My set-up when I write

Most of the times, I write at home in my office. I have various playlists I put on depending on my mood. Then I close the door to the rest of the house and write.

Music is important for me to get myself in the “trance” to write. Certain albums or musicians always put me in that mood, but I always try to switch it up and mix in new music so I have a larger range of music that can trigger that “trance”. There are also good live music channels on youtube if I just want some background music. The reason I mostly write while listening to music is that it helps me disconnect from my everyday life. I need to get in the mindset of my characters so I need to feel what they’re feeling. If I don’t try to live and breathe my characters, I can’t relate to them.

I also limit distractions which is why I close the door to my office. Nowadays the attention span of everyone has diminished and I also catch myself opening facebook or quickly checking my messages. On my laptop I close all windows and programs, and only leave open the word document to write in, a translation website (because yes, sometimes I think of a word in German and I can’t remember the exact translation in English) and a website for synonyms. I have my phone with me but I turn off roaming/mobile data so I can’t be distracted by incoming texts.

I use head phones to listen to music and invested in an extension cord, to allow me to get up and walk around my office to think. You could obviously just use loudspeakers but I find head phones filter out more of the background noise and thus limit the distractions (the neighbor smacking the door closed, a truck backing into your road…). And the reason I try to not interrupt the music is because sometimes it takes me a long time to get into that “trance” to write and I don’t want to lose it and then have to work to get back into it. And any disruption can pull me out of my “trance”.

By limiting the distractions and having the mindset that I’m writing for the next few hours, it helps me focus and I train my brain to get into the “trance” quicker.

How do you write and how do you get into the writing spirit? Feel free to comment and share your experience.

Updating your book after publication

Normally when you update the content of your book, you need to update the edition so you don’t confuse readers. Some updates on the content can be done without changing the edition, like correcting for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors [depending on who you publish with, this can be easily done.]. This is because it doesn’t change anything fundamentally in the story and improves the quality of the book. I would however caution you to not publish and then check for spelling or grammatical mistakes. You should aim to publish a completed and finished version of your book.

It happens that a typo appears that you didn’t catch before, but once your book is published, you should assume you’re done with that piece of work. Otherwise your mind will be thinking that you can always change it, and you will not be as thorough in your review before publishing it. And again, if you spend time reviewing and correcting errors in an already published book, that is time that you don’t spend on your next book or another creative project.

What if you’ve published your book, and you get a professional review that suggests changing some major aspects in the story, or polish specific things such as character development, world building, pacing; should you rework your book?

This is up for you to decide.

If you feel the professional is right and there are actually improvements you could make beyond “typo corrections”, then you may want to rework the book. You can take it off the market and relaunch it once you’ve done the changes. I would stick to the rule above to then change the edition just to avoid reader confusion.

There is nothing that says you have to do what the professional reviewer says. If you disagree with what they’ve highlighted as needing improvement, then that’s ok as well. It’s your book after all, and you should trust your instincts. What someone thinks of your book or art is subjective and you need to accept that not everyone will like it. Some criticism may be fair (fair as in constructive criticism that you can take on board) and some is simply derogatory and useless that you can (and should!) brush off.

Why I’m writing a series and not a stand-alone book

When Colour Became Grey is the first book in the series but in the beginning it was supposed to be a stand-alone book.

[To my lovely readers, I’m working on the sequel, but it will take me a little while still before I’m finished. I’m trying to write it ‘quickly’ but it’s still a longer process and takes time. I’ll update you when I approach the end.]

When I started, it was much more of a ‘simple’ romantic fantasy story. But as I started writing it out, I realized I didn’t want to write another book of a human falling in love with a vampire and then the vampire telling her what to do until she realizes her true power and she takes over as the leader. The story didn’t want to be that (because yes, you as an author are writing it, but the story also has a life of its own and sometimes it takes over and I have no choice but to cede control).

As the story advanced I realized there was too much material and the story was getting too big for a stand-alone book. So I planned two. And then even that became too restrictive. Currently I’m planning the series to be three, maybe four books. But this can change.

My goal is not to write a set amount of books in the When Colour Became Grey series. Otherwise I would either stretch the story or condense it to fit a certain number of books, and I need to have the freedom to let the overall story play out at its own pace and in its own volume. I have a broad idea of where the series will go, although the ultimate ending is not clear in my head, and a lot of the finer details are either not worked out yet, or I’ve left them purposefully open for me to figure out further down the line.

I’ve seen an author advising aspiring authors to write series to build a following and a fan base. While I can understand that if you write several books within a series it’s easier to engage with your readers and create a following, I’m against the idea of planning a series simply for that reason. Because if your goal is to write whatever readers want to read, then you should research what the most bought genre is and simply write in that genre, and publish books at quick intervals. And if you’re able to do this, hats off to you. But I can’t make my head think inside a given box and at the same time write something original. I think you should leave yourself the creative freedom to write a stand-alone, or a series. If you force yourself to do a series, you might end up with books that are just dragging out the ending and you could end up losing the trust of your readers. There are many examples of movie sequels that have done just that.

When to finish & publish your book

In previous posts I’ve talked about not caving into pressure to finish a book before it’s finished just to adhere to an arbitrary timeline to get the book published. Your book will most certainly take more time than you initially planned or anticipated, and you need to give yourself that additional time to polish the story.

But there is also a risk of continuously fiddling with your story and never publishing it because it’s never perfect. I’ve had to learn that it will never be perfect. You will always want to change that word, or this sentence, or tie up this scene a bit better… you can always find an excuse to continue editing your story until you get sick of the story and decide it’s all garbage and not publish it at all.

Ask yourself why you’re reluctant to finish your book; is it because you feel the story is not quite there yet, or is it because you’re doubting yourself and you’re afraid it’s not good enough? After editing When Colour Became Grey with my hired editor (i.e. a person with an external look at the story), I felt the story was nearing its final version. I re-read the story half a dozen times top to bottom in the space of a few weeks. I wanted to make sure it was absolutely final and ready to be published.

But when you tell yourself this is now the last time you’re checking the book before publishing it, you start getting nervous and you change more things. It’s very easy to be sucked into self-doubt and rewrite dialogue, outcomes of scenes, reactions of characters, polish until you think the story is terrible and you don’t want to publish it anymore.

At some point you need to trust that you’ve done the best that you could, and let it go. The more time you spend fiddling with the book, the less time you spend on writing another book. There is a balance between perfecting your book as much as possible, and not letting yourself be crippled by fear. Of course you will see errors you’ve done post publishing, but you also need to give yourself the opportunity to write other stories and books, to evolve and change style, write in other genres. When you’ve reviewed your book a dozen times and you only interchange words that essentially are synonyms, it’s time to publish your book. Trust your gut, and not your self-doubt, and take the plunge.

Why I chose to self-publish

When I had finished When Colour Became Grey, I at first tried to get it published the traditional way. I emailed the book to a few publishing houses but after about 6 months of silence (they all warn of long delays for their replies…), I received negative responses. However, they all emphasized the fact that these decisions were very subjective, and what one publisher rejected, could be considered a jewel with another publisher.

Since I had to wait between 3-6 months for their response each time, I didn’t want to try other publishing houses and have to wait again to possibly be rejected. So I started researching how to self-publish. While it was very overwhelming, I liked the idea of being in charge and managing the process by myself.

So I signed up onto Reedsy.com where I looked for an editor, and found one I really liked. Next, I also decided to hire someone for the book cover design through Reedsy.

By then I had spent already a big chunk of money, so I decided I wouldn’t hire a marketing person or other people that offered various services to help you launch or manage your book. I uploaded my book onto Amazon’s publishing website called KDP and out it went.

I’m glad I decided to self-publish because I could choose who I wanted as my editor, how I wanted to publish, what kind of formats, how to promote my book etc. Of course this means that you not only have to write a book, but also do all the heavy lifting afterwards to get it launched and market it. But it teaches you about the industry, it makes you think about your target audience and you view yourself as a business and not just an author. You have responsibilities and you’re your own boss.

One of the things I would say to authors considering self-publishing is that you will have to accept you will make mistakes. It’s a trial-and-error process to find what works for you. Things will take longer than you think, and you have to do a lot more than you think. You have to write descriptions, catch-phrases, resumes and blurbs for your book of different lengths depending on where you want to publish. You have to categorize your book, think of adwords, where to advertize, how much budget to use for marketing. You need to format the inside of your book and register an ISBN for your book (only for print). You also need to check in regularly on your sales and update your strategy depending on what works and what doesn’t.

Why I wrote under my own name (and not a pen name)

First of all, I’m very sorry for this late post. I aim to post every week but I’ve been stuck on writer’s block for about a month (and I was distracted by other things so I couldn’t really focus on writing) and I managed to write again last week and I couldn’t tear myself away from writing the sequel of When Colour Became Grey.

So, why did I write under my real name and not a pen name?

I had initially intended to write under a pen name because I didn’t want to be famous in any way, or have people project their opinion of me onto my book. I wanted the book to stand on its own.

I couldn’t come up with a pen name that I liked and when I read other authors’ opinions as to why they chose to write under their real name or pen names, I realized I was mostly wanting to write under a pen name to “run away” from my childhood bullies. And that was a stupid reason in my mind [this is not to say it’s a stupid idea to escape your bullies]. I didn’t want them to decide how I lived my life so I published under my real name. As for the fame, think about how many authors you know by name. The majority of people know a handful. Chances are the public won’t know your name, much less your face. So I’m rolling the dice on this one.

However, I decided to follow other female authors and initial my first names so my book wouldn’t be disregarded based on bias around author gender. Some prefer to write under their real full name and are hugely successful. But I didn’t feel this was right for me.

And if you’re not sure about writing under your real name or a pen name, then I suggest you ask yourself why you are thinking about writing under a pen name (or your real name). Weigh the pros and cons of both and take the decision that makes you most comfortable. I think it’s a very personal decision and there is no one-model-fits-all. It doesn’t mean you need to publish all your work under that name, but it’s part of your author identity. If you are using a pen name, take the time to find a pen name you really like. I would argue this is more important than the title of your book. You can write many books under one author name, but I haven’t heard of many authors publishing under a new name every time they write a book (but maybe that’s actually very common and working, which is why I haven’t noticed this!)

Another thing to consider is marketing; if you build your network ahead of publishing you need to think about what name you’re using to build a following. It will be harder to use one name for marketing and promotion, and then switch to another name when you publish. This is also to consider if you decide to change your publishing name, or publish under a different name. You may have to recreate a following for that “new” author.

Why you’re never too young to start writing

You may be told you’re too young to write, the argument being you haven’t lived enough so how can you possibly capture the essence of life and pour it into a book that’s meaningful and engaging?

I started at a very young, and when I read what I’ve written back then, most of it is complete garbage. It’s infantile, naive, too quickly paced, too easy, too… too young! But I would never discourage anyone from starting at a young age, nor do I regret starting at a young age. While you may not find anything you’ve written in previous years useful (and conclude it was a waste of time), you still wrote. You thought about plot and characters. You took the time to think about why you want to write and what kind of story you want to write. You let your imagination run free. Maybe you even thought about your competition and read books in your genre to understand what makes a great novel. You’re never too young to start pursuing something you’re interested in, whether it’s writing, acting, directing film, sports or something else.

Even if what you’ve written in your early years turns out to be useless, it is still good practice and you force yourself to establish a routine. It takes a lot of dedication and time to pursue something, and there is no perfect age to start at.

Another important aspect that I realize now, is that when you’re young you have a lot more time available. Even with school, homework and extra-curricular activities, you have a lot of time to explore a creative path. Furthermore, the fact that you live with family means you don’t have expenses to pay for. You don’t have to get a job to pay your rent and food, so you’re freed from obligations you have as an adult.

Writing a book can teach you a lot of valuable skills. It requires not only creativity, but also focus, perseverance, establishing and adhering to a routine, excellent level of grammar & language skills, communication skills, thinking outside the box, research, attention to details, sense or commercialization and entrepreneurship, and many other skills… All qualities that can be useful in many aspects of life. So I would always encourage anyone to write, regardless of age.

Why I visualize most things from my fantasy worlds

After starting a new story, when part of the story is somewhat fleshed out, when I have a few characters, a few important locations that will occur throughout the story, I visualize it. Not only in my head, but in pictures and drawings.

For characters I always have a picture of their faces. It may be a random person, or a fusion of several people, but I like to visualize them. It makes it easier for me to spend time with them and learn how they interact with others, what drives them, why they are the way they are. Some are based on real people, or I draw a sketch of their face, but I always have an image of some sort for all main characters.

I draw out the building plans of places that are recurring in the story like an apartment or a police precinct. This is to help me understand where the characters live and interact with others. If you write a crime story and the detective catches his colleague behaving suspiciously, it implies that he/she can see the other person from their desk. It doesn’t work if in another scene you describe he/she tucked away in a corner and discreetly drinking whisky from a flask.

I found that if I have it visually available, it allows me to be consistent, and also gives me freedom to describe the same place throughout the book instead of giving a detailed description at the beginning of the book when the police officer walks into the precinct in the morning. It can also give you more meat for your story; maybe you need that officer to switch desk because he/she can’t observe the suspicious colleague from their corner, so maybe another cop is fired from the police force and the main character is switching desk and can now observe the suspicious colleague. You can even give the fired cop a greater role and have them interact somehow in the story with the suspicious colleague, or the main character. You can communicate the tension of the story also in the description of a place, and by visualizing your characters you can give them ticks and facial expressions that may be otherwise difficult to imagine or left out completely.

How to find the motivation to write

If someone tells me they would love to write a book but they don’t have the time, then I know it’s a daydream and they don’t really want to write one. Because you can always find the time, it’s the motivation that is lacking.

I’m not saying that everyone can spare 10 hours a day writing, or that everyone has the capacity to spare the same amount of time. For a lot of people the idea of writing a book is like the dream to quit your job, buy a boat and then spend the rest of your days sailing the seas and oceans. It’s a fantasy, but nothing that will become reality.

There is no ‘snap your finger’ solution and your book is written for you. The motivation for writing a book comes from setting time aside, sitting down and writing. Even if you sit in front of your computer and you can’t find the words, at least you’re trying [I’ve written a post earlier on how to overcome writer’s block].

Maybe you don’t have a lot of time, but if you can dedicate half an hour over the course of your day to write, well that’s better than nothing! Writing a book takes a long time and many, many drafts. But nothing will happen if you always make excuses and put it off. I’m too tired, my head hurts, the kids are impossible… Some days you will lose the battle; sometimes something does come up and you can’t set the time aside to write. But it’s very easy to say you’ll take a short break, and then it’s summer, you’re going on holidays, then school starts again, it’s someone’s birthday, then Christmas, then New Year’s, then spring cleaning, you move or you start a new job… There is always an excuse and that is where your dedication to the craft will be tested.

The simple truth is you need to put in the hours, put in the effort, and write words on a blank page. And since you’re doing this without getting paid (at least in the beginning) and it takes a long time to see a finished product, it requires even more self-control and dedication to see it through. It can be very frustrating at times. I remember days where I sat for hours in front of my laptop, trying to focus and think of the next chapter, and after hours of pacing in front of the screen, re-reading the last sentences I wrote, reading my ideas and imagining the scene in front of me, I’ve written one single sentence. It’s easy to feel defeated and give up, but that one sentence is one more sentence than you had yesterday and one sentence closer to the end. So you keep going. One sentence at a time.

So what’s the magic formula to find the motivation to write? Sitting down and writing words on a blank page, and keep at it until the book is finished.

Why I chose to write fantasy

It wasn’t really a choice, it was more of an attraction. I’ve always been more intrigued and drawn to fantasy. Escaping into a world of superheroes, where you can disconnect from your daily problems and root for the main protagonist to succeed in their quest to defeat the evil forces…

I have always had a lot of imagination and I spent a considerable about of time daydreaming especially during my teenage years. I didn’t really fit in school among the other students and disappearing into one of my fantasy worlds would be a temporary escape for me. I remember sitting in an overly hot class (the air conditioning had broken years ago) trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying, and I found myself imagining a handsome young man in military clothing bursting through the door in the middle of class and telling me I had to come with him. And the teacher and students would all be surprised at what the guy wanted from me, and I had to explain that I had to go with him because I had some special powers and was working with the military to protect the country against some threat [I’m deliberately not giving out too many details 😉 ]. I could imagine a whole story within 3 minutes, while stuck in a classroom. And I could imagine things out of any situation, there was always a way for me to escape. The door to my imagination was always wide open.

When I wrote When Colour Became Grey I wanted to create a hero story with a female lead. I was tired of reading superhero stories with a male lead and I wanted to show that a woman could also be the hero. The idea was born in a dream and initially was written with a male lead, but I switched it to a female lead after realizing that what I had written was too similar to what was already available. And when I rewrote it with a female lead, I saw other opportunities to make the story different from other mainstream fantasy stories.

I’m also intrigued by other genres like horror, thriller, science fiction… but I’ve spent so much time in various fantasy worlds that I naturally fell into fantasy when I decided to pursue writing more seriously. My very first story was actually an epic fantasy story that I haven’t finished writing, but I plan to pick up again at some point. I would also like to explore other genres, but at the moment I’m focusing in the sequel to When Colour Became Grey.