Saturday, 7 September 2013

So Long And Thanks For All The Cheques

Well, this is a blog post I never thought I'd write. After eighteen years as a "professional" writer, I've decided to call time on my writing career. It's been a very tough decision but I do feel it's the right one although I guess only time will tell.

If you've read any of my previous posts, you'll know that I've been really struggling with my writing, particularly over the last couple of years. I've tried everything I could to get it back on track. Stopping for a while, starting again, just writing one day a week, changing direction, reading books and articles on "writer's block".... In the end, I've just been finding it too stressful and not really at all enjoyable. Also I haven't earned any money or had anything to really celebrate with my writing for so long now that the motivation isn't there to keep making myself do it on a regular basis any more. It's like Ray Bradbury says in his excellent book Zen In The Art Of Writing, "If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer..."

Now I know my reasons probably sound pretty pathetic. No one ever said that writing or getting published was easy and trust me, I'm well aware of that saying about the only difference between a successful writer and a non-successful one is that the successful writer didn't give up. And in fact I haven't given up. I intend to carry on writing in one capacity or another until I am physically or mentally incapable of doing so. It's just that I don't want to do it as a career any more. To quote Olin Miller..."Writing. The hardest way to make a living, with the possible exception of wrestling crocodiles."

I think it's interesting that since I made my decision, coincidentally (or not) just a few hours before my closest friend passed away from cancer, I've been able to return to my main writing project, my non-fiction MBS book The Emptiness At The Edge Of The World. It's almost as if the pressure is off now that I'm seeing writing as just a "hobby" and not something I have to force myself to do and as a result I'm actually being more productive, not less.

Of course, whether I can ever be satisfied if writing is only a hobby and not my main career remains to be seen. I just know that it's time to let it go and follow my latest dream which (much to my great surprise!) is to be a successful crafter and designer. All the original passion and excitement, together with the drive and the ambition that has sustained me throughout most of my writing career, I now have for crafting and designing so it will be interesting to see where it takes me.

I'm really hoping that once I've got over the guilt of "giving up" writing, which incidentally I don't expect I'd be feeling if I was giving up being a greengrocer or a lorry driver, I'm hoping I'll fly. Whether I can earn a living from crafting and designing, any more than I could from writing, remains to be seen. But then I've never yet made a career decision based on financial considerations and I'm not going to start now, even though I'm about a week away from not being able to buy any food or pay all my bills!

To end with a quote from Mark Twain. "The happiest person is one who works all year long at what they would otherwise choose to do on their summer vacation." And for me that choice is no longer writing.

(It is my intention to keep this blog account open and to post from time to time but if you want to have regular updates on how things are going (and see samples of my craft work) you are probably better off keeping an eye on my crafting blog which can be found at www.melissalawrencecrafter.blogspot.co.uk)



A Rose By Any Other Name
RIP Rosemary Bond 1959-2013

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2013

Postscript: As (for some reason) this post seems to have been viewed by more people than virtually all the rest of my posts put together, I feel I should reassure any future readers that I did go back to being a "proper" writer again - I'm very pleased to say! You can find out how and why in this blog post http://www.melissalawrencewriter.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/back-on-horse.html






   

  

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Why I've Decided Not To Self-Publish

July is the cruellest month or maybe that's April, I forget. But then I've never let the truth get in the way of a good introduction. Either way, July was not exactly the most productive writing month I've ever had and I didn't even set any writing goals, let alone achieve any.

The unexpected and intense heatwave was the biggest factor as I don't cope well when the temperature goes over twenty degrees, let alone thirty. Even night working, which usually makes things more manageable, didn't help. It was like trying to write in a pressure cooker but one which had twenty-seven different species of moths and other creatures of the night living in it.

Also, on a much more serious note, my closest friend who I've known for over forty years, found out that she only has a few weeks to live, instead of the sixteen months we originally thought. That was a massive blow and as seems to happen these days, writing went out of the window (along with all those moths) although crafting still carried on, regardless.

Before  the cruel summer kicked in, I  made a decision that I wouldn't self-publish my collection of teen poems (or anything else for that matter) after all. As you will see from previous posts, I was quite keen to try this for all sorts of reasons but I also had major doubts about whether it was the right thing to do. In the end, an excellent blog post by the writer Sue Moorcroft on what she felt about self-publishing, helped me to arrive at this conclusion.

If you'd like to read the post yourself you can find it at http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/what-do-i-think-about-self-publishing/

Anyway, here are the reasons why I've decided not to take the SP route at the moment.

1. As mentioned before, there are quite a lot costs involved (editing, cover design etc) if you want to make a really professional job of self-publishing and stand out from the competition. Given that the price of most e-books is pretty negligible, I felt that I'd have to sell an awful lot of copies even to cover my initial costs.

2. There is a lot more to self-publishing than just downloading your manuscript from Microsoft Word to Amazon. As Sue says, you need to get the formatting of your book spot-on and again, I didn't feel that the amount of effort (or expense if I paid someone to do it for me) would be balanced by the number of copies sold.

3. Whichever way you look at it and this is just my opinion, it is "selling out". I don't feel strongly enough about any of my completed books that I'm so desperate to get them published, I'll settle for what I consider to be second best.

4. I knew that I was never going to feel satisfied, after waiting for so long (don't ask!) to get a book published, if my first success only came with self-publishing.

5. And on that note, having waited so long, it seemed to me that I can't give up now. Yes, it's getting harder and harder to find a traditional publisher to take your work even if you have an agent but that doesn't mean it's impossible. So I'm hanging on in there!

Whether I've made the right decision, only time will tell but since I made my decision, I've had no regrets at all about it which tells me I've probably done the right thing. Now all I need to do is wait for it to get cooler so I can pick up the trail for a trad publisher again. I'll let you know how I get on.

    

Summer Rose
Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2013

Thursday, 20 June 2013

National Flash Fiction Day 2013

I hope you've all been thinking about how you're going to celebrate National Flash Fiction Day as June 22nd is nearly here! OK, so maybe you've not felt like putting up the literary bunting yet but like all these "days" (I'm still waiting for National Cheese and Peanut Butter Sandwich Day) it helps focus the mind on something we may not have thought about for a while.

Actually, I'm thinking about Flash Fiction quite a bit at the moment. Despite my good intentions to stick to only working on my various book projects, the lure of the flash fiction competition and the urgent need for something other than plastic with which to pay the milkman, has proved too strong. I'm currently working on several pieces for the Earlyworks Press Flash Fiction Competition which has a first prize of £100 (not bad for 100 words or less) and closes 31st July 2013. Details can be found at http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk/Competition_flash_details.htm  

I do enjoy writing flash fiction and have blogged about it before. I really enjoy the challenge of telling a complete story in such a short number of words and also because I think you can be more "poetic" (whatever that means) with flash fiction than you can be with longer fiction. In fact some of my favourite flash fiction pieces started life as poems.

If you are interested in writing flash fiction or just learning more about it, there is a great website (http://www.nationalflashfictionday.co.uk/) that seems to have been set up specifically to promote flash fiction and National Flash Fiction Day. There are some really good quotes from writers defining flash fiction (I particularly like the one that describes flash fiction as being "a shot of espresso or tequila - punchy and direct") and a comprehensive list of magazines and websites that publish it. There is an A-Z of prompts if you're stuck for ideas and a shop! I really loved the flash fiction postcards and was very tempted to buy some but then remembered that milk was probably more of a priority.

Also, if you'd like to read one of my previous blog posts on flash fiction and pick up some tips on successful flash fiction writing, you can find it at http://www.melissalawrencewriter.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/micro-fiction-fractured-west.html

And if you'd like read one of my flash fiction pieces, here it is. (Warning! Contains some strong language.)

Bloody Rabbits

She pulled the covers up tight around her throat. She could feel her heart beating like an automated clock. Maybe, she thought, if I could just push my head underneath the covers, whatever it is will go away. But when she tried, she discovered she was completely incapable of movement, in exactly the same way as she knew she was completely incapable of speech.

***

He slammed his foot down hard on the accelerator. Fucking rabbit, he thought to himself. It deserves to be squashed to smithereens. He clutched the steering wheel tightly, trying to control his breathing. He could feel the bile rising in his mouth. Bloody women, he said to himself. Why do they always screw with your head? Bloody women. Bloody rabbits.

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2013

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Writing Too Slowly

"Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Sprout?" is the working title for my second collection of poems for younger children, the sequel to my first collection "There's A Gorilla In My Pyjamas".

I reached a milestone with it this week as I finally finished the second draft. It's only taken me three and a half years! OK, so I have been writing a lot of other things in between and I also had quite a long break from working on it when I decided it wasn't worth spending time on a second collection when I hadn't had the first one published. Oh and I also took a year's sabbatical from writing during that time to concentrate on my crafting.

Even so, I was a bit shocked to realise how long it had taken to get to this stage. Add that to the two and a half years it took me to write the first draft and I've already spent six years on one project that is not even ready to send out or self-publish yet.

I know I am a slow writer. Not a slow "writer", as in I can write extremely quickly when I have to, even if I can't always read it afterwards. Years of doing phone interviews for the Guardian without having shorthand taught me to "speed-write" pretty efficiently. No, I'm just very slow when it comes to completing long-term projects and I think there are several reasons for this.

Firstly, I tend to leave a lot of time in between drafts, usually so long that I end up starting other long-term projects. I'm also a terrible perfectionist so I'm not good at letting things go without spending hours and hours (and hours) perfecting them. I'm also ashamed to admit that I get bored very easily so I'm hopeless at working on something for long periods of time without changing to something else. Finally, I use a method called the "salami" technique for every major project I attempt, including non-writing ones. Although the idea of breaking things down into small, manageable "slices" is good in theory, it does mean that completing projects takes a much longer, if not larger, chunk of time.

Finally, I think that not having a definite deadline for completion, ie one set by an editor or an agent, makes all the difference. I've tried setting my own "mock" deadlines but it never seems to work. I either set a ridiculously tight deadline which means I usually give up when I realise I can't possibly meet it or no deadline at all and end up taking far too long to complete anything.

So, if anyone has any thoughts about how I can spend six months on something instead of six years and still be satisfied with the quality of work, I'd be really interested to hear from them.

In the meantime, here is the second draft of a poem from "Who's Afraid Of The Big, Bad Sprout?" which might arrive on an editor's desk somewhere around 2019!


GOING TO WATCH CITY WITH DAD

When I go to watch City with Dad,
Mum drives us both down to the ground.
We walk over the bridge with the rest of the fans
And buy a programme for nearly four pounds.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
There is always a bit of a crush.
Dad shouts very loudly "Now please mind these eggs!"
And I feel dead embarrassed and blush.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
It’s quite a long walk to our seat.
But it doesn’t seem such a long way coming back
Unless the City get beat.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
Mum makes us a flask for half-time.
I like it best when it's tomato soup
And Dad doesn’t try to drink mine.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
There are often some grown-ups who swear.
Dad covers my ears with his icy, red hands
And gives all the swearers a glare.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
I shout ‘til it hurts in my chest.
Dad waits for the ground to go quiet,
Then shouts really loud at the ref.
 
When I go to watch City with Dad,
I like to stay right to the end,
But Dad likes to leave several minutes from time,
Which drives me a bit round the bend.

When I go to watch City with Dad,
We cheer at the end of the game.
Whether we’ve lost or whether we’ve won,
I like it that things stay the same.

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2013

 
 
 
 
 
 




   

Saturday, 1 June 2013

What Do You Think About Most When You Are Doing The Washing-Up?

Hi everyone.

This post is a quick quiz, not to be taken too seriously. Your answers might help you decide what sort of writer you are. On the other hand, they might not!

What do you think about most when you are doing the washing-up?

1. Plots and characters.
2. The next book/article/poem you are planning to write.
3. How you are going to pay the gas bill.
4. What you are having for tea tonight.
5. How you can get more friends on Facebook.
6. What your next tweet is going to be.
7. The washing-up.
8. Other. (Please specify.)
9. All of the above.
10. None of the above. I have a dishwasher.

I look forward to reading your comments/answers!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

When Writing Websites Go Wrong

In the heady days when I had money and the surplus cash in my bank account wasn't 0.03p, I paid a website designer around £500 to build me a writing website. It looked fabulous and I received loads of compliments, although interestingly enough, not one single commission or request for work. Instead I had lots of emails (well, one or two) from prisoners wanting me to "ghost" their life story, English graduates asking me for advice on becoming a writer (don't give up the day job) and school children wanting help with their homework.

However, the main problem with my website was what would happen if I needed to make even a tiny change, such as adding a news item or updating my biography. I had to email my designer with the changes, wait for him to email me back to say he'd done them, proof-read the changes on the site, email the designer again to say they were OK (or not), then wait for him to email me back to say the changes were now "live". Although he was pretty efficient at getting the changes done quickly and usually for no extra charge, it was a laborious and frustrating process.

Flushed with the success of building my own crafting website (www.melissalawrencedesigns.com) with one of the online design templates, I decided to have a go at designing and building a new writing website. It wouldn't cost me anything to build, the hosting fees were slightly cheaper than my current ones and I'd finally have control over the content. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything actually. Bearing in mind that I'm not a computer expert by any means, I began to realise that I'd probably created my crafting website more by luck than judgement. I had problems adding images. They flatly refused to go anywhere near where I wanted them to go, leaving me with some "unusual" page layouts. I had problems adding text (very important for a writing website) as the line spacing proved a nightmare. Also, linking to previously published pieces of work wasn't exactly easy either.

I managed to complete the site design eventually and was all set to go "live" when I discovered, much to my surprise, that transferring my existing domain name to the new site had resulted in me losing my main email service. No one had told me this might happen or what to do when it did. Without going into all the details, I ended up being without email for ten days. I was also suddenly plunged into a world of "IPS tags" and "File Transfer Protocol", none of which meant anything to me. The final insult was when I had to buy back my own domain name from the company I'd just transferred it from and re-set up my own email account three times! Then just when I thought everything had finally been sorted out, the new site "disappeared" and the old one came back in its place. I was not a happy bunny.

So, here are my top tips, based on my experience, if you are thinking of building your own writing website:

1. The companies offering a "build your own site" almost certainly assume that you have more computer knowledge than you probably have. Be prepared to be given information in "techno-speak", not plain English and don't expect a "step by step" hand-holding guide to building your site.

2. The profits made by these companies are low as they offer a low cost service. This means you may get "low-cost" customer service and support. This can be a real problem, especially "out of hours" or if your problem occurs just before a four day Bank holiday weekend as mine did. You may end up having to rant on their Facebook page to get attention!

3. Be prepared to conduct all your (numerous) communications with your hosting company entirely by email as they are unlikely to offer any form of telephone support. This can be a major problem if building your site has caused you to lose your email service! Certainly consider getting a back-up email service if you don't already have one.

4. Find out before you start building your site whether your new company only offers an email forwarding service as this may not be suitable for your needs.

5. Get someone else to build it for you.

I hope this helps. I'd love to hear from anyone else who has found building their own website as stressful as I did (if there is anyone else!) and in the meantime, maybe you'd like to take a look at my new website (www.melissalawrence.co.uk) as it is finally up and running at last.



      

Thursday, 21 March 2013

From Cover To Cover

Well, here I am waiting for the promised heavy snow to start falling, just one day after the official start of spring! It feels a bit like waiting for Armageddon so I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring my blog up to speed, especially as I'm struggling with the "dreaded lurgy" and don't feel like tackling any writing projects yet.

Last time I blogged, I was investigating the hidden (or otherwise!) costs involved in self-publishing an e-book. I'm pleased to say that it looks like I won't have to pay a graphic designer to design the cover as I think I've managed to do it myself!

I wasn't planning on sorting out the cover design yet but as I've mentioned before, I'm in the process of rebuilding my writing website http://www.melissalawrence.co.uk and I wanted an image on the home page to alert visitors to the fact that an e-book is imminent.

I started playing around with some ideas in one of my crafting graphics programmes and before I knew it, I had a cover design! Then I remembered there is a limit of 200 on how many items of one design you can sell using imported artwork and obviously I hope I'll be selling more, so I had to start all over again.

I also spent ages testing the design out as a "thumbnail" image as that is how it will appear in the Kindle Store on Amazon and comparing it with loads of other covers. In the end, I opted for emphasising a large, bold title that showed up reasonably well in the thumbnail size and didn't worry too much about my name not being very clear.

I still might need to change it as I think there is a limit on how many characters Amazon will let you use for the title and sub-title. However, that aside, I'm quite pleased with what I've produced so far but any comments or suggestions on the "prototype" below would be greatly appreciated. I've deliberately put up a small image as that is roughly the size it will be on the screen.  

 
Provisional Cover Design
Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2013
   

Saturday, 23 February 2013

E-Publish And Go Bust?

Hi everyone. I thought it was about time I checked in. I'm pleased to say that the one-day-a-week system is still working well and I'm making good progress (sounds like my old school reports!) on the two children's novels I'm currently editing, my life story The Emptiness at the Edge of the World and my second collection of poems for younger children. It's a bit weird not having anything to send out (and I miss my reward stickers!) but I guess that's writing books for you, as opposed to magazine work.

Which brings me to the other book project I'm currently working on, namely my collection of poems for young adults/teens called I Wandered Lonely As A Snog. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm hoping to publish it as an e-book on Amazon Kindle.

And what's the first thing I've discovered about e-publishing? It costs money. OK, so it's free to download your book but before that, there are a couple of things that all the "experts" say you need to get right and these are not necessarily free at all.

The first potential expense is the cover design. I think I was hoping that because it's "only" an e-book, the cover wasn't really all that important. Not so! Apparently, you need to pay (with the emphasis on the word "pay") great attention to getting the cover design right, just as you would a "proper" book. Not only that but unlike an actual book, the design has to be one that works well in a thumbnail image. Tricky!

The advice that comes across again and again is not to do the cover design yourself but to get a professional artist or graphic designer to do it for you. All very well but after researching prices on the internet, the average cost of a decent cover design seems to be in the region of £200. I did find a company offering to do it for seven pounds (slight difference!) but I lost the link and couldn't find it again, which may well have been a good thing.

The other item you are not supposed to skimp on with an e-book is the proof reading or copy-editing and again, you are advised to use a professional proof-reader or copy-editor. I can see the logic of this as it is notoriously difficult to produce your own error-free copy, however many times you prroof (see!) read it. I've not looked at prices yet but I'm guessing it won't come cheap.

So, my first hurdle to overcome with e-publishing seems to be a financial one. At the moment, I'm leaning towards paying someone to proof-read my manuscript (that's a professional "someone" obviously, not just someone waiting at the bus stop) and having a go at doing the cover design myself using the burgeoning skills I've developed from computer crafting.

I'll let you know how I get on. Meanwhile, here is a little taster of I Wandered Lonely As A Snog, a poem called Deep Sea Kissing.

DEEP SEA KISSING

Deep sea kissing
is a bit like deep sea fishing.
You never know what you might catch.

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2012

        

   

Saturday, 26 January 2013

To Self-Publish Or Not To Self-Publish?

Hi everyone. Hope you are all surviving the snow and the thaw. When I was out in my garden this morning, the snow was literally melting before my eyes and all you could hear was the sound of rhythmic dripping. Very atmospheric!

Well, I'm really pleased to say I've almost made it to the end of January without falling off the writing wagon again. I've had one or two low moments but on the whole, writing is going pretty well for me at the moment (possibly because I'm only doing it one day a week!) and I certainly feel in a hugely better place with it (and other things) than I did this time last year.

I feel I definitely did the right thing in taking a lengthy "Sabbatical" as it has really cleared my mind and helped me focus on what I really want to write. I think I've known for a while that the end was in sight regarding my freelance journalism and indeed, magazine work in general but it's taken me a long time to accept that, having had a relatively successful career as a freelance journalist in the past.

Now I'm ready to look forward and the future is definitely books. The question is, what sort of books? "Real" ones ie ones made from paper and shiny cardboard or the "cheat's" variety, namely e-books.

I think I mentioned in my last post that I had come to a decision about the whole self-publishing/e-publishing situation and I can now officially announce that I have gone over to the dark side. After months and months of coming up with all the arguments I could against publishing an e-book and, if I'm totally honest, maligning those who were already doing it, I can't hold out any longer.

The main reason I've succumbed is because I feel very strongly that I need a "product" to take to market. Having just spent the last two months creating and marketing a crafting website with an online shop (www.melissalawrencedesigns.com) I've become very focused on selling and marketing and realised that I should be applying the same strategies to my writing.

Although I fully intend to keep plugging away with the traditional agent/publisher route for some of my books, I hope that e-publishing a book (once I've worked out how to do it!) should provide me with a definite product that I can promote, try to sell and hopefully be reasonably proud of, for little or no cost. Also, I can get that product to market considerably quicker (I hope!) than if I had to wait for a traditional publisher to take it on.

I've decided (I think) to go with my collection of poems for teenagers as I've had quite a good reaction from the small number of publishers it's already been to and I'm hoping it will attract the sort of readers who would be easy to reach through blogging, social networking etc.

So, I'm just off to Amazon's Kindle Store to see how many books of poems for teens have already been published. I may be gone sometime!

Keep warm, dry etc and whatever you do, keep writing.

       

Friday, 4 January 2013

I'm Back!

Well, here I am again after a very long absence and first of all, I'm really sorry for just disappearing like that! When I last put up a writing-related post, I'd never have believed it would be nearly 12 months before I blogged about writing again. What I thought would just be a month away from my desk actually turned into a 12 month (almost) "sabbatical", the first one I've ever had in 18 years of freelance writing and journalism.

I'd like to say that I've travelled the world, set up a commune in the back garden, had a tattoo, got married (or at least engaged) and been performing in a one-woman play on Broadway. The truth is, I've mainly been setting up a new crafting business (www.melissalawrencedesigns.com) and trying to get my act together in my personal life which, judging by the posts I put up this time last year, was something that urgently needed doing.

Anyway, here I am at the start of another new year (my favourite time) and full of hope and optimism (it usually lasts until around January 7) about writing, crafting and personal dreams and ambitions.

I've spent quite a lot of my "sabbatical" trying to work out what I actually want to write, especially as I'm not going to be writing "full-time" now, in fact just one day a week (or night in my case) at the moment.

I think I've come up with a plan at last (I've also come to a decision about the whole e-publishing/self-publishing malarky but more of that another time) and I've just checked it against my 12 Year "Vision of Success" goals which I set this time last year and it still puts me on track. However, one of those 12 years has now gone (gulp!) without me getting much closer to where I want to be in 2024 so it's probably time to stop blogging and get down to some actual writing. I have to keep telling myself that I've done this before and I can do it again but it still feels very much like my first day at school!

However, I'll endeavour to keep writing and to keep blogging. The posts may be less frequent than before I went AWOL but I promise not to fall off the face of the writing cliff this time!

I hope all your own hopes and ambitions begin to reach fulfilment in 2013 and I wish you all a Happy New Writing Year. Remember to "Wish it, dream it, do it" before another 12 months has gone by in a heartbeat.