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… Nailing NaNoWriMo

Welcome to the Inspiration Diaries! Last year we had six writers – three published, three on their way – checking in each month as a sort of ‘year in the writing life’. (You can catch up here.) This year we’re doing things a little differently. Three new Inspiration Project graduates will give us a monthly insight into their writing lives, but first Catherine, Carmel and Hazel will be taking it in turns to share some of their favourite writing advice in our new series, 5 Steps To… 

5 Steps To… Nailing NaNoWriMo

BY CATHERINE

It’s hard to believe we are just days away from November in this weird, elastic year that at times has felt a decade long and at others seemed to pass by in a blink. Here in Ireland we’ve just entered Lockdown 2.0: six weeks at the highest level of restrictions which will take us up to the start of December or thereabouts. In other words… Ideal NaNoWriMo conditions!

If you’re not familiar, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month where the aim of the game is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November, or about 1,666 words a day every day for 30 days. Before I go any further, let’s address the anti-NaNo brigade. Every year about this time, a sub-section of published authors start rolling their eyes and muttering about the reaction to a National Brain Surgeon Month or the like. Their feeling is that writing novels is our job, we take it very seriously, it cannot be done in 30 days and encouraging people to think so not only diminishes our efforts but will lead to a slew of crap landing on agents’ desks right around the first week of December.

I have never understood this attitude and even now, four published books in and writing full-time, I still don’t. NaNo is just a challenge, a way to get people writing, to start their books. We are talking about first draft words. (I’m actually talking about vomit or draft zero words, if I’m honest.) We’re talking about taking a month to start something that, with many, many more months if not years of work after this, might turn into something approaching a finished, polished draft. Numerous published, successful, highly lauded novels started life in NaNoWriMo, including one of my favourite psychological thrillers ever, Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, and our own Hazel Gaynor’s A Memory of Violets. (Side note: this post was inspired by Elizabeth’s Twitter thread, which you can read here!) As for a slew of NaNo-induced crap landing on agents’ desks December 1st – unless you’re an agent, that’s not your problem. And if you are, I’m sure you have a system in place for filtering out the material that’s going to waste your time, because you get that all the time, right? And finally, it’s called FUN. Have you heard of it?

Here at IP Towers, November 1st has come at an opportune time: Hazel and Carmel are starting new books and I’m prospecting for my next idea. I’ll be writing the second draft of Book 5 throughout November, but since there’s literally nothing else going on over here (!), I’m going to attempt to write 50,000 words worth of something – first draft, outline, messy ideas – of the next book alongside. Consider joining us! Imagine how great it would feel on the other side if you could step into 2021 armed with a pile of raw material ready for reworking instead of just a virtual blank page.

So, here’s my five tips for how you can use the next week to nail NaNoWriMo:

  1. Go public. Like all things, it’ll be easier to stick to you if you tell people your intentions. (Hence this post!) Sign up to be an official NaNoWriMo-er at their website – it’s free – and tell your friends. Better yet, rope in a few of them. (Um, hence this post.) You might decide that you’re going to tweet your daily progress, or post about it in your Instagram stories. Whatever works best for you – but accountability will go a long way to helping you achieve this goal.
  2. Prep your life. On Monday, I start the second draft of Book 5. It’s Saturday morning now. Yesterday I scrubbed every square inch of my apartment clean and did my laundry. I sorted out things that have been nagging at the back of my mind: Christmas presents I bought and stuffed in the cupboard; a query I had about a payment that required me to dig through a year’s worth of bank statements; an email I had to send. I’m spending the weekend batch-cooking meals I can freeze and reading proofs that piled up while I was writing the first draft. And I wrote this post! In other words, I’m taking some time to make as much time for writing from Monday onwards. Obviously I’m being helped enormously by a global pandemic and no kids here on their mid-term break BUT adapt it for you. If there’s anything you can do now to make this easier for you after November 1st, get to it.
  3. Make a plan. What is the best way to achieve this goal of writing 1,666 words a day for 30 days in your life? I know for me that it’s (a) do it first thing in the morning and (b) don’t skip a day – from past experience, I know I can manage writing 1,666 words a day but once I miss one and have 3,332 to do to get back on track, I’m totally scuppered. For you it might be to work late at night twice a week in sprints of 6,000 words. Work it out now so you’re not winging it on November 1st.
  4. Prep your idea. I personally think that if you’re a plotter as opposed to a pantser (who just writes organically, without a plan in mind), you should take a few days before November 1st to sketch out some idea of what you’re going to write. The first 30,000 words of a first draft are the slowest for me, because I’m spending an inordinate amount of time staring at the screen mulling over names, settings, etc. Try to do that beforehand so you get your 1,666 words logged as soon as you can.
  5. Take the pressure off. The aim of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days, but the point of it is FUN. This is not supposed to be some crushing pressure to add to all the other crushing pressures 2020 has kindly bestowed upon us. Don’t take it too seriously. Revel in the writing, in the creating, in the adventure. And obviously start now with carefully selecting a new notebook for yourself because no writing challenge can begin without one!

Are you planning on doing NaNo this year? Let us know in the comments below!

Breaking news: Hazel and Catherine (yes, I am writing about myself in the third person) have both been shortlisted in this year’s Irish Book Awards! The Bird in the Bamboo Cage is up for Popular Fiction Book of the Year, and The Nothing Man is shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year. We are absolutely delighted, even if we don’t get to have the best night out of the year this year! (Sob.) The Irish Book Awards are decided in part by a public vote, and if you cast yours you’ll be entered in a draw to win some National Book Tokens. You can vote from anywhere in the world and for all or some of the categories on the Irish Book Awards website (click here) until November 17th.


TANYA

Hard to believe it’s mid October already. Thankfully life has calmed down a bit and I’ve been able to get back into a more consistent writing routine. I’m not going to lie and tell you it was easy to do because it wasn’t. The first few days back at my desk were tough as I struggled to settle my mind and focus on my writing. I’d sit down rearing to go and the next thing I knew I was checking emails and looking at photos on Instagram. We all know how hard it can be to establish a habit but it can be even more difficult to reestablish once broken. So, clearly the best advice is NOT to stray from your daily routine, but that’s easier said than done. Right? 


Speaking of habits…Did you know Ludwig van Beethoven followed a strict daily routine? I didn’t until I was running an errand with my brother a few weeks ago. I was telling him about the difficulty I was having and he mentioned an article he had read about daily rituals and he described Beethoven’s. So what was his daily routine? He would rise at dawn, prepare his breakfast, then get right to work. His breakfast was coffee which he prepared himself. In fact, from what I read, he believed sixty beans was the perfect amount per cup and took great care in counting out each bean himself. He would then work at his desk until two or three in the afternoon, taking only an occasional break to walk outside, which aided his creativity. He would then have his midday meal with a glass of wine and afterward, embark on a long, vigorous walk through the woods around Vienna. During his walk he carried pen and paper to capture any ideas which came to mind. I read that after his walk he liked to stop at a tavern and read the papers. And if he wasn’t dining with friends or going to the theatre, his dinner was usually a simple supper, with a glass of wine. He rarely worked on his music in the evening and he retired early.


Turns out there are countless articles and books describing the daily routines of many famous novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, etc., etc. While it’s all very interesting, and believe me, I could definitely spend hours reading about their lives. There is one thing they all know…You must show up and do the work. So whether you prefer to write in the morning or late at night, drink wine with every meal or have donuts for lunch, find out what works best for you and stick with it. We must continue to show up and do the work every day. I’m directing this last sentence to myself!


Now, just a word about the bean counting. I don’t think I’d have a problem following Beethoven’s daily routine but…come on…one cup of coffee in the morning? That just wouldn’t work for me.

LISA

Well this year has felt like it’s been about one hundred years long. Finally we come blundering, lurching, crawling towards the final few months and we are facing into a second wave of the corona virus and another lockdown. The community spirit and the togetherness that we felt back in March, April and May seems to have vanished. Everyone is feeling tired and I’m sure many people are feeling like I am; spectacularly unproductive. I feel like I have achieved very little this year.

However I did over the last six weeks take part in a fantastic creative writing course, run by the brilliant Cat Hogan and this has helped not only to boost my word count but also my confidence. I am finally getting a handle on my current work in progress and starting to see the shape it will eventually become. So even though the weather is turning bad and I can’t go anywhere or do anything. Thanks Covid! I do have this small thing that keeps me hopeful and warm, something that makes me focused on the future but also allows me to escape to the past. That’s the beauty of historical fiction. So here’s to finishing books, staying safe and minding ourselves this Winter.

AMY

Hello Autumn! Come in and don’t bang the door!

How are you all? Well and safe I hope.

It seems that this last month has both flown by and dawdled, and it seems that the only thing marking time is the drop in temperature and the changing leaf colours. Since my last update I’ve been concentrating on novel four as I decided to enter into the Irish Writer’s Centre Novel Fair competition which has meant that my time researching self-publishing has been put on hold until I am happy with this complete manuscript. Fingers crossed it shortlists! That would be great as true to form the rejections have been rolling in – I’m well on my way to gathering that hefty rejection figure so I’m due a little pick me up acceptance from somewhere. Yes, I have reached the stage whereby if my work was accepted by my son to print for his school project I’d be popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly! It’s hard to stay positive but I try to remember that it’s all subjective, and timing is everything. A piece of work may need to be polished a little more, it may need to be sent somewhere else. That is all, and that’s not a bad thing if you can learn from it.

Over the last month I have sat two online writing courses which have helped me immensely with my latest WIP. One was a Psychology of Characters course with Dr Stephanie Carty and the other was from the Irish Writer’s Centre hosting Kit de Waal’s Crafting Characters Course. Both courses were just what I needed at this point in my work. The combination of courses and the exercises they gave really helped round out my characters and have made me answer questions about the project that I was being too lazy to work on – I know, you do it too, we all do! I’ve also read Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa, both of which have inspired me to follow my writing style – or voice.

The result of which is that I have written a huge amount of words and I am trying to not feel the fear but do it anyway!

Stay safe and healthy and get writing!

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… Getting Through the Muddy Middle

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… Navigating the Muddy Middle

BY CATHERINE

Back when I was writing the first draft of the book that would become Distress Signals, I spent about 18 months stuck on 30,000 words. No matter what I did, no matter how many times I sat down at my desk and opened the document, I just couldn’t write any further. In hindsight, this was partly because it was nicer to live in the place where all my dreams might just come true than it was to finish the book, start submitting it to agents and find out that they definitely never would. But it was also because I was about to step into the worst part of writing a book: the muddy middle. 

Beginnings and ends are, relatively speaking, easy. The beginning is the bit we know from the get-go – the beginning is usually what we mean when we say, ‘I have an idea.’ And you don’t have to worry about the end just yet, because by the time you get there, the resolution to your story will probably have written itself based on what you’ve produced thus far. It’s the bit between those two points that causes the issue. So how do you navigate the Dreaded Middle? Here are a few suggestions…

  1. Plot a course. Some writers baulk at plotting their books in advance, groaning that it makes writing the book boring or suffocates their creativity. Each to their own, but I find the opposite to be true. Plotting in advance frees me up to focus on writing the best book I possibly can, safe in the knowledge that the underlying structure is already sound. Writing becomes the interior design of a house that’s already built. Personally I can’t lay brick and hang wallpaper at the same time. Take some time to make a list of major events throughout your novel before you sit down to write it. This will give you some handy goalposts to write towards along the way.
  2. Sticky note shenanigans. This method has saved me time and time again. If you’re stuck in your draft, give yourself a day away from the desk. Find a blank wall and a stack of sticky notes. Now, write down every idea you have for your book, one idea per note. I mean literally every idea. It might be a plot point, something a character says, a place they go – anything and everything to do with your book. Write it down, stick it up. When you’re done, arrange the sticky notes on the wall in the order in which you think you’ll use them – as in, in the order of the story. Guess what? You’ve just painlessly plotted some book! (And had to go stationery shopping. Win-win.)
  3. Do away with the middle entirely. Last year I took a screenwriting course here in Dublin where we were introduced to the concept of sequences in storytelling. Take the horror movie The Strangers, which is ostensibly a very bare story of a couple spending a night in an isolated house where they are terrorised by – yes you’ve guessed it – strangers. But actually, re-watching it recently, I could see that the movie is made up of very defined sequences or sections where the narrative is driven forward by one focus or force. For instance, one is all about what happens to her when he goes to get cigarettes. Another is about them trying to find a gun and the consequences of using it. Another centres on them trying to get to a shed nearby where there’s a radio and what happens when they do. If you constructed your entire plot this way – in sequences; the magic number is 8 – you wouldn’t have to worry about the middle at all, but the 4 sequences that make up that section of the book. And you wouldn’t have to worry about writing 100,000 words, but the 8 sequences or stories that make up your novel. Doesn’t that just sound so much better?
  4. Move the ending. There’s something I like to say in workshops that, without fail, gets the same reaction every time: absolute confusion, followed by a look of “Oh – OH.” What if – and I do just mean what if, this is but a thought experiment – the ending of your book was actually the middle? No, seriously. Just consider it for a second. What if the ending of your book was actually the middle? First of all, you know now what happens in the middle and you actually have to squeeze up a load of stuff to get there by half way through. So that problem is solved. And if you have to come up with another ending – if you have to carry on the story past what you thought was going to be THE END – doesn’t that mean the reader will get an unexpected ending too? Might it be better? Might this actually improve the story as a whole? Thinking about it doesn’t commit you to anything, so: have a think!
  5. Just do it. When all else fails… Grip the wheel, close your eyes and floor it. Write as fast as you possibly can. It’s a first draft – you can fix everything later! Sometimes the only way is through.

How have you got through the Dreaded Middle? Let us know in the comments below!


TANYA

How is it possible that year after year my life goes from calm and peaceful to crazy and chaotic with the simple flip of a calendar page? I’ll tell you why…because I haven’t quite mastered the art of saying NO. And because I still say yes, more than no, I usually find myself with a full plate come September. This my friends, is exactly the spot I find myself in at the moment.

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on an event, originally scheduled for last April, but moved to September, due to the pandemic. As the plans moved forward we always knew another postponement or cancelation was possible should social distancing rules change or if the number of cases increased substantially. Thankfully things have remained stable and we’ve been given the green light. In fact the event is scheduled for this week. What I wasn’t prepared for though, was something else coming along and threatening it’s occurrence, and yet that’s exactly what has happened. A few days ago, a hurricane hit the coast of Alabama and while it has been downgraded to a tropical storm, it’s still packing a punch with heavy rains and gale force winds…oh and it’s heading towards South Carolina. Not very conducive for an outdoor event.

So what about my writing. The simple and honest answer is .. it’s been almost nonexistent the last two weeks. Why? See the above paragraph. I tried to sit down and write a few times but found I wasn’t able to concentrate. It’s as if the left side of my brain didn’t want to shut down and let the creative/artistic side have a turn. Recently I listened to a short talk on my ‘Insight Timer’ App about the power of being present. The speaker stated the act of being present is a big factor in happiness, and one way to stay in the moment is by mono-tasking (do one thing at a time and choose to be there), instead of multitasking (which he believes is ineffective). I’m no expert on this topic but I do believe, when it comes to writing, it’s important to be present in the moment, with your mind fully focused on the task at hand. Since this seemed impossible to do while I was working on the event, I chose not to stress about not writing.

Hopefully the event will go on as planned, but regardless, I know one thing for certain…I’ll be back at my desk this weekend!

LISA

September for me has always been a time of knuckling down, getting back into routines and despite the strange times we are living in, this September is no different. The kids are back at school and I have started a writing course so Tuesday nights are now reserved for writing. In fact my new writing instructor; Cat Hogan has encouraged us to start a daily writing habit. I must confess however though that I have not written every day so far. That is something that needs to change. I know the steps I have to take and the first one, is putting my writing higher up on the to-do list. That seems like an easy change to make. However, a bit like self-care it’s often easier to put yourself and your needs last. Asking your family for the time you need, can feel selfish but we are entitled to have something for ourselves, even us mums. In fact especially us mums.


So I’m determined to get into a writing routine and to get a second draft of my novel done. I really want to write every day and to achieve something with my writing. I want to stop thinking about doing it, stop talking about doing it and actually write. I get such joy from creating stories but I know what’s ahead of me will be hard work, it’s hard work I’m prepared to do. It’s hard work I want to do. I know I may never be able to achieve a daily writing habit, but I at least want to set and meet targets and make my writing as important to me as my work and my family. Besides which I have a second novel and several other ideas that keep knocking on my brain and shouting “let me in” so I have to finish the first novel before I can give them the attention they need.

AMY

How are you all? I hope you’re all healthy and safe and somewhat sane. I’m baffled by how we’re in September already. Usually September brings a sense of contentment, routine is back, the days are growing shorter and there will be nights curled up by the fire, but this year it’s different. This September I’m champing at the bit to get writing. Maybe this sensation has been brought about because I feel as if my summer was stolen, that time was swallowed up; now I feel the need to do something, to move in any way that makes me feel that progress is happening. With that in mind I’ve taken some huge steps.


I’ve scouted for an editor with a mind to self-publish. This is something that I’ve battled with for quite a while – to self-publish or not to. Working with Kildare Art Collective on our Covid-19 Collaboration piece gave me a few things to mull over (side note: our collaboration will be live-launched on Culture night at 6pm and will be displayed in the Riverbank Arts Centre until October 24th). A number of the artists involved have found avenues to sell their work, and why not indeed, I wondered. I didn’t witness any judgements or hear any mutterings about it. The community are supportive and proactive in promoting each other’s work to points of sale throughout the world. I wondered why I was scared of selling my work.


The term ‘vanity publishing’ seared my brain from the moment I first heard about it. I get it – it’s actually a very simple and quick process to pop your book up on Amazon. But the very term ‘vanity publishing’ made me stop and think. It made the act of self-publishing such a selfish act, a silly act, a thoughtless act. I argued that Yeats self-published. Walt Whitman self-published. Allan Ginsberg too. (And Catherine and Hazel too!!! – But you already knew this). I’m not comparing myself to these writers but I’m learning from them every step of the way, and what I’ve learned is to not press publish on that Amazon e-publish platform too soon. Take a breath and get your work edited by a professional.


The first step was identifying people that I would be comfortable working with and this is where my writing friends have been invaluable. Word of mouth led me to a number of professional editors, and after I checked them out I sent out query emails and sample chapters to see what was offered by each one. This served me a tough and essential lesson: there’s very little room for vanity when you receive back an edited copy of your work.


The first sample of edits that I received landed me in a huge panic. I opened the document and saw the amount of suggestions marked and immediately felt two things: one was ‘hah, my work doesn’t need that amount of rewriting (it does) and the second was pure and unadulterated panic where I actually said aloud: Maybe this writing thing isn’t for me – I should just stop now if I’m this bad (I’m not that bad). I scrolled through the comments and cringed and squinted and didn’t understand anything because the fear made the words jumble around and mean nothing to me. I shut the document down and ignored it for two weeks. I ignored the emails I should have written in reply to the editors who so kindly, and without charge, advised me.


I was terrified.


Then I took a breath and emailed them back. I asked a few questions and they patiently and promptly replied to me with tips on how to read the edits. I went back to the sample edits and guess what? They made sense. Now I’m 100% sure that everyone needs an editor. Everyone. And my self-publishing journey has slowed its gallop because of this lesson learned. The process so far reminds me of the saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression, so I’m going to try make this first impression as good as I possibly can, and I’ll share this journey with whoever wants to know about it.

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… A New Writing Term

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… A New Writing Term

BY HAZEL

Back to School is upon us and although it comes with a very different feel this year – one of worry and cautious hope, rather than relief and delight – there is still that familiar sense of new beginnings in the air. No better time to clear the desk (literally), re-focus on the autumn months ahead, and plan our way toward the end of 2020, a year which, quite frankly, we will all be very glad to see the back of.

Before I share my 5 steps to doing just that, a brief moment to share some fabulous Inspiration Project book news. Last week, Catherine hit the No. 1 spot on the Irish Times  bestseller chart with her incredible new thriller, The Nothing Man, and Hazel also hitting the bestseller chart (on the same list as Catherine – how’s that for scheduling!) with her new historical novel, The Bird In The Bamboo Cage. It has also been wonderful for Carmel to finally – finally – see her new book, My Pear-Shaped Life, in bookshops and in readers’ hands. Any book published during a pandemic has to work extra hard, so we are all very grateful for our readers and supporters. Those books all started out as a seed of an idea and took us all many many hard months of teeth-gnashing and doubt to get them written at all, so let’s celebrate the good stuff when we can.

And now, without further ado, here are my tips for dusting yourself off after a summer of muddling along, and getting yourself back to work.

5 steps to … a new writing term

Tidy your writing space – there’s nothing better than a good de-clutter to motivate and inspire. Get rid of all those old homeschooling handouts and tickets to events you never attended. Get organised, get the duster out, and make your writing space somewhere you enjoy. The words come so much easier when you’re happy in your surroundings.

Set new goals – so what if you’re not on target for any of your 2020 plans. Who is? It has been an unpredictable year, so let’s change our expectations. What can you realistically do from September on? How does the rest of the year look in terms of available writing time? What it is you really want to achieve before the end of the year?

Plan ahead – Our 2020 diaries and planners will soon become historic documents, showing how 2020 was the year of everything being cancelled. This is the perfect time to treat yourself to a new planner, a 2021 diary, and start to look ahead.

Talking of treating yourself – now is also the time to invest in that office/workspace item you’ve been thinking about for a while. Whether it’s a cushion for your back, a wireless keyboard, a whiteboard for plotting and planning, new PostIts, a posh candle, a subscription to a fresh flowers delivery, or just a new writing mug, do it! If it makes your writing time easier, more comfortable, more productive, or more fragrant, it’s totally worth it.

Check in with your writing pals – how is everyone doing? Motivate and inspire each other. Set up a regular time to chat or meet for coffee (if possible). Schedule ‘writing sprints’, set shared word count targets. No writer has to write alone and we are all better when we have someone in our corner.

Now, let’s check in with our diarists…


TANYA

As a kid I loved roller coasters…In fact the steeper the incline, higher the drop, sharper the curve and faster the speed, the better. But this roller coaster ride which seems to best describe 2020 is unlike those rides of my youth, which only lasted minutes and delivered you back to the platform both reliably and fulfilled; This ride feels never ending. And while I’d like to think I would still enjoy getting on one at an amusement park, maybe I’m too old now and fear of all that could go wrong would dampen the experience. All I know is this ride isn’t much fun and I’m ready to get off. The ups and downs are taking their toll and I suspect y’all are as anxious as I am for the day to come when we will be able to shed our masks and walk side by side once again.

Last month I shared some news of happier events which brightened my otherwise quiet and subdued, socially distanced life, but I’m sad to say this month has dealt me a blow. I had to say goodbye to my sweet seventeen year old cat, Cubbie. I knew in my head the day was nearing and tried to prepare myself, but I don’t think my heart was ready. Are we ever truly ‘ready’ to say goodbye to someone we love? If there’s an upside to being housebound these past six months…it was all the time I got to spend with her. She kept me company during those long days (weeks), especially in the beginning when the world shut down, and we were too afraid to venture out. I truly am grateful for all the years we had…but I miss her.

Thankfully life tends to sprinkle a bit of good along with the bad and this past month something serendipitous happened. As you may recall I started my current work in progress during NaNoWriMo. The idea originated from a real life event which happened in my hometown over thirty years ago. I won’t go into specifics but it involved damage to a structure which up until just a few years ago, hadn’t been repaired. I was intrigued by the story and read everything I could get my hands on which wasn’t much. In order to better understand the backstory and steps taken to complete the project, I was hoping to find someone who might know more. Over my lifetime, I’ve learned if you ask enough people you will eventually stumble across someone who knows someone, who knows someone. Then one fortuitous day, I happened to mention the story to the right friend. Turns out the contact I had been searching for was right under my nose. This particular friend’s husband was THE architect for the project. Jackpot! We chatted recently and he graciously shared many details and sent me drawings, old articles and photos. I still don’t believe my luck.

While the ride’s not over this year, perhaps the twists and turns will become less jolting and in time even soothing. Stay safe and I’ll see y’all in September.

AMY

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

Bonjour writing and reading amies, I hope you are all well and doing ok. It’s almost September and the kids are due back to school – and many of us are anxious about it. Many of us are also craving life before Covid-19 restrictions and are aching for some familiarity, some security. Well, I can’t help with that I’m afraid, as I am up in the air over a million little things, and some of them are to do with my writing. The past few months I’ve sent submissions out everywhere, which subsequently has meant that the last few weeks has been filled to the brim with rejections rather like an over filled jam doughnut, only not as sweet or as much fun as licking sugar off your fingertips. Ah well, this is writing. This. Is. Writing.

It’s difficult to continue sometimes, especially as life is going to get busier here with family commitments and dealing with the routine of back to school, lunches, on-time-dinners and enforcing bedtimes again. But I cannot not write. I just can’t. I have spent some time thinking about what I write and the themes that are similar across my work. I’ve been thinking about how best to get my words out into the world because I believe them to be worthy and that someone somewhere wants to read them.

My writings are generally not for the happy ever after reader, and believe me, it took some time for me to be ok with that. I battled with the notion that people want the happy endings, they want the likeable protagonist that they can connect with. But I don’t. I like the unreliable narrator (in books, not in real life) and I like the danger of what if in a book. I like the everyday turned upside down because humans are fallible and can fall prey to being human when put into circumstances that shakes their values and makes them consider doing something that they would never have before.

So I will continue writing stories about fallible humans. And who knows, maybe one of them will have a happy ever after ending, or maybe a reader will tell me: hey – this is the ending I wanted… we’ll just have to see!

Stay safe and healthy.

X

Join us next month and each month for more writing advice from Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, and to check in with our scribes! 


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5 Steps To… Writing Faster

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 Faster

BY CATHERINE

In my life, July always brings two things: my birthday and The Doom of An Impending Deadline. This year is no different. The first draft of Book 5 is due soon but I’ve been distracted by moving into a new apartment (gotta get that desk set-up JUST right, as you know), some very exciting news (Rewind has been optioned for TV!) and the fact that Book 4, AKA The Nothing Man, is out in less than a month. This means that I not only have to get myself to my desk each and every morning, but that while I’m there, I need to put in some serious wordage. Here are my 5 steps to writing faster or, to be less click-baity, to increasing your daily word count

  1. Word count isn’t one size fits all. The first thing you need to do is acknowledge that everyone writes at different speeds and just because someone on Twitter said they wrote 17,000 words in a day doesn’t mean you should, or that that’s even possible for you. Even if you wrote 100 words a day, eventually you would have a book – and you might have it even sooner than the people who pull down enormous numbers, because commitment to finishing something is a different skill. What I always aim for as my deadlines approach is to increase my daily word count, that’s all.
  2. Get motivated. One thing that’s guaranteed to bring me to my desk is to re-read some of my favourite writing books. I don’t exactly know why, but there’s something about reading about someone else printing out their finished first draft on fresh, smooth pages and settling down with a coffee and a red pen to read their book… Doesn’t that immediately make you want to do that? To be able to do that? I am also a fan of the ‘The End’ reward, or even incremental rewards (10k word mark, 25k word mark, etc.). How will finishing this draft make your life better? Write the reasons down and stick them within sight of your desk.
  3. Read Rachel Aaron’s From 2k to 10k. You can usually pick up this in ebook for less than the price of a coffee and it’s so worth it. I re-read my copy regularly. Having started out as a blog post that went viral, Aaron outlines how she went from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000 words without increasing the time she spent writing. Now, let’s be clear: I haven’t managed that. But this slim title is so full of great advice that she definitely helped me increase my wordage. One of her top tips is to take five minutes before you start to plan what you’re going to write. Rather than look at the blank screen, I type a really, really rough idea of what I need to write – fragments, not full sentences – and this gives me a way forward.
  4. Eat the frog. As the quote that people think is from Mark Twain but apparently isn’t goes, if it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first. Translation: do your writing first. Do it before you do anything else. Do it before you pick up your phone. Do it before everyone else wakes up and life gets going and distracts you and before you know it, it’s getting dark outside and you’re too tired to do anything except flop down in front of Netflix and resolve to try again tomorrow. Prioritise it. Protect it fiercely. One of the reasons I love writing fast is that I only need to block out a short space of time to neglect everything else in my life, which makes it much easier to do the neglecting (!).
  5. Attempt a 10k day. There’s writers who regularly pull down 10,000 words or more a day – I am in AWE – but for me, it would be a feat akin to running a marathon. It would take a lot of preparation, I’d have to be in the zone and I definitely wouldn’t be doing it on a regular basis. But boosting those little numbers at the bottom of the screen by a whopping 10,000 can be such a major boost to your first draft – and your motivation to finish it. Last year while I was in New York, I managed to write 10k words of The Nothing Man‘s first draft in one day – simply by doing nothing else. I set aside the day for it, made sure I didn’t have to leave the apartment for anything, made sure there’d be no interruptions, told people I was doing it so I’d have accountability and scribbled a plan for the chapters I was going to write. And you know what? It was fun. And it was just the first draft. Why not have a go at it? You could even rope some writer friends into doing it along with you.

Now, I better get back to writing some first draft words! Let’s check in with our diarists…


TANYA

Things are heating up here in Charleston. Not only are the number of Covid-19 cases on the rise but so are the temperatures. Recently, the city passed a resolution requiring people to wear face masks in public places all in an effort to try and stop the spread. With temperatures hovering around 100°F the last few weeks…I would have thought the idea of walking around (with a mask covering your mouth and nose) in the scorching heat would have been enough of a deterrent and motivating factor to stay home. However, judging by the number of tourists milling around the city streets…Clearly I’m mistaken.

In a year where it feels like bad news has been dominating the headlines, and fear and anxiety have been my constant companions, it was nice to take a break and celebrate two joyful events. The first happened a few weeks ago, when my youngest son proposed to his darling girlfriend. I’m thrilled to be getting another daughter-in-law and excited to have something else to focus on and look forward to…a wedding! The second cause for celebration was my sweet granddaughter’s christening. It’s been a nice reminder that even though the world has experienced some dark days, the sun still shines brightly, filling our hearts with love and hope. While bad things happen in life, so too, do the good.

In other news…work on the first draft continues. I have a bulletin board on the wall over my desk with notecards listing the beats from Blake Snyder’s, Save The Cat, pinned to it. They help me stay focused and in addition I have a few other sticky notes on the wall to help inspire and remind me this is the first draft; it’s supposed to be crappy. The quotes staring me in the face as I type this are: “You can’t revise what you haven’t written down.” (Sandra Scofield), “Get it written, not right.” (Stephen Wilbers and Faith Sullivan), and, “You will know more with every page you write.” (Sandra Scofield). I’ve found this last one to be especially relevant this past week.

Until next month…happy writing and stay safe.

LISA

Ah July when did you get here? What on earth happened? How is it suddenly July? I don’t know, I feel like I blinked and time got away from me. Since the beginning of June I’ve back to full time work and that’s been exhausting, distracting and fun, but overall not great for getting writing done. I’ve done lots of planning and reading and thinking about my writing but very little actual writing and as the date to write up my inspiration diary piece approached I felt I haven’t written anything, so I’ve nothing to say but that’s not entirely true.

I’ve been working at carving out time for myself and making sure that my family is aware that my writing work is just as important as my work work. It’s meant some conflict as I’ve had to say no to some things, and of course I’ve felt guilty about that. I know it’s the right thing to do though because I don’t want to end up feeling resentful towards my husband and kids because I didn’t get writing done, I want them to know how much writing means to me and see how much better I feel and how much happier I am when I do get time to write. All I have to do now, is use that time I’ve carved out for actually writing!

AMY

Well, mes amies, it’s the middle of July and it still feels like March to me. The skies are grim, the news is grim, getting a hair appointment is less grim but thankfully my family and I are well and I hope it is the same for you and yours.

Last month I told you all about the Kildare Arts Collective project that I have been working on. It’s strange to work in collaboration during these times but the project is almost complete and the good news is that there will be an exhibition of the work in September for Culture Night. It’s exciting for me, as I’ve never been involved in anything like this. It’s moved me out of my comfort zone which has been a good thing. I’ve discovered forms of poetry that I didn’t know about, and also poets that make me want to read more.

I also mentioned that I was interviewing the characters for a new novel that has been twirling away in my brain. After a few days of probing their lives, after a few conversations with myself while doing chores, I began to write. The funny thing is the voice that has arrived is not the voice I imagined. This woman is sassy, she’s in her late forties and has been around the block. She’s direct, blunt and cynical about relationships and yet still managed to get herself trouble. Initially I was concerned that her voice wasn’t the right tone, but on reflection I think that maybe this is what I need to read, need to hear – a sassy grown woman who has a sense of humour even though the story she’s telling is so dark. Maybe it’s what the world needs to hear. Fingers crossed that I can carry her pizzazz for the whole novel because it’s not easy. I’m managing somewhere between 300 and 500 words a day on this project when I usually write anywhere up to 1,200. But it feels right at the moment, so I’m going to go with my gut and get this first draft down. Novel 4, we got this!

Stay safe and healthy.

Join us next month and each month for more writing advice from Catherine, Carmel and Hazel, and to check in with our scribes! 


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 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… 

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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