Write Every Day. Seriously

Chatter Boy

Chatter Boy

I hate it when advice turns out to be spot on.

When you start writing, the advice you are always given is ‘write every day’. I’ve managed to skirt around it for the last five years, with the excuse that I have young children (apart from last year, when I took writing every day to a new extreme).

And, to be fair, for a long time I survived on writing only on a couple of days a week. But what I did in between didn’t seem to clutter my brain, and I managed to sustain my story in my head.

Now the children are older, my mind is constantly filled with someone else’s words. Even now as I write this my daughter is showing me photos, videos, making up poems and asking questions. She knows I’m working – this is her ‘not interrupting’.

No wonder when I have sat down to write recently, I’ve been more caught up in whether the children have finished their homework or what’s for tea than why Edan hates his dad.

Yesterday I was full of cold so hubbie gallantly volunteered to have our youngest while I went to bed (there are some advantages to having hubbie at home). It threw me completely, because usually I work Monday, Wednesday and Friday and have my son home the other days. Even though I slept most of the day and did very little writing, I had a break from the endless chatter and need to listen to words other than the ones in my head. (They are my children after all – they have so many words!)

As a result of the extra child-free day I thought today must be Tuesday. Realising it was a work way was marvellous. I got so much done. I wrote several scenes and rearranged a few more. I stopped trying to over-think my plot while the kids watched Dora, and just wrote some stuff down. I remembered that I know how to write.

I used to have my nursery days together, two days mid-week. I think I would need to do that again if I am going to finish this darn book (I can’t though because the nursery don’t have space.) Thankfully, the darlings will both be at school from next September. Even though that will mean double the homework, ironing and paperwork, it will also mean five glorious consecutive mornings of writing time.

Bring it on.

More Amazing Milestones: 2013 365 Challenge #200

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Top 200 words in Two-Hundred Steps Home

Today is a milestone day. Two-Hundred Steps Home reached 150,000 words and this is the 200th installment in my daily blog challenge for 2013. Wow.

It seemed fitting for Claire to receive some recognition, so I’ve given her a little pat on the back and sent her to a gorgeous-looking hostel that I quite fancy visiting myself! (I investigated, but it would be cheaper to stay in a hotel, although not the same as a Victorian Gothic Manor House!)

I’ve also been playing with Wordle: creating word maps of the most frequent words used in the novel (top 150 and top 200 words). I’m concerned that ‘like’, ‘felt’, and ‘thought’ are up there: a bit too much telling and not enough showing going on! Making word maps was a lovely way to spend an hour listening to the cricket when I should have been writing. I’ve found a breezy spot at the kitchen table, but the brain is still full of fog.

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

A time-eating exercise for a creative person

It seems fitting to use a milestone post to talk about my second-ever piece on this blog.

As I mentioned yesterday, I originally had the intention of discussing writing craft on Writer/Mummy. However I began following great blogs like Novels from the Ground Up (sadly no longer updated, but still with some great posts worth reading) and Daily Writing Tips, and a hundred others, and realised that I was in no position to preach.

Re-reading those early posts, though, I do think I had something to share. Many people want to write a novel but have a zillion reasons why they can’t. That was me, five years ago. The posts talked through how I turned that around. However, of my top tips for How to write a novel (with young kids underfoot), I only wrote posts on half, because it turned out I didn’t have enough experience to cover them all (even though I was teaching Creative Writing at the time!).

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

Playing with Wordle to celebrate 200th post

These were my top tips:

1. Throw away the excuses

2. Write what you know

3. Carry your story with you

4. Get Professional Help

5. Find fabulous friends

6. Finish, Finish, Finish

7. Put your critical hat on

8. Get it out there

As you can see, I only wrote posts on the first four points. When it came to writing about beta readers, critique groups or social media I hadn’t a clue. I was too scared to join a critique group and I didn’t have a beta reader, except my husband. The same went for finishing a novel (to final edit, not just the first draft), undertaking critical editing or getting to a point of releasing a book into the wild (either traditional route or via self-publishing).

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Hard to choose my favourite (I have 12!)

Now I feel I can write about those things. Apart from critique groups: that fear still stands (and it’s harder to fit that in around a sporadic schedule than any of the other elements.)

It will be difficult not to reinvent the wheel, but at the least I can direct people to some of the amazing websites I’ve since discovered (like Catherine, Caffeinated: the self-publishing guru!)

I just have to decide whether to write them as standalone posts, on top of my daily blog, or cheat and combine the two! I think I’d prefer to do them standalone, and re-blog all five original posts as well, but that might be overkill: what do you think?

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire made it back to the car without crumpling. Her hands shook as she tried to fit the key into the lock and, for the first time in weeks, she missed her Audi with its central locking fob.

Will they take my car back? Claire climbed into the Skoda and ran her hands around the sticky steering wheel. Loathe as she was to admit it, she would miss her little Stella.

Perhaps they’ll gift it to me as a leaving present. Her laugher filled the enclosed space. The idea that anyone would miss her was a joke. I haven’t heard from a single person in three months.

Although Claire had discovered how deep her work-friendships ran at her leaving party, it still hurt to realise she could vanish so completely from their lives without so much as an email to say farewell.

The adrenalin continued to rush through her veins, giving the sensation that she could scale a cliff face or run a marathon. Knowing the payback would be vicious, Claire pushed aside her emotions and shoved the gear stick into first.

Wandering around town earlier, Claire had toyed with the idea of staying the night in Manchester. Maybe Great John Street hotel, where she could lounge in the roll-top bath, safe in the knowledge that someone famous would be sleeping in a room nearby. By the time they saw her expenses it would be too late to challenge the cost.

Now, though, she had no desire to linger in her former home town. Her nose itched with the grit of traffic fumes and her temper frayed as she jostled with the sleek silver commuter cars heading for the suburbs.

Choosing the route south, Claire ran through the map of hostels in her mind, trying to decide the nearest one that she had yet to visit.

I don’t think I stayed in all the Peak District hostels round Buxton. If I have to work to the end of the week, I may as well stay somewhere pretty.

*

Claire pulled up outside Gradbach hostel, glad to finally come to a halt. The drive had taken twice as long as it should have, due to rush hour traffic leaving Manchester. In front of her was a building that looked like an old mill, nestled deep in the trees. Drinking in the clean air as she might a chilled glass of rosé, Claire felt the space and silence surround her, and smiled.

The reception desk welcomed her with polished wood and bright lights. A smiling lady, with a smart dark bob and glasses, approached with a question on her face.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m hoping you might have a bed for tonight?” Claire’s tummy rumbled and she remembered she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, twelve hours earlier. “And somewhere to eat?”

The woman’s face fell and she shook her head. “I’m so sorry; this hostel isn’t open to the public during term time. School and group visits only. We have a group in at present.”

As she said the words, Claire heard the sound of chatter coming from deep within the converted mill. Disappointment dragged at her limbs and she grasped the reception desk for support.

I could be lying in a bubble bath, looking forward to a rare steak and a gin and tonic.

With a sigh, Claire raised a smile and directed it at the hostel manager. “Can you tell me where the nearest hostel with beds is, please? Or do you have internet so I can get online?”

With a nod, the woman began tapping away at a computer. A frown pulled down her dark eyebrows, and Claire felt ice slide into her stomach.

“Hartington Hall has a vacancy?”

Claire shook her head. “I’ve done that one. And Ravenstor, Yougreave, Eyam.”

Her words brought a puzzled smile to the woman’s face. She turned, as if to speak, but seemed to realise it wasn’t her concern. “How about Ilam Hall?”

It didn’t ring a bell. “Hang on.” Claire pulled out her iPad and looked down her notes. “No, I don’t think so.”

“There’s nothing showing on the website, but I’ll give them a ring. They sometimes reserve a bed or two for emergencies, or someone might not have turned up yet.”

Claire flicked through her guide book to find Ilam Hall. She took in the pictures of the Victorian Gothic manor house, with the double-height windows and sunny, beautifully decorated, rooms. It knocked spots off Great John Street hotel, which she had felt was a bit dark, the one time she had stayed there.

This is why: This is what it’s about. Gorgeous, undiscovered properties. Who knew they were here, or that you could stay in them for a small amount of money? Okay, they’re not all like that, but enough. Who needs the Maldives, or New Zealand, when there are such gems right on the doorstep?

Claire held her breath, as the hostel manager began talking to someone on the phone. Please have space. My soul needs this.

As the woman smiled, Claire felt her heart lift and began to breathe again.

“You’re in luck,” she said, as she hung up the phone. “They’ve had a couple of girls call up to say they’re staying in their current hostel a further night. It’s only a dorm room bed, but I assumed you would take it, given how late it is.”

Claire looked out the window, surprised to see it had gone dark. “Oh yes. Will I still be able to get dinner?”

“I should think so. I’ll call and tell them you’d like to eat when you arrive.”

“Thank you, and thank you for your help.”

The woman hesitated, then spoke in a rush. “I have to ask. Are you the lady writing the blog? About the hostels? Only we’ve really enjoyed it and I wondered when you might come here.”

Surprised, Claire nodded.

“Will you come back? We’re open in the school holidays for families and other travellers.”

Claire thought about her meeting earlier with Carl, and her interview later in the week. “I don’t know. I am thinking about doing something different for a while.”

The manager’s face fell, but she nodded. “I understand. It must be exhausting, moving every day. Let me know, if you do decide to come. We’ll make sure you get a nice room.” With a shy smile, she added, “I understand you probably stay anonymous. Otherwise how could you write a fair review? It’s been great learning about what the other hostels are like. I haven’t been to many. I don’t have time!” She gestured at the mill around her and laughed. “Anyway, I’m detaining you. I’m sure you’re ready for dinner and bed. Do you need directions to Ilam?”

Claire shook her head. “No, I have satnav. Thank you, though, for reading the blog. It’s nice to know the words aren’t just disappearing into the ether.”

With new food for thought, Claire made her way back to the car.

***

Sleepy Thursday: 2013 365 Challenge #199

My new 'keep the kids cool' weapon

My new ‘keep the kids cool’ weapon

Ah hello Summer cold, we’ve been expecting you.

Little man coughed every 30 seconds for most of the night. I went and gave him milk, calpol and a cuddle on his new (child sized) sofa for as long as I could, to no avail. I thought he was asleep until he climbed into our bed ten minutes later and coughed and wriggled for the remainder of the night. Yawn. Pass the coffee.

At least the oppressive night-time heat broke like a fever around 2am, leaving a calm cool breeze washing through the open windows.

I was going to write today’s post about some old blog posts of mine I stumbled across yesterday, on how to write a novel with children underfoot, back in the day when I thought this would be a writing-advice blog, rather than a diary-cum-confessional. I will have to save that for tomorrow as I can barely keep my eyes open and I have an hour to get kids to nursery and write Claire’s showdown with Carl.

Even baby Annabelle's had enough (or is she drunk?)

Even baby Annabelle’s had enough (or is she drunk?)

These hot days are sapping more than my energy and good humour, they’re wiping away any remaining vocabulary left in my addled Mummy brain.

The thing I noticed most about my first posts on WriterMummy, written last March? They were penned with a sharpness of phrase I can only dream of. I don’t know how: I imagine I was getting less sleep then than now. Maybe only blogging every couple of weeks meant I stored up good phrases, or I was less self-conscious about my writing, knowing no one was reading it.

I also had more time to read other people’s posts back then – funny parenting posts, mostly – and that style of writing rubs of. It just proves the point that writers must read as much as write.

I think that might be my ‘homework’ today! I’ve just started reading a recommended book, Emotional Geology, which is reminding me of Virginia Woolf in style, as it’s quite stream-of-consciousness in the way it jumps about. Enjoying it though. Now I just need to tackle Carl, and consume some caffeine!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Despite quivering limbs, Claire felt happiness bubble deep inside. The look in Carl’s eyes, as he gazed at her across the desk, reminded her of a hunted animal finally cornered and aware there is nowhere left to run. It strengthened her resolve and calmed some of the jitters.

“Hello, Claire. This is an unexpected pleasure.” Carl’s mouth worked silently, as if more words wanted to be spoken but were under restraint.

“Yes, isn’t it. How are you? Are you well?”

Carl’s eyebrows flickered up almost imperceptibly, flummoxed by Claire’s affable conversation.

“Yes, very well. The Birds Eye account renewed, and we’ve secured three new clients this month already.” He sat back in his chair, his elbows resting on the arms of the large leather seat that diminished his stature rather than enlarging it as intended.

Sitting forward, Claire glanced sideways at the door. A flicker only, but Carl detected it, and shifted uncomfortably. Claire watched him squirm with indecision. If he called Julia in to take a drinks order, he would be treating Claire as a welcome visitor, despite her impromptu visit. On the other hand, if he didn’t follow normal protocol, he would communicate to the rest of the office that she was not there at his bidding. Claire nearly laughed out loud as the thoughts waged war across his face.

You should take some lessons from your receptionist; she’s a much better poker player than you are.

After a moment that stretched to eternity, Carl leant forwards and pressed the intercom on his desk.

“Julia, can you come in, please?”

The door opened immediately, and Claire suspected Carl’s PA had been hovering with her fingers already round the handle.

“There you are, Julia. Coffee for me, if you will.” He tilted his head in question at Claire, and she turned to face her erstwhile tormentor.

“Hello, Julia. Earl Grey, thank you.” She smiled sweetly, keeping her expression neutral.

Julia’s mouth dropped open and she shut it with a snap, before spinning away. Claire took the opportunity to inhale deeply and rub her sweaty hands down her dress, while Carl was distracted.

“So.” Carl turned, resting his arms on the desk. “To business.”

“It’s always business, isn’t it.”

Claire reached into the bag at her side, before Carl could answer, and retrieved a pristine white envelope, which she slid across the desk.

“I think you’ll find this self-explanatory.”

Carl looked at it and the colour drained from his face. A sheen of sweat made his brow sparkle in the office lights.

“You’re resigning?”

“I thought you’d be pleased.” Claire frowned, her poise slipping for the first time. “Isn’t that what you’ve been striving for since February?” She closed her lips, unwilling to give any more away.

“Yes, well, no. Of course not.” Flustered, Carl stumbled over his words.

“Oh, come on, Carl. There’s no need to play the game any longer. Not with me. You’ve won. That should make you happy.”

“Why? Why now, I mean.”

“I’ve had a better offer.” No need to mention she hadn’t even had an interview for the new role Linda had called her about. The potential had been enough to convince her of her next move.

“How much?”

Claire felt the heat rise in her cheeks at the audacity of Carl’s question. Refusing to rise to the bait, she crossed her legs, gazing coolly at him. “That’s all it is to you, isn’t it? Money. I pity you.”

Carl sat back as if she had spat at him. “If it’s not the money, why are you leaving?”

“Need you ask? You sent me on some fool’s errand, fit only for a manager at best, to force me to leave. No, don’t tell me that bullshit story of proving myself fit to the directors. We both know that was tosh.”

Carl shrugged. “The deal was real.”

“But the idea to send me was yours? Was I treading on your toes? Making you nervous? Well, you can relax. I wouldn’t have your job if you paid me double whatever exorbitant salary you’re on.” She paused, as Julia re-entered with their drinks.

The PA hovered, sensing the atmosphere and desperate to leave with some gossip. She glanced at the white envelope untouched on Carl’s desk, and Claire knew that was fuel enough for the rumour machine.

“Thank you, Julia, you may go.” Julia flinched at the icy tones, and scuttled from the room.

“What do you want, then, if not money? Prestige? A new car?”

“Nothing you can buy. In fact, I have to thank you. If you hadn’t sent me on that stupid assignment, I might still think cars and titles were worth something.”

It was Carl’s turn to sneer. “Oh, come on. You can’t tell me you’ve turned hippy. Look at you, still the heels and sharp suit. You haven’t changed. You’ve met some bloke, that’s it, isn’t it?” He jeered lasciviously and Claire crossed her arms, resisting the urge to throw her tea over him.

“No. No man, no money, no shiny car or bigger office. Just an opportunity to make a difference; to be me. To live a little in the real world.” She looked round his minimalist office, with the tinted windows obscuring the view outside. “You should try it sometime.”

Draining the last of her tea, Claire stood up. “I still have three weeks holiday, with what I carried over from last year. I’ll work to the end of the week.”

“What? You can’t. You’re on three months’ notice, and you took that week last week.” Panic raised his voice to a squeak.

“No. You gave me last week in lieu of the weekends I have worked, and if you check my contract I’m only on a month’s notice. I would like to say it’s been a pleasure, but I’ve had enough of lying.”

Leaving her boss gaping like a landed fish, Claire placed her cup on his desk, and glided from the room.

***

Get Professional Help

Cover of "Plot & Structure: (Techniques A...

Even if the story is burning in you and flowing out faster than you can type, you still might benefit from professional help, particularly when it comes to editing your first draft.

If you are disciplined enough to work solo there are some amazing books to help you start writing or to hone your skills as a writer. These are my favourites (I intend to review them when I get a chance, so watch this space.)

General Books on Writing

Teach Yourself Creative Writing, published by Hodder Education, London, By Stephen May (2008)

Starting to Write, published by Studymates Limited, Abergale, By Dr Rennie Parker (2007)

Creative Writing, published by How To Books Ltd., Oxford, By Adele Ramet (2007)

More Specialised Works

Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue, published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. By Gloria Kempton (2004)

Beginnings, Middles & Ends, published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio By Nancy Kress (1993)

Description & Setting [Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Believable World of people, places, and events], published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio By Ron Rozelle, (2005)

Plot & Structure [Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish], published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, By James Scott Bell, (2004)

Characters & Viewpoint, published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, By Orson Scott Card, (1988)

 

If, like me, you need to be led, cajoled or terrified into getting pen to paper there are various course options. Try your local government or college website for free or low-cost Creative Writing courses. I taught a couple of free PCDL (Personal and Community Development Learning) courses at New College Stamford with a lovely group of students, who went on to form a writing group.

If you want something more detailed, then a university or distance learning course might be an option. The Open University does a range of Start Writing short courses or they have a nine-month creative writing course (which I highly recommend).

Finally there is no substitute for reading as widely and as voraciously as you can. Learning from the people who have already been published is a good step in the right direction to getting there yourself. Don’t limit yourself to your chosen genre – there is much to be learnt from reading outside your comfort zone.

As Stephen May puts it in his Teach Yourself Creative Writing,

“Writers choose their own mentors. Anyone still in print or still available on the shelves of a library is there to help guide you towards expressing yourself clearly and well. To help you find your own voice.”

Who are your favourite mentors?

Carry your story with you

For me, one of the secrets of the writer/mummy is to always take your story with you in your head. If you carry your characters in your mind you can chat to them, shout at them, fire questions at them – their answers won’t always be predictable and the conversations can be very interesting.

Creative writing advice books will tell you that the more you know about your characters the better your writing will be. If you are the kind of person that makes lists or is very good at being thorough, there are various forms available online to work out all the details of your characters – star sign, favourite colour, place of birth. This is a particularly comprehensive one I have discovered (but am far too lazy to fill out for any of my characters!)

These character maps are useful, they enable you to be consistent and understand how your character might react to a given situation. However, if you’re honest, could you say what your best friend’s favourite colour is or where she was born? That doesn’t mean you don’t know her inside out, though, does it? You learn more about her real character from gossiping over a glass of wine or from watching how she copes in a crisis.

For me the same can be said of my characters. When I’m out and about I like to imagine what my characters would say to each other, how they would handle a range of situations. I fantasize about their futures in the same way I used to fantasize about my own whenever I got dumped (you know, those scenes where he comes back grovelling and begging for you to forgive him, but you spurn him with a toss of your sleek blonde hair.)

It can help if you think of plot and character development as a series of ‘What if?’ and ‘Why?’ questions. What if your female protagonist jacked in her job to take up sky-diving, what if your male lead got dumped at the altar? Why would she take up sky-diving – is it to conquer her fear of heights, because her ex said she was too scared to do anything dangerous, because her mum forbade her and she’s just pissed off at the world. Why did he get dumped? Was he a bastard, did she meet someone else? Has his fiancée found out she’s dying of cancer and doesn’t want to put him through the pain of losing her slowly?

When I’m in the throes of writing, particularly in the early days of a new book, my head is flooded with questions and potential answers. I often don’t know the answer that will appear in the book until I write, (and characters have a nasty habit of not doing what they’re told) but I have already played out all the various permutations in my head while in the supermarket queue, driving the car or lying awake in the night between bouts of teething tantrums.

Another important thing is to always have writing implements to hand – a crayon, a notepad, a mobile phone – to write down that dazzling piece of dialogue or dastardly plot twist. Once you start with the what ifs and whys it can lead you down the most meandering of mazes. It’s best to take notes as you go along, unless you’ve had enough sleep to have a particularly retentive memory.

My mobile phone is my most important writing tool, aside from my laptop. (As I write, my mobile phone is dead; I am utterly bereft and trying to fathom how to work my husband’s spare!) I like the phone because I always have it to hand; it is both pen and paper; it doesn’t get scribbled on by the kids (though often covered in yoghurt or chocolate) and – best of all – I can send my texts to my laptop, thus saving me the effort of writing it all twice.

My favourite time to write conversations between my characters is when I’m walking the dog, as I can text and walk at the same time (us mothers are good at multi-tasking, yes?) and for some reason I find the rhythm of walking sets a good pace for dynamic dialogue.

If you think you don’t have time to write, then think of all the times in the day when you can tap out a quick text message – waiting in the supermarket queue, sitting in the car with a sleeping child, lying in the dark waiting for them to go back to sleep. (I wrote some of this section at 6am, on my mobile phone, with a sickly child asleep on my chest.)

So, next time you’re tired of listening to the twentieth rendition of Miss Polly Had a Dolly in the car, pass your toddler a banana and, while she’s busy eating, have a think about the stickiest situation you can land your characters in. Then work out the most outlandish way you can rescue them again.

I would love to hear about your favourite ‘thinking’ times, or your craziest plot twists. What is your favourite way of taking notes?

Write what you know

A mug of tea

Never be afraid to write what you know. If you think your life is boring, you couldn’t be more wrong. People like to hear about lives they don’t live and, most definitely, lives they do live. As a Writer/Mummy, especially as a mother of small children, you can share the horror and humour of everyday life and make a fellow mum laugh in empathy and recognition.

If you don’t believe me, check out the amazing Parenting with Crappy Pictures blog. It never fails to make me smile, laugh, or even weep in shared sympathy. Note how many people follow the blog and read some of the comments. It can be lonely being a mum. There is nothing nicer than hearing you’re not the only one going slightly barmy on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

Talking of caffeine, I have found that cafes and coffee shops are an excellent place to overhear fascinating tales. You don’t have to be hobnobbing with the rich and famous to come up with cracking storylines. The art of penning entertaining dialogue can often be enhanced by surreptitious eavesdropping. (As you develop your writing you’ll learn what to leave out, such as the ums and ahs of natural conversation. I will write more on dialogue in a future post).

I devised an entire character after eavesdropping on a public school boy having lunch with his visiting grandparents. The character doesn’t vaguely resemble the boy – instead it’s the lead protagonist in my first romance – but the ideas flowed from the life the boy was describing and the reactions of his grandfather.

Next time you are surrounded by chaos at breakfast, store in your mind the sights, smells and emotions that bring the scene to life. Today’s grey-hair-inducing tussle with your two-year-old is tomorrow’s true-to-life hilarious scene.

Honestly.

How many times have you moaned to a friend about the horrific supermarket tantrum and realised that, with distance, it was a bit funny.

Even if you don’t want to write about life as a mummy, or your job, or your time at university, or your gap year, your first date, your childhood, your parents. Even if you want to create a fantasy world on planet Zarg with a tin robot as your lead man, you can still take inspiration from the world around you and the life you have lived.

It isn’t just your experiences that inform your writing, but your sensations. The emotions you feel, the physicality of your existence. Childbirth pain? I’m sure the same sensations could translate into how it might feel to be tortured by an alien device. Seeing your little one off to school for the first time? Those feelings of pride and desolation, the swelling heart, the racing pulse, the nausea, might just belong to an Army Sargent sending his troops into a no-win situation.

The most important, unique, thing you can bring to your writing is you.

So, next time your darling daughter is screaming at the top of her shrill register in the biscuit aisle at Sainsbury’s, don’t reach for the Valium, reach for a pen.

Throw away the excuses

Gatorade Rain bottles lined up on a supermarke...

 “I don’t have the time,”

             “I don’t know where to start,”

                     “I just can’t write,”

“My writing is boring.”

Let’s explore the common excuses (the ones I said most often to myself) and how they can be banished.

“I don’t have the time”

To produce a 100,000-word novel in a year you need to write 274 words a day. Scan this section (down to imagination). It’s 274 words. That’s not much really, is it? To put it into context, it’s 10 tweets or 9 text messages. If you touch-type at an average speed you can type 274 words in 4 minutes (learn to touch-type if you want to become a writer, particularly if your you-time is limited.)

You’ll hear many suggestions on how to foster a daily writing habit. Anyone offering advice about writing will tell you that you must write every day. And of course, in an ideal child-free life, you could do that.

I don’t write every day. I get two days a week to do my writing, when my children go to nursery.

I am very lucky.

However, when I’m consumed by a new plot twist, I’ve been known to sneak in writing time on mummy days. I write when I’m walking the dog (being able to touch-text is handy), or I pull into a lay-by when the kids are asleep in the car and fire up the laptop. Or bribe the children with Peppa Pig so I can sit and tap out a few hundred words. (Did I mention this isn’t a blog about good parenting?)

I can’t tell you how to fit time into your day, as I have no idea about your schedule. All I’m saying is, if it matters to you, you can find the time. Sacrifice a tea break, an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or your twenty minutes of Facebook, and delve into the murky world of your imagination.

“I don’t know where to start,”

This is the excuse that scuppered me for the longest time. I owe it to the OU and their marvellous Creative Writing course that I ever got past it. I realise now that I fell into a very common trap: I was too self-critical. I tried to write whilst listening to the evil genius on my shoulder telling me how rubbish it all was, making me re-craft every line, every word.

Big mistake. Big. Huge.

The OU use a technique called Freewriting, the basic concept of which is that you tell your evil genius to go down the pub, and then you hurry up and get writing while he or she is gone. You can freewrite using a prompt, or just sit with a blank sheet of paper and write the first thing that comes to mind. I find working with a prompt is best. I’ll probably do a post on freewriting and prompts but, for now, I’ll suggest a couple of ideas that really got me going (my first novel came entirely from a freewrite using technique #1)

#1: characters from objects.

Get someone you know to write a list of random objects (a telescope, some tarot cards, a box of matches, an amber necklace, a seashell, it can be anything).

Now sit and think who might own some or all of the objects and why. Don’t analyse, just write for ten minutes without stopping.

#2: freewriting from prompts.

Take one of the following prompts and write for ten minutes without stopping (set an alarm. Do Not Stop until it rings.)

The sunshine makes me happy because…

When the kids leave home I want to…

He said it was all my fault…

“I just can’t write,”

Yes, you can. You do it already. Every time you tell someone about your day, relate a funny story you’ve heard or share something your children did this morning, you are writing.

When I first started thinking about this blog, I worried that I wasn’t one of those people who just had to write. You know, someone like Virginia Woolf, who wrote diaries, letters, stories because she was compelled to. Then I realised that I have always written; it’s just that much of it was in my head. I would retell my day, sometimes changing bits to make it the day I wished I’d had. I’d often write the conversation between me and my boss where he did appreciate all my hard work. Or, better still, the one where I told him to take a long walk off a short pier. I would construct amazing scenarios where the boy who had just dumped me drove across town and found me, just to tell me he’d made a terrible mistake.

Okay so maybe I lived in a self-delusional fantasy world, but it has given me amazing fodder for my fiction. Particularly when I tried to turn my hand to Mills & Boon. That’s for another time.

“My writing is boring.”

How do you know? Has anyone read it but you? If they have, if (like me) your friends or family suggested that maybe your writing wasn’t the most entertaining they’d ever read, then remember one key thing: you are writing your first draft.

I consider my first draft to be the rough pencil sketch that I will paint in with colour later. I hope, of course, that I won’t have to re-write it all, but I know for a fact I’ll have to work hard on some of it to move it from tedious bunkum to something worth reading.  Plenty of time to worry about that later. As I’ve said before, you can’t edit a blank page.

The important thing to focus on when you start writing is to just write. Go with the flow of the story, follow the twists and turns of the plot, and get to the finish line. When you’ve done that you can polish every sentence until it shines with brilliance. I guarantee your first draft will not be your last. And it won’t all be boring. Yes, bits of it will drag: those are the bits to shine or slash later. But parts of it will shine so bright you’ll wonder who drugged you and added them into your story when you weren’t looking. Those are the morsels that make writing addictive.

So, what are you waiting for. Get writing!