Diary of an aspiring author IV

I received the worst feedback a writer can receive this morning: a short story I’ve written is PREDICTABLE. I can deal with criticisms on grammar, or suggestions to restructure or rewrite part of a story, but being told something I’ve written is basically boring hurt.

When I receive critiques, I try and leave it a day minimum before returning to that story and addressing the comments. You can read my post on ‘The Stages of Receiving Feedback’ here.

Today I’ve instead turned my efforts towards writing a diary style blog post. I haven’t written a “Diary of an Aspiring Author” style post for a while. For me, they can feel a little self-indulgent. But in the spirit of producing at least one of these per year, here we go.

diary girl hand journal

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If you’re interested, here are some of my previous diary pieces:

Diary of an Aspiring Author

Diary of an Aspiring Author II

Diary of an Aspiring Author, my first review

2020 has been a strange year for many reasons. From an aspiring author side of things, I started the year feeling optimistic. I hoped to push forward with my novel again. Then coronavirus hit, and I struggled to do anything creative at all (see my post, “Is it OK to not be writing?”). This was followed by a flurry of short stories and some success, with one story being published and read on BBC Radio.

For a long time now, I’ve been dwelling over whether I should call it a day on my first novel, Lost in Galderwood. Despite some early interest from an agent, I’ve never managed to achieve what I hoped for it. Maybe it is time to give up and try something new.

However, there’s something keeping me holding on: I still really believe in the overarching plot. I know it has potential. Yet I wrote the novel back in 2017, and my writing has come a long way since then. And not just my writing abilities, my general knowledge of plot and experience of the writing world has improved too (lets ignore the short story with the predictable plot for now).

That’s why I’ve decided to give it one final try. I now realise when I attempted to rewrite Lost in Galderwood before in 2019, I was trying to hold onto too much of the original plot and writing. Stepping away and focusing on short stories this year has allowed me to understand that what I really need to do is start over with a blank page.

I’m going to keep the overarching plot, but change sub-plots, some characters, and some locations, and focus much more on character’s motives. I’ve hoping I’ll be able to make a good start on this before the end of the year.

I’ve still got the short stories I wrote during lockdown and will continue to submit these with the hope they can find good homes. And I will finish that final short story once I’ve figured out a way to make it less predictable! But I may be tucking myself into the slightly secluded world of novel writing for the next six months. It’s a scary but exciting place to be!

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Imposter Syndrome for Writers: how to stop feeling like a fraud

Am I allowed to call myself an author? This was the title of the first blog post I ever wrote for this site. I was confused what to call my blog. Should I refer to myself as an author, or an aspiring author? And when do I qualify as a ‘real’ writer and give myself permission to drop the ‘aspiring’?

An author is somebody who writes. There are no further rules than that. Some authors write short stories, some novels. Some authors publish via the traditional route, others self-publish, and some write for the pure pleasure of it. There is no magical number of publications to achieve. So why do I, two years later, still question whether I am ‘allowed’ to call myself an author or not.

woman in gray sweater using laptop beside glass window

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can be defined as feelings of inadequacy. Those suffering from imposter syndrome may have feelings of self-doubt; they may feel like they’ve only achieved things due to luck, or by fooling others, that their success isn’t deserved. They may feel like they don’t belong and worry they’ll be exposed as a fraud in their chosen field at any moment.

Imposter Syndrome and Writers

Whereas writers block is not knowing what to write, imposter syndrome is more about doubting yourself as a writer, and questioning if you should be writing at all, or whether you’d be better off giving up. This is something I’ve been fighting ever since I started to take my writing more seriously a few years ago. These are some of my previous posts:

Do you ever find yourself making excuses when you tell people you are or want to be a writer?

I’m a writer, but I have another day job, it’s just a dream really…

I’m a writer but it’s just a hobby…

I’m a writer but I’m not that good…

I’m a writer but I’ve only had one thing published, I’m not a real writer…

Why are we always putting ourselves down like this?

Writers with imposter syndrome will find even when they do get a story shortlisted or published, or receive some positive feedback on their work, they’ll attribute that success to luck, rather than to hard work and skill.

Imposter syndrome isn’t very nice. It’s not good for our wellbeing, but it’s also not very good for our writing. It could make you overly critical of your work, make you more reluctant to show others, hesitant to put your writing out there, and in the long run could result in you stopping writing altogether.

How can we beat that ‘I’m not a real writer’ feeling?

The first thing to do is to understand A LOT of writers get imposter syndrome once in a while. And I don’t just mean emerging writers. Even incredibly successful authors such as Neil Gaiman and Maya Angelou have both reported suffering from imposter syndrome. And just look at how amazingly successful they are. Knowing you’re not alone in these feelings can help you to move past them.

I’d also suggest talking about your feelings with other writers. Writing can be lonely, so it’s important to find a writing community. This could be a friend who is also a writer, it could be a local writing group, or an online group. The main thing is to talk to other writers, share in the highs and lows. This will help you to realise you are not alone in your feelings.

The third thing you can do is to look back over your successes, however small. This doesn’t need to be a publication. Even re-reading positive feedback about your work can remind you of why you’re writing. I’ve mentioned before how much of a fan I am of keeping diaries. I have a five year one, and whenever I’m feeling a bit down, I love to go back and look at what I was doing in previous years. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come; sometimes we need to remind ourselves.

But the most important thing you can do is to be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing historical fiction: Should I include archaic language and dialogue?

This month I’ve been working on a short story set in Victorian England. I find history fascinating, and love reading historical fiction, so I thought why not have a go at writing it too?

happy young ethnic woman writing article in cozy workplace

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I posted the first draft of this story on the critique site Scribophile (you can find my review of Scribophile here). One person commented that they think it needs more accent, or old-time verbiage to give it a period feel.

Using archaic language, and whether to give characters a dialogue reflective of the time, is a dilemma I’ve wrestled with once before when I was writing my novel (which features time-travel). I decided in that case not to include archaic dialogue, partly because my style of writing tends to sway more towards being accessible and easy to read. I was hesitant to overcomplicate the language, and I find sometimes if I am reading novels with too much unfamiliar language, I tend to zone out. Although of course, that’s just personal preference.

Anyhow, writing a short historical story for adults brought this question to light again, so I decided to explore it a little further.

The main argument I could find for the inclusion of archaic language and dialogue in historical fiction is it can make your writing more believable and realistic. Using lexicon true to the times can, when used effectively, instantly transport your reader to a different era.

However, there’s the issue: when used effectively. This can be very hard to do. Writing historical fiction itself requires a lot of research. If you want your characters to speak archaically, then this will require further research into the idioms of the time. And even then, it’ll be hard to get it completely right. Readers may nit pit that you have the rhythm wrong, or have used an unsuitable word, and your work may feel wasted. Writing in an archaic style is always going to require a certain degree of guess work.

The danger of using, or at least overusing, archaic dialogue is that whilst it may be realistic, it could also be tiresome to read, and your reader’s may switch off after a couple of pages. Overly flowery and obscure language can be a big turn-off for some readers, who will want to get into the story, rather than worrying about what words mean.

The good news is if you choose to write your story using modern language, there are still a few things you can do to give that historic feel and make your story as believable as possible.

One straightforward method is to add descriptions of period details instead. Describe the setting, and give brief descriptions of clothes and housing, for instance.

You could also include attitudes reflective of the time, for example attitudes towards women. How would your character talk to women? Maybe they’d be blunt or dismissive. These things can be incorporated without the inclusion of archaic language.

In addition to thinking about what to add into your story, you may also need to think about what to leave out. Consider the etymology of words. When did they come into use? Avoid modern slang terms and think about the context of words, and whether they’d have the same context in the time you’re writing about as they do today.

Phrasing dialogue in certain ways can also help to give an archaic feel. For example, “where are you walking?” can feel more archaic when rephrased as, “to where do you walk?” This is still easy to read and comprehensible for the modern reader.

To sum up, whether to use archaic language in your writing is a personal choice. Some people love the believability it brings, whereas others will prefer to use entirely modern language. There’s really no right or wrong answer.

However, if you do use it, it’s best to use a sprinkle approach and use sparingly to maintain readability. There are numerous other ways to give your writing that historical edge, such as using vivid descriptions, incorporating attitudes reflective of the times, avoiding modern terms, and using phrasing in your dialogue.

Do you write historical fiction? And if so, do you use archaic language, or stick to modern words?

 

 

How to find inspiration for writing short stories [during lockdown]

Last week I posted about how I’ve been writing more short stories during lockdown. Sometimes I find the trickiest part of writing short stories is coming up with the initial story idea. Often, I find myself thinking up ideas that are too complex or long-winded to fit into a few thousand words. Other times, I’ll come up with an interesting concept or character, but I’ll struggle to create a proper story with an opening, middle and satisfying ending.

fashion woman girl women

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Lockdown itself, for me, has provided a lot of writing inspiration.  For instance, imagining what lockdown is like from different points-of-view, such as people who are alone, self-isolating, or for people struggling without the routine of work. These ideas have formed the basis for a couple of my short stories, including my recently published ‘A Dog called Rupert’.

The more I write short stories, the more I’m beginning to understand these don’t have to have outlandish, action-packed story lines. They can tell the story of simple things, everyday life, internal struggles, and challenges individuals may face.

In this blog post I’ve explored 10 ways to find short story inspiration. And the good news is, most of these can be used during lockdown.

  1. Eavesdropping

So, we might not be able to sit in coffee shops anymore to eavesdrop into conversations, but conversations are still happening around us all the time. Next time you’re in a long queue waiting to get into the supermarket, listen to the conversation happening next to you (subtlety!). The short story I’m currently working on was inspired by a rather loud conversation I overheard taking place just outside my house.

  1. Dreams

Ever wake up in the morning thinking that was a fantastic dream, only to find it slip away from you in seconds? Keep a notepad next to your bed so you can jot down interesting dreams before you forget them! I also find the time spent just before I fall asleep seems to (rather annoyingly) be the time when my brain is best at coming up with new story ideas.

  1. The News (TV, radio, newspapers)

Watch, listen, or read the news and imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes (whoever the news report is about). This doesn’t always have to be the main headlines. Look out for those little stories in local newspapers.

  1. Journaling

I’m a huge fan of keeping a journal/ diary. I have one of those five-year ones, and I just love reading back over what I was doing on the same day in previous years. Keeping a journal isn’t only a great way of getting in the habit of writing on a regular basis, it also can be a great source of inspiration.

  1. Random Word Generators online

These are easy to find with a quick internet search. There are even short story idea generators online, although I don’t personally find these too helpful.

  1. Old Photographs

Old photographs hold so many stories! I love imagining who the person in the photograph is and what their story is. You can find old photographs online. One of my favourite places to start is to look at old photographs of the area I live and go from there.

black and white photos of toddlers

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  1. Read like a writer

Reading more will help you to become a better writer and can also help spark new ideas. When you’re reading, think about the plot. Most plots follow a very similar pattern. In fact, there’s an argument there are only really seven basic plots all stories will fall into, these include rags to riches, overcoming a monster and quests.

  1. Keep an ideas jar

This is something I came across whilst on a creative course in Toronto. It works well with writing groups, but you could do it by yourself too. Jot random words, phrases, ideas for characters on a piece of paper and pop them into a jar. If you’re in a group, you can mix them between yourselves and pick a certain number of pieces of paper each ‘blindfolded’. Put the pieces of paper in a jar. Add new ideas, interesting characters you met, interesting places you visit to the jar as and when. And pick a piece of paper out of your jar when you need a fresh burst of inspiration.

  1. Just write!

Sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pen, give yourself ten minutes and write continuously. It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing doesn’t make any sense. You could just write, ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over again. The idea is to let your subconscious flow and hope something that flows out of you that could be turned into a story.

  1. Talk a walk/ visit a different place

This one is slightly trickier to do during lockdown, and for some may not be possible. But if you’re struggling to come up with a new idea for a story, I find the best way to find inspiration is to visit a new place. For me, historic places are the best. I love imagining all the different people who may have passed through a place over the years.

brown colour dawn environment

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Is it OK to not be writing?

As we enter another three weeks of lockdown in the UK, I can’t help but notice a lot of posts on social media about how people are using the extra time at home to boost their creative output. But is anyone else struggling to be creative right now? And specifically, is it OK to not be writing?

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This is the first blog post I’ve written for a while, and the title of it somehow feels contradictory to my usual content. Normally, I want to encourage people to write more, so why am I suddenly asking is it OK to not be writing?

Well, more than anything, I want other writers to know they’re not alone if they’re struggling to use this lockdown time ‘productively’. Whatever you’re up to right now, whether that’s going to work as one of our essential workers, or working from home like me; finding yourself a sudden and unexpected teacher, furloughed, or self-employed and wondering what will happen next…

I don’t know about you, but my head feels so FULL. It’s leaving little space to think up exciting plots or concentrate on editing. And that’s OK.

We need to be kind to ourselves. If we want to watch TV, or take a long bath, or cook some tasty food, or sit in the garden in the evenings instead of writing, that’s OK.

Don’t beat yourself up for taking a break.

Don’t compare yourself to that author whose getting a few thousand words down a day, or the author who managed to bash out an entire novel in the space of a month.

Let them do their thing, while you do yours. Everyone is different.

Do small things that feel manageable and bring you joy.

For me, that’s making sure I make the most of my one daily exercise outing and get some sunshine. I also try to write in my diary every day.

Yesterday, I was inspired to write a short story in response to a magazine that was calling for submissions to do with finding hope during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Find what works for you and what inspires you – even if it’s nothing to do with writing!

How are you finding writing during this time?