The Hardest Part About Becoming An Author Is Patience

My children's book

My children’s book

I chose the title for this blog post carefully. Author not writer. Becoming not being. I already consider myself a writer. What I want to be, though, is a published author. Not self-published, great as that is. I want to be able to answer the question ‘can I find your books in the library?’ with a resounding YES.

Maybe that’s silly. It should probably be enough that I’ve self published four novels, they’ve each sold a few copies (some over a hundred, which some say is the benchmark for a new author). They’ve all had good (and bad) reviews.

But it isn’t enough. I want validation. I want an agent to say, ‘you’re just what I’m looking for.’ I want to have a poster in the library and give talks to schools about my journey as a writer. I want my family to be proud. I want my daughter to know I did something other than raise babies for a decade. Not because raising babies isn’t a worthwhile job, but because I want her to know there’s a choice.

I want to write the books my daughter wants to read but can’t find in the library. I want to write books for my son that aren’t about animals and fairies, because – quite frankly – there’s a massive hole in our library where books for early-reader boys should be.

I want all that, and I want it NOW.

I tell my children that you get nothing without practice and patience. When my son is frustrated at learning to read or my daughter can’t draw as well as the YouTube video she’s watching, my response is always “you just need to practice.”

But we’re all hypocrites right? I’ve written one children’s book and I’m already looking for agents accepting submissions. Even though I know it isn’t going to pass muster.

Actually, it’s the second children’s book I’ve written. The other one has been (almost) wiped from my memory after I (arrogantly? Naively?) sent an early draft to an editor and was hurt and surprised when she told me (nicely) that it was awful.

Children’s books are hard to write. I knew that before I began the writing course I’m doing. I know it even more now. (Plus it’s really hard to find beta readers – any ideas?)

I also recognise that, more than any other genre, it’s all about the market. It’s a business. Books have to sell. Which is possibly why there is a gap in the boys’ market, although I’d say that was a catch 22. You can’t buy what isn’t available.

So I’m writing this as a public declaration of my intention to be patient. I will write at least a dozen children’s books before I approach an agent. I will practice my craft, I will continue to read a book a day. And I will try not to be hurt when my target audience (my daughter) thinks Mummy’s book is rubbish and she could write it better.

After all, practice makes perfect, right? Or at least better…

P.S. If you’re in the UK, Happy Mothering Sunday and I hope, like me, you’re in bed with your ipad writing blogs because Daddy has told the children Mother’s Day doesn’t start until 8am

How Knitting is Like Writing

Can you tell what it is yet?

Can you tell what it is yet?

Two days in to assembling my 38-piece fairy doll puzzle, and I am beginning to see how creative endeavours are all the same. What looks like the hard part is often the easy bit, and coming up with a finished product that shines takes a lot of painstaking detail that is lost on the person who recieves the final product.

I thought following a pattern and knitting my 38 pieces of doll was the hard part. It turns out that, like childbirth, that was the easy bit. The impossible part is putting it all together so that it resembles the pattern or – failing that – at least looks a bit like a doll.

I’m learning that not all DK wool is created equal, so some of my pieces are bigger than others. I’m discovering that fluffy wool doesn’t sew all that well, and that pillow stuffing isn’t a patch on the proper stuff. Most of all, I am learning that it’s worth the effort to polish and take time to make the end product as good as it can be. Not something I’m always good at in writing.

So many people say, “I’d love to write a book,” – almost as many people as have said to me recently, “I wish I could knit.” The answer is the same for both – anyone can. I only started knitting in August but, through passion, practice and a willing audience cheering me on, I’m now creating something I can be proud of. The same goes for writing.

I started my first novel six years ago and now I’m writing my fifth. And in that time I’ve learned that it isn’t the rush rush bit of making the raw materials that makes you a writer, it’s being prepared to take time putting it all together. Slowly, carefully, with consideration and a willingness to pull bits apart. Actually I haven’t got there with my knitting! I should have redone the hair piece and the wings, but it takes me so long to knit something I haven’t the willpower to pull it down again. But with my writing I do – that’s what five years has taught me.

Next time I watch my very talented mum pulling down a piece of knitting that would have taken me a week, because she didn’t like it, or the wool was wrong, or there was a mistake, I won’t wince. I will just think – there is someone who is such a master of their craft, they know what it takes to create a masterpiece. In the mean time, I’m still practicing, learning. And, more importantly, having fun.

What Others Think

A brief moment of co-operation

A brief moment of co-operation

My whole life seems to be ruled by what other people think of me. Apparently that’s a personality trait of Highly Sensitive People, a category I discovered through one of my blog followers from Setting the World to Rights. I took this online test and, unsurprisingly, scored very highly. At least it’s nice to know there are others who are so sensitive to noise etc and it’s not just me being difficult or highly strung.

This week has been all about other people’s opinions. First I got a one-star rating on Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes – but with no review to tell me why. I don’t mind one-star reviews – in fact I expect them, because most of the time I don’t rate myself as a writer – but I worry what people think and I want to know what they hated.

The same is true of my next two novels. Class Act is with an editor but only one other person has read it and I’m really worried the story is weak and is going to get terrible reviews. Unfortunately I can’t find anyone else to read it and give me an honest opinion, so I’ll have to wait for the public to tell me (assuming they do! Reviews are hard to get: I’ve had 4,000 downloads of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes on Amazon and still only have 8 reviews.)

My poorly knight

My poorly knight

The children’s book I’m in the process of writing is even worse, because it’s aimed at a target market I have no personal experience of. I love reading MG fiction myself, but I’m not 7-12 and when I was I was reading either Mills & Boon and Sweet Valley High or Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I have no idea if the language is pitched right or if the story is authentic and entertaining to that age group. And I really need to know: I need external validation to make up for a lack of self confidence.

Parenting is the same. Yesterday I kept both children home from nursery/school. The youngest had a sky-high temperature and couldn’t go to nursery. The eldest complained of also feeling poorly. She only had a slightly raised temperature and on a normal day I would have taken her to school. But we were all feeling rough and I didn’t want to do the school run with poorly kids. I also foolishly thought if they were both home I might be able to rest as they would entertain each other.

But I did feel bad, so I wrote something on Facebook about having slightly-poorly children home and how they seemed to be instantly better once I’d called them in sick. Some friends came back and said ‘relax, enjoy the day with them’ (!!) while others said, ‘I send my slightly-poorly children to school’. In both instances I felt awful because a) I wasn’t enjoying having them home and would have preferred to be by myself, writing and b) I was a soft mama for not sending them both in to school (like I normally would!). By trying to get a second opinion all I got was a feeling that I was doing it all wrong.

Not so poorly girl

Not so poorly girl

As it turns out we’ve all learnt something: my daughter has learnt not to say she feels poorly just because she wants to stay home from school: a poorly premenstrual mummy and cranky ill brother don’t make good company; and I’ve learned that having two ill kids at home is different to having two happy, healthy children. Because even though they were well enough to play, they bickered and fought and cried and whimpered and had tantrums ALL DAY. Poor hubby walked into a maelstrom when he got in from work. I’ve got just one home today and he’s happily watching TV while I work. Much better.

I know I’m in good company, both with other parents and other writers. We all care and so we worry about getting it right. These posts on parenting – Mother’s Guilt and None of Us are Perfect – could have been written by me on a different day (and you can see I wrote an essay in the comments on both). And I know most writers struggle to appreciate their own writing. In fact, as I’ve been working on my children’s book I’ve been reciting to myself, “Just keep writing – Every first draft is sh!t,” over and over and over. But of course, I still need a second opinion!

Women’s Cycle Tour and On a Writing Roll

Watching the start of the bike race

Watching the start of the bike race

I had a slow start to writing this week. I’ve been struggling to sleep, and our local town was all caught up in the inaugural Women’s Cycling Tour, so my brain has been fried. Add to that spending all day Tuesday walking round town due to road closures and staying late to attend the festival to celebrate the race, leaving me aching in places I never expected, and it hasn’t been the most conducive environment to write.

I spent Monday and Wednesday breaking the writing rules by editing what I have already written on my WIP. Generally writers will advise you not to edit as you go, because editing uses a different part of the brain and can kill creativity. But I was in full editing mode after working on Class Act in April so it made sense, and allowed me to figure out where I got to with it before stopping at Easter. I also learned how to curse in Middle Grade fiction.

The best part of going through the first 25,000 words was that I actually enjoyed what I’d already written and got excited about the story again. I also spent time on Wednesday, before going off the watch the start of the cycling race (including seeing Laura Trott up close), brainstorming ideas for where the story might go next. I’d come to a squidgy stop in the soggy middle right before the children broke for Easter and it had given me a bit of writer’s block.

Plate spinning at the Women's Tour festival

Plate spinning at the Women’s Tour festival

Anyway by Friday all of my strategies seemed to have paid off, as I sat down and had a five thousand word day. I haven’t had many of those in the last two years – last year was all about writing small amounts every day for Claire and the daily blog, and before that I was rewriting and editing Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues. I’d forgotten how nice it feels to get on a roll.

Unfortunately, doing that on a Friday has taken me into the weekend a bit distracted. I even added another thousand words after the children were in bed last night and this morning while they watched TV – unheard of, as I rarely write unless I’m by myself. Then Grandad came round for tea and cake and this afternoon we’re all off to a 70s fancy dress party. Not much chance to write.

I still have at least thirty thousand words to write to finish the novel, and I want it done before I go to Italy at half term (two weeks away) because the Independent are running a competition I want to enter it into, which requires the first 5,000 words and a synopsis. Pantsers can’t write the synopsis until the book is finished because they don’t actually know what’s going to happen. It only means I have to produce five-thousand-word days on each of my six nursery days between now and then.

I can do that easily, right? 😉

How Do You Tackle Swearing When Writing For Children?

The Tricky Task of Writing for Children

The Tricky Task of Writing for Children

This morning I’ve been researching the interesting world of swearing, for my MG fiction book. This is the first time I’ve written for pre-teens and I hadn’t realised how many mild swear words litter my writing, or how different words have different shock values depending on the country.

For example bloody hell and bugger off probably wouldn’t cause too much consternation in the UK, although there is obviously more impact on the written page than in the spoken word. I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid at crap or oh my god or good heavens. But then I come from a non religious family and I’m sure the latter two would worry religious families more.

Interestingly my children are more shocked by ‘rubbish’ and ‘stupid’ than ‘shit’ because we as a family have given the words more power, although I do try and distinguish between saying ‘that shot was rubbish’ and ‘you’re rubbish’. I’m not even going to discuss the reaction I got from nursery when my son repeated my stressed-out-end-of-tether phrase ‘shut up!’ to another child. Let’s say they would have been less disapproving if he’d said f-off. Maybe.

Swearing, after all, is all about shock value. You only had to see my unfortunate and accidental (and instantly-regretted) reaction when my daughter mispronounced ‘can’t’ during a recent reading session. Having to explain why even Mummy wouldn’t use that word probably gave her the ultimate weapon against me. But I digress.

Some level of exclamation is needed when writing, to show emotion and make dialogue sound realistic. Unfortunately I don’t yet have Tweens, so I don’t know what they say when they’re upset/shocked/scared/angry. And I’m sure what they say to each other isn’t what their parents want to see them reading in a children’s novel.

Scouring several websites this morning, it seems the safest thing to do is to make up your own swear words. But how to do so without sounding twee? In Elizabeth Kay’s lovely book, Ice Feathers, she uses phrases like ‘for the Wind’s sake’ and ‘flapping’. Unfortunately they make me think of all the phrases I hear on Cbeebies like ‘galloping guinea pigs’ and ‘flapperty flippers’, ‘jumping jellyfish’, or, my favourite, ‘Well, I’ll be a sea monkey’s uncle.’

I think I will use foodie words for my male protagonist, as he loves cooking. Things like ‘fried tomatoes’, ‘pancakes and crepes’ and possibly ‘shiitake mushrooms’ although apparently that’s from a Spy Kids movie and I don’t want plagiarism issues. My female lead is a fairy and lives in the woods, so phrases like ‘eggshells’ and ‘creeping caterpillars’ might work. Is ‘bird poo’ too much? I’m sure I’ve borrowed books from the library for under fives that have the words poo and pants. Does it become unacceptable if Mummy isn’t reading it?

Who knew writing for children was so much harder than writing for adults, especially when you’ve had a colourful upbringing. Well, me actually. But it will be worth the effort I hope!

What are your favourite non-swearing cuss words? What do you let your children say and not say?

Related Articles:

Bob and Jack’s Writing Blog: Danika Dinsmore ~ Tropes & Tips for Middle Grade Fiction Writers

From the Mixed-Up Files… Of Middle Grade Authors: Is it Okay to Curse in MG Books

AbsoluteWrite: Acceptable Swear Words for Children?

Back To Work… I Hope

Partners in Fun

Partners in Fun

It’s 6.50am on Wednesday morning. Not just any Wednesday, but my first day without children in seventeen days. In two hours, after the chaos of the school run, dropping reluctant (and probably tearful) children at school and nursery, I can finally get back to my work in progress. And my mind is blank.

I’ve been reading like mad these last two weeks, to keep my writer’s brain active, in between trips to the park, scraping up sand and dishing out snacks. But still I can barely remember how to write, the ideas are all gone and I haven’t a clue what my WIP is about.

It doesn’t help that I have to give a progress report to my Doctor at 10am on how the medication is working. I think I can say ‘fine’, given that we’ve survived the holidays still smiling (more or less!)

Actually, the kids have been amazing. Thanks to two weeks of incredible weather (for England, especially in April), they’ve played together almost non stop, with few arguments. It has made me so proud to watch and listen to them co-operating and scheming. Maybe the long vacation won’t be so awful (provided it doesn’t rain all summer…)

And on a positive note, I re-read the first chapter of Class Act and was quietly impressed, if I’m allowed to say that of my own novel. I’m going to select an editor this week, which is exciting. There are only four and a half weeks until half term, when we’re away visiting rellies in Italy, so I need to crack on and find some inspiration from somewhere. Pass the coffee!

Random Reasearch and Character Naming

Photo inspiration

Photo inspiration

I started work on my Middle Grade novel this morning. Well, I wrote 300 words this time last year, but never got further with it than that. I only added 2,000 words today, but as I’m a Pantser, the beginning of a story is always slow. Once it gains momentum, and I have a clue what the story is about, it should hopefully pick up speed. The start of a new novel is always time consuming as well because there is an element of necessary research. I try not to jar the flow too much when I’m writing, as it’s easy to lose hours to internet research, but I do like to check facts as I go. I always have the iPad next to me for quick searches like “When do skylarks nest?” and “When are potatoes harvested?” (Both from this morning.)

I also like to have some photographs of my story setting to help me make it more three-dimensional. The 300 words I wrote last year were all dialogue, with no setting at all. If I don’t have something to prompt me, I do tend to only write dialogue and feelings. This story is set on a traditional small farm, starting in the kitchen, so I looked for a few images to help me. Once upon a time I would have searched until I found the perfect property, so I could steal all the photos, layout, floor maps, street view images, the works. But I’ve lost valuable hours and chunks of sanity to that task in the past, so now I look for general images and piece them all together into one page that I can have beside me when I’m working.

Character names made easy

Character names made easy

As this book will be fantasy, I wanted to come up with an easy way to generate names: I really struggle with character names and often find the same ones cropping up time and again (I have two Daniels as main roles in different manuscripts, for example, even though – or possibly because – I don’t know anyone called Daniel.)

I wanted quirky names for my ‘other world’ people, but ones still more or less easy to pronounce. I find, reading fantasy, that I get irritated if the names are too complicated.

Anyway I came up with the idea of using latin bird names, using a little pocket book that used to belong to my dad (that I think I’ve rescued from hubbie’s charity shop pile more than once!)

So far I have my female protagonist Merula, from Turdus Merula – Blackbird. Naevia, her friend, from Locustella Naevia – Grasshopper Warbler. Otus, from Asio Otus – Long-eared owl, and Alba, from Tyto Alba – Barn Owl. How easy is that? 🙂

I’m quite nervous starting something completely new, and in a new genre (middle grade fiction). It’s been two years since I wrote Dragon Wraiths, and I had such a strong sense of the story when I started it. This time I’m driven more by a desire to try my hand at the genre and hopefully write something my children might like to read before they’re twenty! It’s daunting and exciting at the same time. I know so much more than I did two years ago, and I write more self-consciously, having done a LOT of editing in that time. I don’t know if I can lose myself in a story and just write. Time will tell, I guess! In the meantime, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and tapping out the words.

What’s Your Character’s Love Language?

Do you know your characters' love languages?

Do you know your characters’ love languages?

It’s no secret, here on the blog, that I was strongly affected by reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and coming to understand mine and my husband’s particular languages. It has strengthened our relationship and helped us communicate. I’m also now looking at the children and trying to understand how they feel love.

But, being me, I never miss an opportunity to put my life lessons to work on my writing.

Today, at the end of walking the dog – it taking that long for my drugged brain to start working – I turned my mind to the dilemma of my current writer’s block. I’m trying to pen an emotional scene in Class Act, to get my protagonist Rebecca past a difficult experience in her life, without having any direct knowledge of the issue.

I don’t want to belabour the point. Like the postnatal depression in Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (which I do have experience of), the issues in Rebecca’s past are important for the effect they have on her character and relationships, but I don’t want them forming the be all and end all of the novel. I’m writing genre fiction not literary fiction and aiming for a happy ever after, albeit a plausible one that survives challenges.

So I wondered how I could help Rebecca get through the difficulty most quickly, and whether that could be done genuinely with the right man without it all seeming too convenient and unrealistic. It made me ponder what her Love Language might be and I realised that – for her – the love language has to be Words of Affirmation. Therefore Alex, the love interest, needs to talk to her, reassure her, convince her of his sincerity. I’m not sure what his Love Language is yet. I think his might be Quality Time. That’s the thing lacking from his childhood and the thing he yearned for in his failed relationship at the start of the novel.

I feel as empowered in my writing as I did in my marriage by looking at things this way. I have also realised that I know my characters better than I might give myself credit for. I think I’ll use the five love languages again when considering my romantic protagonists. It’s a new, interesting and simple way to ensure coherent, three-dimensional characters, particularly in the Romance genre.

Just goes to show, you can learn from the strangest of sources. As a friend of mine used to say, “Every day’s a school day.”

Eking Out The Words

Sometimes you have to get down to graft

Sometimes you have to get down to graft

I finally got back to work on Class Act this week but, my goodness, it’s like pulling teeth. I’m unfortunately at a juncture in the novel where the protagonist is tackling something from her past as her relationship with the male lead hots up.

I didn’t write these scenes the first time through – not deliberately, it just didn’t come out in the first draft. I don’t do sex and I don’t do conflict, and these scenes have both. Only, writing them in my current frame of mind, I feel like I’m trying to make a porcelain tea set using a hammer and chisel.

It’s tempting to delete everything I’ve painfully written this morning – all three hundred measly words – but sometimes you just need something on the page to edit, and move on.

Occasionally you look back and it isn’t as awful as you remember. Mostly, you look back and get out a big fat red pen and fix it. All I know is I’ll never have a manuscript to get to Beta Readers if I don’t push on through. As lovely as it is that I sold 30 copies of Baby Blues and got a new five star review (and it is lovely!) it’s only going to work if I keep writing.

Sometimes the 300 words, eked out one cup of tea at a time, are as important and precious as the three thousand rattled off in good order. They’re all steps up the mountain.

Dear World; SAHMs and Writers Still Work, You Know

Reminding myself that I do work

Reminding myself that I do work

I took my children to a play date this morning and had a fabulous few hours watching them enjoy new toys, sunshine and company while I enjoyed a comfortable chat and plenty of hot tea. The talk, as often happens with parents you don’t know very well, turned to work.

The other three were teachers and when I explained that I was at home writing I got the dreaded response, “So you don’t work then?” followed by the embarrassed proviso of the working mum: “Except of course looking after these,” with a smile towards the children.

The funny thing was I was more bothered by writing not being considered a proper job than being a SAHM, even though looking after the children is much harder and takes up more of my time. There was another comment later, along the lines of, “You’re doing what we’d all love to be doing,” and again I wasn’t sure whether it referred to being able to pick my kids up from school, being about to do my hobby as a job or having endless free time to do laundry or, you know, drink coffee and paint my nails. 😉

I don’t know the other parents very well but I know they’re lovely people and it was clear that nothing was intended maliciously or even said with a great deal of thought. Much as I used to think being a teacher must be easy – short days, long holidays – before I spent any time with teachers and realised it’s the hardest job in the world and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it: we none of us have a blinking clue what’s really involved until it’s our job. And even then we all approach life differently.

Some of my light reading

Some of my light reading

I have to be working; I feel guilty if I don’t. So if I’m not writing I must either be cleaning, doing social media (which I don’t love) or reading (which I’m only just accepting as training for writers). It doesn’t feel like a hobby, but of course I do have a choice whether to work or be a housewife, which many don’t. I know I’m extremely fortunate.

Equally when I said to them that I loathed the school run (their children aren’t yet at school so they have that joy to look forward to) I’m sure they were envious that I have the luxury of doing it, as their children are in childcare all week. We all want what we can’t have.

There’s a lovely post on Facebook – two letters from a Stay at Home Mum and a working mum – which actually sympathises with the differences rather than finding reasons to hate. I’ve done a bit of both and I know they each suck in some way. (Incidentally, for a completely different take on the Facebook post, and why we parents should all STFU and stop moaning, read this). I preferred working (or, I should say, I preferred being employed, getting paid and knowing what I was meant to be doing from one minute to the next and not feeling guilty) but I only did it for a short time and before I had a child at school, so childcare was easier. Writing is a lot less stressful in many ways, of course, but it’s not always an easy way to spend your day. And the pay is lousy 😉

There’s another meme on Facebook – a quote from Katrina Monroe – that sums it up:

“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.”

Amen to that. You don’t get a day off, even when – like today – the only writing that gets done is on a phone in the dark while walking the dog at 6.15pm after hubbie gets home. You lie awake at 2am wondering what your character should do next or – as I have been lately after reading too many blog posts about how self-published authors are a scourge on decent literature – whether you should even be a writer. Can you call yourself a writer with a hundred sales to your name and more one star reviews than fives? (Well, almost. Hyperbole is accepted to make a point.) You’re never an aspiring teacher, no one ever called a teacher at home marking books ‘not working’. (Well, not to their face anyway!) I choose to be a writer, and to take all that entails, but it’s not a walk in the park (even when you’re walking in the park).

So, next time you’re chatting to a writer, or a SAHM, just nod and smile and maybe keep the phrase “So you don’t work then?” to share with your husband once you get home and vent on how the others have it easy. Much appreciated! 😀