Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Writing Life ... a Constant Spin Cycle! by Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Valerie-Anne Baglietto continues the new series on successfully juggling writing and a busy life (or failing, as the case may be)... 

When I was asked to come up with a blog post about juggling writing with a hectic life, I admit I was daunted. So many other writers have produced amusing, sparkling and informative posts on the subject, I wasn’t sure what more I could add. So I went away (well, I sat down in my favourite armchair with a coffee) and thought long and hard about it and realised all I could offer was absolute, hand-on-heart, painful honesty. Which might make me unpopular, but then I do suffer from foot-in-mouth syndrome, so I hope I’ll be let off.

I’ve been writing professionally for around twenty years - since circumstances led me to give up working as a graphic designer - earning enough from writing to be able to sustain my handbag habit. I’ve mutated from a single twenty-something living with my parents into a menopausal* housewife and mum of three (*not quite there yet, but it covers a lot of excuses for my general behaviour). I appreciate I’ve been lucky. Without a Day Job outside the home, I’ve had time to write indulgently for hours on end, happy and free from guilt, right?


The arch nemesis in a writer’s life. Well, in mine, at least. And it’s a two-edged sword. Firstly, regret for those times I’m so obsessed with my story and my characters that I can’t focus on my family – an uncomfortable nagging feeling that I’m failing them somehow. Secondly, guilt that I ought to be writing when I’m busy keeping the household functioning as it should.

I don’t know if this all stems from the post natal depression that blanketed me when my eldest was born. I was working to contractual deadlines back then. It all got too much, but even with the attached remorse that my baby was growing up fast and I couldn’t savour it, writing became my therapy. I managed four novels – straightforward romcoms – before I had my third child. I allowed motherhood to take over my life completely at that point because a) post natal depression hit again and I felt swamped, b) I was drained of ideas I felt passionate about, and c) my publishers didn’t want such large gaps between books.

Writing v. Motherhood

A couple of years on... 

I began to experiment with children’s stories. To cut a long story short, they evolved into contemporary adult fairy tales, and suddenly, blissfully, my passion for writing was reignited. So inevitably the guilt returned. The guilt that probably haunts every working parent who wants to work/needs to work/strives to find that perfect but ever-shifting balance between career and family.

The solution was simple if I wanted to write professionally without turning into an emotional wreck. I had to work for myself. I had to become an Indie. My own deadlines, my own rules, my own failures and successes, but with some much-needed help along the way. My first adult fairy tale Once Upon A Winter reached #1 in both the Fairy Tale and Contemporary Fantasy Charts on Amazon UK. I was elated, but I wasn’t complacent. Every Novelistas Ink member will tell you, it’s an uphill struggle, the proverbial treadmill. Achieving success can be easy in comparison to sustaining it.

Do you recognise yourself in any of this?

If it helps to know that you’re not alone and the writing life is *cliché alert* a journey not a destination, then I’m glad and relieved. I would have liked to produce a list of useful tips, as the other Novelistas will so eloquently do, but I failed miserably. There’s enough pressure out there for writers without putting more on ourselves. There isn’t one single approach to how we juggle work and life, because we’re all different. So this is me. And if it’s a little bit like you, then it’s nice to know we share a few traits.

Take NaNoWriMo, for instance... 

I just can’t do it. I once wrote 90k in six weeks, but that was another incarnation of my writing self, long before I had real commitments. I was up till three or four a.m., in Deep Writing Mode. Caffeinated. Hyper. Driven. Consumed. These days, the thought of trying to write so much in so little time turns me off. I’m not a bash-out-a-first-draft-fast person any more. I edit as I go along, so by the time I get to the end it’s more of a second draft. At this time of year, though, it’s easy to feel like an alien if you didn't take part in the NaNoWriMo challenge. For a novice writer, you might feel there’s something wrong with you if you didn't, or if you tried and failed, or if you just didn't fancy it. But there’s nothing wrong with you. Some people thrive and others falter; if you’re in the latter group, whatever you do, don’t get discouraged. Quite probably, it just wasn’t for you. It worries me a little that potentially good writers might feel inadequate if they don’t complete the task. It’s OK to take part, just as it’s OK to abstain.

If only...
I’m also not a big fan of the school of thought that dictates a writer can only call themselves a writer if they force themselves to produce something every day, whether it’s good or bad. I get depressed doing that, although I concede it’s probably useful if you’re working to a tight time-frame. But I can’t rest until I shape my words into something I’m proud of, and quite often there’s no space for such crazy perfection in every single busy day. I can’t stay hunched over my laptop till one o’clock regularly without something suffering; my health, usually. Anyway, the ‘writing muscle’ isn’t something you can only exercise while sitting at your desk. It’s constantly at work; the heartbeat of your subconscious, pumping ideas through your head, absorbing new ones from every experience. It can be incredibly liberating to remember that. A writer’s mind is never off duty, even if it feels as if it is. How can it be, when even your dreams at night can spew up ideas?

Then there are times in my life when I need to ruthlessly detach my mind from my WIP for an extended period, and I don’t allow myself to go near the world of the story except to jot down random notes in longhand. If I don’t maintain such a degree of separation I can’t function (to my satisfaction) doing whatever else life demands of me. This year, for example, I hardly wrote anything for weeks while I tried to get my house in order in preparation for some building work. Junk and memories accumulate, and I’m something of a hoarder; it’s difficult for me to let go. I knew that if I allowed myself to go near my story, I would weaken to the temptation, and never tackle the hard stuff reality was demanding of me.

On a smaller scale, and more frequently, it’s the same with family life; those days when I can’t succumb to my creative self because subsequently I’d be a crappy wife and mum. Some people can juggle lots of balls brilliantly, sadly I’m not one of them. I’m in awe of those who can, but I’m just not organised enough. Admittedly I’ve got the luxury of setting my own deadlines, but it’s worrying to think that many writers can’t just switch off when they might need to.

So, to recap - the message I’m trying to convey is that you have to find what suits YOU. 


Be flexible.


Don’t get stressed over other writers’ habits; although by all means read about them, take advice, share tips.

In the end, though, you have to work to develop your own pattern, because there isn’t a right or a wrong method. And habits will be different at various points in your career. For instance, one day I wouldn’t mind working with a traditional publisher again (big or small), at least partially, but at the moment I need to be flexible enough to drop everything if my young family needs me.

So, finally (yes, this is the last paragraph, yay!) if you’ve read this far, thank you, and please remember one thing even if you forget everything else about this post – as writers we’re ALL mad and sane, each in our own wonderful, unique way. Let’s celebrate our differences, admit to them, learn from them and ultimately grow to respect them.

Valerie-Anne's latest release is the full-length novel FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY.

Mystery and magic in the sleepy Cheshire village of Fools Castle, where a lively young fairy-godmother who normally gets things very, very right, suddenly starts getting them disastrously wrong.

A modern, grown-up fairy tale perfect for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Cecelia Ahern.

Amazon US - view here
Amazon UK - view here
Twitter: @VABaglietto
Facebook: Valerie-Anne Baglietto Author

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Where I Write by Johanna Grassick

Many years ago when I started writing, I had a cupboard in a dark corner of the dining room with a slide-out shelf and a laptop which could be put away when I wasn’t working. Now, however, I’m lucky enough to have a room of my own.

It’s big (well, I think so) and there’s room for lots of books (good job, those top three shelves are my To Be Read pile), and it’s very pink (I live in a house full of boys so this is the only room where I can get away with it). 

The only downside is that because it’s my room, no one minds if it gets messy – and it does get very messy! I’m an old-fashioned girl and, despite sitting in front of the computer, I still handwrite a lot – to draft a scene, to edit a printed page, or to jot down notes as inspiration strikes. This means there are usually papers and notebooks strewn everywhere (usually - I tidied for this photo!), and those post-its you can see on the desk are individual scenes for the book I’m currently working on.

From my desk I have a beautiful view of the garden, and I’m sometimes distracted by squirrels chasing each other around the oak tree, foxes wandering through, or, this summer, a family of doves which nested in the tree outside my window.

The important thing, however, is that they’re not too distracting. Because when I write I retreat into my characters’ heads and become absorbed in their world. 

Any interruptions and that focus is lost, as I discovered a couple of years ago when we had builders in. To get away from the noise and the dust I tried working in cafés, as so many writers successfully do, but I found that other people’s conversations were just too loud and too interesting! And I can’t work with music on to drown the noise because, for me, a song is a story in itself, even if it doesn’t have any lyrics. In the end I resorted to driving round the corner and writing with a notebook in my car. 

And now, having my own space and solitude is a luxury I truly appreciate.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Where I Write by Louise Marley

As I found out last month, I don’t need a room of my own in which to write. I can write anywhere. It doesn’t mean I have to like it though! I love having my own study – and it is definitely a study – ‘office’ sounds far too much like work. Writing can be very hard work but it’s also the best job in the world. Make stuff up for a living? What’s not to love?

So, welcome to my world! I’ve not written much here yet, as I’ve been too busy moving house. I don’t close the door, unless the writing is going badly. I’m incredibly nosy and I like to know what is going on elsewhere in the house. Having said that, I always listen to music while I work, to drown out background noise. I create playlists to help me get into the right (write?) frame of mind and I also have mood boards on Pinterest – but you can read more about my actual writing process here.

I write on a laptop. It enables me to work anywhere. I can touch-type as fast as I can talk – and believe me, I can talk very fast. If pushed, I can also write using paper and pen, although my handwriting is appalling – even I have trouble reading it back.

The box on the left of my desk contains recent issues of trade magazines – Writing Magazine, The Author, Romance Matters and The Bookseller. The red box is my ‘pending’ tray. The action figure perched on the edge of the pending tray is Reno, my good luck charm. Reno is a character from a video game called Final Fantasy but he’s also a character in one of my favourite books, Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart. I won him in one of her competitions.

I am a terrible hoarder and hate throwing anything away. I collect mugs, and when they get broken I reuse them to store my pens. The white one with the crest on it is from Hampshire Constabulary, where I used to work as a civilian admin officer – this is why my characters are often police officers.

Unfortunately I don’t have room in my study for all my books – they live in plastic crates elsewhere in the house. This is probably a good thing; I’m the kind of person who can’t be trusted to be left alone with a book. The only books on my study shelves are there for reference.

I also rely heavily on my Kindle Fire for work. I edit on it when I’m out and about, and I use it for catching up with emails, social networking and blogging. It also contains over 1,000 books. I know because I counted them – and yes, I have read most of them! So if I should suddenly go quiet, I’m sure you’ll be able to guess what I’m up to …

Read More:

Monday, 17 November 2014

5 Top Tips for Juggling Writing with a Busy Life by Juliet Greenwood

Though some of the Novelistas write full time, we all have first-hand experience of juggling writing with work, family and other commitments. At a time of year when things can get frenetic, we thought we'd share some of our tips to ensure writing doesn't get lost in the chaos. First up is Juliet:

1. Simplify and organise (I’m still working on this one!)

The essential ingredients for writing are time and headspace. I’ve found the trick is to organise before I start actually writing a book so that I have as little to think about as is possible with a day job and a busy life.

Organise your writing time. Find a time of day that suits you and set yourself an amount of time or a word count each day. Because writing is an ‘invisible’ activity it can easily be pushed aside. Some writers get up at 5am, some start at midnight. Find your slot and stick to it. (But don’t beat yourself up if you miss it now and again.)

Simplify housework. Preferably don’t do it at all. A writer’s house that is spotless is a writer who is not writing! But, being realistic, stick to the loo and bits that visitors will see. You can have a blast of cleaning and catch up between drafts. And anyone who objects can always do it themselves. Housework is not rocket science.

Organise meals. The last thing you want to do when you’ve left your heroine in a fight to the death with wolves, or tied to a railway track, is to start thinking about how to make a meal. I try to have a day when I plan the meals for the week. I cook batches of soups and stews (while plotting, see 2) that can have bits added to them, and freeze them. And anyone who objects can always be pointed in the direction of the kitchen or the local take-away.

2. You don’t have to be writing to be writing.

Like most writers, I feel guilty if I’m not actually bashing the keys, but in reality much of writing a novel is working it out in your head, and this can be done any time, any place. I tend to work out the details of the next chapter, or a knotty plot twist, while walking the dog, gardening, the commute to work, queuing in a supermarket, cooking, or watching TV.

Thinking time

3. Little and often is better than none at all

You don’t have to write 5000 words a day. 500 is fine. The main thing is to try and do a little each day. Don’t worry if it’s rubbish. Books go through so many drafts you’ll have time to sort it – and you might find when you read it back it’s really rather brilliant. The main point is to keep the book in your head. To stay in its world and in love with the characters. That’s the way to keep the faith through the long, hard process of writing and rewriting that goes into creating a novel.

4. Switch off.

Don’t burn yourself out. Take days off. Get out in the sun. Don't feel guilty watching ‘Strictly’. Besides, everything you do can be classed as research…

5. Enjoy! 

(Or else what’s the point?)

Friday, 14 November 2014

Where I Write by Beth Francis

Once upon a time…

Over fifty years ago, my first short story was published in the Brownie Magazine. I’d scribbled it in a lined notebook, and typed it on a borrowed typewriter on the living room table, surrounded by my bemused and skeptical family.
Years later, married with young children, I graduated to a typewriter of my own, electric it was, I loved it, but I still wrote my stories on the living room table, surrounded by my family.
            Now I have my own computer, my own room and my own desk.

The characters I write about are still created wherever I happen to be: 

On buses, trains, cafés anywhere where people strike up impromptu conversations and tell amazing stories.
At the swimming pool, swimming length after length, ideal for thinking, no phone calls, no texts.
In the garden, my characters often end up working in their gardens and I’m currently writing a Pocket Novel set on an allotment.
Walking along the coast, the inspiration for Safe Harbour came when I was watching a yacht sailing into a bay.

The list is endless, but when the real work starts, getting those ideas from my head into print, I return to my desk.

The ever-changing view from the window can have me staring at the mountains instead of the computer, but to be honest, after years of writing surrounded by distractions, I’ve no excuse not to simply get on with it!

Except…this morning the mountains are covered with a layer of sparkling white snow, so beautiful it would be a crime not to pause for a while...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Where I Write by Juliet Greenwood

The place where I write is my crog loft.

If you don’t happen to live in a traditional quarryman’s cottage halfway up a Welsh mountain, I should explain that a crog loft is a tiny room tucked under the eves where the children would have been packed off to sleep. Fortunately mine has been extended at some point, plus I’m short, so I can just about stand up in it, and there’s a window looking over my garden with some pretty glorious sunsets over Anglesey.

Originally you’d have clambered up a ladder. I’ve now got stairs, but they are very steep and not for the faint hearted. As the rest of the cottage is all on the ground floor, it means that my little crog loft is a world into itself. I have my computer, shelves of files and a few books, and pictures and bits of research and information pinned onto the wooden cladding (necessary insulation!) of the walls. I love it. It means I can leave my work behind up there when I go back down into the living part of the house. There’s usually a cat sitting on my lap, and Phoebe the dog has her bed in one corner (when not commandeered by the cat, that is), and I work each morning to her gentle post-dog-walk snores.

The windowsill is very wide (a legacy of thick stone walls) so Phoebe also can sit there and supervise proceedings, with half an eye on the sheep in the fields around us and any goings-on in the garden next door. Plus she can watch for any visitors coming up my path and rush down to greet them through the cat flap.  
Juliet's garden
I love my little crog loft. It’s where my imagination is free to roam, and when I leave I can leave it just as it is, so my characters are there, waiting for me when I return. My thinking time is when I’m in my garden, or dog walking, but I always return to my crog loft to focus the mind and get on with the real business of the day. It is, without doubt, a room of my own.

Friday, 7 November 2014

H is for heroes

Novelista Annie Burrows continues her alphabetical meander through her life as a writer.  This month she's reached the letter H, which of course stands for heroes...
I've recently handed in a book that is going to be part two of a historical trilogy.  The three books in the series deal with the loves of three officers in the same regiment, who fight at the battle of Waterloo.  And about the first thing my co-continuity authors wanted to know about my episode was "What does your hero look like?"

Sarah Mallory and Louise Allen had already put pictures in our joint files of actors who'd inspired them when it came to imagining their heroes.

Sarah Mallory chose Peter O'Toole when he was  Lawrence of Arabia for the Colonel of our fictitious regiment.

 Louise Allen picked Sean Bean for her Major Flint.

My problem was that although I had a clear image in my head of my own hero, I hadn't based him on an actor.  I just can't do that.  Because for me, what the hero is like inside, as a person, is far more important than what he looks like.  I always start with the personality, and work outward.  And if I start picturing a specific actor when I write about my hero, I'm always worried that the actor's personality traits might sneak in.

However, Sarah and Louise - who write much faster than me - were already writing scenes where my hero would have to stride across their pages, and really, really wanted to know what my hero looked like.

Fortunately (for them!) about that time I found an image of Tom Hiddleston in a cravat, from when he'd been playing a nineteenth century gentleman.  That was about the nearest I could come to explaining what my hero would look like.  And it wasn't about his features.  It was about the cleverness you could see in his features.  The potential for wickedness beneath the charming smile.

Posting an image of Tom certainly inspired their imaginations.  Whenever they sent me a scene in which he appeared in one of their books, they had my Artillery Major off to a "T".  He was a flirt.  A charmer.  And devilishly good-looking.

Thinking about Tom Hiddleston kept them happy for a while.  
( Well, he seems to make a lot of ladies happy.)

Until they wanted to know what his name was.  I had to explain that he hadn't told me yet.  In my defence, I explained that I was only on about chapter 3 by then, and he was only just waking up after having sustained a head injury.  He was confused, and concussed, and couldn't everyone just call him "Sir."

I can't remember exactly when, during the course of the emails pinging back and forth as we created our fictional regiment, we started referring to him as Tom.  And then, when I couldn't come up with a surname, Louise Allen coined the nickname Tom Cat, which really, really suited him.
This kind of procedure is how it usually goes for me when naming my heroes.  I know that some authors can't start writing their heroes until they have a name, but I find that mine don't tell me what it is until I have got to know them pretty well.  My secondary characters had to speak of one of my heroes as Lord Rakey Rakerson well into my second draft of his adventure!

And it's the same with the book I am currently writing.  I know quite a lot about my hero's childhood, and naval career.  At the time he meets my heroine, he's reached the rank of Captain.  He is also an Earl to an almost bankrupt Scottish estate.  So naturally, the heroine has been having to call him Captain Lord Scotsman.

But only a few days ago, his sister (who is a minor character in the story) bounced up to him calling him Alec.  Which is short for Alexander.  And since I knew her name was Lizzie Dunbar (because it's always much, much easier to name minor characters) that meant his family name had to be Dunbar too.  Which is just right, and sums him up perfectly.  Alec has a sort of cautious ring to it, somehow.  He is a solid, dependable sort of chap.  He is also the Earl of Auchentay (a Scottish area I invented several books ago, which has come in very handy)
And yes, I have the same slow process when it comes to naming my heroines.  I think it is because it is so important that they get a name that really, really conjures up an aspect of their character - something that will help them to come to life on the page.  I can't just pluck any old name out of a baby book, or something similar.  The name has to have a resonance.  Tom was a good name for my military hero - there's nothing stuffy about a Tom, is there?  And you can imagine a Tom being brave on the battlefield, insubordinate to his officers, and lethal with the ladies.  And once we started calling him Tom Cat, well...  

If you'd like to read more about Lord Rakey Rakerson, well, this is the book he became the hero of. (available at Amazon UK and  )

You'll have to wait until next Christmas to read about Captain Lord Scotsman! 

And if you should want to know about any of Annie's other books, there's more information on her website

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Where I Write by Cheryl Lang

This is my space. My office, to make it sound formal.  It’s painted a soft green that I love. I have a comfortable green swivel chair to sit on and I’m surrounded by pictures and photos I’ve taken in various countries. When I’m stuck for inspiration I just gaze at the pictures and I can almost feel the heat. (In reality, the heating probably needs turning down.) 

At the top are a couple of small baskets for holding millions of ballpoint pens, spare cartridges and other bits and pieces collected over time. I tend to use my laptop more than the PC these days as the PC is rather slow. I often take it out to the conservatory and work there. I can watch the birds, in idle moments and am easily distracted to  track planes on the computer. I find it fascinating to know where they are all going or returning from. 

In my ‘office’ I play CDs because it sometimes helps fix the mood I’m trying to create. I need to get up and walk about every now and then, so that often calls for my purple cafetiere to be filled. Sometimes, if things aren’t flowing I’ll go outside and do some gardening. It sometimes works.

I also have a tall book shelf which is packed with books on how to plot, or write a best seller, (I’ll let you know when that happens!) dictionaries, maps, guides to places, and books I’ve particularly liked. Those three folders in the middle are the print-outs of novels. One, The Sun in her Hair, is currently short-listed in The Write Time competition. Another is a work in progress and the third is one I need to revisit. I tend to keep a hard copy as well as keeping copies on memory sticks and on clouds. 

The other folders further down are my stamp collection. Unusual, maybe, but I started collecting when I was seven and every so often I feel compelled to add more.

Thanks Cheryl, and best of luck with the competition!