writing dates: does it help or hinder?

February was one of those head-down-get-on-with-it kind of months (as well as lets-hit-Sophie-with-the-flu-just-when-she-doesn’t-need-it.) With just shy of 15,000 words due, I was trying to save every ounce of energy up to write my essays, and assignments. But when you can’t even think straight and spend most of the day coughing (my whole January was more like dry cough January than dry January) it’s difficult to get much done.

Cue a lot of writing dates with other writers/peers/anyone who would take me up on my offer of free flowing tea and biscuits, in the hope of it being inspiring and actually making me do some work.

But did it really help?

Here are the things I noticed happening to my work/me:

1. It got competitive

I’m not a hugely competitive person *flips the board of monopoly if she doesn’t get Mayfair* but there’s something about people sitting around laptops, typing endlessly which gets incredibly competitive. Now, this in theory is great, it means that you’re in competition to write the most and do the most work. But actually, what comes out of this (unless you’re a Sara Barnard level A+writer) is a very very very first draft which makes no sense. Yes I managed to write lots, but it wasn’t necessarily good stuff and needed lots of editing when I managed to escape back under the blankets with a cuppa.

2. It can be the world’s best procrastination

So you’re sat with your laptop, you’ve got a brew and you’re ready to get cracking on your next chapter. WRONG. Instead, you end up listening to your friends detail the whole night out that you missed in the classic debrief. You get way too into it, completely forget the reason you’re there, and suddenly you’re watching videos of cute goats on YouTube? (please tell me I’m not the only one?) Three hours later and you’ve exhausted yourself to the point of no work, so you turn to Netflix and drown your sorrows in tea, saying ‘It’s okay, I’ll do it tomorrow…’ even if tomorrow is the deadline.

3. It can be very distracting

This is especially the case if you’re all working on the same assignment. Or even if you’re all trying to do the same kind of thing. When it comes to writing, a lot of research is involved, especially if it’s high fantasy or historical, or you need to be factually correct with characters etc. This is all good and well until someone whips out a truck load of information which is then put on you because you just need to know it too. I think I’ve learnt more from my peers who have been researching for their books than I ever did when it came to researching for my own things. And then there’s the breaks. If someone pops to the loo, makes a drink, or declares lunchtime, it only seems fitting to take a break too. Even if you’ve only written the title.

4. It’s an emotional battle

Just like reading a book, there’s a definite emotional rollercoaster that comes with writing dates. I don’t know whether it’s having someone you can complain to/talk things through with, or whether it’s just because it can be really hard, but writing dates often turn into therapy sessions punctuated with ‘you can do this’ and ‘just focus on writing this chapter’ which is all good and well if you have an idea you believe in. This is when those extra biscuits you brought (just in case) make their way out whilst you shut down all your word documents and cry internally over the fact you’re never going to get published. You then have to sit there whilst the other people, who are still tapping away on their keyboards, continue to casually mosey on through the brick wall ahead. Total writing torture.

5. Everything takes time

When initially planning the date, you have to bear in mind that at least 70% of it will be spent making tea, talking, scrolling through your phone, eating, giggling, watching funny videos, etc. So you only ever really get 30% maximum done. This is something you should take into account when planning when to meet and where. If you meet before lunch, you may be more productive in the morning but end up having more breaks. If you meet after lunch you might have passed the most productive part of your day. It’s a battle you sometimes just can’t win. I try and meet up as early as possible because then at least I’ve given myself the whole day to procrastinate. And even if I don’t manage the target of words I set (or even half of them) I know that it’s more than I would have done anyway.

Let me know if you have any tips on writing in a group, and whether there are any ways it helps you/any suggestions to make it work better!

love sophie

social sundays: the importance of getting out and about when writing

I left the house on Sunday for what felt like the first time in months. (Am I the only one who thinks January is dragging?!) I got the bus (having sucked it up and hoped that because it was a Sunday, I wouldn’t be bashed about) and met up with a friend from uni who I haven’t seen since we both graduated in July – too long!

It was super nice to just get out of the house for a few hours and spend some time in someone else’s company. (It’s amazing how solitary writing can be, and how long you can go without speaking to anyone in person or on the phone.)

We went to Velo Lounge, an old favourite from our student-ville days when it was just a short walk away. We sipped our way through large and small pots of tea, and chatted about life, our jobs, our houses (so adult) before laughing over old videos from our student days (which was incredibly amusing – it’s crazy to see how much we’ve changed in three years!)

It did wonders to be in a different place, out of the house, and in the fresh air. All too often (especially when those pesky deadlines come looming) I’ll barricade myself at the writing desk until they’re all done. It doesn’t help, in fact if anything it makes it 1000x worse. But the thought of being in front of the laptop and fully immersed in it makes me think I’ll actually write.

That’s until I actually leave my room and forget about what I’m writing for a bit. Then it all just flows out of my brain like it’s been scripted. (I know this, so I know I should leave my desk but sometimes it’s just too stressful to step away.) I always take a pen and notebook with me, and I have one in the car for when I’m driving around for inspiration which is actually very very full (night time driving is the cure of the supposed writers block for me). I also use my phone a lot to jot things down, even if it’s just a conversation I hear, or a description of what someone is wearing (a bit weird but I’m a writer so I have an excuse.)

Anyway, after we’d drunk buckets of tea and chatted for several hours, we said our goodbyes and I was automatically inspired to write. AMAZING!

I have to grab moments like these and run with them because they don’t often stay for long. I managed to write a lot of words which was great, but more importantly I got to use what I’d written in my journal that day of all the things I’d seen and done.

I even used things we’d talked about over lunch when looking at my character arcs.

It’s amazing how much can come out of one adventure away from the writing desk.

I’ve been keeping up with my morning pages which has been going really well this month, so it’s nice to get the opportunity to expand and develop little ideas that have been niggling their way to the front of my brain.

Safe to say it’s had a domino effect and I’ve been out of the house everyday since Sunday too (it was only one day but it still counts.) Yesterday I went along to rugby training (which I really didn’t feel up to but I’m so glad I did) and the same thing happened. I came home and wrote words. Actual, proper words that make sense when joined together.

For anyone else struggling with the inevitable block, put your shoes on, grab a brolly and go and take on the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be loads, it could just be a walk around the garden or a trip to the postbox down the street. Take some time away from your writing and it might just catch right up with you.

Let me know if you have any luck!

love sophie

i canuary

I had one of those ‘head in hands’ moments this week.

It’s January, which means I’m tired, broke, deadlines are looming, and all I want to do is eat the treats I got for Christmas (those that made it this far…) and snuggle up in bed with an extra large cup of tea.

But, I’ve got a Master’s to finish, and a novel which needs editing.

My mind is also away with the fairies so I’ve been trying some different ways to get my mind back on track to what I’m actually supposed to be doing… and telling myself that I’ve got this. Because sometimes life is just a little bit overwhelming.

Anyone who knows me will know I’m a list queen. I like everything written out (a million times) so that I can see it and know what I have to do and when I need to do it. So, in the amongst the essay writing, I made a couple of lists to lull me out of my stress-head state. And, although some of them got my mind wandering off piste, (I am also the queen of procrastination) I was able to get on with my reading and managed to make lots of notes which I am going to magic up into the essay.

Here are a few examples of lists I’ve made when I’ve been super stressed…

  • Blog post ideas (because blogging counts as productive procrastination)
  • Best bits of the year (this could be what you enjoyed most about last year or what you’re looking forward to this year)
  • Bucket List (of places I want to go to/things I want to see etc.)
  • Book list (books I want to read this month/year)
  • Inspiration List (people/things/ideas that inspire me – Pinterest is great for this)
  • What I’m grateful for (a nice way of reflecting on something you already have)
  • My five year plan (enough to scare anyone back into an essay)
  • A shopping list (of things I can’t actually afford)
  • Meal plan for the week (especially good for anyone doing veganuary etc.)
  • Words of wisdom (for when life really does get tough)
  • Songs to listen to (usually whilst writing/working)
  • My to do list (always include a couple of things you’ve already done and tick them off so you don’t stress out even more)

So they are all just ideas which have helped me to get my mind back. Sometimes when I’m stressed I get so wound up with myself that if I don’t take five minutes out I want to give up.

These lists are a good way of bringing you back from stress island and hopefully will help you as much as they’ve helped me.

(They’re nice things to do anyway if you get the chance. It’s often quite nice to just reflect on what you’ve done/are going to do.)

Let me know what you think!

love sophie

 

 

 

 

 

the morning pages

It’s January so I’ve decided, in the spirit of a fresh year, to rekindle my love for the morning pages.

The idea of the morning pages is that you write three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. Everyday.

I use it as a tool to develop ideas about my plot or about my characters and the novel’s development. The purpose is to bring about ideas, give you a clearer mind about your plan, and relieve any anxieties you may have.

Now, you don’t have to use all of it. It could all be crap. But the point is that you get in the routine of writing daily, getting your worries out onto the page first thing so that you can move past them and spend the day writing creatively. It can be whatever you make of it.

If you’re not a writer, or don’t want a novel at the end of it, then simply use it as a tool to de-stress from life. You could wake up after the most vivid dream and decide to write it down, or use it to plan out what you’re going to do with your week. Or, you can just use it as a tool to create a diary.

What I love about the idea of the morning pages is the freedom that comes with it. All it requires is fifteen minutes (or so) a day which can be built up or continued if you’d like. It is such a simple way of writing each day, whether it is a diary, a blog, or a novel, you’ll have a book full of your year at the end of it.

I love that you can use it for absolutely anything. One day you could have a chapter from a novel, the next you could include a crazy dream or a recipe, or a list of hopes for the week/month/year.

It’s flexibility means you can take it with you on the go, so that wherever you are you can get it out and add to it for that day.

Journaling is something I find really therapeutic. I am definitely someone who likes to see things written down and find it easier to then continue with whatever I have to do. It’s as if I have to empty my head before I can refill it with the next day. So, for me, this is such an easy way of doing that whilst also helping me with develop my novel.

Some of the snippets I wrote in it last year (in fact most of them) have either been edited into my novel, or have inspired scenes and characters.

So, if you’re like me and get quite overwhelmed if everything’s running circles in your head, why not try it out. For me, I have to put pen to paper, but a laptop works just the same. Grab a notepad or a blank word document and write away.

Hopefully it leaves you feeling assured and organised about what you’re writing/what you’re doing/where you’re at with everything.

If anything, it’s a chance to take fifteen minutes away from the day, with a brew, to just sit quietly, reflect and think.

Let me know how you find it!

love sophie

creative writing vs. essay writing: help

As an author of children’s fiction, and a Masters student, I have to write creatively, as well as formally in essays *cue meltdown.*

Now, I absolutely hate writing essays because I can never get a formal voice going, and I often repeat myself and word vomit all over the page (yes, that is a thing).

Children’s fiction, however, comes out of me wrapped in a bow (although it takes me a while to think up ideas sometimes, when I’ve got one I can run with it.)

So how do I manage to bridge the gap when asked to write essays for my course? Well… the truth is I find it incredibly difficult to channel my inner English Lit girl who quotes amazing works, and actually I resemble something along the lines of my teenage  characters. I usually give up too (and if you know me, I’m no quitter) and spend my day procrastinating, normally drowning in rooibos tea to make up for how I feel.

BUT

New year new me (and all that rubbish) so here I am, fighting fit, ready to take on the essay which I’ve had planned for months (with a fresh pot of tea for support.)

So here is how I plan on defeating it: (if you’re in a similar situation, I hope it helps)

Step 1: Plan plan plan…

I’m not a big planner when it comes to my creative work, I usually just write and see where I end up. But, when it comes to essays, that isn’t an option. Otherwise it just ends in waffle (and not the tasty kind.)

I start off by structuring the essay and working out how it is going to flow, and deciding which points link best. (This takes a couple of days in itself so almost counts as procrastination.)

I think of it like my novel. The book has to flow and make sense to the reader; there can be no room for misinterpretation. This is the same for my essay.

Start by plotting a brief structure, including an introduction, first point, second point, third point, and then conclusion. (Obviously you can tailor this to however many points you have.)

One of the best things I do (or try to do) is make a tick list of the mark scheme and definite things you have to include. Once you’ve finished the essay you can look back on it and see if there’s anything you’ve missed.

Step 2: Bulk it out. (P)

So you’ve got your plan, and now you’re ready to put points onto paper and give yourself proper words to work with.

Start by writing out all your points onto separate pieces of paper, that way you can move them and change the order to get the most formulaic structure. You only need to begin with bullet points.

Once you know your points, and after researching enough to build them up, seeing them on paper makes it easier to put the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Step 3: Get back up. (E)

You’ve got your point, now you need to back it up with evidence. Get out your books (read them) and pick out some quotes that support what you’re trying to say. Search the internet for journals, articles, anything. The more varied the support, the better the grade (hopefully.)

Don’t just pick things because you think they kind of link, pick them because they support your point fully. If you find any that oppose your point, pick them out too. It’s always good to be able to have a counter argument.

Step 4: Why? (E)

Explain to the reader (or the marker) why this quote or research in particular helps to strengthen your argument. What does it say that helps? What specifically is it doing to the point you’re making?

If you can’t explain this, you might need a stronger quote.

Step 5: Link it up. (L)

Connect the point to the next point you’re making/a counter argument. Use further evidence, just be careful not to repeat yourself. Also this is a good chance to make sure you’re properly answering the question in each point. It doesn’t have to be explicit, but make sure you’ve done what you set out to. Conclude in your last paragraph and go back to your introduction. The essay may have changed slightly since you started it so check it all fits together.

Step 5: Reread.

Just like when writing creatively, one of the most helpful things I find is rereading the work aloud. This shows you if there are any jarring bits for the reader, and whether the piece flows well. Make sure you’ve done what you set out to do and argued or explained all the points you’ve made with enough evidence.

 

By using the PEEL paragraphs you’ll be able to incorporate all aspects of the point to recoup the most marks. Obviously, all essays are different and all have different mark schemes so do take this with a pinch of salt. I’m aware this might work for one, and not another. But hopefully you can take the main ideas away from it, even if it’s just with planning.

One of my major faults is that I try and write too eloquently in essays, so much that it doesn’t actually make sense. Don’t do this. The best thing to do is to write the points out (even just in bullet points), finish the essay steps and then come back to look at wording in a draft where you can flesh it all out.

Getting words on the page is always the hardest part so by drafting it out, in a more relaxed way like this, can really help to take the pressure off. It also allows for lots of breaks in between points to refill your tea.

I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any top tips to help me write my essay, or that you think might help others, post them below.

Now, back to the essay…

love sophie

writing for research: ‘what if?’

I’ve really struggled this week to keep on top of my writing. I’ve found my own lack of positives to be really affecting my characters, something I’m trying desperately to get to grips with before it starts leaking into my work.

It’s really hard when the world around us is draped with bad news, and it was only on a second read through of one of my chapters that I’ve found it worming it’s way into the pages. My normally happy chappy is no longer beaming and I’ve sensed a whole different part of the character coming across when I’ve been reading back over it. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I want my characters to be three dimensional and vivid and real. But it makes me question how much of their emotions I need to include in the book.

A lot of the time, the research writers do is for themselves. Yes, some bits will dribble in and out of the book, but a lot of it won’t actually be included. We do it so we can flesh out the plot and write the best book possible. It doesn’t matter whether the reader knows that Great Aunt Silvia was born in a bungalow if it’s not integral to the plot.

This got me thinking, what emotions are integral to my plot and my characters?

So, as ever, I made a brew and tried to think of some ways that might help.

With the ones that weren’t so integral, I decided to make up scenarios so I could see how each character would react in a situation fuelled by this emotion. These weren’t necessarily situations that I could see being in the finished novel, they were more like ‘what if?’ questions to help me piece together my characterisation.

Some of the situations/what if questions I used were:

  • what if they were expelled?
  • what if their dog died?
  • what if they got drunk?
  • what if they woke up on Mars?
  • what if they were an only child?
  • what if they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy?
  • what if they didn’t get on with their family?
  • what if they could no longer hear?

Although I new I wasn’t going to include these scenes, it was important for me to know the different sides to my character and how they would react and feel in situations out of their control.

I really enjoyed putting my character in other situations but also challenging myself to go out of my own comfort zone.

It is easy as a writer to stick with a certain age group/genre when you’re comfortable writing for them. But it does wonders for your writing if you can step away from what you’d normally write.

You never know, you might just like it.

loce sophur

unintentional inspiration

I did the school run with my mum this morning and it was such a blast from the past going back to my old primary school, which I left ten years ago! I was amazed at the different changes that have happened since I left, and how the space has adapted to the growing intake and the ‘modern day’.

I went around the back and into the playground where the key stage two children queue up and found myself in an enchanted wonderland. From the pride flag, to a beautiful literary themed signpost, the playground had it all. I wish it had been like that when I was there, and it made me realise just how much has changed in the last ten years.

It also really inspired me to write.

I don’t know whether it was the reminiscent nature of it all, or the enchanting setting, or even whether it was just a good writing day for me. But whatever it was did wonders! I came home and bashed out a good chapter and felt really enthusiastic about where it was going and what I was writing.

I often really struggle for inspiration and forget to look closely at something. I can try really hard to think of something to write but when I read it back, I never like it. For me, the best writing always comes when I least expect it to.

Going back to the primary school today made me realise how fortunate I am, and how grateful I am to have had my education.

I thought about my protagonist and how they would feel at school. I thought about their own school ‘world’ and tried to build on one I had created before. I thought about my own experience of primary school and some very fond memories and friends.

It really helped.

It also made me think like a child.

A big struggle I think a lot of children’s writers face is getting into the mindset of a child. Unless you have/know a child, it is really difficult to imagine one without creating a subjective opinion.

It is very easy as an author to ‘write what you know.’ But the most difficult thing is writing for something or someone you find difficult.

We all have our own childhood which we remember (or not), but I think that makes it even more difficult when trying to imagine a child who is different to you.

If you were incredibly hard working, it is possibly quite hard for you to imagine being someone who struggled with work ethic. If you got on with your teacher and had a good relationship with them, it is hard to imagine being someone who really didn’t agree with the teacher. At least without stereotyping.

One thing I find difficult with writing a variety of characters is how well I’m portraying them to the reader. I don’t want the reader to see a stereotypical view on something. I want them to see the character I created. The character for themselves.

I think that having those unintentional inspirational moments can really help with this in your writing. You might be able to make your character more than just two dimensional. Having that inspiration, such as hearing a conversation between children, seeing them interact with adults etc, can really improve your writing.

You might not even realise it’s happened.

love sophie

who am I and what have I done with my character?

I’m probably not the only writer in the world who *sometimes* struggles to pop the lid fully open on their character; particularly when it comes to voice.

I’m currently writing a dual narrative piece and my head definitely isn’t thanking me for it. I’ve got one of the voices down. She’s good. But the other? I couldn’t tell you what she likes to say or what phrases she uses because every time I try and write her, I go blank. Maybe she can’t speak, or struggles to express herself. Maybe I’m too similar to her so find it hard distancing myself from her character. I don’t know.

So, *ta dah* I mustered up five ideas for figuring out a character which is still not perfectly sculpted. Hopefully you will find them useful too.

1.A day in the life.

I find it really beneficial to spend the day as a character. I find myself questioning decisions as them. Would they do that? Is that something they’d say? What would they think?

It may seem silly, but it helps me to really focus in on the character, and their differences from the other characters I’m writing. Dressing and eating like them also helps and, when you’re back at your laptop/notepad/typewriter, you should find you’re already in their head and can just start writing.

I had a sleepover with a couple of my writing baes last weekend and we had such a laugh. It was nice to be children for the evening. Obviously, there were lots of adult things about it (we went to Callen’s flat, drove ourselves, bought treats ourselves) but we still danced like loons to karaoke tunes and watched Moana in true sleepover style! And it definitely transformed my writing when I got back at my desk.

2. Mix it up

I am currently writing a dual narrative piece so find flitting between the voices quite difficult. If I’m struggling with one specific voice, I try and write from the POV of another character. This helps me see them from another POV and helps me figure out more about the character, and how others see them. I also find that if I’m struggling with something, by taking myself away from it, it naturally starts to help itself and I figure out a solution when I’m not focussing on it. Sometimes trying to get something to work does the opposite.

3. Change the scenery

Try and put your character in another situation. How do they act? What changes? What can’t change? Take them back fifty years or push them way into the future. How do they react to the world? How do they speak? Are they the same?

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone can be a really positive (and scary) thing for your writing. Things you didn’t even realise could happen to your plot might reignite the story and send it in a better direction you hadn’t even thought of. And your character will have to change to move with it. How much do you know about them? And how much has changed?

4. Real life research

Do you know anyone that’s the same age as your characters? Or have any younger children who can read your ideas through and vet them before they make the page? I always find that my mums childminding children’s opinion is the biggest game changer for my writing. I ask for their input on words that are commonly used in schools, what language kids use these days, and whether they like the character I’ve created. They’re very kind, and often tell me if something doesn’t work. But they’re my readers, and pleasing them is what matters.

They often say they don’t understand why a character does something, or says something, so I am able to go back to the page and rethink ideas to be more suitable.

If you know anyone your readers age, why not give it a go?

5. Use your own experiences

I always forget that I was once my characters age, especially when I’m struggling for ideas or conflicts. And it’s a really useful tool to try and combat the blank brain moments when I lose my imagination and can’t think of what my character is going to do next. What did I do at their age? What was my freedom? Where did I used to hang out? Who didn’t I get on with?

Using my own experiences helps me to realise the differences (and similarities) between me and my characters. It helps me get into the head of a child, and picture them doing what I was doing at that age.

 

Have a go at these ideas if you feel you’re losing inspiration for a character, or struggling with voice. And if you have something that helps you feel in touch with your character and their voice, please share it with me! I’d love to hear it.

love sophie

 

 

 

 

 

i’ll have a brew, love

There should be an unwritten law that allows all writers free access to unlimited cups of tea. Because boy, do we need it!

On a typical day, amongst the many character questions, plot problems and structure solving we take on, there are bucket loads of tea which help water the words.

And it doesn’t even have to be Yorkshire; anything goes when it comes to writing. Earl Grey, Granny’s Garden, and Peppermint are firm favourites of mine.

Even now, sat writing this blog, I’m sipping on an Earl Grey from one of those fancy glass mugs. (That’s a non-essential)

I’ve not found anything that works just as well as tea does. I mean, a few twinkly lights are nice, as is a good view or my favourite people watching spot. But my words would be in the dark without the tea. Twinkly lights? Lovely with a brew. A good view? Made even better with a flask of tea. People watching? Well I’d just be a stalker if I didn’t have a mug to look down at in those awkward moments they realise I’ve been staring at them and writing for half an hour.

I always find that the comfort of a brew makes me feel at home and means I can write wherever tea is on tap. This makes life as a writer a whole lot easier. Obviously, there are some places that I feel happier writing. But there’s something about a good brew, which takes the edge off.

When I’m in Leeds, (home home) I’ll sit at my writing desk with a cup of tea and feel comfortable writing chapters (paragraphs) which I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do without the support of a hot beverage.

When I’m in Bath, (uni home) I’ll work wherever my bum is comfortable and my mug is full. I can be at uni, at home, at a friends, in a swamp, up a tree. Anywhere. But as long as I have a flask of tea, I’m good for a few paragraphs.

Is there anything you need to be able to write? Can you conjure up your world anywhere or do you have to have a specific place/thing to help you?

Let me know!

love sophie