Reminiscing About Writing Retreats

Hello my lovelies,

I hope you’re all well and staying safe. I was talking to Debbie Flint who runs Retreats For You in north Devon the other day and it got me thinking about how much of The Last Charm I actually wrote there over the course of two summers, and how much longer it might’ve taken to finish the book had it not been for the lovely tranquil cottage and even lovelier team to look after me. I went digging around and found a post from 2018 I wrote about my first experience there – you can read it here The Wonders of Writing Retreats.

 

The four days I spend at Retreats For You each summer enabled me to get huge chunks of the story down, and during those visits I wrote circa 45,000 words – or half a book… The benefits of writing retreats for me are:-

  • No day job to distract me – I save up holiday entitlement to use
  • No Fiancé/son/puppy to look after/talk to/walk – very time intensive!
  • No housework – I’m cooked for and taken care of at RfU
  • No life admin – the bills can wait until I’m home
  • Headspace – the ability to focus on the story and nothing else
  • Freedom – setting my own schedule, around meal times
  • Triple the number of physical hours I usually get to write in, around the day job and other commitments*

*I got into a routine of 7.00 a.m. wake up, write for an hour, shower and dress, quick breakfast, write until lunchtime, quick lunch, write until 5.30 p.m., take the retreat dog for a walk, dinner and wine with everyone, write until 10.00 p.m, read for an hour/watch TV, sleep… repeat! This meant I got at least 10 hours of writing time a day, if not more.

If you get the opportunity to visit a writing retreat – which often includes tutors on site to deliver workshops – I’d heartily recommend it. Giving yourself permission to write is an important step on the journey to finishing a book and getting it published, or meeting your deadlines if you’re a published author. If you can’t go on a retreat due to financial pressures/family responsibilities then there’s always the option of going to stay with a friend (so long as you explain you’re not there to socialise other than at meal times!) or having an ‘at home’ retreat. I’ve done this before, and it really just means clearing the decks for a whole weekend in terms of visitors, commitments, housework etc and telling your nearest and dearest to pretend you’re not in the house and that disturbing you while you’re hiding in the spare room/shed/corner of the kitchen will mean certain death!

I was intending to visit Retreats For You again this year, but due to lockdown it sadly hasn’t been possible, and they had to pivot and offer the cottage out as an Air B’n’B… Seeing all the pictures made me feel almost home sick! But roll on 2021, because I’ll be back and am looking forward to it 🙂

Have you ever been to a retreat? What did you get done, or achieve? It would be lovely to hear about your experiences 🙂

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki / Ella xx

 

The Decade That Rocked (aka Don’t Give Up!)

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Hello my lovelies,

I hope you had a great festive season and are all hyped up about 2020! It’s that time of year again when we look back over the past 12 months, think about our achievements and then about our dreams for the coming year. The end of 2019 was all the more poignant as it marked the end of a decade, and I’ve seen loads of Facebook posts about 2009 vs 2019 and how the decade unravelled for people.

For me, the last decade has held it’s ups and downs, whether personal, professional (the day job) or writing wise. I’m the type of person who likes to think of set backs as opportunities for growth, and the 2010’s have been no exception. In that time my son has finished primary school and is now in Year 10 of secondary school, and my daughter has finished education, pursued a career in childcare and turns 20 this month (!!) Luckily my children are happy and healthy, and I’m proud to have played a part in that. I have gone through a separation and divorce, suffered significant bereavements, moved house twice, moved jobs four times for promotion, met my Fiancé Mark and celebrated his 30th birthday with him in Miami, turned 40, got engaged, attended weddings, christenings, dinners (basically seen the lives of my family and friends flourish), holidayed in Florida and Malta, had road trips across Europe, and added a gorgeous beagle to our family. The list goes on… but what has been constant are my writing dreams, which I am close to fulfilling.

 

 

It was in 2010 that I started writing seriously to get published. That year, I won two writing competitions and sent my first manuscript off to the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme. From there I carried on writing novels and refining them as I got critiques, started this blog, started making connections with the writing community until at the RNA Conference in 2013 I met my now Editor at HarperCollins, Charlotte Ledger, who later offered me a four work contract. Since then, I’ve had three short stories, five novellas and two novels published. In 2019 I signed with a literary agent, Hattie Grunewald at The Blair Partnership (the agency who represent none other than J K Rowling), and set up a YouTube channel to start vlogging about getting published. I finished full edits on my next book just before Christmas – a women’s commercial fiction novel set in Dorset – which will be published by One More Chapter in 2020 under the pen name Ella Allbright.  I’m currently working on my next book with Hattie.

But I’m not boasting. None of this has happened easily; it has taken blood, sweat, tears, a good amount of angst and many hours to write those stories and get them published, especially around a full-time day job. I have still not achieved what I want to, which is earn enough from writing to reduce the day job to part-time hours. I am hopeful that with enough hard work and a bit of luck, I’ll manage that this decade. For now I say this to you; if you have a writing dream, don’t give up. Keep going. Write that short story, or novel, polish it, get advice, submit it, and take every knock as a sign of success, because it means you’re trying. And when it comes to fulfilling your dreams, that is half the battle. Be strong, be determined, be brave. Good luck!

 

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Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

Until next time, happy reading & writing. Love, Nikki xx

 

 

 

 

Getting Published: #Vlogging

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Hello my lovelies,

I hope you’re well. I recently decided that I’d sidestep into vlogging to share my writing and publishing experiences. As I live in beautiful Dorset, not far from the beach, I thought that ‘Author by the Sea’ had a nice ring to it.

While I don’t like the thought of being on screen (especially when the thumbnails make you look drunk!) filming vlogs isn’t as hard as I’d imagined, given I’m talking about one of my favourite subject areas, and how passionately I believe that sharing our author/publishing experiences is important for aspiring authors and the wider writing community.

I’ve been delighted by the support so far and have received some lovely messages about the vlogs, and how helpful they’ve been for some people.

So without much further ado, here are the links to vlogs 1 and 2 – with more to follow…

Vlog 1 – Getting Published: No Magic Formula

Vlog 2 – Getting Published: Hook An Agent

If you enjoy them/find them useful – please like/share/subscribe/spread the word on Facebook, Twitter etc. Thank you!

Until next time, happy reading & writing (and watching!),

Take care, Nikki x

#Writing Tips: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Hello my lovelies,

When I first started writing to get published, a lack of confidence and finding time were the issues – but when I did sit down, the words just poured out of me. I never dreamt that once I was published it was the writing that would become harder, especially because one year I wrote over 100,000 words for the #LoveLondon novellas. But in 2016 I faltered following two bereavements and a bad experience in the day job, and the colour leeched out of me, along with any desire or energy to write, leading me to write this blog post – https://wp.me/p15DAP-uX – which attracted my highest ever blog readership and number of comments. And it helped knowing I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling. That there were other people who felt this way too.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I slowly got back to the writing, and in February 2017 my lovely editor Charlotte invited me to London to talk about a concept she’d thought of for a book she wanted me to write. I was absolutely thrilled and we’ve spent many a happy time together via email, phone and face to face discussing the structure, characters, ideas for covers and so on over the past two and a half years.

BUT while I’ve always had ideas and dialogue whirling round my head, and have loved writing this book, it has been painfully slow. I’ve had weeks, and sometimes months, of writer’s block since I started this manuscript. On the other hand, I’ve had days where I’ve written my heart and soul out, and produced the most amazing word counts. One of these times was last month, when I managed to write 25,000 words in just 4 days at a writing retreat, leading me to reach 95,000 words of the novel, with only 3 chapters left to write  (*goes off to celebrate nearing completion with gin…*). At the moment, the bottle is uncorked and I am writing fluently and often, so I wanted to share my tips in the hope it can help other writers.

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1) Try and work out why you’re not writing. If you can determine the cause, you can often come up with the solution. I know that being in a series of interim HR jobs over the past few years has taken up a lot of my energy, along with moving house and other personal factors. I’ve had to learn to pace myself, be kind to myself, and give myself permission to write, no matter what other commitments I have. What’s holding you back?

2) Is fear or lack of confidence having an impact? If so, identify this and then ask yourself what’s the worst that could happpen? And what would hurt more, having this MS rejected/the book not selling well, or never finishing this book? For me, even if I didn’t have an editor waiting for this MS, once I’d started this story, I needed to finish it. I owe it to my characters, and to myself.

3) Write as if no-one is going to read it. Free yourself to tell the story in your voice, let self-consciousness slide away, forget about your editor and agent etc. Write what you love, and don’t overthink it. Be in the moment. Get that first ‘dirty draft’ down. You can edit and rewrite and think of the market later, but if you don’t keep moving you might get paralysed.

4) Give yourself permission. You’re allowed to write, you can write, you must write. Ignore any naysayers, and don’t think of it as a hobby or something you need to make excuses for. Think of it as a necessity, and treat it like one. Dedicate time and energy to it, giving your writing what it deserves.

5) Find what works for you. Establish a routine, find a place to write that suits you, be it in the spare room, at the kitchen table, or at a cafe. For me, an hour here or there doesn’t work – I need to write in longer more intense bursts to keep it flowing. So once a year I go and stay in a lovely writing retreat in Devon (https://www.retreatsforyou.co.uk) and while there I eat, sleep and write to my heart’s content. And during the rest of the year, I write only at  weekends, when I know I can have interrupted blocks of time.

6) Don’t be afraid that it’s going to be over. This is definitely an issue I’ve had. I want this story to go on forever; my two main characters are my best friends and I’ll be sad when I write The End on their story. I’ve had to keep reminding myself that I want to share this story with other people, and that I have lots of other ideas in my head, and new friends to meet.

7) Force yourself to write even when you don’t want to. And set deadlines. Sometimes writing is absolutely the LAST thing I want to do, and I’ll do anything I can to avoid it a.k.a. procrastination. Then I feel guilty for not writing, which makes me feel bad, and even less like being creative. So I give myself a stern talking to and promise myself that if I write for just twenty minutes then I can reward myself with something nice. Without fail, I will then write for hours on end and not look up until half a chapter is written. And I don’t need the reward because the writing was enough 🙂 I also set myself deadlines (if I don’t have one from my publisher) i.e. I’ll have finished this chapter by X date. Having some pressure helps.

8) Find other ways to get you going. If you really can’t face writing, do something that’s linked to get you inspired again. For me, this means sitting down with Writing Magazine, scanning articles in The Bookseller about six figure deals and new releases, or re-reading creative writing books. As soon as I do those things, I remember how much I love writing, and think, ‘I can do this!’

I hope these tips have helped 🙂 How do YOU overcome writer’s block? Please share your stories below.

Until next time, happy reading & writing.

Love, Nikki x

 

What They Don’t Tell You About Being An Author

Hello my lovelies,

the annual horror of the HMRC Tax Self-Assessment is upon me and I feel like sticking pins in my eyes and fleeing the country (Mr. Taxman, I won’t). It got me thinking about what I didn’t know about being an author in the years when I was all starry-eyed, before I got my first publishing deal. I’ll try not to share (rant) too much about taxes…

Needless to say, this is not a grumble about writing, because I LOVE it, couldn’t imagine my life without writing in it and am so thankful for the readers, bloggers, reviews and sales. This is a light-hearted view of an author’s life 🙂

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What they don’t tell you about being an author:-

(1) You’ll love writing your first book because you (usually) have all the time in the world to do it. Second book pressure is immense if you’re under contract, and you’ll have moments when you wonder what you got yourself into (before you give yourself a kick up the arse and remind yourself this is what you’ve always dreamt of)

(2) Because of (1), you’ll feel guilty for having those thoughts and will buy chocolate or wine as comfort food. Or sometimes both.

(3) Because of (1) and (2) your bum (and often other bits of you) will spread/widen.

(4) Procrastination will become your best friend. When you’re under deadline, you’ll suddenly find a thousand and one other things you just HAVE to do, instead of write.

(5) Then you’ll get all stressy and anti-social with people because you’re running out of time and need to get on with writing. You’ll refuse invites and generally avoid leaving the house. You’ll write everywhere and anywhere you can – in the car, on the train, at your kids’ after school activities, waiting for appointments, in the staff room during lunch break. People might give you strange looks…

(6) When you meet your deadline because you’ve done (5), you’ll get either chocolate or wine to celebrate/as a reward, or both. Your bum (and other bits) will widen some more.

(7) You’ll be on social media either too much or not enough. You’ll feel guilty about both. You’ll either turn off wi-fi to restrict yourself, or start engaging with people and then lose hours of your life. It’s a cycle – live with it!

(8) You’ll have to register yourself as either a self-employed individual or a Limited Company, keep accounts and receipts, keep tabs on expenses, fill in a self-assessment and  try not to cry… If you’re lucky you’ll employ an Accountant, give them your box of receipts and back away rapidly…

(9) When your Editor tells you she loves your latest book and there are hardly any revisions, you’ll buy chocolate or wine to celebrate, or both… When she/he gives you tons of revisions, you’ll lock yourself in a dark room for a few hours/days. When you emerge, you’ll head to the shops to buy… yep, you’ve got it!

(10) You’ll stare into space and mumble under your breath in public places when you suddenly have a good idea or create a bit of dialogue in your head. People will move away from you and give you looks.

(11) If you don’t immediately write down or record that idea/dialogue on your iPhone you’ll forget them.

(12) Your PC/Laptop/iPad will delight in corrupting itself or being invaded by a virus, and lose your latest WIP. I cannot stress this enough – back everything up, email it to yourself – Do Something!

(13) Every othe author will have more sales than you. Yes, every one. Or at least, you’ll think so. And they’ll be younger, slimmer and more glamorous than you 😉

BUT…

  • Readers are the best. They’ll email you, Tweet you, Facebook you to tell you how much they loved your book, how they stayed up until 2.00 a.m. to read it, how they’ve told their mum/sister/friend/work colleague to read it. Your heart will soar every time.
  • Bloggers are amazing. They will tirelessly promote, review, blog you/your book. They work hard, love supporting authors and books. They help drive sales and get the word out there. You’ll thank them again and again.
  • Other authors are brilliant. They’re part of the most supportive community, will share their experiences and views, and will champion each other – because there’s room for everyone, and we all love what we do.
  • Editors, agents, publicists are stars. They’ll shape, sell, publicise your book, and work tirelessly on your behalf. So many people help a book get published, and they deserve all the credit they’re due.
  • Friends, family and partners will be your biggest supporters. They’ll understand when you want to be anti-social, get as excited about publication day as you do, and bring you wine/flowers/chocolates when something goes wrong. Or when something goes right.
  • You’ll LOVE writing and losing yourself in your own world, knowing that something you’ve created may one day sail off the page and touch someone’s heart.
  • And… You’ll never stop feeling grateful for all of the above.

 

Hope you enjoyed this – let me know in the comments below if I missed any 🙂

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love Nikki xx

The Wonders of #Writing Retreats

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Hello my lovelies,

I can’t believe July has rolled over into August already! What a gorgeous summer we’re having 🙂 July was a busy month for me, and I didn’t get the chance to blog with everything else going on, but I’m delighted to say that I’ve added 25,000 words to the work in progress (around a quarter of a full length novel). The new book is taking shape!

The only reason I’ve been able to make such great progress is because I went on a writing retreat to Sheepwash in Devon at Retreats for You. It’s a lovely cottage property in a little village with a pub across the way, within easy reach of a variety of gorgeous villages and beaches in Devon and Cornwall. It was peaceful and perfect for what I wanted to achieve…

I must admit that, hand on heart, I felt selfish and guilty for taking time off work and leaving my boyfriend and son in charge of each other, but actually all I was doing was giving myself permission to do something I love and that’s important to me. I’m so glad I did, because it was amazing and without a doubt the best gift I could have given myself.  Like others, I struggle to fit my writing in around a day job, housework, and family etc. But taking some time away from it all, when I didn’t have to worry about HR or housework or other people (who I love dearly but do a lot for) meant that I was completely free to concentrate on my writing in a way that I rarely am. And I loved it!

I have to say that Debbie Flint, who runs Retreats for You with the help of a few lovely women, was so warm and welcoming. She made me feel totally at ease, meaning I felt able to get on and write without worrying. Three meals a day are included in the daily price at Retreats for You, and I could sit down at mealtimes for as long or as short a time as I wanted, depending on how I was doing with my word count that day. And at 6.30 p.m. every evening there was wine ‘o’ clock, and if I was knee-deep in writing a scene, Debbie would  simply bring the wine up to my cosy room and tell me what time dinner was being served. The two other guests staying there that week – Jules and Eileen – were also great fun and we had a good time putting the world to rights over dinner every evening 🙂  And as if all that wasn’t reason enough to go again (which I will be), there are two resident chocolate labs on site who are adorable 🙂

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I woke up early every morning, and from the Monday to Friday wrote each day in a series of two-hour stints. If I didn’t achieve the word count I wanted to in the day, I wrote in the evening too. I also gave myself rewards for reaching my target word counts i.e. a trip to see Mamma Mia 2 in the cinema, a few hours on Bude beach, a bit of light reading, a great writing related catch up with the lovely Faith Bleasdale (on Twitter @FaithBleasdale). That made it fun and like I’d had some R&R rather than just working. Most days I averaged around 5,000 words. I wrote scenes that had been in my head for months, smiled at my characters and cried with them too. I did it all on my trusty iPad with detachable keyboard (as you can see above) and one day I wrote outside at the pub with a half pint of the local beer. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon!

All in all, I can heartily recommend writing retreats in general, and Retreats for You specifically – they really couldn’t have done enough for me. Their details are here https://www.retreatsforyou.co.uk  and as well as providing a quiet place to write, they also run themed events and also sometimes have authors stay and provide tuition, such as the lovely Julie Cohen. Check them out!

I’ll definitely be going on some more retreats in the future – why don’t you give yourself permission to do the same, and finally start that book? Or if you’ve stayed at a retreat before, how was it for you, and how many words did you get written? Please share your experiences in the comments box below 🙂

Until next time (when I’ll be going back to my writing tips series), happy reading & writing.

Love, Nikki xx

Writing Tip #15 – Preparing for Submission

Hello my lovelies,

It’s another glorious sunny weekend and happily I get to spend the day writing 🙂 In the last blog post, we talked about whether to go the agent or publisher route when deciding who to send your beautiful baby aka manuscript (MS) off to. As predicted, this caused a lot of debate (particularly on the closed RNA group on Facebook) and it’s been fascinating to hear about the different journeys that authors have been on to get published, whether it’s agent first or publisher first, or in some cases no agent or publisher at all, and simply going it alone (aka self-publishing) and happy to stay that way…

So now that you’ve decided who to send your manuscript to, and it’s fully polished and perfectly presented, here are my top tips for submitting: –

  • Do your research

You need to make sure that when you send your MS off (a) it’s to someone who is open to submissions (b) that they’re looking for something in your genre/publish your genre and (c) that you send them exactly what they’re asking for (see point below).

You can Google this if you want, and track people/companies down, however this could take a long time. To minimise hours spent online, The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is a great help as it contains listings of publishers and agents, along with useful essays and articles on writing https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writers-Artists-Yearbook-2018-ebook/dp/B071ZJBNT8

Writing Magazine normally also has listings of publishers currently open to submissions in their ‘Writer’s News’ section. Looking in the acknowledgments section of the books written by your favourite authors/the best-sellers in your chosen genre can be a great shout, as authors will often thank their agents or commissioning editors. If you’re on Facebook or Twitter, you can follow agents and publishers to get a flavour for what they’re looking for, or if they’re looking at all. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help and recommendations for publishers or agents on social media. On the whole, authors are open to questions and happy to help others who are at the beginning of their writing journey. There is room enough for everyone, and readers will devour thousands of books in their lifetime!

Finally, when you have found the right people and have shortlisted 5 – 6 people to submit to (unless you’ve decided to send off to only one at a time; but in this case be warned you could be waiting a long time to get published!) then find their website and have a read. If there are any tips or hints they’ve posted about submitting to them, read these carefully so that you can…

  • Give them what they want

Traditionally, the submission package you need to send out, whether by email or hard copy in the post (though email is much more common nowadays) is made up of three elements (a) covering letter/email (b) synopsis (outline of the whole book) and (c) first three chapters (or occasionally, the first xx pages).

It’s so important when submitting that you stick to whatever guidelines the agent or publisher has supplied. On the path to publication, you will have enough hurdles to jump over as it is without getting in your own way by sending them the wrong information/overly long submissions etc and annoying them. Ignoring their guidelines may look like either a lack of discipline or a lack of care, and that’s not what you want them to think of you!

  • Be brave

Getting ready to submit is also about mindset. Putting the practicalities aside, it’s a scary thought – and exciting too – that someone you’ve never met before, who knows their business, is going to read your book. So you’ve got to be brave to do this – I also call this ‘putting my big girl pants on’ 🙂  I’m not afraid to admit that I always used to find submissions daunting, and even now if I’m discussing a new book idea with my lovely Editor, I still get nervous. I think that’s normal and healthy. We are so heavily invested in our books because we put so much time, energy and emotions into them, that of course we want everyone to love them. They are deeply personal and we want to world to coo over our beautiful book baby. Knowing this might not be the case, and that an agent or editor may come back with a ‘No’ (if you hear anything back at all) can be a bitter pill to swallow… BUT if you want to be published, that’s part of the package. And if you don’t try, you’ll never know. So you have to push yourself, and send those submissions out. If you don’t want to tell family, friends or colleagues what you’re up to, then don’t. Do what feels comfortable for you. Hopefully you can then stun and amaze them all with some great news!

  • Be prepared for rejection

Along with the need to be brave, you also need to accept that you may get rejected. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to make you doubt yourself. It’s going to frustrate you, and let’s be honest, when you read about someone’s new six figure publishing deal, it’s going to make you seethe silently and grind your teeth. But you can’t let it cripple your confidence. Rejection is a natural part of being a writer. How many stories are there of best-selling authors who received rejection after rejection before making it big? Stephen King used to paper his walls with rejection letters.  J.K. Rowling is no stranger to this; Harry Potter was rejected by c. 36 publishing houses before Bloomsbury picked it up. And look at it now – movies, spin-offs, theme parks, merchandise…

So, however long it takes to recover from a rejection, whether it’s a day, week or month, you MUST keep going. You can’t give up. You have to keep sending that submission out; one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt along the way is that persistence pays.

So, are you ready to take the next step? Do you think I’ve missed anything? Comment below!

Look out for some future blog posts on writing a brilliant covering letter, and writing a synopsis (in my experience, you’ll either love or hate the latter!)

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

Writing Tip #12 – The Power of Revisions

Hello my lovelies,

looks like the UK is getting the best of the sun, while over here in Florida it’s a bit touch and go (as I write, it’s pouring down with rain and the thunder is rumbling!) but still, it’s been a great holiday so far and it’s not over yet. Along with visits to the Disney Parks, Cocoa Beach, and Planet Hollywood, I’ve had the opportunity to sit by the pool and read a proof copy of Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall and it’s brilliant 🙂 and I’m currently knee-deep in One Summer in Italy by Sue Moorcroft, which is transporting me to the Umbrian sunshine 🙂

But on to writing… In my last post, I talked about the rewrite I do after finishing the ‘dirty draft.’ Following a question I’ve had about timescales, I’m happy to share that the first tetchy draft of my book can take anywhere from 2 to 20 months, depending on what else I have going on in my life – I have a full-time day job in HR, kids, boyfriend, housework, social media for previous books etc. – and whether I’m producing a 14,000 word novella or a 100,000 word novel. The first rewrite, which as I explained in writing tip #11 is completed in roughly four stages, can take around 1 to 3 months depending on how many hours I can put in (some weeks I can manage 8-10 hours around everything else, but other weeks only 1-2 hours) and how radical a rewrite I need to do. But once that rewrite is done, I put the book aside again for another few weeks, and come back to it with fresh eyes…

Because before I send it off to my lovely editor, I do my ‘first revisions.’ I think these are really powerful, because they add extra texture and colour to your story. It’s not about padding it out or adding lots of extra words – I might only add an extra 2000 words overall (and as I go along, I might also be cutting out anything I think is unnecessary) – these first revisions are about making your characters three-dimensional and the world they live in as real as possible.

Basically, this stage is pretty quick, and involves me reading the book a chapter at a time and adding in descriptions, enhancing dialogue tags or using actions to drive dialogue, and inserting narrative using the five senses. I do this wherever I feel that the writing is flat or there is too much dialogue without explanation, because I want every reader to feel that they’re either seeing through the eyes of the main character, or are at least in the same room as them. So I look out for these sections and add in:-

  • Description – scenery, buildings, weather, what people are wearing etc.
  • Dialogue tags – ‘He barked’ ‘She scowled,’ etc. But don’t go overboard with these!
  • Actions driving/supporting dialogue – ‘I can’t live with your mum anymore, she hates me!’ He slammed the cupboard door shut and kicked the bin across the kitchen with a trainered foot, where it hit the wall with a thud and spewed its contents all over the floor. 
  • Use of the five senses – what can the main character touch, taste, hear, see and smell? I.e. the satin of the dress slithered through her fingers as she smoothed her hands over her hips; the sweetness of the ripe strawberries rolled over her tongue; a clap of thunder boomed in the distance, making her jump; the sunset was a beautiful blend of colours – red, orange, yellow – reminding her of a favourite cocktail, tequila sunrise; the scent of lavender carried towards her on the breeze, floral and sweet.

I have to admit I really enjoy these revisions, as I feel like I’m making my baby beautiful 🙂 However, I still can’t get too wedded to anything, because there’s always a danger my editor will send me a kind but firm email pointing out all the different ways I can make my book even better. So at this point, I stop revising and send the draft manuscript off to Charlotte at HarperCollins towers, and sit with crossed fingers to wait and see what she says. In the meantime, while I wait for feedback and any requested edits, I either (a) read a lot to take my mind off the waiting, or (b) start an outline for a new book. If you don’t have an editor yet, or an agent, this might be the time when you send the draft off to a critiquing service, or a set of readers, or a mentor. Which leads on to the subject of my next post – getting a second opinion 🙂

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you have any thoughts or questions, please comment below.

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

Writing Tip #11 – Rewriting & Refining

Hello my lovelies,

I hope you’ve been enjoying the sunshine at home. Here in Florida it’s equal parts sunny and thundery, making for an interesting combination! In the last post, we talked about getting that first ‘dirty draft’ of your story down on paper/in Word document etc. So it may be a while before this post is relevant, but if you want to think ahead, then read on…

There is nothing I love more than writing that first draft; it’s a time when you can give your creativity free rein, letting your characters talk to you and then guiding them on their journey. Your grammar may be horrific, your spelling shoddy and your sentence structure non-existent, but once you’ve got it down you have something to work with. Some authors hate revisions and rewrites but I love them as much as I love that initial draft. For me it’s an opportunity to untangle the knotty mess that I’ve made and make sense of it all (I love a good puzzle!) followed by rebuilding, refining and polishing it until I’m happy enough to send it to my editor for a first view (usually my third or fourth draft by this stage, and we’ve agreed that what I send is a draft and not a final version, as we often take the story apart and put it back together again).

But we’re talking about first rewrites here aka untangling that knotty mess, so that I end up with something coherent to do some proper revisions on. It may be different for you, and if so that’s okay, because everyone’s writing technique is different. But what does this mean for me?

adult book boring face

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well, first I take a break from the book – and I can’t recommend this highly enough. I put the manuscript aside for a few weeks so that I can get a bit of distance from it, because I often find that by the time I’ve finished the first draft, I’m too immersed in the story, too close to it, to rewrite in the way that I may need to (which can often be brutal i.e. cutting great swathes of words out). So, during those weeks, I read, I spend time with family, I catch up with friends etc.

When I’m ready, I pull the first draft out and work through it in the following stages:-

  • Structure

Are the chapters in the right order? Does the story make sense? I often re-order if I don’t think it works. This can involve a lot of cutting and pasting, which is why I don’t do formatting first. I also look at pacing at this point – does the story have a ‘saggy middle’? Do I need to liven it up somehow? Sometimes reordering chapters or events will help with this, depending on the overarching structure of the book. Other times it may be changing the lengths of some chapters to vary them, or ending a chapter at a different point than it did originally, to create more a cliffhanger.

  • Narrative 

Is there more story to tell? Do I need to add in scenes or events? Or is there too much padding? Do I need cut scenes out or reduce word count? Does every single scene move the story forward? If not, it needs to go. (Stripping out narrative can also count as editing). For me this is often the most painful part of a first rewrite. I have a tendency to overwrite during my first draft so that I can get into the character’s heads, and subsequently I have to cut lots of words out. My lovely editor Charlotte calls this ‘writing yourself into the story.’ I do this less than I used to but it’s still my guilty pleasure.

  • Line Editing

During this round, I comb through and correct grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, and get my sentences and paragraphs into some kind of order so that it all makes sense, along with inserting speech marks where people are talking, where I’ve forgotten to. In my first draft I often have notes like ‘insert x here’ or ‘y needs to say something about z here’ so I will fill in the gaps at this stage.

  • Formatting

Finally, I double line space and format each chapter so that it looks like a ‘proper’ book and I have a clean version to work on in Word when I come to the next step – revisions.

So, what do you think? Is this what a first rewrite looks like for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love, Nikki x

 

Writing Tip #10 – The Dirty Draft

Hello my lovelies,

I hope you’re well? As I get ready to jet off to Florida, overlooking the tarmac from a comfy sofa while sipping a certain drink that might have Mr Daniels in it, it occurs to me that it’s time to start drafting your book. In previous posts, we’ve talked about reading, writing what you know and love, being prepared to work hard, plot, structure, character, conflict, setting etc. Now that you know your story and how it’s going to unfold is clear in your head, and you have the main characters raring and ready to go, it’s really time to put bum on seat and start typing/writing/tapping/whatever floats your boat.

And by the way, the title of this post is not a reference to a well-known book with fifty shades of S&M in it, or some kind of pornographic intro. When I talk about the dirty draft, I’m referring to a raw first draft that is full of plot holes and peppered with spelling and grammar mistakes and it doesn’t matter. Because it’s not the finished product you’ll be happy to send off to your editor, agent or anyone willing to read your book. This is not the book baby you will proudly show to the world. This is the start of your book, the birth if you like, and it’ll be some time before it is bathed, and smartly dressed, and ready to be passed around for people to smile and tell you how beautiful it is.

The reason I suggest writing this way because it’ll help you get a draft written without making it feel like a slow form of torture. The type that means by the end of it you hate your book, the characters, your life in general… and you never want to touch a keyboard again. It’s about getting the story down, downloaded from your head and heart, and onto the page. Don’t think too much, just write. Don’t worry about tense, pronouns and flowery descriptions etc. Just let yourself go, let your characters speak to you, and enjoy writing their story 🙂 Once this is done, you can go back to the beginning and start revising and redrafting and making it shine.

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I learnt this the hard way, believe me. When I first started writing, it used to take me a long time to write  a book – we are talking years. Because I was being too precious about it, and wouldn’t move the story forward until I was absolutely sure that every single word, sentence and paragraph was polished and sparkling. I’d spend weeks on a single chapter because every time I sat down to write, perhaps having only a one hour slot between the day job, kids and household chores, I’d go back and look at what I’d written last time, and would revise it. I’d do this a line at a time, taking bits out and putting them back in because I wanted perfection first time around. By the end of the hour, I’d have maybe added only a few hundred extra words in word count to the end of the chapter. The next time I wrote, I might even go back to the beginning of the whole book, revising everything again. This was a slow and painful way to write, and at times I thought of giving up. Or else, I’d start writing something new, because I was so sick of the current project that I needed to feel some excitement again. I can’t remember who suggested the dirty draft to me; I think I may have overheard a conversation at an RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) event, but for me it was a game changer. Without learning that lesson I doubt The Lost Weekend (my debut novel, released under the title Crazy, Undercover, Love) would even be finished, let alone published. It’s very easy to end up with a pile of half completed manuscripts. But if you want to be a published author you need to finish one and get into a habit of finishing them!

So why not try it, and let me know how you get on? I’d love to hear from fellow writers 🙂 Good luck!

Until next time, happy reading & writing,

Love Nikki x