Tag Archives: Author Blog

Take the Reigns

It’s funny how you can be inspired by the most random of things …

As I’ve said time and time again, I write, and am inspired, by making connections.  Drawing the lines between dots I handpick from life.

And I guess a couple of the lines this week have given me a kick-start to revisit my first book.

‘Flicker’, which some of you may have read samples of on the blog, is my first novel, a teenage fantasy book about an orphaned girl setting off on her gap year travels.  After several edits of the book, my agent submitted it to a around ten publishers this time last year, unfortunately to no avail.  After a few months, the book was shelved, and my second book ‘The Dream Navigator’ was made publisher-ready, and then did the rounds.

And that, a year on, is where I’m at.  Having edited and re-edited two different books for publisher submission, I’ve then had to pass on the baton to my agent, and wait for the news to roll in.

As any of you in the same situation will know, whilst it’s a necessary part of the process, it can be rather frustrating!  And at first, whilst the frustration of not hearing anything back from ‘Flicker’ lead me to pile all my energy into ‘The Dream Navigator’, a year on, no matter my best intentions, I’m finding it far too easy to sit on my hands, and make excuses.

If I’m completely honest, it’s very hard to finish another book, knowing nothing so far has come of the others.  When I think of the hours I spent on the other two books, I feel drained, and back in the real world (I wrote the books whilst travelling) I feel too tired from everyday work to sit back in front of the computer at the end of the day, when I haven’t seen any return for all the other work.

But this is an attitude which needs to stop.  If I’m to become an author – a real, bonafide, published author – then I need to get my head back in the game.  And whilst the ball is heavily still in my agent’s court, that doesn’t mean I can’t be doing something to help.

I think what I’ve been doing wrong is trying to push forward with all the other ideas I’ve had since Flicker, when instead, there is something there in that story – there must have been to have got noticed in the first place – I just need to polish it!

So where has this change of heart sprung from? What were the dots that joined together to lead to that conclusion?

Last week I saw a friend I haven’t seen since I left to go travelling, and it turns out he reads my blog, and, despite being a 30 year old man … he read, AND LOVED!!! … the excerpts of Flicker which I put up on it!!  I guess hearing his enthusiasm for the book reminded me how enthusiastic I had once been about the story.

Then last night, I was at a friend’s birthday drinks, and it turned out a number of his friends had heard that I was aspiring author.  When, in turn, they asked me how it was going, I shrugged, disheartened, and said the same thing over and over again ‘it’s in the hands of my agent … I’m not really doing much at the moment … I work for a bank …’

And I listened to myself, and thought, if you’d asked 14 year-old me what I wanted to do at 28, the last thing I would have said was ‘work for a bank’.  I wanted to be an author … so badly that I sent a shell of a story off to a publisher, and received my first mass mailshot rejection letter!!  And you know what, I STILL want to be an author … so why the hell have I stopped working for it??

And then finally, this afternoon I sat down to watch the film ‘Chalet Girl’.  Of all the ‘inspirations’ this is probably the most off the wall and silly … but bare with me 🙂

So ‘Chalet Girl’ is a teenage British chick flick – the story of a girl who goes to the Austrian alps, falls in love with a hot posh guy and becomes a snowboard champ – total cheese … but I’ve always loved cheesy tv 🙂 Now, if anything, I was expecting to finish the film and simply be dying to head back to Whistler … and don’t get me wrong, after 2 winters as a seasonaire it was impossible not to watch the film and yearn for snow … but there was a stronger compulsion that came from the film, and that was to revisit Flicker.  Because years ago, when I day-dreamed about Flicker as a book, I put actors faces to some of the characters, imagining what it might be like to see my book on the big screen.  And in that day dream, Ed Westwick was Daniel DeSilva, to Felicity Jones’s ‘Flic Firstone’ – the two young British actors starring opposite one another in Chalet Girl.

And I guess I don’t want that daydream to die.  I want Flicker to still be an option.  I want it to become a name synonymous with a book, not just a horse and an online photo sharing site!  I want to be an author.  I want to be a scriptwriter.  I want to see books on shelves, with my name on the spine, and films and tv on the screen, underpinned by stories I’ve written.  And I’m not gonna achieve that by sitting on my hands!  I’m gonna do it by gritting my teeth, peeling the plaster off, and looking at a text I haven’t looked at for a year, because no matter how much I don’t want to acknowledge it, it is ‘damaged’ in some way … it’s not finished … and the only way someone is going to love it enough to publish it, is if I can fix it …

This is my challenge.  This is my part of the baton-passing process ….

To make my manuscript as kick-ass brilliant as I possibly can, so that next time my agent submits it to publishers, someone snaps it up 🙂

C-C xx

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Filed under C-C Lester, Flicker, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

Just the Advice I Needed …

As regular readers of The Elementary Circle will know, in recent months I’ve been getting rather jaded about the waiting game.  I’m an ‘almost-there’ author.  I’ve finished three novels, and have heaps of ideas for others, but now I have to sit back, and wait to see if there’s an editor at a publishing house who believes in my work as much as my agent does.  The problem is, I’m rather impatient, and after a good three years of hard slog, can’t wait for some return on my efforts, even if that return is simply the recognition that comes with a bona fide book deal.

If you’ve read my blog before, you might also know that I’m an orphan.  I lost both my parents back in 2003, when I was just nineteen.  Since Mum and Dad died, I’ve spent five years at university, and three years travelling the world, only to come back ‘home’ at the end of April.  When Mum died, my sister and I were forced to sell our family home almost immediately in order to put ourselves through school and university, and simply live. At Christmas 2003, over the space of three weeks I lost both my Mum and my home, with thirty years of my parents’ marriage relinquished to boxes which went almost straight into storage, scattered across the lofts of various family friends, where they have remained ever since.  I moved into a friend’s family home, and have called their house home ever since.

I was always a Daddy’s girl.  A tomboy as a child, my Dad was the one who taught me to play cricket, who took me skiing, introduced me to Scouting, and sat up late at night reading me tales by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll.  My Dad was my idol, my role model.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Mum dearly, but when my Dad died, I lost my best friend.

I grew up surrounded by my father’s stories.  He had spent his twenties travelling the world, a natural-born linguist, and I not only inherited Dad’s talent for languages but also his desire to travel.  When I finished my Masters and still had  some of my inheritance from the house left over, it seemed natural to spend the money on seeing the world, because if Dad had been given the money at 24, that’s exactly what he would have done with it!  In fact, my Dad actually met my Mum (who was Romanian) when he was travelling around the world.

But travel wasn’t the only thing me and my Dad have in common.  My Dad was a writer.  When he died, I actually remember an old RAF pal of his sending Mum a package with an old story they had written together inside, and last week, when I was feeling particularly down, I went in search of it.

Two hours later I gave up, empty handed.

The whole writing business had just got me so down.  After months of trying to stay upbeat, and trying to keep inspired and active, I was defeated.  Fed up with not even getting rejections from publishers, just total radio silence, and beginning to doubt both myself and my talent, I needed my Dad.  I needed the one person who knew me inside out, which he always did, because I was the female version of him!  I needed his advice.  Dad had been the one who had helped me with A Level options.  He had planned my Gap Year with me, and not just chosen Cambridge colleges with me, but walked me to the gates of my university interview.  Unlike other Dads, mine hadn’t just stood on the sideline of my cricket matches, but had been out on the pitch alongside me – the umpire, the coach, the facilitator of the match.  My biggest fan.

I needed my biggest fan again.  Writing had become such a lonely pursuit, and without Dad around it just felt even lonelier …

And then on Sunday I got a message from one of my closest school friends.  Katherine now lives in London, but her parents still live just twenty minutes away from my old family home, and this weekend just gone, they had tidied out their loft, only to find several boxes of things from my parents house.  Things I hadn’t seen for eight years.

I assumed the boxes would be full of Dad’s photo albums, or old clothes we hadn’t been able to part with so soon after Mum’s death, but last night when I went round to Katherine’s house, I was in for a surprise.

The boxes are full of my father’s projects.  Thirty years of his work.   Pages and pages of notes.  Poems, letters, postcards to Mum, letters, songs, books, research.  Loose-leaf folders packed with handwritten sheets, and boxes full of type-written stories.  Ideas, opinions, connections.  My Dad’s brain boxed.

Eight years after his death, it’s the closest thing I will ever get to a new conversation with my Dad … and it genuinely couldn’t have come at a better time!  There I was literally a week ago wondering if I might have access to one single story Dad had written, and now I’ve been presented by boxes full of his life’s work.  Notebook after notebook, one project after the other, it seems like nothing had been thrown away since the early seventies.  I could never be so grateful to discover a closet hoarder in the family!

I sat in tears, surrounded by my Dad’s work.  By songs, and poems, and sketches, and ditties, and family tree research, and research into Greek mythology, church names, and World War One.  Every intrigue, every interest had been documented.  In a world where most of my possessions have been bought post-Mum and Dad’s death, here were pages and notebooks that my Dad had physically touched!  Line after line of his handwriting, word after word of his own.

But that wasn’t the only way Dad spoke to me last night …

Because amongst those boxes of projects, were letters from publishers.  Letters very similar to the ones I’ve spent the past six months receiving.  Rejection letters, and alongside them frustrated queries from my Dad to other publishers, months after submitting manuscripts, asking why he had heard nothing.

In a world before the internet, in an era where literary agents were scarce, and  in a time when stories weren’t written on computers, but arduously typed, page after page, on a type writer, my dad had been a frustrated almost-there author too!

And you know what, his stories have survived!  He may never have gotten published, or seen his name on the spine of a book, but his stories have still survived him.  And now, his stories sit on my book shelves. This time I’m his number one fan.  Because whenever I feel down, whenever I miss my Dad, not only can I reach for one of his stories, and have him speak directly to me once again, but I can remember that Dad was in this place too, and that if he were here now, he’d be telling me about the time he submitted a book called ‘The Michael Enigma’ about the position of churches called St Michael around Great Britain (??? Yes really!) to publishers, and waited 11 months to hear anything back.  And while my Dad isn’t here to tell me those stories, the stories themselves still are.

Dad’s stories live on, on my bookshelf and in my heart, and you know what, even if my stories never get printed, I’ll make sure that I keep every single one of them, so that one day, my daughter, or my grand-daughter, will be able to pick them up, and hear my voice when I’m no longer able to use it any more.

I love you Dad,

C-C xxx

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Filed under Blogging, C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

Finding Inspiration in Strange Places!

This weekend I found myself at a bit of a loose end.  Having rain-checked my social life for a weekend of (paid) overtime (as opposed to the currently unpaid writing kind!) my employers decided in the eleventh hour on Friday that weekend work was no longer necessary, and so, rather than go creeping back to my friends, in an attempt to convince them their company IS more important than my non-existent bank balance, I opted for an uncharacteristic weekend at home.

Now. those of you who ‘know’ me, or at least a bit of my background, will know that I was orphaned in my teens.  At the time I had to sell my family home asap, and ended up moving in with the family of a close friend.  I’ve now lived with my ‘second family’ for the best part of eight years, on and off, between uni and travels, and having just returned from three years abroad, I’m back playing teenager in a family home.

So, in an attempt not to outstay my welcome, and in preparation for the day when I actually become a fully-fledged adult, I decided on Sunday that the time had come to sort out my stuff … Now when I say my stuff, what I mean is the vast majority of my family possessions, which have ended up in the attic at my second home.  I was orphaned in the holidays of my first term at university, and desperate to return to ‘normal life’ as soon as possible, we sold the house in a whirlwind … leaving the loft full of boxes I literally haven’t looked at in eight years.

Cue a day full of inevitable tears, as I sifted through photos and clothes, and trinkets, and bereavement cards, trying to work out which things were vital to my memories of my parents and which other things no longer were.

But the day wasn’t just full of sadness … in fact a number of laughs were had at the expense of ‘teenage me’, as I fished out notes sent in class, ranking systems of all the boys I knew at 15 (an amusing number of whom are still in my adult life!) and a series of emails and MSN conversations which I had printed off the computer ten or so years ago (God, could you imagine printing off every single one of your emails these days??? Rather worryingly said emails had been arranged in binders with individual plastic sleeves … teenage me clearly had WAY too much time on her hands!!)

But anyway … I digress … because aside from the memories, and the laughs and tears … I found something else in my attic on Sunday.  Yes, it’s gonna be a corny one … INSPIRATION.

It’s easy, at this limbo stage in writing, where some people believe in you, and you’ve achieved some small successes, but where the literary world often appears like an insurmountable mountain on the horizon, to give up.  To doubt yourself, and your abilities.  To give yourself a shake, and ask yourself if this really is your dream, your destiny.  Is it just a whim?  Are you having a laugh at your own expense?  Is it time to acknowledge that you have a decent law degree, and go and use it, rather than babysitting professionally, in the name of ‘creativity’. Ok, ok, so that last one is just me 😉

But honestly, it can be really really tough, day in day out, to find not just the inspiration to write, but the inspiration to believe in yourself.  To believe in your dream.  To see the light at the end of the writing’s tunnel of purgatory, and know that if you keep putting in the hours, eventually it really will pay off.

And so sometimes you need to rummage in the attic, and find the things that remind you of the writer you’ve always been.

As I rifled through boxes I hadn’t touched since I was a young teenager, time after time I fell upon notebooks.  Scraps of paper.  Stationery I’d half-inched from law firms where I’d done work experience

And every single one of those scraps contained a story.  An idea.  Not for a law degree, or a career in medicine, or life as a banker … But ideas for stories.  Tales I concocted in my head, and had to get onto paper, regardless of who read them.

Rummaging through those boxes, I realised something.  C-C Lester : Author, isn’t someone I’ve simply become in the past three years, after finishing my first novel.  It’s someone I’ve always been.

About a month ago my primary school closed down.  For the first time in almost twenty years, I tip-toed around a miniature school which had once seemed so large, marveling over the difference perspective can make on memories.  As part of the Farewell event, one of the classrooms had been filled with albums from over the years.  Photos, programs, notes.  Snippets of time stuffed into scrapbooks.

Now if you asked me what I had been like at primary school, I’d have called myself a swot.  Top of the class, too loud for my own good, but good at sports too.  Undoubtedly a rather annoying all-rounder.   And yet as I flicked through the albums documenting my years at the tiny school, it was interesting where I found my name.  There was no record of my academic achievements, or of my sports day wins.  And yet every single one of my short story prizes could be found in one of the albums.  It seemed, even at seven, I was an unwitting writer in the making.  And even the primary school historian had understood which of my achievements were of most important.

The inspiration doesn’t stop there.  I guess I’ve always liked images.  Whether I’m writing a novel, or a legal essay, I like to string together the pieces, to chart the flow of an idea or an image throughout the work.  Like linking beads with a string.  And so I guess this past month, the beads I keep seeing are the ones my mind wants me to see.

Because those boxes I turfed through from the loft didn’t JUST contain stories.  They contained photos, and clothes, and hundreds and hundreds of pounds worth of Backstreet Boys memorabilia (please don’t judge me!).  But it was the writing which caught my attention.  The writing which peeked my downtrodden heart and made me remember who I am.  Who I’ve always been.   Who I can be…

And so, one final note on inspiration.  I always call Flicker my ‘first novel’.  The first book I saw through from start to finish.  But technically that’s not true.  When I was fourteen I wrote a book called ‘Waking Fran’.  It was about a girl in a coma, who is visited by her friends and family, and every time she gets a new visitor, the person’s arrival triggers a new memory inside her dreamlike coma world.  God knows if it’s any good, I’m pretty sure the manuscript is actually in one of the three boxes I’m yet to rifle through … if you’re lucky, perhaps one day I’ll even include an excerpt or two on the blog!  But the story itself isn’t the important part.  Because despite probably only scratching 20,000 words, if that.  Fourteen year-old me posted that story to a publisher!

And in the loft on Sunday, I discovered my first rejection letter.

Now, this was 1998 remember.  And so this wasn’t a slick email response to a query by an agent, but a pre-printed compliments slip, where the only words written in pen were the date ‘8th October 1998’, my name (spelled wrong), and ‘The Editor’ (because whoever signed it wouldn’t even put his or her name to the standard rejection note pad slip!!!!).

Walker Books have since rejected one of my ‘adult’ novels … ironically I think they didn’t even grace my agent with a response to her query (don’t even get me started on that aspect of editor ettiquette) – surely it makes the pre-printed rejection compliments slip seem rather classy??

But that isn’t the point … the point is I have a bit between my teeth.  I wasn’t just rejected last week or last month.  I was rejected thirteen years ago.  And I’ve bloody well kept writing … and finished three novels and some since getting that first rejection.

The rejection letter in question now has pride of place on the pinboard above my bed.  Because THAT is my inspiration.  In years to come, when I’m the next J.K. Rowling, maybe I’ll even get my own rejection notepad printed up, and audatiously sign off rejection notes TO EDITORS with nothing but the moniker ‘The Author’ … or maybe, back out of dreamland, I’ll just score my first book deal, and be able to frame that first ever rejection alongside my first ever acceptance 🙂

C-C xxx

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Totting up your Author Expenses

Yesterday was the end of my working month, and in my new ‘day job’ (you might want to see ‘Don’t Forget the Day Job!’ for an explanation of my covert top secret financial contractor position 🙂 I have to tally up all my expenses.

Now, for the purposes of HMR&C that’s fuel costs, food and stationery … but, as I spent hour after hour photocopying receipts for countless bottles of Diet Coke and M&S motorway lunches, I began thinking about my ‘other job’.

What expenses have I incurred over the past three years, in my pursuit of becoming an author? What have my gains and losses been? If I had to fill in a reconciliation form at the end of the month, what things would I be claiming for?

At this point, I’d like to throw the question out to you guys – what has your writing career cost you so far? What have you benefitted from, and what have you lost along the way?

Here are a few of my ideas –

Expenditures

  • Countless pens, pencils, notepads, napkins, receipts, printer paper, eye liners – basically anything you can write with or on!
  • Two laptop batteries – from writing far too much on the back of buses
  • Surprisingly no coffee (I get my caffeine from Diet Coke), but a fair old amount of chocolate, cheese, Haribo ….
  • LOTS of sleep – I’m a night owl. No matter what time I get through the door, I can’t go to sleep without writing something … and often, thirty minutes turns into four or five hours!
  • My eyesight! I had 20/20 vision until I was 22 … and after two years at uni, I ended up with glasses. Admittedly I only really wear them when I’m driving, but I’m sure if I didn’t spend quite so much time staring at my computer screen, my eyesight would be a lot better!
  • An awful lot of waiting – writing, or rather getting into the writing world, is a game of patience … something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me! However I like to think I’m learning.
  • My naivete – I have learned A LOT about the publishing world in my year and a half as a ‘signed’ author. I’m not going to lie, some of those things have been disappointing and frustrating, but, as I’m always saying, authors at my stage of the game need to stay positive … and with that in mind, it shouldn’t just be a case of losing your naivete about getting published, but also gaining perspective and knowledge about your ideal career … So that brings me onto the Profits of this process –

Profits

  • Lack of counseling sessions – who needs a therapist when your characters can have fights with their boyfriends and say everything that sprang to mind fifteen minutes after you had the real fight that inspired the fictional one?! A particularly good example of the cathartic nature of writing was in my first book ‘Flicker’. I myself was orphaned, and when I came to write a letter from the main character Felicity Firestone to her dead mother, to mark her own personal closure, it was probably the hardest chapter of a book I’ve ever written. To date, it’s the only section of a book that my agent has done a line-by-line edit of, because it ended up so lengthy and emotional, I didn’t even know where to start when it came to culling it down!
  • A whole host of friends – both real and fictional! It’s hard not to think of characters like real friends. You create them. You bring them to life, and if you’re writing on a full-time basis, you spend a number of your waking hours with them. It’s impossible not to feel for them in the same way you would friends, because as an author, whether consciously or subconsciously, you invest an awful lot of yourself in them. But writing has brought me a number of friends and acquaintances in the real world … or at least the electronic world. Social networking sites like Twitter, and blogs like this one, have allowed me to communicate with, and create a dialogue with other writers and potential readers. Also, one of my closest friendships developed as a result of a then-acquaintance expressing an interest in my writing, and then eventually becoming my pseudo-editor and rather Dad like figure on the other side of the world!
  • Loads of really interesting conversations! Tell someone you’re writing a book, or aspiring to be an author, and you genuinely never know what the answer might be. Maybe they’ve written a book, maybe they’re published, maybe they always wanted to write, or maybe they just want to hear about your experiences …
  • A steep, but great, learning curve. Every edit creates new ideas and new questions about my characters and stories. Every edit or suggestion is a new perspective, allowing an originally two-dimensional story to grow almost infinitely.

BUT NOT …

  • My fitness. Despite what people might think about writing and reading as pastimes, just because I love literature, doesn’t mean I don’t exercise! To be honest, the more time I spend in front of my laptop, the more important fitness and the outdoors is to me. When I was living in Canada, I actually found Bikram yoga was the perfect way to get ready to write, as after an hour and a half in a hot room with little more than my thoughts for distraction away from the heat and pain, I knew exactly what was coming next in the book I was writing.
  • Cigarettes and crazy fashion … alas I am no Carrie Bradshaw! If I’m not writing on the back of a bus full of backpackers, I’m snuggled up in my grandad PJs in bed or infront of the TV.
  • My hope, and self belief, … just yet. It CAN be a bit of an uphill struggle sometimes, and it’s easy to lose belief in yourself, but it’s a matter of knowing how to tackle your own negative attitude, and inspire yourself again – for me, that’s reading my own stuff. It’s only when I read something that I wrote some time ago that I see it through detached eyes and can actually appreciate how good (or bad!) my own writing is.
Let me know about your own experiences … Is there anything glaring I’ve missed off any of the lists?
C-C xxx

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Emotional Jump-starts

One of the things I’ve struggled slightly with when writing this blog is the personal / professional balance.  As a reader I’m not overly interested in reading what a blogger ate for breakfast, or the exact number of words he or she has managed to write that day, but equally I like to know the person behind the words.  The unique quality of blogging is that to some degree, it’s a journal.  Unedited.  From the heart.

And whilst, as those of you who regularly read my blog will know, I’m a big advocate of keeping your personal life separate from your writing – letting it influence sentiments and scenarios, but not completely take over, so that fiction remains fiction and not an autobiography – when it comes to blogging, the lines are blurred.  The rules more fluid.

Just flicking through the offerings of the Word Press ‘writing’ tab is a good enough example of this.  Some bloggers are historians, writing blog posts like school assignments.  Others literally use their blog as a computerized diary, including information of little interest to anyone other than their closes friends.

And yet, in my experience, my most successful posts on The Elementary Circle have been those which have come from the heart.  Tales of my background – My Crazy Unorthodox Life – my aspirations as a writer – J.K Raises the Bar – my career ‘solutions’ as I endeavour to become a career author, – Don’t Forget Your Day Job – and even my internal debate as to whether I can ‘officially’ call myself an author still – So Am I an Author Yet? 

So, with all that in mind, I HAD planned to write a post about ‘Emotional Jump-starts’.  The various triggers that have kicked me into action with my writing over the years.  The things which have driven me to put pen to paper with definite passion.  Ironically one of the biggest jump starts I had in writing was a really big break-up.  I say ironic, because yesterday I was dumped!  And that’s where the good old personal/ professional line comes in, because it’s not something I particularly want to talk about, and yet in some ways it’s very pertinent to this post.

I’m a Comfort Writer.  When I’m upset, I WRITE! It’s a pattern I know, and understand, and to be honest, it’s the very reason I’m typing right now.  I kept a diary from the age of 14, and whenever I was upset or feeling down about something, I would write.  Over the years, I kept the diaries almost daily, right up to the time I began to write Flicker in Australia.  And when my journal-keeping disappeared into insignificance, it was my fiction which took it’s place – using up all my desire to write each day, but remaining my emotional outlet.

And whilst obviously a journal is hugely different to fiction, and it wouldn’t be fair to anyone to simply narrate your life day by day, for some reason it’s actually more cathartic to write about other people’s fictitious lives than it is to wallow in your own sad tales.

Writing is my chocolate.  My Bridget Jones bowlful of ice-cream.  It’s how I forget my troubles, and gain perspective on issues, whether my characters are facing those very same issues as I am, or whether I’m writing about something completely unrelated.  Writing is another world, a world where you’re not a girlfriend, or an ex-girlfriend, or a troubled employee, crap best-friend, or over-burdened mother.  It’s a world where you hold all the reigns.  You’re in total control, and you can completely craft the outcomes without having to encounter the variables of other people.

Writing isn’t just a retreat for heartbreak.  It’s an escape from grief, and from whatever else causes your pain.  Or rather, that’s what I’ve realised writing has become for me.  I tend to write something each day.  Not because I’m forcing myself to write (Check out my views on that here! – ‘Falling into the Forced Writing Trap’) but because for me it’s a necessary wind-down to the day – whether that writing is on this blog, or a book, or editing, or even just planning out a story.  But the thing I’ve noticed is that my writing behaviour changes according to my emotional state of mind.  And if I’m stressed or upset about something, not only does the writing help me organise my own personal headspace, but the calibre of what I produce is genuinely better.

‘Flicker’ was a book written from heartbreak, and grief – so much so that I spent a LONG time editting out the more journalistic sections of the novel, until I felt happy that I had skimmed out the ‘Charly’ elements from the book, and that Felicity Firestone, the main character, wasn’t simply an image of myself.

However, ‘The Dream Navigator’, my second book, and the one which is currently with publishers, was formed from a different passionate reaction.  Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time will know that I had a different agent at PFD before I was represented by the lovely Lucy Dundas, and that other agent actually asked me to sideline Flicker after about 6 months of editing, the most major edit being cutting the word count from 180,000 words down to 90,000.  I’m sure any writers reading can imagine my sentiments, when I was told to forget a book which I had spent a year and a half writing and perfecting.

I was pretty bloody angry!  And it was that anger which bred determination, and that determination which saw me put pen to paper and create the first chapter of The Dream Navigator – the section of my writing which has probably received the most critical acclaim.

So, what have I learnt from all of this (apart from that my choice in boyfriends apparently sucks?!) …

I’ve learnt that I’m an emotional writer.  And that when I’m feeling down, or angry, or passionate about something, I ought to put pen to paper.  Because the things I create will not only make me feel ten times better, but they also might turn out to be pretty damn good 🙂

What about you?  What gets you writing?  What makes your writing good?  And what turns it into something you’ll simply delete it the next time you read it?

As ever, please comment below, and feel free to tell me what you think on Twitter – http://twitter.com/#!/CC_Lester

C-C xxx

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Don’t Forget the Day Job!!

Now, unless you’re J.K. Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author, or one of the lucky few writers who earn enough from advances and royalties to make writing their full-time job, then another PAID job is a necessity.

But, as I’ve realised in the past three years, finding the ideal job to keep you from becoming a starving artist can be a tough feat.

I WAS planning on starting this post with a little bit of information about the new job I’ve just started, but in the eleventh hour, after I Tweeted asking other authors what jobs they currently do, one of my best friends (who also recruited me to said new job!) messaged me to underline I wasn’t to talk about said new job!!!

Hmm … Ok, well first of all, please let me assure you that my current job is NOTHING to do with MI5 or MI6! Cool as that would obviously be!! Am pretty sure my tattoos and tongue piercing prevent me from ever working for them … that and my inherent inability to take orders from people!!!

What I CAN tell you about my new job, is that it’s actually what inspired me to take on the topic of ‘day jobs’. Because as an aspiring author, you tread an awkward tightrope.

You have a career goal in mind, something which you’re slowly working your way towards, however, until others start believing in you, you really have very little to show for your ‘career path’.

I’ve talked frequently about the different hurdles along the way to ‘becoming an author’ – having an idea for a book, starting a novel, finishing a novel, finding an agent, finding a publisher, getting a publishing date, getting a following … and all the other stuff in between.  But as you’ll all know, a lot of those hurdles are mounted out of sight.  Successes are predominantly personal.  You don’t get CV points, or cash bonuses for them.  And yet for many of us, we’ve worked at this career path harder than we’ve worked for anything else in our lives!

But very few people see that.  Very few people understand all the work going on in the background.  The edits, the revisions, the blogging, the tweeting, the endless queries to agents, the rejections … It all goes unseen until you have something physical to show for all the work.  A tangible book!

And until that moment, and for the majority of people for a long time after that first tangible book is published, to the outside world, you’re still NOT following a career path.  Because to the outside world, starter steps in a career are as an intern or as an office junior, not sending letter after letter to agencies, and not receiving a penny for it!

Which means, as a starving artist, the pressure to start a paid career of some description comes not just from your purse strings! Unfortunately, for many people, ‘I’m trying to get a book published’ isn’t an acceptable answer to the ‘what are you doing with yourself these days?’ question! It’s like replying ‘I’ve been doing some painting’ or ‘I’m trying to get into acting.’   Until you can show them actual signs of success, it’s almost judged as laziness.  Which is ironic, knowing how many hours I’ve put into writing over the past three years!

I guess one of the major issues I have, is that I have a very good degree, from a very good University, and because that degree was in Law, people expect me to want to be a lawyer.  To sit behind a desk for the rest of my life, and make far more money that way than I probably ever will from Young Adult fiction!

But anyone who knows me, knows I was never meant to be a lawyer.  I’m a traveller at heart, a people person.  Someone who wants to see the world, experience everything it has to offer, and inspire others to do the same through my writing.

So, if I’m not becoming a lawyer, what can I possibly do to make myself a well-fed artist?!

When I first started writing I was travelling.  I had nine months away from work, and all the time in the world to put electronic pen to paper.  But back in the real world, I soon realised writing is a lot harder when you’re also working 9-5.  When I lived in Canada, I worked as a nanny, probably the best job I could recommend to any aspiring author (if you like kids!!!).  The kids slept 2 hours during the day, and I often babysat in the evening, so there was lots of time to write and edit ‘on the job’, and the very nature of the job, where you are essentially being paid to be a good human being, meant I was never too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to put pen to paper.

However, unfortunately the judgmental eyes of the world (well not really, but probably my own sense of propriety) means I can’t really be a nanny back in my home country!  I’ve spent five long years at university, so I may as well do a day job which represents my educational history.  But what should I do?

Because I don’t need a career!  I don’t want to put my foot on a career ladder, because, at least in my mind, I’m already a couple of steps up another career ladder, and ok, that career hasn’t progressed far enough for me to support myself doing it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have goals and an aim in mind.

So how do I support myself in a way which uses my brain and capabilities, but that doesn’t distract me from my career target, which is becoming a successful published author?!

My answer appears to be working as a CONTRACTOR!! (I don’t think I’m going to get into trouble with my friend for telling you guys that much! 😉 )

I’m in a well-paid job, where I use my brain, and need my degree (apparently!) but where I don’t feel mentally-drained at the end of the day, and am still inspired enough to write.  And the great thing is, I’m not expected to be in the job long-term.  As a contractor, I’m not expected to be pursuing a career path, and seeking promotion. In fact, I’m not even expected to be there in five months time!  I just go in, do my job each day, and at the end of the day, leave it in the office!

And then, I can go home every evening and pursue my career 🙂

So, for now at least, it seems I’ve found my ideal day job, to complement my ideal career!  And hopefully by the time this contract ends, I’ll have conquered at least one more hurdle on my path to a personal feeling of success!

How about you guys?  What jobs do you do to help your writing careers?  What jobs don’t work particularly well with your ‘extra-curricular’ habits?!

As ever, tell me what you think!!! Am I right, am I wrong?  Let’s start a dialogue across the global community of writers 🙂 And please let me know if there’s anything else about writing and being an author which you guys would like me to write about!!

C-C xxx

 

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Filed under C-C Lester, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

Anything You Can Do …

As a child, I saw school as a competition.

I wanted to be top of the class, and that meant comparing myself, and my work, to other people.  It’s an attitude which worked as a child, and even through secondary school – GCSEs and A Level exams offered yet another forum for competition.  But, as an adult, studying at one of the best universities in the world, that attitude had to change.  If you try to be the best at Cambridge, you’re inevitably going to be disappointed.  In fact, a number of people I studied with quickly became more than disappointed.  They became defeated, verging on nervous breakdowns because for the first time in their lives they weren’t the best.  They had gone from big fish in small ponds, to tiny fish in an enormous ocean, and they couldn’t handle it.

It was at Cambridge that I realised a change of attitude was necessary, to survive, and to stay sane.  It was no longer about other people, and what they were doing.  I went from being competitive, to being a perfectionist.  I was simply going to do the best that I could do.  Whether that was in my studies, or in my extra-curricular life.  Regardless of how well others were doing, provided I was doing the best I could do, then I was happy.

And for the most part, I think this attitude works as an adult.  If you stop comparing yourself to others, and simply focus on what you want from your own life, then you’re likely to be far happier, and probably far more driven, because you’re doing things you want to do, not things other people want to do.

But there’s a problem with my logic.  Because being an author requires you to constantly be surrounded by the works of other writers.  Most writers start writing because they themselves love to read.  The written word surrounds them, and its not just their own.

I write Young Adult fiction because I enjoy Young Adult fiction.  I love the genre, and so when I pick up a book in a book shop it tends to be a YA fantasy novel.  That’s how I recently discovered the fantastic Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

But not everything you read is fantastic, by any stretch of the imagination!  And I think this is one of the most difficult parts of being in author-limbo.  After months of crafting words and constructing plot lines and sub-plot lines… After gritting your teeth and bearing subjective rejections from agents, editors and publishing houses … You have in your hands, the one thing you’ve been dreaming of attaining.  A physical published book.  Tangible acknowledgment of someone else’s literary success.  And it’s crap!

Now obviously that’s just my subjective opinion! (Just like all those publishers’ subjective opinions of my manuscripts!)And I’ll spare you from the details of exactly which book it is that has got my shackles up, because it’s not the only time it’s happened, and I don’t really want to turn the blog into a forum to bitch about other YA authors … but what I will say, is that as an unpublished author, who has spent the past three years writing and rewriting sentences – treating creative writing as a craft rather than just an outpouring of words – it’s quite depressing to come across something that really doesn’t read like anywhere near the same amount of work has gone into it.  Maybe it just slipped through the publishing net.  Maybe at times the insurmountable hurdle I feel like I’m facing actually gets a bit lower, and some less-deserving manuscripts make it through the ‘Total Wipeout’-like obstacle course to final publication.  Or maybe that’s just the whole point of opinions – they differ, and not everyone agrees that something is very well written.  To be fair, even highly successful recent ‘greats’ – Harry Potter, Twilight, Eragon, are not without copious critics.

So I guess there are several ways, as an unpublished author, that you can deal with reading a published book, which has (if you think competitively) beaten you over the publishing hurdles, and successfully come to print.

1) Accept that everyone thinks different things are good.  That’s why your agent might rave about your manuscript, but it doesn’t immediately get fought over by every publishing house it’s sent to!

2) Sometimes crap stuff gets through the filter – and if you start to see a pattern, and are beginning to lose self-belief, maybe try sending your manuscript to the publisher happily printing all the crap?! (This is a joke … kind of 🙂 )

3) Take on the positive message I always try to convey in my posts – that everything works out in the end, you just have to believe in yourself and your writing, and work your writing butt off … so use the annoyance at someone else’s success to power your own success

4) Use the book as an exercise to improve your own writing – don’t just bin it for being ‘bad’, but really think about why you don’t think the book works, and then try to apply that reasoning, and those criticisms to your own work.  That way your own work can become stronger directly as a result of the poorer work!

 

I think the important thing to underline, is whilst you do need some competitive spirit, or at least some desire to win in this publishing business, that shouldn’t mean you

a) shun all other writing all together, or

b) shun all other writers!

 

Being an author is a lonely enough profession in itself.  Unless you have the luxury of a co-author, you work alone, and the only way to get things done is by spending long hours in front of a lonely computer screen or blank page.  So your own quest for success, shouldn’t result in you losing a sense of author community.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, as blogging authors, we’re have a very real opportunity to create a writer community – published or unpublished – and social media will allow us to communicate in that community.  Don’t become so bitter and twisted because you think your own work is being overlooked, that you shut yourself away from your peers.  Often their feedback and criticism will be the most useful.

For example, I very recently discovered another author, of a similar age, represented by my agency, who not only also writes YA, but is also unpublished and lives within an hour of me.  So now, my plan is to see how many other writers I can find fitting those rough credentials – signed, but not yet published – so that perhaps we can form our own kind of writers’ group.  A forum for discussion, reading, and most of all growth.

And as for stopping reading altogether?  Well that should NEVER happen!  Because, like I said earlier, most writers get into writing a particular genre, because it is THAT genre which he or she loves to read.  So stopping reading a genre, simply because you don’t enjoy comparing the work to your own, is a really sad bi-product of choosing to become a writer.

 

C-C xxx

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