Unsticking My Story

During the summer, I started writing a new YA (young adult) novel. The idea came suddenly, and the first 8000 words came flowing out. But then they stopped. I sat looking at my screen, not knowing what to write next. How had my story, that had spilled out of me like monsoon rain, suddenly gotten stuck?

The idea for the story had come organically, and I had begun writing it with no plan. I had written the opening chapters with plenty of feeling, but with very little thought. Once the initial excitement blew over, I was left with empty pages and no idea how to progress.

The problem with losing confidence in one piece of writing, is that the lack of confidence spreads. I was afraid to write anything, in case I would find myself stuck again.

I needed to unstick my story. So I followed a few steps, to get my confidence back.

1) Rewind

Firstly, I went to the beginning of my novel and read what I’d written. I questioned myself, at what point did the story stop working? I went back to the last point that the story worked, and restarted from there.

2) Why did it start to fail?

I considered what had made the story begin to fail? Had I filled my chapters with back story instead of action? Had I forgotten to include any conflict? Did I lose sight of the character’s motivations? By becoming aware of what not to write, it helped me see what my story needed to stay interesting.

3) Alternative story lines

I considered alternative story lines. I made a chart of different routes the story could take, and then decided which way appealed to me the most.

4) Character Study

When I really couldn’t see what I wanted to happen next, I took time out from the story and made a number of character studies. This included making a character sheet for the main characters, learning their fears, their experiences and their goals etc. When I had a clear image of my characters, their natural motivations guided the story.

5) Take a Break

It’s often when I stop thinking of how to the solve a plot problem, that the ideas start to flow. I find going for a walk, or doing something physical, helps to shift my focus from my mind. Releasing the pressure on my creative mind gives it room to breathe.

6) Talk About It

I am lucky to have some super writer-friends, and to attend a brilliant writing class a few times a year. When I get stuck, I look to them for motivation, for problem solving inspiration; even for opinions on my plot. This helps enormously.

7) Find Inspiration

I used to wait around, believing that divine plot inspiration would shine upon me. But this is not a good plan, because it doesn’t work. I accepted that I have to find my own inspiration. Creativity needs to be fed, and sitting a room with no art, no beauty, no nature, is not the way to feed it. So I went out, I read, I made a conscious effort to stimulate my desire to create.

8) Day Off

I occasionally need to take a day, or two, or a week, off writing. This helps reduce the pressure I put on my writing. It also gives my brain a wash out so it’s ready to start again. And rather than dreading sitting down to write after my day off, I often find myself refreshed with motivation. It also helps me begin again with fresh eyes and a fresh head.

So now I’m back on track, and the words are flowing again. I have a clearer direction, a better understanding of my characters and I know what I want to achieve with this book. I took the pressure off myself and gave myself a break, and found my motivation again. And once the words started flowing, my confidence was rebuilt. Believing that I can write this novel, is the most important step to reaching those precious words, ‘The End’.

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Dealing With Dialogue

One of the hardest things for me to write is dialogue. Too often my dialogue comes out clunky, unrealistic, boring or lacking a purpose to the overall story. As a result, it’s the dialogue that requires the most work when I edit.

So I started thinking, how can I change this? How can I improve my fictional conversations so I don’t break out in a sweat every time my characters need to talk to one another.

And here is what I did.

1) Learn to Listen

When I started to listen, really listen, to other people’s conversations, I was surprised by how differently people spoke, compared to how I thought they spoke. Eavesdropping is part of being a writer, as it opens your ears to words, voices, and human interaction. Studying how conversation flows, helps me get across what I want my characters to say in a more realistic way.

2) Turn a Scene into a Script

If I’m struggling to make the dialogue in a scene work, I sometimes turn the scene into a play script. I basically turn the whole chapter into a conversation. I then highlight the main lines that get across what I want, before I re-insert all the description, action etc.

3) Read Great Dialogue

I often know that a book is wonderful, when I realise that I was so carried away by the story that I forgot to study how it was written. I think this is particularly true with dialogue, as it is such an important part of learning who the characters are. When I finish a book and can’t remember why the dialogue worked, I know that the dialogue must have been so well written that it fused perfectly into the story. Then I know I need to go back and study it.

4) Read Bad Dialogue

When I read a piece of dialogue that jars and sounds unrealistic, I pause and consider what it is that makes it fail. A big step in learning what does work, is learning what doesn’t work.

5) Rewind to a Piece of Dialogue That Did Work

If I can’t make the dialogue in a scene work, I often rewind and find a chapter that I know it did work in. As I read it, I let myself get into the voice of the character again, which helps me to write the new conversation with that character’s way of thinking and talking fresh in my head.

6) Study Dialogue in Other Art Forms.

Sometimes I need a break from dialogue in books, and seek out other forms of inspiration. I’ve often been struck by scenes of T.V. programmes where the dialogue is so good that I go back to listen to it again. There are times I suddenly became aware that someone somewhere wrote the script, and I think wow, how did they write such a perfect conversation? I listen to radio interviews, radio plays, go to the theatre; all excellent ways of studying dialogue; what sounds real and what sounds fake.

7) Ask Yourself: Does Your Dialogue Fit the Time the Story is Set?

It’s important to be aware of the correct conversation for the time or genre of your book. Phrases do go out of date. I watch a lot of period dramas and have a fondness for old-fashioned and classic books. And although I write in the modern day, I often find myself editing out Enid Blighton type phrases. It sometimes takes an outside eye to spot this in your writing.

8) Get to Know Your Characters

It is much harder to write dialogue when you don’t yet know your characters. It took me awhile to realise this, and now I tend to go easy on myself on a first draft, and even a second draft. Once I know my character inside out, I find the dialogue comes naturally as I can hear their voice clearly. If I’m struggling with the dialogue of a secondary character, it often helps to write a character sheet on them, or even a quick short scene or story about them in first person, so I can get into their head.

9) Age-Appropriate Conversation

It is naturally easier for me to write a conversation between two women in their thirties than two nine year old boys (as I don’t know any 9 year old boys), or a group of teenager girls (as I haven’t been a teenage girl for quite a long time). Adult phrases can sneakily creep into dialogue between children, but it doesn’t belong. It is therefore essential to question whether the conversation is realistic for the age group having it.

 

All in all, the more I write, the better I get at dialogue. Practise is key. I once spent one month writing a play just to force myself to write conversation. I had no aspirations for the play, it was simply an exercise to train myself. It was difficult at the time, but when I then switched back to the novel, I found it so much easier to write the dialogue. The time between novel drafts, when it’s hiding in a drawer, is the perfect time to train up your skills, and hone in on your weakest areas. Your next draft will thank you for it.

Make Every Word Count

When I began writing, I used to plough through drafts like a bulldozer, more obsessed with the word count than the quality of writing. Draft after draft, I’d rush to meet 1000 words a day, whether the words were good, bad or ugly. Now that I’ve calmed down about getting the novel finished, submitted and published (because what is the ACTUAL rush?), I’ve changed the way I write. This came from hearing many writers say “Make every word count”. It took me at least 2 years of writing to finally start listening to this advice, and here’s how I’m doing it:

Stick To The Story

One of the biggest writing sins I was guilty of, was going off in a tangent that had no relevance to the story. No matter how beautiful or funny your writing is, if you forget about the story, you will lose readers. I didn’t notice this problem in my own work at first; someone else had to point it out to me. But now that I know it, I stick to a story plan. If a chapter has no relevance and is not necessary to the rest of the story, then it has to go. No matter how beautifully it’s written.

Play With Poetry:

I started to write and read poems. This got me thinking about words in a new way. I started listening to their sounds, and experimenting with sentences. I let myself loose to play with words, and to trust my ability to get across my message without being blunt and over-obvious. This helped me bring out the beauty in a sentence, or the humour in a twisted phrase. Poems by the their nature are short, which meant I had to cut out waffle and too much description, and taught me how to get to the point in a neater, nicer fashion.

Study Other People’s Sentences:

I slowed down my reading. This helped me step back from the story, and allowed me to concentrate on what I liked in other people’s writing, and what I didn’t like. As I read, I ask myself, what makes a sentence bounce off the page and into my memory, and what makes it sink into the slush of ugly or over-used phrases?

Recognise Repetition

Becoming aware of words I used repeatedly, helped me think outside the box. This wasn’t easy, and I occassionally have to ask other people to read my work to spot my repetitive words. I also started looking out for words that other writers use repeatedly. Some obvious words and phrases I spotted again and again in other people’s work were ‘suddenly’, ‘my heart thumped’ , and ‘Oh my God’. The less obvious ones were ‘ochre’, ‘sepia’, and variations of the moon like a ‘torch in the sky’. If you don’t recognise repetition, you can’t avoid using it.

Originality

When you keep reading the same old metaphors and similes, you start to skim over them, and they might as well not be there. There is nothing as smile-inducing as reading a book and finding original metaphors. Discovering a new way to express a feeling or a vision is one of my favourite parts of writing, and if I achieve only 10 words in a day, but I know they’re absolutely original, then that’s a happy day for me.

First-draft Freedom

If I tried to make every word count from the beginning of my first draft, I’d never ever finish it. You have to pick your time to polish. I recently read an article by Ciara O’Connor, who concluded that when you stop trying to make your writing perfect, that’s when you find your flow. And I totally agree. I need to get my initial story down in a stream of consciousness, and then I can shape it. Just like a sculptor can’t start their work without a sizeable lump of clay. This might be two or three drafts in, once I know the story outline and the characters, and where I’m going with it. Only then can I start filtering the sentences until all the words left need to be there.

The longer I write, the better I get at making every word count. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a stage where everything I write is perfect. Does anyone? Have I ever read anything 100% perfect? Probably not. Art doesn’t have to be perfect to be lovely. Once I’ve got a piece of writing to the best I can get it, I recall my mantra “Art is never finished, only abandoned” (Da Vinci) and then I move on with the hope that even more words will count in my next piece.

Writing as a full-time parent

(This article was first published on writing.ie)

This time last year I gave up my job to mind my kids full time. I had a pensionable permanent (and rather manic) nursing job; a job for life. People frowned at me, groaned at me, quivered as they experienced the spine shivers that I didn’t. People that knew me and my kids properly, patted me on the back and told me I was making the right decision. A large and very excited part of me thought, naïvely, that I’d have more time and freedom to write. And while I do have more time in the vicinity of my laptop, that doesn’t mean that I write more. Finding the time to write is now more challenging than ever.

I used to write in the evening, when the kids went to bed. But minding young kids all day leaves me mentally exhausted (let’s face it, conversations aren’t always stimulating with a three year old). By evening, all I want to do is curl up on the sofa with a book or the T.V, with no demands on me. When I worked 13 hour shifts, I often came home physically exhausted, but mentally fuelled with stories and interaction. I wrote every night, no matter how tired. Now I get up early to write, which is often impossible if the kids have been unwell or awake in the night, and my eyes hang from my head like someone snapped their strings.

I also try and snatch moments; ten minutes here, ten minutes there. I don’t allow myself get into episodes of extreme flow around my children, because it’s not fair on myself or the child that receives the blunt edge of my frustration when they interrupt me. Why would I create a situation that I know will lead me to fail, and get angry at myself and the kids? Young children have endless and constant needs, and they are my priority, no matter what.

But that doesn’t mean I must neglect my love affair with words and stories. In the stolen ten minute bursts, I have endless options. I can write a character sheet. A thought process. I draw graphs and charts, blasting out ideas of what might happen. I figure out plot problems in the shower. I string words together in the woods behind the house, while I walk the dog. I read articles, research my topic. I think, what would my character do in this situation? Would she like this dinner that I’m cooking? Keeping my writing at the forefront of my mind, makes my day run smoother. It also means that I know where to pick up the next time I get a solid chunk of un-interrupted writing time.

An unexpected issue that cropped up when I stopped working, was the lack of ideas. I didn’t realise how many ideas I got from working. Ideas and stories come from real life. From getting out there and interacting; from listening, seeing and feeling. Not from doing dishes, school runs and arguing over homework. I found that the routine of mundane tasks stifled my thoughts, and dampened my ideas. Particularly in winter, where I tend to spend weeks on end stuck indoors with asthmatic children. So 5 months after quitting work, I took on another small job; one or two shifts a month in a local nursing home. It gave me the small break I needed from the house. It’s often when I stop trying to think of ideas, that I get ideas. And there are few places better than a room full of people with a whole life behind them, to find stories.

I stopped waiting for inspiration to come to me, and started looking for it myself. I gave up the notion that a writer’s mind should brim with constant stories and perfect sentences. I refused to let myself feel like a failure because I didn’t always know what to write next, and instead I thought methodically about how to create ideas. Between reading, nature, film, the internet, people, art, I started finding creative beauty hiding all around me. I just had to learn how to find it, and trust that the days I don’t find it do pass.

The biggest challenge for me, as a writer and parent, is editing. While I have learnt to write surrounded by people and bustle, I still need silence to edit. I need to allow myself get completely absorbed to see the flaws. So I plan when to edit. I ask for help. I tell people how important it is to me, and I lock the door. I am strict with myself, and I am disciplined. But having children means that even if I do plan time to edit, I can’t always carry out that plan. One gets sick. One gets frightened. One hurts themselves. One needs me.

So I try, and try again, not to chastise myself if life gets in the way, and the story takes longer than I wanted. You need endless patience to be a writer; most of all with yourself.

Right now, I write this final paragraph with my daughter serving me a tea party. I drink from imaginary cups and type words in between sips. And look, I’ve got to the end of the article despite the lack of real tea. In a minute I’ll shut my laptop, so I can be fully present with my child, my priority. Tonight, when they sleep, or tomorrow morning if I’m too tired tonight, I’ll edit it in silence.

Squashing the Guilt

Last month was the first month in 2 years, that I didn’t manage to get a blog piece out. As soon as May passed, guilt covered me like prickly sunburn, that I hadn’t succeeded in this monthly self-set goal. But then I started thinking, why do I let myself suffer guilt over my writing? I know I’m not the only writer who struggles with this. It’s so easy to feel like you’re not doing enough. That you should be able to write not only your novel, but also enter short story competitions, and write poetry and weekly blogs. Twitter doesn’t help. Watching other people post their successes, competition winnings, reach word counts in the thousands, while you struggle to find time for a few hundred, or even ten. Life happens, obstacles land in our way, and it’s not always our choice. I have dead-lines, but I set them myself. I’ve no agent, no publisher. Not yet. I am at the freest part of my writing career (yes, I do believe it will be a career, with my smug self-belief) with no one to answer to other than myself. So why do I hold myself to such high standards?

I am someone who has always suffered from guilt. I can feel guilty a number of times a day, sometimes almost to crippling degrees. The rational part of me knows that there’s not always a need for this guilt, that it’s usually a wasted emotion because I’m not actually a bad person. I feel guilty that I don’t do enough for my young children, when in fact I gave up my permanent nursing job to love and care for them full-time. I feel guilty that I don’t do enough for my marriage, when the time I spend with my husband always involves a lot of laughter. When I work the odd shift in a nursing home, I’m guilty that I’m not at home minding my family. When I’m at home all the time, I’m guilty that I’m not setting my daughters a feminist example of a mother who also works. And in the last 2 years, writing has jumped onto my list of things to be guilty about.

But why should it? I started writing as a way to stop thinking about my real life worries. A big bay window into escapism. I never expected to fall so in love with it, that it moved the goal posts of my life to a whole new field (more like a meadow with a lot of uncut grass and brambles in the way). Like any goal, it brings a whole list of worries and new things to be guilty about. If I over-sleep the odd morning, I wake with niggling self-disapproval that I missed today’s hour of writing time. If I go on a rare night away, my stomach balls itself up until I find the time to write on my romantic getaway.

I’ve been to many writing festivals and panels, and I’ve heard all about how important a writing routine is. I agree. I made my writing routine, and I love it. I love that time alone in the morning before the world is up, and the weather is merely hinting at the day ahead. I love the sense of achievement I get when I finish a Chapter, or come up with a new metaphor after days mulling it over. Outside my routine, I love snatching ten minutes in an unexpectedly calm part of the day, to scribble a few lines. Or the immense satisfaction that comes with three solid hours of work on the train to Dublin for events.

Last month I failed to write a blog post, but I achieved a serious and time-consuming editing over-haul of my novel. My children needed my time more than usual, for reasons I’m not going to go into, but suffice to say, my role as a mother will always come first. I barely had time to read, but I grabbed minutes here and there, because a week without reading to a writer, is like having a shower and realising you’ve plenty of Conditioner, but no Shampoo. I didn’t achieve every writing task I planned to, but I achieved more in other areas of my life that needed it. Sometimes you have to balance the rest of your life, and close your ears to the guilt trying to sink you.

So I’m going to stop beating myself up on the days I fail to write. I’m going to enjoy my days off when there’s a good enough reason to take a day off, like a holiday, or the promise of breakfast in bed, or a migraine (it’s true, I have tried to force myself to write with a migraine, thinking that one little sentence is better than none). If I need time off, that’s okay. If life gets in the way, I’ll be patient and start building my ladder. Hell no, I’ll build a climbing frame; it’s more fun. Nothing kills a passion faster than turning it into a chore. Writing should be a beloved pendant over your heart, and not a chain around your ankles.

Writing Fantasy: My 7 Tips

I’ve tried my hand at many genres, and found that nothing brings the same belly-tingling excitement as writing Fantasy. But it also brings challenges that other genres don’t. I find it the hardest genre to write as a result. I won’t claim to be an expert, and bear in mind I’m not published. But I did write a Fantasy novel, followed by a sequel, for kids aged approx 7-11. I’ve also read many children’s Fantasy novels. And I’ve certainly learnt a few things a long the way.

1: World building

There are no rules in Fantasy: your imagination can run wild, creating worlds of magic and turning people into beings that contradict nature. But the world you create can turn into a trap. What suits the story at the beginning, might make no sense in your world at the end. Or worse, in the sequel. And at the sequel level, it’s too late to go back and change the first book (unless it’s not published, but that sounds like an editing nightmare). It’s also hard to remember every detail of your Fantasy world, so take notes as you go, and make sure each idea consistently makes sense. When editing, ask people to explain your world back to you and make sure it matches what you tried to get across in your writing.

2: Believability

I don’t read adult Fantasy novels, but I love children’s’ Fantasy. But I lose interest in a novel if the story becomes too unbelievable even for the world it’s built in. It’s tempting when writing Fantasy to curve the story to suit yourself. If your character needs a sword, why not let one magically appear in a tree? You make the rules in your fantasy world, so you can do whatever you want. Right? Wrong. It may be convenient, but it’s lazy writing. The reader won’t believe it, unless you give a very good reason for the sword to appear in the tree. Don’t use plot devices to the detriment of the story. That’s what your imagination is for.

On the subject of believability, readers quickly tire of characters who repeatedly succeed just because they’re the ‘chosen one’ , and not because they’re actually worthy of success. You the writer need to believe in yourself, and give serious thought as to how to make them awesome.

3: Description

I have often stopped reading Fantasy books due to description over-kill. I understand Fantasy books require a lot description as you’re trying to explain a whole new world. But I don’t want to read three pages of description. And I don’t just mean landscapes or characters. I also mean explanations of the world, the reason the protagonist is the protagonist etc. The world and situation you create can be described gradually, with clues along the way.

The first chapter of The Northern Lights (by Phillip Pullman if you don’t know, and if you still don’t know, go and read it) is a great example of how to get the balance right. The reader immediately learns characters speak freely with animals, but no explanation is given. The not knowing is what makes you read faster, desperate to know why and how. The descriptions are the salt and pepper, and the action is the dinner. It is tempting to over explain everything the minute you introduce it, but where is the suspense in that? Don’t describe your story, tell it.

4: Uniqueness

Your book has a dragon. So what? Loads of fantasy books have dragons. What makes your dragon so special that I should read it? Find what’s unique in your story and explode it, make your dragon stand out from all the others. I made this mistake, I included a boring dragon. On editing, I realised my dragon was as dull as the dirty ground he walked on. So I changed him, and made his role in the story shine. But I could also have deleted him. Does your story actually benefit from your dragon? Is their species relevant to your story? Make the choice, and make it work. It’s hard to delete. But it can be done. Here’s how: delete delet dele del de d —

5: Pace

Pace is always important to keep the reader hooked, but particularly in the middle of Fantasy novels. The beginning draws you in because you want to figure out what this new world is all about. Endings, by their nature, should have a good pace, magnetising the reader so they’re unable to put down the book until they know how it all ends. But the middle can fall through the gaps. The world is created, the character is known, they are possibly on a journey to a distant land or meeting new people and creatures. But journeys alone are boring. And I don’t want to learn all the answers now. If you get writers block in the middle, don’t fire in all the answers, and don’t throw in irrelevant scenes that stump the reader. I love when clues are still being added in the middle, and when new mysteries appear. Keep the suspense, and you’ll keep the reader.

The middle section of your novel is a perfect opportunity for your protagonist to develop as a character. Use this section to show how your character moves from the beginning to the end of the novel, and how they change in the process. What happens in the middle that forces the character to make difficult choices that determine the path of the novel? Keep the character’s arc in your mind as you write this section, and you’ll be grateful for it when you reach the end.

6: Confusion

I’d rather read a short novel that I can follow, than a long one that I get can’t find my way through. My pet hate in Fantasy is when I can no longer understand what’s going on. Take your time, develop your plot and characters, but don’t squash them in. Give them room to breathe and give the reader time to catch up and process the information.

And remember, your novel isn’t there to show off how clever you are. I don’t want to read a novel and say “Wow, that writer has a fountain of knowledge, but I have no idea what s/he’s talking about, and I haven’t a clue what the story is about.”

7: Characters

I personally struggle with excess characters with unusual or foreign names. Not just in Fantasy (I had to stop reading War and Peace because I kept mixing up who was who with all the foreign names and places. A sad reflection on me, but a reality of many readers. Judge my intellect if you must, but I’m just being honest). Someone once told me they re-named all the characters in a book they were reading to John, Mary etc.. And made a list at the front of the book, so they could follow the story easier. Complicated or what?

This can easily happen in Fantasy, not just from made-up names, but from traits. Too many unusual characters or places can lose the reader. There is power in simplicity. Don’t name more than one main character with similar names, or names beginning with the same letter. Naming characters based on their traits can help. At it’s most obvious level, take these two names and guess which is the troll and which is the fairy: Twinkle-dust and Rotten-breath.

Epilogue

Fantasy is a genre dedicated to imagination and the wildest of dreams. It is a genre to be celebrated and loved. Mostly, I think it’s a genre to be thanked, as it is what made me and many other children fall in love with stories. And once you fall in love with stories, you fall in love with books. And that, to me, is FANTAStic.

Finding the Time

This week has been full of packing, de-cluttering, and the head-ache inducing smell of paint. Tumbling piles of boxes, and where has my living room floor gone? Boxes and bags reluctantly sent to the charity shop, packed with my memories. Out with the old, in with the necessary.

We first began this house move back in July. Seven months of waiting; are we getting it, are we not? When the keys finally landed in my hands, I jumped (honestly) for joy. I wasn’t thinking of the hours of work, the sleepless nights, the chaotic mess. The guilt when packing that I’m not spending quality time with my daughters, and the guilt when I’m spending time with them that I’m not packing.

Sleep has mostly disappeared. I lie down and wake up with images of the rooms, rearranging the furniture in my dreams. Why is this so stressful? Surely I should be filled with joy about my new house, bursting with so much excitement that stress can find no way in?

But it is stressful. It is exhausting. As soon I fix one problem (the bathroom cabinet fell apart), a new one arises (the back door scratches the brand new floor). The days this month have turned into a tangled pile of jobs and unfinished lists. My routine is gone. Change and I are not friends.

And that is why I need to write. It is exactly when I can’t find the time to write, that I need my writing the most. When the world seems so busy that each thought is punctuated by another. That is when I need to sit still, in silence, and focus on each word. To scrunch up the bills and stress and the endless phone-calls and throw them into a bag, seal it tight, and get rid of it. I don’t think the charity shops would appreciate those bags; some things just have to be thrown out.

Part of my love of writing stems from my love of stories, poems and meeting new characters. But I also need the escape. A reason to stop. The feeling of warmth that spreads through my finger-tips as I type, the beautiful shape of words that form in my vision. I cannot multi-task when writing, I can only think about one thing at a time and that is what I am writing. There is no room for stress and worries in my writing mind.

And so, no matter how tired I am, how much I have to do, how many conversations I’m missing, I find the time. And each night I forget about moving house and sit, and write, and relax.

Writing Resolutions

This time last year I made a new years resolution that I would move one step closer to being an author. There’s something sad about reaching the end of that year, and still being unpublished. But then my resolution wasn’t to get published, it was to start building the road towards being published. And I have definitely laid the foundations, if not the first few blocks.

I used to think that all I had to do to get published was write a book. Then send it to a publishing house, who would be thrilled and invite me around for tea. And I guess some people do succeed the first time around with little input from the outside world. But it turned out my first book was rubbish, and it has taken me awhile to reach a standard that I’m proud of. When I began writing, I had no writing resume, no English and Literature degree hanging on my wall. On the contrary, I’ve spent the last 11 years as a nurse, a hands-on shift work job. The only writing involved was the legal recording of the days events.

The first time I discovered that being a writer is a business and you need to know what you’re doing, was when I went to a ‘Getting Published’ event in the Cork World Book Festival, facilitated by Vanessa O’Loughlin. I first went to this in 2014, deadly proud that I’d written my first 30,000 words in a serious bid to become a writer. I didn’t have a clue, and half of what was said was like a foreign language. Voice? What was that? I was like a duck out of water, staring at a huge pond and realising that this was something I wanted, and needed, to be a part of.

When I went back to the same workshop in 2015 after much research and reading, I understood everything Vanessa said. It made my heart leap. Like any business, it takes time and effort. Part of this effort meant getting involved in the writing community. I started going to events, book festivals, the CBI conference, twitter chats, talking to other writers. The knowledge started seeping in by osmosis. I still didn’t get as involved as I would have liked to, between two small kids, a job and a marriage, but I did my best. Every event taught me something, and still does, which shows there is more to learn.

One of the best things about this year has been the books I’ve read. I began reading books based on recommendations, books I read about on twitter and in newspapers. In particular, books that other writers raved about. This introduced me to high quality children’s and Y.A fiction. I saw an immediate improvement in my own writing when I started striving for those high standards.

I also started sharing my work, putting it out into the open to be assessed and criticised. Through submissions, a Reader’s Report, making writer friends and asking advice, I have watched my writing change. I have embraced the fact that I need people to be brave enough to kick my novel in the face. And I recognise that it’s not the same as kicking me in the face. Quite the opposite, the more kicks my novel gets, the prettier it becomes. Unlike my face.

In terms of getting published, I didn’t succeed in any of my novels, but I also knew I wasn’t ready to saturate the slush pile world just yet. I’m taking it slowly, submitting bit by bit, reading every bit of feedback and editorial advice over and over until my eyes blur. I did get a few articles published online, which is a start. I also did the story board for a children’s story app that got published by a New York app. publisher. A writer’s resume needs to be created, and it takes time, so every little helps.

Most of all this year, I made a commitment. I accepted that writing is my passion, that I go a bit doo-la-lee when I don’t do it, and that it has become my way to escape the world. Like any relationship, it improves with time but only with work and dedication.

Next year? Well it starts with a creative writing course in UCC. It also involves my new house with a study dedicated to my writing (commitment or what?). It will involve new events and more chats about books over coffee and twitter. Most importantly, it will include more writing. And when I look back, this time next year, I hope to be able to say that I laid more blocks on the road. And even if there are a few stop signs along the way, I know I’ll enjoy the journey.