Friday, 17 July 2015

How to save your writing sanity.

I was on a panel of SilverWood authors at the Penzance Literary Festival last week, answering questions on being an Indie Author. As part of the festival's Publishing Day, the event had been billed as a way to "pick up tips and avoid the pitfalls" in self-publishing.

The hour flew by and questions came thick and fast, leading from one subject to another until the audience must have reeled from so much information spinning around the room.  I can hardly remember now what questions were asked so I hope there was lots of note-taking!

This week, back at my desk and hard at it with writing the next novel, I thought of a great tip I could have passed on, relevant to all writers, whether indie or otherwise, and that's the keeping of a writing journal.

Now if that sounds like a lot of unnecessary writing when all you want to do is get on with the "real stuff", then stay with me for a moment, while I make the case for it being the way to save your sanity.

I first came across the idea of a writing journal when I read best selling author Elizabeth George's excellent how-to book Write Away not longer after I'd started writing. At the beginning of each novel, she starts a new journal in which she records her thoughts and feelings about the writing process. This is isn't a notebook of her ideas, plot, character etc., although that comes into it, but it's primarily about what's buzzing around in her head while she's actually in the throes of writing her latest work.

In Write Away, she quotes from her journals at the beginning of each chapter and for a novice writer, her words were of great comfort. She says things like: "What on earth am I doing pretending to be a writer?" and "Writing continues to be a scary proposition for me, as I don't see myself as particularly talented..."  To me, realising that even best selling authors have moments of doubt, gave me hope.

But she also shares the thrills as well as the angst: "Yesterday a most extraordinary thing happened... all of a sudden in the middle of a scene I had the most amazing moment of inspiration." Don't we just love it when that happens!

When I started to write The Indelible Stain, I decided I would also keep a journal. It wouldn't be something I'd slavishly write every day (I already write a daily diary, a sort of "ship's log", and have done for some 24 years) but if anything about writing was either bugging me or I had something to celebrate, I would write it down. Being able to have a good rant on the page can clear the air in my head and recording my buoyant mood after receiving a good review or a message from an enthusiastic reader helps puts things into perspective if I've had a tough writing spell, or I've felt overwhelmed by how much social media I have or haven't done that week!

As I grapple with my current novel and look back in awe at the research, the plotting and the note-making I did for The Indelible Stain and begin to doubt my ability to write another good book, I only have to dig out my writing journal and look back to the time I was in the middle of writing The Indelible Stain to remind me not to fret, that I experienced exactly the same wobbles last time around.

So, having reassured myself that, yes, I can do this all over again, I'd better get back to writing that novel before my confidence ebbs...

Do you have any clever tips to keep you from throwing in the towel in despair? I'm sure there are many writers out there who'd love to know what they are! 


  1. I'm sure this is a very good idea but sadly at the moment I think I would find it just another thing to do. However I received some very good advice when I was struggling over the last winter. I was finding it difficult getting the section I was working on to progress in any satisfactory manner. I was told to leave it and go and write 200 words on a part I was looking forward to getting to, where I could get back to the words flowing out of me until I was feeling the passion for the story growing again. Needless to say I wrote far more than the 200 when I got down to that but it was refreshing and I when I came back to the previous sticky bit again my enthusiasm was back to where it should be and what I had been having a problem with was no longer an issue. I shall definitely remember this tip for the future :-)

    1. That's a great tip, Georgia! As you may know from one of my previous blog posts, I've started using Scrivener and that really lends itself to being able to abandon a tough section until later and get stuck into a different bit to get the old juices flowing again. I shall remember your advice! Thanks for sharing.

  2. It’s not particularly clever, but one thing that has helped me become more productive is an ideas file. I was always abandoning stories halfway through because I suddenly had an exciting, new idea that seemed much better than the first story. The result was a stack of beginnings but very few endings. Now, when the muse strikes, I jot down the new idea in just a sentence or two so I won’t forget it, but then I put it away in a cardboard folder. I tell myself I’m not allowed to even look at it again until I’ve finished whatever else I’m working on. It gives me the incentive I need not to give up on a story I might be struggling with and, by not rushing to use all those brilliant ideas as soon as they occur to me, I’m better able to judge which ones are worth exploring more fully.

    1. A good plan, Linda! I've done something similar in notebooks and it's always inspiring to come across them ages later and get enthused all over again! But I do agree with you. Sometimes it's the hardest thing in the world to think "so what happens next?" At least by filing the 'interruptions' you can happily leave them alone knowing they're not lost for ever. Thanks for adding your tip!