First Annual #BloggersBash – This Introvert Gets a ‘Reality’ Check

underground-534617_1280What do you get when you put two dozen introverts round a table in Pizza Express in the heart of London?  A surprisingly good time, that’s what.

I’m a rebellious introvert. You know the sort; we like to believe we’re more… um… extrovert… than we are. We’re proud of being self-contained and comfortable in our own company, but we don’t like people thinking that this makes us antisocial. So it was that when the First Annual #BloggersBash was announced a few weeks ago, I signed up enthusiastically. I wanted to be part of it, and I especially looked forward to meeting up with one or two bloggers with whom I’ve struck up a friendship over the months.

But whilst I look forward to events like this – parties, socials, gatherings of one kind or another (and I properly looked forward to this one too), when the day comes, I always inexplicably find myself wondering why I ever signed up in the first place. ‘Just get up, get washed and dressed and Get On That Train,’ my inner extrovert (is there such a thing?) ordered me. ‘Whatever resistance you’re feeling now, you know you’re going to enjoy it once you get there.’  It’s true, I DO enjoy things like this once I get there. It’s just that when it comes to the day, it always seems easier not to go.  It’s not a confidence thing; it’s not a shyness thing either. I’m not a shy person and I can hold my own in company, business or social. I do find it tiring, but not in a bad way, just in an introvert’s way.

So I got myself up, washed, dressed and off to the station. My mood lifted as a through-train arrived within a couple of minutes and it remained blissfully un-crowded for the whole journey. Decanted from the Tube at Kings Cross, I should have gone straight to the British Library. Instead, my protesting introvert reasserted itself, so I stopped to fortify its poor disconcerted soul with a Costa Coffee, Arabica, two shots. Twenty minutes later, I was ready.

And guess what? It was a super day. From the moment I wandered into the plaza at the British Library (the giant man on the loo/statue of Sir Isaac Newton) is a great landmark) and was eyeballed by BlondeWriteMore Lucy, to a last cheery hug from Suffolk Scribblings Dylan, I enjoyed every amiable, sociable moment.  The lemon drizzle cake (thanks TanGental Geoffle and sorry I’m not big on rhubarb!), the photos (looking forward to seeing how those turned out), the courtesy with which our big group was treated at Pizza Express, the Awards (well done the winners!), the conversations, positivity and friendship, and the general, warm conviviality of the whole thing.

It was fun meeting fellow bloggers ‘in the real world’ – ones I already knew and ones I didn’t – and getting to know other blogs will be an enjoyable follow-through. Sacha and her co-opted team did a terrific job of logistics and it all ran like clockwork. An afternoon filled with conversation, laughter and waves of cheering and whooping too. Amazing, when you consider most of us are unreconstructed introverts, happy to engage from the other side of our respective screens and devices but generally subdued in company.

My afternoon had an unexpected ‘extra slice’ too, with an on-spec call from a friend who lives in Manchester, who was in London with a spare afternoon and hopeful of meeting up. Turns out he was but 5 minutes down the road from our #BloggersBash, which was by then winding up. Cue a stroll up the Caledonian Road and a top-up of caffeine and conversation in a quirky café piled high with books and magazines and boasting old cinema seats for chairs and packing crates in place of tables.  Shabby chic, or just plain shabby – I’m not sure, but it was perfectly pleasant.

All in all and exceptionally enjoyable day, and all the more surprising that it all took place in Central London which, as regular readers of this blog will know, is not my favourite place to be.

To all who came, it was a great pleasure to meet you and celebrate some top writerly bloggers. Blonde Lucy… thanks for the lovely boost you gave me about my guest post. And Dylan… It was a real joy and privilege to meet you in person at last. And I can’t wait to get stuck into that next Beta read!

A writer’s blog… in numbers

wordpress-265132_1280I’ve been blogging here since August 2011 and it got me thinking – how do the numbers stack up?

The Numbers Game:

200         Weeks since first posting

1,400      Days since first posting

176         Number of Posts

0.8          Posts per week

13           Other bloggers’ posts, reblogged

86,000    Word count (excluding reblogs)

528         Average word count per post (excluding reblogs)

2,444      Comments

16,909    Views

2             Features on Freshly Pressed

1,400      Views on best ever day for views (thanks Freshly Pressed)

2,470      Email followers/subscribers

 

Top Ten Posts for Views:

4,293      Home page / Archives

3,204      One Word at a Time

1,636      Marmite Moments: Writing Good Sex

745         About Julie

423         Singled Out

231         Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing

210         How to Hook an Agent: Part One – My Top Five Takeaways

159         I’ve Got it Covered

120         Cliches: Avoid them like… …

115         How to Hook An Agent: Part Two – My Speed-Date with Destiny

 

 

A big thank-you to Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Every time my blog goes bonkers, it’s because Chris Graham over at The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, has re-blogged one of my posts. I thought it was time I said thank you.

I’d been at it all daytsra-white-bg on Sunday, essentially trying to write a blog post but in reality, procrastinating like mad. Eventually the post emerged, a quirky list of… yes… what I’d been doing instead of writing a blog post. I uploaded said musings, shut down my PC and came down to the kitchen to make my tea.

As I messed around with ingredients – salmon baked in a tinfoil parcel, watercress sauce, broccoli and rice, since you ask – I could hear in the next room, my iPad dinging merrily away as my WordPress App announced a succession of readers liking or commenting on my blog. That’s nice, I thought. I have to say, it was above averagely active – a veritable melody of dings – especially for a Sunday evening. And especially for, if I’m honest, an inconsequential, albeit mildly amusing post.

Salmon baked, watercress sauce warmed through (I know, I should have made it from scratch), broccoli blobbed with butter (don’t say it… don’t), I repaired to the lounge to take a snoop at who was liking my Peevish Procrastination Post.

What greeted me was unexpected, but wholly delightful.

It turns out that round about the same moment that I’d uploaded my list of procrastinations, the lovely Chris Graham over at Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog had re-blogged a post of mine from a couple of weeks ago – Ten Top Tips to Instantly Improve Your Writing. The surge in hits and that concerto of dings was all down to the readers which Chris had so very kindly pointed in my direction.

If you haven’t come across Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog before, I recommend you take a look. It is a veritable cornucopia of writerly musings, humour, advice and great material about books, authors, the world at large and reading in general. Chris scours the blogosphere seeking out posts he thinks his rapidly expanding readership will enjoy, and he’s a great supporter of indie authors.

When he picks a post of yours, stand by for a busy few hours! I like to respond to every comment on my blog and that’s not usually a particularly demanding commitment. But when you get a re-blog from Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog, things go a bit crazy – in a good way. I had fun, responding to comments from new readers, and it was wonderful to see new subscribers sign on too. I had to cut the sound on my iPad and go dark for an hour for Poldark (as any warm-blooded woman would, you understand, don’t you?) – but I was back later and again this morning, to enjoy the blogging conversation with more visitors from Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog.

Apart from the two occasions when I’ve been fortunate enough to be Freshly Pressed courtesy of the team at WordPress (another post on editing, strangely enough, and one on Marmite and sex – oh, just check it out, you know you want to), The Story Reading Ape’s blog has been responsible for the biggest surges in hits and subscribers to A Writer’s Notepad, since I began blogging.

So, this post is the least I can do, in offering a big thank-you to Chris, and an urging that you check out The Story Reading Ape’s most diverse and engaging Blog for yourself.

‘My Writing Process’ Blog Hop

Creative processThe blogosphere is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? My blogging buddy Dylan Hearn, of Suffolk Scribblings fame (and author of the inspired and intriguing dystopian thriller, Second Chance) has nominated me to take part in My Writing Process Blog Hop. I decided having done two blogging awards, that I wouldn’t do any more. But since three*, not two is the magic number – and since it’s Dylan who nominated me – how could I refuse?

So here we are:

1. What am I currently working on?

Until recently, I would have described myself as ‘between jobs’ (resting?) in writerly terms. I thought I’d finished My First Novel, which I’ve titled SINGLED OUT. I’ve been submitting to agents (17 so far), with a flicker of interest here and there, but no tangible progress. I’ve been trying to work out my next idea, but I’m beginning to think my mind won’t allow me to let go of SINGLED OUT. Now I come to glance through it again after a few months’ absence from its pages, I realise why. I can see things that need work. So I’ve decided to have another pass-through, a few days over the summer teasing out a few improvements, deleting a few more adjectives, tightening a few more sentences. The one agent who has thus far offered a line or two of specific feedback said my minor characters weren’t engaging enough, so I shall look at these characters more critically and see if (a) I agree and (b) I can do anything about it.

As it happens, I’m in the mood for a few days with Singled Out, as it’s set in the heat of summer. My characters are on a singles holiday in Turkey. It’s a psychological story, a kind of fox in the henhouse piece – where henhouse is a deceptively sublime setting. Whilst several characters are not quite who they seem to be (believe me, it’s easy to hide your true self for a week with a bunch of strangers), one character in particular is playing a very nasty game. It’s not a mystery or traditional crime story as the reader realises early on the identity of the fox. But the other holidaymakers don’t and the reader watches them putting themselves in harm’s way. I like the idea that the reader is outside a window, seeing something bad play out, unable to intervene.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There’s a dark psychological conflict running through the story, but SINGLED OUT is not a thriller, more psychological suspense; a slow-burn with a clash of wits, a mental contest, at its heart. It’s not a whodunit but a whydunit.  SINGLED OUT is emotional but although it’s set on a holiday for single travellers, there’s very little romance – actually none.  It’s commercial, but because of the setting, it’s also more sensory than is typical for a commercial novel.

I’ve been told often that the context of a singles holiday is a unique and great idea. I’m writing from experience as I’ve been on several of them in my time, although none had quite the colour of the entirely fictional one in my story.

3. Why do I write what I write?

I realised early on that I like writing stories about dark, psychologically damaged or maladjusted people. Weirdly, I relish imagining myself into their personalities, their motivations and their views of the world. I’m exorcising a ghost or two here, I’ll confess, but that’s a topic for another day. I’m not sure if this will be the only type of story that I write, but that’s where I am for the moment.

4. How does my writing process work?

All I can say is how it worked this time – my first time. I began with a chapter-by-chapter outline, so I knew how the story would progress and, more importantly, I knew I had sufficient material and ideas to fill the pages of a novel. Each chapter outline was just 5 or 6 lines long, an account of what should take place and from whose point of view. A final single line indicated probably the most important thing – how this episode takes the story forward, or what the reader learns.

One example: X is sleazy, understands his place in the pecking order, acts inappropriately towards women

My outline changed, probably about 40% over the course of writing – I dumped a character, I added a backstory, I changed the ending – but it remained a reliable roadmap and it helped me appreciate my progress.

I wrote for as much time as I could find. I work freelance and my workload varies from week to week. For almost two years whilst writing SINGLED OUT I was outrageously busy with a big contract. During that time I shared a commitment with a writing buddy to produce at least 500 words a week. That’s a staggeringly small amount, but some weeks that was all I managed. On other occasions, 500 words was all I thought I could manage, but once I sat down on a Sunday to push that out in the hours before our agreed deadline, I kept going and eventually produced 2,000 or 3,000 words. That 500-word commitment – so small that I could never say I couldn’t manage it – kept the process going.

Each day before I began writing, I would re-read what I’d written the day before, but do no more with it than tweak the odd word. It was a bit like applying a jump-start to the day’s writing, or doing a run-up.

I had the support of a mentor for several months, which was a great learning experience, but also challenging, as it meant I was reviewing/editing in one section whilst writing another. Like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.

Eventually I had a first draft, and a year after that I felt I had a draft (6th) in good enough shape to begin the submissions process. Now I’m not so sure…

5. Nominate three other writers

Okay here’s where it gets tough, because I know how most people don’t like the commitment that awards, blog hops and the like demand. So I would say to all three, do it, or don’t do it – it’s up to you. I’m nominating these writers because I think they write a great blogs that deserve to be seen by as many people as possible.

Sweat, Tears and Digital Ink – MG Mason is a fellow freelancer with a writing habit in the sci-fi/horror/fantasy genres. He writes about writing, words and the origin of language too, and has a great Highlights page on his blog (including a personal perspective on writing sex scenes, something which challenges many writers).

Sarah J Carlson, Author – Sarah is an American living in Singapore. As well as her writing, she shares her experiences of living and exploring in South East Asia, and some fabulous photos too.

Blondes Write More – Describing herself as a novice writer starting her journey, this blogger has also just won the Very Inspiring Blogger Award so I’ve learned more about her from her fascinating facts. I hope she won’t mind getting some publicity for her sparky and very engaging blog.

So Dylan, thanks again for your nomination and for continuing to be a brilliant blogging buddy and a generous supporter of budding writers everywhere.

* The Rule of Three dictates that details and objects that are arranged or grouped in threes are more appealing, funny or memorable than even-numbered pairings. In papercrafting (when she’s not up to her neck in edits or traumatised by synopses, this writer diddles with papers, inks and sticky stuff for fun) this means three (flowers, gems, butterflies) not two, and not four (although five is ok on a larger surface). You see the Rule of Three all the time in photography and in display of objects and ornaments; the Japanese do it in some style with Ikebana flower arranging… and so on. Blah.

A Big Freshly Pressed Thank You

juicedI was lucky enough to be featured again on Freshly Pressed over the weekend – courtesy of my last blog post on Marmite Moments: Writing Good Sex.  So first off, it’s a big thank you to the Freshly Pressed crew for singling me out again. 

Getting Freshly Pressed gives a big boost to little blogs like mine.  Last time, I went from readership in single figures to over 1,400 hits in one day alone, and several hundred new subscribers.  This time, A Writer’s Notepad has seen around 1,200 hits since late Saturday night – and from the last time I know, that’s early days in terms of numbers. 

The biggest delight of all is that so many new people have joined the conversation, by commenting on this post and others.  It’s weirdly fun, to engage with people all over the world, from all sorts of perspectives, and simply share a few lines of comment, empathy or opinion in a warm and social environment.  It’s a bit like a bunch of friends settling down on the flumpy sofas at their favourite coffee house and having a chat – if that’s not too much of a raging cliché these days. 

So my other thank-you is to you.  If you’ve found my blog in the last few days and joined in by commenting, or just followed, or even just popped by to see what’s going on – I thank you! You are what makes blogging… fun.

In case you’re interested, I also have a Facebook author’s page – yes, budding authors can just about get away with this.  So if you’re a friend of Facebook, find your way there and ‘like’ if you will.  There’s a Twitter feed too – both are signposted in the right hand column.  It’s all about writing because that’s my passion. 

I hope you enjoy my novice writer’s journey, my writerly angst and the odd off-piste moment that finds its way on to the blog.  Don’t be shy either – it’s great to get comments and I read and respond to all.

Versatile Blogger Award!

versatile-blogger-award-picA few weeks ago, fellow blogger D.L. Kamstra very kindly nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award – thank you Dana!  I’ve been meaning to find time ever since then to create my post and pay-it-forward on the goodwill.  At last, I’m getting to it.  By the way, Dana’s blog is lovely; quite new (it’s only been going 3 or 4 months), it’s a gentle and open-hearted meander through her experiences as a novice writer.

The idea with the award and others like it is that you link back to the blogger who nominated you, then forward to any number of nominated blogs, and you also offer up a few snippets of information about yourself.  It’s about getting people to look at blogs they might otherwise not encounter, I guess.

Here are the rules for the Versatile Blogger award:

  • Display the Award Certificate on your blog
  • Write a post and link back to the blogger who nominated you
  • Nominate 15 other bloggers (ahem… 10 – see below)
  • Inform them of their nomination via comment on their blog
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

I know not everybody subscribes to the whole blogging award thing, but I look upon it as an opportunity to share some of the blogs I find interesting with others – and what could possibly be bad about that? I’m going to propose some new ones here, which didn’t feature in my earlier post, when I got nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award. The award specifies 15 nominations but I think that’s a bit OTT, so I’ve restricted myself to 10, because that seemed quite enough…  I haven’t just plucked them out of thin air either – these are all blogs I follow and enjoy.  So here we go – I’ve aimed for variety in my recommendations, so I hope there’s something there to inspire you.

My nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award are:

  • http://authordylanhearn.wordpress.com/Suffolk Scribblings – Dylan has just published his first novel – a cracking dystopian political thriller – and he blogs about his experience as a writer, stay-at-home father and rural resident in a lovely light-touch style.
  • http://armitageagonistes.wordpress.com/Armitage Agonistes – This is my first experience of ‘fandom’ blogging and whilst I wouldn’t class myself as a fan follower, I love how Perry handles her subject, as it were, and manages the whole fan blogging thing.
  • http://ninamishkin.com/The Getting Old Blog – Nina is erudite and full of wisdom and she writes beautifully about the good things in life.
  • http://singlechicksblog.com/Single Chicks Blog – Two girls with a wry take on being single – I love it!
  • http://thebettermanprojects.com/The Better Man Project – Evan beautifully expresses his thoughts, ideas and learnings on how to be a better… person.
  • http://eliglasman.com/Eli Glasman – Eli writes from the heart about his life as a writer coping with Crohn’s Disease.
  • http://reiterreport.wordpress.com/The Reiter Report – Thorsten writes thoughtfully about big issues which impact us all…. life, the universe, and everything.
  • http://colombiadiaries.wordpress.com/Colombia Diaries – The author writes a fascinating blog about her family’s travels around Colombia whilst dealing with debilitating chronic illness.
  • http://linklater2020.wordpress.com/Reflections – A gentle photographic blog reflecting life through images of much-loved possessions at home.
  • http://wordsavant.wordpress.com/Word Savant – Jane blogs about the creative process, freeing the writer within, and the challenges of becoming a writer.

The Versatile Blogger Award wants to know seven interesting things about me.  The above mentioned One Lovely Blog Award also required that I offer up seven interesting things about me, and I duly complied – you can judge for yourself the degree of ‘interest’ if you click back to the post.  That there might be fourteen interesting things about me is something, quite frankly, I doubt. So prepare to be not very interested in the following additional seven:

  1. In 1979 I was ‘married’ in the car park of a motorway service station, by a salesman from the RAC. My boyfriend (who subsequently became my real and actual husband a few years later) and I were travelling off on holiday in an ancient and fragile Ford Escort. In order to purchase rescue/recovery insurance to cover both of us driving the car, in those more moralistic times, we had to be married. As we weren’t, the man from the RAC helpfully obliged us with a brief ceremony – perhaps about 20 seconds long – as I imagine he did several times a day to other unwed couples, in enthusiastic pursuit of his sales quota.  He did well for the RAC, as I’m still with them.
  2. My 5 favourite films are, in no particular order, The Big Chill, The Shawshank Redemption, The Lake House, Source Code and The Lives of Others. I make no apology for The Lake House – I love it, and that’s that.
  3. I’m a fan of the paperback.  I love audiobooking and I think Kindle is brilliant, especially when you want to take a suitcase full of books on holiday. But if I enjoy a book, I need to possess it in its physical form.  I blogged about this here a while back – two years ago today, as it happens.  What this means is I often double-up.  If I’ve enjoyed an audiobook or a Kindle read, I will buy the paperback, simply to have it on my bookshelves, and re-enjoy the words.
  4. I take my coffee strong, black and absent of any sweetener.  I’m a sucker for the UK’s Costa Coffee franchise and I even blogged about the pleasure of going to my local Costa Coffee here.
  5. I’m a theatre junkie.  I don’t venture into the West End (of London) very often as it’s a miserable experience and theatre ticket prices are off-the-scale.  My venue of choice these days is the beautiful Richmond Theatre close to London, but I also frequent one or two other regional theatres.  Productions I’ve enjoyed recently include the spellbinding Ballet Boyz, 1984, RSC’s production of Julius Caesar performed by an all-black cast, September in the Rain, Blue/Orange and The Judas Kiss.
  6. I watch too much TV. If I have a spare Sunday afternoon, I like nothing more than curling up on the sofa with an old Columbo movie or catching up on one of my too-many guilty pleasures – The Voice, Dancing on Ice – yes, I know, I know…
  7. The most practical, valuable, indispensable, stress-reducing and life-enhancing gadget I own is this spider-catcher. I have nothing more to add.

So am I a writer? (Part Two – the question of success)

writingmagcard0001Back in August 2011, I asked the question, ‘So am I a writer?’ here. That was when nobody – nobody at all – was reading my blog. I had scrawled the first (catastrophically rough as it now turns out) 45,000 words of my first ever first draft and written 3 unremarkable short stories, one of which has, astonishingly, been published.

Today, I have produced the completed manuscript of my first novel – that’s 97,000 words give or take – and I have the firm intention to get it out there one way or another.

In the intervening months whilst writing, editing and doggedly refining Singled Out, I’ve continued to earn my living as a business copywriter and marketer.  I deliver blog posts for my clients (for which I am paid); I deliver short promotional vignettes for my clients (for which I am paid); and I deliver a slew of output around sales propositions, products, thought leadership and product/service promotion (for which… yes… you got it). So I will, thank you very much, define myself, however cautiously, as ‘a writer’.   I write, therefore I am… a writer.

Moving on from this, today, a fellow blogger Eli Glasman at his fascinating blog here, gave me pause for thought on defining success or failure as a writer.  It gave me cause to reflect on whether I am – or ever will be – a successful writer.

Here were my thoughts on the matter, commenting on Eli’s blog:

What makes you or I a successful writer? Is it enough simply to write until something – anything – is complete? Must one produce multiple stories, or a novel, or more than one novel? Is it enough that your friends and family love what you write? Is it sufficient to self-publish? Or to be published by an independent? Or do you need the credibility of a mainstream publisher? Do you need sales in the several thousands to consider yourself successful? Do you need an occasional royalty cheque, payment for the odd short story? Is it enough to earn something – anything – from your writing? Or a proportion of your income – one-third, half perhaps? Do you need to be able to live on your writing income? Do you need to be an in-demand speaker at literary events? Would you have to have a place on the bestseller lists? Or a prize – Booker, Costa perhaps? Where does it end?

If you’re one of my writerly blog followers, have you ever considered what would make you classify yourself as a successful writer?  It’s a wholly subjective question.  And the inevitable follow-on question is this: If one isn’t – perhaps by one’s own definition – successful, does that mean one is an unsuccessful or even, heaven forfend, a failed writer?

I don’t believe so.  I might be successful on one level as my freelance work, which is largely writing, supports me.  On another level – in the field of fiction – I can’t own the word successfulYET.

I’m going to brand that perspective on the matter ‘success-in-waiting’.