Tag: beta readers

My Piece of Sky

DSCN3409A long, long time ago, I sat down at this computer to start writing a story. The date was Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 to be precise and fuelled by the TV programme ‘Nashville,’ I’d come up with an idea for my own story. I had no idea whether I would get to the end of the story or not at that point, I just wanted to write it all down before I forgot it! 😉 Today, 642 days later, I’m about done with my story and I’m just a few weeks away from self-publishing my first novel as an ebook in the first instance, followed shortly after by a paperback version.

I have spent a fair bit of time over the holidays (understatement of the year!) wrestling with formatting my novel in Scrivener, accompanied by the brilliant book ‘Scrivener for Dummies’ by Gwen Hernandez. It is now formatted to my satisfaction, I think (eek!) I have also worked my way through my own and my beta readers’ edits and got to the end of them without doing myself an injury. Finally, I contacted my proofreader to see if it would be possible to send it to her a bit earlier than we had planned. Her answer to this was yes and all of this means that I can look at a publication date of sometime during the week of the 16th February, 2015 which will be half-term week for me and therefore, a bit easier to manage. As it can take a few days for your book to upload to Amazon though, I’ll probably aim for a ‘soft’ launch in the week before to deal with any major upsets before the proper publication day.

My next task then is to send out my first newsletter. I have already started designing this and it will include my Cover Reveal and also the Book Trailer I’ve been working on. If you want to see both of these before anyone else, don’t forget to SIGN UP to my newsletter! All you have to do is click on the link. I will be doing a blog post soon about how I made the book trailer as well.

The next major thing to think about is marketing: yes or no? I have taken part in some giveaways myself run by authors and I even tried running one a while ago on my Facebook page but there wasn’t much take up. Similarly, although I have enjoyed ‘attending’ a number of Facebook launch parties, the attendees always seem to be other writers so I’m not sure how useful they are in terms of sales to new readers. Finally, there’s the issue of book blog tours. I know of many lovely people running these but I have no idea how useful they are to writers. Obviously, we all want to make our book stand out in a veritable ocean of others out there. So, if you have any advice on this topic, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Some of the more experienced self-publishers believe that the best marketing is to get on with your second book and don’t worry, I fully intend to do that! I feel that some other marketing is necessary though and should be fun.

This is where I’m at for the start of 2015 then, folks. Thank you for accompanying me along the path so far. I hope you’ll keep on reading over the next few weeks and holding my hand as I edge closer to publication. Thank you for reading and supporting me with your advice and I look forward to reading your comments 🙂

Face the Fear and Set those Writing Goals for 2015!

DSCN9096Having reviewed my writing year in last week’s blog post, I am going to set some new writing goals for the coming year this week. These were my writing goals for 2014:

  • To finish editing my first draft of ‘From Here to Nashville’.
  • To have it professionally edited.
  • To work hard with my critique partners to make my work as good as it can possibly be.
  • To finish the first draft of my second novel too.
  • To attend a writing course or two.
  • To take a proofreading course.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have achieved all but one of these goals and I am very proud of myself for that. Now, as I stand on the brink of publication next year, I don’t know what I’m more frightened of: the fact that I’m about to publish my debut novel or that I haven’t even finished the first draft of my second one.
Well, on our summer holiday in the French Alps this year, I went on a cable car ride with my younger daughter. This was something we’d both been quite frightened of at the start of the holiday but we went along and faced the fear. By the time I took the picture you see here, we were on a cable car on our own feeling super-confident and wondering what it was we’d been so worried about before. As we approached the top, we prepared to get out of the car…only to find that we were only halfway up and had a lot further to go up an incredibly steep mountainside. Sound familiar? 😉

Some of you will wonder what I’m worrying about, I know. If I’m self-publishing, I can set the schedule, right? However, I have signed up again to the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme and I have to submit my book by the end of August for them to review. When I told my husband this, he laughed telling me that was loads of time! If you write, you will know how months have an uncanny knack of passing in what seems like only a matter of days and you will understand that I have a lot of hard work to do to get this first draft into some sort of shape. I wrote it in NaNoWriMo 2013 (!) and have fiddled about with it since then but made very little progress towards the story I want it to be.

This is partly because ‘From Here to Nashville’ has dominated my life and my time for most of this year. Yesterday though, I got my comments back from my beta readers and when I have dealt with those, my first novel goes off to be proofread and that will be that!

So what will my goals be for 2015?
1. Publish ‘From Here to Nashville’ in ebook form to Amazon, followed by a paperback version a few months later.
2. Finish the first draft of book 2 and send it in to be reviewed by the RNA.
3. Take part in NaNoWriMo with a full outline of book 3.
4. Keep blogging weekly about ‘My Writing Life’ and building up my ‘Cover Reveals’ feature for other writing friends.
5. Start sending out my newsletter to people who have signed up.

I think this is a manageable set of goals to be getting on with and I feel pretty confident that they are all achievable. I hope that you will stay with me for the next part of my roller-coaster ride and if you’re interested to know what’s coming up, just a bit ahead of everyone else, why not sign up to receive my newsletter? You can do this by clicking on the link at the top right of this page. I will be sending out my first one early in the New Year.

Thank you all for reading, as always, and thank you once again for your support. Wishing you all a Happy New Year and the best that 2015 can bring.

5 Highlights from My Very Busy Writing Year – 2014

DSC_0503Looking back at the blog posts I have written this year, I am amazed at what I have managed to pack in. So, as the end of the year approaches, I thought I’d take a look back at some of the highlights.

1. The year began with me successfully joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS). There are only 250 places on this scheme available each year and I knew it would be hotly contested so I was very excited when I found out I had got a place. I went on to submit my debut novel, ‘From Here to Nashville’ to the NWS and received a very positive report back from my reader. There was still a lot of work to do but I had made a good start.

In addition to this though, I have made many new and lovely friends by joining the RNA and attending events like their Summer Party, the annual Conference, my local RNA group lunches and being invited to events by established authors like the lovely Phillipa Ashley. The support I have received from this network of writers has been wonderful and I can’t thank them all enough. I will be rejoining the RNA next year and look forward to another wonderful year with writing friends, old and new.

2. I finished ‘From Here to Nashville’ at last! When I say that, I really mean it as well. After I got my report back from the RNA, I rewrote and edited some more before seeking a professional edit. I finished those edits just a couple of weeks ago and now my beta readers and I are giving it one last read through before it goes to the proofreader in January. I am pleased with how it’s looking from my read through so far, with only minor changes looking likely. I have had a professional cover designed which I’m really happy with and I am cracking on with the formatting for Kindle. I know now that I will publish my debut novel early next year and I am so excited about that.

3. I have attended three writing courses this year, as well as taking part in an online course run by Future Learn. In February, I went on a course called ‘Passion on the Page’ run by Write Stars. It was a great course, run by romance author Katherine Garbera and I learnt a lot from it that I could use in my writing. Then, at the end of March, I went on another Write Stars course led by romance author, Sue Moorcroft, ‘How to Write a Romance Novel in a day.’ Once again, it was a very useful course and I learnt lots from Sue and the other attendees. I signed up for the Future Learn course ‘Start Writing Fiction’ in April and although this was a course for beginners, I found it useful. I also started a writing journal as a result of being on the course which was one of the best decisions I made all year! Finally, I went on a Short Story course, run by Woman’s Weekly magazine in October. The course was led by Della Galton, another experienced author of both short stories and novels and it was clear that she really knew her stuff.

4. I established my author platform this year. By this, I mean that I worked out which social media was proving useful for me. I started out on Twitter and I now have a solid following there of about 1,000 people. I’m happy to keep it around that number because I want to interact with my followers as much as I can and this number seems manageable.

I have seen my blog go from strength to strength this year, receiving no less than five awards and I love writing my weekly post and engaging with readers as a result of it. The #MondayBlogs has been incredibly useful for my blog and I really enjoy participating in it. There are a number of other hashtags I could get involved in but as I work part-time, I’m not sure I could keep up with it. I do use Tweetdeck on Mondays to help me manage all the retweets and faves. I like to thank people for being supportive and I know that they appreciate it so Tweetdeck helps me keep on top of everything (Thanks to Liz Harris from the RNA for that tip!) I have also enjoyed taking part in various blog tours and have recently started a Cover Reveals feature once a month to help other new authors, which has proved popular.

This year, I also managed to set up a Facebook Author page. It is building slowly and may not prove that worthwhile longer term but I have found having a personal page lots of fun and I enjoy supporting other authors at their virtual events. If you’d like to make contact on Facebook, do go on over and like my page so that you get my updates.

I do also have a Pinterest page but I know I’m not doing much with it yet so that will be one to work on for next year perhaps. Here’s the link though if you want to see what I pin and follow me. Beware though, you will waste hours on there!

5. I have learnt so much this year, I can hardly believe it. I have written posts about writing a synopsis, Point of View, rewriting, editing, outlining, show not tell, how to write a blurb, working with a cover designer, self-publishing, proofreading, formatting, creating a newsletter, Evernote and Scrivener! I feel exhausted just reading that list but I know it shows how far I have come in my writing life over the past year.

I’d like to finish with a big thank you to all those of you who read my blog every week and take time to comment and share my posts. It has meant a lot to me and I hope that you’ll join me as I move into 2015 and finally publish my debut novel 🙂 Merry Christmas to you all!

Decision Fatigue for the Self-Publishing Newbie

The-key-to-good-decisionAt long last, my friends, the moment has come – I have finished my final edits. It has taken me five weeks to do everything which was longer than I’d planned for but I needed that time to get my head round it all. Today was the day I had originally booked to send ‘From Here to Nashville’ to the proofreader but I postponed this as soon as I saw the extent of the final edits. I now have a new date for the end of January.

In between time, I’m sending my book off to my beta readers for one last read through. I am very lucky that I have two beta readers who are writers as well and not only that, I am proud to call them my friends. I have come to know both these people online and one of them even read my book in its very early form so her dedication to my little book is even more humbling. I am extremely grateful to them both for the final read they’re going to give my book.

I am also going to give ‘From Here to Nashville’ one last read through to check how well it reads after all the edits I have done over the last month or so. Although I have uploaded my second book to my Kindle before, I wanted this upload to be as correct as I could make it in terms of formatting. As some of you will remember, I write in Scrivener and I hope to format my book myself when publication day finally rolls round. Well, this is obviously going to take some time to get right as I spent most of yesterday afternoon exporting copies to my desktop, only to find that when I looked at them using the Kindle Previewer facility, something was wrong. I persevered though, reading lots of articles on the internet along the way, and finally, I managed to get close to what I was looking for. It was also the first time I had uploaded my actual cover with it and it was a great feeling to see that.

I hope to get my beta readers’ comments back by the end of the year and to spend January inputting their comments and mine before sending the book off to the proofreader. This will take a couple of weeks and then I will have the proofreader’s comments to deal with which would leave me looking at the middle or possibly the end of February as my publication date. I am still having to be fairly flexible about this though because so much could change between now and then. Once it goes to the proofreader though, I can feel fairly confident about the date of publication day.

I am considering a number of other issues at the moment. The biggest one is whether to aim for a paperback of ‘From Here to Nashville’ at the same time as I plan to publish the ebook. If I do want to do this, I have to consider whether to go with Amazon’s CreateSpace or whether to go with someone else, like Ingram Spark who seem to be the front runner otherwise. This will also involve having to make a decision about ISBNs, which I must have for a paperback but don’t need for an ebook. In the UK, ISBNs are purchased from a company called Nielsen at a price of £132 for a block of ten numbers minimum. They take ten days to come through so I need to think ahead on that one. In addition to this, paperbacks have to be typeset which will take me some more time to master!

I am also considering what to do in terms of marketing. It is so interesting to see what other authors choose to do in the run up to their publication day. For example, I want to do a cover reveal of course but I’m still not sure how long in advance to do this. I was thinking of doing it when I send my book off to the proofreader which could be three to four weeks before publication. Is that enough of a lead time or too much? Now that Amazon have the pre-order facility, I am wondering when to do that as well. Decisions, decisions…Apparently, there is a real condition known as decision fatigue – I can vouch for this!

As you can see then, there is no rest for the wicked 😉 My journey continues. Tune in next week to see whether I managed to make any more decisions 🙂 Thanks for reading as always and please do leave any comments or suggestions below.

Why I’ve decided to give NaNoWriMo a miss this year

NaNoWriMoI have now been a NaNo or Camp NaNoWriMo winner three times in two years and each time I met my goal, I was ecstatic with the great feeling of achievement. However, I have had to take the reluctant decision not to take part in this year’s NaNoWriMo and as much as it pains me, I know it’s the right thing to do.

Last year, I wrote 50,000 words of my second novel during November and I followed the suggested rules to the letter by just sticking to the very vague outline I’d written and by never stopping to edit. I wrote 1,667 words minimum every day and by the end of the month, I had virtually a whole story. I couldn’t come back to it until April of this year though but I picked up where I’d left off to take part in April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and by the time that was finished, I was at 80,000 words. A couple of months later, I sent it to my Kindle for a read through. I was very pleased with the quality of what I’d written but the story was a mess and since then, I have been putting off getting down to sorting it out because I felt like I had no idea where to begin. And this is why I have decided not to do NaNo next month because if I do, I will end up with another messy story that I will spend most of next year trying to sort out.
Now that I have done three NaNos/Camps, I have realised that I am a writer who needs to plan first because when I don’t, I go off on so many tangents that the story I end up with is so far from what I wanted that I feel powerless almost to put it right. I just can’t go through that again. So instead, I am reading books and articles to help me do a proper outline for my second book which is what I should have done before starting it last November but I was impatient and the start date was looming. I feel just the same again. I have so many ideas that I’d like to get going on but I need to spend time plotting them out first before writing rather than rehashing the whole thing afterwards.

So back to book 2. I have a pretty good first draft which is a good start and the story idea is still a good one, I think. I have gone through all my chapters, summarising what I actually wrote in each scene as opposed to what I planned to write in my vague outline and I can see much more clearly now where the story has gone off the rails. I was reading an article on Janice Hardy’s Fiction University blog yesterday called NaNoWriMo Prep: Planning Your Novel’s Beginning and it was so helpful that I printed it out to use as a checklist for what I have already written. Yes, I’m doing it back to front but at least I’m going to do it to help me check the strength of my story. There are two further articles on her blog about the middle and the end as well which I will also look at. I’m going to finish reading K.M.Weiland’s book ‘Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success’ which I’ve been finding very helpful and then I’m going to get on and finish this first draft. I’m aiming to do that by the end of the year so that I can send it to beta readers and the RNA (the Romantic Novelists’ Association) early in the New Year.

I hope then that by the time I think again about book 3, I will know how to write a decent outline before I even start to write the story. To all those of you doing NaNoWriMo next month, I wish you the best of luck and hope that this time next year, I will be ready to join you again with a detailed outline in my hand! Thank you for reading and please do leave me a comment about your NaNo experiences.

The 7 Stages of Editing I have used from First to Final Draft

Poker-sm-228-7h
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

I started writing ‘From Here to Nashville’, my debut romance novel in April 2013. By the end of October that year, I had a first draft which was over 100,000 words. As this is my first novel, I really had no idea how to go about the next stage so I turned to the internet to help me. Naturally, there was a whole ton of information and advice out there so I had to sift through it and work out what was right for me. I thought then that it might be useful, as much for myself as anyone else, to summarise the stages that I have gone through with this first novel in the hope that I will be better at it next time round!

1. Reading aloud
It is generally accepted that this is a good first step to take after writing that messy first draft without having stopped to edit along the way. This was the approach I had taken with this first novel and it’s also what I did with my second which was written during NaNoWriMo 2013 when I discovered that there is simply no time to stop and edit. For this process, I printed the story out. When I came to reading my story out loud, I realised that this is not something you can do quickly and the very act of slowing down meant that I found lots of little mistakes and was easily able to highlight them for editing later. This included the repetitive use of some words and I also found, for example, that I repeated characters’ names too much so I deleted quite a few of these. I noticed that I hadn’t been consistent with my writing of numbers, dates and times so I decided on a style and then I stuck to it. I found some obvious plot-holes that would need correcting later and I was able to ponder the structure of the story and think about whether it needed tweaking.

2. Replacing Passive sentences with Active sentences – E-Prime
I first wrote about this on my blog in May this year and you can read the full post here. In summary, this involves finding and replacing the verb ‘to be’ with a more active verb in your writing. The example I gave in the article still holds good, I think but here’s another one for you:
Before – ‘We were strolling along the promenade…’
After – ‘We strolled along the promenade…’
You won’t be able to do this for every instance but when you can do it, you will notice that it definitely improves your writing.

3. Over-used words
As I use Scrivener, it was really easy for me to see which words I was over-using using the ‘Text Statistics’ function which is an option under the tab ‘Project.’ I have taken a screenshot today of the most used words in my manuscript and I can still see that ‘I’ is at the top, as it was in May! I have managed to reduce the number of times I use it though 🙂
Screenshot 2014-09-08 09.47.08
As you can see, these are all every day words and I feel pretty happy that I have managed to eradicate over-use of most of them. Words like ‘that’ are often put in unnecessarily and can bump up your word count no end. There are lots of articles about these over-used or filler words and you really should have a look at eliminating these during the editing process. Here are just a few things to look out for:

  • over-use of adverbs.
  • using clichés. Work out what you’re trying to say and then write it differently.
  • using ‘began to’ or ‘started to’ or ‘decided to.’
  • using ‘seemed to.’
  • using ‘very’, ‘really’ or ‘just.’

4. Showing not Telling
Once my manuscript came back from the RNA, this was the first big thing I had to tackle. This was to be expected as it was my first novel so I didn’t beat myself up about it too much. Half the battle is in working out when you should show and when telling will be alright. Once again, I wrote a blog post about it here and there are also lots of articles written about it which you may or may not find helpful! The best one I found is listed in my blog post and remains the one I found the most useful.

5. Cutting Scenes that are not relevant to the story
This speaks for itself and has been painstaking because I have found it difficult to be sure whether every one is relevant or not. Sometimes it was very clear and I was able to delete without any worries but at other times, it was hard. I suspect that this comes with practice. If you write a good outline for your story and keep to it pretty much through the first draft, then hopefully, the redundant scenes will be fewer at the end. I’ll have to let you know on that one next time 😉 For now though, only you can know what you think is relevant or otherwise to your story but the general advice is that a scene is not relevant if it doesn’t move the story forward.

6. Killing your Darlings!
We’ve all heard this phrase, I’m sure but I hadn’t really absorbed it until I was advised that I had too many minor characters in my story. When I thought about it, I had to agree and I realised that this would mean quite a change to the plot of the story. Once again, it has been hard to make these changes at this stage but I know it has helped my story to improve and that’s what all this editing is about. We’re trying to make our story tighter and to make it a great read. To be honest, most of my secondary characters weren’t all that ‘darling’ to me and I was kind of relieved to release them off into the sunset. Who knows, maybe they’ll find another home in one of the books I have yet to write?

7. Adding Emotion to your Romance
The final piece of advice I have been given so far is that there needs to be more emotion on the page whenever my two main characters, Rachel and Jackson, are together. This advice came as a result of the partial edit I had done on my first three chapters and was really useful. The reader knows that your main characters are going to fall in love but you have to keep ramping up the tension every time they meet and although I knew this and it’s what I want as a reader, I could see that I hadn’t really written it into my story as much as I could have done.

And there you have it. This is only a brief summary of what I’ve done so far. I hope to send it off for its final edit next week and only then will I really know if I’ve done everything I can. It has been a steep learning curve for me as a new writer and I couldn’t have got this far without the help of a lot of other people, including the early readers of my novel. In the beginning, I allowed a fair few friends and family members to read parts of the novel and to tell me what they thought. This was only partly helpful because they all said it was great, of course and only picked up on typos. Some did want Rachel to go with a different love interest and that was certainly useful for helping me to develop the plot. Next time, I won’t ask so many people to read it in the early stages though. I will stick with my beta reader and writing friend, Cat, if she’ll still have me (!) and I have another writing friend who has offered to read my final draft this time (she knows who she is but she may have changed her mind since making that offer!) It is a big time commitment to beta read and you need writers to do it for you because they can be impartial, unlike your family and friends.

Good luck with your editing if that’s where you’re at and if you have any questions for me, do ask in the comments below or tell me of something you’ve done which has been really helpful for you. Thanks for reading and see you next week 🙂

Editing using E-Prime and reducing repetition, repetition, rep…

Image from flickr.com
Image from flickr.com

During this past week, I finished working through the beta readers’ comments I’ve had in so far for the third draft of my novel. However, following some very useful comments after my last blog post, I decided to ask my husband to read the current draft to get his take on whether my male character’s point of view (POV) is realistic enough. I await his comments with interest – sadly, I may be waiting a long time because he is a slow reader, only managing a couple of pages a night before he falls asleep 😉 As I’ve set myself a deadline of the end of May to complete my edits on what has now become the fourth draft of ‘From Here to Nashville,’ I’ve decided to crack on with my own final edit of the story.

At long last, the time has come for me to turn to all those useful articles on editing I have been bookmarking since I first joined Twitter last year. When I took a quick glance, I could see that I had bookmarked 46 articles in total! Some of them are more proofreading-type articles which I’m going to save for the final, final round of editing when I get my manuscript back from the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but the rest are about line-by-line editing and I decided to try and work my way through as many of these as possible before my self-imposed deadline of the end of the month.

Therefore, I thought it might be useful for other new writers to see what I’ve been getting up to. The very first article I’d bookmarked can be found here on The Procrastiwriter’s website, a site I’ve found useful on many occasions. The title of the article is ‘The Secret Way to Energise Any Kind of Writing (even Poetry)’ and it focuses on a particular type of editing called ‘E-Prime,’ which involves finding and replacing all variations of the verb ‘to be’ in your writing. The idea behind this is to make your language clearer and to strengthen your writing by making it more active and less passive. It is described as a prescriptive way of writing and I agree with that but I decided to give it a go because I knew that many people advise writers to cut down on the passive voice in their writing. The first thing I noticed is that it is virtually impossible to cut out all instances of the verb ‘to be’ so I stopped trying to do that quite quickly, deciding only to change those sentences that I could and that I thought would benefit from the approach.

Here’s an example of a before and after in my novel:

Before: ‘The feel of the strings against my fingers was as reassuring as always and helped calm my nerves.’
After: ‘The feel of the strings against my fingers reassured me as always and helped calm my nerves.’

The downside of this approach is that it takes a long time to do but it has helped to give the story a bit more energy and so I’m going to plod on with it.

The other bit of editing I’ve been doing at the same time (for when I get bored with just the one job!), is to try and sift out my repetitive use of certain words. Thanks to Scrivener, I can see under ‘Text Statistics’ exactly how many times I use every word in my manuscript. I know how to have fun, right? Unsurprisingly as my novel is in the first person, I use the word ‘I’ a massive 5,008 times in my story. I still feel this is probably too much though and so I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do to cut that down a bit as I go through. The next highest word after that is ‘to’ which can be found 4,577 times. Obviously, some of these words you wouldn’t even notice as a reader perhaps but if the word was ‘gallivanting’ for example, you might feel differently. You’ll be glad to know that I only use this once! Anyway, the week ahead looks like it could be a bit tedious from a writing point of view but I’m hanging in there because I know it will improve my writing. I’ve also noticed that it’s reducing my word count and that’s a real bonus.

I’d love to hear from you if there’s a special editing approach that you’ve used on your manuscript. Until next week, wish me luck and good luck to all of you writing and editing out there 🙂

Writing from a different viewpoint and other POV issues

Nashville Book CoverNow that I have finished Camp NaNoWriMo, I have had to get back to editing ‘From Here to Nashville’ with a vengeance. My aim is to go through my three beta readers’ comments and do a final edit of the story before the end of May, at which point I will send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). I’m now on my fourth draft of the story and I’m finding it so difficult to apply some of the points that have been raised. The proofreading type edits are easy but it’s the more meaty comments that would involve a lot of rewriting that are so hard to deal with. So I thought it would be useful in my blog post today to raise two of the more difficult issues I’ve been trying to handle, for you to consider.

Writing in a different gender My story divides quite easily into three parts. Part one is set in Dorset and is written from Rachel’s point of view. The second part sees the story move to Nashville and is from Jackson’s viewpoint. The final part moves between both settings and so I alternate between the two main characters’ points of view. I’ll come back to point of view in a moment but I’d like to look at this problem of writing in a different gender. Obviously, it was always going to be much easier for me to write Rachel’s point of view because she is a woman, like me, and I can understand what’s going on inside her head that much more easily for that. When it came to Jackson, I didn’t really ever think consciously, now I need to write more like a man. I had the character in my mind and just wrote his part the way I saw it. However, the feedback I’ve received from two of my beta readers is that he’s not enough like a man, in fact, he’s too much like a woman. The problem with this is that I have created a character in my mind and tried to put him on the page the way I imagined him to be. I can accept that maybe he’s a bit too feminine and work on some of what he says and does but I worry that if I try to make him more ‘manly’, I may stray into male stereotype territory and I don’t want to do that either.

As always, I did some research on the internet and came across this useful article from Janice Hardy’s ‘Fiction University’ blog. If you’re interested in this issue, you really must read the full article but I would like to pick out the main points that I found useful for me in my current dilemma. Firstly, she says that ‘A well-rounded character is just the same, no matter what the sex.’ She says that we’re often tempted to write gender stereotypes when writing about the opposite sex to our own but this will only lead to us writing flat, two-dimensional characters and our reader won’t believe in them. What we need to do is to look at people we know who are of the opposite sex and ask them what they would do or say in the situations our character finds themselves in.

For example, I asked my husband what he would say in answer to a question about whether a wedding had gone well. Jackson says ‘It was really lovely’ in my story but my husband said he would never say that. He thought he would probably say ‘it was really nice.’ Well, that’s a bit bland for my character but it made me think about my choice of language for a man. I don’t think my husband is a typical man’s man but his language is definitely not as flowery as mine.

Another tip Janice gives is to focus on the character, not the gender, seeing them as a person first and foremost. I liked this point a lot. Everyone is different and should be treated as such and for the reader, that’s what makes a character interesting. My question for myself needs to be not whether Jackson ‘needs to grow a pair’, as one reader advised (!) but whether his character is genuinely more in touch with his emotions and whether that reads right in my story. Her final point is to get a beta reader of the opposite sex to read the story and to see what their take on it is. I am going to take that advice and see what happens.

Point of View I want to come back to the question of which point of view you write in. As I’ve said, my story is told in the first person, either by Rachel or by Jackson. I have had some surprising reactions to this. One reader a while back told me that she had only ever read one book written in first person point of view! I was shocked by that statement. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I have read in the first person and it doesn’t bother me at all. It did knock my confidence at the time she said that though because when I did some more research, I found that some critics believe that only inexperienced, first-time writers (like me) would make the mistake of writing in the first person. I blogged about it here. Anyway, I got over it and decided that, whilst I respected that view, it was not something to focus on. However, I’ve had this comment again recently, thus stirring up the same storm for me all over again. This reader has carried on and adjusted to that point of view and she is no longer bothered by it but it is still a worry for me, now that a few people have mentioned it. To change it now would be really hard but I am wondering whether to change the third part of the story to third person instead. I have heard from other writers that Carole Matthews, a very successful romance novelist, writes in first person from different characters’ points of view, concluding with a change to third person and so I feel heartened by that. I need to get round to reading one of her novels very quickly to see how she does it!

In summary then, it is a hard job editing your novel and trying to work out which comments to take on board and which to leave out. The important thing is to consider them all and then make your own decision. It is very important to have other people read your work of course but at the end of the day, it is your story and these are your characters. Only you, as the author, can decide what exactly it is they would say and do in certain situations but it helps to have other people give your their opinions to make sure that you have written the best characters you can write for your novel.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog today. As always, I would appreciate any comments you might have on these topics.

Camp NaNoWriMo April 2014 Winner!

2014-Winner-Vertical-BannerThis morning, I have written a colossal 1,850 words to finally meet my Camp NaNoWriMo goal of writing 25,000 words this month. As you know from my post last week though, I was actually away on holiday for six days and I have finished two days early! This means (and I hope you can hear the drum roll in the background) that I have written an average of 1,136 words a day during Camp this month. Phew! It has been hard work but as always, it has been worth it. My second novel is now around 80,000 words and although I won’t now be writing any more on it for a while, I’m really pleased with the way this first draft is shaping up.

This also brings me to the end of my first year of NaNoWriMo events. I started with Camp in July last year, then I did NaNoWriMo in November and I’ve now completed my first April Camp so I’m feeling very pleased with myself. It definitely works for me as a motivator to get writing and not to worry too much about what needs editing but I really want to make sure that before I start my third novel in November, I have a detailed outline in place for what I want to write. I had a vague outline when I started this story last November but I have gone off at a tangent and I know I will be pulling my hair out later down the line, as I try to get the story straight again! Still, it’s all progress from my first novel when I was a pantser. I know different approaches work for different people but I have found the revising part really hard for my first novel and I can only put this down to not having had an outline. So that will be my goal for next time.

So what next? Well, this week, I’m starting an online Fiction Writing course with Future Learn, part of The Open University. This runs for the next eight weeks and will give me something to do when I need a break from my final edit of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ It still sounds amazing to hear myself say that. I have now had my beta readers’ comments back and I need to crack on with that edit in May so that I can send my manuscript off to be assessed by the RNA. If I achieve that, I will be very pleased with myself and I’ll be able to spend June and July back working on my second novel, provisionally called ‘Seeking Approval.’

As ever, I am keeping myself busy but I may just allow myself a bit of time off for the next couple of days before I throw myself back into the next phase. At this rate, I’ll be going back to my day job for a rest! I hope all those of you who have taken part in Camp NaNoWriMo this month have met your goals and are feeling pleased with yourselves for doing so. It really is an achievement and we should all feel proud. Thanks for reading and for your comments. It’s always good to hear from you. Have a good week!

New York, New York!

A week ago today, my writing blog tour post was published in my absence because I was on a trip to New York with my family to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. I was amazed that I had even managed to successfully schedule its publication in the first place and secondly, I was surprised by how my Twitter friends just took it up and so kindly retweeted it on my behalf. This trip was important then for another reason: it brings to an end my first full year of writing and what a year it has been. In fact, this is my 52nd post on this blog as well so I have many, many reasons to celebrate 🙂 I arrived back to the comments from my beta readers on my debut novel, From Here to Nashville as well and these were really encouraging, even more so than on previous drafts so I feel like I am making progress. I am still busy with Camp NaNoWriMo this month which is going pretty well for novel number two and then in May, I will be editing FHTN with a vengeance so I can send it off to the RNA for assessment.

In this post then, I’m going to write a diary celebration of our New York trip because it symbolises the culmination of so many things for me and also because I know you want to know what we got up to. Right?

DSCN8421Friday As you may know, the island of Manhattan divides into Uptown, Midtown and Downtown and very conveniently, we were staying in a hotel right in the Midtown area, a few minutes walk from Penn station, the largest station in America. Our train from Newark (how brave were we?!) brought us into Penn on that first evening and soon, we were checked in and ready to go….to bed! It was about 10.30pm US time so we’d done well to stay awake that long (3.3oam UK time).

On the Saturday morning, we woke up feeling refreshed and ready to explore Uptown so we set off walking up 7th Avenue towards Times Square. It didn’t take us long to work out that the streets go horizontally (our hotel was on West 29th Street) and the avenues go vertically. That first day alone though, we walked almost 50 blocks up to Central Park and found ourselves regularly doing this every day. Anyway, we reached Times Square in about twenty minutes, having photographed every yellow cab in the city on the way and stood there for quite some time, just absorbing the chaos! DSCN8429 I suppose it’s a bit like Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Street, in that it’s one of those iconic places that tourists just have to see. It was chaotic but it was fun as well and it was funny how our two teenage daughters gravitated towards what must be one of the largest Disney stores in the world (two floors no less!)

DSCN8455By the time we reached Central Park, the sun was out in full force and we were having to remove some layers of clothing and put sunglasses on. The park was beautiful and we enjoyed a good stroll around the western side of it leading up to the John Lennon memorial and then, we went on to the American Museum of Natural History, known to all of us from one of our favourite films, A Night at the Museum. We spent a lovely afternoon there, exploring all the exhibits, although we were a little disappointed that none of them do actually move 😉 After that, it was back to the hotel on the subway for the first time, for a rest before dinner and bed.

Sunday was our day to explore Downtown and we had booked to go to Ground Zero first this morning.DSCN8506 I hadn’t heard much from anyone about the 9/11 Memorial and I was glad about this really because it allowed us to come to it with no preconceived ideas. I had expected it to be a moving experience of course but I had no idea just how moved I would be. It left me with an overwhelming sense of sadness for such a tragic and pointless loss of life.
From there, we walked down Wall Street and towards the free Staten Island ferry, which sails right past the Statue of Liberty on its journey to and from the island. We had a pretty good view of the statue but we were still quite far away from it. We’d decided not to RSCN8537visit Liberty island itself for a number of reasons but I think if we do ever go back, that’s something I would like to do. We spent a nice couple of hours having lunch on the island before taking the ferry back and making our way to Brooklyn Bridge.

When we came out of the subway there though, we could hear music playing and were drawn towards it to find out what was going on. We didn’t realise what a treat we were in for. There was a small group of street performers, dancing and performing acrobatics, with various members of the public being ‘persuaded’ to join in and it was a lot of fun on a Sunday afternoon. We made our way, along with hundreds of others, on to the bridge after that, to admire the fantastic view of the skyline and we even saw a couple get engaged whilst we were there! Another wonderful day was drawing to a close. However, that evening, we’d decided to try and go to McGee’s restaurant to fulfil one of my younger daughter’s dreams of eating in the restaurant from ‘How I Met Your Mother.’ We weren’t that confident of getting in and had prepared ourselves for the upset that would surely follow if we didn’t but luckily we did and as we sat in one of their famous booths, drinking cocktails, it felt good to be alive.
DSCN8579Monday Our Midtown day began with a looooong queue to go up the Empire State Building but it was definitely worth the wait and I was also glad that we had left going up until we had been there a few days and could recognise some of the famous landmarks from up on high. We only went up to the 86th floor (!), deciding that going to the 102nd floor wouldn’t necessarily add to the experience, and what a fantastic experience it was looking out across the whole of New York. I love going up a tower of any kind in any city but each one brings its own rewards and this one was no exception. The good weather was still holding and so we had lunch in Madison Square Park, having sung Kirsty MacCall songs as we walked along Madison Avenue. It was lovely sitting in the park watching all the people walking their dogs and cooing over each other’s babies. People watching is one of the best things in life, I think and New Yorkers are very entertaining, friendly people.
The afternoon was taken up with a visit to Grand Central station and the New York Public Library, both as impressive as we’d expected. That evening, as we sat in a lovely pizza restaurant, recommended to us by our Time Out guide, I told my family about my idea for my third novel! What was great was that they all loved the idea and chimed in with suggestions as to how I could develop it. I was so pleased that I’d managed to get their full attention for a start but also that they had liked the idea and I’m now itching to get on with that story 🙂

Tuesday The day of our wedding anniversary dawned and with it came some light rain and slightly cooler temperatures but hey, we’re British, we’re RSCN8643used to that. We spent the whole day at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, admiring the vast collection of modern art before taking a cab back to the hotel to prepare for our evening entertainment – we had managed to get tickets to see ‘Once: the Musical’ on Broadway! I can’t begin to tell you how excited we all were and even though it was raining slightly header as we walked up there, it did not dampen our spirits in the slightest. We had front row seats in the mezzanine and it was such a wonderful show and experience. The cast were truly talented and the music was fabulous. It was wonderful and a lovely way to mark our big day. When we came out of the theatre though, we couldn’t believe the change in the weather. It was snowing! We had to dash through it (literally!) to get to the restaurant but we survived and ended the day with a delicious meal and lots of lovely memories.

Wednesday Finally, it was our last day. After the brief flurry of snow, we woke up to a bright but slightly chilly day, perfect for walking down to Greenwich Village and having lunch looking out at Washington Square Park. We said goodbye with regret to New York, having loved every minute of our stay. I hope that we’ll get back there but for now, the memories of this trip will serve me for a long, long time.

As always, thank you so much for reading and if you have any memories of a trip to New York that you’d like to share, I would love to hear them.RSCN8570