Monday 30 May 2016

How to Thrive on Deadlines

Paula working as a Pirate
before she realised she
could write like the wind
We are so pleased to introduce the latest recruit to Notes from the Slushpile, our best-selling writer pal Paula Harrison — she who has sold more than a million Rescue Princesses and seems to have books effortlessly leaping out of her jumper. Recently, Paula branched out from princesses to dragons, unicorns, firebirds and magical foxes. As if that isn't enough, this September, Paula's launching a new middle-grade book: Robyn Silver. What an example for us slow-coaches to emulate and the Slushpile is sooooo lucky to have her! Welcome, Paula ... we're hoping some of your publishing magic dust sprinkles over the rest of us!

I have a book to finish.

No one in my house is impressed by that excuse for not doing the washing up any more. I always seem to have a book to finish. My work squeezes into the school day and spills over into the evening. With two chapter book series to work on and a novel for 9+, I sometimes feel like I’m juggling hoops, whilst riding on a unicycle, whilst taming a lion, whilst... You get the idea.

A sketch of me juggling whilst riding a unicycle whilst taming a lion.
Drawn because SOME people in my house found it amusing!

Not that I’m complaining. I know how lucky I am to be published and writing full time. But there’s a lot to do and while publishers will move deadlines back for authors of stand-alone books, in my experience they tend not to do so if you’re writing a series. It could be that changing the time gaps between the books is problematic for them. (It's worth mentioning here that I've never written for a packager - all my stories are dreamed up and written by me - but I assume if you do the deadlines involved are not particularly flexible either.)

So I’ve developed a few tricks for writing more than one book for more than one publisher. Authors who have to do this are often picture book and/or chapter book writers. But first here’s a quick round up of what I’m currently working on.

Secret Rescuers is a chapter book series which I’ve largely completed. I’m waiting for copyedits on the last two books. 

Robyn Silver: The Midnight Chimes is for 9 + and is DUE OUT IN SEPTEMBER! Sorry did I get a little excited there? Did I mention I have an awesome cover and very shiny proofs courtesy of my new publisher, Scholastic? I’ll be writing more of the second book this summer. 

Young detective series with a secret title! This is what I’m currently writing and it’s due out in 2017. Not having written mysteries before, I’m finding I love it. But I can't tell you anything else about it yet!


Make a plan

Whether you keep it in your head, note it down on paper or make a spreadsheet on the computer, you need a plan of what you’re going to write and when. It take practice to work out how many weeks or months each stage of a book will need – first draft, edits, copyedits.

My plan is in my head mostly, but if you’re new to managing multiple deadlines I’d recommend using a calendar. Allow yourself a cushion of extra time in your plan because stuff happens! You may get flu or the washing machine may break. Life can get in the way!

Let your agent and publishers know how you’re getting on

If things take longer than you’d expected, let your publisher know. The sooner you tell them there may be a problem, the easier it is for them to try to find you extra time. Nobody wants to be that person who says they can’t make a deadline but with lots of notice it is less of a disaster.

Focus on one thing at a time

Writing is an immersive experience and we live each story as we write it. You can’t do that properly if you’re thinking about the book you’re about to move on to when this one’s finished. You also can’t immerse yourself fully if you’re thinking about the cat’s vet appointment this afternoon.

Find ways to pour yourself into the story. For me, music is an excellent short cut into the mood and mind-set of my story. I have at least one piece of music for each book – sometimes more. Sometimes I find a song that suits a particular character. Then I’ll play it before I start writing.

Objects can also be helpful. For Pale Peak Burning, the last in the Red Moon Rising trilogy, I kept a chunk of granite taken from the Peak District where the book is set on my desk. When I wrote, The Storm Dragon (Secret Rescuers book 1) one of my kids made me a little dragon that sat beside my monitor. I know writers who create mood boards either using collage or online using Pinterest or a similar site. I also change the wallpaper on my computer to suit each story so that as soon as I switch on, I’m in the right frame of mind.

The original Storm Dragon - in Plasticine

Organise yourself in a way that suits you

Like most writers, I have a large collection of notebooks and I make sure I have plenty written down to refer to. It’s the worst thing in the world to return to your story at edit stage, after spending time writing something totally different, and have gaps in your memory about settings etc. If you think you may forget, write it down or draw it!

Protect your creative time

I’d like to refer you back to Teri Terry’s recent Plot Bunnies blog post here. All this organising, making plans and writing down notes can make you feel as if your writing life lacks colour. You need time to mull things over – to have that unexpected thought that changes the direction of your story. Allow time in your schedule for this – the creative spark is what brought us all to writing in the first place.

 (Pssst! If anyone says you’re writing too many books remind them that Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets! Taking 7 years to write a book is absolutely fine and so is taking 4 months. Let's embrace our differences as writers - be that many books or few!)

No deadlines were missed in the writing of this blog!

Monday 23 May 2016

The Importance of a Good Network: Finding Fellow Writers

by Jo Wyton

Writing is a lonely business, or so the saying goes. But I haven't found that to be true. Writing requires time spent alone, for sure, but there is no requirement for it to be lonely.

And, thankfully, there are many ways to find connections in the world of writing and writers - you just have to look. Not that this fact occurred to me whilst I was writing my first manuscript. No. For many years I worked on that book. And it was terrible - I mean, really terrible. And it didn't particularly improve in that time. It simply changed. Over and over and over again.

Oh, the endless rewrites! Oh, the endless exhaustion!

Monday 16 May 2016

Starting Over

By Nick Cross

When I used to write a blog post every week, it was easy – I sat down on Thursday lunchtime and typed out 500 words. Then on Friday lunchtime, I went through, edited it and posted it. But now that I only post every couple of months, the whole process has become unaccountably difficult.

Let me elaborate. As it’s my 44th birthday today, I thought I would write a post all about getting older and how it's affected my writing. And I did – there’s 900 words of it in a separate Word file. But the more I wrote that post, the more I didn’t want to write it – it was moany and self-pitying and frankly a bit dull. Even so, for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been slogging through it, adding a few words every day but never getting it into a shape where I’d want to actually show it to anyone.

So, with only a couple of days left before this post goes live, I did one of the most frightening and powerful things a creative person can do.

I started again.

Friday 6 May 2016

Making things up: the care and feeding of Plot Bunnies

by Teri Terry
a.k.a. the Bunny Whisperer

Part 4 in Making Things Up: a blog series about the creative process.
The other day I was chatting with one of my fellow bloggers - Addy - and made a comment about Plot Bunnies, when she said....

What is a Plot Bunny?

Just in case any other writers out there aren't in with the Plot Bunnies, here we go!
And if this is all sounding rather daft to the sensible, here is the literary kudos. Although Plot Bunnies have been around since the beginning of time, Steinbeck phrased it rather nicely:
Ideas are like rabbits. You get a few and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. John Steinbeck

Monday 2 May 2016

Writer's Software: Is it any good?


A writer can scribe on anything - if you have an idea and you're  anything like me, you've probably scrawled stuff down on napkins, the  back of your hand and old bus tickets. None of these are very practical though - and you'd probably struggle to write a novel on them. I used to write mainly in Word, with a notebook by my side to make notes as I went.  Then I discovered writer's software. For the disorganised amongst us ( me) it's an absolute godsend.

Scrivener is my software of choice but I've drafted in a little help from Jo Wyton, to speak up for Word, and Philippa Francis for yWriter. If you're a fan of something  else, please let us know the pros and cons, and where you can get hold of it, in the comments!

 Philippa Francis on yWriter 

Price range:
Free download.

Platforms it works on:  Windows only.

Available support: Not sure how good the support is but there isn't much to go wrong - if you can answer this please add to the hive mind in the comments!

How do you use it: 
I use it from the beginning of a piece of work, and also during the editing process. It enables me to structure my work into scenes and chapters easily – with scope to move them around. The more I fill in the sections such as Goals, Locations and Scene Summaries, the more I understand my own story.

An old Kathryn Evans script on yWriter 5

Pros then?
The advantages are the price, the ease of manipulating scenes and chapters, and the different kinds of practical focus available; i.e. timescale or ratings which you can decide on yourself. All data is easy to read. The program can also read text aloud – in rather a robotic tone, I admit.

The disadvantages are that it’s only suitable for PCs, it is definitely not pretty and the completed files are a little tricky to handle. When you export the finished story, you have to re-format it, and as yet, I don’t know how to move a completed work into a new project. You have to start each project from nothing as far as I can see (I am no PC expert!).

Still, I really find it practical - and would be happy to help with queries. 

Kathryn Evans on Scrivener

Price range:
You can download a free trial for 30 days and it only counts the days you actually use it.  To buy the full version is $40, forever.

 It's worth giving it the full time trial. I'd forgotten this until I looked up my blog from   four years ago
 The 30 day trial period is about right. It took me a while  to love this piece of software. I resented it in the way I used to resent tidying my room. Slowly, however, I learned to appreciate it.
So much so that I'm a complete convert.

 Platforms it works on:  Mac and Windows - there is a version in the pipeline for iPad but it's been a long time coming and no real sign yet.

Available support: Excellent - it might take a day but they respond to email and will always help - there's also some brilliant forums where you can quite often find answers to your questions.

How do you use it: 

I now write, and edit,  my whole novels in it. It's very easy to divide each chapter into scenes, add notes to the side, even pictures and character notes.  I'm lazy with it really - I coudl and should use it better - by giving my scenes titles, for example, I could more easily manage a structural edit - even so, it's clear to see and overview. Once I need to send it to my agent and/or editor, I compile the document and move it to word. I do all future edits in Word but this is mostly because they don't use Scrivener and it's easier to work with their tracked changes where they are.

My current WIP in Scrivener

Pros then?

I find it intuitive to use but if you don't,  the tutorials are easy to follow. Heaps of useful content and ways to use it. The word count / target word count box is invaluable. It's great for the more disorganised amongst us (me) and it looks nice too!


There is a lot of potentially useful content that I don't access because I can't be bothered to work it out. Not really a con of Scrivener.

Jo Wyton on Word.

Price range:
It depends, but most people who own a computer already have the Office package I guess. If you work for a large company, it's worth checking whether they have an arrangement with Microsoft for a much cheaper version.

Platforms it works on:  Windows and Mac (for reference, I'm a Mac user)

Available support: Like with Scrivener, although probably to an even greater extent, there are forums galore for software support.

How do you use it: 
Fairly simply. I maintain a planning document and a separate file for each chapter. That way I'm not constantly drawn back to re-reading and revising previous chapters.

Full-screen mode in Word

Pros then?

I already know how to use it, so there's no time spent learning the how. It also makes it unbelievably easy to transfer files between computers to work on. For example, I have a desktop Mac as well as a notebook, and having things in Word just makes it so easy. I can also transfer to Windows computers for printing etc without worrying about having to reformat. I also love the 'full screen' mode, which is similar to Scrivener in that it block all else from your screen, has changeable backgrounds, etc.


Some might find it overly simple for building a manuscript in. But for me, the simplicity is its main draw.

So there you go - I have to say I would REALLY miss Scrivener if I didnt' have it. I broke the target word count  last week and it drove me crazy not having it - it was like all the words I was writing didn't even count. Thank goodness for the support forums, once I'd fixed it I had a lovely ( 2000+ word) surprise.

Conclusion? If you've got an untidy brain , writer's software that can take you to a whole new level of organisation is really worth it. Do add your own experiences in the comments - it all adds to the hive mind!

Special thanks to Jo Wyton and  Philippa Francis, aka K M Lockwood

Kathryn Evans is a stalwart SCBWI member. She  tweets @mrsbung and hangs about on instagram kathrynevansauthor. She's got a book out too,: More of Me was published by Usborne in February 2016.

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