Writing Advice & Tips – Jane Lovering

writingtipsJane Lovering

Jane lives in North Yorkshire with her five children, three cats, two dogs and an ever-increasing number of bacteria.  Jane believes housework happens to other people, and writes romantic comedy novels in a frantic attempt to avoid being asked to ever do any.  She works by day in a local school, writes in the evenings and never watches television, unless it’s Doctor Who.  She is published by Choc Lit publishing.

Her novel ‘Please Don’t Stop the Music’ was voted Romantic Comedy of the Year and overall Romantic Novel of the Year for 2012.

What’s the best way for a writer juggle their personal and writing life? Ordinary life often gets in the way of a planned structured day. Any tips? Firstly, don’t beat yourself up. Setting too rigid targets is setting yourself up for failure, and if you’re the sort of person who gets miserable if they don’t hit the daily 2,000 words but the dog had to go to the vet and it was Sports Day at school…why make yourself unhappy? There’s plenty of time for that when you’re working to a four-day deadline and your computer has a breakdown…

Secondly, give up watching TV. Honestly. There is no programme on earth that is worth losing that feeling of having written 1,000 quality words for.  I hear so many people say ‘I’d write a book, if only I had the time’ and then proceed to discuss the plotline of a half a dozen soaps and Ripper Street.  I’m not saying don’t watch any TV EVER, but, honestly? Those three hours a day you spend in front of the box? You could be writing. Just saying.

Thirdly, try to write at the same time every day. Even if it’s only 50 words that you then delete and go and eat ice cream – your brain will start to associate that time with writing and be more receptive to getting in ‘the zone’, plus people will learn to leave you alone then.  Locking the door helps. As does leaving a large bar of chocolate on your desk, to be eaten when you hit whatever word target you’ve set for the day. Positive reinforcement, people, it’s a real thing.

So, basically, relax, give up TV, and work at regular times (with chocolate. Or gin, gin works too).

What can a writer do to overcome ‘writer’s block?’ Okay, here’s an exercise you can do that will help.  Go now and find the worst book you can. It helps if this is in the genre you write, but anything will do.  Go on, I’ll wait….

Right. You’ve now got a book that is truly terrible, right?  I mean, steamingly bad (if you need advice, head over to a review site, find a book that’s got 1 star and a lot of swearing in the review), shockingly badly plotted with holes you could abseil through, cardboard characters, no story arc and appalling grammar.  Put that book somewhere safe.

When you next find yourself suffering from Writer’s Block, go and get that book out.  Read a few pages.  Then, if you can stand it, read a few more.  After you’ve got through half a chapter you should be muttering to yourself ‘how did this trash get published?  I mean, LOOK, the heroine was a mute, one legged virgin earlier and now she’s choral singing whilst waltzing with a manipulative billionaire…’  I can almost guarantee that the rage this book engenders will drive you to your keyboard, yelling ‘even I can do better than that!’

If this doesn’t work, then just read.  Read loads.  Your brain will soon be so full of words it will have to get some of them out on paper.

What should a writer look out for when deciding if their manuscript is the best it can possibly be before releasing it to an agent/publisher/the public? I’d always advise putting the manuscript away in a bottom drawer for AT LEAST six weeks, a few months would be better, before doing ANYTHING with it.  There is a tendency, on finishing a book, to breathe a sigh of relief and want it out of the way, but, trust me, that book isn’t done yet.  When your six weeks is up, get it out and re-read it, you’ll have fresh eyes after that time and it will be easier to pick up mistakes.  I also recommend running it through a programme like Wordle, which will pull your most-used words up in big font – this is fine if the most used words are your characters’ names, or locations, but if you find that words like ‘just’, ‘but’ and ‘like’ are coming up huge, you may want to give the manuscript another look over.

Next, give it to someone to read through.  Not, and I cannot stress this highly enough, anyone related to you or that you are friendly with, or who will die at your hand if the feedback is less-than positive.  Employing a beta reader who lives a long, long way away is a good move.  You want creative criticism not ‘yes dear, it’s lovely’.  Read what they say about your manuscript and decide what action to take, but don’t be precious about it.  If your beta reader doesn’t understand part of the plot, then the chances are, unless your beta reader is an aardvark or something, neither will the reading public. You may need to make big changes.  Prepare yourself.

And again, with the chocolate and/or the gin.

How can a writer be prepared for, and deal with rejection? You can’t prepare for it.  Honestly.  If you are prepared for rejection, then it’s because you are subconsciously aware that your book isn’t as good as it could be.  Rejection should, because of your deep self-belief, come as a bit of a shock. Dealing with it is tough, but regard it as a preparation for the day on which you get your first terrible review (which you will, every author does, however terrific the book).  I’d advise a three-stage plan to deal with rejection:

One – tell everyone how misguided your rejector is, how they clearly don’t understand your work, are probably only functionally literate and more than likely impotent too.  But, and this is important, ONLY TELL THIS TO YOUR NEAREST AND DEAREST AND NEVER NEVER NEVER ON TWITTER/FACEBOOK. The person who has rejected you must never know what you have said about them.  Also kick furniture, punch pillows and shout at the sky. Yes, people will think you are crazy, but you are a writer, so they already think that anyway.  Chocolate and gin come in here as well.

Two – reluctantly concede that your rejector may, however misguided, functionally literate and impotent they are, just have a teeny tiny point.  If they have offered any reason for the rejection, any advice at all, seize upon this as though it is gold and think about actioning. Yes, even if they hate your hero and want you to make him a snake-charmer from Somerset.  If they haven’t given you any reason for the rejection it’s tougher, but give your manuscript another read through, just in case.

Three – More chocolate, more gin and tell yourself that all writing is subjective.  What one person hates with a passion, another may well love (it’s the only reason I can come up with for the success of One Direction).  Okay, so you got rejected, well, maybe that person was having a really bad day, maybe their husband just left them and the dog got sick and the cat ran away. You’ve got plenty more people to send out to, right?  And they can’t all have been deserted with unreliable pets…

How should a writer deal with negative reviews about their book? See above. Only with more chocolate.  Also, re-reading your good reviews helps, as does looking up really famous books, particularly ones that you love, and reading some of the negative reviews that they have got.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you can drink gin like it is going out of fashion.

What’s the best piece of advice you have heard in respect of writing/being an author? ‘Just do it’.  I don’t know who said that, probably Stephen King, he’s got some cracking advice on writing.  But, yes. Just do it. Don’t worry too much about how good it is – you can work on a rough piece of writing, you can’t edit a blank page. Someone said that too.  Might have been me, actually.

Can you share any valuable websites/magazines/blogs for authors in respect of tips, help and advice? I hesitate over this one, because what one person finds useful, another might find terminally patronising, so I’m a firm believer in every writer seeking out what they, personally, find works for them.  Saying that, I can offer a few pointers..

http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/the-creative-writing-students-handbook.html is a fabulous resource for those setting out on the road to publication,

Writing Magazine..  https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Writing-Magazine/ likewise is excellent both for those starting out and those who want to advance their writing careers.

As to books, the one I would most recommend (with the proviso that what suits one writer might not suit another) is http://www.amazon.co.uk/How-NOT-Write-Novel-Published/dp/0141038543   It’s very funny, and I find that people often take in more information when they are laughing than when they are trying to be deadly serious.

And can I put in word for some of the review sites?  Reading reviews and essays on books – finding out what works and what doesn’t work in the world of fiction can be very valuable.  Good reviewers will not only grade a book but tell you what, in their opinion, was particularly special (or otherwise) about it, why it worked (or didn’t) for them.  Sites like Dear Author http://dearauthor.com/ also often have essays on various fiction-related topics which can help to give a deeper insight into the world of words.  

Any tips in respect of getting the synopsis right? Oh, I suck at synopses, but so does everyone I know…  There are some great articles online about writing them, but we all struggle so hard…I mean, all the story is important, right, otherwise why would we have written it?  I’d just say, try to concentrate on the main theme of your story in the synopsis, not get sidetracked by secondary characters or plotlines. Give the story and journey of your main characters, their conflicts and resolution.  Keep it brief (one page max) unless you’ve been asked to produce a certain number of words, and don’t forget, the synopsis is the WHOLE STORY, including the end!  Don’t be enigmatic or try to keep the reader guessing about the end – you wouldn’t buy a car if the advert didn’t tell you the mileage or the make, would you?

Any tips on marketing and creating a fan base? Fortunately, at Choc Lit we get a lot of help with marketing, but we also have to do a lot ourselves, as is the case with most publishing houses nowadays.  I’d say, have an online presence but don’t beat people over the head with marketing, chat, go on Twitter and be random about your day…people are more likely to buy a book from someone they can perceive as a real person not a robotic selling machine.  Do local fetes and markets, take a stall at the Christmas Fayre at the kids’ school, offer the local paper a column about the life of a writer. Gone are the days when we could scribble in our garret and never see daylight because we were too busy Being Artistes.  As for creating a fan base…I thought they were like guinea pigs, you started off with a couple and, before you knew it there were hundreds of them.  They sort of do it themselves, as long as you write good books.

Lastly, can you share with us about what your usual writing day is like? Oh, I would so love to say that I roll out of bed at ten and sit at my desk in my office writing until the sun goes down… But it would be a lie.  A horrible, terrible lie.  In fact, I get up at 6am, run with the dogs for two miles (because writer’s bum is a real thing), go to the day job, where they are kind and let me drink coffee, until 12.30.  Then I head home, shuffle randomly through the freezer in search of food that the kids will eat for tea, then shut myself upstairs in my bedroom with my laptop.  Sometimes I write, sometimes I shift between Facebook and Twitter, there’s usually something written somewhere at some point, and then I have to walk the dogs again and cook food.  If I’m on a roll I go back and write some more in the evening.  Somehow, books get produced, I’m not quite sure how.

Website and Blog are at www.janelovering.co.uk

Twitter: @JaneLovering

Amazon page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Lovering/e/B003NYBX9M/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1394468123&sr=1-2-ent

Publisher’s pages:  http://www.choc-lit.com/productcat/jane-lovering/

jr

 

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