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Bonnes, a beautiful french village that runs along the banks of the river Dronne, held an 'Art au jardins' weekend on the 21st and 22nd July.
Thirteen years ago when I came to France for 6 months armed with my diaries, my bike, a pair of wellies and my computer, I rented a studio in one of the houses in Bonnes. For those 6 months I went through all of my diaries from the age of 11 and typed them into my computer. It was incredibly therapeutic - I was re-united with people and places that I had completely forgotten. I walked Charlotte's (the studio owner) two dogs every day for two hours and had a productive and fantastic time. I decided to buy a small house in a neighbouring village, pack up my life in the UK and come out here to write.
So it was fitting that thirteen years later I should set up a stand in Charlotte's garden for the art weekend selling Spaghetti Head. I felt as if I had come full circle.
We had a steady stream of people enjoying the open-gardens and I chatted to most of them. I was bowled over by how interested and friendly people were and how easily they bought a copy of S Head. I sold 20 in all - which I thought was amazing. And it was an invaluable exercise for me because I realised that the creative side of setting up the stand, chatting to people, smiling, laughing, is what I really enjoy doing, and so at every opportunity I will attempt to keep Spaghetti Head out there on a road-tour.
If you have a paperback to sell I can recommend getting out amongst your readers and saying hello.
Starting to write can be a daunting process for some. The words do not always flow naturally and stories don't always take the shape you thought they would as easily or as quickly as you want. The key is to keep at it and have confidence in your work, says Helen Cross, author of four novels, many short stories, radio dramas and screenplays. Her novel My Summer of Love became a BAFTA award-winning film starring Emily Blunt.
‘The world of publishing can be intimidating to a new writer with no connections in the industry. And what I know now that I didn’t when I set out, is that you, the writer, are the lifeblood of that industry: everything comes back to you, the creative artist. And not just the publishing industry, but the film industry too.
You are more powerful than you know and if you can trust your ideas, take risks, follow your instincts, work hard and hone your talent honestly and bravely there really are no insurmountable barriers to connecting with readers.’
I love these words from Helen. Whether you are traditionally published, or self-published, Helen reminds us that if it wasn’t for us, the writer, there would be no industry: no kindle store: no Waterstones.
We should remind ourselves of this throughout our working day. If we’re experiencing writer’s block, or having a wobble of self-doubt – we must sit back, take a deep breath and think: what would readers do without us?
You can find more words of wisdom from Helen at https://www.helencross.net
I met Rebecca through social media, as we had both worked in Africa. We have struck up a 'social media friendship' I guess you could call it: she has supported Spaghetti Head on her blogsite @ConquerBooks and I was interested in what her writing experience looks like. This is what Rebecca has to share about The First Draft:
Shannon Hale elegantly calls it shoveling sand into a box so that you can build castles, but Hemingway just refers to it as shit. It’s the first draft.
To get started with a first draft, I let ideas ramble around in my head to see if it’s a viable story. I generate characters during my morning runs and practice dialogue in the shower. As much as I think I understand the story, when it goes down on paper, it becomes an entirely different animal.
Take my current work-in-progress…title still unknown. I finished my first draft a few weeks ago, but the idea was in my head for years. I wrote a few chapters but felt I wasn’t doing the story justice, so I set it aside while I worked on another long project.
A Book in Four Months
By the time I went back to those measly pages, I didn’t even recognize the story. Then I read On Writing by Stephen King. His advice on a first draft is that it should not take longer than a season to write. If it does, it will feel disjointed and lost.
I decided to put that in action and set a goal of four months to complete my first draft. Most novels fall between 80,000 and 110,000 words, depending on the genre. I knew this story would be on the longer end of that, so I planned to write 25,000 words each month. I remember nodding to myself, yeah, that sounds doable.
On Day One I realized my ‘doable goal’ meant I had to write nearly 1,000 words per day. It was a lot to eke out one word at a time.
Try Not to Use Your Head
Moreover, when I looked back over what I just wrote, my face warmed. The raw manuscript was embarrassing, something I’d never want to show to another person.
I had to put into action another piece of advice: pretend no one is going to read your work and write from the heart, not the head. As a writer, I thought I understood what that ugly first draft was for, but my inclination was to spend my time rewriting what I had just written. It was much more important for me to push forward in the story than worry about those early words.
The Beat Sheet
When I’m about 30 or 40% finished with a fictional story, I take a break from the unstructured writing and plan out a comprehensive beat sheet to outline the story arch. You can find a write up I did on that here.
The timing is useful a third of the way through. The early stages taught me about my characters’ motivations and more of the story is figured out which makes it even possible to visualize things more clearly.
Then, I write until I get to the end of the story and achieve the word count goal.
After four months, I reached 100,000 words. I had a complete story arch, clear main characters, and a unique take on the genre. I also changed characters’ names halfway through the story, exposed plot holes, and wrote confusing, bigheaded nonsense. However, all of that is fine, because that is the point of a first draft, to work it through.
I’m taking a break for a month so I can return to the manuscript with fresh eyes and will do several rounds of editing before sharing it with beta readers. I’m happy to be on this side of the first draft, but it is that early struggle that makes all the difference, it is what makes me a writer.
Rebecca Zornow is an American blogger and writer of speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and memoir. She is the co-founder of the book blog ConquerBooks.com. You can follow her on Facebook @ConquerBooks or on Twitter and Instagram @RebeccaZornow.
Every writer faces barriers along their way: not having enough time: not having the right space for writing: not receiving support from those around you. However, for many, internal barriers are the biggest blocker. It’s our internal dialogue that often holds us back. Spaghetti Head is all about internal dialogue and how to try to turn it into a positive influence in your life.
Helen Cross, tutor for a Getting Started workshop I'm co-hosting in September, is also very aware of the internal battle that many writers face, and she gives this advice: ‘Personal confidence is a big barrier for many writers: why on earth would anyone be interested in your thoughts or opinions even if you did manage to craft them into a work of fiction? Why would anyone care about someone you have made up, within a sequence of events you have invented, when there is so much real drama in the world? There are no easy answers to this and the solution comes with writing, writing, writing. As you fall under the spell of your own fictional world and become deeply intrigued by your characters and their problems, your book becomes a story that just has to be told and you begin to enjoy writing it. As your ideas are tested on the page, as you wrestle with the truth and pin it down, you grow in confidence about your place in the world. You start to wonder if someone else might also enjoy reading your writing. Then you realise not everyone has to like it, just some people.’
Helen has written four novels, many short stories, radio dramas and screenplays, so her advice to just write, write and then write some more definitely works. Write your way through the fear is the message that I am taking from her words above. She has more wise words on her website also: https://www.helencross.net
Personally, it took years before I shared Spaghetti Head’s manuscript with anyone – and when I did finally hand it over I felt sick with nerves. Why? I was afraid of being told that it was grammatically awful and the story was rubbish – in short, that I was no good. But as I waited for my reader’s feedback I started to change my thinking to ‘hang on a minute – I’ve just handed out the second draft of my novel – which I wrote, all by myself. So stuff what they think – I’m flipping brilliant for having got that far!
When the feedback arrived, it was very constructive and motivated me to continue re-writing. I had broken through that initial fear barrier. Three years later and I’ve just self-published.
How do I feel now with all my friends and family being able to access it? I feel proud that I have achieved something that so many people would love to do. How many times have you heard people say they’d love to write a book? Well I wrote one! And that’s what over-rides my fear button. As Dr Susan Jeffers says, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.’
The first writing workshop that I'm co-hosting in September, is focussing on how to Get Started on that book you’ve always wanted to write. I started mine so long ago that I’ve almost forgotten how I did it!
Thankfully we have Helen Cross leading us: who has been through the ‘starting’ process on many occasions. And although I’m sure that everyone’s experience will be different, a common thread running through is the need to be armed with some basics to make that first step seem less daunting, and to help keep us focussed. Helen will be giving us techniques and exercises to achieve exactly that. We recently asked Helen what advice and tips she would give to people who are looking to start writing a book:
‘Start by putting your thoughts, memories, ideas, anecdotes into words. Writing prose fiction is different to writing a diary or a letter, you are creating an imaginative landscape, internally and externally, and you should let your writing style rise to the challenge. Read your paragraphs aloud and consider what sounds best. As you get into a habit of doing this regularly, you will begin to identify your own writer's voice, a style of expression that is uniquely, and engagingly, you.
Then begin paying attention to characters - noticing and noting details about any forming in your mind. Try to write with concrete nouns rather than abstract nouns – place an emphasis on things rather than feelings. Tell me what a character wears and says but also how they smell and sound. A great help to you will be learning to eavesdrop, noting down snippets of revealing, funny or astonishing conversations. Travelling on public transport is good for this. When you have characters who interest you, begin to build their world: think what is happening within them as well as without. What is their problem and what could happen in a story as they start to solve that problem?'
Helen’s top-tip is to carry a notebook so that you can write things whenever they spring into mind – often those initial raw thoughts are the purest.
In my experience, I have found there are times when I am unable to jot ideas down, so instead I use my voice recording facility on my iphone, because, did you know – our short-term memory only retains information for three minutes. Three minutes! That's nearly as bad as the memory of a gold-fish - no wonder I’ve forgotten so many excellent one-liners!
Throughout my time writing and re-writing Spaghetti Head, I searched in writing magazines and online for a decent writing workshop/retreat to attend. Some I found were really interesting but over-priced, others I found were affordable but didn't offer what I was looking for. So, once I'd published Spaghetti Head I thought, hang on, why don't I have a look at hosting a workshop/retreat myself.
Fast forward a few months, and Becky Slack (a fellow writer based in France) and I have decided to offer budding writers the opportunity of attending the workshop that I could never find. We've called it l'atelier des écrivains - the Writers' Workshop, France.
Set just outside one of France's most Beautiful Villages (Aubeterre-sur-Dronne), we're kicking off with a Getting Started workshop, held over a long weekend from September 20-24th. If I'd found a workshop like this to attend way back when would my writing journey have been any different? Who knows. I know I would have enjoyed it.
Find out more about the workshop by clicking on the link below the photo.
Two months ago I could sit infront of my laptop in the evening, browsing properties in SW France and Somerset: dreaming. Now, however, my evenings are a whirl of tweeting, scheduling posts on Hootsuite, trying to understand how to use LinkedIn, noting down my passwords for gmail, mailchimp, website, godaddy, createspace, wordpress, onedrive and so on. I'm finding everything that needs reading, researching, joining or liking overwhelming. The crazy-looking Emu in the photo looks how I feel. But I mustn't complain, because apparently, such is the life of a writer.
Tonight, however, I'm taking the time to only write this blog and then celebrate. Why? Well, Spaghetti Head has been available as a kindle eBook for the last 6 weeks. Today it became available as a PAPERBACK!! It feels like a massively monumental moment: a story that I have held very close to my heart has jumped through it's final hoop.
Tomorrow evening I'll be back on my lap-top trying to figure out how to let people know that it's out there, waiting to be discovered.
Until then, cheers!
I realise that all my efforts have gone into realeasing Spaghetti Head into the world, and I have somewhat neglected future planning! I think this is because for years I have had two book titles swimming around my mind, and it's just that Spaghetti Head shouted the loudest and so was written first. Now that it's been published, and all I have to do is fifteen hours of self-promotion and social media every day (!) I feel it's time for the second title to come to life. To bring it to life I am going to go and sit under an Oak tree in South Somerset with my notepad and pen and see what happens. Three trees will definitely play an important role in the book. This poem is getting my creative juices flowing - I wrote it in Mali in 1997:
In a village in the middle of nowhere
sit twenty-five African men and me.
Surrounded by chickens and sand,
we discuss what their women's future will be.
But there's no women around -
they've no choice,
and they've no voice
in what passes in the shade of this tree.
Well, hello. How excited am I to share the news that FemaleFirst.co.uk have featured my article about how things will be when Women govern the planet. Slack Communications sent them a press release about Spaghetti Head, and within minutes they contacted me to ask if I would write an amusing article around how it may actually be if women DID govern the planet.
Writing the article was easy, as I have spent years writing Spaghetti Head in a world governed by Women. How it could relate to the modern day though? You'll need to read it to find out!