Author Spotlight – Michael Cairns

Today, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome my friend, Michael Cairns to ‘My Writing Life.’ Michael writes science fiction, horror and fantasy novels.

13 Roses 1-Before

Thirteen Roses Book 1: Before – Michael Cairns

The flower seller sets up his stall on Embankment every day. Every day, he will serve only one customer. That person will be on the edge, teetering between heaven and hell, and it is up to him to steer them in the right direction.

But this week, it will be different. Because this week, someone is screwing with the flower seller. While he struggles to figure out who it is, and why they are doing it, something far bigger is occurring, something that will change the world forever.

A plague is about to strike mankind that will reduce them to mindless zombies, bent on nothing more than the regular consumption of flesh. The flower seller is charged with the task of saving humanity, a task he neither wants, nor cares about.

Without him, mankind is doomed. With him, they might just be worse.
But who is the flower seller? Why does he try to save the subjects? And how the hell is he going to save the world?

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

*****

Please read on to find out more about how Michael has built his amazingly productive writing habit.

Julie and I met through Twitter and she’s been lovely and super supportive of my challenge – no surprise there – so I jumped at the chance to guest on her fabulously useful and practical blog. I have some strong opinions about creativity and art, but I’ll try to rein them in today and just stick to the useful stuff.

First, a teensy bit of background. In the latter part of 2014, I met for coffee with a friend of mine. We both write, though she struggles with the first draft and I struggle with the editing. I mentioned, in passing, that I had 15 unedited manuscripts at home, idling away on my hard drive. Once she’d finished kicking my butt, she suggested I do something with them.

Over the following month I came up with the entirely suicidal idea of releasing all fifteen of them in 2015. It would mean a great deal of editing and a complete shift in my writing and publishing systems, but I decided to give it a go. To make things interesting, I decided I’d also write a million words of original fiction, publish a short story every week on my blog and vlog every day throughout 2015 to track my progress.

I’m still alive. I’m still sane, mostly, and progress so far, is good. But the challenge has only been possible because of my habit. No, not that sort of habit, though I’ve felt driven towards one a few times this year 🙂

Today I’m going to share my process for becoming a successful writer and creator.

This all begins with one simple step: Build the Habit.

I cannot stress enough how important this is. Habits come in many guises. Some authors will tell you to put aside a safe period of time in which to write. Others will assert the necessity of writing every day. I agree with both of them, but writing things like that down on a piece of paper doesn’t make them happen. Just like trying to get my four year old daughter to clean her teeth, I can ask her a hundred times but it won’t happen spontaneously until it becomes a habit.

So, begin with one month. You don’t have to choose the same time every day. You don’t have to choose a certain amount of time every day. All you have to do is sit at your keyboard/typewriter/cave wall and write something. You have to do it every day. For a month.

Easy, right?

Below are four key steps to making the above happen.

1. Enjoy it: So you begin to build the habit, but something’s getting in the way. Every time you sit at your keyboard, you want to bang your face against the desk until the blessing of unconsciousness relieves you of the terrible burden of writing.

There’s a really simple way to get around that. Write something you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be serious. It doesn’t have to be ‘literature’. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It can be that cosy murder mystery you’ve been secretly dreaming of. You won’t always be writing it. You’ll write many things in your life, but while you’re building the habit, make it fun. Enjoy it. There’s a hidden upside to this as well. You might have your heart set on a romance – sorry, couldn’t resist – but discover that you love writing something completely different. If all you write is romance, how will you know?

2. Start small and be persistent: As authors, most of us have grown up reading books, paper bound and of a certain thickness. We all dream of creating something similar. Few of us, upon deciding to write, have simply finishing as our greatest goal. And yet, for so many people, finishing is where it goes wrong. So, in this first, habit forming, month, start small. Start simple. Two people. A conflict. A deeper conflict. A solution. A resolution. Maybe a dragon. Okay, so the dragon isn’t strictly necessary, but the rest is all you need. That might take 1000 words, or 10,000 words or 100,000 words, but I’d aim for making it at the small end. Get to the end, even if what you’ve written feels slight and breezy. You’re forming a habit, not writing “Gone With The Wind”. And hey, if you do, you probably don’t need to worry too much about the habit.

So start small and finish it. The habit will be cemented through the sense of completion. ‘I have a habit and it’s led to me creating this.’ That’s a much more powerful statement than ‘I have a habit and it’s led to a bunch of half-finished short stories and the first three chapters of this mad Victorian/cyber punk mash up that’s gonna be awesome in a couple of years…’

3. SMART targets: Boring perhaps, but essential. Just in case you’ve missed the wonders of SMART targets, you’re looking to create a target that is:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant and

Timebound

You have a month, so your time limit is already set. As for the rest, my advice would be to remember point three. Start small. This isn’t NaNoWriMo. It’s a great idea, but for me it fails in execution. Why try to write a novel in a month? You’ve got all the time in the world. What NaNo should be instilling is a writing habit, but because everyone’s rushing so hard to reach that magic 50K figure, the joy is swamped by the pressure.

So how does 500 words a day sound? That’s just over a page in Word. It’s achievable, you can measure it simply enough, it’s specific and it’s entirely relevant. You’re writing every day and you have something clear to aim for.

I’ve plucked 500 words out of thin air. You can set your own target. I do somewhere between 4 and 5K each day, but I’ve been writing every single day since 1st Jan 2013. Every. Single. Day. I don’t have superhuman powers, I have a really militant, wonderfully fun, creative habit. That’s all.

4. Be militant: I know you have the willpower to achieve this habit, but do you have the necessary cruelty? 🙂 I’m kind of joking. What do you do when someone comes into your bedroom/workspace/classroom/cave and says ‘Can I just check something with you?’ How about when your child comes and says ‘Please play with me, I’m wasting away from a total lack of fun.’ That’s a tough one, but I say to them the same thing I say to everyone. ‘Can’t play, creating.’ Actually, I don’t say that at all. I normally manage a strangled cry accompanied by much hand waving. It’s that or, ‘I need a name, give me a damned name, any name that isn’t Dave.’

The point is, this is writing time. If they don’t get the message, lock the door. If they come at it with axes, flee to a coffee shop. Or the park. Or your car. Anywhere you can be undisturbed. That goes for phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook, all social media, too. Be antisocial and write! Just to give you an idea, I write 500 words in about ten minutes, so it’s not long. To begin with, it’ll take you much longer, but not that much longer and it’ll get quicker. Be militant, be strong. Buy ear plugs if necessary. I couldn’t honestly argue against the purchase of a scary clown mask and a chainsaw as well, though maybe that’s just me…

Those are the key points. This will work for any form of creativity. Whether your dream is to be an author, a painter, a musician or anything else, building that habit is key to success. I hope it’s helpful, and thanks again, Julie, for having me.

I’d love to know what you think of these points and if you have any to add. Also, if you decide to start the process now, please let us know so we can cheerlead and send you virtual chocolate.

Cheers

About Michael

Michael-Cairns-headshot-low-resMichael Cairns is a science fiction, horror and fantasy author, teacher and musician. He was born at a young age and could write even before he could play the drums, but that was long ago, in the glory days – when he actually had hair.

Michael loves pineapple, chocolate, playing gigs and outwitting his young daughter (the scores are about level but she’s getting smarter every day).

Michael is currently working hard on writing, getting enough sleep and keeping his hair. The first is going well, the other two…not so much.

You can join his mailing list here: http://cairnswrites.com/sign/up

 

Find out more about Michael here:

http://cairnswrites.com

http://www.twitter.com/cairnswrites

http://www.pinterest.com/michaelcairns

http://www.facebook.com/cairnswrites

 

Why I’ve Gone Back to my Free WordPress Site

bald-eagle-489080_640The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that although my website looks quite similar now to the self-hosted one I created just a few weeks ago, it is in fact my good old WordPress.com site with a few tweaks. If you read my previous post (now deleted) about my migration to a self-hosted WordPress site, you’ll know that it was relatively painless in terms of moving the content from one place to another. I spent a lot of time faffing around with the design, choosing a new theme, installing a header and then loading the widgets but that too, was quite straight-forward. However, I soon found that in order to change even the slightest thing about the design, I was often having to get to grips with coding. I am lucky in that I am quite good at the technical aspects of most things and I’m also lucky enough to have a husband who knows a lot about all that stuff too but although I was enthusiastic at the beginning, it really did start to wear me down. For example, I wanted to centre my Twitter feed box and my Facebook likes box. For this, I had to submit a support ticket to WordPress.org and wait for them to come back to me with the CSS (Cascading Style Spreadsheet) code. They did come back with it and once I had it and knew where to put it, it was easy but when I found myself having to do this for every little tweak, it soon became dull. The main issue I encountered though was with transferring over my social share counts, by which I mean, the figures underneath each blog post showing how often they’d been shared on social media. After a lot of querying, I found out that it just isn’t possible to transfer them from one URL to another because Twitter and Facebook will only associate the shares with the original URL, even though my site was redirected from the old URL to the new one. I did come across a coding fix but it was so complicated that even my husband couldn’t get his head around it. I therefore decided to go back to my old site before I write too many more posts and lose the counts on them! When you are a small blogger/author, your social proof is so important and I’ve spent so long building it up that I don’t want to lose it. I have kept the domain name but I can’t see any way that I can realistically use it now sadly. One of the other things that tipped the balance for me, was that last Monday, my web host company was ‘attacked’ by some technical force or other (clueless!) and this meant that my site was down for a large part of the day. Of course, this never happens with WordPress.com and all at once, I started to see all the things they are doing for me behind the scenes. You don’t normally see all that because they’re dealing with it. Spam? Don’t even notice it but if you’re self-hosted, you have to set yourself up with Akismet or someone else and for that you need an API key and when you’ve worked out what that is, another day has gone by. I cannot complain at all about Tsohost’s customer service, they were great but I don’t want to have to deal with my site going down and all the associated messages that go with that. So I reversed all the steps: I exported my content and then imported it again to WordPress.com. Then I cancelled my site redirect with no charge as it had been less than a month since I put it in place. I used the Jetpack plugin to migrate all my subscribers back again successfully. I had no idea that the Jetpack plugin was one of the WordPress ones until I was ‘speaking’ to a WordPress ‘Happiness Engineer’ (that really is what they’re called). I was speaking to them because I had left a message about my disappointment in finding that I couldn’t transfer over all my social shares. I wrote that I thought I had read somewhere that this was possible so they got back to me to ask me where I’d read it. We discussed it a bit further and then, quite out of the blue, they sent me some upgrades free of charge because of my useful feedback. I told you they were called Happiness Engineers and by the way, there are about 50 of them tending to the needs of over 80 million subscribers 🙂 So, it’s back to normal for me and I have got my life and my writing time back. The moral of the story is that you should either self-host from the beginning with a domain name or you really shouldn’t bother, not if you care about your social shares anyway. If they were to sort that issue out, I would try again but otherwise, I’m going to concentrate on what I set out to do two years ago – my writing life 🙂 Thanks so much for bearing with me. Oh and if you need any coding done…

Author Spotlight – Kate Foster

My guest in the Author Spotlight this week is Kate Foster, author of middle grade fiction. Welcome to ‘My Writing Life,’ Kate.

Winell Road cover 2

Winell Road – Kate Foster Twelve year old Jack Mills lives at 5 Winell Road and probably has the world’s weirdest neighbours. Like freakishly weird. And to top it off, he lives with Mum (nosy, interfering and a hideous cook) and Dad (unsuccessful inventor of the Camera Belt and Self-Closing Window). All in all, it’s a boring, embarrassing, dead-end place to live. So when Jack arrives home from school one day, a close shave with a UFO is the last thing he expects. But the fact it doesn’t abduct him, and that no one else – not even Mum – sees the gigantic flying saucer hovering over the street, adds a whole new layer of strange. Soon after, an alien encounter threatens Jack’s life and he becomes embroiled in a galaxy-saving mission. With the assistance of his new neighbour, frighteningly tall Roxy Fox, he discovers Winell Road is hiding secrets – secrets Jack might wish he’d never uncovered.

Excerpt

From Chapter One – The Encounter

He noticed the darkness first, a large shadow cast over him.

Then he felt it.

Something behind him. Close. Too close.

Jack Mills turned his head to look. The football slipped out from under his arm and rolled away.

There, a metre or two above him; it was vast, silver and circular with intricate markings, and a flawless grooved spiral that finished at a black, central disc. Four enormous legs were spread evenly and bright lights shone from the base of each one. It was deafeningly silent, no wonder he hadn’t heard it lowering down.

Now it hovered, frozen in mid-air. Just … Just looking at him.

Jack stood, his jaw unable to drop any further. He didn’t blink. Or move. He couldn’t. He didn’t even know if he was breathing.

Why wasn’t he running away? It was like he had two bricks in his shoes and the soles of those super-glued to the ground.

The disc began to spin. Slowly at first but soon picking up speed. The wind from it flattened Jack’s scruffy brown hair to his scalp like a helmet. His eyes stung from the force.

He lifted his hands up to protect his face and, squinting, he took a few steps back.

Faster it spun. Harder and stronger the wind blew.

Jack gasped for air. He turned his face away and crouched to the ground. Nearby branches bent in the opposite direction in their own attempt to escape the gale, whilst flowers lost their battles to remain upright.

He caught sight of his football disappearing into the trees.

He had to run. Whatever was about to happen, he didn’t want to find out. This was huge. Massive. Ginormous. Ginormassivous.

One word ran through his mind, over and over.

Abduction.

*****

Please read on to find out more from Kate about middle grade fiction and what inspires her to write it

Thank you, Julie, for inviting me on to your blog today!

My first book, Winell Road, was published last month! Yippee! It’s middle grade fiction; sometimes referred to as books for middle readers or simply MG. For anyone unfamiliar, these are children aged between 8 and 12 years, but, of course, this is a guideline. Plenty of children either side, and a fair number of adults, me included, can read and enjoy MG books. Think Harry Potter, which although the later books were shelved as young adult to account for the characters becoming teenagers, started life as MG. Think Wonder by RJ Palacio, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, Skellig by David Almond. 

Despite having been big on books from a very young age, it was probably during these years that my love for words was truly born. The passion, the magic, the escapism; a spell was cast. So, I guess, MG chose me, rather than me actively choosing MG, and I am sure there are many authors who found the same. The more books I’ve written, the more my natural voice has developed, and the more I know how well suited it is to middle readers.

MG, often separated into upper and lower to allow for the wide maturity levels and reading abilities, is definitely not the same as chapter books or young adult fiction. Yes, the lines might be considered fine, but children of this age should most certainly be respected for the tough transitional period they’ve entered.

They’re beginning to make their own, often important, decisions that not only affect themselves but others around them; they’re realising life isn’t quite as peachy once they climb out from beneath their parents’ wings; they’re experiencing and recognising more complex emotions. But fundamentally they are still babies that need a cuddle and a hand to hold, because they aren’t fully prepared to deal with life’s harsher side.

So serious issues can be addressed in MG books. Going back to A Monster Calls: this deals with the big C and how a young boy overcomes the impact it has on his family. If you haven’t read it, then you should. It’s a tearjerker for sure, but so beautiful. From the choice of language, to the level of detail included, it allows children to ‘see’ as much as their minds can accept and digest. It’s an MG masterpiece and well deserved of its awards and accolades.

My books are in real contrast, however, as I can’t help but write adventures, often a little dark, but always with a splash of humour, as a way to offer a small window for children to climb out of when needed. Perhaps, again, this reflects what I leaned toward reading as a child, and has simply hung around in my brain somewhere waiting for me to tell my own stories. I write for enjoyment, which is precisely what I want readers to get from my books. 

Thanks so much for being my guest this week, Kate and for writing such a great post about your inspiration for writing middle grade fiction and especially for writing Winell Road.

Winell Road is available to buy now using the following links: Jet Black Publishing Amazon UK Barnes and Noble

WIN_20150424_110815 (3)About the Author

Kate is a freelance editor and proof reader, and an author of middle grade fiction and picture books. Originally from a small village in the UK, she emigrated with her husband and three sons to the Gold Coast in Australia in 2014. She’s an active tweeter, a regular judge of writing competitions, and writes articles for online magazines and blogs. Her first book, Winell Road, was recently published with Jet Black Publishing, and 20% of all sales are donated to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. 

 Find Kate at:

Twitter 

Website

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