Monday, 31 March 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Welcome to the next stage of the writing process blog tour!

Last week, the wonderful Adele Jones answered four questions about her writing process on her blog, and then passed the torch to me to answer the same four questions.

I first met Adele last year at the 2013 Caleb Christian Writers Conference, where she won the unpublished manuscript Caleb Award for her forth coming YA novel Integrate, being published through Rhiza Press in September (yah!).

Integrate by Adele Jones (Rhiza Press)Trust the science - unless your life depends on it.
Blaine Colton had been handed a genetic death sentence until revolutionary gene therapy changed his life. Living a relatively normal existence, he is called to an unscheduled post-treatment appointment just weeks before his eighteenth birthday. Informed that his life saving procedure was never approved, he is held against his will for his status as an apparent illegal GMO. Subjected to constant testing, refused contact with his parents and deprived of life sustaining medication, Blaine begins to suspect that something is wrong. Wanting answers, he escapes the Institute and ambitious Chief Scientist, Dr Melissa Hartfield. Now a fugitive with a failing body, Blaine must find Professor Ramer, the developer of his therapy. But the Professor has vanished and time is running out. Fast.

For more about Adele's writing process, check out

So, now it's my turn to answer the big four questions. Here I go.

1. What Am I Currently Working On?

While I'm a firm believer in focusing on one task at a time, as you might have noticed I'm much better at giving advice than following even my own. I spent the weekend finishing off my third edit of my 1920's romance, After The Winter, and have finally sent it to my editor for the final check over (unless she comes back suggesting otherwise). I've started a GoodReads giveaway ending on the 24th April, by which time hopefully I will have the book available though Amazon, yah! If you want the chance to win a free paperback copy of it, feel free to enter!

(On the GoodReads note, I'm just going to say that to the person who has already rated the book, even though it hasn't come out yet, thank you, but why 4/5? Is my description only 4/5 worthy? Or is that your prediction about how good the book is going to be?).

After spending the weekend solidly editing, I took this morning off (and went shopping; new gym clothes and bras, exciting). But tomorrow I am back to doing the structural edit of The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp. My goal is to have this done by the end of this week, but that might be a bit ambitious (this is just the structural edit, it will need another few rounds after that.)

As this is the last week of term, I then have two weeks of holidays. During that time I'm going to do more editing of Bootcamp and start writing a new project: a modern rom-com serial. I want to get the plot planned out for the full six episodes and the first episode completely written.

So, at least no one can say I don't have goals!

2. How Does My Work Differ From Others In My Genre?

I'm going to address this in terms of After The Winter, the 1920's romance. One thing that was important for me as I wrote this was not to have a romance based purely on physical attraction. In fact, my main female actively rejects the playboy because he is trying to win her over by being sexually inappropriate. As she later tells him, she is proud of her modesty because she has waited and trusted in love while what he is offering her is second best, offered to too many other women before her.

I have also walked a thin line between being a Christian romance. I didn't want it to specifically Christian, but when I faced the issue of whether rakes really could reform, I found it period-appropriate to bring redemption and repentance into the discussion. I suppose I will always write 'Christian' fiction, as it will always come from a Christian worldview. Even if I don't quote bible verses, sin is sin and humanity fallen but redeemable.

3. Why Do I Write What I Write?

I started writing my first historical romance many years ago when confronted with so many that anachronistically put sex in inappropriate places. I was on a discussion board saying that it was possible to write page-turning romances without having sex in the second chapter (or at all, shock horror!). Others told me it wasn't, so I wrote to prove it to them. I planned to write just the first two chapters and posted them, but eventually ended up writing 50,000 words because they kept begging for more, even though through all of that the two characters didn't even kiss. I have always been a huge fan (if you haven't been able to tell) of Georgette Heyer, so knew it could be done. Of course there are some Christian romances out there that are brilliant examples, but really, who doesn't want more?

4. How Does My Writing Process Work?

The purpose of the 100 first drafts challenge is to test out lots of different methods, and particularly pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants). I'm so glad I started on the challenge, even if I'm not really keeping up at the moment (damn you full time job, or more accurately, the necessity to pay for life).

So far, my conclusion on how to write fast and well:

Step 1: develop the initial image/spark into a set of characters and a desired atmosphere/tone. This will help dictate style and plot development. (My Five Day Writer's Bootcamp is an in depth discussion of this pre-writing preparation.)

Step 2: write first draft as fast as you can (for me preferrably two weeks). Long writing sessions train you to keep writing through multiple scenes, and help you to enter into the flow more readily (see my previous post on the benefits of regularly getting into the flow.)

Step 3: Structural Edit - Go through and make sure that the ordering of the story is optimal and realistic; no plot holes, that chapter flows into chapter, and paragraph into paragraph.

Step 4: Copy Edit - Make sure the language is optimal, that appropriate terms are used, tone and style are consistent, check for repetition, weasel words, etc.

Step 5: Proof Read - I often contract this out as proofing your own work is really hard, but I am learning to print off a copy at the end and with a pen read through it line by line, making sure that each sentence is the best that it can be.

You can see why turning my first drafts into published books is taking me so long! But every time I do this, I pick up on my own idiosyncrasies that weaken my writing, and next time I do a new draft it is stronger.

And Now The Bad News:

So this is meant to be a blog tour, so I was meant to get someone to follow after me. Here would be the part where I would introduce them. Unfortunately, I'm a bad blog tourer. I only bothered to ask one person, and I only saw their message yesterday saying they couldn't do it. So yes, I'm that person that kills the tour.

If there is another writer out there reading this in the next week, and would like to pick up my fallen torch, email me at and I'll give you a proper introduction.

And don't forget to sign up at GoodReads if you want to win a free copy of After The Winter!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Dreaded Book Description - 15 Top Tips To Writing It

Magic Book
Bring the magic of your book to your description. (Photo courtesy of ostillac callisto at stock.xchng)
I have come to that time again. I've done the drafting and a bit of editing. I've spent hours playing with different cover designs and finally found one that I like. And now, in order to start the pre-launch GoodReads giveaway, I have to write the dreaded book description.

I know what the book is about, I wrote it. So why is it so hard for me to summarise it in 150-400 words?

Well, partly because it's not just about summarising the book. It's about creating a piece of writing that is more fantastic than the whole book put together. It is about creating the few words that will sell all my other words, that will justify and pay for all the hours of work I've put into writing this book.

And sadly, how much time do I usually put into writing these all important words? Usually about ten-twenty minutes while I'm loading it up onto Amazon (or making the back cover, or creating the GoodReads giveaway, or ... you get the idea).

So this time, a month before I hope to release my brand new historical romance, I've taken the time to do some research into what other authors suggest as the top tips for writing a selling book description (I've focused mainly on fiction books, as it is quite a different skill to sell a non-fiction book, though I did also apply these tips to my Online Dating guide.)

Top 15 Tips for Writing a Fiction Book Description:

1.     Read the descriptions of the top 10 books in your genre.
a.     I cannot recommend this one enough. I've just been putting this into practice and it's amazing how helpful this is. Remember that your audience probably has read these descriptions, and might be comparing you to them right now to see which one they want to buy. Use that! Differentiate yourself as well as copying their strong points.
2.     The first line needs to sum it all up.
a.     You need a hook here at the beginning. Don't be afraid to even separate out a tagline to draw someone in, the big guys do it.
3.     Make it clear.
a.     Best way to do this is to not include subplots Stick to the main story. 
4.     Write in genre.
a.     Your description writing should be a good indication of your book's style, and should meet the expectations of the reader.
5.     Don't be boring.
a.     Even if you think it is necessary to explain something, if it's boring, cut it.
6.     Play to your strengths as a writer.
a.     Great at building atmosphere? Good, do that. Superb at dialogue? Quote a bit of it.
7.     Recreate the atmosphere of the book in the description.
a.     Sprinkle your writing with power words, highly emotive words such as tormented, obsession, charismatic, etc., to build tone fast.
8.     Make your characters live.
a.     You want your reader to fall in love at first read with your characters.
9.     Don't be afraid to reference other books.
a.     Especially in the beginning or finishing lines. I've gone with 'The light hearted banter of Georgette Heyer with the fun and fashion of the Art Deco period' because it tells people exactly what to expect. Just don't say you are the next Tolkien.
10. Leave the reader wanting more.
a.     If in doubt, end on a cliffhanger. Or use open ended questions to make your reader need to know what happens next.
11. Err on the side of short.
a.     When in doubt, cut.
12. It doesn't have to be all one piece of writing.
a.     Mix it up with a quote from the book, your tag line, a description and some great reviews.
13. Write in the present tense, third person
a.     If writing fiction, non-fiction can break this rule.
14. Where possible, include reviews.
a.     No one needs to know that 'Amazon Review' was actually from your Aunt. If your Aunt happened to say something snappy and true, then use it.
15. [Optional] A call to action.
a.     This is not a necessary step, and more natural in a non-fiction book, but there is no reason not to have one with a fiction book. Something simple like: Pick up your copy of After The Winter to find out if a rake really can change his ways.

My Personal Hates In Desctipions:

Now that I've covered a few do's, I thought I would share a few of my most hated don't's as a reader.

1. Giving away the twist. Why, why would you do this?
2. Lying in the description, saying things that don't actually happen.
3. Not saying anything.
4. Talking only about the author, not the book.

Testing The Theory:

Now, I don't want you to think that I'm all talk. Not only did I apply all this to my historical romance, I thought I would test out the theory that it makes a big difference to sales by editing my Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles description.

I will be completely honest and say I did a very last minute job doing the last description. I had totally forgotten about it and so when I came to load the book onto Amazon I suddenly had to put something together. So, I cut a bit out of the introduction which I thought gave the general vibe of my writing and described what I was going to be talking about. It wasn't bad, but it definitely wasn't following all of these rules.

Also, the sales of the book haven't been amazing. After the first few weeks, when I stopped promoting it and the buzz died down, I wasn't getting many sales at all. In fact, for all of March I haven't had a single sale of it.

I have to admit I was skeptical that changing the description would really make any difference to a book that was so low down on the sales list. The description can really only help if people are already finding it, right?

Well, I changed it, and within a few hours of it going live, I had my first sale for the month. Seriously.
Now, I know that's not the amazing story a lot of people tell, 'within the first day I was in the Top 10 best sellers on Amazon', but going from no sales to 1 in just a few hours is pretty amazing when you think about it. So I'll just have to see how it keeps going. And I might try playing around with my Five Day Writer's Retreat description.

But to finish off, I thought I would get your input into my description for my historical romance. I actually have two options for the main body and I don't know which one works best. What do you think?

Quote from book:

'You, sir, are a flirt.’ Miss Lucinda Hargraves held firmly onto her hat.
‘A flirt?’ The play of the smile around his mobile mouth was rather distracting.
‘Yes … I think. I have not had a lot of experience, but I think so.’
‘And are you not worried about being seen alone in a car with me, if I’m such a terrible flirt?’
‘Well, I have to admit I did consider it, but in all honesty, no one would ever think I was the type of woman a man like you would find interesting.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It is actually quite a liberating experience.’

Main body possibility 1:
At 27 Lucinda Hargraves is too old to believe that rakes will reform for the love of a good woman. It may work in books, but this is the roaring 20's where men just want a good time and girls are left broken hearted. So the more the charismatic Lord Everdale pulls out his usual tricks for winning over women, the more skeptical Lucinda becomes about his motives. But what if for once Lord Everdale is actually being serious? Is there anything he can do to prove to her that he really has changed? And can he do it before it's too late, or will she choose the upright American John Huntington the Third instead?  

Main body possibility 2:
It's the roaring 20's and Lord George Everdale has a reputation he wants to maintain; fast cars, fast women, good times. Lucinda Hargraves has a reputation she believes can't be damaged; spinster, modest and now in possession of a large fortune. So when Lord Everdale comes crashing into Miss Hargraves' life, it seems an unlikely pairing to everyone. But could Lord Everdale be correct, that opposites attract? Or is Miss Hargraves more on course when she predicts that a playboy never changes? 

Finish line:
The light hearted banter of Georgette Heyer with the fun and fashion of the Art Deco period. 

Any thoughts?
Also, I'm running a GoodReads giveaway for the book to mark its launch on the 25th of April. So why not enter or add it to your shelf?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Happiness and The Flow

Okay, so the concept of the creative flow has been a favourite with me for a while. I even dedicated a section in my first writing book, The Five Day Writer's Retreat, to looking at what it is and how writers can utilise it for better productivity and enjoyment. Though, I haven't thought about it for a while now.

Today I was handed a print out of information on tomorrow's 'Happiness Day' (yes, tomorrow is UN Day of Happiness, in case you hadn't realised). The handout was all about how frequently entering into the flow is one of the greatest secrets to happiness. (For more information and a copy of the ebook, see the blog Think and Be Happy.)

How cool is that?

It is based on the work of a leading psychologist Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (say that five times fast). As he states:

"It is the full involvement of flow, rather than happiness, that makes for excellence in life. We can be happy experiencing the passive pleasure of a rested body, warm sunshine, or the contentment of a serene relationship, but this kind of happiness is dependent on favourable external circumstances. The happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it leads to increasing complexity and growth in consciousness."

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, flow is that sensation of the world and all physical sensations slipping away, where you are perfectly focused on what you are doing, and don't notice time passing, there is a sense of accomplishment and excitement about what you are doing.

I first noted this sensation when I read. The moments where the words disappear from the page and all you see is images in your mind, feel you are part of the world and inside of the story. You can read all day and forget that you need to eat and sleep.

I have also experienced this (occasionally) when I'm exercising. You get into the motion and nothing seems to matter, you feel like you keep going forever and each stroke is a joy. It doesn't always happen, but it's fantastic when it does.

And then I noticed that I had it when I wrote. The computer and keys would disappear, and I would just be watching the movie of my characters, rushing to keep up with them, feeling their emotions, rising and falling with them.

Entering into the flow with writing is the main reason I want to be a writer. It also happens to make me a better writer. My writing is smoother and more emotive, my characters more realistic and natural. Also, my writing speed can easily double.

And now I have scientific support that it makes me a happier person afterwards!

According to Professor Csikszentmihaly it is possible to create flow in any challenging task. Passive pasttimes such as taking a bath or watching TV can be relaxing, but don't create it. (Some might say that reading is also passive, but the transformation of words into images appears to give it the challenge necessary.)

So what advice does Professor Csikszentmihaly give for creating flow in anything?

1. Choose a task that's challenging: not too easy, but not too hard.
Reading Spot Can Run probably won't do it for you, but then again, so mightn't Stephen Hawkins' A Brief History of Time.

2. Similarly, set clear and realistic goals.
Part of the happiness at the end of a flow state comes from a sense of accomplishment. It is much easier to get that sense if you know what you wanted to accomplish. Australian author Kate Forsyth recommended setting a writing goal for the session which would stretch you, such as 5,000 words.

3. Identify your motivation.
The professor argues that you need to be doing a task that you are naturally drawn to in order to enter into the state. Therefore, if you confirm before hand why you want to be doing this, it can help.

4. Be proactive.
Procrastination is the evil twin of working in the flow. It is allowing all external distractions to break you away from your task. If you regularly give into procrastination, you weaken your ability to focus. Also, you add stress and pressure to each new session which can destroy the sense of flow.

5. Don't focus on your performance or try to force yourself into flow.
The goals are to give you a sense of accomplishment at the end, but to try and measure how you are going while you are working breaks your concentration, the foundation of a flow state. So ignore the goals while you are working.

6. Create the right environment.
This will vary for individuals, for example some people need music to tune out while they work, while for others it's an added distraction. So you need to experiment with different factors to find out what works for you.

7. Give yourself enough time.
It takes at least 15 minutes to enter into a flow state, and once there you want to make the most of it. So when practicing to utilise the flow, give yourself much longer sessions than you normally might.

8. Minimise interruptions and distractions.
Common trouble makers: open door, phone, internet, email alerts. Get rid of them all as much as you can.

9. Monitor your emotional state.
Sometimes it is almost impossible to enter into a state of flow because you are all worked up, and no amount of putting away distractions and setting goals will give you the peace necessary. Taking time to work through some of these issues, or practice relaxation methods to quieten your thoughts can turn a potentially bad session into a great one.

10. Regularly engage in tasks that encourage a flow state.
Practice makes purpose. The more you do it, the easier it will become.

Now, time to go and enjoy the benefits of writing!

Update on my writing:
I've now been up in Brisbane for just over two months. Wow, feels like a lot longer.
I'm settling into a good routine writing in the mornings, going to the gym, then working from 2.15-11.15 pm. I'm not getting as much writing done as I had optimistically thought, but at least I'm getting something done, and trying to do it consistently.

Since I last wrote, I've finished off my work on A Little Bit Of Leaven, and entered that into the Caleb unpublished manuscripts competition. Looking forward to getting some feedback on that.

I then spent a few weeks working on a structural edit and the layout for my brother's second book. Got some proof copies sent out which he has done another edit on (he prefers to work on paper, so likes to have the books printed up and proofs sent out so that he can see the mistakes better. It's actually a pretty good system, if slightly expensive (or time consuming for me!).) I've now got to do a few more changes and then redo the proofs.

I finished the second draft of After The Winter (my historical romance) yesterday, and now have it with a few trusted beta readers. I've lost my ability to judge if it 'works' or not. Once I get their feedback I'll do another edit and then get it proof-read. Then it will be ready to go, yah!

Today I went back and continued editing The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp. It is filled with great information, but at the moment it's a bit all over the place. I'm going to go through it and then send it to one of my editors for a structural edit. Then I'll work on polishing it.

I've also been reading a lot. In the last two weeks I've finished off 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat' (really interesting book on a neurologist's case studies of different disorders), then Ian McEwan's 'Enduring Love' (love McEwan's writing style, it's so beautiful). Last night I finished off 'The Millionaire Next Door', which reinforced to me the need for self-discipline. And now I'm reading 'A New Guide To Better Writing' published in 1947, always good to keep reading about writing. 

And tomorrow I'm going to focus on being happy!