We are all feeling the repercussions of isolation, social distancing and lack of ‘normal’. It has affected everyone in a multitude of ways. For writers, who are normally ‘isolated’ in their writing life, there has been a change in atmosphere, inspiration, alone time and creativity. (Or lack thereof).
Whatever your normal routine, be it the impact of family at home, remote working arrangements or lack of access to resources, we can adjust.
Here are a few tips to try (or not):
One of the best options I have found is a virtual writing time. A group of us ‘meet’ on Sunday’s for a couple of hours. And although for the most part, it is a silent meeting, knowing we are connected helps with motivation and makes us accountable. We share what we will be writing at the beginning of the meeting and then summarize what we achieved at the end.
Outside time – this is vitally important to refresh the mind and body. It can be a walk, a bicycle ride and a hike. Whatever, works best for you within the confines of the social distancing parameters.
Writing space changes. It sounds odd but even a reorganization, a new arrangement of objects, a vase of flowers – can make all the difference. Maybe write in a different area of the house.
Reserve writing time. Make a commitment to write for a certain amount of time each day. As we all have favourite times of day to be creative – this can be before everyone gets up, when they are all asleep or maybe a time when you can be alone in the house. Don’t add to your stress by putting a word count on this time. It can be to write, of course, but also to plot, edit, note down new story ideas or even read some research.
Enter a contest. This idea will either spur you on or not. To create something new can be a good way to engage your Muse. Even if you decide not to submit your work, it is a great way to spark your creativity.
Writing prompts are also a great way to refresh the writing brain. There are a lot of sites and books available on the internet. Try a few, whether they are images, word collections or story starters. You never know where they might take you. Again my local writing group has prompts every Saturday, if you want to try. Link: https://www.wfscsherwoodpark.com/our-blog
What have you found to help your writing during COVID19?
It took some time to decide whether I would participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I have participated ten times in all and each time have created novel or novella length manuscripts. Most have been revised and edited over the following year or so to become published books. Some quicker than others it must be said. My very first NaNo in 2009 resulted in a work not published until last September! Yep 9 years. This was due to it being my first full length manuscript, my novice writing and self doubt that it was worthy of publishing. I revised and edited almost every year until I took the plunge, finally satisfied it was finalized.
However, in regard to this year’s NaNo, my first stumbling block was the two draft novels I have pending, which are previous year’s NaNoWriMo manuscripts. Again I know they need revisions and editing prior to submission to a publisher. My struggle was should I work on these manuscripts rather than create another one?
Secondly, I have several events to attend during November, which will take me away from the vital writing time needed for NaNo. As we all know every minute counts during November. Will I have enough time to succeed?
Thirdly, although I browsed the multitude of saved short stories in my laptop folders, I was not convinced any of them were novel length material. Or maybe it was my Muse not being excited enough about them – who knows? So I pondered what ‘new’ story I could write. Nothing I thought of seemed the elusive ‘it’ until just as I was drifting off to sleep an idea burst into my mind. It gave me a rough timeline, one character and the inkling of a plot. Knowing that relying on memory is a writer’s mistake when ideas pop up, I got up and wrote it all down. Subsequently, I have managed to decide on my two main characters, their location, some backstory and a timeline.
So I am as ready as I can be for 1st November. If you would like to connect on the NaNoWriMo site I’m MandyB.
Traditionally, it energizes me, but not because it’s easy. Transcribing from images and feelings to the right words takes blood and sweat, no matter how well I know my story.
I’ve worked under schedules that have exhausted me, though.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Kryptonite weakens Superman, brings him to his knees, makes him unable to go on. For me, that has always been my work hours, which have not only been odd, keeping me out of writing groups and events, but also long. Determined to find a way to improve my writing skills and become part of a writing community, I connected with writing instructors and industry experts through international online courses since 2006. It was a community I could interact with by leaving messages in the middle of the night when no sane local person was awake. It has taken superhuman effort to write my first novel during many upheavals in my life and three jobs at a time, but I was determined to do it.
The second Kryptonite would be my fiction writing speed, which is much slower than my non-fiction speed. Taking part in NaNoWriMo means committing several hours a day to make the 1,667-word daily quota, plus writing about 12 hours on Sunday. I ultimately “won” NaNoWriMo in 2014 with over 50,000 words in 30 days while working six days a week.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I’ve looked into why some authors do it. Sometimes it’s because what they write conflicts with their job or image. Others simply want a name that sounds good and is more likely to sell than their real name. Still others want to cover their gender to prevent publisher or reader bias.
Using my real name just makes sense to me, even if it doesn’t have the eloquence and appeal of a best-selling author name. Or I could be Klára Dvořák.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
My first author connections were international, mostly from the US and UK. As a single mom, I was working through all the local author meetings and event times. I couldn’t be anywhere in person unless it was in the wee hours of the night. Thanks to the Internet, I had an extensive online community before I ever became involved locally. Even now, I miss all weeknight meetings, and I’m lucky if I can make a Saturday event. Fortunately, I know a small number of local authors (Edmonton, Sherwood Park, St. Albert, Morinville) with whom I meet in person several times a year. I wish I could meet with the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County (WFSC) a lot more often.
More recently, my daughter, Leslie Hodgins, has published her first book, Rebel Destiny. It has been wonderful talking “shop” with her.
Author friends and instructors have helped with feedback on my writing, with knowledge of publishing, graphics, promotion, and events. But mostly, it just feels good to be in the company of other writers and be able to talk about writing or read their work. Special mentions go to Mandy Eve-Barnett and Linda J. Pedley.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Right now, I have a published novel that could stand alone, although I have started writing a companion novel/sequel to expand on some of the situations mentioned in the first book.
The two other books in progress are stand-alones.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
The absolute best money I ever spent was on writing courses in 2006 to 2012, which gave me access to professional critiques, editing, and communication with instructors who had worked as acquisition editors in publishing houses, instructed Fine Arts programs at universities, wrote for well-known magazines or publishers, and/or traditionally published their own books. These courses and individuals helped me hone my craft. After that, the best money I spent was to Dream Write Publishing.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was very young and said something stupid that couldn’t be taken back with an apology.
Later, in school, I couldn’t impress anyone with my writing or verbal presentations—neither teachers nor students. A few teachers gave me credit for my mechanics, though, especially in writing dialogue.
Only once ever, in the final year of high school when I answered a child development/perspective question during a discussion period, did the class, much to my amazement, clap. (I was a nobody in school, so that was kind of a big deal.) I guess that’s the one time I can actually say I had insight beyond my years and an ability to get into the developing brains of children and youth, and actually advocate for them. That ability later became the foundation to my job, my parenting, and my writing, but the credit for it goes to my mother.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I can’t even begin to say.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Interesting question. I never thought about it and can’t answer this question even after months of pondering it.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Three fiction books and a parenting/educator handbook.
What does literary success look like to you?
VJ Gage (January 2018) described it like this: “It would be that many thousands of people have read and enjoyed my books. I would want them to say they could not put my books down and that my plots are unique and clever, and that I have a great imagination. Then I would like to make lots of money.”
Writing a book is a heck of a lot of work, and prepping it for publication is a heck of a lot of work on top of that. With that in mind, it would be nice if my book had some traction, both in terms of readership, literary credibility, and sales. That’s just the reality of life. Anyone can write for the joy of it, but to make a book and keep making them needs some form of return.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on what kind of book it is. For my first book, the events, relationships, interviews, and readings from my whole life, distilled, were my research. When I needed more, there was the Internet. I researched the psychology of grief in real life as well as through literature.
For my fantasy and supernatural books, the process was different, since the decision to write each was sudden. But I did research locations, clothing, tools, mineshafts, etc.
Research can be done at different stages: before writing, at the beginning of writing when you come across something you need to know, and toward the end to verify or adjust information.
With non-fiction, though, the brunt of the research and organization comes up front.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
When I do get to write, it’s a marathon. I’ll write until it’s done (an article or short story), or until I drop. In the past, I had written for 17-20 hours a day for many days straight when writing novels. Unfortunately, this kind of time was rare and usually took long weekends and holidays.
I often can’t go near a novel (first draft or revision) unless I’m guaranteed an uninterrupted three to four hours at a stretch.
I do not get distracted by social media or anything else during these times. It’s very intense focus.
How do you select the names of your characters?
*Evil grin* I steal and collect names. I’ve had some sort of protagonist for as long as I can remember. He—yes, always he, though not the same one over my lifespan—often came with a family and a community of friends. These people needed names, so I was always writing down and saving names I liked. Nowadays, I search baby name lists as well.
It’s a little more difficult with last names. I have to be more careful.
What was your hardest scene to write?
One of the oldest yet hardest scenes to write was the first climax in my published novel. I grappled with it for over five years. It has been rewritten more times than any other scene in the book.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I’ve always written a form of reality fiction or literary fiction. My novel took on a psychological theme because I guess that’s what I know best.
As a child, I watched sci-fi, but I wrote adventures and was particularly interested in outdoor survival stories—for which I had no hands-on experience, and Internet research was still a good twenty years away. The nifty thing about living life is that you gain experience whether you want to or not. One day, I was finally in a position to write a book, but it was about a different kind of survival—more internal, more cerebral.
I wrote a fantasy adventure for NaNoWriMo 2014 because I could make that form of writing go much faster.
Each genre and book is so different that it’s hard to mix anything up because what belongs in one story doesn’t belong in another.
Random ideas for any story can be written down at any time. However, in order to complete a book properly and give it the best continuity of style, foreshadow, and character, it’s best for me to immerse myself in one book during the processes of revision and preparation for publication.
How long have you been writing?
Since before I could form letters. Then, during my childhood and right through university. I took a hiatus after marriage and while the kids were small. Writing was difficult to justify because I couldn’t produce anything worthwhile. I was alone with my passion until the age of the Internet, when I could seek help from people outside of my immediate geographical location. In 2006, online writing courses made it possible for me to connect with writing experts who taught me how to write novels (and articles) properly. Over the next decade, I began to find books and articles with valuable information for the professional writer. I educated myself as much as I could, conferred with my writing mentors, and practiced, practiced, practiced.
What inspires you?
Anything in life, real or fictional, can be an inspiration or become a part of a story. Authors see potential stories and character traits everywhere.
How do you find or make time to write?
There has only ever been one way, and it is not healthy: sleep less.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I began working on Beyond the Music (companion/sequel to Beyond the Precipice), Druyan (fantasy adventure), Ironclad (supernatural adventure), and a parenting/educator handbook. However, they are on hold indefinitely.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I would have to finish the above projects first, unless I got an incredibly hot new idea that pretty much wrote itself.
Self-help books are written with the intention of instructing its readers on solving personal problems. The books take their name from Self-Help, an 1859 best-seller by Samuel Smiles. However, they are also know and classified under self-improvement, the term being a modernized version of self-help. Self-help books moved from a niche position to being a postmodern cultural phenomenon in the late twentieth century.
The first self-help writings are most probably from the Ancient Egyptian “Codes” of conduct, the classical Roman, Cicero’s On Friendship and On Duties as well as the Florentine Giovanni della Casa’s book of manners published in 1558.
However, in the last half-century or so the humble self-help book has jumped to cultural prominence, in fact it could be said self-help books have become an addiction in and of themselves. These books cover such subjects as relationships, personal improvement, whether physical or emotional, spiritual enlightenment, and many more.
Have you used self-help book?
Have you written one?
A friend of mine, Kathie Sutherland has a blog that covers personal and spiritual growth and self-expression. Why not take a look?