5 things to do when the words won’t come

5 things to do when the words won't come

It’s been one of those weeks when the writing is slow, and the brain fog thick. I have articles to complete for a client and the first draft of my novel to get on with. I know the words are somewhere in there but they’re reluctant to make themselves known.

Is this writer’s block? Surely not. I don’t believe in writer’s block, not really, but my brain has certainly been resistant to getting much writing done this week.

So when the words won’t come, here are 5 things I do to kick through that brick wall.

Check that I’m getting enough sleep

When I was in my twenties, I could cope with 3 or 4 hours sleep on a regular basis. Nowadays, I desperately need at least 7 hours, preferably 8, every night.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I can cope for maybe a couple of days, but after that the brain fog drifts in and everything seems more difficult to do.

Is brain-fog from a lack of sleep getting in the way of your writing? If so, make a promise to yourself that you’ll get at least 7 hours every night. You may have to re-organise your life a little, but try it for a week and see how much better you feel.

Drink water

When I need a boost of energy, I could reach for a coffee or a sweet snack, but I don’t. In fact, I tend to avoid those things as much as I can, and drink plenty of water instead.

I know, water is boring. It doesn’t taste of anything. It’s not frothy or fruity, or mildly interesting. But it’s good for you. Fact.

When your body is dehydrated, one of the first things to be affected is your brain. It just doesn’t work as well.

So whenever I’m having problems getting any kind of writing done, the first thing I do is have a big glass of water, and then another.

Change the record

Generally, I like to write in silence but when I need inspiration, I use binaural beats music. It’s the kind of soundtrack you might usually associate with meditation. I don’t know the exact science behind it, but it always helps me to get writing again.

If that isn’t for you, then you might prefer:

Get my message straight

What am I trying to say with my writing? If this is a non fiction article, what are the main points I need to include? If I’m working on a novel, what happens in this chapter and why?

I open a separate Word document, or grab a pad and a pencil, and plan out what I want to get across.

Take a break

If none of the above work, I step away from the keyboard and do something else for a little while. It might be as short a break as it takes to brew a cup of tea, 10 minutes to unload the washing machine and put on a new laundry wash, or 20 minutes to walk the dog.

When I return to my keyboard, my brain has usually come up with a solution or at the very least  refreshed itself enough to begin to get the words down again.

*

What about you? What do you do when the words stay away?

P.S. It worked and I’m now in my writerly muse’s good books again – articles written and a couple of chapters too.

My writerly plan for 2020

writerly plan for 2020

So here we are again at the start of a shiny-new year. The Christmas decorations are packed away in the attic, the chocolates have all been eaten, and I don’t want to see another mince pie for at least 11 months (okay, maybe 10).

Today is my first full day back at work and I’ve spent it doing a lot of looking back, looking forward, and generally re-assessing my writing goals for 2020 and beyond.

Haven Chronicles Book 2

With Haven Wakes published and out in the big, wide world, my biggest goal in 2020 is to complete the next book in the series and hand it over to my publisher, Burning Chair.

Book 2 has a working title of ‘Haven Journeys’ which might give a slight hint as to what Steve Haven does next.

I used last November’s NaNoWriMo to kickstart writing that novel and while I didn’t complete the full 50,000 words needed for the month’s challenge, I still wrote a respectable chunk which allowed me to see whether the initial premise for this book actually worked. The answer to that was, “yes, partly”.

So with a re-jigged plan, a new geographical destination, and an altered ending, it’s all go on the second book in the series. Wish me luck.

Haven Chronicles Book 3

2019 was a massive learning curve for me when it came to finding out about the publishing process and my role in readying a novel for publication.

So with that knowledge in mind, once I’ve handed the first draft of the second novel over to my publisher, I’ll begin writing book number 3 knowing full well that I’ll be juggling that task with editing book number 2.

Fingers crossed my writing muse and editing elf will work well side-by-side.

More short stories

I enjoyed writing my short story ‘The Hidden Knowing’ (only available to subscribers to my newsletter) so much last year that I’ve decided to work on more in 2020.

I may make them available as subscriber freebies, but the end goal is to combine them into a collection which, fingers crossed, Burning Chair will agree to publish.

*

So that’s my year mapped out then. What are your writing plans for 2020?

Looking back over 2019

looking back over 2019

So the year is almost at an end. In fact, the whole decade is almost at an end. Very soon it’ll be ‘bye bye 2019, you little angel of a year’, and hello to something completely new and exciting.

It’s time to look back over the last twelve months and all the goodies 2019 has brought with it.

January, February and March

So I began the year with fingers firmly and hopefully crossed. Having submitted my novel to Burning Chair Publishing right before Christmas, this was the last chance for Haven Wakes. If they said no, I would shelve my precious book and begin something completely new.

January was a month of waiting to hear whether Burning Chair liked my novel, and when I finally thought it would be a ‘no’ or I wouldn’t hear back, I got the email I’d been hoping for – a request for the entire manuscript.

February was another month of twiddling the digits and waiting. Would Burning Chair be as keen on the entire manuscript as they had been about the first few chapters?

At the beginning of March, I received an email from Burning Chair asking to speak to me on the phone. Eek! Their call coincided with their visit to the London Book Fair and they finally gave me the news I’d been waiting for. They wanted to publish Haven Wakes!

Over that month a number of things happened:

  • Burning Chair gave me their thoughts on my novel and how it could be improved and edited.
  • They introduced me to two of their other authors, Georgia and Neil.
  • I received my publishing contract.

My publishing journey had begun.

April, May and June

April was a whirlwind of edits, setting up my website and altering my social media presence to fit. I already had a writer Facebook and Twitter account, but I set up an Instagram account too.

My daughter designed a wonderful piece of artwork for the home page of my website and, with my copywriter hat on, I began working on the wordage for each page of my website.

By the end of April, my website was live.

May and June were all about the edits, by both me and Burning Chair, and beginning the process of finding a book cover design for Haven Wakes.

welcome to my world
The books that made me the writer I am today

Inspiration: World Builders
Progress, a chat with my muse, and much much walking the dog

July, August and September

In July, I added my short story, The Hidden Knowing, as a freebie for subscribers to my newsletter, and continued with the edits.

The book cover design for Haven Wakes was revealed in the middle of August, courtesy of Stuart Bache and Books Covered.

With the final edits finished, the countdown began to publication day.

The Hidden Knowing - a short story set in the world of my debut novel, Haven Wakes. Free to all subscribers to my mailing list.
5 reasons I write fantasy
Haven Wakes Cover Reveal
my bumpy road to publication: a cautionary tale
once upon an edit
interview with author Suzanna Williams
inspiration: Roald Dahl day 2019
7 facts about how I write
the inspiration behind Haven Wakes
Haven Wakes is almost here

October, November and December

Haven Wakes was published on 1st October in paperback and e-book formats. That sounds all very factual but for me, it was a dream come true. That’s a cliched phrase, I know, but that was how it felt. After years of trying to get my fiction writing out there in the big, wide world, we had arrived.

October was the proverbial whirlwind of blog posts, promotion and congratulations. By the end of the month, the penny had finally dropped – I was a proper, official, published author and I had a second novel to write.

November saw me use the monthly writing marathon of NaNoWriMo to begin the first draft of the next novel in the Haven Chronicles series and cement my standing as an author by giving readings from my novel at the Chester Literature Festival.

In December, I received an early Christmas present as Haven Wakes became a No. 1 Bestseller on Amazon.

This time last year, I had no idea what 2019 would hold for me or where it would take me. Who knew what magic would reveal itself?

Haven does something else
kickstarting book two of the Haven Chronicles
where you can find me in November
Chester literature festival
NaNoWriMo - How I did in November
9 books to buy

What next?

Book Two of the Haven Chronicles is my 2020 focus.

Steve is back with Hartley, Blessing and the darkling, but with a whole new cast of villains and supporters. He thought his life had already changed beyond recognition, but the journey has hardly started.

I already have it plotted and I’m a few chapters in. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see it published next year?

NaNoWriMo – How I did in November

nanowrimo how I did in November

Last month, I tried my hand at the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month in an attempt to kickstart Novel Two of the Haven Chronicles.

I got off to a good start, but then real life got in the way, in the form of:

My final word count ended up at just over 16,000 words. It’s not 50k but it is a constructive chunk of work (and several chapters into my novel).

It also forced me to look at the plot-line for Book Two and decide whether it really worked. That’s the thing with writing – or at least, it is for me – until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you don’t know if what you’ve written is the right way to go.

This month is all about finishing a commissioned murder mystery play for a theatre group up in Scotland and preparing for Christmas. I’ll return to Novel Two, with an altered plot-line, once Christmas Day is over.

Chester Literature Festival

Chester Literature Festival

So, wow, that was quite a month.

In case you hadn’t already worked out from my last blog post and many many social media posts over the last few weeks, this month I took part in two author slots at the Storyhouse Theatre for the Chester Literature Festival.

This was my first foray into appearing in front of an audience (a) as an author and (b) to give a reading from my novel. I’ve performed on stage before, but this was a completely different experience. I wasn’t hiding behind a role or stage make-up. I was standing up there and saying, ‘this is me and this is what I write’.

Elevenses

The first reading was the Elevenses slot on a Sunday morning in the Storyhouse Kitchen, which is a big open seating area in the theatre. I knew there would be people there just for the bar and food, and other people passing through to buy tickets, but I hoped that even if nobody turned up specifically to see me, some of them would take the time to listen.

That’s me, giving my first ever author reading.

As it was, I ended up with an audience of children who sat and quietly listened as I read a couple of chapters from ‘Haven Wakes’.

And at the end, I got applause, not just from the children but from lots of the adults who were sat around in the Kitchen too.

Amongst those adults was fellow writer and long-time writerly buddy Suzanna Williams. Great to meet up with you, Suz.

Your Voices: Celebrating Local Writers

My second reading took place the following Sunday night in the Garrett Theatre at the Storyhouse as part of the ‘Your Voices’ event.

I was just one of five writers who gave readings that evening:

  • poet Trevor MacCormack, reading from his collection of poems, ‘Looking Back’
  • novelist Swapna Das, reading from her collection of short stories, ‘A String of Pearls’ and her novel, ‘The Forgotten People’
  • Historical and Cli-Fi (climate fiction) novelist Kell Cowley reading from her two novels, ‘The Vagabond Stage’ and ‘Shrinking Sinking Land’
  • and performance poet, Ruthie Adamson aka Wonky Wordsmith, performing her poetry. Ruthie’s poetry appears in three anthologies – ‘The Quality of Mersey’, ‘Smoke’ and ‘Hidden Voice Publishing Anthology Volume 1’
Just 4 of the 5 – this was taken before Trevor arrived.

One of the best parts of the evening, beside giving my reading, was getting to meet up with fellow storytellers and swap experiences.

A big thank you to Sam and Emily for organising and co-ordinating the Festival, and for your help and kind words at my two slots.

I’d love to take part in next year’s Chester Literature Festival (by which time, I should have a second novel published) so as they say ‘watch this space’.

Our books!
Trevor’s collection of poetry, Looking Back

Events in November

Where you can find me in November

This month, I’ll be taking part in the Chester Literature Festival to give readings from my debut novel, Haven Wakes.


On Sunday, 17th November, you can catch me at the Storyhouse in Chester giving a 20 minute reading as part of LitFest Elevenses. My slot begins at 11.00 am in front of the big screen in the Kitchen.

This event is completely free to attend so why not come along and grab yourself a coffee while you listen to a couple of chapters from my novel.


On Sunday, 24th November, starting at 8.00 pm in the Garret Theatre in the Storyhouse, I’ll be taking part in Your Voices: Celebrating Local Writers.

Tickets for this event cost £3.00 and can be purchased through the link above.

I’ll have copies of Haven Wakes with me at this second event if you’d like to buy a copy at £8.99. Unfortunately, I won’t have the resources to take card payment, so it’ll be good old cash only.


I’ll report back later on how my Festival appearances went. Wish me luck.

Kick starting Book Two of The Haven Chronicles

kickstarting book two of the haven chronicles

NaNoWriMo (or to the uninitiated ‘National Novel Writing Month’) kicks off at the beginning of November. So what’s it all about?

Well, the aim is to write write write for the entire month, working towards a total word count of 50,000. I’ve never yet made it all the way to 50k words (I think my maximum output has been around 25,000) but knowing I’m writing alongside other NaNoWriMo writers really spurs me on.

This year, I’ll be using NaNoWriMo as a way to kick start the first draft of the second novel in the Haven Chronicles series.

October is all about getting my chapter plan complete so I’m ready to start writing on 1st November.

If you fancy having a go at NaNoWriMo yourself, here are my top tips to survive the month:

1. Plan your book

I don’t necessarily mean have a complete chapter plan to hand before you dive in, but having a brief sketch of the main points of your novel – main character, antagonist, setting, beginning and end – can really help.

2. Decide when you will write

If you already have a regular writing slot, then brilliant, carry on with that. If you don’t write regularly though, it might be best to put some thought into when you will write during the month of November. What’s realistic? Remember, you still have to eat, sleep, go to work, wash, walk the dog, or whatever else your life entails.

3. Decide where you will write

Do you have a place that you always use for writing or does it tend to shift? Will you have access to a quiet corner to write each day in November? Do you need quiet? Maybe headphones will help, or perhaps you like to write to a level of noise and hubbub. Will you type, write by hand or dictate? You might want to set up a writing station for the month, even if it’s a mobile writing station to work around the rest of the household.

4. Warn your family and friends

Let them know how important the month is to you and that you may not be as readily available as normal. It might be that during your time slot, you don’t answer your phone or check social media and emails. If people know in advance that you’re not to be disturbed during a particular time slot in the day or evening, then things will probably run much more smoothly.

5. Gag your internal editor

I know, I know, sometimes it’s just too tempting to check back over your writing and give it a little tweak. Don’t. That isn’t what NaNoWriMo is about. Write, write and write some more. Keep your editorial demon happy with the thought that once the month is over, there’ll be a whole load of material to edit.

6. Make some NaNoWriMo buddies

Just because you’re head down writing like a maniac this month doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone. Chat with the members of your Home Region (for me, that’s Wales), connect with your real-life buddies who are also taking part in NaNoWriMo, or have your say in the online forums. There are virtual write-ins and word sprints to take part in too.

7. Don’t let the word count distract you

Don’t get hung up on continually entering your word count into the NaNoWriMo website and checking how everyone else is doing. Of course, all NaNoWrimers know what the minimum word count is to reach the magical 50k (1,667 per day). Use that as a rough guide but when you’re sat at your writing station during your writing slot, just write.

Haven does something else

haven does something else

It’s been one week since Haven Wakes was published by Burning Chair, and I’ve been delighted with the response so far – so many kind words, reviews, and shout-outs on social media.

So what now? Well, I suppose I’d better write the next book in the series.

Book two in the Haven Chronicles has the working title of ‘Haven Journeys’ but I don’t think that’ll be the final title. It does, however, give a hint of what Steve will be doing.

Haven Wakes introduced you to:

  • our main boy, 12 year old Steve Haven
  • his normal life
  • his world
  • a new, hidden, magical world
  • his new, magical friends

The second book in the series will continue Steve’s adventures. I can’t tell you too much, but the second book may include:

  • Steve’s magical friends mentioned above
  • the powers that be in the magical world
  • a jaunt off abroad (with less jaunt and more danger)
  • more background to the world of magic
  • a new dilemma for Steve

What will I be researching to help me write Book 2? Many, many things but I can tell you that I’ll be looking into how a desert city might look in the future.

My target is to finalise my chapter plan by the end of October at the latest and have the first draft finished early 2020. Wish me luck.

Haven Wakes is almost here

Haven Wakes is almost here

It’s Monday morning – the last day before my debut novel Haven Wakes is published – and I’m preparing for the big launch tomorrow.

To say, I’m excited has to be the understatement of my life, but I’m also incredibly grateful for this chance to share my stories.

I’m grateful to my publishers, Burning Chair for setting me off on this brilliant, new career path.

I’m grateful to my family for never giving up on my dream, even when I sometimes doubted it.

I’m grateful to all the beta and ARC readers, bloggers and reviewers who have helped me to hone and promote my novel.

I’m grateful to the friends who have been my cheerleaders over the last few months.

And I’m grateful to every reader who joins Steve on his journey into magic.

I’ve always been a writer, but tomorrow I become a published author. I still get a bit giddy when I think of that (I really should drink less coffee at the moment) and I haven’t stopped smiling for days.

Tuesday is a brand new start for me, and Haven Wakes, and all of the novels I have lined up to write.

Bring it on.

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

If you ask what inspired me to write Haven Wakes, I’d have to say…

Hang on, let me think for a moment. Hm. This could take a while.

Well, I suppose the first thing was:

Magic

Ever since I read my first fairytale, I’ve been fascinated by magic – magic witches, magic beasties, magic wands and books – and just how a world rich in magic would operate.

In Haven Wakes, magic is hidden from the non magical world, kept in protected areas where magic-users can live with a level of freedom and acceptance. It’s part of their DNA but it comes at a cost.

So that’s the first – magic. What else inspired me?

Colourful folk

My childhood was spent ricocheting between Leeds, where my mum came from, the homes of various family members in Scotland (my father’s birth-country), and York where we lived.

In Leeds, I would meet the people of my mother’s past. There was the little old lady who lived in one room with her grown-up son and a gathering of cats, having filled the rest of her large terrace house with junk shop finds.

There were the elderly couple whose narrow home squeezed into a gap in a terrace of houses. She was tall with rosy cheeks, big arms and a warm, overflowing sense of humour.  He was small, quiet, and a man of the earth, always happiest in his garden.

The Scots were just as colourful. There was the auntie who would send me home after each visit with a gift of dolls or jewellery,  the uncle who would catch crabs in the harbour to the music of his portable radio, and the other auntie who would tell me tales of Nessy the monster and how to call her.

All of them were magical to me.

The travelling salesman and the dark fairy

I wrote a story called The Crystal Prince many years ago and where I might have left the story gathering dust on a shelf, two characters from that tale always called to me to re-write them.

One was a travelling salesman called Hartley Keg. He’s the kind of person who makes you smile, even when you don’t want to, who always has the right gadget to hand for any dilemma, and who carries a force of personality that speaks of authority and trust.

The other was a dark assassin, dangerous and intent on her mission. Even though she was a villain in the original story, she was always one of my favourite characters. I pulled her out of my writerly filing system, re-writing her for Haven Wakes as a dark fairy reluctantly on the side of our hero.

What will the future bring?

I live in a house of technology-fiends with gadgets galore, and that’s before you even think of computers.

My teens are the generation that has grown up with computers and mobile phones and VR just there. Whereas it was something new, at some point, to me and their Dad, they just accept all of that tech as a normal part of life.

During my lifetime, there have been so many technological changes in a relatively short period of time. Computers have gone from room-sized, to possible to fit on a desk, to small enough to sit in your palm. Phones used to be big, clunky, resin monstrosities. Nowadays everyone, including me, seems lost without their hand-held, fit it in a pocket, mobile phone.

Cars talk to us and soon self-driving cars may be the norm.

My inspiration for the futuristic world of Haven Wakes came from the thought of where these technological advances will take us. Robots? Fabrics that change colour at the flick of a switch or the brush of a hand? 3D printed food outlets? You’ll find all of that in my book.

*

So there you have it, all the things that inspired Haven Wakes. I’m sure there are others too, but these are the main ones.

Magic

Colourful folk

Hartley and the darkling

Thoughts of future tech

And now Haven Wakes will serve as inspiration itself for book two in the series. But that’s another story, quite literally.