process and making them feel better, to lots of writers joining in to kick start their own work or understand their own process, it’s been phenomenal. And so, if you head to #1stdraftdiary on twitter and click on the Live tab, you can see what everyone is up to and offer your support. And if you’re writing a first draft, why not join in? In the meantime, here are my #1stdraftdiary days 15 to 21.

#1stdraftdiary Day 15 (June 25th): although I prefer to write first, it’s not always possible, especially when you have a number of freelance clients waiting for work or a garden that needs rescuing. I manage 2000K words of freelance, some intense weeding of the vegetable patch and herb garden (before everything dies), a dog walk, and some article pitches sent before I can sit down to write. I see it as creating an air of calm for writing; I can’t write when I have lots of things hanging over me. Despite starting late, I get my word count up to 29,400 in a very short space of time and eventually hit the 30K target. Can’t extol the virtues of switching off internet enough! Word count: 30,000

#1stdraftdiary Day 16: I was going to take a day off writing to clear some freelance work but the words are calling. I manage 300 words in a cheeky 20 minute stint and eventually finish the day at 31,500, as well as 2000K words of freelance and two guest blog posts. I set up a corker of an opening for the next morning. But first, I have a birthday party to go to! I’m chuffed that I added 1500 words on a supposed day off; it just goes to show that once you get in the swing working at this pace, it’s hard not to write! Word count: 31,500

#1stdraftdiary Day 17: Day off! I need some creative so I treat the day like a holiday and let it lead me wherever it desires. A meander through film, books, poetry, and countryside lanes with a paddle in the sea. Word count: 31,500

Bookofshadows#1stdraftdiary Day 18: Just half an hour in and I reach 31,900 words, before adding another 700 words in a short space of time. Write when you can! It builds up! Freelance load is heavy today also, so two fast but short dog walks keep me sane. Aiming at 2K words a day, I should be on 36K words and I end up reaching 32,600. BUT: some unexpected final tweaks to The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 arrive in my inbox – a plethora of small and fiddly details that need immediate attention. Word count: 32,600

(I decide to take a pause until July 3rd because as well as the urgent edits, I have a trip to Dublin for an Arts Council event on making applications in the Irish Writers Centre – it’s a 16 hour round trip & an overnight stay for a 1.5 hour session but MUCH NEEDED!)

#1stdraftdiary Day 19 (July 3rd): I’m back to it this week before another little pause on the horizon. I’ve never written a 1st draft so disjointed before but you have to prioritize. Today: five freelance articles, 2 residency/bursary applications & 2 interviews so it’s late when I get started. I know it’s going to be almost pointless at this level of tiredness but I start at 32,700 and finishing at 33,500. That’s only 800 words but that was all I could manage today. Word count: 33,500

#1stdraftdiary Day 20: – hit the target of 2000 but it feels like filler and not really connected to what the story needs to be. Another cul-de-sac. Word count: 35,500

#1stdraftdiary Day 21: (July 5th) 1000 words. It’s usually frustrating when you don’t get many words done, but today I’m super happy as I actually thought at one point that I’d get zero done! This is the final day before I take another, longer break – I have to go on a visit to the UK to say farewell to my sister who is moving to Australia for good, and I have a massive freelance project I have to finish first otherwise I won’t get paid. When I return I’m interviewing Carol Drinkwater at West Cork Literary Festival the next day, before doing three events of my own, and so the 1st draft will have to wait until it can have the time and respect it deserves. And so, I pause on 36.5K until July 21st. Word count: 36,500

Conclusion: This has been the most disjointed first draft ever – I have never had to stop and start like this before – but when you are juggling, prioritization is necessary and I just have to live with it. Events need just as much preparation and focus, so Im prioritizing chronologically. Am I worried? Unsettled perhaps, but then, isn’t that always the way?

It seems the result is the same – I’m writing myself into a lot of cul-de-sacs so when I step away I can see where I’m not to go. The only difference is, this time, I’m not getting that buzz, that intensity that I love, because of all the gaps. This doesn’t feel great on an emotional level, but the important thing is: it’s moving forward. The process is still working it just feels different. So long as the manuscript is the best that it can be by the time I deliver it on October 31st to my publishers, all is well. By then, these weird feelings will be forgotten about anyway, so time to turn off that inner critic (she’s particularly rampant right now).

I will start again on July 21st with a view to get my draft finished by the end of the month – that gives me exactly 9 days (the right number of days to have completed this draft in my usual 30 day timeframe) to write 20-24K words (it will come to a natural halt – or at least, it usually does). Wish me luck! I’m going to need it. But in the meantime, I’ll be cheering everyone else on with their #1stdraftdiary. Come and join me?

New writing, articles, interviews & events

The Book of Learning by E.R. MurrayIt’s been pretty busy over the last month, so here are a few bits you might have missed, and details of some upcoming events…

New Writing

I recently received my contributor’s copy of the beautifully produced ‘The Ogham Stone’ – if you get your hands on a copy, you can read my short story Landscape of Mirrors (print version only). They are also looking for contributions for their next publication. Details here (Nov 12th deadline).

Articles

I wrote an article for the bible that is the Writers & Artists handbook all about how to Stay Motivated and Write Your Book.

Also, my article in the Irish Times discusses how moving to Ireland drove me to become a writer.

Over on Girls Heart Books, I discuss the importance of finding your tribe.

And for writing.ie, I contributed an in-depth explanation of how The Book of Learning came to be – the What, When, Where, How, & Why.

Interviews

I was delighted to feature in the Beginners Pluck column in the Irish Independent, which you can read on Sue Leonard’s website if you missed it in the paper.

The Looking Glass magazine got to grips with The Book of Learning with lots of questions about childhood reading, current influences, writing technique and what to expect next…

Over on Clockwatching, Sinead O’Hart let me pick my own movie cast and also looked at writing rituals and my next book, Caramel Hearts (March 2016)

The quirky Teens on Moon Lane 5-4-3-2-1 interview allowed me to rescue Jon Walter and Louise O’Neill from a burning bookcase, while taking Sarah Webb on a desert island…

Middle Grade Strikes Back looks at my journey to publication, literary characters to go on holiday with, and my writing day.

There have also been a few radio interviews; Brenda Drumm of KFMradio, also Sunshine Radio, and Barbara Scully’s The Hen House. I’ll add podcasts when I can!

Upcoming Events

I’ve had a wonderfully warm reception from schools and libraries in Castletownbere, Skibbereen, Schull and Bantry as part of the Children’s Book Festival; with Dunmanway and Clonakilty still to come.

I’ll probably dedicate a whole post to this on its own, but I’m really happy to announce a 3-hour Gothic Literature for Teens workshop in Ardagh, County Longford, at the end of this month as part of their Fright Fest – full details here!

 

Looking for writing advice? (Part 2)

apostrophe-manFor part two of ‘Looking for writing advice?’, I’ve scoured a few of my favourite online resources for further information, inspiration and encouragement. Here goes…

There are lots of places to look for writing competitions, submissions and events, but if you sign up to Paul McVeigh’s blog and Emerging Writer by Kate Dempsey, then you’ll find you’ve got more time for writing as they do the hard work for you. Both of these blogs are an excellent resource and I recommend you sign up right away.

For those of you writing novels – whether you’re starting out or are trying to improve – have a look at Sinead Gleeson’s brilliant Would You Like To Write a Book? series of articles in The Irish Times. And if you fancy some podcasts, then you can also listen to Sinead’s The Book Show over on RTE Player.

Author blogs definitely worth reading include Libran Writer by Lia Mills and Women Rule Writer by Nuala Ni Chonchuir. For all things crime, you have Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays and for all things amazing, Neil Gaiman’s Journal. The list goes on but who could resist reading updates from the amazingly talented Oliver Jeffers? I’m not sure that one’s technically a blog but hey, it’s Oliver Jeffers, so who cares?

For a variety of information on all things writerly, try Tania Writes by Tania Hershman because she’s brilliant (you’ll also find an excellent Irish & UK lit mags list on there). There’s a great blog written by author, Susan Lanigan, and a perfect example of what you’ll find there is this post:  I Am Good Enough, And So Are You. And Clockwatching by SJO’Hart is a rather wonderful (and rather prolific blog) that is the home of everything from book reviews to flash fiction, writing advice to editing services. Her post, How I Got My Agent, is a great place to start.

I know there are many more writing blogs out there worth a mention but I don’t want to overload you; these are just a few of my favourites and I hope they prove as helpful and interesting to you as they have for me. If you have any blogs you’d like to highlight and recommend to others, please add them in the comments below. If there are lots, I’ll add them into another post so they’re not missed.

So – who have I missed that you would recommend?

 

 

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.

Pressing pause

west cork scenery

Days like this have to be taken advantage of

This is a kind of ‘hello everyone, I am still here’ post and an apology at the same time. May has proved to be a very busy month so far and I’m only just getting round to adding a post. I know, I know… but sometimes the blog just has to wait. The balance has tipped. I had to press pause.

I often speak to writers about trying to balance their writing with work and every day life. As we all know, modern life is busy. If we do manage to get a gap in our schedule, we fill it so it’s… well, busier still. And if you write, you can always improve something/start another project/tie up some loose ends, so you’ll always need more time. But that (I’ve learned) doesn’t mean you have to be writing constantly.

There’s a difference between dedication and obsession – just like there’s a difference between working at an optimum level and battling through just because you feel you should. Sometimes a challenge is good and you have to battle; I’m currently rewriting my YA book from third to first person which I find very challenging. It’s necessary for the book but not my natural way to write. But sometimes you have to learn to press pause.

This year, I’m trying really hard to fight the urge to constantly write or work. I’m awarding myself one day off a week from everything that involves the written word. No social media. no articles, no writing. The computer stays firmly shut.

This is an attempt at maintaining sanity. To allow my brain to unwind. To be rested enough to write at an optimum level the other six days of the week. I failed the first few weeks and did some sneaky (about four hours each day) editing on the day off, but guess what? By Wednesday night, I was starting to run on adrenaline alone. By Saturday, I was shattered.

How can you resist? A bit of this means more smiles all round.

How can you resist? A bit of this means more smiles all round.

I think it’s a legacy of my childhood, this need to always be achieving, to always be moving forward. I believed that enough fight and enough hard work would open up doors. That they’d provide me with opportunities I was told would never be possible. I was right. The hard work paid off. Only I never quite managed to figure out how to put on the brakes.

Strangely enough, writing has taught me a lot about the need for pause and reflection. Not in a navel-gazing kind of way, or a waiting for inspiration to hit kind of way. As far as I’m concerned, that’s complete nonsense. But writing has shown me that – very frustratingly – there some things are, and always will be, out of your control. That hard work will get you so far, but you need your health and wellbeing too. That you’re far better off working shorter bursts at an optimum level than always fighting.

When I first left my job to focus on my writing, I was arrogant and impatient and pushy. All the time pushing; to beat deadlines in record time, to write for longer and faster than the day before, to produce as many finished pieces as I could. I turned down social engagements, days out, nights out (especially these – I mean, I had to be up at six to write the next five thousand words). I missed out on some interesting opportunities because my writing had to come first. I ended up feeling lonely, isolated and somewhat bug-eyed by it all.

west cork writer

Tools of the trade – should have some great fresh eats by the end of it all

And so slowly I have learned – I need time off.

This month, Sundays have been my only spare days for blog writing and so – apologies, but I chose to press pause.

Instead, I’ve been getting the garden in order, planting and nurturing potatoes, tomatoes, beans, sweet pea, chillies (I didn’t nurture them very well – they died), pak choi, lettuce etc.

I’ve helped fix up and paint the boat and get it back in the water. We used it to go watch a basking shark last week and last Thursday, I ate my first fresh-caught mackerel of 2014 for breakfast.

I’ve been taking walks and visiting the local Sunday market and reading lots of great books or watching great documentaries. And I’ve been going to sleep early, without my characters yapping on at me or images of the computer screen floating in my head.

west cork writer

Gotta love the sea dog (not so much the barking at seagulls or fish we’ve caught, but hey, can’t have everything!)

Has my writing suffered? No. I’m still on schedule. I’ve completed one big project. I’m almost finished another, And I’ve a few dalliances in-between that may, or may not, come to something fruitful. We shall see.

So if you’re feeling stung out or stressed out or even slightly overwhelmed, here’s my suggestion: have a look at how much you’re doing, compare it with what you think you should be doing and then figure out how much you realistically can manage, without tearing your hair out or losing it over the slightest irritation.

Find a spot to press pause. And do. It might not be easy at first, but I think you’ll feel the benefits over time. I’d love to know how you get on – and what wonderful things you get up to. You never know, there could be a story lurking there…

Cape Clear Diaries (6): A Fond Farewell

south harbour, cape clear, leavng on the ferry

Leaving South Harbour, homeward bound

I’ve been home for a few days now; enough time has passed to reflect on the two weeks that I spent there. So what is the overriding feeling that I’m left with? What has my time on Cape Clear taught me?

I guess the overriding feeling is of joy and calm. My trip to Cape enabled me to reset the clock, revaluate my goals and rejig my workload to create a more harmonious work/life. In short, I recharged. But Cape also left me with a few important reminders…

1) A sense of place is important

The beauty of the island, the change of pace, the proud nature of the inhabitants, their determination to preserve island life through a mix of tradition and innovation, all fed into a vivid image of what encapsulates ‘Cape Clear’. As I heard said on the island… “You may leave Cape Clear, but Cape Clear won’t leave you.”

In your fiction, you need to make sure that the sense of place is as deeply rooted in the characters as it is in your descriptions. It’s not enough to describe a place to make it believable; you have to convince your reader, seduce them by making the character inextricable from the landscape (unless of course you’re trying to show them as an outsider. Then the reverse is required).

Consider the wild moorlands of Wuthering Heights, the harsh, unwelcoming sidewalks of Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane, or the unyielding, barren landscape of Eowyn Ivey’s Snow Childwhen it comes to your setting, not just your characters, it’s a serious case of ‘show, don’t tell’.

2) It’s OK to give up

Despite the strong winds and lashing rain at the start of the week, I got it into my head to take the cliff walk. The exposed route involves some incredibly steep hills and boggy terrain, but even with the weather against me, I was determined. Why? Because I’d planned it before even arriving. And I’m stubborn.

However, after hiking for over half an hour without even being able to see the cliff edge or the path ahead, staggering against the wind and sinking my foot ankle deep into a delicious mix of cow pat and bog, I decided to pause. I had another ten days to go. Was it really worth it? For once, I concluded that the sensible decision was to turn back.

Likewise, with writing, it’s important to realise that sometimes an idea just isn’t working. Like a film or book you find dull, the world will not end if you abandon it. The guilt (if you’re prone to such a thing) may linger for a day or two, but if you distract yourself with a completely different project – something fresh, something exciting – you’ll get over it. Trust me. You’re much better putting your energies into something worthwhile.

Now, I don’t mean give up at the first hurdle – you have to give something a good run first. But as writers, we need to be able to see what works and what doesn’t. A story can be perfectly crafted but lack the ‘oomph’ to maintain its reader’s attention. An idea can be brilliant – but not suited to your voice. You have to learn to spot the difference between a great idea and a great piece of writing.

puppy leaving cape clear on ferry

Franklyn the seadog, running low on oomph

Which brings me to my next point…

3)  But sometimes it’s even better to try again

Not to be beaten, I returned to the same cliff walk a few days later, in glorious sunshine, and was rewarded with spectacular views. The waves crashed against the cliff, I had a wonderfully clear view of the Fastnet Rock lighthouse, the gorse glowed against the blue sky and I was surrounded with birdsong. The bog was less boggy and with better visibility, I managed to avoid the cow pat.

If I hadn’t returned to the cliffs, I would have been left wondering – what if? Make sure you give your writing a solid chance before abandoning it completely. Try rewriting in a different tense or person, or starting at a different point in the story. Tell the tale through the eyes of a different character or experiment with alternating viewpoints. You never know, this is when the magic ‘oomph’ could happen.

4)  Take time out

I think one of the main things that Cape Clear reminded me was the importance of shutting off for a while and just seeing what happens. We’re used to being flexible in terms of shifting deadlines and juggling projects – but what about being flexible about relaxation? It’s OK to set rigid times to write and set regular goals, but if you don’t have any issues when it comes to being disciplined, then sometimes it’s a good idea to let things just take their course.

Consider, for instance, when you’re writing a first draft of a novel; my advice is to forget editing altogether. Continue with the word count and let the ideas and characters take over without any revision. Some writers like a carefully planned outline before they start to formulate a draft, but I find it liberating, and certainly more enjoyable, to just keep going and let the ideas and characters run amuck.

clear atlantic, cape to baltimore ferry

A fine day for sailing (not like the journey there – must be a karma thing)

The main character’s name may change from Mary to Tania to Ermentrude as you stumble through this initial draft, but you can easily sort that out later once you have a big body of work. The way I see it, you only get to play at the outset – after that, it’s down to editing. Separate the two to get the most out of your writing time.

And remember, it’s often during the non-writing activities that our best ideas hit. Taking a walk, having a shower, cooking dinner, train rides, chatting with friends – these are the times when your relaxed brain

As I think back to Cape Clear, I’m thankful for many things;

  • time spent enjoying the island
  • people I met there
  • important reminders relevant to both my life and my writing…

But most of all, I have the island to thank for another ten thousand words of a first draft and an absolutely cracking new novel idea – the novel I’ve always wanted to write but didn’t know how that I can’t wait to explore.

Thank you Cape Clear!

Recharge!

I just spent a week away in Bergamo, Italy, and I have to say, it was wonderful. Daily doses of sunshine (always desirable if you live in Ireland), great food and gorgeous scenery (think clear blue lakes surrounded by snow capped peaks and winding cobbled streets surrounded by ancient walls), as well as plenty of time to spend with my husband without worrying or thinking about anything other than just being.

Beautiful city of bergamo, Italy

View of the old town, Bergamo

Why am I telling you this? Not to make you green with envy, but to encourage you to take some time out.

Whether you’re a writer, a jeweller, a gardener or a teacher… Whatever your career/vocation, this is a call to arms.

Take some time to relax and recuperate. Right away, if possible.

Running the risk of sounding like a reformed smoker, hell bent on conforming everyone around me,  I think it’s so important to let the batteries recharge. And that means properly…

Try closing the laptop, shutting down Twitter (as well as Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn), and engage in the world immediately around you. Just be for a while. Be spontaneous. Even just for half an hour. See if it makes any difference to your energy, enthusiasm or mindset. It may not, but it’s worth a try.

In my experience, this relaxing malarkey isn’t something people are particularly skilled at these days. We seemed programmed to multi task and achieve, hell bent on keeping going against all odds and never giving up.

Dedication and determination are fantastic qualities – to a degree. Yet like anything, too much can be a bad thing.

As writers, we need to have a clear mind to create. Yes, the jumbled thoughts do contribute to creating characters, plot, dialogue etc – but only if we’re not worrying about other external factors such as money, chores, emails, the number of Twitter followers and the latest funny YouTube videos of ninja bunnies.

One way to achieve this is to shut down, away from it all, and just engage.

Holidays aren’t always a possibility, but you can take a walk, play with the dog, plant a few rose bushes, sketch your surroundings or try something new – take some time for yourself to let your brain recharge.

How do you relax and recharge? Any tips for others?