Tag Archives: inspiration

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

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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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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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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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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