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, but first Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some of their favourite writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To…
5 Steps To… A New Writing Term
Back to School is upon us and although it comes with a very different feel this year – one of worry and cautious hope, rather than relief and delight – there is still that familiar sense of new beginnings in the air. No better time to clear the desk (literally), re-focus on the autumn months ahead, and plan our way toward the end of 2020, a year which, quite frankly, we will all be very glad to see the back of.
Before I share my 5 steps to doing just that, a brief moment to share some fabulous Inspiration Project book news. Last week, Catherine hit the No. 1 spot on the Irish Times bestseller chart with her incredible new thriller, The Nothing Man, and Hazel also hitting the bestseller chart (on the same list as Catherine – how’s that for scheduling!) with her new historical novel, The Bird In The Bamboo Cage. It has also been wonderful for Carmel to finally – finally – see her new book, My Pear-Shaped Life, in bookshops and in readers’ hands. Any book published during a pandemic has to work extra hard, so we are all very grateful for our readers and supporters. Those books all started out as a seed of an idea and took us all many many hard months of teeth-gnashing and doubt to get them written at all, so let’s celebrate the good stuff when we can.
And now, without further ado, here are my tips for dusting yourself off after a summer of muddling along, and getting yourself back to work.
5 steps to … a new writing term
Tidy your writing space – there’s nothing better than a good de-clutter to motivate and inspire. Get rid of all those old homeschooling handouts and tickets to events you never attended. Get organised, get the duster out, and make your writing space somewhere you enjoy. The words come so much easier when you’re happy in your surroundings.
Set new goals – so what if you’re not on target for any of your 2020 plans. Who is? It has been an unpredictable year, so let’s change our expectations. What can you realistically do from September on? How does the rest of the year look in terms of available writing time? What it is you really want to achieve before the end of the year?
Plan ahead – Our 2020 diaries and planners will soon become historic documents, showing how 2020 was the year of everything being cancelled. This is the perfect time to treat yourself to a new planner, a 2021 diary, and start to look ahead.
Talking of treating yourself – now is also the time to invest in that office/workspace item you’ve been thinking about for a while. Whether it’s a cushion for your back, a wireless keyboard, a whiteboard for plotting and planning, new PostIts, a posh candle, a subscription to a fresh flowers delivery, or just a new writing mug, do it! If it makes your writing time easier, more comfortable, more productive, or more fragrant, it’s totally worth it.
Check in with your writing pals – how is everyone doing? Motivate and inspire each other. Set up a regular time to chat or meet for coffee (if possible). Schedule ‘writing sprints’, set shared word count targets. No writer has to write alone and we are all better when we have someone in our corner.
Now, let’s check in with our diarists…
As a kid I loved roller coasters…In fact the steeper the incline, higher the drop, sharper the curve and faster the speed, the better. But this roller coaster ride which seems to best describe 2020 is unlike those rides of my youth, which only lasted minutes and delivered you back to the platform both reliably and fulfilled; This ride feels never ending. And while I’d like to think I would still enjoy getting on one at an amusement park, maybe I’m too old now and fear of all that could go wrong would dampen the experience. All I know is this ride isn’t much fun and I’m ready to get off. The ups and downs are taking their toll and I suspect y’all are as anxious as I am for the day to come when we will be able to shed our masks and walk side by side once again.
Last month I shared some news of happier events which brightened my otherwise quiet and subdued, socially distanced life, but I’m sad to say this month has dealt me a blow. I had to say goodbye to my sweet seventeen year old cat, Cubbie. I knew in my head the day was nearing and tried to prepare myself, but I don’t think my heart was ready. Are we ever truly ‘ready’ to say goodbye to someone we love? If there’s an upside to being housebound these past six months…it was all the time I got to spend with her. She kept me company during those long days (weeks), especially in the beginning when the world shut down, and we were too afraid to venture out. I truly am grateful for all the years we had…but I miss her.
Thankfully life tends to sprinkle a bit of good along with the bad and this past month something serendipitous happened. As you may recall I started my current work in progress during NaNoWriMo. The idea originated from a real life event which happened in my hometown over thirty years ago. I won’t go into specifics but it involved damage to a structure which up until just a few years ago, hadn’t been repaired. I was intrigued by the story and read everything I could get my hands on which wasn’t much. In order to better understand the backstory and steps taken to complete the project, I was hoping to find someone who might know more. Over my lifetime, I’ve learned if you ask enough people you will eventually stumble across someone who knows someone, who knows someone. Then one fortuitous day, I happened to mention the story to the right friend. Turns out the contact I had been searching for was right under my nose. This particular friend’s husband was THE architect for the project. Jackpot! We chatted recently and he graciously shared many details and sent me drawings, old articles and photos. I still don’t believe my luck.
While the ride’s not over this year, perhaps the twists and turns will become less jolting and in time even soothing. Stay safe and I’ll see y’all in September.
Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
Bonjour writing and reading amies, I hope you are all well and doing ok. It’s almost September and the kids are due back to school – and many of us are anxious about it. Many of us are also craving life before Covid-19 restrictions and are aching for some familiarity, some security. Well, I can’t help with that I’m afraid, as I am up in the air over a million little things, and some of them are to do with my writing. The past few months I’ve sent submissions out everywhere, which subsequently has meant that the last few weeks has been filled to the brim with rejections rather like an over filled jam doughnut, only not as sweet or as much fun as licking sugar off your fingertips. Ah well, this is writing. This. Is. Writing.
It’s difficult to continue sometimes, especially as life is going to get busier here with family commitments and dealing with the routine of back to school, lunches, on-time-dinners and enforcing bedtimes again. But I cannot not write. I just can’t. I have spent some time thinking about what I write and the themes that are similar across my work. I’ve been thinking about how best to get my words out into the world because I believe them to be worthy and that someone somewhere wants to read them.
My writings are generally not for the happy ever after reader, and believe me, it took some time for me to be ok with that. I battled with the notion that people want the happy endings, they want the likeable protagonist that they can connect with. But I don’t. I like the unreliable narrator (in books, not in real life) and I like the danger of what if in a book. I like the everyday turned upside down because humans are fallible and can fall prey to being human when put into circumstances that shakes their values and makes them consider doing something that they would never have before.
So I will continue writing stories about fallible humans. And who knows, maybe one of them will have a happy ever after ending, or maybe a reader will tell me: hey – this is the ending I wanted… we’ll just have to see!
Stay safe and healthy.
Join us next month and each month for more writing advice from Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, and to check in with our scribes!