The Inspiration Diaries 2020

Last year we launched The Inspiration Diaries, a blog where six writers – three published, three on their way  – shared updates from their writing life every month for a year.

After running several Inspiration Project events now, we’re continually impressed by the level of talent, hard work and determination we see in our attendees and we’ve been thrilled to see them progress so much in their writing. We wanted to capture that on this blog and our three writers – Casey King, Tric Kearney and Clare Daly – generously allowed us to share in their trials and triumphs as the year progressed. (Thank you so much, ladies. Look out for them on a bookshelf near you soon!) We also wanted to give you an insight in our writing lives – which, unfortunately, often feature very little writing! It turned out to be an incredibly exciting year for Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, with award nominations, new book deals and even a street sign in New York.  You can catch up on here. 

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This year, we’ve decided to do things a little differently. We will soon be introducing you to three new Inspiration Project graduates who will be checking in here each month to update us on the trials, tribulations and mild caffeine overdoses of their writing lives. But instead of doing the same, Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some of their hard-earned advice in our new series, 5 Steps To… (You can still keep up with our shenanigans on Twitter and Instagram, where we’re cathryanhoward, HappyMrsH and HazelGaynor.) We also have some exciting things planned for the Inspiration Project in 2020 – sign up to our newsletter, The Inspiration List, to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

We hope that our collective writing experiences inspire and motivate you, and that our new series helps you get your stories onto the page.

Here’s to a creative, exciting and productive 2020. Let’s go!

5 Steps To… Staying Positive

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

BY CARMEL

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:

  1. 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 …
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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 …


TANYA

“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.

LISA

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.

AMY

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. 


Find out more about Catherine, Carmel and Hazel here. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to hear about our next Inspiration Project event

 

5 Steps To… Staying Connected

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… 

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5 Steps To… Staying Connected

BY HAZEL

They say writing is a lonely profession and perhaps never more so when we can’t leave the house (weeps into extra large G&T). But, fear not. There’s no need to be entirely isolated while self-isolating because if there’s one silver lining to come out of all this, it’s seeing the many brilliant ways in which people are staying connected with readers, with each other, and with writing events that can’t go ahead in the flesh, so to speak. Here are a few tips to help you stay connected with the publishing industry and other writers, and to help you stay the course, and, well, stay sane.

  1. Sign up for virtual festivals. So many writing events, carefully planned and curated for months and months, have been cancelled (more weeping and gin), but it is amazing to see so many events going ahead in a virtual format. Cuirt became a digital literature festival in April and was a resounding success, Big Book Weekend had an amazing line-up last weekend celebrating the best of the cancelled British book festivals, and Hay Festival is currently taking reservations for its free virtual events from 18-31 May. Sign up, plug your headphones in, and enjoy!
  2. Attend virtual book launches. It’s been so upsetting to watch lots of friends have all their book launch plans crushed by coronavirus, but it has also been very encouraging to see innovative virtual launches via Facebook Live, Zoom, Twitter Q&As etc. Lots of book launch parties are happening on social media, and are accessible to anyone with a half decent WiFi connection. Grab a quarantini and watch, listen, learn, and participate, all from the comfort of your sofa in your PJs. What could be better?
  3. Interact with other writers and readers. All writers need support right now, so there really is no better time to read like mad and rave about books on your social media channels. It’s amazing how much a lovely tweet, private message, or email can lift a flagging author in lockdown, so don’t hold back. Share the love, while we make sure we don’t share the virus. And be brave with your own social media. I’ve started doing a weekly video on my Facebook page to stay connected with my readers. I’ve gradually got over my loathing of seeing myself on camera, and if nothing else, it’s an excuse to put on makeup once a week! Take a look here if you’re interested.
  4. Buy books and pre-order. Order online. Go mad. Buy everything you always meant to read but never got around to, and better still, pre-order new releases. Pre-orders can really help create buzz around a book, and help keep the industry moving at a time when we can’t move much further than the end of the road. All bookshops need our help and support, especially some of the smaller indie bookshops, so please remember to shop local, even when shopping online. Share your thoughts and reviews. Start a virtual book club, or turn your existing book club into a virtual one. Let’s all play our part in keeping the publishing alive and well.
  5. Keep writing. Even if it’s only a few words a day, try to water your WIP now and again. It will bloom, in time.

Have you been to any virtual events or launches? Are you doing anything creative on your own social media pages? Let us know in the comments below, and stay safe and well.  Now, over to our Class of 2020 …


TANYA

No doubt I’m not the first to think this, but this morning when my alarm went off at six thirty, the same time it always does, blasting Highway 20 Ride by the Zac Brown Band, the same song it always plays, I leaned over, turned it off and said to myself…Good grief, I’m Phil in Groundhog Day. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably know the plot. Bill Murray plays the main character, Phil, who appears destined to relive the same day (February 2nd) over and over until he learns the lesson(s) which will help him evolve and break the loop.

Most mornings my biggest challenge is trying to figure out what day it is. As the days click by, each often indistinguishable, I’ve convinced myself it doesn’t really matter, unless of course it’s trash day. At the moment, my routine is some variation of the following; coffee, write, walk, clean, cook, eat, wine, read, shower, chat/zoom with family/friends, sleep, REPEAT.

Theoretically, in the movie, Phil had all the time in the world to figure things out. In fact one website estimates he endured Groundhog Day for eight years, eight months and sixteen days. Which makes sense when you take into consideration all the skills he mastered. Isn’t it an interesting question to ponder…What would you do with all the time in the world? Despite occasionally feeling as if we are stuck in the Twilight Zone, we are in fact living in the real world. We don’t have an infinite amount of time to figure things out and a ‘do over’ isn’t always possible, but as each day passes, I can’t help but wonder if there is a lesson I am meant to be learning.

While I’ve written each day, I don’t feel I’ve been as productive as I could be. If the truth be told I think my repeat button has gotten stuck. Nevertheless, instead of beating myself up about it, I’m going to take a lesson from my buddy Phil and focus on growth, not wasted time. So what’s the plan, you ask? Nothing fancy, just to remember it’s the ordinary days which provide the biggest blessings…for they are the ones which give us the best opportunity to learn, change, and evolve. Oh, and one more thing. Think I’ll live on the wild side for a few days and turn off my alarm clock. I’m pretty sure Phil would approve.

LISA

Does the fact that the weird new normal we all live in now, is starting to feel routine mean that I have become acclimatised? Institutionalised? Perhaps the fact that I have been continuing to work three days a week means I have maintained a semblance of routine and I am suffering less cabin fever than other people? Either way I am less anxious than I was and starting to get more writing done. I am constantly flitting from one project to the other but I’m not beating myself up about it, because if that’s what it takes to get results then that’s ok.

I have been working on the community help line for Louth County Council which has been helping to put vulnerable people in touch with volunteers who can help them to get groceries, pick up prescriptions or anything else that they need while cocooning. It’s been good to feel helpful. I have also been working some days in the library recording story telling videos and that’s been fun and there has been some lovely feedback so I hope it’s been useful for parents and children.

Books have been a wonderful escape during the last few weeks. The children’s books that I have been reading and sharing in the videos and the books I have been reading in my own time. It’s been a reminder of the power of stories. My own stories that I am working on now, whether they are brand new ideas or older stories that need to be edited or re-written are a haven right now. I was struggling with anxiety and lack of focus in the last few weeks…months even, but I think now, at least as far as writing is concerned that I have managed to get that under control for the time being at least. I still haven’t found the peace and quiet that I crave. The house is still full of noise and people but I’m finding a way to work around that.

AMY

It’s been months, and time has become almost irrelevant as it simultaneously slows and whizzes pass us. With a house full of people, I find myself busier than ever and carving out time to write is becoming more and more difficult. When I do grab a wedge of time the page is terrifyingly white and blank. Even the romance novel that I have begun has been set aside for now. It seemed such a daunting task and if five hundred words were written in a week that was the most it was progressing.

My Covid-19 poetry epic is evolving and growing remarkably mind you. It seems that the daily tasks of fighting over schoolwork, magically producing dinners from ingredients I didn’t even know I had and wondering how the hell we have SO much laundry contribute to what Kit de Waal says is essential thinking time. A topic germinates in my mind having been sown there by some observation I have made or come across. Words mingle. My locality, which is my garden and the dust bunnied hallway, yields a myriad of minute details that otherwise are unseen. The topic then emerges as a bundle of words, sometimes in order, sometimes not. They fall into a stanza and like the peas that I have sown, they need training and staking. Rewriting. This micro focus gives me words to wrangle, and I find it easier to concentrate on one stanza completely and utterly until it seems to work. Each stanza has a topic and is also its own poem in its own right and this smaller structure is something that I can manage to do at the present moment.

Reading is essential to writing, yet I find that I am having trouble engaging with the novel. I am forcing my way through The Talented Mr Ripley, but otherwise I have four novels begun and left aside in favour of reading Mary Oliver’s poetry and her instructive book on writing poetry.

But what’s really carrying me through this difficult time is the wonderful conversations I am having with other writers. Conversations that veer from the craft of writing to sharing gifs and giggles. I urge you, if you can, to keep in touch with those creative friends of yours… If nothing else this is what is what will keep you sane in a world that seems daily more and more like something from a novel.

Stay safe and healthy.
x

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. 


Find out more about Catherine, Carmel and Hazel here. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to hear about our next Inspiration Project event

 

5 Steps To… Writing Your Way Through This

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… 

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5 Steps To… Writing Your Way Through This

BY CATHERINE

A quick glance at social media on any given one of these strange and surreal days will churn up as many declarations of ‘NOW is the time to write that novel!’ as it will reassurances that, ‘If you can’t write at the moment, that’s okay.’ They’re both true because writing, motivation, creativity, life – none of that stuff is one-size-fits-all.

I am writing right now, because I have to. It’s my job. I can’t just take a break from it because it’s how I afford my rent and food and LEGO and stuff. (More on the LEGO in a moment.) Like millions of other people, I have to keep doing my job even though it feels like the world is on fire. I’m really lucky that it’s my dream job and I was already well-used to doing it at home in yesterday’s sweatpants while eating fistfuls of Special K out of the box, but still. However… Back in 2009, I quit a job so I could do this. I was working 9-5, had a 30-minute commute, no other commitments – I could’ve easily found 10 hours in the week to work on my novel, if not more. But my job was awful and the stress of it was all-consuming, so even though I had the time to write, I was missing another, equally crucial ingredient: sufficient headspace to.

If you have to write right now, you may struggle to find ways back into your routine and concentration. If you don’t have to, finishing the novel might well be item #813 on your list of priorities, many miles behind staying sane, keeping several little people alive and not filing for divorce. Either way, here are some tips to help you write your way through this, whatever that might mean for you.

  1. Give yourself a break. Wanna play a game of Pandemic Bingo? Unprecedented, surreal, scary, strange… Yes, this time is all of those things. None of us have been through anything like it before so it would be weird if we were able to take it in our stride. We need to acknowledge that. One thing I find incredibly strange and unhelpful is how so many people are equating working from home with having to do your non-WFH job in your house while your entire family is also there during a  global crisis. Those are two very different things. So go easy on yourself and don’t be comparing Normal World apples with Pandemic oranges.
  2. Use this time to fill the well. Read books. Read articles. Listen to books. Listen to podcasts. Binge-watch something on Netflix. Binge-watch something on Amazon Prime. Binge-watch something on Disney+. Binge-watch something on Now TV. Binge-watch something on Apple TV… You get the idea. And you might well get a new idea to write about.
  3. Writing isn’t the only way to be creative. I started with sweary colouring books. Then I baked banana bread, as we are all apparently legally obligated to do. Then I made one of the worst financial decisions of my life: I went to the LEGO website and discovered something called their Creator Expert Modular Buildings range. So far I’ve built a Bookshop (pictured above) and a Detective’s Office, and I have three more sets on the way. I LOVE it. It’s so relaxing, it magically makes many a happy hour fly by AND you have something lovely to look at afterwards. Plus it forces you to take extended breaks from your phone. Consider also jigsaws, knitting, origami, card-making, scrapbooking, cross-stitching and printing the 4,912 photos on your computer you’ve been swearing you were going to for years and putting them in an album. (To be clear: I stopped with the LEGO. These are just suggestions!)
  4. Remember why you write. What did writing look like when you were a child or a teen? What did it mean before it meant WIP and finding an agent and daily word count? For me, it meant a diary. In a series of ever-fancier notebooks and multicoloured pens, I recorded my (not very) deep and profound thoughts every evening. Why not go back to that now? Writing can be great therapy and a tool to help us make sense of the world. Maybe that’s the kind of writing you need to be doing now. (And it’s not just me who thinks so.)
  5. Pivot. This is what I had to do in order to keep writing. At the start of March I was sitting down to start the first draft of Book 5, a thriller with a complex plot that saw a major event temporarily change Dublin. But then a major event changed not just Dublin but the entire country and the world, forever, in real life, and I didn’t have the bandwidth to hold such a complicated story in my head. So I started writing something else, a new idea I got from doing an excessive amount of Step 2… If you have to keep writing and are having trouble doing so, maybe the solution is to write something else.

Are you writing right now? Have you been LEGO’d too? Let us know in the comments below!


TANYA

Holy cow, has it only been a month since we last connected because it sure feels like it’s been a year. Forget Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, how about Life in the time of Covid-19 by TBA. Normally, these diary entries are meant to be a check-in on our writing but these aren’t ordinary times. Therefore, I’d like to start by asking all of y’all how you are doing? I pray everyone is staying safe and healthy.

I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD, in fact I pride myself on my organizational skills, but the first two weeks of this ‘shelter-in-place’ order challenged my ability to concentrate. There were days it was as if someone had dropped a rubber ball through a trapdoor in my head leaving it to bounce wildly off the walls of my brain. One day I was energized and productive, and the next I’d sit down at my desk to write, only to find myself minutes later standing in the closet throwing clothes into a pile on the floor. I must say, it’s better to find yourself mindlessly cleaning out a closet than the snacks in the pantry. Am I right?

While social distancing is very important right now, it’s still difficult. My brother and I were talking and he said he thought we should be saying physical distancing and not social distancing. I have to agree. After all, haven’t we all adapted and found new ways of connecting socially? You don’t need to be in the same room to have a cocktail party … just ask my Thursday bridge group about that! I’ve never had so many zoom meet-ups, in fact the visual of all my family lined up on the screen Easter Sunday as if we were filming an episode of the Brady Bunch will forever be ingrained in my brain.

So am I writing? Yes. I’ve finally settled into a routine and my fingers are crossed it sticks. This may sound strange, but the other day it occurred to me how lucky I am to be a writer. Having the opportunity to throw myself into a make-believe world each day has been one of biggest blessings during these trying times. Along with the weekly, soon to become daily, virtual cocktail parties of course!

Don’t forget, we are alone, together. Y’all take care of yourselves!

LISA

For this month’s inspiration diaries I want to talk about burnout. It’s a horrible feeling, a feeling of physical, mental and creative emptiness, and yet it’s something all of us will probably face at some point. It’s something I’ve felt before so I recognise it now that it’s attempting to visit me once more.

Lots of people are using this time at home or away from work to be creative, to take photographs, bake, make art and of course write and I have to admit I feel a bit jealous of them. My first thought on being told not to report to work was ‘oh ok I suppose I can work on my book’ but it’s not that easy.

It’s not just that the kids need help with their schoolwork and that dinner has to be made every single day but with everyone in the house together it’s loud, it’s messy and there’s no space to work and on top of that anxiety is gnawing away at me, at all of us, eating up our concentration, our energy. I find it hard to focus on reading never mind writing but I remind myself that I have dealt with this feeling before and the key for me at least is to focus on the things I can control. I can rest, I can sleep, I can spend time with my kids, I can bake, and I can write if I feel up to it. I can listen to an audiobook, or watch a favourite movie and it WILL pass eventually.

I hope everyone is doing ok and if you can write during this strange time good for you, but if you can’t, that’s ok.

AMY

The sun is shining, the garden is coming together nicely, the shed has been cleared out, and the windows will be washed this week. We’ve made Guinness bread, roast dinners, watched movies and shared Easter eggs. We wallpapered that last bit that never got done in the Teen’s room, we’ve found old vegetable seeds and resurrected the raised planters that had been abandoned. Yup. We are displaying symptoms of Quarantine. For once it’s not all procrastination. It’s a coping mechanism.

There is so much to think about, to try distil, to mentally and emotionally digest what is happening to the world around us, to people we know and people we don’t know, that some of us can’t write, cannot create, cannot paint or draw, sing or compose. On the other hand, some of us are finding a release in being creative and are producing a huge amount of work. In a brief conversation via Twitter I discovered that quite a few writers are changing genre or form, now whether or not they can say that this change is a direct consequence of the Covid-19 crisis is for them to say, but it was largely hinted at.

Early on in this time of restricted movement I decided that I needed to write something different. I put aside my rewriting of my first novel and began a whole new project, one that had been on my mind for a while. I’d even plotted it out about a year ago. So I left my dark grim miserable normal writing for a Christmas romance – Hallmark style – set in Ireland though, but filled with everything I love – snow, snuggly jumpers, Christmas trees, dark handsome men in check shirts and work boots, love and hope. It’s a fun project, it’s a hopeful project, it’s exactly what I need right now and I will see this novel to the end. The set form for a Harlequin/Mills & Boon/Hallmark romance is really helpful and it’s nice to be able to write something prescriptive. I find having guidelines a huge comfort in this confusing time. Take a look here for more information: https://harlequin.submittable.com/submit or google how to write for (insert either Hallmark, Harlequin, Mills & Boons).

I have also found that writing poetry is a release and is allowing me to work with another form that I’d been neglecting of late. Sometimes all of this being at home, shopping once a week, planning dinners, schooling the kids, catching the Government updates, it all reminds me of other times and time has become jumbled up. What is now and what is the past are mingling despite our technological advances. Poetry, using a semi-strict documentary form allows me to think about that and to explore our past and present, and how to manage the time that we find ourselves in. I’ve a feeling I’ll have enough poems for a book after this, but first, I have to go wash those windows.

Stay safe and healthy. x

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. 


Find out more about Catherine, Carmel and Hazel here. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to hear about our next Inspiration Project event

 

5 STEPS TO… WRITING WITH DEADLINE DRAMAS

BY CARMEL

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… 

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-17 at 16.45.33

Right now, it feels like we are all living in a dystopian thriller, with plot twists happening at the end of every chapter. But I’m not going to talk about Covid-19 because let’s face it, you are living and breathing nothing else but that right now. Instead, I’m going to discuss the double d’s of an authors life. Steady, I’m not talking about my bra size – its the deadline dramas! An authors life will always include deadlines. Some are self-imposed, others are contractual from your publisher. But both need focus and discipline so that you don’t derail yourself by getting sidetracked with deadline dramas. I’ve written under deadline whilst in the midst of the big snow of 2017, the heatwave of 2018, the storms of 2019. And my current WIP Letters to Myself is due with Harper Collins on April 1st with a worldwide pandemic! I think I’ve picked the biggest deadline drama of them all, right?

You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
What mood is that?
Last-minute panic.

Bill Watterson

So here are five steps to help you deal with deadline dramas!

  1. Find your WIP soundtrack.  For the longest time, I could only write in complete silence. But I’ve learned that it is possible to train yourself to write no matter the noise around you. While I wrote The Woman at 72 Derry Lane a song from Les Miserables became an anthem for two of the main characters – Rea and Stella. I started to play One Day More every time I wrote. And by the time I got to the end of the first draft, I realised that this song had become a trigger for me. Now I compile a soundtrack for all WIP’s, unique to each. It’s all about the ’90’s power ballads for Letters to Myself and when I hit that playlist, I’m in the zone. Now the kids are at home, 24/7, I simply put on my headphones and let LeAnn or Whitney do their thing.
  2. Set daily targets, in blocks. We talk about the importance of setting targets a lot here at IPHQ! There is nothing more satisfying than adding more words to your manuscript each day. My kids know that I have to do 1500 each day and they check up on me, cheer me on. The trick with targets is to make them realistic, so you don’t set yourself up to fail. But they must also push you too.  On a good day when I exceed target, I know I have some words in the bank, for the days when life goes pear-shaped! (I know, I couldn’t resist) There are lots of ways to keep track of your targets – I use Scrivener which has a cool built-in Project Target app. Or go old school and use Catherine’s downloadable target chart HERE.
  3. Be kind to yourself. If writing were easy then everyone would be doing it. Add a ticking clock and the pressure doubles. It’s imperative you take care of yourself so that you don’t fall before you reach the end. Pack your fridge with nutritious, delicious meals. Deadline month means I have lots of easy to prepare food for all the family. Plus a freezer full of pop-in-the-oven food, when I reach deadline week. I try to limit sugar because I’ve realised that with a sugar high, comes a sugar low = no words!  But I do reward myself in other ways. I stream my favourite show on Netflix. Have fun on Whatsapp with my pals. Then there’s always Tayto and Gin. It’s a judgement-free zone when you are under a deadline.
  4. Switch off social media. Right now, that’s probably not a bad thing. #FakeNews!  I limit my SM time to 30mins in the morning and 30mins in the evening. Think of it this way, as you write your masterpiece, you are giving yourself a digital detox.
  5. Place Arse Here. Unfortunately, there is only one person who can ensure that you stick to your writing goals. You! We can help out with tips, but the bottom line (pun intended) is that your arse must be placed on your chair every day! To help you with this, click HERE to download a poster to help you out. You are welcome! Now go write that book!

What are your writing with deadline dramas tips? Let us know in the comments below!


LISA

Well, it’s a crazy world we are living in right now. Schools, colleges and crèches all closed and everyone is feeling anxious. Panic buying has left the shops emptied, raised tempers and temperatures and in some parts of the country led to arguments and long delays. My kids are all stuck at home; the youngest is loving it; for now but the older two are concerned about getting coursework done and wondering what the impact will be on exams, and I know it won’t be long before cabin fever sets in. Work has been strange as we are now closed to the public (I work in a public library), but we are still answering the phone and renewing books and library cards and providing some activities, stories and links to online resources through our social media channels. Normally in times of stress and anxiety writing offers some release but I’ve been struggling to work on any of my current projects, instead, I’ve been cleaning (a bit obsessively), alphabetizing the books at work and writing to-do lists, including lists of things to write. I know, I know it is all procrastination but it has helped, somewhat. Last time I checked in with you all I was following the 100 days of writing podcast from Tim Clare, sadly I have not been consistent with this and it’s been a few days or eek…maybe a week since I did any of the ten-minute exercises. I will get back to it. I haven’t abandoned it. The main reason I took a break was to work on my “zero” draft of my new project which does offer complete escapism when I can stop panicking long enough to focus on it. It’s romantic with some mystery elements, a dashing hero and a stubborn and studious young heroine that might ever so slightly be inspired by some of my favourite Jane Austen characters. For now, writing has been done in very short bursts but I hope the anxious time will not last too much longer and that everyone I know stays safe and healthy.

TANYA

Hey y’all! I must admit it took me a while to figure out what to write this month. I mean, I don’t have anything very exciting to report other than I am moving forward. Then it occurred to me, isn’t that what it’s all about? Movement. Let’s also add staying motivated and mindful.

Since my last post, I printed out my work in progress and read through it. I needed to reacquaint myself with the storyline and characters, and given the fact it was written during NaNoWriMo, I also needed to make sure I had something to work with. I’m happy to report that while it still needs loads of work, it’s not total crap. Phew. Next, I made some notes highlighting areas I’ll need to rework once I go back and rewrite. Then, finally, I started writing. Chip, chip, as one of my dearest friends likes to say.

The day in, day out of writing is hard. Juggling life and the desire to sit and write has been all about prioritizing and striking a balance between what I must do and what I’d rather do. I have found my most productive writing time is in the morning. I’m an early riser and easily lured out of bed by the strong scent of Hawaiian hazelnut brewing in my ninja coffee maker. I strive to keep this time open for my writing, but of course, it’s not always possible.

Staying motivated is challenging. Having a tribe, that group of family or friends, who cheer you on, support you, offer chocolate or wine when needed, is invaluable. I’ve been blessed with a fabulous crew of writing and non-writing friends who encourage me. This month, one of my writing friends and I decided to challenge ourselves to write, read and move more…and well, by now, y’all know I love a good challenge.

The commitment I made with my friend and writing these monthly posts, have helped me remain mindful. They’ve kept me focused on the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Finish the first draft!

So, in the end, I guess the only thing left to say is…I am March-ing on. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

AMY

‘Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.’ – William Shakespeare

Boy has a weekly ballet class. The class is for three hours and I religiously keep that time for writing, thinking or reading. I sit in my car for three hours, looking suspicious I’m sure, but I love it. I bring coffee, snacks, books, notebooks, pens, and my laptop. It’s a lot to remember – last week I forgot to bring change for the meter. It’ll be grand, I thought, in the year I’ve been parking here I’ve seen The Clampers only once. I settled in and began to write and was in the middle of a poem when a white van pulled up a little in front of me.

That’s a double yellow line silly, I thought, and put my head back down to write. From the corner of my eye, I saw a high-viz clad man looking in the windows of nearby cars. Nosy, I thought. Then I copped that it was The Clampers. Cut to me frantically rifling through the bottom of handbag for change as The Clamper looked in at me. I pretended to still be looking for money, found enough ten-cent coins to buy me half an hour parking, but The Clampers had moved on. I put my money away and went back to my poem. Ten minutes later they were back with clamps. I hurtled out of the car to the meter, groaned as my little bundle of ten cents bought me just half an hour. I wrote a stanza in that time, after all, I’d paid for it! The Clampers moved on.

They were back just as my time ran out. Clamps at the ready. I rapidly pulled on my seat belt and drove around the corner. I parked, pulled put the poem again, wrote a bit, glanced up and there they were again. For crying out loud, I raged, I have three hours! Just three hours! Feck off and leave me alone! They didn’t, strangely enough, and having run out of change to pay for parking and only one hour left, I ended up driving around the block a few times, staying one street ahead of The Clampers, and using each block of fifteen minutes to almost complete my poem.

Finding time to write is always difficult. I’ve tried to not write, but that didn’t work for me. I’m a grump when I’m not writing or thinking about writing. I’ve become accustomed to finding time and protecting that time. And no one, not even The Clampers, is going to take that time away from me!

 

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! 


Find out more about Catherine, Carmel and Hazel here. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to hear about our next Inspiration Project event

5 Steps To… Fall In Love With Your Writing

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 share some of their favourite writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To… 

book heart

5 Steps To… Fall in Love with Your Writing

BY HAZEL

Roses are red, Violets are blue, I find writing really hard, How about you?

It’s February. The month of love. Whatever about pink prosecco and M&S meal deals (peak romance in my book!), romancing your writing is what this month’s tips are all about. Of course writing feels so easy during those starry-eyed early days of new ideas and first chapters, but we can just as easy fall out of love with our words, take them for granted, and forget what we ever liked about them in the first place. So, here are five easy steps to re-ignite that spark:

  1. Date nights. Yes! It works for writing, too. Take a day to really romance your writing. Clear the desk/kitchen table/wherever you write, light a candle, send your desk some flowers, switch off social media, write for the pure creative joy of it, and remind yourself why you fell in love with this craft in the first place.
  2. Five things you love. Remind yourself of those early days when you set the alarm for 6am and stayed up past midnight because you were so in love with your idea. Write down five things you love about writing. Stick them above your desk, or to your face, or the cat. Whatever works!
  3. Stop complaining. Writing isn’t easy. It isn’t meant to be. Accept that first drafts are awful, and structural edits are intense, and waiting to hear is part of the job, and get on with it! As Elizabeth Gilbert so perfectly puts it in Big Magic: “Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust in the least. But sometimes is is fairy dust.”
  4. Re-read a book you love. Leave your own words and go back to a much-loved book. Savour the words, pages and characters all over again, and then ask yourself why you love it so much. What is it about that book that works so well? What can it teach you about your own writing? Remember that the author of that book most probably fell out of love with their words at some stage, too.
  5. Share the love. Get involved in the writing community. Read other people’s books. Go to their book launches. Cheer their successes. You will learn so much from spending time with other writers and will definitely return to your own writing inspired, energised (and possibly slightly hungover). Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely existence at all.

What do you love most about writing? Let us know in the comments below!


TANYA

Hey y’all, Happy Valentine’s Day. Feel free to dive into that box of chocolates you’ve been eyeing all day, and while you sit back, relax, and nibble away, I’ll catch you up on what has been happening in my world.

As I look back on the last few weeks, it’s clear I’ve been more juggler than writer. I had two trips back to back; neither conducive to writing, so I made the decision to leave my laptop at home. I know, I know, I hear y’all gasping from here. But hold on, I had a plan. Instead of focusing on the writing I wouldn’t be doing, I decided to follow Catherine’s advice and set some intentions for the year.

Goal number one: Always be open and honest about my writing journey. Easy, next. Goal number two: Write every single day. Harder, but definitely doable. Yay me! I’m rocking this goal setting thing. Goal number three: Finish my first draft. Yes! I will do it. Hold on, just one slight problem. Which first draft? Y’all are gasping again; don’t forget I can hear you. I’m going to be completely honest (see goal #1) and admit something to you. I am now the proud owner of two unfinished works in progress. How did this happen?

NaNoWriMo!

You probably know all about this ‘write a novel in November’ challenge. During the fall, I was struggling with my regular writing routine and found myself looking for some motivation. After reading more about the project, I concluded writing 50,000+ new words, in one month, was exactly the kick in the pants I needed. Let’s just pretend for the moment I’m sane and simply love a good challenge. On November 26th, at midnight, I submitted my final word count of 51,043 words. Not a finished draft, but a good start, which leads me to my decision. We will chat later about the reasons, but this is the WIP I’ll be tackling these next few months. Oh, and one final thought regarding my NaNoWriMo experience. I was reminded of something I had forgotten; I’m a very good juggler! Wonder if the State Fair is hiring?

LISA

The last month of writing has been slow but steady. I’ve been following Time Clare’s 100 days of writing podcast. It’s very interesting and very useful; I’ve been doing the ten minute exercises every morning on the bus to work. It’s a good time to write. I find it can be quite productive, even when I feel exhausted. When I’m not following a writing prompt from the podcast I continue the first draft of my second as yet unnamed novel. I don’t bring my laptop, instead I type all those words straight onto my phone, using the google docs app. Just a few months ago if you had told me that I would write thousands of words on my phone, I probably would have laughed, but I’ve found it works. I can listen to music or just the sounds of other commuters snoring.

If, like me, you are trying to fit your writing around a full time job and family commitments, you need to find ways to squeeze your writing time – your ‘me time’ – into the day or the week, so now that I know I can write on my phone, there’s no excuse really. I appreciate it may not suit everyone and even though I am finding time to write every day it never feels like enough. I wish there were eight or nine days in a week, or that I could disappear off into a cabin in the woods for a few months to get some work done. Anyone with family knows how hard it is to find the time or space to write. Sometimes you need to find a physical place to bash out ideas and sometimes its headspace you need. I struggle with focusing on anything creative when the distractions of family life are all around and I know I’m not alone in that, but slowly, sometimes painfully slowly, word by word I’ll get there.

AMY

Does knowing your genre help or hinder you when writing?
Last November I completed my second novel and I popped it away into a drawer as recommended and tried to forget about it. But I couldn’t forget about it. Besides having named all the characters after family members and desperately trying to come up with new character names, the whole tone novel felt off. I couldn’t figure it out what it was until I did two things.

The first was that I wrote something else entirely. I felt the urge to write a piece that was just for me, might possibly become a long term philosophic project, or might become nothing. What it had to be was free from constraint, but considered, and with that sense of freedom and that allowance I gave myself to think, I sat down and wrote fifteen hundred words in a short space of time.

The second thing was that I gave feedback on a fellow writer’s short story. It’s a privilege and a challenge to be asked to read someone’s work. I love to help other writers, so I threw myself into this project. I hope that my analysis of that work has helped my friend as much as it’s helped me because what I discovered was that the questions I was asking them, I had also to ask of my own work. Specifically I needed to answer why did I feel my novel it wasn’t right?

The answer came to me as I emailed my feedback to my friend: I had a genre problem. I remembered the joy I felt when I free-wrote and remembered how I’d felt when I started the novel. I thought of the books that I enjoy reading now, and came to the realisation that I was shoe-horning my writing into the wrong genre. I had been writing, albeit slightly unconsciously and slightly consciously, with a genre in mind and that genre was controlling me in all the wrong ways. Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to my question, except that maybe, for me, considering genre too much stifles my writing, but for you it may be exactly the guide you need.

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! 


Find out more about Catherine, Carmel and Hazel here. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to hear about our next Inspiration Project event

 

 

 

 

5 Steps To… Setting Writing Goals

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… 

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5 Steps To… Setting Writing Goals

BY CATHERINE

It’s January. The start of a new year. Twelve unblemished months in which you might have the time to make all your writing dreams come true. The perfect opportunity to buy some new stationery and call it ‘planning’. Ahem. Here’s how I set my writing goals for the coming year:

  1. Work backwards. Start with the big picture: what do you want to achieve by the year’s end? Be specific and stick to things within your control, e.g. it’s finish my novel and prepare a kick-ass submission package, not get published.
  2. Write them down. I’m starting the year with a Best Self Journal which is undated and only lasts 13 weeks (pictured above). January, February and March are always quiet months for me and the best time to get things done, so this journal and me are a perfect match for the next three months.
  3. Focus on the days, not the year. Your day-to-day routine is everything. Focus less on your goals and dreams (e.g. get published) and more on what your daily routine would have to be like in order to achieve them (e.g. get up and write 500 words every morning before work).
  4. Be realistic. Even if we have all the time in the world, we only have about 3-5 creative hours in us per day. Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting unrealistic goals.
  5. Track your progress. I do love me a wall chart. The Best Self Journal comes with one but – tip! – now is when all the 2020 calendars will be half-price and they’re ideal. The ones with the boxes for days are the business – you can write in your word count! A visual reminder of your progress (or lack thereof!) is a great help. Perhaps try to start your year by not breaking the chain.

Do you set new writing goals each year? How do you do it? Let us know in the comments below!


TANYA

Hey y’all, happy new year!

Before we go any further, I think it’s only proper I introduce myself. My name is Tanya Deke and I’m from Charleston, South Carolina. Yep, not only do you have an American amongst ya, but a Southerner to boot…which doesn’t mean anything in particular, other than I tend to use the word, y’all, quite a bit.

Two years ago I made the brilliant decision to attend the inaugural Inspiration Project. Trust me, I’m still patting myself on the back for this stroke of genius. It’s true I was the lone American and as one of the more seasoned (southern speak for older) attendees, early in her writing journey, I am here to tell you, it is never too late to follow your dreams. Meeting the talented and accomplished trio of Carmel Harrington, Catherine Ryan Howard and Hazel Gaynor, would have been enough but no, after a weekend with these three rockstars, I returned home with a transformed mindset and an overwhelming desire to take on the challenge of writing a first draft.

As I poke my toes into the big shoes left by my friends, and fellow Inspiration Project attendees, Clare, Casey and Tric, there is only one thought going through my mind; how in the world will I fill them? Like many of you, I followed along as the three shared the ups and downs of their personal writing journey and was inspired by their determination, openness and honesty. Now it’s my turn – Gulp.

We each have our own journey to take and story to tell. Writing isn’t about filling anyone else’s shoes. We are all Cinderella, and must therefore find our own unique pair. Now that being said, it doesn’t mean we have to go it alone; after all, isn’t it more fun to go shoe shopping with friends?

LISA

My name is Lisa and I am a writer. I have deleted and retyped that sentence countless times. Well I have hummed and hawed long enough. I’m saying it now, I’m writing it, in fact. I am a writer. I am delighted to have been asked by Carmel, Hazel and Catherine to participate in the Inspiration Diaries. They clearly have faith in me, it’s about time I did too.

I have been dabbling in writing for many years now, but I finally decided to take it seriously in January 2018. That was when I took part in the very first Inspiration Project. Over that weekend I wrote the synopsis for my first novel, I made a decision to take myself seriously as a writer and to finally do what I had wanted to do for so long; write a book. I made some wonderful friends that weekend and found such inspiration and encouragement.

During 2018 I wrote the first draft of my novel. (I’ll just call it that for now, the title has changed more times than I’ve had hot dinners!) and I was delighted to have reached that milestone. 2019 brought dramatic change. I took the opportunity to change career and that meant not only a new job, but commuting and working full-time after being part-time for fourteen years all that on top of a chronic illness which was diagnosed in 2017. So as you might imagine, writing took a back seat for a while, but my writing is now, I hope back on track and I hope to revise my book and start submitting to agents in 2020.
So what do I write? I write historical fiction with a touch of magic. My current work in progress is a dual-time or time-slip romance set partly in contemporary Scotland and partly in the 1600s. My heroine is called Stevie (yes after Stevie Nicks) and ever since a traumatic accident she has had haunting visions of the past. The characters in the past include fictionalised versions of some real people; including one of Scotland’s most famous witches; Isobel Gowdie who gave a detailed confession of her activities and Christian Caddell a women who became a Witch Finder.

AMY

Hello! I’m Amy Gaffney, writer, wife, mother, and general Boss of Everything at Home – or so I like to think. I also like to think that my writing journey began when I learned to read, as words absolutely enthralled me; but, honestly, it wasn’t until I read Little Women when I was seven that I decided that I wanted to write stories that made people stay up till three in the morning.

I was a teenager when I tried to write my first novel. Fun fact: I rewrote Romeo and Juliet as a rap! I learned that there is a real craft involved in writing, that planning and time that is essential to forging a career in writing. This knowledge scared me, but it didn’t stop me. Life did. I had a baby, got married, had another daughter, went into business with my husband, had a son, and writing got put on hold.

When my son began playschool I began writing at the kitchen table, not realising that I was following in the footsteps of so many female writers before me. I began Book One, but it wasn’t finished until 2016.

I have always taken anything I do seriously, and writing was no exception. I’d met, through the wonders of Twitter, many lovely, generous people and authors who inspired me to follow my dream. With their cheers I managed to sit my English degree, and to complete a Masters in Creative Writing at UCD.

2019 was a lucky year for me. My poem Tonsillitis was published in the Irish Time New Irish Writing last January, and I was shortlisted for the An Post Books Awards Writing.ie Short Story of the Year 2019. I completed the first draft of Book Two.

I have ideas for two more books, and written a teeny bit of both to taste them, and I will decide which to work on next soon. After all that, I rewrote Book One, and now am considering rewriting it again. My hopes and plans for 2020 are to continue to work on the craft of writing, to get out and meet more writers, to continue to support other writers no matter what stage of their writing they are at, and, of course, to dream of finally getting that book deal!

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! 


Find out more about Catherine, Carmel and Hazel here. Sign up to our newsletter to be among the first to hear about our next Inspiration Project event

 

 

 

 

December: The ghosts of writing pasts, present, and future …

IMG-20191214-WA0000And so we reach the end of another year, and the end of a decade! The perfect excuse, if any were needed, for a little reflection to wrap up 2019, and look forward to the ’20s (Charleston, anyone?). Thank you for following all our writing journeys over the past twelve months. There have, as always, been plenty of ups and downs, and we’ve enjoyed sharing it with you all. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and a happy New writing Year.

Hazel, Catherine, Carmel, Tric, Clare, and Casey

xxx

Catherine’s Year in Review

When Hazel first floated the idea of the IP Diaries, I thought, ‘Great! People will finally understand that what counts as glamour in this full-time writer life is putting on a bra because you’re expecting the postman’. Three weeks in, a framed print that said ‘Something wonderful is going to happen’ suddenly fell off my wall at 1:02am (it was the only one up there with blu-tac, but sshh) and less than 48 hours later everything went bloody bananas.

Before the year was out, I would see The Liar’s Girl nominated for the Edgar award for Best Novel and Rewind nominated for Irish Crime Novel of the Year. I went to New York in April for the Edgars ceremony, in June for BookExpo America (where I saw my book covers on massive street signs) and in September to live out my dream of staying in the city and writing for a month. The first writer I ever met in real life was Mike McCormack, author of Solar Bones and Irish literary treasure, when he came to my school when I was 16; in May I did an event with him at the Irish Embassy in San Francisco as part of our trip to the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, California, funded by Culture Ireland. I taught plotting at a retreat in Lake Annecy, at West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry and in a living room in a Brooklyn brownstone. I was interviewed on the Ryan Tubridy Show, accepted onto Screen Training Ireland’s First Draft and Beyond screenwriting programme and signed books at the world famous Mysterious Bookshop in New York. The Liar’s Girl was chosen as one of the Guardian’s 50 best thrillers by women since 1945, Rewind was my first UK hardback and it debuted at no. 2 on the Irish Original Fiction chart. As I type this, I’m sitting overlooking the bay of one of my favourite places in the world, Villefranche-sur-Mer, just outside of Nice; I’m here for a month working on the second draft of my next book, The Nothing Man, which I am ridiculously excited about. And I’ve just remembered that until now I’d left out this: I signed a 6-book deal with my American publishers for a figure that, when I saw it on the screen of my phone in an email, made my heart skip a beat and then made my dad (momentarily) stop worrying that I don’t have a proper job.

How can I pick a top 3 out of all that? I can’t. But all of these amazing things had one thing in common. During all these experiences there would come a moment where I would have to take a breath, to try to take it in, and I would think, ‘How in the hell did I get here?!’ And the next thought would be the answer: because of stories I made up. That’s what this is all about and so, that’s my highlight of 2019: it’s chock-full of highlights purely because of stories I made up. Holding that in my heart makes looking at the blank virtual page a hell of a lot easier – and so much more exciting.

What I learned in 2019: everything can change in an instant – for the better! So stay positive, keep writing and keep a bottle of bubbly in the fridge just in case.

Something/someone that inspired us: my trip to the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, California (kindly funded by Culture Ireland) was like being plugged into the mains. I met so many writers, writing in different genres, forms, etc., and got so much out of listening to them talk about their writing, that I came home electrified with ideas, eager to get back to my desk.

My writing goal for 2020: start and finish Book 5, tentatively titled As Told To.

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Hazel’s Year in Review

2019 was a strange year for me, as it was the first year since being published that it didn’t start with a new deal for a new book already in place. As any writer knows, that’s a strange feeling, and makes for some sleepless nights! But it was a decision I’d taken, to give myself the time and space to write my next book. It was a year of ‘what ifs’ and leaps of faith on both a personal and professional level and I’m so happy to be ending it in a beautiful new home, with an incredibly exciting new book deal, a new editor, and new energy for what feels like Act Two of my writing career. Hazel 2.0, if you will!

As always, the year came with plenty of surprises, including the honour of THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER being shortlisted for the prestigious HWA Gold Crown award, and LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS hitting the USA Today bestsellers list! My mid-summer US-book tour with Heather for our second co-written novel, MEET ME IN MONACO, was an absolute whirlwind. Fifteen events in six states over twelve days takes a lot out of a gal, but we had the most amazing time meeting readers and booksellers and I’m so grateful to have had the experience. I will truly never forget it! I made wonderful new writing friends at the HNS North American conference in Washington, an event which proved to me, yet again, that getting away from the writing desk is as important as being at it. Foreign rights deals came in for countries I haven’t been published in before, including France, Italy and Sweden, and I had a real ‘full circle’ moment when I spoke at an International Women’s Day event at the law firm I left ten years ago. To sit beside Marian Keyes, Emilie Pine, and Sinead Gleeson, and talk about my writing career was a huge personal milestone, and felt like a fitting way to celebrate a decade of writing. I ended the year cheering Catherine on at the Irish Book Awards, and racing towards a deadline. Talking of which …

What I learned in 2019: That it is never too early to order a Bloody Mary on a flight, that good friends and passionate readers feed my soul, and that ten years and eight books in, I’m only just getting going.

Something/someone that inspired me: My Grandma Daisy. She celebrated her 100th birthday in November, and got a card from the queen. What a woman!

My writing goal for 2020: Sprayed edges and William Morris style end papers!  My new historical novel will be published in the USA/Canada/UK/Ireland/Australia/New Zealand/South Africa in late summer/early autumn, and after that, who knows! A tantalizing historical trilogy is making eyes at me at the moment. Watch this space …

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Carmel’s year in review

This time last year, I made a decision to put myself higher on my list of priorities. I learned how to say ‘no’ the odd time and stepped back from the many commitments I’d taken on that no longer sparked joy! As a result, 2019 has been a much healthier year for me. Other than writing, The Inspiration Project and my regular TV guest slot on Virgin Media’s Elaine show, I’ve kept quite a low profile. But I’ve also been quietly productive! I finished my eight novel! My Pear Shaped Life will be published in April 2020. To help with my edits, I donned my method author hat again and took the same road trip that my characters do! I drove through the prairies of Kansas, the snowcapped Rockies in Colorado, the red rock of Utah, to the glittering lights of Las Vegas. Last week I attended a brand meeting in Harper Collins and when they shared their plans for publication, I nearly burst with excitement! Cover and blurb will be shared with you all before Christmas. And an LA movie agent is now representing My Pear Shaped Life too. Say all the novenas reader. We might get that red carpet moment yet! I’ve started work on book 9 and am happy to share that I’ve accepted an offer for two new books. I can’t say any more on this yet until it’s announced formally. Watch this space! A Thousand Roads Home became an Irish Times Bestseller and it also spent over five months as an Amazon No 1 Bestseller too. Oh, and my editor shared last week that I’ve now sold a quarter of a million eBooks. That’ll do pig. That’ll do.

What I learned in 2019: I’ve taken some time to work on a passion project recently. Only a handful of people know about this secret book and that may never change! But you know what? Writing for pleasure with all deadline pressures removed feels so good! It reminds me of how I felt back in the mid ’00s when I wrote Beyond Grace’s Rainbow. I had no notions of getting published at the time, I just had a story in my head that I had to write. By focussing on something that excites me, I feel re-energised. A pretty powerful lesson in that. One I’m going to remember for 2020.

Something/someone that inspired us: My inspiration comes from Hazel and Catherine. It’s rare a day goes by that we don’t check in with each other. And having a front-row seat in the HG and CRH theatre gives me bucket loads of inspiration! Both are crazy talented, with so much authenticity and decency in their bones, it genuinely inspires and uplifts me all at once.

My writing goal for 2020: Finish Book 9 which has the working title, What If I? And keep working on my passion project.

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Clare

If my 2019 Inspiration Diaries were a novel, they would feature a hopeful beginning, a twisty suspense-filled middle and a final act that sees the heroine finally get her happy ending. While I feared that might never happen, I’m delighted to tell you…I have an agent!!

The last few weeks have been a pinch-me finale to my search. Sophie Hicks of The Sophie Hicks Agency in London emailed me early one Sunday and a few days later we spoke on the phone. It’s very surreal when that call finally comes and I didn’t want to get my hopes up but within minutes, she told me how much she loved my book and wanted to represent me. She gets my story, my characters and crucially, she gets me. Together we have big plans for my novel, and I can’t wait to see what next year might bring.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s the power of patience. The publishing world spins on its own axis, incomparable to any other industry. The wait is excruciating but its worth it. You just have to keep going. To stay in the game. So rather than choose different highlights throughout 2019, all of mine have culminated into one dazzling firework in the December sky. And over the course of one conversation, my life has changed. For I have a champion now. Someone to go into the publishing fray on my behalf. And she’s amazing at it. I feel very lucky.

I’m also blessed to have the support of Carmel, Hazel, Catherine, Casey and Tric. In particular, Tric has inspired me this year with her bravery and heart in writing her memoir. To write fiction is one thing, to write the story of your life is another entirely and I’m in awe of her courage. I can’t wait to read it! So roll on 2020! We’re here waiting for you. You better watch out!

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Casey

At 2019 draws to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the year gone by and set out some writing goals for 2020. I want to return to writing poetry, maybe getting some published again. Poetry helps me reach layers that other writing doesn’t, and I find when I write poetically it’s easier to tap into the senses and a deeper sense of self. I also want to complete the psychological thriller I’m currently working on and write the third in my police procedural series set in Dublin. I have also booked a writing retreat in April and one May/June. These retreats are not only to write, but to reconnect with important members of my writing tribe, those who inspire and support me. You know who you
are!

During the year, I learned that patience really is a virtue, networking is important, it really is all about the writing and most importantly, keep believing and keep writing. Some of the highlights were my Agent’s summer party in London in July and heading to the An Post Irish Book Awards in November.

If I was to pick someone who inspires me then it would have to be, without question, my husband. His unwavering support and faith in my abilities is second to none. After a tough year personally, he never fails to be my scaffolding, holding me together. He stores the positives, safe and secure, to bring them up when the negatives and doubts rear their ugly heads. I will be raising a glass to a lot of things this year. 2019 has been a progressive and rewarding one. Cheers.

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Tric

2019 is drawing to a close and what a rollercoaster it has been. It will forever be the year I lost my lovely Mum, but I like to imagine that all that was good since then has been overseen by her from a distance. Since Mum passed there have been many who took me by the hand and guided me through the difficult days, weeks and months of early grief. Without them there would have been no writing. Yet there was writing, and it led to my getting an agent, Faith O Grady, which was without doubt my greatest writing highlight of 2019.

In this month’s diary I’ve been asked to share who has inspired me, what I have learned this year and my writing goals for 2020. In my writing life so many have inspired me. If, however I were to name one I must cheat and name two; John McCahill, my dad who had a most magical way with words and Agnes, my mum, who had courage beyond measure. On days when writing my memoir has been less than easy I have needed a plentiful supply of inspiration from both.

There is much that I have learned this year, most especially that writing doesn’t just happen. It takes effort, time and patience and the ability to ignore the voice within, which mocks and scorns my writing goals and ambitions. My writing goal for 2020 is simple, to type ‘the end’ on my memoir and hopefully see it on the shelves. This time last year I could never have imagined I would have an agent and the possibility of being
published. Now, 2020 lies before us, an unwritten book of 366 days of blank pages. Let’s all dare to dream what story those pages will tell this time next year.

November: Remember, Remember … to write.

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Due to life being completely crazy, this month’s diaries come to you as a box set. We have been very busy! Enjoy!

Catherine

My dreamy month in New York passed by in a flash, but after some last minute scrambling, the first draft of THE NOTHING MAN (Book 4) has gone off to my editor – hooray! This is the best feeling, immediately followed by a plague of acute self-doubt. What if they hate it? They do hate it, don’t they? That’s why I haven’t heard back yet. They’re trying to figure out how to break the news to me that I’m fired… etc. etc.

I haven’t had much time to dwell on it though. To mark Halloween, the Sunday Business Post enlisted Liz Nugent, Pat McCabe, me, Aiden Gillen, Sean Moncrieff and Paul Howard to write a spooky story – Liz started it, then each of us added 300 words and passed it on. The result, Eyeless, was fascinating to read and when else am I going to be on a list with those names, eh?! I did a hugely fun event with Alex Barclay at Vibes and Scribes in Cork to mark Irish Book Week. My fellow Corkonians will understand what a huge deal it is for me to have an original short story in the Holly Bough this year, which has just hit the shelves. And as I type this, I’m in between my two events at Murder One, Dublin’s international crime writing festival. Plus the time has come to write a brief pitch for my next book, No. 5. This is why it drives me absolutely insane when people ask, ‘Are you finished?’ In this business, there is no finished. There is only finished this particular thing, now onto the next…

The exciting news this month is that Rewind is shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year in the Irish Book Awards. The ceremony is on 20 November at the Convention Centre in Dublin and I can’t wait. No matter what happens, it’ll be a chance to reflect on a truly fantastic year and to celebrate with my writing buddies.

In the meantime, I’m off to France to work on Book 4: Draft 2. Yes, France. Feel free to hate me…

Carmel

I’ve been sitting here wracking my brains trying to work out what to share this month. What news do I have? Erm… thinking …. one second … nope… I’ve got nothing!

Reader take note – this is the reality of a writer’s life. Yes, there are book launches, festivals, book club talks and fancy publishing parties. But they tend to come at you a bit like buses … in threes! In the main most writers are at home, sitting at our desks writing. So other than a couple of appearances on the Elaine Show, October was all about words for me. Which was rather lovely. I can, however, live precariously through Hazel and Catherine who are both killing it with award nominations. I am so proud of them both, my winners every time.

I have completed the proof-reads for Book 8 and as I type this, proof copies are being printed. I suspect December will be an exciting month as my publisher plans to send advance copies to media and book reviewers. Cover, title and blurb will be shared soon too! I’m so ready for this book to go out into the book wild. I’ve worked on it for nearly two years. It’s time to let it go.

Work continues on book 9, of which I’m about a third of the way through. I always find the middle bit the hardest. My editor and agent signed off on the story when I pitched it a few months ago, but at the end of the first third, I had an AHA moment. Which basically changed the ending. I pitched this new idea to my agent and hurray – she loved it. I’ve been reworking this new twist into the first third. I’m in good shape to meet the deadline next April.

Next month I will do my best to share something a little more interesting, promise. At the very least, I’ll give you all the gossip on the Irish Book Awards. We’ve got our pompoms ready to cheerlead Catherine. I suspect a lot of tears and whooping if she wins. And gin!

Hazel

I moved house, planned my childrens’ birthday parties, carved some pumpkins, celebrated a wedding anniversary, celebrated my grandma’s 100th birthday (I know!), saw A-ha, cheered the announcement of my new book deal, hopped over to London to meet my editor and eat Shepherd’s Pie at The Ivy, and hopped back over to London for a lovely evening at the HWA Crown Awards. I didn’t win, but I sort of did, because it was such a lovely evening, and I was so proud to see The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter on the big screen and having its moment.

That was my month!

Sometimes the writing just has to be paused for, you know, life! I’m now chasing a terrifying deadline, and the Christmas ads are freaking me out. If anyone knows which packing box my hole punch is in, please let me know.

Casey King

Smock Alley in early November was the place to be for crime fans of fiction and non-fiction (not committing) and aspiring writers. While there is a Green Room, authors eagerly mingled with everyone, signing books, posing for pictures. I was part of the Event Team for the weekend and at one stage, Murder One was trending at number six on Saturday. The coffee was flowing, and the Tahini Banana cake was to die for. I took, and was included in, some great pictures over the weekend.

There was one particular photo I was reluctant to get in to. Carmel Harrington spoke of Imposter Syndrome on The Elaine Show during the week and boy did I have a surge of that on Friday night. The event to celebrate The Gutter Book Shop’s 10th Birthday went extremely well, chocolate cake and wine. The post-celebration de-brief was amazing. Then, the group decided to pose for ‘The Conspiracy of Writers’ picture. But wait, I wasn’t yet a published author like Paddy Hirsch, William Ryan, Lucy Foley, Alex Barclay and Liz Nugent. Yes, I am agented, with Kate Nash firing emails back and forth with interested parties, allowing me to continue to write. But what entitlement had I to pose among those I greatly admire? I hesitated, then without question, was plonked in the middle by
all five. I was glad I hadn’t voiced my doubts as I fear one, if not all, of those writers had the knowledge to slap the Imposter Syndrome out of me without leaving a mark. The incredible support and encouragement I received over the weekend was second to none. It’s a photo I will cherish. I was included in another with the gorgeous and talented Andrea Mara, taken by Noreen Maher of @hiberniaroots. I also ran into fellow Inspiration Diaries contributor Clare Daly. As writers we need weekends like these to soak up the atmosphere and to expel that Imposter Syndrome.

Clare Daly

It came at last. The email I was waiting for from an agent reading my full manuscript. Sadly, it wasn’t an offer, but it wasn’t exactly a rejection either. Not of my work. They thought my novel The Nothing After was ‘strong’ and saw ‘much to like and admire’ but felt that the market may lie across the water more so than here at home. Supernatural crime is niche and bigger in the US than in the UK and Ireland, they said. They wished me the very best of luck in finding a home for it and thanked me for the opportunity to read it.

It caught me on a week where I was run ragged with other things, so it’s not the end of the world. There is a home for my book out there. It’s just going to take time to find the right person to take it on. I had earmarked a few American agents on my hitlist, so the
plan is to tackle those next and get their perspective on it. I also sent polite nudges to other submissions I’m waiting on.

As it had been six months since I last looked at that draft, I decided to read it again and see what improvements can be made. There’s always room for more, so I’m tackling a revision too to make it the absolute best it can be. This puts the new book I’m writing (book 4), to one side but once this revision is done, I’ll get back to it. As it happens, there are no supernatural leanings in there, just what I hope is a good mystery. It’s also set in America, but I write the stories and characters that speak to me – whether it’s my 19th century vampires in Our Destiny Is Blood, or a modern detective haunted by his teenage brother in The Nothing After. For me it’s about people: good, bad, alive or dead, it doesn’t matter – each one is extraordinary in their own way and with a story desperate to be told.

Tric Kearney

Well, it’s been a very busy month, with so many plates spinning in the air I’m having to use a calendar and lists for the first time in my life. Thankfully, it’s all good, including the trip of a lifetime, with just yer man and myself, to visit a great friend of mine in Boston and then four nights in New York. I had never been to the ‘Big Apple’ before and loved its madness and mayhem. While away, I turned off social media and immersed myself in the break. However, I don’t think it’s possible to turn off the writer switch.

Waking at night, my thoughts often returned to my memoir, with stories I’ve yet to tell dancing about my head, while during the day I encountered many fascinating characters, or overheard nuggets of conversation, only begging to feature in a story some
day in the future. Since returning, I’ve settled back to writing and routine, accepting some days are more fruitful than others.

Initially, having got an agent, I was a little spooked, over thinking each word, wondering if what I was writing was good enough? Would she approve? Thankfully, it has worked the other way and I find myself a little more confident and even on occasions thinking it’s quite good in places. I’ve also set myself a deadline of when I will be finished it. I’m not yet willing to share that date, but I am determined to not go past it, although I can tell you, it’s not today or tomorrow, so don’t be getting too excited. With that deadline in mind I’d better get back to my writing and the hope that next month I’ll be even closer to the finish.

October, Part Two: In which there are no tricks, just hard work, and occasional treats!

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This month, our three determined writers are rediscovering the magic in their writing, banishing self doubt, and saying, ‘I’m a writer’ out loud.

Clare Daly

I have to admit I was a bit nervous heading to last month’s Inspiration Project event in Dun Laoghaire. I’d attended the same event last year and was worried that I’d give off stalker vibes or worse – sheer desperation to Hazel, Catherine and Carmel. Here’s yer one, back again! I knew the content was ground we’d already covered, but I really needed a shot in the arm of motivation and a chance to re-focus having decided to hang up the self-publishing. I need not have worried.

As Catherine talked about plotting and Carmel delved into characters, ideas around a story I’d just started to work on, fired up in my head. I realised too while listening to Hazel talk about editing, how I used to love it and that the forensic approach I’d taken last year had sucked all the joy out of it for me.

I left with immediate ways to improve my writing but one of the best takeaways of the day was the recommendation of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Flicking through it during a coffee break, I knew I had to read it. This isn’t a how-to-write book it’s a how-to-live book. We spend so much time in our own heads, the toll can be heavy and Big Magic was a revelation about what it means to choose a creative life. It also offers a wonderful idea. That inspiration chooses you. It wants you to succeed. It wouldn’t come to you to then work against you. It wants you to type The End. It’s such a positive book and one I can see myself reading again and again.

Even a rejection last week failed to dent my optimism. It was from a submission I only sent out the week before, but I was happy to get a speedy reply. It’s good to know that the multiple submissions I’m sending out are at least landing and not disappearing into the abyss. I also entered the Novel Fair at the Irish Writers Centre should my future agent be lurking there.

For now, it’s time to get this new story down and rather being in fear of it, work with the inspiration this time – that’s where the magic is.

Casey King

Never underestimate the power of networking. We headed to Dingle for the Food Festival – one to recommend for the bucket list. While checking out the programme in advance I felt like I needed a bit more education on cocktail making – although some of my friends would disagree – and so I signed up to a class. We got the last few places, on arrival we were told it was booked out, they’d be filming for Fáilte Ireland and if we were camera shy we had the option to not attend as there was a waiting list. She hadn’t the full-stop on her sentence when we said, ‘lead us to the cocktails.’

We selected a nice wide seat, then bunched up to make room for three more who’d arrived close to the starting time. We got chatting, I was asked what I do. I told them that I’m a writer and I write crime novels. They were quite excited at this prospect. The information exchange flowed. It turned out that each of the three people possessed information that I needed for my next phase of research for the book I’m currently working on – a stand-alone psychological thriller. We bonded over Porn Star Martinis, Old Fashions and Cosmopolitans. What followed was a bit of a pub crawl and a late-night, post cocktail, pepperoni pizza. I did inform them of my ‘day-job’ which caused a lot of slagging and more craic.

On a serious note we discussed mental health and our different experiences and various life journeys. Overall, it was an amazing night. So, never be afraid to bunch up and make room and never, ever be afraid to tell people you’re a writer. Say it, shout it, own it.

Casey King @letstalkcrime is represented by Kate Nash @KNLA

Tric Kearney

Phew, time for a distraction, or should I say, time to write another Inspiration Diaries entry. So, how is my memoir going? If I’d written this a couple of weeks ago I’d have been boasting about how I was on a roll and the words were flying onto the page. I’d written several stories and was, if I do say so myself, rather pleased with how they’d turned out. Then, I decided to take a week off writing, to briefly visit family in Dublin and try to catch up on the housework and other, not at all glamorous things, that I’d neglected while in my writing bubble. What a terrible decision that was! Within days I was plagued by insecurities and doubts. What was I doing writing a memoir? Who did I think I was?

Eventually, I realised the only way to battle those inner bullies was to get back into routine and return to writing. How is that working out for me since? In truth, it’s been difficult. I have largely banished the doubts, but the words have been letting me down. Knowing the story I wish to tell, and finding the words to tell it, are two very different things. I’ve spent the past week, writing thousands of words, deleting almost all of them and writing some more, yet still have no story to show for it. It’s hugely frustrating, but when I feel like giving up I remember the previous stories I finished and the buzz when I knew I’d found the right words.

Such is the reality of writing. Reading books it’s hard to imagine somebody might one day have struggled as they wrote them. However, I’ll keep trying and hoping that maybe tomorrow the words will jump onto the page and I’ll be one step closer to ‘the end.’

See you next month.