Monthly Archives: April 2011

Give Yourself an ‘Inspirational Day’

Just like any other muscle in your body, your brain needs exercise.

And whilst you’ll know by now that I’m not the biggest fan of exercises where you have a set amount of words to write every day, there are other writing tasks that I definitely approve of.  And one of those tasks is about inspiration …

I always find the initial planning stage of a book the most exciting.  The canvas is blank … and in the first stages, anything and everything can affect what goes onto that canvas.  Inspired by my recent read ‘The Hunger Games’ (which I thought was amazing!) and by one of my favourite books as a child – Margaret Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’  – I’m playing with an idea of a story set in a post-apocalyptic community.  The great thing about writing fantasy is that the boundaries are quite literally endless – the only limits are my imagination, and at this early planning stage, I like to think of my brain as a sponge.

I’m currently visiting a friend in New York, and yesterday spent sixteen hours trekking around Manhattan, opening my mind to all the possible stimuli available.

In a recent post that I wrote about Writer’s Block, I explained how reading other fiction can really be helpful when you’re feeling stuck writing your own.  Personally, if I’m having trouble finding my voice in the first person, for example, then I’ll read other texts written in the first person.  That way I’m ‘thinking right’.  However, some of the readers of the blog misunderstood this advice.  One particular comment asked if I simply thought ONLY fiction could inspire fiction … and wasn’t there just as valid a place for poetry as an inspiration?

Hopefully this blog post will allow me to properly answer that question.  When I’m at the actual writing stage of a novel, I need to surround myself in other fiction, in order for my internal narrative voice to take the appropriate tone.  To be honest, I rarely read at all when I’m in a ‘writing phase’, because I become so consumed in the text I’m writing, however, if I get Writer’s Block, then its fiction that I will turn to.  If I were to turn to poetry, for example, then I’d end up thinking ‘poetically’, and that would end up being what I wanted to write.

However, that’s not me saying poetry can’t be inspirational … particularly in the planning stages of a story.  Personally, I find everything and anything can be inspirational when you are gathering the bare bones of a story together.  For example, Suzanne Collins, author of the aforementioned ‘Hunger Games’ claims she came up with the idea of children fighting to the death in a twisted futuristic reality TV show-setting by channel hopping between footage of the Iraq War and a reality TV show (I’d assume Big Brother?).   Inspiration can come from anywhere, so literally with that in mind I decided to indulge in an ‘inspiration day’ – opening my eyes and ears to everything around me in one of the busiest cities in the world, and not filtering anything thing that came in too carefully.

Personally I find ‘inspiration days’ work best if you’re alone.  You’ve got time to think and develop ideas on the go, and the only conversation going on is your internal one, as you ferret through ideas, piecing possible scenarios together.  I like to move while I’m thinking, so beating the streets of New York seemed the perfect place for such an exercise.  And as I was planning on visiting museums, I was likely to encounter a number of stimuli unusual to my every day.  I visited MOMA and the Met, as well as the Museum of Sex, Bodyworks, Madame Tussauds and the Empire State Building (yes my feet hurt, and I had a free pass, so don’t worry I wasn’t forking out heaps of cash in any of these places!)

I won’t go into detail about the things I heard and saw, but by the end of the day at least a vague outline of a story had begin to form in my head.  And it made me feel like a writer.  Creativity spun through my head like fresh blood pumping through my veins and it was like personal adrenaline.  If you’re a writer, and you’re ever doubting yourself or feel like you’ve hit a metaphorical brick wall, then I would definitely recommend giving yourself an Inspirational Day.  Think out of the box.  Think outside of your writing comfort zone, and let the world come to you like a series of unmatched puzzle pieces, and just see what starts to take shape in your imagination.  You never know, you might have the makings of the next best-seller.

If there was anything that yesterday taught me though, it was the value of other manifestations of the arts to writing.  Ok, so when I have writer’s block midway through a novel, sitting at MOMA and staring at a painting for two hours might not do me any good, BUT when I’m tracing the path of an as yet untold stories through the waves of possibility, sitting in an art gallery and surrounding myself with a very different selection of ideas might be just what I need!

C-C xxx

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Falling into the ‘Forced Writing Trap’

As I trawl through the offerings of other ‘writer bloggers’ on WordPress, I regularly come across two personal niggles.

The first is people blogging simply to tell the world EITHER that they are feeling totally uninspired, and can’t write a single word, OR to report exactly how inspired they are feeling, by telling us all EXACTLY how many words/pages they have written that day.

And that is ALL they write in a blog post!

Really?  Is this the kind of stuff you want to waste your words on?  There are only 24 hours in a day … both yours, and mine … please don’t waste them with blog posts like that!  Even if I were your Mum I wouldn’t want to know this kind of stuff!

I’d rather read an opinion, a paragraph of pose, a poem …  Think about it – your blog-post has a short shelf life on the WordPress ‘Recently Posted’ Writing Page. Don’t put off future readers by catching their eye with a mundane post like that! They won’t ever come back!  Complaints about writer’s block, or self-congratulatory back-patting over a couple of paragraphs of writing should be reserved for the private sphere.

Either get a journal … or if you still insist on addressing the blogosphere, then turn it into something positive. Write about how you cure your personal writer’s block, or what helps inspire you on ‘good writing days’ …  At least a reader can take something from those kinds of posts.

My second niggle is what I like to call the  ‘Forced Writing Trap’.

While I understand that every now and again writers may need a metaphorical kick up the bum to write, I’m really against setting a specific goal of words to write each day.

Like any author, I go through periods of hyper-creativity, and phases of zero-creativity. I have days where I stare at a page and am happy to complete a full sentence, and other days where I’m forced to stop simply because my lap-top battery has run out, or it’s 4am and I’m meant to be up again in three hours.

But rather than reprimand myself for not making a word quota, or seeing a super-creative day as meaning I don’t have to write for another three day, I prefer to simply roll with the punches, and treat each day as it comes.

Writing a novel shouldn’t be a series of daily battles, but one long war.  Sometimes that means you don’t write for a week, and other times it means all you do for three days is hack away at your laptop.

I can understand that committing to a ‘5000 words per day’ regime may discipline you to write … I just think that where a novel is concerned, if you insist on writing 5000, or however many, words a day, every day, you are often going to produce 5000 words of crap!

On my zero-creativity days, if I were to force my novel forward 5000 words, what I’d most probably be doing would be setting my book back at least 2 days of re-writing.

Instead, on those days when I sit down at the computer, and can’t see a path through the metaphorical trees, I find other tasks.  I might do administrative chores linked to my book – like numbering and heading pages, or keeping track of the developing stories or character profiles.  Or if there’s a particular topic the book requires me to know about, I might do some research.  Another positive thing I often do when I’m not feeling creative enough to write, is to edit.  I look back over previous chapters, and sometimes simply re-reading a chapter or two will get me into the correct frame to continue with the story.

And if that still doesn’t work … I don’t push it.  I read something else, or heaven forbid … DON’T DO ANYTHING!  Writing shouldn’t be a chore.  We do it because we love it.  It’s the future career we’ve chosen for ourselves … and for the first couple of years at least, we’ve chosen it not for monetary recompense, but for a creative outlet.  So why would you force that outlet?  Shouldn’t it be fun?  And shouldn’t you be proud of what you write?

If I read 5000 words I’ve written, I want to feel proud of them.  I want them to be polished and perfect, and the best 5000 words I could have used to describe that particular scene.  I don’t simply want them to be five thousand random words … because I NEEDED the word count reader to say ‘5000’.

Just to clarify, this isn’t me complaining about those of you blogging everyday.  As I’ve explained before, in The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger I address fiction writing very differently to blog writing, and don’t have any problem with people resolving to write a blog post every day, because the blogs stand alone each day, and a bad day of blogging won’t wreck a whole story.  However, saying that, I will obviously object if all your ‘blog every day’ does is tell me how many words you have or haven’t written that day 😉

On a personal note – I signed up to Script Frenzy … which some might see as a ‘Forced Writing Trap’ – 100 words of a script in a month.  But with Script Frenzy, I simply see it as a task you could give yourself a month to complete.  An inspiration, rather than a set word count governing your day.  And in that light, I have to admit to taking it rather liberally so far … In the absence of Final Draft, I’ve been struggling to form my words into an acceptable script format.  As a result, this month, whenever I’ve felt the need to write, I’ve found myself turning to blog posts instead of the script.  But rather than punishing myself for not fulfilling my ‘Script Frenzy’ commitment, I’m simply happy to be creating something legible.

Should I tell you how many words I wrote today now? 😉

C-C xxx

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The Ladder to the Top

Following on from my post about The Author Brand, I thought it might be an inspiration to others to collate some information about some of the world’s most famous authors, and their paths to success.   Today I’ve focussed on rejections by agents and publishers.

The ladder to the top can be a long and treacherous one, and it seems not even the most successful authors made it to the summit unscathed!

J.K. Rowling

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was rejected by twelve different publishers before Bloomsbury finally took it on, and only then on the advice of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter!

John Grisham

Grisham penned his first novel, the iconic ‘A Time to Kill’ whilst legally representing a 12 year-old rape victim.  After three years writing the famous tale, Grisham was rejected by over thirty publishing houses before Wynwood Press finally cut him a break.

Stephen King

Stephen King took the rejection of his first novel ‘The Long Walk’ so badly, even though he only submitted it to one publisher, that he gave up on the story all together.

Meg Cabot

The bestselling author of ‘The Princess Diaries’ faced rejection after rejection for three years before finding a publisher.   She admits to having kept every single rejection letter in a giant U.S. postal bag which is so heavy she can’t even lift it!   And editors didn’t hold back with their criticism… one particularly scathing review stated that ‘The Princess Diaries’ wasn’t suitable for children.  Try telling that to the millions of children who have since bought the books and watched the movies!

William Golding

‘Lord of The Flies’ was rejected twenty times before being published.  One editor actually described it as ‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull’!  Oops!

(The Diary of )Anne Frank

One publisher rejected the iconic journal because ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift the book above the ‘curiosity’ level.’

Joseph Heller

Apparently Catch-22 was originally entitled ‘Catch-18’ but Heller increased the number with each rejection letter! One of the ‘best rejection’ it received said ‘Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level …’

George Orwell

Four publishers rejected the iconic ‘Animal Farm’, including famous poet T.S. Elliot.  Elliot criticised Orwell’s ‘Trotskyite politics’, whilst another editor simply stated ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’!

Harper Lee

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, one of my favourite novels, was rejected by J.B. Lippincott Company because it ‘had too many short stories strung together, and needed to be rewritten’.

On a similar note, a few years ago the director of the Jane Austen Festival decided to find out what sort of reception Jane herself might get, had she been an author in this day and age.  With only a few minor changes, David Lassman submitted the opening chapters and plot synopses to three of Austen’s most famous books – Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – to publishers and agents. He submitted the books under early titles which Austen had once considered, and used the pen name ‘Alison Laydee’, a play on Austen’s nom de plume ‘ A Lady’.

Despite not even changing the opening line of Pride & Prejudice – one of the most famous lines in literature – only one editor noticed the plagiarism!  And EVERYONE else rejected ALL of Austen’s work.

I realise that possibly says more about the lack of education of those we’re pinning our hopes to at the moment, than anything else … but it also shows that even literary genius can go unnoticed in today’s harsh market!  So don’t get too disheartened by the rejection emails … we’ll get there in the end 😉

As another of my favourite childhood authors, C.S. Lewis, once said … ‘Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement.’

C-C xx

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Look what I just stumbled upon …

Ok, so it’s almost 2 am in Canada, and I really ought to be in bed.  In fact, as if to illustrate the point, my boyfriend is sitting next to me on the sofa, his laptop also on his lap, but fast asleep, snoring, and looking very close to dropping said laptop …

But … I felt the need to post, because, after a comment on the blog post I just wrote, about what information is available about you on the internet, I decided to Google my name!  My REAL name, not my pen name.  (Anyone who is a regular reader of my blog will know it doesn’t take a super-sleuth to discover my real name, or at least the nickname I have gone by all my life).

As expected, it brought up a whole host of information about me – from the global challenges I filmed for Challenge Charly, to my street address back in Reading (AARGGHHH), to the scholarships I received whilst studying at Cambridge and my Cosmopolitan Ultimate Woman of the Year Award.

What I DIDN’T expect it to turn up was an Op-Ed article I wrote over a year ago, and sent to the International Herald Tribune! I actually only found it, because it was posted on the New York Times website, and then commented on in someone’s blog!

How crazy is that?!  If Wheelchair Pride hadn’t written a response to my Op-Ed and used my name, I’d have never even known my letter was published!  Insane!!!

Ah well … I guess now I can add ‘New York Times contributor’ to ‘nanny’ and ‘travel bum’ on my CV 😉

C-C xx

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The Author Brand

One of the lovely comments on my Rebirth, Rebranding, Re-invention post mentioned ‘establishing your writer’s brand’ and it got me thinking…  (Thanks Jess for the inspiration!)

No matter what stage of your career you’re currently at, being an author is a very different profession thanks to the age of the internet.

Authors used to bask in the shadow of anonymity.  Even without a pen-name, they were mere names … perhaps illustrated with a grainy black and white photo and an aloof bio on the back cover of their novels.  ‘C-C Lester lives with her cat Felix and her budgie Steve in Battersea, and enjoys strolls along the beach. ‘

(I don’t really… before you start Googling 😉 )

But the internet has changed all that.  It’s not only added real-life faces to the grand names … but  it’s also added real-life stories.  Find one person who when you mention J.K. Rowling doesn’t remark on her rags to riches success, and the ‘writing on napkins in coffee shops’ story!

People spend a lot of time with books.  They retreat to them, a private world they can slip in and out of, away from the hustle of a crowded train carriage, or the uncomfortable heat of a parental row.  The characters become treasured friends, and it’s easy to attach similar affection and proximity to the person responsible for creating those characters.  Readers want to know about their authors …

As a reader, I happily confess to reading author bios.  I love the short paragraphs tucked inside book covers.  I like to guess how much the writer has in common with her protagonist, muse over whether I’d like her in real life, and wonder if she’s using a pen name.  I like to know if she’s young or old, pretty or ugly, married or single. I want to be able to put the book in context, to frame the story in a world outside of its pages.

I fully admit it … I’m a nosy reader!

And then, as an aspiring writer, I wonder how hard her path to literary success was.  Did she find an agent as easily as I did?  Were her rejection letters from publishers more inspiring than mine?  How many rejections did she receive?  How old was she when she first got published?  How long did it all take?

Yes … I’m a nosy writer too!

The thing is, whilst some of the answers might be available in the book cover’s rigid biographical paragraph, the internet has provided an even better location to find answers to all those questions … and more!

Obviously there’s the Google-stalker factor, which is something I’ve discussed in previous posts –   see ‘Why Blogging is like Facebook …’ and ‘The Pen Name … a Shield to accompany the Literary Sword?’ .  One carefully worded Google search, and a reader can know an awful lot about his favourite author … provided she doesn’t use a pen name.

(A small aside – Bloggers with pen names BEWARE – I’ve noticed on a lot of comments that your REAL NAME comes up in the email address attached to your blog! )

But where authors are concerned, there’s a far easier way to find out the answers to all your nosey questions … and you’re staring right at it.

Authors blog!  We are creatures of habit, who love to write, and by definition, enjoy touching others with our words, whether fictional or not.  In the age of Twitter and blogging, what better way to reach others with our words, than with the immediacy of the internet?

By blogging, we are opening the fourth wall to our readers.  We are showing them the workings behind the novel – whether it’s just generally the way our minds work, or more specific details about our lives and inspirations.  Author blogs allow you to find the answers to all your nosey questions … how long DID it take her to find an agent?  How many times DID she get rejected?  What did those rejections REALLY say?

But the blogosphere isn’t a one-way street.  It’s interactive.  Not only is the author bearing (selective parts of) her soul to her readers, she’s also enabling them to challenge and question her.  Finally readers are being given the thing they have never had with their favourite authors – dialogue.  And an author’s willingness to partake in such a dialogue may well affect the way her readers see her.

This brings me back to Jess’s initial idea – a writer’s brand.

Think about the world we live in.  Not only is it a world of Twitter and blogging … it’s also a world of PR and Marketing.  And the savvy author needs to bear that in mind … particularly if she writes under a pen name.  Those of us not protected by that particular shield (or like me, who have very brazenly stepped aside from their shield and revealed their true name) can only control to some degree the information available about them on the internet.  But if you’ve created a person, you have full control of the data about that person on the internet.  And even if you haven’t created a person, and are writing as yourself, then it’s wise to think about the things attached to your ‘writer persona’.

By creating this website, I have unwittingly created an author brand.  If you type ‘C-C Lester, author’ into Google, the top four hits link to this blog, and the fifth to my Twitter (which is predominantly based on my blog).  This blog has become C-C Lester, the author.  And hopefully the brand I’ve unwittingly created is an honest and likable one!

I’ve said it before, in ‘Why Blogging is like Facebook …’ and I’ll say it again.  Think about what you write.  As far as we’re aware, the internet is here to stay, and the archives are endless.  So make sure that everything you personally attach to your ‘author brand’ properly represents you as a writer.  It’s also where posts like ‘Get It Write 😉‘ (about grammar and spell-checking) and ‘To Journal … or Not To Journal’ (on making your blog too personal) come in.  In ten years time, when you’re a famous author, do you really want the world to know how much you hate your ex-boyfriend?  Or that you don’t really know where apostrophes go, and have to rely on an editor to tweak such mundane things as grammar?!

Personally, I think it’s exciting!  I like the idea of being more than just an aloof name and a grainy picture on a bookshelf.  The role of authors is changing, and I just hope that my career will enable me to properly experience those changes first-hand.  I hope, in years to come, that my story will be a positive one, and one full of inspiration and interest to my readers.  And that somewhere down the line, I’ll look back at this post and smile at the legacy I began to establish back when I was a ‘nobody’ who simply enjoyed to write 🙂

C-C xxx

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Rebirth, Rebranding, Re-invention!

So here it is guys … my response to Elli Writes’ April Writing Competition ….

Rebirth, Rebranding, Re-invention!

When I first decided to write a post on Rebirth I wanted to tie it in with the rest of my blog.  It needed to be something to do with writing.  And so I decided to tie my piece on Rebirth in with one of my first ever posts – So Am I An Author Yet?!

There are a number of stages in the process of ‘being a writer’.

From penning your first ever story, to deciding to write a novel, to finishing that novel, getting an agent, and eventually getting it published.  And of course all the various points in time both between and after those stages. Each of those stages can be seen as a rebirth … or at least a ‘rebranding’.  Because with each small success comes emotional change.

What started as an untouchable dream becomes closer to tangible reality… and you have to adapt accordingly.

If I had to describe myself right now, I’d probably choose the term ‘inbetweener’.  Unfortunately not the twenty-something year-old comedian variety who masquerade as teenage schoolboys on Channel Four (though actually two of the cast went to uni with me), but the writer stuck in the no-man’s land between being signed to an agent, and getting physically published.

 

I’ve now been signed to the London-based agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop for eighteen months, and in that time I’ve completed two teenage fantasy novels, both of which have been deemed ‘publisher ready.’  The buck has been well and truly passed.  Where both ‘Flicker’ and ‘The Dream Navigator’ are concerned, I’ve done everything I can personally do to get them published.  I just have to wait to see what the next runner in my publishing relay race – my agent- can do with the baton.

So where does that leave me?  I’ve finished three novels, and edited all of them several times.  And whilst I have new stories rattling around my mind on a daily basis, I definitely feel a bit off the boil.  As if after two years of effort – finishing the writing, finding an agent and then going back over the writing time and time again – I’m waiting to see some tangible reward before I continue.

But I’m beginning to realise this isn’t only the wrong attitude … it’s a self-destructive one.  Because, as I described in So Am I an Author Yet?!, a major part of being an author is identifying yourself as one.  Self-branding.  Self-invention.  The only way other people will truly believe (and in the early years, accept) that you are an author, is if you believe it yourself!

So rebirth for a writer is about re-branding, and re-invention.

I am NOT an inbetweener.  I’m an author.  I’m just an author at the start of my career … and if that career is going to be a successful one, then I need to adopt a fully positive mental attitude to my writing.  And that means THINKING and ACTING like an author.

And so I’ve re-evaluated my year, and my aims.

I’m at a bit of a crossroads … after two and a half years travelling and working abroad, I’m about to return home to the UK. And the pressure has been on, from me and from other people ‘to start a career’.  I have a degree from Cambridge, and I can’t help but feel that a lot of people think I’m ‘wasting it’.  But deep down, I feel like I’ve found my career.  Ok, so it hasn’t raked in any money yet, but I’ve been perfectly capable of financially supporting myself while I wrote my books.  And it’s not like people always walk straight into the career they will hold for life when they leave university.  People try out careers.  And right now, I’m trying out writing as a career.  Which means committing to it.

So if I commit to writing, what exactly does that involve?  As I’ve mentioned, my biggest aims for this year – getting Flicker and TDN published – no longer lie in my hands.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t work on other aims.  And for now, it seems those new aims are

1)    Turning My Ten Future Lives into a screenplay

2)    Writing a children’s novel – Mercury’s Child

3)    And feeling inspired to develop new book and story ideas, and continue with the Flicker series

How do I go about achieving those aims?

Well, I’ve found I’m at my most inspired AND at my most productive when I travel.  Now obviously it’s not possible to travel forever, and never work … but working as a lowly nanny in a Canadian ski resort has funded my ‘writing habit’ pretty well thus far … why not do it for another season?  And as for the script-writing … well that’s something totally new to me … so how about doing a course in it, whilst also exploring another area of the globe?

And so … as I re-brand myself a bonafide Career Author, I actually find that very few things are changing.  I want to spend this year travelling as much as possible, and funding those travels by nannying – an occupation which doesn’t zap my creative energy.

I’m re-inventing myself … but all I’m really doing is re-inventing my attitude towards my life.  I’ve spent the past two and a half years travelling to some of the most exciting and inspiring parts of the world and writing the entire time, but somehow feeling like a failure.  Like a shirker.  Like I had chosen the unacceptable path.  And yet, only now, am I truly appreciating that path, and seeing it for what it really is.

The first steps of a career!  Granted, I don’t know whether that career will be a successful one … but isn’t that what life is about?  Trial and error?

I didn’t need to re-brand myself for anyone other than me.

So here goes … I’m C-C Lester … Career Author 😉

 

 

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Exercising Your Pen

For some time now I’ve been planning a post on how to keep yourself inspired and on exercised as an author.  A kind of word gym, or mental pick-me-up for writers.

One of the best examples of these I’ve come across in my first few months of blogging are the writing exercises posted on blogs by other authors.   A number of bloggers regularly suggest themes or situations for other budding writers to expand upon.

One such writer/blogger is Elizabeth Carlton, of Elli Writes, someone I like to count as a regular reader and commenter of my blog, and in order to reciprocate with my support, I’m about to write a blogpost on ‘Rebirth’  – the topic of her April Writing Contest.

More to come on ‘keeping on the ball’ soon ….

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