Welcome to the Inspiration Diaries! Last year we had six writers – three published, three on their way – checking in each month as a sort of ‘year in the writing life’. (You can catch up here.) This year we’re doing things a little differently. Three new Inspiration Project graduates will give us a monthly insight into their writing lives (see below for this month’s installment), but first Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To…
5 Steps To… Staying POSITIVE
How are you all? It’s been a rough few months, right? And the events of the past few weeks, in particular, have been difficult to witness. But it has forced us all to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our choices. And as we reflect, understand and do better, it’s more important than ever that we find ways to remain positive.
Here are my top 5 bookish reasons to stay positive so that you don’t derail your writing goals:
- Bookshops are open! While most seemed to be focused on Penney’s re-opening their doors, my eyes were firmly on a different prize. The Bookshop! Small or large, they’ve always been my happy place. Books, stationary, writerly gifts, all within an arms reach. Horray! Within my own county, there are half a dozen gorgeous bookshops and I managed to visit ALL of them last week. And reader, I finally saw my lockdown published book, My Pear-Shaped Life in the wild for the first time. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing a book you’ve worked on for 18months, sitting on a bookshelf in it’s Sunday best. I also managed to add six new books to my ever-increasing TBR pile! Which brings me nicely to …
- Discover new books. No matter what is going on in my life, reading has always been an escape for me. I’ve travelled to new worlds, learned about new cultures all with the flick of a page. And while I’ve felt powerless on many occasions in 2020, a year that has tested even the most upbeat of us, reading has been my balm. So go for a browse and buy a book, perhaps from a new author or genre.
- Follow your passion. Several studies have shown that people who find meaning in their lives, go onto live a healthier life. Those same studies say that creativity increases happiness. You know what I’m going to say. Pick up your laptop or pen and lose yourself in your WIP. As you focus on your characters and messy, glorious lives. I promise you’ll feel better with every new word you write.
- Attend authors online talks. I know we’ve spoken about various events that you can attend virtually, in previous diaries. I wanted to shine a light on it again. With a carefully timed lunch break, you can connect with authors, publishers and agents on Facebook or Instagram live. If I was looking for a home for my manuscript, I would take advantage of every single event, make connections, learn. I’ve done two recently that might be of interest to writers. One with Literary Agent Simon Trewin and Writing.ie’s Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (WATCH HERE) and one with Harper Collins Editorial director Charlotte Ledger (WATCH HERE).
- Plan for the future. Do you like lists? I’m a fan of the spreadsheet and if you know Hazel, Catherine and me, you know we love a pretty notebook. One of the most important lists a writer can compile is the Possible Agent List. Even if your WIP isn’t anywhere near ready for submission, there’s nothing stopping you being prepared. Twitter is the perfect hunting ground for finding possible agents. Scan Bookseller.com for book deals. Read the acknowledgements in books, where agents are always included in gushing thanks. Pretty soon, you’ll have possibiliites. And most importantly, take a moment to dream about your future, that includes book deals in multiple territories.
I hope these have given you some ideas on how to remain positive. Share in the comments about your writing projects, we promise to cheer you on. In the meantime, here are our Class of 2020 with this months diary entries …
“There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” – Toni Morrison.
Each month I sit down, stare at the blank page on my screen and am excited to see what comes to mind. That said, this isn’t the case this time, and if the truth be told, I’m struggling with what to say. Probably not too surprising given the ongoing worldwide pandemic, and the protests against racism and police brutality occurring in my country. Both major and important happenings dominate my headspace at the moment, and it didn’t seem appropriate diving into a blog post as if things were right in the world without first acknowledging these events. It’s difficult to know what to say or do, as an individual to make things better, and I have no answers but I’d like to think the conversations, self-reflection and education taking place across the country, and world for that matter, are a good beginning and a step in the right direction.
When I first pondered this month’s entry, I thought I’d write about it being mid-June – the halfway point of not only 2020 but of these diary entries and our time together; the messy middle, as some call it, not only of this unusual year but ironically of my current work in progress as well. Being relatively new to the novel-writing world, I’ve read many books on writing. Recently I read “Write Your Novel From the Middle,” by James Scott Bell. Bell believes the true midpoint is not a scene at all but instead a moment within a scene, (what he calls the ‘mirror moment’ when the lead character takes a good look at themselves and asks: Who am I? What have I become?). The middle of a journey is often where we start to struggle…but it’s also where we show what our character is made of. Will they grind through it? Do they have the stamina to pull up their bootstraps, wade through the mud and get to the end, or will they give up?
Just as my protagonist must face her mirror moment, perhaps I, as a writer, should too. The messy middle where we need to summon the strength to dig deep, ask questions, discover the truth, be vulnerable, go the distance; after all as the saying goes, no grit, no pearl. There’s a line in the movie Hope Floats, “Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.” Are we, am I, brave enough to see it through to the end?
The choice is ours to make, and as Nelson Mandela said: “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” For me, I choose hope.
Yesterday, I went to a real, physical bookshop and I bought books. It was a weird experience, it was brilliant because I got new books and I got to see my friend who works there, but it was strange. Coming out of lockdown is strange and it’s worrying. Wearing a mask is becoming normal, as suddenly business returns to the shops and the pavements in town are crowded once more. I haven’t had much time to take it all in as the library is gearing up to reopen and that’s taken all my energy. It’s been lovely to reconnect with library borrowers even by phone.
All this has meant less time for writing but that’s ok. I’m taking time to mull ideas over, to plan and to read. I’m reading some classics and plenty of historical fiction. Reading is as always an escape for me and the past is a place I love to visit. I think we need books more than ever now. 2020 has been an incredibly strange and in many ways, horrifying year; on top of the pandemic and lockdown, there are protests and riots across the US and UK following the horrific murder of George Floyd and social media feels like an increasingly toxic and nasty place. It’s hard to find a safe space. 2020 has also been horrible on a personal level too, a dear friend of mine suffered a devastating brain injury and will require care for the rest of her life and I miss her. My mum’s best friend since childhood is also seriously ill and my Aunt is receiving cancer treatment for the second time. On the plus side, I have a brand new niece and I know I’m lucky that I haven’t lost anyone to COVID, but I really can’t wait for all this to be over.
In the meantime, I am reading and planning/writing stories that are set in other places and other times and it soothes my soul.
Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
We’re coming up to the Summer Solstice this weekend and it reminds me that everything has a natural cycle. I’m going through a phase of thinking that my work is not good enough, but with the turn of time and a new cycle beginning, I’m deciding to just focus on doing my best with the arsenal I have in my bag at the moment, to read more and as widely as possible, and to connect more.
A lot has happened over the last month. The group of writers that I met in Doolin at UL Winter Writing School have become essential to my days. There’s not a day goes by that we don’t all WhatsApp hello to each other and share some writing tips or books that we’re loving right now. We formed a book club and I finally feel that I can read again now that I have some purpose and some people to talk to books about. Our last Zoom book club lasted five hours with the almost all of it book talk, liberally sprinkled with wine and delight.
I’ve taken on the challenge of working in collaboration with a local artist, Deirdre McNally, as part of Kildare Arts Collective to produce work that reflects and examines Covid-19. Dee paints lively, uplifting pieces, and my work tends to be dark so I’m enjoying the challenge of meeting her vision with my own and having to refocus my lens on the brighter side of life. I’ve written sonnets exploring our relationship with time, and a haiku series of how nature keeps track of time even though we feel that we have lost it a little.
I’m itching to begin a new novel that is scratching on the sides of my brain, so I’m trying to get to know my characters through interviewing them and fleshing out the image of them that I can see.
Wish me luck because one of these guys isn’t very nice! Stay safe and healthy.
Join us next month and each month for the rest of the year for more writing advice from Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, and to check in with our scribes. In the meantime, we hope you and yours are safe and well.