Life Cycle of a Writer: Debbie

It’s been a while since I last blogged. (Ooer, that sounds a bit like a confession.) Unlike most of my fellow Romaniacs, I’ve had little to shout about. In fact, NOTHING to shout about.

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A bad case of the January blues ran into February, then March and before I knew it Easter had been and gone and I was no further on with progressing, ‘Living in the Past,’ the novel I (finally) finished last summer. Why?

Well, once again I have any number of reasons, although a critical NWS review comes high up the list. After I’d digested the five page report which, in a nutshell suggested I might be better off to put what I’d learned so far down to experience and move on to the next novel, I lost all motivation to respond to the 5.30am alarm clock set on dark, damp mornings to get up and write. The pain of my arthritis and news that I need to have two lots of major surgery to replace my existing prosthetic jaw joints consumed me. Morphine patches meant I spent up to four hours asleep in the daytime. Deranged blood results, yet more building work, the garden, domestic chores, not enough hours in the day; these things individually may not seem much but all together they threatened to overwhelm me. 3

For months, I returned to deriding myself. ‘You’ll never be a writer … You’ll never get that book published … What if the reader is right and the agent who was waiting to see it (three years ago!) also thinks it’s a pile of poo? And what if, after reading it, they won’t entertain the idea of ever receiving anything from me again?’

‘Man up, mom!’ said my eldest son. ‘So the reader didn’t like it? It’s one person’s opinion. Not everyone will like it. But the question is; do you like it? You’ve been working on it long enough. Or if not, do as they say and stop talking about it!’

He was right. It has taken four years to write this novel so far and all I’ve ever really done is talk about it, except when the opening chapter got runner up in the inaugural Festival of Romance in 2011. However every time I’ve almost condemned it to the waste paper bin ‘something’ has stopped me. I still believe. I still believe it has legs.

So, I HAVE A PLAN and writing it down here will make me do it. I’ve made a start, re-read the whole thing and also re-read (several times) the NWS critique. Interestingly, because I’ve let the MS rest a while, I’ve returned to it with fresh eyes and concede the reader raised several points that are fair comment. I don’t feel anywhere near so gloomy about it. Using two different coloured highlighter pens I’ve gone through and highlighted, a) the areas I need to change and, b) all other points I’m still unsure about which I must ponder on. With any luck if I work through systematically, I’ll find the holes, make my heroine more appealing, nail the research, expand the characters, dig deeper for more conflict etc because one thing’s for sure; I’ll never be a writer or get a book published if I give in.

You know, this writing malarkey really is a battle of wills. Is it a pile of poo? It may be. It may not. The only way for me to find out is to try. I haven’t spent four years on this to give up now. Don’t get me wrong; if the agent agrees I may need to re-think the plan but until then I have to give it my best shot.

You heard it here first; by the time I next post, it will be done. Polished. Finished. No more twiddling. And by then I’ll have contacted the agent to see if they are still interested!

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Wish me luck. I’ll be in the summerhouse.

Until another day

Debbie xx

Life Cycle of a Writer – Debbie Fuller-White

As writers, there’s one thing we do almost as much as writing.

No, it isn’t eat cake.

We wait.

Think about it. First, we wait for ideas to strike. Next we wait for time to write. Then there are endless hours we spend waiting for the browser to load web history for research. We wait (sometimes a long, long time) for our brains to get into gear. Once we’ve gone through all this waiting and have a completed WIP then, provided your arthritic fingers and hunched back have held out, there is a perfect proof, fit to send to an agent, publisher or to enter into some competition. And thereafter comes the hardest waiting of all.

It can take weeks or months. Sometimes we never hear back after submission. Long, interminable periods of waiting. I’ll confess; patience isn’t one of my virtues. My novel went off to the NWS for critiquing at the end of July and it’s proving a long wait, although I’ve heard the poor organiser has an injury and so the manuscripts are delayed sending to readers. So, all I can do is wait … And wait … And wait.

If I have any fingernails left I need to muster some powers of concentration and keep busy to distract myself and help make the time go quicker. So here’s the plan:-

– Keep on going, keeping on going. It’s important to keep up momentum so I’m getting on with the next project. With the working title, ‘I Believe In Angels,’ I’ve entered the Love Story New Talent Award with my first chapter and I’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Glastonbury where the novel will be set. I spent much of the time secreted in cafes or on the High Street, eating, drinking, people watching and surreptitiously scribbling in my notebook, in the spirit of research. I’m also going to do a couple of short stories and enter them into competitions.

– Block out the crows. Sing in their faces. ‘Tralalalala!’ Try to ignore them and not let self-doubt creep in.

– Ignore the desire to email and check to see if the WIP has slipped off the organiser’s desk and into the waste paper basket, or to send it again.

– Stop reading and re-reading the submission guidelines, asking myself if I got it right, and counting how many weeks since I submitted.

– After months of being a hermit it will be good to catch up with friends and the people I love and who make me happy.

– Catch up on reading. In the words of Stephen King, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’

– Try and stay positive. Make a list of potential agents and editors to submit to.

– Keep it in perspective. Remember the NWS organisers (and Editors and Agents) have a mountain of manuscripts to work through. I’ve spent months and sent my work out there so it’s understandable to feel a little anxious and exposed but that’s all the more reason to keep busy and help pass the time.

So, what strategies do you have for getting through the big wait on any part of your writing?

Hopefully by the next update I’ll have news from my reader. Until then, you, like me, will just have to wait…

Bye for now,

Debbie xx

Life Cycle of a Writer – There’s no such word as ‘Can’t.’

It’s taken four long and tumultuous years and four re-writes but I’ve done it! Yesterday I printed and packaged up my first novel and sent it off to the Romantic Novelist Association New Writer’s Scheme. COMPLETE. A whole 86200 words! And I can’t tell you how good I feel today.

IMG_1014It’s been a tough slog. Along the four years my Nan, who brought me up, passed away, I’ve had major surgery, my husband of twenty-three years left my sons and I. Then there was the subsequent divorce, house move and upheaval, yet more surgery and treatments while at the same time having builders in for months to renovate our new home throughout.

Looking back I can see how my writing slipped well down the list of priorities. There were times when I despaired at my lack of inspiration and motivation to progress my WIP, ‘Living in the Past,’ or ‘Mothers Love’ as it started out when I came second in the Festival of Romantic Fiction’s new Talent Award in 2011. My head was too full of everything. I’d lost my mojo and all confidence. I couldn’t do it. Who would want to read my books? The number of times I’d mutter to myself, ‘Stop kidding yourself! It’s just a dream.’

But a dream is just a wish without a plan isn’t it? Somehow I mustered some inner strength and with the cajoling of my closest friends, I was persuaded not to give in. Knowing I had to do something or I’d forever kick myself for failing, I booked to go on an Arvon Course with Kate Long and Simon Thirsk. There for a week, I motored on with the WIP and when I read out one of the chapters to the group my writing was described as, ‘Catherine Cookson meets Stan Barstow.’ It was a huge turning point. That course made me believe.

However once I returned home from course, inspired as I was, domestic chaos kicked in again. I drifted for another year or so. I say drifted. What I actually mean is I spent about nine months of it stepping over bags of concrete, RSJ’s, lengths of wood, stacked in piles and tins of this and that, listening to builders and their incessant banter, drilling, hammering, sawing, being without electricity or water for days on end. It was hardly conducive to quiet writing time!

I wrote when I could (which wasn’t very often) and sent in a partial of the novel last year to the NWS. It was a very favourable report which once again, restored my belief. Realising if I kept on as I was doing, I’d keep on getting the same results, I went on Tamsyn Murray’s, ‘Live, Breathe, LOVE WRITING!’ earlier this year. I talked about it in my last Life Cycle post. It gave me that final push and with the help of two of the other delegates, Helen Walters and Bernadette O’Dwyer, we challenged ourselves to finish.

It was a first to actually be able to type the words, ‘THE END’ at the end of July. Then final edits and one last read-through with the help of a good friend and it was done.

I don’t mind admitting there were several dark occasions when domestic chaos, my health and the demands of life overwhelmed me and I almost bailed from writing and the RNA altogether and gave up forever my dream to be published. Had it not been for my Romaniac girls and the wonderful supportive RNA, writer friends and closest friends who kept my spirits up and kept me believing I may not be able to say, ‘I DID IT!’

I DID IT. Now the hard work begins to find an agent or publisher who is interested but for now, I’ll settle for having finished it. My Nan’s words ring in my head, ‘You see; didn’t I always tell you, there’s no such word as ,’CAN’T.’

Until another day,

Debbie xx

Life Cycle of A Writer: Progress

Some of you will know writing doesn’t come easy to me. Or it hasn’t with the health issues and domestic chaos I’ve encountered these last three or four years. But as I mentioned in my last Life Cycle post, “If I keep doing the same thing, I’m going to keep getting the same results.” So, what have I done about it? Well, you will be pleased and maybe a little surprised to hear; quite a bit actually…

When I’m in the writing doldrums I find a night or two with the Romaniac girls or our RNA friends can provide a much needed tonic and inspiration and so, when I spotted Tamsyn Murray was running a, ‘Live, Breathe, LOVE Writing,’ workshop in Cheshunt with Julie Cohen and Miranda Dickinson as guest speakers, and it coincided with a weekend my youngest was with his dad, I decided to go for it.

It was a lovely surprise to find Helen Walters and Bernadette O’Dwyer at the workshop. I’ve been cyber acquainted with both for several years but never met in person and it was refreshing to meet a whole new bunch of creative writers whom I didn’t know previously. It didn’t take long for our wonderful tutors, Tamsyn, Julie and Miranda to uncover that several of us were in the same situation. 10320306_571743486279813_2446689767311534703_nI’m not the only one who procrastinates and doubts myself!

Re-reading the notes I made on the day, here are the points I took away to put into action:-

– Create a discipline. Write every day or designate slots for writing time. Take your writing seriously and you can call yourself a writer.

– Finish it! Keep writing until you type, ‘THE END.’

– Leave the fannying, tweaking and twiddling to the edits!

– Stop being frightened. Stop making excuses. Don’t give the crows time to start pecking. Keep going. Once it’s finished it will give you such a boost, they’ll soon fly off!

– Set an achievable goal and STICK WITH IT! Helen and I took up Bernadette’s challenge for us all to finish our WIP’s by the end of June.

– Buddy up. Use social media to best effect and keep each other going. Bernadette, Helen and I message each other regularly for progress updates and to spur each other on.

There’s nothing remarkable there I hear you say? No, there isn’t. It isn’t rocket science. Writer’s write. And if you want it enough and you can find your inner strength to stick to these points, you WILL succeed.

img_1560How do I know? Because, for once, I’ve stuck with it and it’s working. As many days as I can, I sit down to write by 10am and write until the muse leaves. Sometimes it can be half an hour. Sometimes several hours. This is huge progress. I’m up to 91,250 words, Chapter 25. Progress. I think of myself as a writer. Progress. I can see the end in sight. Progress. I WILL achieve our self-imposed deadline of the end of June to complete the WIP’s. I WILL do it. And I’ve written it here to prove it so you can all nag and chivvy me along too. Crikey, that is progress.

Until next time, wish me luck and Happy Writing!

Debbie x

Life Cycle Of a Writer: Getting in the Write Mood. Debbie Fuller-White.

It’s timely that it should be my turn to post the Lifecycle of a Writer. A month into the New Year and many of my writer friends have been talking about their writing goals for 2015, planning forthcoming publications or plotting ideas for the next story.

However, my only goal this year (so far) is to make it to the end of each day! I’ll be honest; every day is Groundhog Day and I’ve only written 523 words since October.

Sir Winston Churchill suffered with the black dog. My problem is black crows. crowCopyrightfree

They sit on my right shoulder, pecking and prodding, firmly refusing to leave as I spend endless hours on the laptop, sometimes only managing to produce a meagre sentence or paragraph, which I’ll invariably chew over for hours before consigning to the recycle bin. By the time I’ve finished over-thinking, berating myself and have lost all focus it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy, proving I have the attention span (as well as creativity) of a gnat,. The crows must be right. No-one’s going to read what I write. I’ll never make it. I’ll never become a published author. Best get back to fannying around on social media or stick some washing in.

So what’s my problem I hear you ask?

There have been times over the last three years or so when I’ve felt like a human battering ram. My Nan (who brought me up from the age of two) died. I underwent major jaw surgery. My husband of twenty-three years left me and our two boys. We had to leave our beloved barn and move house. There was the emotional fallout for the boys alongside my own grief and the utter helplessness of our situation. Add to that money worries, the divorce, my ongoing health problem, my youngest son developing similar health issues … and oh, yes; as if that’s not enough, we now have the builders in, trying to make the house more practical so I can manage better and stay here.

As I type this I can see it’s hardly surprising I’m overwhelmed. I have brain overload. Some people may be able to write their way through their troubles but I can’t when there’s so much going on in my head.

IMG_1014The one thing (as well as the Romaniacs) that keeps me going is the thought of my Nan sitting on my other shoulder, squaring up to take on those crows. Like Jiminy Cricket, she is my conscience, constantly jibbing, jabbing and gesturing, spurring me on. I can hear her now.

‘Ok, you’re having a tough time of it. So do a lot of people. There’s always someone worse off than you. We all have our crosses to bear. You’re having a crisis of confidence? You’re a writer. It goes with the territory. There’s nothing wrong with failing. It’s better than not trying. Didn’t I always tell you, you can do anything you want, if you set your mind to it?  Writer’s block is a state of mind. If you want this that much you need to stop procrastinating. Nobody else can make it happen. Now get yourself a notepad and make a list of all your goals, work out a plan and FOCUS. Finish one project before you start another! Set aside some time every day, even if it’s only half an hour, and write every day. Writers write. It doesn’t matter what you write. Just write.’

Because part of me, deep within, still dares to ‘Believe,’ as she drummed in me so many times, I’m hanging in there. Nan was always right. There’s no such word as, ‘Can’t’ and one thing’s for sure; if I keep doing the same thing, I’m going to keep getting the same results. And a dream is just a wish without a plan.

So, what do you do, when you’re not in the mood to write?

Until next time, warm wishes to you all and happy writing!

Debbie x

Dear Auntie Romaniac: How to avoid losing work?

Keyboard

Dear Auntie Romaniac,

John Steinbeck’s dog ate an early draft of, ‘Of Mice and Men.’ Ernest Hemingway famously lost an entire suitcase that contained his originals and all copies of his early writings. And apparently Dylan Thomas managed to lose the script for Under Milk Wood three times.

Not that I profess to have any works quite as valuable as these ‘greats’ but everything is relative. My old Acer Netbook is on its last legs. It limps into life every day but I know it’s not long for here. I might religiously back up documents and Works in Progress on a memory stick but the question is; should I back up my back up? What do you do, Auntie Romaniac, to protect your most valuable asset; the words and the time you put into your work?

Laura: I have a USB stick and an external hard drive to which I back up everything I type, and I save every few minutes. My worry is that the internal hard drive could fail without so much as a gasp, and just in case my secondary back-up explodes, I keep a third. I think I’m naturally risk-adverse. I was once an insurance claims assessor …

Catherine: These days I write on a notepad and type up when I get a chance. For that, I have no back up, but I try to type it up before the words build up too much. So I do have the added reassurance of a physical copy if all technology was to fail. Once on my computer it’s set to automatically save to Dropbox. The only thing to bear in mind with this set up, is if you don’t have an internet connection, it won’t duplicate.

Sue: Up until very recently I used to email everything to myself but a few months ago I invested in an external hard drive. It has enough storage to keep all my documents and photos. Since getting my new laptop with Windows 8, I also use One-Drive – a cloud storage facility. It’s very easy to use and backs up automatically without me having to remember. Oh, and I still have my memory sticks – just in case.

Vanessa: A couple of years ago, I felt quite confident with my back-ups – I had my wip saved on two different computers plus backed up to an external hard drive. Then one computer died, the other refused to start one day and I couldn’t access the external hard drive. Major panic! I managed to get the second computer up and running but it did make me paranoid about backing up and I now go a bit over the top! I have my ms on three different computers, an external drive, saved to dropbox and I regularly email a copy to myself, my husband and my agent. All I have to worry about now is overwriting the wrong document:-)

Lucie: I feel I should listen to my fellow Romaniac’s as I am guilty of being naïve to the fact that my computer may throw a wobbler and lose my work! I did used to save onto a stick, then I signed up to Dropbox but I don’t know If I am still saving work to it … time to sort it out myself, I think!

Jan: It’s a good old USB stick for me, too, I confess. Like Vanessa, I also email myself copies of valuable documents and, dare I utter, *also have paper copies taking up half of one of my cupboards!* I do keep meaning to investigate Dropbox, so maybe this is the year to start …

Those Were The Days My Friend

‘I thought they’d never end’, (Mary Hopkin)

Once the new year celebrations were finished and we had all regrouped at Romaniac HQ, we found ourselves reflecting over the past 12 months, taking stock of how far we had come and how far we still had to go with our writing careers. Naturally, the conversation turned to how it all began. Not surprisingly, our love affair with writing began at an early age for us all and we took a trip down Memory Lane, thinking of the influences and experiences that have shaped us. We thought we would share our nostalgia with you.

We would, of course, love to know where your writing aspirations began and what your memories of that time are.

Laura 1979 - 1980

Laura: The late seventies and early eighties are the years I remember well. I loved music, and I became aware of the world around me. 1979 was the year of the UK’s first female Prime Minister, in Margaret Thatcher – that was a big deal, especially for women. We lived under the threat of nuclear war, there were bombings in Nothern Ireland, Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose, and China introduced their One Child Policy. As a twelve-year-old, I worried about how the world would survive. I yearned for the power to put everything right. I was going to be a doctor, or a child psychologist. Maybe a speech therapist – something that helped. Failing that, I’d entertain – become a singer. I realised songs were miniature stories and became fascinated with rhymes, patterns and words. I loved reading, but looking back, my love for writing began through songs.

The world changed during my formative years. Whether or not one agreed with Thatcher’s policies, women had a positive role model. I loved Blake’s 7, a Sci-Fi programme with a strong female character in Cally, Gloria Gaynor was belting out I Will Survive, and my mother, bless her, by this point in my life, was a single parent, who had successfully secured a mortgage in her name alone. Not easy. Is it possible these childhood factors led me to writing issue-driven romances, with strong female characters? By producing stories, my desire to entertain is fulfilled, my love for words is put to work, and I create my own worlds where ultimately, everything will be all right.

I’m beginning to think it was inevitable I would become a writer.

sue 1982

1983

Sue: Being roughly the same age as Laura, I can identify with all the things she mentions above. The early 80’s saw me knocking on the door of my teenage years when I was living in a rural village and had a very free rein on what I did with my time. All the local kids used to hang around together, but to be fair, that didn’t actually amount to many – put it this way, in my year at school there were only three girls and six boys. I look back on those days with fondness as age didn’t really come into it and we all mucked in together. Sometimes we’d have a big game of football or cricket, other times we would swim/paddle in the river or generally hang out, usually at the bridge. I’m not sure what the attraction of the bridge was, but we spent an awful lot of time just congregating there. Having said that, living in a small rural community did mean it often had its dull moments and my answer to the boredom was to take myself off somewhere far more exciting via a good book, courtesy of the mobile library which visited us once a fortnight.

Me with my eldest brother circa 1973.

Me with my eldest brother circa 1973.

With regards to the larger world outside of this Cambridgeshire village, I have very clear memories of things like Shopper bikes for girls, Chopper bikes for the boys, Bermuda shorts, Haircut 100, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Ultravox, Grange Hill, Crackerjack (‘It’s five to five and it’s Crackerjack!’), Why Don’t You, using a cassette player to try to record the Top 40 on a Sunday evening, deciding I’d give up on my dream of marrying Nick Skelton and set my sights on Adam Ant instead. It was around about this time I received a Silver Reed typewriter for Christmas and began typing up my stories; making them into books; illustrating them and designing the cover. Today, I am still trying to do pretty much the same thing (although the Adam Ant dream has gone the same way as the Nick Skelton one).

Jan: The late seventies evoke such fond memories for me too. We had lots of children living down our road and a great crew of us would play in the street (not nearly so many cars to worry about then!) racing each other up the road when we heard the tinkle of the ice cream van. We had a huge street party for the Queen’s silver jubilee celebrations with long trestle tables groaning under the weight of food and fizz. One of the neighbours set up some speakers in their hallway and played DJ for the duration, blaring out the likes of Abba and Stevie Wonder. I can remember our milkman and postman turning up, flares swishing, and hardly recognising the pair of them out of uniform. They were doing the rounds; such was the camaraderie amongst everyone in the area.

This is me in the early seventies, clearly deciding I wanted to try on my cousin’s Cub cap & tie!

I always took an interest in anything creative at school, from writing stories and poetry, to singing in school choirs and auditioning for Christmas and end of term plays. I can see my Dad now, three rows back, big cheesy grin on his face, trying to make my best friend (a notorious giggler) and I laugh, Mum nudging his elbow and giving him “the look”. Ever since those days, I’ve loved writing in all its forms, so to now be working on my debut novel really is one of my dreams come true.

Celia: Well, I’m a little bit…ok, quite a lot…older than the other Romaniacs, so my teenage and pre teen memories go back to the earlier seventies. By the time the redoubtable Mrs T was in her element and nuclear war was threatening, I was a young mum, panic stricken at the world I’d brought my daughters into but not really quite ready to be sensible. On a more cheerful note, I remember oodles of Motown (still can’t help dancing to ‘Needle in a Haystack’, in fact I brought the New Year in to it), lusting after Roger Daltrey, The Osmonds – all of them, I wasn’t a fussy teenager – and David Bowie. I was sure David, Marc Bolan, Freddie Mercury and Elton John were straight, and I’m still not convinced otherwise, so don’t try to mess with my dreams, ok? My favourite songs, as with Laura, inspired my writing, in fact my first book had song words at the start of every chapter. They took me ages to choose. Shame the book itself was so awful, really.

The past year has been a roller coaster ride for me. The downs were a very long way down but the highs were incredible, and I am so grateful to the Romaniacs for being there with me. Group hug? Left over mince pie anyone?

Debbie; Ahhh, the seventies. What lovely memories my fellow Romaniacs have evoked. It was a happy, carefree time for me as it was for many children back then, (other than bread strikes and having to queue at the stand pipes for water.)

I remember long hot summers, days that never ended, going off on my Raleigh Shopper bike (I had one Sue) with my ‘cozzie’ rolled up in a towel alongside some limp sandwiches in the front basket to the local park where there was a paddling pool. The rest of the time I’d be in the back garden, playing in my Wendy house, making ‘perfume’ from rose petals and lavender crushed in a couple of coconut shells with water added until it became a putrid mush. I also remember spending hours alone in my bedroom with my dolls and teddies playing teachers, being a Librarian, or pretending to do book signings. It’s strange now, looking back how I even comprehended that writers wrote and signed books at that age, but I remember it clearly. All my solitary activities revolved around books. As well as the pretend ‘classroom,’ the library and book signing, I spent hours in the bedroom simply reading and sometimes writing my own little stories.

It was, as they say, written in the stars, that I might pursue a career in writing…M3391M-1010