Tag Archives: market

How to chip away at the block

I know, it’s been ages. My apologies. You see, I’ve actually started writing. Yay! hang out the bunting, do a happy dance and eat cake (not necessarily in that order). The thing is, my writer’s block had taken such a hold that even when I started writing, I thought it may be another false start. I didn’t want to blog about it for fear of jinxing it.

The problem was I had two ideas and kept swinging from one to the other. I’d have a crisis of confidence about whether one was a good, marketable idea and then,  like a sailing boat adrift, bang! An ill wind would catch the mainsail and go swinging across my boat, often knocking me overboard in the process, before I got going on the other idea.

Somewhere in all this, I figured out that both were good ideas, it was more a matter of which to write first? I plumped for the one with the more developed plot. It was also more time sensitive because I could peg it on the anniversary of the death of suffragette Emily Wilding Davison who threw herself under the king’s horse at the 1913 Derby.

However, with all my prevaricating, I have missed that deadline by a mile. I should have been submitting it to agents last year. But on a positive note, the suffragette movement carried on well after that so I reckon it’s still marketable. Plus, I think the book will appeal to teenage girls because it’s about all kinds of issues affecting them. The pressures that they come under to be academic, pretty, sexy, skinny and, above all, to fit in, when hormones are raging and your mind is on boys and the whole world should be opening up for you but actually, the expectations are overwhelming and in some cases crippling.

My  ‘lift pitch’ – in case I meet an agent in a lift and I have 10 seconds to pitch it – is: Modern-day girl meets a suffragette. A contemporary story with an historical twist.

Wordism: It’s important you can summarise your book in a couple of sentences. It means it has a strong concept and publishers are looking for ‘high concept’ books.

Anyway, while I’m hoping that I can sell my book, the most important thing is I’m back writing and seven chapters in.

So, advice on how to break writer’s block? Actually, there wasn’t a big breakthrough moment, the muse didn’t show up one day and suddenly I could write. No, I just kept chipping away at it. I got to the point of nearly giving up, which I found frightening. Writing is such a big part of my identity that it felt like giving up on myself. And then what became important was just writing. Not selling it, not the vagaries of the market, just the act of writing. A little bit here, a little bit there until you’re writing everyday, which develops into a compulsion to write rather than procrastinate, at which point, you start living your characters, inhabiting their world, thinking about it all the time.

Wordism: Don’t give up, keep going. Just a few words is better than nothing. Write a journal if the book isn’t coming. Don’t judge what you write. Just write. Observations, what you’re feeling… Write in a stream of consciousness. Read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – it’s a bit spiritual, which isn’t for everyone, but it’s also practical.

I explored my main character by letting her vent what was on her mind without worrying about story or plot. Her character developed around her voice, a plot emerged from her character. And also from thinking about the suffragette and what part she would play. I have to be careful that Emily plays at least an equal part to the romance in the novel. Feminists may not approve of what I do with the romance but then they’re not my audience. Teenage girls are my readers. And if I can get one teenage girl to google ‘suffragette’ or ‘Emily Wilding Davison’, I’ll be happy with that.

Something to try: If you have a character in mind, allow them to vent on the page. Write whatever’s on their mind in the first person. If you’re not working on a project right now but want to get the creative juices flowing, find a picture of a person in a magazine, a newspaper or in a work of art (as Tracy Chevalier did in Girl with a Pearl Earring) and imagine what they are thinking. What is their world like? Then give them a voice. Who knows where it will lead.

Waltzing with words

It occurred to me, while watching Pamela dance her Viennese Waltz on Strictly last night, that writing is a lot like dancing. I used to do ballroom and Latin as a kid and met my husband salsa dancing and more recently got into lindyhop. When you’re dancing, especially with a partner, and you’re really in the moment and in harmony with the music and reading each other’s moves, there’s a wonderful sense of flow and of being at one with the world. I get that same feeling when I’m writing, when I’m inside my story and my characters. There comes a point when the story writes itself. It’s that same exhilaration. It’s spiritual in a way.

But it can be painful starting a new book. I’m having a real problem this time as I’ve been ‘blocked’ for the past year. So on top of the usual force of will needed to get my shoulder to the wheel of a new project and heave it into motion, there’s doubt and fear to contend with. Will I ever get going again? Maybe I’m not really a writer, after all? (Yes, we all think that.) What if I write another book I can’t sell because ‘the market’s difficult’? And as soon as I start thinking about what the market wants, it blocks me. Yet it has to be considered if I want to get published.

Wordism: You have to find a happy halfway house between writing for yourself and for the market. For me, writing for myself comes first, but if you want to be published, you have to have the market in the back of your mind.

I’m trying not to think of myself as ‘blocked’ but ‘recovering’ after my last book The Smuggler’s Daughter didn’t get off the ground. I’ve spent eight years honing my craft. I’ve done an MA in Creative writing which helped me understand plot and structure and write a cracking good read in Smugglers. I had nine agents wanting to read more and three or four wanting to represent me. It was exciting, it was overwhelming, it was all about to happen…

And then it didn’t. ‘Kids aren’t interested in historical fiction at the moment’, was the feedback from the ten publishers it went out to. ‘The market’s difficult’. ‘Not right for our list’. A couple of editors loved it but couldn’t get their sales teams on board. Crash. I fell back to earth. But my book hadn’t left it.

So I have been recovering, nursing my bruised ego, building up my reserves for the next book.

Wordism: The difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is perseverance.

I have been reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (well worth a read), which suggests doing ‘morning pages’ – falling out of bed and, before doing anything else, writing three pages of whatever is on your mind. This is meant to help in bypassing the inner critic and also help you explore who you are and what’s important to you because that will feed into your ‘voice’ as a writer. She also recommends taking yourself off on an ‘artist’s date’ to fill the creative well. So I’ve been doing that too. I am not blocked, I am filling the well. It is important to trick the mind by turning what feels like a negative into a positive.

I am also focusing on that feeling when I’m in the flow, when everything else falls away and the writing seems to come from some force outside of yourself and flows through you on to the page. When writing is like dancing. Like Pamela’s waltz and Kara’s tango.

At the moment, I have a touch of the Widdecombes. It will pass. I will waltz with words again.