Ignoring Advice from Stephen King

File:Onwriting.jpgOn Writing by Stephen King isn’t really a book of advice for writers, its about one man’s journey to becoming a writer. The advice is there between the anecdotes and the difficulties he’s encountered along the way. If there is one thing he believes is the best way to write a book it’s to get the story out from beginning to end without plotting in advance because you just don’t know where the story is going to take you.

That’s true, I have written scenes where my characters have taken over, said or done something I wasn’t expecting and taken the story in an unexpected direction which meant having to change the plan, often substantially. In the story I’m currently writing Cora’s tutor tells her something I expected to keep secret from her for a few more chapters. I couldn’t believe he’d done that. It changed everything and the twenty thousand word synopsis I’d written suddenly became obsolete.

I had two choices. I could rewrite the scene the way I’d originally planned or I could stick with the new version and see what happened, adapting the plan I thought I would be following as I went along. Since I liked the new version, and I think these spontaneous changes happen for a reason, I decided to stick with it.

Like Mr King, a lot of my ideas begin with a ‘what if’ moment, but I have to transfer that initial flash of light bulb inspiration into an outline and from there I compile a chapter list, breaking the story up into pieces, scene by scene, so I have something to follow. Then I can write the scenes that have already formed in my head. I rarely write the story in order and only work from chapter to chapter if no other scenes present themselves.

I often edit as I go too. A big no no if you’re trying to get the story out from start to finish. But when I step away from the keyboard at the end of a writing session the scene bubbles away in my subconscious, throwing up words, descriptions and dialogue that weren’t there during a first frantic typing. Better to go back and put them in now before they fade from memory as quickly as they emerged.

If I had the luxury of being able to sit and write and write for hours on end, instead of grabbing the odd fifteen minutes or so before having to leave the house or fit it in to the breaks between lectures, would I follow Stephen King’s advice? Probably not.

I like having my map, but even the map gets redrawn when the story starts to write itself and escapes the boundaries into new territory. It’s a guide not a rule book. If I’d written Blackfeather from start to finish when I first had the idea it would have been a stand-alone story with a soppy happy ending and, thankfully, that didn’t happen. Of course, editing might have changed that. In the end it’s not how you get the story down that’s important, only that you do.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

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This Is How I Disappear

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In my ‘office’ there is a set of three drawers containing various bits and bobs, in the bottom drawer of which you will find folders of loose sheets of paper and handwritten  notebooks with story ideas, chapters from novels, some typed up later, some not. Then there are the electronic files of first drafts, revisions, notes on characters and snippets of dialogue, scene descriptions etc.  The trouble is I have these files stored on two laptops and an external hard drive with copies  of copies and folders within folders all with the same name and I’m never sure which is the latest version or even if there is a latest version – frankly it has got rather out of hand.

I decided I was going to have a sort out and deleted as many redundant copies as possible along with old drafts of Blackfeather and Immortal and some of my short stories because I figured they were no longer needed now the books have been completed and published.

Then this Thursday I attended a lecture by Dr James Bainbridge entitled Texts and Variants in which he talked about the differences in similar texts produced by A.S.J. Tessimond over several years of his life. Tessimond was an accomplished poet, copy-writer, womaniser and mystery. Throughout his life he used over forty alternate identities, fell in love with prostitutes and models at the drop of a hat, even travelling to Rome after tracking one model down from a photograph he discovered in a shop in London having decided ‘She was the one’.  When he died he left a friend in charge of his manuscripts, but there was one problem – there were no manuscripts.

It was Dr Bainbridge who discovered Tessimonds lost archive of letters, photographs and writings in an attic in Lancaster. He has been writing and researching the man ever since.

In his lecture, Dr Bainbridge showed us several versions of the same passage written by Tessimond over three years. Each one had slight variations, going through the process of editing and revision as any writer does with their work, but in one the final passage had something missing. Tessimond had been reminiscing about a time when people travelled on open topped trams. In the first version of his tale he wondered what they did when it rained, speculating that they either put up umbrellas or retreated to the lower deck, but in the final version he missed this crucial information merely stating that people travelled on open topped trams and that wearing hats would provide some protection. The reader, without access to the first draft, is left wondering protection from what?

Tessimond underwent electro-compulsive therapy during his life to treat severe depression. You can see from the deterioration of his handwriting how this ‘therapy’ effected him. He once said: ‘I’ve been writing for weeks now and I can’t understand a word I’ve written.’ It also made him forget large parts of his life, wiping both short and long term memory so that in redrafting parts of his writing he could no longer remember what the initial point of his story was. Hence the non-sensical final draft of the passage about his early life. I felt incredibly sorry for Tessimond and wrote on my notes ‘he is starting to disappear’. At the time I thought, there’s the kernel of an interesting story in there, but if I got any further with the idea I have forgotten it!

I’ve contemplated throwing out the piles of papers and books in the bottom drawer, but haven’t quite been able to bring myself to do it. I think now I’ll hold on to them. If anyone ever finds those scribblings  or what’s left of my files on some computer hard drive or other I imagine they’re going to be incredibly annoyed at my deleting the stuff I have. I feel a bit regretful myself too now. They are, after all, an archive of my progress from first starts to final edit. In future I shall make sure to keep a copy of everything – but only one – OK maybe two, just in case.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Trust The Universe

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The natural and preferred habitat of a writer is solitude, ideally a country cottage in the middle of nowhere or deep in a dark wood off the beaten track surrounded by a magic mist that keeps the world at bay. My family are always joking that if I became a famous author I’d hate it because that would mean TV appearances, book signings and the possibility of having to interact with other people. The idea gives me goosebumps and I’ve had to think about what I want and expect from being an independent author. Having a bestseller would be nice, the money would be welcome too, I can’t deny that, but I write because I love it and when I get an idea for a story in my head I HAVE to write it. The characters, the plot, the locations don’t leave me alone until I get it onto the screen or on to paper. Often I wake up in the middle of the night to scribble down a scene or conversation before my scatterbrain memory forgets a really good piece of description or dialogue. So the whole idea of social media is anathema to me.

As independent authors we are told that the only way to build a platform, get our name out there and sell our books is to maintain a presence on social media akin to an omnipresent god. It’s exhausting and I hate it. We are supposed to endlessly tweet, post on Facebook, blog, spend time leaving comments on forum after forum interacting with others, but at the same time are warned not to oversell our wares or it will turn people off. Getting the balance right is not easy. A couple of weeks ago I came across a post by another writer who had decided that she wasn’t going to play the game anymore and was winding down her commitment to socialising both on and off the internet so she could do more of the things she wanted to do and reduce the stress in her life. She wasn’t worried about sales. Then I came across this post by Derek Haines, another self published author, that made a lot of sense.

Having struggled with social media it seems to me that the best thing to do is sit back, relax and let the universe take care of it. Those who find, buy and read my books were meant to find them without any hard sell from me. Of course, some kind of presence is still required, but why fret about followers? The answer is to keep writing, doing what you love to do and don’t force the rest.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

 

Why Are All The Angels Naked?

I’ve spent the last two hours trawling through book cover design websites that offer both pre-made and custom book cover designs and have noticed a few things.

1. That prices for book covers have soared in the last two years.

2. That covers are often quite similar,this is most evident in the romance category and therefore this crosses over into paranormal romance too with some designers using the same elements on several covers. Ive also spotted different designers using the same elements as each other on covers in the same categories. Oh and I’m pretty sure that you’re not supposed to use images of well known actors or characters from T.V. Series (Angelus from Buffy – yes really!) I don’t want to find myself in a copyright lawsuit.

3. That buying a design only covers you for a certain number of sales, then you need to purchase an extended license to keep using that cover. (Some sites, not all)

And

4. That all the angels are naked.

Why?

Do they have nothing better to do than come down to Earth to seduce their charges? Are they kicked out of Heaven with nothing but the wings on their backs?

I’m beginning to wonder if my idea of romance is completely at odds with everyone else. Paranormal romance books often feature sexual content (mine is no exception, though it’s left up to the readers imagination to fill in the details), but  if that sexual content is foremost in the writing, if the plot revolves around the protagonists “getting it on” or taking it off, doesn’t that make it erotica? And that, for me, is a different genre altogether. A cover image of a man and woman with their mouths glued to each other doesn’t tell me anything about your book. Does it actually have a plot, a quest, an adventure, a mystery? Or is it just about the sex?

Perhaps we should take pity on these angels if the only item of clothing they own is a well placed feather; start a charity for example, donate 10% of all our book sales to “Jumpers for the Fallen” or “Armani for Angels”. I happen to know that Lucifer loves an Armani suit, though I doubt he needs my help to buy him one.

I came away from my cover search disappointed and frustrated. I’m a writer not a cover designer, but it seems the only way to get what you want, at a price you can afford, is to become a Jack of All Publishing Trades.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

 

Why Writer’s Block is a Myth

Everybody’s heard of “writer’s block” even if you’re not a writer yourself. It’s been used by writers for years to explain why their last book took x amount of years to write instead of several months and it’s the usual reason behind every late manuscript, article, blog post etc etc. But, some writers will also tell you that it’s a myth. That writer’s block doesn’t really exist and that: “There are no blocked writers only lazy writers.”

They’ll tell you that -“writers write” and that even if you’re only getting down nonsense on a page, or writing about your day and how awful it’s been, that’s the only way you can keep calling yourself a writer.

Well, I’d have to disagree.

I spend probably 65 – 70% of my time staring off into the middle distance visualising scenes I’m going to write, might write or may never bother to write, in an attempt to really see my story as it happens. I believe Stephen King advises writers to do this so that they can write a scene with credibility. You have to see it first before you write it. But whilst I’m doing that I’m not actually writing. Only when I can see that scene as plain as if it happened right in front of my eyes do I put pen to paper or fingers on keys.

I know at least one other person who writes like this (a certain comic book writer) who said that most of his life has been spent staring at walls.

I see absolutely no point in churning out garbage for the sake of calling it writing when you could be dreaming up the plot of your next bestseller or setting the scene for the meeting of your star-crossed protagonists. And sometimes, in between all this there will be days when you can’t think of the words your hero wants to say, or see how the light falls on the brutally murdered corpse of your latest victim. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a writer.

Writer’s block isn’t a myth it’s your brain screaming “Hey I need a rest, OK?” So give yourself a break. You’re still a writer, not a lazy writer. Ideas and inspiration can’t be forced they come when they’re ready.

Writers write, but in between they think and they dream.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

6 Reasons Why Every Author Should Self Publish

 Image by "Lynn Gardner on Flickr":http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

Image by “Lynn Gardner on Flickr :http://www.flickr.com/photos/grandgrrl/5240360344/ and used with Creative Commons License.

When I first began writing seriously I did a lot of reading up on the subject of Indie Publishing versus Traditional Publishing and for a while I was in two minds, weighing up the pros and cons of each, before making a decision on what was best for me. I decided that I really wanted to give self publishing a go, after all what did I have to lose and and I don’t have to close the door on publishing the good ol’ fashioned way; the dream of getting a publishing contract and seeing my books on the shelves of Waterstone’s are still there, but in the meantime my work is “out there”.

Here are a few of my reasons for going down the Indie Publishing route:

1. I don’t want to hand over control of my story to someone else. A publisher might ask you to change the story, the characters or even the title.

2. I don’t want to wait forever for a publishing deal.

3. I want to write for myself and my readers, not for a perceived market or because such and such a topic or genre are “In” right now.

4. If I’m going to do all the work anyway, why should I give a cut of my profits away?

5. It’s FUN. I want to connect with my readers, not spend most of my time submitting to agents and publishers who don’t know or understand me and only see me as a commodity for making more money for themselves. (I appreciate agents are more likely to make the effort to get to know you, but in the end this is a business).

6. It’s environmentally friendly – e-books mean less trees cut down for books which may end up just getting pulped anyway.

I’m sure I could think of a lot more reasons too, but the ones given above cover the main points.

There are downsides, it’s extremely hard work, some people won’t entertain Indie authors because they think the writing is going to be substandard and there’s a lot of competition. I’m responsible for the cover, the blurb, the marketing, everything and though that’s quite liberating it’s also daunting. It’s a great feeling though to see your work up on Amazon alongside your favourite books and if you really need to see it on a shelf you can always take a print copy to Waterstone’s and pose with your book on a shelf behind you 🙂

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

Of Dreams and Realities

Times are tough for new and unknown authors, whilst it is easy to get your work out there through self-publishing it’s not so easy to get people to read your work. Why should they take a chance on an author they’re not sure they will like or who might turn out to be not very good when there are plenty of well known, well reviewed authors being published by the traditional presses? Well, if no one ever tries anything new how do any authors make it?

The truth is it’s hard work. Spreading the word on social media takes a lot of time and effort and the more time you spend tweeting or blogging the less time you have for writing. Some authors are not very comfortable with socialising in the real world never mind in cyberspace and so building a platform and an army of followers is extremely daunting. Whilst the ultimate goal of a writer is to make a living from their creations it is only a lucky few who become overnight bestsellers. It might seem unfair that people are not willing to pay for something that has taken you months, possibly years of painstaking work – planning, crafting, developing, writing, editing, more writing, more editing and polishing until it is the best story it can possibly be – but if it really is as good as you think it is it will gather the readers it deserves – eventually. And the more you write the more people will notice – it’s all good practice.

The best advice I could give a new writer it is to forget the idea of becoming rich through selling millions of copies of your e-book. If you’re really a writer – a born writer – someone who must write, rather than someone who does it to make money, then sales will mean nothing to you; readers are what you want – maybe not even that, Perhaps all you need is an outlet for your creativity. Write for yourself, your own pleasure and forget everyone else.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter