Hello there. Thank you so much for coming to my author page. (Yep, I have an author page now!) I’m currently writing my debut novel, ‘Up to the Stars’ (working title). If you love the work of Rachel Joyce, Mike Gayle, Kit de Wall, Beth O’Leary and Lia Louis, then I’m writing my book for you.
What else might you like to know? I’m a Yorkshire lass in Manchester. I married my childhood sweetheart. I regularly engage in tsundoku – apparently it’s a Japanese word which means buying lots of books that you’ll never get round to reading. I also sing.
Recently I’ve been writing a list of ten things every day that I’m grateful for (well, almost every day). Some of those things are; my job at an amazing charity, also being a freelancer, my crew, creatives and activists, dancing around my kitchen, getting up really early, sunrises, being silly every day, learning new stuff, everyone who makes The Crown, indie bookshops, letters (writing and receiving), scented candles, Snapchat filters (even though I don’t know how to actually use Snapchat).
I first heard about NaNoWriMo years ago, before I had ever tried writing anything myself. I put it at the back of the filing cabinet in my mind and have since dreamt of one day challenging myself to write a 50,000 word first draft in one month.
NaNoWriMo 2018 has started and while I still don’t feel at all ready to tackle a novel, I’ve taken the plunge and signed up. This is my ‘practice novel’ and I am totally okay with it never seeing the light of day. Just proving to myself that I can actually write something full length is enough for me.
I’m in the great company of hundreds of thousands of other writers all over the world. (I’m JanelleWrites if you want to buddy up)
I’ll be sharing a thought a day about my first NaNo experience here. (Yep, the procrastination has started already)
GOOD LUCK EVERYONE! I’ll see you in December.
Day one – OMG that was hard. I’ve written 1,669 words. Could have sworn it was about 6,000. But…I have started!
Day two – Phewf! Big day today. Set myself an insane word count goal. Didn’t quite make it but I’m pretty chuffed. (Note to self: Must stop checking word count every two sentences)
Day three – I hit 10,000 words! I’ve never written anything this long in my life. Although now I’m freaking out that my story isn’t ‘big’ enough for a novel. Eek.
Day four – First real experience of ‘hitting the wall’. Feeling quite overwhelmed but still managed to put the anxiety to one side and produce 2k words. One day at a time…
Day five – I’ve always convinced myself that I can only writing early on a morning but after work today I managed a half hour writing ‘sprint’ with my NaNo buddy Sophie. An extra 700 words.
Day six – Another writing sprint with my buddy Sophie this morning was a great motivator. My story is starting to go down alleyways I never planned for but I’m quite enjoying that. Let’s hope they’re not dead ends.
Day seven – Wine the night before means words do not come forth
Day eight – I think…I’m actually enjoying this?
Day nine – When the story starts going somewhere that wasn’t in the plan but you quite like it. I wonder what happens next?
Day ten – The trouble with veering from the plan is you can get stuck. Help, I need a map. I’m lost!
Day eleven – When real life happens, it’s okay to take a break from your fictional life.
Day twelve – Soooo haaaaaaaaard
Day thirteen – I have definitely lost my ‘flow’. But I know that’s okay and normal. I think I need to go back to my plan…Hang in there peeps. We can do this!
Day fourteen – Thank you Jessica Brody for your book, Save the Cat Writes a Novel. It’s helping me see the wood for the trees.
Day fifteen – “Historically, week two is always a bit of a struggle for most folks” – This email from the Manchester MJ made me feel better. I’m just the same as all the other NaNo-ers.
Day sixteen – Thought I could sneak in some words before a big weekend of travelling and partying for a friend’s birthday. Other stuff got in the way.
Day seventeen/ day eighteen – A welcome break from my stuttering story
Day nineteen – This is the part of the marathon where I’m just coming through the wall. Every step is an effort but I’m still stepping nonetheless. 1,750 words this morning but the finish line still seems impossibly far away.
Day twenty – I’m fully pantsing now which is SOOO outside my comfort zone. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’ve just thought of a potential plot twist which I’m quite excited about. Fully expecting to hate the idea tomorrow. Watch this space…
Day twenty one – This reeeally is a slog now. (But deep down I am enjoying it, honest!) I’m finding dialogue seems to flow more easily. If in doubt I just let my characters talk to each other and see what happens.
My blog has lain a bit dormant recently but I’m pleased to say it’s not a reflection on my writing in general! It’s been a different time for me on my writing journey. I have been planning my first novel (which still sounds quite ridiculous to me!) Massively helped along by the Writers HQ Plotstormers course and the amazing grrrls from Write Like a Girl in Manchester.
I’ve also been making a concerted effort to send out some of my work which has been sitting around in folders.
A massive thank you to two of my favourite online literary journals Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed. I’m a big fan of both (do check them out!) and am proud to say they have both recently featured my writing. If you have a few minutes to spare do have a read about a woman going back to a special place to see if love still exists and my anxiety as a child when trying to understand stuff on the news.
Last year after returning home from my first Swanwick experience I wrote about the post-Swanwick blues. I was bracing myself for the same deflated feeling this year but actually I’m feeling something else. The post-Swanwick boost.
I did wonder whether attending again as a fully fledged delegate (after being privileged enough to receive a subsidised Topwrite place last year) could ever meet the magic of 2017. Would I feel as enthused, motivated and welcomed? Would it make me question whether I had ‘done enough’ since the Topwrite opportunity? The answers are yes, yes, yes and no.
Despite it being a completely draining week (anyone else need a holiday to recover?) it’s been an absolute blast. From reconnecting with my Topwrite family to performing a brand new song written by Swanwickers to winning a 10,000 word professional manuscript edit in the raffle, I can safely say it’s been worth it and then some.
Rather than feeling depressed that it’s over, I feel hugely inspired and ready to hit my notebooks immediately while the motivation is still at Swanwick levels.
Here are my top five takeaways from Swanwick 2018 (taken from an almost endless list).
Writing is not a solitary business
If Swanwick epitomises anything, it’s that writers are a community. Whilst yes, we do spend lots of time on our own hunched over laptops, I’ve never met a group of people who are more willing to support, share and big eachother up.
Thanks to Swanwick, I now have a group of writing friends scattered all over the country. I know I can call on them to share successes, critique my work and provide group hugs when those rejections come in.
We had some great breakthrough moments with all our writing, simply by sitting together, sharing our work and bribing each other with chocolate. Particular shout out to my script-writing friend Pearl who, despite several dramatic protests, wrote her first ever flash fiction piece at Swanwick which genuinely would not look out of place in a professional anthology. Just one of the many, many times I felt proud over the Swanwick week.
I CAN…write a song
Another thing I love about Swanwick is hearing so many people say ‘I can’. It’s so inspiring and makes me believe I can too.
I’ve always told myself that I’d love to write a song but ‘I can’t’ because I’m not really musical enough or I can’t play an instrument well enough or I don’t understand the art behind it.
Thanks to Paul Dodgson’s brilliant whistle stop tour of songwriting, I now know I can write a song and I’m looking forward to giving it a go!
Characters – We must want to spend time with them, but they don’t have to be likeable
The evening speakers this year were fantastic, with my particular highlights being AA. Dhand, best-selling writer of the only Asian crime fighter in popular fiction, Harry Virdee and Simon Nelson, the person in charge of all scripts at the BBC.
I came out of both these sessions buzzing with ideas and with a better understanding of the hard work involved in developing stories.
Simon Nelson’s point (above) about characters will stay with me. I need to view the world through my characters’ eyes and look for the chinks in their armour to do this. Not easy, but since Swanwick I feel a lot clearer as to how to approach character development.
There really is no such thing as an overnight success
Another common denominator running through nearly every conversation and talk at Swanwick was perseverance. No one I spoke to has whizzed off a novel draft sent it off and found their book at the centre of a huge bidding war. That does happen on the rarest of the rare occasions, but the majority of the time writers have grafted and grafted and faced closed doors so many times. And the ones who are published now were the ‘contenders who never gave up’. Particular thanks to Sue Moorcroft for being so honest about her writing journey and for shouting about her successes. Hard work really does pay off.
Write down your goals and you are more likely to succeed in them
The last session I attended was quite aptly John Lamont’s session on ‘Succeeding on Purpose’ aka setting goals.
He talked about things I’ve heard a lot before but have always taken with a pinch of salt. Things like visualising our goals, writing them down, setting milestones throughout the year. But I am now convinced that these approaches can and do work, so I’ve started working through my own life goals.
A biggie for me is to draft my first novel. (My practise novel).
This has always seemed like a hugely overwhelming and unachievable goal, but since attending Swanwick I’ve never believed more than I CAN do it. (Of course the little Gremlin on my shoulder is telling me I can’t, but I am now better equipped to flick her away).
Then, to top it all off, I won the raffle! Editing of 10,000 words. If that’s not the universe telling me I need to crack on with my first draft, then I don’t know what it is.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of how I’m feeling post-Swanwick but basically THANK YOU to everyone involved and perhaps I’ll see you again in 2019…
Is Whitby the most inspirational place on Earth for artists? Well I think so…
I love Julia Cameron’s concept of the ‘artist’s date’. A solo trip to somewhere that interests you to spark imagination, whimsy and play.
She suggests doing it weekly. I need to buck my ideas up! But I have just returned from my artist’s mini break and I’m certainly feeling whimsical, inspired and full of creativity.
Whitby is one of my favourite places in the world. It is full of history, myths, higgledy corners to explore and breathtaking views. It’s my third time tripping there alone and I never, ever get bored of it.
Over the past few days I’ve witnessed stunning sunsets, found an ammonite on the beach, rubbed shoulders with several pirates who were readily wondering the streets, explored the famous abbey ruins up close and written my first ever story featuring a mermaid.
Between all the walking around and shopping at Whitby Bookshop, I’ve come away with five new short pieces drafted, two blog posts and a head full of ideas. They will need some sorting through! I’d highly recommend trying your own artist’s date. Even if you don’t get any ‘art’ done, it’s great for the soul and will fill your mind with new material.
Also big shout out to Zed and Emma at Riviera Guesthouse for the warm welcome, providing the perfect sea-view bolt hole and fresh Whitby kippers on a morning. I will be back!
A few days ago I received Three Sisters of Stone by Stephanie Hutton in the post. I’d actually forgotten I’d ordered it. I had been meaning to, but it was a lovely surprise when it turned up on my doormat.
I put the novel I’m reading to one side, started it immediately and was hooked from the first line; ‘My elder sister Agnes will build her anti-wolf home from metal sheeting’.
Stephanie’s novella in flash is genuinely one of my favourite things I’ve read all year. Her prose is stunning and shimmering as ever, the three sisters are so real, each with their own personality and perception of their world and the story completely draws you in and pulls you through. It’s just wonderful and heartbreaking.
I am a big fan of reading and writing flash fiction, but novella in flash was a new format for me. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it, but to be honest I completely forgot about the format and just became absorbed in the lives of the three sisters, Agnes, Bella and Chloe.
‘Three Sisters of Stone follows three sisters over three decades as they manage adversity in very different ways, culminating in loss, growth and self-knowledge.’
I forgot I was reading, which is a sign of a wonderful piece of writing. The 45 pages of this novella moved me more than many novels I’ve read in the past few years.
I bought Three Sisters of Stone to support Stephanie and Steve Campbell, editor of Ellipsis Zine, who has thankfully shared this story so we can all enjoy it and also to support the flash community in general. But that’s not the reason I loved it and the reason why I’ll keep it on my shelf and look forward to reading it again.
I loved it because it reminded me what it’s like to be and have a sister, that remarkable moments happen even in the most unremarkable lives and that stories can change us.
Basically what I’m saying is, buy this and read it. It’s worth every penny of the five pounds and in buying it you’ll also be supporting a fantastic literary venture that gives new writers a platform to share their beautiful flash fiction.
Congratulations Stephanie and Steve! I look forward to reading more where this came from.
I have been working hard at building up my writing habit. Sometimes I’ll have a good run of writing every day. And sometimes…like recently, I’ll have a day of not writing which turns into a week and then a month.
But, while I still don’t manage to write every day, I am writing much more regularly and I’m finding it easier to make myself ‘turn up’ to write. I’m also aiming to make 100 submissions this year (a challenge set by Writers HQ). I’m currently on 24 so I’m technically behind, but I’m still pretty chuffed with that if I compare it with the last couple of years.
One of the biggest barriers I and most other writers face is procrastination. Argh. The word itself is horrible. Even while writing this I have checked my phone, like, three times.
My phone and social media are my worst enemies. I recently downloaded one of those tracker apps and found that I’d spent 3 hours on social media in one day. 3 hours!! Imagine how many words I could have written in those three hours. Multiply that by a week and a month…
Facebook and Twitter are my nemeses. The ironic thing is, I love Twitter because it’s a brilliant way to keep in touch with other writers, read others’ work, share challenges and celebrate successes. But I became addicted to scrolling and scrolling through all you guys and answering a notification as soon as it blipped onto my phone.
I had to take drastic action. I deleted Facebook, Twitter and Insta for Lent.
The first few days were hard. FOMO was hitting me big time. But I was really surprised at how quickly I got used to it. It made me realise that it wasn’t really a priority to me. It’s not something I need. It was just a mindless habit that I’d taught myself and one that I could technically un-teach.
I can’t say scientifically that I got more writing done because of it, but my output recently has been strong for me. And I think my writing sessions have been more focused.
I am now back on social media but have decided to make it less convenient to check it. I’ve deleted the apps (so I don’t get notifications) and I log out. If I’m desperate to go on I will access them through the web. I’ve found bad habits creeping back though, so I’m wondering whether I respond better to total amnesty, than making a deal with myself to ‘go on it less’.
And I keep asking myself this question now. Would I rather scroll through social media or write? (Sometimes I still scroll even though the answer is always ‘write’. Stupid brain).
Social media can be substituted for anything btw – sleep, watching Netflix, reorganising the cutlery drawer.
I’m currently listening to the audio book of Gretchen Rubin’s ‘Better than Before. Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives’. I’d highly recommend it. It’s helping me identify what habit forming hacks are going to work for me and the barriers I need to overcome. Probably a blog post of it’s own coming on this but it’s certainly made me think about my own ‘bad’ habits such as this one.
If you’re umming and arring about taking a social media break. Try it. It’s really not as bad as you think. In fact, it’s pretty great!
In January when I was riding the wave of new year enthusiasm and motivation I made quite a few submissions in quick succession. Sadly that pace has slowed but I’m delighted that two of these flash fiction pieces have been published very recently.
Session 3 Homework appears in issue 21 of the brilliant short fiction magazine Open Pen, of which I’ve been a subscriber for the past year or so. (I do so love a magazine you can hold in your hands). The mag is available in a selection of indy bookshops in London. Or if you’re oop North like me you can become a subscriber for just a tenner a year or order a one off copy.
You’re the first person to ask me how I got here features in issue 9 of the brilliant (and Saboteur Award nominated) Riggwelter Press alongside amazing poetry, prose and experimental media. Just waiting for a moment to sit down and read the issue cover to cover!
Thank you so much to editors Sean and Amy who put so much work into these publications. It’s a joy to be part of them.
I’m aiming for 100 submissions this year. Currently at 23…
I realised I haven’t uploaded a blog at all in 2018. Whoops. But, rather than chastise myself I’m going to take it as a sort of positive, because it’s a reflection of the fact I’ve been focusing more on my creative writing. Woohoo.
My writing year has got off to a positive start in a few ways, including acceptances from Dear Damsels, Ellipsis Zine, Cabinet of Heed, Riggwelter Press and 101 Words. (Can’t really believe it!) And, I’ve been throwing myself into some fantastic courses from the absolute bosses at Writers HQ and Write Like a Grrrl. Massive thank you to both these amazing orgs for their two-pronged attack in introducing me to ways to build up a daily writing habit. Or, as (the inspirational) Jane Bradley describes them: Brief Daily Sessions.Continue reading “Building up a regular writing habit”