When I’m Breathing

‘So…. How many novels have you actually written?’ A work colleague asks.

‘Three of the novellas for my series, they’re pretty short, about 45k words. The novels though, are about 130k words, and I’ve done a couple of them as well. Plus I have two others about the 50k marks, they’re longer ones, and another book series I’m starting that’s at the 30k mark.’ Running the numbers of my current projects through my head tells me it’s still not enough.

He actually sits on those numbers for a moment before responding. ‘Wow. I can’t imagine sitting down to write fifty thousand words. Let alone 140!’

‘Yeah, it’s a lot, I’m pretty pleased with it.’ I’m not. It doesn’t seem like much at all, and there is still so much to do that isn’t about writing.

‘I don’t even know how you find the time to do that.’

And for a moment I don’t know how to respond.

Its unfathomable.

I can’t describe the ease it takes to find my place in a story, stick on the head phones and punch word after word hour after hour, forgetting the total as the story wraps itself around my thoughts. There is the greatest freedom feeling the wind on your face the sway under your feet as your imagination takes you further than the stars, to new worlds where the infinite is tangible. Dipping your hands into the waters of creativity and drinking deep, slacking a thirst you never knew you had.

Stirrings of ideas grow and flourish inside, and they come pouring out, a fountain of unstoppable colours, thoughts, and feelings, and unable to contain the flow you decant it down in words. It takes time but you pull them all together, string them like glass beads on the thinnest of strands until you make something whole. Something beautiful.

Telling someone what you have done, and the frequent congratulations that devolves into uncaring incomprehension. Their inability to see what you have created doesn’t matter so much, you just need to get better with your expression and design.

I think about them all the time, all of the stories, as I’m walking to the shops, talking to my pets, doing the laundry, working in the real world. They are my constant companions, the voices in the dark, they are my bravery, and telling them my deepest desire.

Reminding myself that this is just the beginning and there is still so much to come, as I bite my tongue against the mockery for spending so much time on something that isn’t real, as though vindication of my work’s value must come from someone who’s never read a book.

Those people add flaws to characters I have yet to create, and the first impressions of them only hint at what they will become in spite of those failings. Some I recognise in myself even as I describe completely different people, who hide themselves in the shadow of my stories. In other cases they are as clear as the glass windows of my car as I drive home, working out how they will face this chapter’s challenge.

I’m the antagonist wishing to leave the dinner table so I can plot my protagonist’s demise, knowing as soon as I sit down after a long day’s work I will have to slice open my soul and cut the pieces of emotion out I need to articulate this arc of my character’s journey. To put aside what I feel, from warmth and love to sink into despair and hopelessness of my character’s suffering. Or on darker days, to pull myself from this ravine of desperation and find the light of joy, giving it to the pages of my passion.

As I turn up the music and sink myself into the turmoil of indecision and uncertainty they face, I, as their creator, have no time to dither on such emotions, though they hover about me, as though a plague. I go to bed, tasting their sadness and unspoken words, unstoppable sorrow eating a hole in me my husband has no idea how to stop.

Maybe tomorrow we can watch a movie instead, except where am I supposed to find the time when I get up and continue the façade that I am here and a functioning member of society who’s perfectly normal. And I watch it go by from the inside grieving over the time I am not punching ideas into my phone’s reminder, writing down plot twists during my lunch break, pulling over by the side of the road when traffic is awful and crying while trying to remember an escaping facet of the narrative.

I’ve forgotten I needed to be somewhere this weekend, so I can’t edit that piece. I don’t have the funds to upgrade the website because I need to pay the credit card bill used for advertising. Somewhere in all this I need to find the headspace for myself, to take my estranged spouse out, to play some computer games with him. And then I berate myself that I shouldn’t have spent so much time on that when I forget the passing hours. Or avoid the guilt by stating I’m letting off steam, there has to be a moment I can let go. But if there is then I should use it to read for a while, except I feel disconnected as I critique the writing, or worse, suffer through anxiety I am not as good as this writer. Why am I trying?

The dread that I am as awful as that two star review I received, and I’m burning myself up on a fruitless endeavour, even when it’s the only thing that makes the harshness of life bearable. The stories surround me and some days I don’t know if they are strangling me or holding me together. When the loving words of my husband can’t crack through the shell of self doubt, even as he is screaming them at me, with the quietest of whispers, that one day I will make it.

‘I write a lot in my spare time.’ I answer my work colleague.

My spare time is when I’m breathing.

 

I’ve written a book, what now?

So you got it, you filtered through all those inspiring ideas and mad illusions, you found the time to put pen to paper (lol, no way, I mean fingers to keyboard), and came up with a great story that you think other people would want to read too.

Congratulations, because that is freakin’ awesome. Doing that part is sometimes the hardest of all.

Now you want to share it, but what do you do? Send your manuscript to get rejected with millions of others and give up? Do the risky, time-consuming self-publishing option? I’ve followed the latter, so it’s hard for me to advocate the former, but I can tell you this: Do the former, the worst that will happen is you’re rejected. Especially if you have a genre. If you can say to me: I wrote a Sci-Fi book! Then send it to a Sci-Fi publisher.

I didn’t.

I wrote a book that’s been called Star-Trek crossed with the Mummy, another called it Indiana Jones meets Victorian Goth. I call it a steam flavoured fantasy with a suspenseful horror twist. What a mouthful.

And I instinctively knew from online research I was going to have a really hard time selling it to a publishing firm that was going to look past my pitch in the first place. So I took the risk and self published.

If you are going to self publish, here is what I have learned so far, and I wanted to share it, and kudos to a cocktail loving friend of mine who wanted to pick my brain on how to go about it, and inspired this month’s blog post.

 

  1. Edit.

This takes the top priority, there is NOTHING more annoying to ANY form of reader than bad editing. Don’t ask me about the hours I spend at the computer or printed works looking for faults, I still miss them, and my editor is human and he misses them too. I’ve seen professional authors with publishers ask readers for editing mistakes before the book is republished. We ALL make mistakes, the more you can find the better. Get an editor, get beta readers, get friends and family to find them… and slaughter every one!!

*cough* I mean fix, fix every one.

When you are ready to publish I recommend Pronoun. They publish to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Googleplay, they are super helpful and have made this much easier for me than I thought it could be.

 

  1. Get a good cover.

I think this is the most critical of your $$ spending. I am reading a fantastic book as part of a review club, and I cannot believe it doesn’t have heaps of reviews. I decided to review it because it had none, and while the blurb put me off a little, and needs an edit, I read the sample on Amazon and was quickly messaging the author screaming “GIVE IT TO ME!!!”

As the author was quick to let me know, he couldn’t believe something so insubstantial was of any importance, but we are fickle human beings, and are quick to judge books on their covers, despite what we say.

 

  1. Social media platforms

Have them. Work on them. Send out random tweets, update your FB page three times a week, get programs to help you do it if your time conscious. I have sold books based on my social networking, not many, but it’s a start. People know I exist, I have my own domain and website, if people try to look for me, they will find me. If they don’t know who I am and stumble upon me and like what I have to say then perhaps I’ve found someone who will read my book and love it as much as I do.

 

  1. Advertise

I see a lot of authors complaining their book isn’t selling but they aren’t willing to invest a little in smart advertising. And I do mean smart advertising. Don’t sell your dystopian Sci-Fi thriller to a contemporary romance e-magazine. Look up what other people are doing in your genre, and where their books are being displayed. I looked up “Steampunk e-newsletters” and found a group for fantasy/scifi fans and for a very small sum sold more books than with another enewsletter group wanting three times the price for a very generic readers group more interested in popular fiction i.e. romance.

I don’t have a romance…. Yet. Watch this space.

Or maybe not this pace but this website? Let’s stick with that.

 

  1. Get reviews

This is the hardest. Shouldn’t be right? But it is. How often when checking out a local restaurant do you see it only had 3 stars and after reading the mediocre reviews, give it a miss? Tripadvisor is a pinnacle of this, when I travel I check out the worst review and see if I can live with whatever warranted the poor review.

Now the tricky part. Don’t get friends and family to buy a copy, not read it, and say on Amazon: “This is better than Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings combined! Five stars! Buy this book!” People are going to look at those reviews and squint at them for being peculiar.

Join a readers group. Offer the book for free for honest reviews on your social media platforms. I can really recommend the Books Go Social Team, and their facebook groups. It’s a kind supportive and caring community and troll free (weird right? Yeah, completely troll free, indie authors don’t have time for that….)

 

Most of all? Don’t give up. I frequently wonder if getting up at 6am and staying awake till midnight is worth it, spending every spare second not at my full time job trying to squeeze in whatever task awaits next be it feeding the bottomless pit of twitter or facebook, checking reviews, editing, writing even, when I get to it. If you gave up writing on the keyboard then you will give up here. Don’t.

If you have a story you know you want to tell the world don’t give up. Don’t give in. Take a breath and realise what I did; that even though a year after publishing my first novella I’m not J.K. Rowling, but I have set out and achieved what I wanted, I started this, and by gods I’m going to finish it. If you really want this you’ll keep going too.

Of Things Come to Pass

2016 seems to have struck us all different ways; the celebrity deaths, the tragedy that is Aleppo, the bombs, the suicides, the deaths.

So many people suffered, and I know I was not alone in this.

Filled with personal pain and unspoken woe, my year was rife with more hardships than anyone but those closest to me knew. I couldn’t wait to see the end of this year that brought me so much adversity in so many aspects of my life, and to those I loved, that I forgot what I had accomplished.

I’ve published two books, that sold well, and written two more.

The Hidden Monastery has sold in the hundreds, the Last Prophecy is being better received than the first novella, and for those waiting for the full length novel, I yesterday finished the first draft of the Well of Youth, and have also finished the novella that comes after; to Chase a Prophecy.

I forgot until today when I sat down to write my end of year blog to be proud, or as my beloved father and beta reader says “Because you needed to give yourself more challenges than you already have.”

The sarcasm is strong in this family.

But how could I forget that it doesn’t matter how far I will go on, that I made it this far in the first place, and didn’t give up, no matter how hard and impossible it seemed that the thought stopped and shocked me, and I burst into tears, and couldn’t stop.

We forget in times of sorrow, personal losses, private pain, of what we have managed to do, what we should be proud of. So for 2016, I am not sorry to have seen it go, but I can stop to appreciate the time effort and work, of both myself, and with help of loved ones, in particular my husband.

He will never know how funny, loving and caring I think of him and I couldn’t thank him or think of him enough for his patience, time and kind words when all I had was cruelty for myself.

Don’t let 2016’s passing remind you of what you have lost, let it remind you that you are still here, that you carried on, and while we mourn those left behind, we should look to 2017 for those things, both good and bad, that it holds, that will shape and create us into people that we are proud of.

I’m stating, proudly, I made myself an author.

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