This first post is more of an introduction than anything. I want to tell you a bit about myself, just so you know what you’re getting into.
Literature is in my blood – reading it, writing it, studying it, arguing over it, if it involves story-telling, I’m in. My great-grandmother got an English degree from Liverpool University in 1910. She worked as an English teacher before getting married and joining the suffrage movement, where she put her education to good use campaigning for women’s rights. Her own daughter – my grandmother – completed her own English Literature degree with the Open University in 2009, at the age of 93. Yes, I know! How amazing is that?
As a child, my parents read to me all the time – Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, swash-buckling adventures and fairy-tales of all stripes – planting the seed for my profound love of stories that took root and blossomed. Despite that, career-wise I was quite a late-bloomer. I didn’t follow in my foremothers’ footsteps until the age of 27, when I began my OU degree in English Language and Literature. The next year I started working as a freelance writer and eight months after that I left my day-job in retail to write full time.
In 2014 my mum suggested I enter the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition with the novel I was working on at the time – I Am Aphrodite. I ended up on the shortlist of the final seven, and even though I didn’t win I had a tremendous amount of support and guidance from a kind fiction editor at Quercus who took pity on me, thankfully seeing potential in the extremely rough prose I submitted (which was 210,000 words long originally – eek).
I completed my degree in 2017 (with a first – woop woop!) and using the newly minted literary tools I had acquired over two years of creative writing study, I set about hacking my manuscript into some kind of recognisable shape – think Edward Scissorhands.
The picture below is the plot outline I drew up after I finished my degree so I could figure out what I needed to change. This was my guideline for structure, character development, new plot points and themes, none of which I had a clue about when I started writing the book. Every line in black ink is a plot point, and all the red is what I needed to do to fix it. As you can see, there was rather a lot 😀 (Tip – writing/ printing it out and arranging it all in one place like this can help give you a sense of the overall work. It also means when you’re watching telly and you get an idea, you can scribble it down without having to load up your laptop again 😉 )
I’m now embarking on a magical quest for an agent and hopefully a publishing deal, and one day soon I hope to make another career transition, this time from freelance writer to fully fledged author.
Participating in the OU forum, several Facebook pages for writers and a real-life creative writing group has taught me the value of contact with my peers. I cannot overstate that. It’s so, so important to be able to vent, and not just to your friends and family but to people who get it. We all feel inadequate, isolated, anxious, depressed, unhinged and even borderline-homicidal sometimes, and I want to write a blog that not only offers advice and suggestions on how to develop your writing and your career, but also that reminds you to be a real-life person once in a while – that you’re not alone, that everyone struggles and that there are ways to make life easier on yourself.
Working freelance was something that took a lot of getting used to, and not in the ways I had anticipated. I’ve gone through phases of crippling self-doubt, which have rendered me completely useless at times; I’ve also suffered something bordering on depression several times over the course of my six-year writing career, although I hesitate to categorise it as that since I’ve never had an official diagnosis. Working alone can make your head a breeding ground for negative thoughts, and unfortunately they have nowhere to go but round and round and round. The only way I’ve found to break that pattern is to leave the house, visit friends and tell them how I’m feeling, then use their positive reassurances to get back on the creativity train and reinforce their points by getting something constructive done.
Social media is not a substitute for real-life human interaction. It slyly convinces you that it’s the same thing, but we are social animals and our brains aren’t configured to get the same stimulation from remote communication as from actual face-to-face interaction. Being part of peer groups online is important, but it’s not everything, as I learned after years of trying to keep my head above water. It’s a balance, and a vital one if you’re going to be productive and successful. You can always adjust during those times when you’re obsessing over the latest work-in-progress, but don’t forget to get your fix of human contact as soon as you get the chance.
Despite being solitary beasties on the whole, writers are still people (don’t believe everything you hear) and we still need to have support networks like anybody else. I don’t think this is something that gets talked about enough, so I’m going to talk about it here, along with other (hopefully) useful suggestions and ideas for honing your writing skills.
Some posts will focus on creative writing: exercises, techniques and the process of writing a novel; others on the scary stuff like compiling material for agents, pushing your work and getting out in front of the general public; and the rest will be about the ups and downs we all go through: what to do when you’re feeling low and how to deal with self-doubt and criticism.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @RoseJamesAuthor for daily updates and if you want to ask questions about anything I’ve posted. Next Monday I’ll be talking about one of the most exciting aspects of being a writer: the first stages of writing a novel!