Category: Survival Kit

A slowly-growing survival kit of tips and tools for writers. The focus is on staying healthy, emotionally, physically and mentally. Being a writer can be an isolating business, and surprisingly dangerous – Vitamin D deficiency and various muscular-skeletal problems are par for the course. I will discuss my experiences and ways to make sure that you eat well, don’t over-consume chocolate (although I’m not very successful at this), get some exercise, change out of your pyjamas and occasionally even get out of the house. The survival kit posts will also look at ways of coping with the ups and downs of rejection, unexpected hitches with the publishing process, and even the roller coaster of excitement and post-excitement slumps that writers can experience. I have a background in social work so I have been trained in counselling, burn out, stress and other health issues, so I will bring some of this post-writing life knowledge to my posts.

The Introvert Paradox

The Introvert Paradox

When I was a child, I worked out pretty early on that I didn’t relate to the world the way the majority of people did. I didn’t like crowds, or too much noise. While I wanted party invitations so I wouldn’t feel excluded, I didn’t want to actually go. My happy place was at home, reading a book, in the quiet. Big group get-togethers were a nightmare – I much preferred one-on-one conversations. And I wasn’t good at chit chat. I wanted my conversations to be meaningful and authentic. People didn’t seem to want to have discussions at the deep level I wanted. They didn’t seem to notice or think about the same things I did. I felt things ‘too deeply’, strongly affected by what happened to myself and others. People often labelled me shy, but in reality I was highly introverted.

Perhaps if I’d had parents who recognised my fundamental nature and didn’t try to force me to be different, I would have been able to accept who I was. But at home and in the outside world I was constantly told I was ‘too serious’ and ‘too sensitive’. I was often forced into situations that I found deeply uncomfortable. I quickly learned there was something fundamentally wrong with me.

When I went to university I studied social work. I learned I was a very empathic listener, but I hated the role plays that were a big part of my training. Once I started work my sensitivity was valuable in working with people who were at a crisis or low point in their lives. But I would end my workdays completely exhausted, overwhelmed by other people’s emotions. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay in the profession long term as the emotional cost was too high.

The book that made a difference

In 2013 I came across a newly published book, Quiet, by Susan Cain. This book was a revelation for me. It grabbed me from the first blurb, when I read:

‘Sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as undesirable. Introverts feel reproached for being the way they are.’

That was me.

Cain’s book outlines how the brain chemistry of an introvert is different to that of an extrovert. Research shows that sensitivity, the tendency to notice more and to feel and think deeply are all hardwired into the introvert brain (p. 103). Yet society does not reward or even cater to introverts. They often feel like fish out of water. Cain made me realise there is nothing ‘wrong’ with having an introvert brain. (If you want to know more, start with her TED talk – follow the link.)

From the age of eight I wanted to be a writer, and the more I understood my nature, the more I thought this was a job that would suit me. (Which is not to say I chose it for that reason – it chose me really, because I always had stories running around inside my head, and I HAD to let them out, but it helps to find work that suits your personality.) Alongside my sensitivity, I was highly imaginative, and could easily work on my own for long periods of time. At school I was always daydreaming, creating places and characters and stories.

I achieved my dream of being a published author in June 2017. And almost immediately descended into a pit of despair. Because somehow being an author now seems to require a high degree of extroversion.

Extroversion Required

I don’t have a problem with giving talks or being on panels. I have a background in improvised theatre, and as someone who thinks deeply about all sorts of things I have a lot of ideas I can talk about. So I actually love that side of being ‘an author’. What I have a problem with is the regular social media socialising and the requirement to be a marketing person.

Authors are constantly told now that they must have a strong social media presence in order to sell their books. They need to join and actively engage in numerous groups and platforms. The risk is, if you do this just to sell books, you’re not being authentic and you are using the people around you.  Social media can allow for authentic and meaningful engagement. I wouldn’t want to do it otherwise. But that takes time. I run my own editing business and parent two teenagers whilst being an author, so time is in short supply. The more time I spend on social media, the less I have to write or be with my family. And as an introvert, I recharge my batteries through time alone. So social media is a constant weight on my shoulders.

As for marketing, this requires an extrovert approach. You need to be willing to draw attention to yourself and talk up your author ‘brand’ and your books. This might be in person, such as at a market stall, on social media, or through writing copy. And I really, really struggle with this, for a range of reasons, but fundamentally because it’s like asking a fish to climb a tree – it goes against my introvert nature to the point where I feel sick and anxious. I am often torn between the expectation that I do ‘marketing’, and my overwhelming need to run screaming in the other direction. I could do a whole other blog post about the damage that is done to introverts by expecting them to behave like extroverts but I’m already over my word count so I’ll come back to that.

So where is the paradox?

Well, the thing is, I think my introvert nature is an asset to my actual writing. My hypersensitivity – my tendency to notice things others don’t and to think and feel deeply about them – all help me paint my stories with vivid colours. I think these personal characteristics make me a better writer.* But in the last year I’ve spent a lot of time sobbing quietly to myself at the realisation that either I have to actively undertake marketing, the mere thought of which escalates my anxiety to ridiculous levels, or come to terms with the fact that my stories won’t be noticed in a book market that is crowded with authors going ‘look at me!’.

I definitely haven’t found any answers to the paradox. All I know is that some days I can live with the tension between who I am as an author and who I’m supposed to be, and other days I can’t. But if you’re an introvert author, please know you’re not alone. Maybe we can have a deep and meaningful chat in a quiet corner at a writers festival some day soon.


* I am not comparing myself to anyone else here. Just to myself. I am not in any way putting down extroverts or saying I’m in any way better. And there you have a classic example of the introvert tendency to worry about every single thought that comes out of my brain, and whether I’ve upset anyone and… argh!!! Overthinking is definitely an introvert thing.

Finding love on Twitter: an interview with Sarah Elwell

Finding love on Twitter: an interview with Sarah Elwell

Love seems to be in short supply on social media. Fear and hate seem to abound. It can be draining for the soul. Yet now and then a quiet voice whispers of compassion and beauty, offering sanctuary amidst the twittering. One such voice is author Sarah Elwell, whose tweets offer a gentle reminder that love matters, in words of exquisite poetry. Her books and short stories are equally as beautiful and deeply thoughtful, and I am honoured to offer you this interview today.

Sarah Elwell lives quietly at the edge of the world, between a river and the sea. Her books are made of fairytale shadow, old magical songs, and dreams. You can find them and her other writing, including her Heroine’s Journey template, through her website (click to go there). You can find her on twitter: @knittingthewind

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

One of my earliest books was a collection of the Grimm Brothers’ tales, beautifully illustrated by Walter Crane. I lived on the outskirts, surrounded by hills and trees, and I entered more deeply into the Grimm’s stories than the real world beyond those hills. When I was five I was also given a book of Greek legends by Charles Kingsley which sent me into years of obsessive interest in the classic myths and legends. Also, just before my family moved to the suburbs, I was blessed with an old copy of The Land of Far-Beyond by Enid Blyton. It gave me a vision that I used as a kind of waking dream when the suburbs and city tried to dull my spirit. This was more than escapism, it was visiting the other world. I think I turned to writing because it was a way to immerse myself even more deeply in that world. I’m eternally grateful to my parents for providing me with such rich literature as a child so I could develop a robust imagination. 

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

Apart from the very real importance of escapism, I believe people need stories because they all in some way echo the one great Story that tells us we are in this together as one (people, animals, trees, mountains, spirits) and that Life has purpose. The best stories realign us with love. They remind us of our belonging – and our “longing to be”, as Melina Marchetta puts it. They are our shared spirit singing the Songlines to ourselves.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

That’s a hard one to answer because I’m a New Zealander and we’re taught not to talk about ourselves too much lest it come across as boastful. So let me just say writers in general have the ability to listen and look for those Songlines I mentioned before. We tune in to the pace of a heart’s journey, we see the waymarkers along the route, and we find the words that will resonate for other people going the same way. We do this by observing our own hearts and those of people around us – by which I mean, noticing the angle of a friend’s smile, the way two people on the street are looking at each other, a fragment of a sentence someone writes on Twitter, the seasonal hues of the moon. All these little things are like points in a journey. I’ve heard some people describe writers as shamans but I disagree – we don’t travel into a separate spirit world, we stand deeper in this one, we look deeper into it, and we know how to share what we observe so you think we’ve been looking into your own heart.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

The trickster-maker, the tinker-teller, the magician, the wind, Gwydion. He’s an important part of my life and my spirituality. He’s the wild god who is never what he seems to be. He brings change, and it appears to be a trick or a storm at the time, but it’s always done with Love. I am not like him but I do resonate with his energy because as a storyteller it’s my job to bring change to ideas, characters, and readers.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

Longing and love. Almost every story I’ve written explores those intertwining themes. I’m also particularly interested in the relationship between masculine energy and feminine energy – hard power and soft power I guess is a simple way of putting it (each equal to the other). Mythically you could say the king and the wilded woman. Scientifically you could say wave and particle. All those terms are really just ways of describing the relationship between the body and the soul, and ultimately the God and Goddess for those of us who are pagan. I approached it in Deep in the Far Away, but it can be a difficult theme to explore because it’s a gender-political minefield these days. The old myths and fairytales are rich in such stories, and I suspect that’s why I love them as I do.

Tips for First Time Authors

Tips for First Time Authors

With the vast experience (!) of eight months as a published author under my belt, here’s my list of things to make life easier for first time authors. Some of these are hard won knowledge and unspoken secrets that I’m going to share.

Celebrate everything!

Crack open the bubbles or chocolate when you get the email or phone call that says someone wants to publish your book. Wow! Then crack them open again when you get the proofs. It’s real. When you get the box of your books in the mail. How exciting is that! And again when publication day arrives. Congratulations, you have joined the ranks of published authors. And don’t forget to celebrate when you get your first five star review. Having a book published is a great achievement. Having readers who love what you do is fantastic. It’s worth celebrating.

Do NOT compare yourself to other published authors

Remember: life online is curated. What you see and what reality is may be two different things. No one shares their terrible reviews, only their great ones. Photos may have a different story behind them than the one you imagine. Here’s my book, cover out, right near George RR Martin and next to Garth Nix. Prime placement and multiple copies – makes it look like a best seller. I had a couple of authors ask me ‘how on earth did you achieve that?’, as though I had hit some magic jackpot. Partly it was luck – since my surname is Nightingale it fits nicely alphabetically. However, the reality is, right after I snapped the picture, I took a bunch of these books home because they were only on the shelf for a writers festival.

The other thing with comparing yourself is that first time authors – unless they are lucky enough to have a great marketing campaign behind them, which is rare – are never going to receive the same attention as authors who have been around for a while. I’ve been told the rule of thumb is it takes five years (or five books, depending who you talk to) to get noticed. So don’t be discouraged. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Get war stories and tips before signing up for paid promotions

As a first timer, if you’re lucky enough to have a full marketing department behind you, ignore this bit. However, the expectation tends to be that authors will play an active role in their own marketing. And, much like writers festivals and workshops and masterclasses, there is a whole industry around this, ready to take your hard earned royalties. There are so many possibilities, all promising massive increases in attention and sales. And in my experience, and the experience of others, they don’t necessarily achieve a fraction of what they’re promising. So talk to other authors and find out what has worked for them, but remember, different things will work for different books. Part of this side of things is finding the right audience. Readers of fantasy often tend to be different to readers of contemporary fiction. Choose your marketing approaches with this in mind.

Build community

As a writer, you spend a lot of time on your own, inside your head. Many writers have a natural inclination towards introversion so this isn’t necessarily difficult. But when you become an author, you need to engage with the world, promoting your work. This part can be hard. Writers aren’t natural born marketers. I’ve found this side of things is much easier if you have a community of fellow authors who understand what you’re going through, to share support and advice, and to help you out. I’ve had authors share my tweets, expanding my reach way beyond my followers, and I’ve done my best to share others’ posts as well. Surviving as a newbie author is much easier if others have your back, and if you find ways you can help others as well. It can feel isolating and competitive otherwise. There’s plenty of research to show that helping others is a great way to find emotional equilibrium, even to stave off depression, so finding ways to do this is a great antidote to the frustration of being one amongst many authors who are trying to be noticed.

Finally – don’t forget to keep writing

It is SO easy to get caught up in ‘being an author’, worrying about sales and statistics and promotions and what else you could or should be doing. But that’s not why you went into this in the first place is it? You wanted to tell your stories. I know that’s why I went into it. Being a published author is a long term commitment. It’s not just about the next three months, when your book is shiny and new and you need to jump up and down a lot and go ‘look at me!’ If people like your book (and they will!) they’ll want to read the next one. There are characters waiting for some attention, and worlds waiting to be explored and stories jostling for attention. So don’t get so caught up in being an author that you forget to be a writer.  Remind yourself of this on the tough days, and take pleasure in creating when you can.

Living with a Creative Mind

Living with a Creative Mind

Recently I did a workshop called “Living with a Creative Mind”, with Julie and Jeff Crabtree, and I found it really valuable so I thought I’d share a couple of the insights from the day. Julie is a psychologist who has undertaken research into mental health and creativity, and Jeff is a professional musician. Through their work they aim to “help creative people to lead a long and productive creative life while avoiding the pitfalls and the perils” (from their website).

By the way, I’m not getting any sort of payment or benefit from this post – I just want to share what I think are some valuable things to understand about your creative mind.  Sometimes it’s a hard slog. The drive to create can feel like a burden as well as a blessing. These ideas really helped me. I’m only going to touch on two concepts but there were so many great ideas in the workshop it’s definitely worth exploring their work further. For more information I’d recommend you go to their website, try to get along to one of their workshops (they are based in Sydney but they travel) or buy their book.

The Creative Ecosystem of the Mind

I found the term ‘ecosystem’ a bit strange, but it’s basically the ecosystem that exists in the creative mind. However, I love cycles as a conceptual tool. I’ve spent many years using and teaching Action Research, which is a cyclical process. So I found the notion of the Creative Ecosystem, which is cyclical, really easy to grasp. The idea is that there are four stages to the creative process: seeing, thinking, making and curiosity. Like the action research cycle, these can happen in any order, but they are all necessary. I know in my writing a lot of ideas are triggered by asking ‘what if?’ For the Tales of Tarya, it all began when I asked, what if you did enter another world when you took on a character onstage? The seeing part, for me, is when you watch the world, or do research, and take in what you are discovering. Years of doing theatre meant I knew how a show comes together and what it takes to perform. The thinking part is that stage in the process where you tease your ideas out, make links, ask further questions to develop your story. I think this is the hardest part for me. I can feel like I’m trudging through quicksand. Finally, comes the making, the stage we tend to think of as our creative practice. Yet as this cycle shows, this is only one stage in the process.

I think this is very freeing, as it means it’s okay (and in fact vital) not only to spend time on research, but also on daydreaming and questioning and playing with ideas. And watching people! Curiosity is a core part of the process. The cycle also offers a solution to creative blocks. As Julie and Jeff said, if your creativity is not working, you can ask yourself which part of the cycle has fallen down. It also means it’s really important to keep your curiosity engaged – go out and experience new things. A great excuse to travel (not that I need an excuse)!

Nine Aspects of the Mind

Much of the focus of this workshop was looking at the nine core aspects of the mind: sense, focus, emotion, ego, energy, attitude, space, action, and thought. These aspects are based on the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who is best known for his work on flow. Flow occurs when someone is so immersed in what they doing that they achieve a state of energised focus. There’s a great post about what flow means for writers by author Isobel Blackthorn, here (click to follow the link).  You can find out a lot more about the nine aspects of mind on the Crabtree’s website and in their book, but for now the important idea is that each of these is a continuum. For example, the aspect of sense (how we connect to the world through our senses) can be insulated (ie not feeling very much at all, protected from input) or skinless (feeling everything).

What I found revelatory was that creative people tend to live at both ends of the continuum, sometimes swinging between them and sometimes feeling both at the same time. For example, in terms of ego, they can feel incredibly confident, almost arrogant, in their creative abilities, but also feel an incredible level of self-doubt. I’ve recognised these sorts of dualities in myself across the different aspects of mind, and I’ve always felt like I should be trying to find balance and stability. But this workshop pointed out that when you are going through your creative cycle, you need the different extremes at different times in the cycle – you may not want to feel emotionally raw while you’re doing your thinking and planning, but it can be very useful during the making. The solution is to recognise that a creative life is a tidal life, and to accept the tides as part of your creative practice. This is very freeing. Becoming aware of your tides, you can start to recognise what tidal phase you are in, and plan your creative practice to suit.

For me these ideas are really valuable. They take the pressure off – I don’t have to try to be a particular way in order to create. I can recognise where I’m at in terms of my cycles and tides and use that energy. If you’re curious to know more, follow the links in the post to learn more about how to live with your creative mind.




Wander from the Beaten Path in 2018

Wander from the Beaten Path in 2018

Have you made your New Year resolutions yet? If not, I have a suggestion for you. Alongside all the usual ones, can I suggest you wander from the beaten path in your reading habits this year?

I was lucky enough to become a published author in 2017, a dream come true. There were some unforseen side effects as a result, one of which I had never imagined. I discovered I had become part of a family. Odyssey is a small press and to be honest, I hadn’t heard of it until I started exploring publication options beyond the big five mainstream publishers. I had received rejections from all the mainstream publishers I could access (which weren’t many due to their submission policies). So I looked at who else was out there. A fortunate conversation with Tamasine Loves, author of the timeslip novel Remhurst Manor (Made Global Publishing) led me to discover Odyssey.

I loved what I saw on their website – the tagline ‘where books are an adventure’, caught my attention immediately. Their submission page begins with ‘we love stories’. Since my central character, Mina, becomes an accomplished story teller, this felt like a perfect fit. And it’s been wonderful being with a small press. Harlequin’s Riddle has beautiful production values. I’m proud that it sits alongside many amazing books on the Odyssey list.

The only frustration I have is that not enough people know about Odyssey and their authors. This is not just an issue for Odyssey though – it’s a problem for any smaller publisher or independent author. Marketing costs money, but that’s not all – many bookshops are very conservative in what they will place on their shelves (and according to some blog posts there may be financial incentives for certain books to be given more exposure). I’ve had some wonderful responses from booksellers when I ask if they can stock my book, but others have been less than receptive. Big publishers have easy distribution channels. They have large marketing budgets and interest from mainstream media. But that doesn’t mean their books are necessarily any better.

Does marketing prove a book is good?

I was in a chain bookstore recently and I realised that I was struggling to find anything that wasn’t by a ‘name’ author. We’ve moved into an age where everything’s worth is related to its potential to make money, not its literary merit or being a damn good book. It strikes me as a catch-22 situation. Certain books are hyped as ‘the next big thing’ and they sell really well. But are they selling because they are good, or because they are being given a lot of attention? You may think these books rise to the top because they are the best out there, to which I could respond with certain inevitable examples of terrible books that have sold enormously. But I don’t need to name names- just go to any op shop (thrift store) and you will find them in large quantities. You know which books I mean.

For some big publishers, the marketing department is influential in deciding which authors will be offered a contract. The decision then becomes ‘will it sell?’ instead of ‘is it a great book?’ The beaten path is safe, but it can begin to look ‘same-y’ after a while. Small presses take more risks. They value good writing and great stories. They champion unknown writers. They champion books that are a little different.

So be brave…

Since it’s the end of 2018, I’ve seen a number of people posting ‘books I read in 2017’ lists, and I’ve been dismayed at how mainstream their reading choices are. Few lists have had books on them that I haven’t seen marketed to death. This dismays me because there are wonderful books that are languishing simply because people don’t know about them. So in 2018, I encourage you to leave the beaten path. Explore the websites of small presses and splash out on a book from an unknown author. When you find books you love, tell people about them. Give great writers who aren’t with the big publishers a chance for recognition and a future where they get to keep writing books.

Some great Aussie small presses include: Odyssey Books, Christmas Press Picture Books, Eagle BooksCSFG, Clan Destine Press and IFWG Publishing Australia.

There are some fabulous books at Made Global Publishing (UK) too.

Stories can be the key to recovery from writer’s block

Stories can be the key to recovery from writer’s block

I wrote a while back about having writer’s block and not realising I did. It’s often hard to see what’s going on when you’re in the middle of it. Things are definitely better now. My first book is coming out in four weeks. A children’s story is going to be in an anthology by Christmas Press. I have appearances lined up at Continuum, the Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference and the Bendigo Writers Festival. Best of all, I have many ideas for stories.

A year ago I wasn’t feeling so optimistic. I used the word ‘burnout’ a lot. Someone else looking at it might have called it writer’s block. I didn’t feel like writing. The ideas weren’t there. Partly this was probably an inevitable result of completing a PhD – 4 years of stress and pressure leave you feeling pretty drained.  Most of my fellow students had some kind of emotional, physical or mental crash at the end of the process.

The other issue, though, was that I felt my stories didn’t matter. In my thesis I had argued for the importance of stories in changing how we see and respond to the world, and particularly climate change. One of my examiners completely ridiculed my ideas. I had also written a young adult novel as part of the PhD. This examiner’s entire response to the novel was ‘this novel is of PhD standard’. That was it. Seventy thousand words, years of my life, went into that manuscript, and all he wrote was one sentence, whilst simultaneously spending page after page ripping apart the arguments in the academic component. I was shattered.

It took me a long time to hit upon the solution. I nearly gave up writing altogether. But in the Princess Bride, when things look darkest, the Spaniard, Inigo Montoya, goes back to the beginning. So I did too. I asked myself why I started writing in the first place. The answer lay in the wonderful books that I’d read in primary school, and the incredible authors who had transported me to other worlds. No matter what some jaded academic said, I knew stories matter. They made a difference to me as a child. So I used the healing power of stories to restore my wonder and to reawaken my creative imagination. I visited old friends, like Susan Cooper‘s Dark is Rising series and everything by Diana Wynne Jones. I made new friends, like Derek Landy’s brilliant Skulduggery Pleasant series.

When you spend a lot of time studying writing and talking with writers, stories can lose their magic. And they shouldn’t. Stories can transform. By approaching stories with the openness and wonder of a new reader, I found a way to heal and restore myself. And stories re-entered my life.


How can you tell if your writers group is toxic?

How can you tell if your writers group is toxic?

For writers, getting feedback is a valuable way of improving what we do. There are different ways to do this. One popular method for novels is to have beta-readers. This is great for checking consistency, readability, plot holes and anything that seems problematical. It’s probably less useful for developing your skills as a writer. Writer’s groups can be great for this though. It can be a case of the sum being greater than the parts. When you get several people together, they will tend to notice different things and have a range of skills that you can learn from to you extend your own.  However, sometimes writers groups can be toxic, by which I mean they can cause damage to one or more of the members. But how can you tell?

Well, first up, how do you feel when you go home? If the answer is ‘great’, then it’s probably not a toxic group. If you go home feeling inspired, energised and ready to get on with some hardcore editing, pat yourself on the back for finding a great group. However, if the answer is ‘ripped to shreds’ or ‘oh, what was I thinking, I’ll never be a writer’, take it from me, that’s a little clue. Likewise, if you dread going, also a sign. If the group session leaves you feeling just a bit icky, continue reading.

Warning Signs of a Toxic Writers Group

Is one of the group games ‘Trash that writer’?

Ok, writers aren’t as bad as actors, but they aren’t lacking in bitchiness when it comes to talking about best-selling authors who appear to be lacking talent, editors or the ability to write a convincing sex scene. Nor are they short on opinions when some great writerly sage (read, writing celebrity) makes huge pronouncements that might just be a little stupid. However, there’s a difference between analytical criticism, which can improve writing skills, and plain old putting the boots in. Especially if the writer is someone people in the group may know. If your instincts are telling you the discussion has tipped over from analysis to envious, it probably has.

Do people in the group play the Monty Python game?

You know the one I mean – ‘well, I used to sleep in shoebox in middle t’road’. ‘Shoebox? You had a shoebox..?!’ If you have achieved something, does someone pull out the tattered memory of their last achievement rather than congratulating you? Whether it’s an up or a down comparison, the effect is still the same – to draw attention away from you and back to them. They may compare your successful funding grant application to the time their grandmother predicted their gift book on chihuahuas in bow ties would be a best seller (hang on, it probably would – give me a minute while I write that in my ideas book…), or they may talk about how your shortlisting for an award reminds them of the time they won first prize in various prestigious literary competitions. A good group is one that allows everyone their chance to shine.

Is everyone expected to play ‘oh great guru’?

Does the group exist to prop up the ego of one person? Do people wait to see what this person’s opinion is before putting forward their own? Does all conversation stop when this person opens their mouth? Sometimes it’s not quite that obvious – sometimes it can be a tug of war where that person believes in their guru-ness a little more than others, but it still makes for a difficult group dynamic. Every member of the group should be equally valued for their contributions and writing ability.

A final word…

Writers groups can be really valuable, if they are supportive and nurturing. Basically, trust your instinct. It can take a few tries to find a group that really gels, and where you can feel safe. Good writing requires a baring of the soul. When you find a group where you can comfortably do that, you will thrive.

* Note to the pedantic – the missing apostrophe is deliberate – it is a group OF writers, not a group belonging to writers!

Be a writing angel, not a demon

Be a writing angel, not a demon

Writers have plenty of demons. They constantly battle the demon of self-doubt. At night they try not to listen to the demon of unfinished projects. Sitting at their computer they try to ignore the more prosaic demon of social media. There are many voices whispering in a writer’s head, sabotaging their efforts. Niggling away at them. They honestly don’t need more. What they need are writing angels, voices that will lift them up and encourage them. With this post I’m hoping to convince you to be an angel to other writers, not a demon.

A Writers’ Mindset Matters

Writers can be exceptionally good at empathy – you have to be to put yourself into the heart and mind of any character that you create. Yet all too often there seems to be a sense of ‘scarcity’, as though providing any level of support to another writer will somehow take away from your chances of getting published or being successful. This mindset can make writers suspicious or jealous of each other, which can then manifest in criticism that is more about their own insecurities.

Even worse, such criticism can take the guise of ‘friendly fire’ – ‘I’m doing this to help you’. I’ve seen and heard of this again and again in writers’ groups.  Writers should feel safe to share their writing babies. These groups can be a great way to develop your skills, but they’re not all constructive. I’ll come back to this in another post. For the moment, my point is, writers that come from this kind of mindset don’t tend to uplift their fellow writers.

Then there are the writers who are self-important or self-absorbed, and the ones who have given up, are bitter about it, and take it out on others. There are a lot of reasons why writers might be less than supportive of others. However, the good news is there are a lot of wonderful writers out there who genuinely hold their fellow writers in high regard. Who support them through kind words, through celebrating their successes with them, through buying and reviewing their books. Small acts of kindness. Larger acts of mentorship. Providing thoughtful, caring, constructive feedback on the writing if they are in a position to do so. Because they know what it is like – how hard it is to expose your writing jugular to others. How much of your soul you have put into it.

Sometimes You Meet a Writing Angel

Over the course of years as a writer, I’ve met all types of writers – the bitter, the self-absorbed, the supportive. But I think I’ve only ever met one genuine, fully fledged writing angel. That’s not to put down many of the other wonderfully supportive, caring writers out there.  But there is one writer that I have been incredibly lucky to meet. She is of the opinion that the writing world is big enough for everyone. She is generous of spirit and has the biggest heart of anyone I know. She informally mentors and supports writers of all ages and stages, from absolute beginners to those who have several books under their belt. She shares her knowledge of the industry, she gives her time to read others’ work and she always, always remembers that someone’s book baby is precious, giving feedback in a careful and caring way.

For me, this is the kind of writer I’d like to become.  We all have enough demons sitting on our shoulders, whispering to us as we plot our novels and write our words and create our worlds. We need more angels, standing on our other side, telling us that we can do it – that our writing is worth something.


Are you the boss of social media or is it the boss of you?

Are you the boss of social media or is it the boss of you?

Once upon a time, when a group of writers got together, they would talk about their WIPs (works in progress), or the difficulties with their publisher/not having a publisher, or how good the coffee was. Nowadays, apparently inevitably, the conversation always seems to end up on social media. What’s the best one? What gets the best sales? How do you manage having so many different ones? How often should you blog? And so on.

In the discussions I’ve had with various writers, many feel social media is necessary but a pain. Necessary, because we all want to be noticed in the sea of writers out there. A pain, because they’d rather be writing. As far as I can see, that means there are two challenges to social media:

  1. how to get noticed
  2. how not to give your life over to it

There are lots of posts and training courses out there offering advice on point 1, so I’m not going to answer those questions. Instead I’m going to look at:

How NOT to get stuck on the social media roundabout.

First of all – keep in mind the WHY, not just the HOW. Why are you on social media? It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in all those questions I mentioned, like finding the best platform, how often to post, trying to turn posts into sales etc. Yes, we need to be able to be found, but the reaso

n for that is because we want people to read our writing. If you keep this in mind, it will help you stay motivated to keep your writing as your number one priority, and to make social media a lower priority. Of course, if your aim is to be a social media personality, not a writer, then you can stop reading this post right now.

Next, take an honest look at time versus outcome.  How many sales do you actually get from spending hours on Twitter? How many of your followers are actually buying your books? Each platform has ways you can measure this, such as ‘click throughs’ and other analytics. Work out how to use these! It’s nice to get warm, fuzzy feelings from having lots of followers, but if this isn’t translating into genuine interest in your books then either you’re wasting your time, or you might need a different message. This may mean tweaking what you post, or it may actually mean focusing your energy elsewhere.

Also, find a time management tool that works for you. I use an ap called Writeometer to focus on my writing without distraction. It turns my phone into a timer for 25 minutes. If I try to exit to check social media it asks me sternly if I really need to break my writing time. There are other aps that will lock your access to social media for a set amount of time. Look, social media is addictive. It’s designed to be that way. Which is one of the reasons writers feel it is a pain – because they know it takes away from writing time but they can’t always help themselves. At the end of your life, do you want your Wikipedia entry to have 12 books on it, or 5? Is it worth sacrificing all those unwritten novels to flick through funny cat pictures? Seriously? So if you’re addicted to scrolling, don’t be ashamed to use electronic tools to help break the cycle!

Finally, and most importantly, write good books, or, as Neil Gaiman says, ‘make good art’. There is no magic formula for getting noticed – some of it is luck, some of it is perserverance, but some of it is being good at what you do. You may spend ten hours a week crafting a huge social media presence, but if your writing doesn’t sing, if your story doesn’t excite, you won’t sell books. Ok, I can think of a couple of exceptions to this (terribly written books that have sold very well) but bestselling authors are usually at the top because they are VERY good at what they do, which is write compelling books.

While you’re sitting on the social media roundabout, spinning endlessly, you could be improving your writing craft. You could be catching the fireflies of inspiration, listening to the whispers of stories waiting to be told, crafting characters that want to be in the world. Thanks for reading. Now go write!


Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

Full disclosure: I am not a marketing expert. I’m a writer. I do live with a computer geek, which gives me a few insights. But mostly I respond to social media as a participant. This is not going to be one of the billion posts about how to maximise your social media. It’s a post about what to avoid doing, particularly if you’re new to the whole ‘self-branding’ thing. Social media mistakes can cause all sorts of unexpected problems.

First, an anecdote. Once there was a writer (not me, a friend!) who wanted to get her book accepted by a publisher. She had been told by others (but not me) that the way to do this was to have a strong social media profile. The word around the traps was that Stephanie Meyer and the 50 Shades of Grey author (does anyone remember her name?) had been picked up by mainstream publishers because of their social media profiles. Ipso facto, to be picked up by a publisher you need to be huge on social media.

So in order to shine a light on herself, this writer (still not me) put a fair bit of money into building a website, getting a Facebook author page, jumping into Twitter and exploring other social media platforms. She got active chatting in groups, she did various ‘launches’ of her presence, she generally tried to be noticed. And in the process, she swiftly built up a reputation.

Unfortunately, it was exactly the wrong kind of reputation. People started telling each other that she was someone to be avoided. Her name began to have negative associations, including with publishers that she tried to friend online. At the same time, she was being exploited by those who make income out of aspiring authors, paying a lot of money for, at times, dubious results. Her social media presence was working against her, rather than for her.

What went wrong? Here are some of the things I think might have helped.

  1. Learn the etiquette of social media. Just like in real life, there are certain things that people disapprove of online. Extremely personal disclosures in very public groups, controversial comments for the sake of being noticed, appearing extremely judgemental – these are all things to be avoided. I’ll talk about crafting a profile in my next social media post, but the rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t stand in Bourke St mall and shout it, it’s not appropriate for social media, where what you say can be heard by just as many strangers – and will stay around long after you’ve jumped on the tram! Be particularly careful with the ‘extremely judgemental’ one. Read your comments through before posting – can they be misinterpreted in a way you didn’t intend?
  2. Learn the etiquette of groups. If you are part of a group on social media, it will often set out its rules on a ‘pinned’ post or sidebar. Read these and follow them. If you don’t, you may be shouted down or even kicked off.
  3. Don’t friend spam. Nobody likes to feel like they are being used. If you make friends with people solely to promote your book to them, they’re going to see right through it. Just because someone is online, doesn’t mean their brain has been eaten by zombies. I know it can seem like it from some of the comments, but most people are still just as intelligent as they are in real life.
  4. Don’t friend spam other people’s friends! Don’t go through your friends’ ‘friend’ lists and contact all those people asking them to be your friend. A lot of people have a policy of only accepting requests from people they know, so will delete random requests. Others will accept them once they’ve looked at the profile, but if they see that your profile is all about ‘being an author’ they will know you’re wanting to friend them for promotional purposes. Also, you may well upset the people who ARE your friends by contacting all their friends – it can make them look complicit.
  5. Be mutually supportive. If you say you’re going to follow a writer friend, don’t forget to do it. Then put them on your ‘white list’ or your ‘definitely need to keep following this person’ list so you don’t accidentally end the connection. Then retweet or like their posts and engage in friendly online dialogue – don’t just tick them off as a ‘like’ and forget about them. Better still, buy their book and review it. They’re more likely to return the favour if they feel there is a genuine, supportive connection between you.
  6. Remember who your followers are. If Facebook is mostly friends and family, don’t put endless posts publicising your books. If Twitter is mostly fans or fellow writers, tweet about writing or book events, but don’t tell them about your underwear. Make sure your content fits your audience.

It’s a big scary social media world out there, but like any new arena in life, you can spend some time doing research. See how others behave. Talk to friends. Read various blogs and information sites to see how different social media platforms are used. It’s difficult to fix things if you’ve created a bad impression so it’s worth spending the time to get it avoid costly social media mistakes.