Wednesday 19 February 2014

My Internal Critic: How Neil Affected My Career - The Creative Process

 (Neil the Gremlin drawn by Paris)

My Internal Critic: How Neil Affected My Career

Everyone has some kind of internal critic, no matter what their occupation or hobbies are. For some people it's debilitating and they are unable to continue or move forward because their critic's voice is so loud that they're unable to hear anything else. For other people it's something they have worked around and it's just a quiet mumbling at the back of their mind. And for others, it's something in between. My internal critic is a gremlin I've named Neil, for no other reason than he sounds like a Neil to me. He isn't as loud as he used to be, and his voice does not cripple me as much as it has in the past, but he still manages to affect my writing life (and other parts too!)

When I first started writing in 2001, I was really pleased with what I had done with both THE FRIENDSHIP TRIANGLE and BLACKOUT and my plan was to approach publishers. I was young and inexperienced and I didn't know that I would most likely need an agent to even get a publisher to look at my manuscripts. However, I got responses, all of them rejections, but one or two had taken the time to read BLACKOUT and told me that it was good and they recommended I get an agent. That was when Neil started to come to life in regards to my writing. I'm sure you've all had that voice whispering in your head telling you that you're not good enough and
he'd always been present in mine. Well, that's when Neil decided to target my writing.

"You can't write," he would say. "They rejected you so you might as well give up now!" I was determined though, that I would do something with my life since I could no longer hold down a conventional job and if that meant I had to deal with rejection, then so be it. I ignored Neil and started writing the first DYING THOUGHTS book. It took me a long time to finish it because as I got towards the end, and more rejection letters came through the door, I decided that Neil was right and I couldn't be a published author. So, I closed the folder on DYING THOUGHTS and went about my life.

Now for the next bit, I need to go back a little. I started writing DYING THOUGHTS in 2003 and had been sending it chapter by chapter to a friend of mine in the US. She was my first beta reader and enjoyed reading along with the story as I wrote it. In the middle of 2003, I stopped writing it because my gremlin had convinced me that I was no good. I went to the US in January 2004 and finally got to meet my online friend face to face. Her first words? "What happens to Tara??!?! I'm desperate to know!!" I took it as a good sign and it boosted my self confidence so I got my best friend, B, to email me what I'd written so far, and there in the hotel I started to finish the first DYING THOUGHTS book. I ignored all talk from my gremlin until it was finished and my friend was happy to finally be able to read the ending.

With my self-esteem in regards to writing a little higher than usual and Neil sent to the dark recesses of my mind, I set about writing the second DYING THOUGHTS book almost the moment I finished the first. It was a mistake, because I became so caught up in Tara's world that I started to dislike having to write about her. I found myself overcome more and more with disinterest and writer's block, and Neil reappeared. He was as vicious as ever and able to convince me, once again that if nothing else, I needed a break and I needed to see BLACKOUT published in some form before I could be happy with writing anything else.

This was late 2004 and once again I approached agents and publishers with my manuscript. My health was declining and things didn't look good for a few months when I was very sick with my Brittle Asthma. I decided that I needed to take things into my own hands and as if by magic, I was approached by AuthorHouse. A self-publishing company who promised to get my book into print. It wasn't the way I initially wanted, but faced with the prospect of not being well enough to write anymore and the need to achieve *something* I found the money and pressed ahead.

BLACKOUT was released in paperback on August 10th 2005 and with renewed vigour I picked up DYING THOUGHTS - SECOND SIGHT and it was full steam ahead. The rest of the story you all know. I left AuthorHouse after a year and went on to be an indie author through the label Bug Books. The point of telling you all of this is to say that although
I have learnt to ignore the majority of what Neil says, I still have moments where he's been telling me how awful a writer I am, that I'm a fraud to call myself an author and other negative things. I'll find myself phoning my editor and saying "don't read this, it's crap! You'll hate it!" and be reassured that while not perfect, it is a good book. He is a gremlin that haunts me at times, but if I'd listened to him instead of the people around me, I would still be sat with a half finished book and gotten nowhere.

This is my story of Neil, my writing gremlin, and how he has affected my career. He sometimes escapes from his cage and pops up, but in my next post, I will talk about how I deal with him when that happens. I am proud to say that I'm a writer, I create from nothing and will continue to do so, no matter what Neil tells me!

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Thursday 13 February 2014

That Light Bulb Moment - The Creative Process

That Light Bulb Moment

I'm sure you've experienced something similar if you're a writer. It's that moment when you've been stuck for a while and suddenly you know exactly what you have to do to complete the piece and to tie up all the loose ends. I had a moment like that today when I'd been up since 2:30am because of insomniac nine year old. I've done really well this fortnight and I'm already onto what I call my "bonus" chapters. I couldn't sleep and didn't want to spend the wee hours doing very little because that would drive me insane, so I tried to write.

The problem was I had gotten to a point in the book I'm working on where I needed more than just plot, I needed direction too. I needed to know not just where the end is, but what is going to get my characters to that point. So, I spent some time reading, some time playing around online and some time writing a chapter that would work without needing to know the direction. Still though, I wasn't there yet.

The light bulb moment hit me as I was driving out to the local petrol station just before 7 am. I could suddenly see the bread crumbs that I had left myself through previous chapters, pieces that at the time had been  more about character development than anything else and BAM! There it was, the answer to my problem. I knew exactly why this character did that and what their intentions were, even though I hadn't known when I wrote it. That's one of the many things that I love about being a writer. It's not just about being able to tell a story, it's about making the puzzle pieces fit together when sometimes you don't even know what kind of picture you're making.

So, with my new outlook, I made some more character note cards to refer back to because I didn't want this epiphany to get away from me and then be struggling again in a few chapters time. I have been pretty lucky with the fact that most of the time, once I get that light bulb switched on, I don't really have problems keeping it lit. However, I like to be prepared, so character notes were needed.

I'm actually about to start the chapter before one of the big's not the major one, but it is one that will start to make the main characters think that the problem is solved. Once I've lured them into a false sense of security, I'll be able to spring the rest of it on them. I even had the answer to some of my concerns already noted on my character notes, but because those characters had not yet come into play, I had not seen the connection and was wondering and worrying about how to make it.

Having light bulb moments are one of the perks of the job. Being able to plan meticulously works for me (and I did a piece about my planning here) but it's also about being able to think outside the box. To see what isn't in the plan and to go from there. It's all very well and good following the plan, but what happens when the characters don't do as you planned and then you have to deviate to get back on track? For me, as organised as I am, that just sounds like a nightmare and I'm sure other writers would agree with me.

You see, sometimes characters push to go one way when you're convinced they should have gone the other. Writing out a bare bones plan doesn't work for me, but at the same time, you should always be prepared to throw that plan out of the window and go where your characters lead you. You may be pleasantly surprised. You may find yourself writing the story in a different way than you had first planned and that's not always a bad thing. The thing about being a writer is that sometimes you have to change course and as long as your work matches up with that then there is little problem doing so.

So, wherever you are, remember that inspiration is all over the place. That sometimes you have thought up the solution and noted it down, but you haven't looked at it recently. Remember that sometimes characters will walk you down a different path and that it's not always a bad thing. Also, when that light bulb goes off, be ready to get working because it's now nearly 11 am and I haven't stopped since!

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Tuesday 4 February 2014


My cover artist has finished the new cover for LYNNE & HOPE, shown above. What do you all think? Her next job is to do a cover for one of my unreleased finished works and then she plans to re-do the cover for DYING THOUGHTS - SECOND SIGHT. Her plan is to re-do all the current covers bar BLACKOUT and the third DYING THOUGHTS book which got a face-lift before it was released!

Follow Joey on Facebook of here on her blog to be kept up to date with the last news regarding Joey and her books.