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Reflecting on Five Years of Writing

It's been five years this year since I started taking my writing more seriously. In 2018, I started the Masters in Creative Writing, partly to improve my writing and see if it was worthy of publication, but mainly as a way of finding my way back to myself, of regaining a part of myself I felt I'd lost sight of. However, it wasn't until 2019 that I really started to accept that my writing was good enough to persevere with and begin to put things in place for when my course ended. One of the things I did was to set up my website and start writing this blog. Another was to begin thinking about the possible options for publication.

Five years later, with a short story collection, three novels for adults and four for children under my belt, as well as having published a number of books for other people and helped to found a Literary Festival in my home town, I wanted to reflect on what I've learnt over the last five years.

  1. The word 'yes' is your friend. One of the biggest barriers to writers is a lack of self-belief. I see it so often in people who tell me they would love to write a book, but don't think they can. Often these are genuinely talented writers who are, in my opinion, more than capable of doing it. The trouble is - they don't believe it. Many of the opportunities that have come my way have happened because I've made myself say 'yes' to things I wasn't completely sure I could do. I was invited to start running an online magazine - who was I to judge other people's work? I asked to become Writer in Residence at our local lido - at the time I had no proper books published. I decided to go into publishing books for other people - I had little experience of the industry. I was asked to run some workshops and give a couple of talks about writing - I didn't feel I was ready. BUT, I did them all anyway and worked by butt off to make sure that each one was a success.

2. Marketing is REALLY hard work. I was working at a book sale event once and was asked why I was there selling books if they were available to buy on Amazon. The person in question seemed to be under the impression that you wrote a book and published it and then it miraculously sold itself with no input from you. I wish this were the case! This is something I am still on a steep learning curve with, but I've been doing some research and trialling different strategies to get people reading my books.

3. Every writer needs a writing friend and a reading friend. I am incredibly lucky that I have two close friends who both really get my writing. One is an avid reader, whose judgement I trust implicitly. The other is a fellow writer whose advice is always invaluable. In their different ways, they both help me to see the different improvements that could be made in my work, but they are also incredibly supportive and I am always immensely grateful for the care they take in helping to make my writing the best it can possibly be.

4. Planning is tremendously important. When I first started writing, I generally knew where my end point was and had a vague notion of how I was going to get there, but very much winged it as far as I could. Only when I got stuck would I think about planning and often, by then, it was very difficult to sort out the tangled mess that the plot had become. As I got more experienced, I began planning from about halfway and now I generally have the basic plot and narrative arc plotted out before I put metaphorical pen to paper. This has become more and more important over the years as I've started writing split timeline novels.

5. It's important to recognise your achievements. These don't have to be big - it could be as little as writing on a day when you really didn't feel like it - but it's vital that you acknowledge when you've done something well. The memory of those days is what keeps you going on the days where the writing just won't flow. For many writers, the sense of success is always just around the corner - the next step is when I'll feel that I've 'made it'. I've learnt to celebrate each thing I achieve for a brief moment, before returning to my desk and cracking on with the next thing on my 'to do' list.

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