How to find time to write

*ebook promotion reminder!* My ebook When Colour Became Grey will be available FOR FREE to download from Thursday 26th November 8am UK time // 9am CET until Saturday 28th November 7.59am UK time // 8.59am CET. Remember to mark your calendars and tell your friends & family!

There is a difference between finding the time to write, and finding the motivation to write. Or is there?

We all have 24 hours in the day. No more and no less. Look at your average day and quantify how much time you actually spend indulging. Look at your average weekend, your work week, your month, and have a rough idea of how much time you spend relaxing, watching tv, scrolling on your phone, talking on the phone with friends/family, going out to socialize [pre-lockdown obviously…], etc. There is now a focus on how much time we spend endlessly scrolling through feeds without really doing anything productive. And I’m guilty of it too. I often catch myself doing something completely mindlessly and wasting my time doodling around.

You will realize you have lots of time, but you do other things. If you really want to dedicate time to your craft, be it writing, or building a boat, or whatever it may be, you have to compromise and choose to sit down and work on your craft instead of doing something else.

Look into if you can save time by organizing yourself. Don’t go shopping and wander through the aisles looking for inspiration for dinner. Have a plan, have a shopping list, make it your goal to reduce your time. Look at utilizing the time that is basically “lost” in your daily life, like commuting/driving while doing errands. Maybe you can’t write when you’re standing in a crowded train, but you can read. You can read books in your genre, or read educational books on whatever it is you want to learn or improve in. If you’re in a car, there are audible books, podcasts and many more tools to not let that time go to waste.

The answer to both finding the time to write, and finding the motivation to write, is the same (in my opinion). Because the “magic” trick is to simply take the decision to carve that time out of your daily or weekly time and sit down and do it. How do you motivate yourself to write? Sit down and don’t let yourself get distracted and remind yourself what your goal is. Do you want to write a book? Master a new skill? Learn a new language? Then take it one day at a time and work on it little by little. And keep at it.

Lockdown Repeat – let’s get creative

*ebook promotion announcement!* My ebook When Colour Became Grey will be available FOR FREE to download from Thursday 26th November 8am UK time // 9am CET until Saturday 28th November 7.59am UK time // 8.59am CET. Tell your friends, mark your calendars and get ready to download! 🙂

We’re now in a second lockdown, and I’m remembering my blog post about the first lockdown and my creative goals. This lockdown isn’t as strict as the first one, and not as long (for now) as the first one, but this time it’s a different season. It’s cold and often rainy outside, so the desire to go outside is certainly not as strong as during the first lockdown. So I would like to try to be more creative this time around. After all, might as well use this time to do something productive (if I can…).

As you can see from the first paragraph, I’m planning an ebook promotion. This will take up a fair bit of time planning and organizing over the next few weeks. I hope to still be able to work on the sequel to When Colour Became Grey in between work and the ebook promotion. In any case, we’re approaching Christmas and this time of the year I feel more creative. You’re indoors, with a cup of tea or coco, curled up on the sofa, a candle or two shimmering on the table. Add to that a bit of calm background music and you’re golden. It doesn’t get much cozier than that! And winter is just beginning, the darkness and long rainy days will continue until March usually so I hope to advance in the sequel even after the second lockdown is lifted.

There is also something about it being cold and wet outside, that creates this atmosphere of mystery and wonder. You can look outside and imagine the darkness weighing on your character as he/she hurries out of danger and into the safety of a tavern. Maybe there’s a sword fight in the rain, or a magic ritual performed that goes wrong…

What are you planning during this lockdown? Do you also have a creative goal?

How many people should read your book before publication?

*My dear readers, I’m very sorry I didn’t post last week. I was away and didn’t manage to write and schedule a post to publish automatically on Sunday beforehand. I’m very sorry about this!*

This is a question I’ve asked myself quite a bit before publishing. I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to send your book out to a group of “test readers” that represent your target audience and see what they think of your book. Ideally you should also be building an audience ahead of the launch and pick out your “test readers” from that audience.

When I first looked into publishing When Colour Became Grey I didn’t have a blog. I had written blogs before but they had nothing to do with writing. And because I had already started working with a professional editor, I didn’t really see how I could get a group of “test readers” to review my book on time before the editor finalized his review. And to be honest I was also very impatient and wanted to publish the book sooner rather than later.

In hindsight I think it could have been beneficial to have early feedback on the book, but I’m still unsure at what stage it would make most sense to gather reader feedback. It’s something I have in the back of my mind for the sequel, but I’m not yet sure how I want to incorporate that into the publishing process. And I have also a lot of questions still to figure out, for example how big the test group should be, which draft version the test readers should get to read, and how to pick the group of test readers.

I have an idea of my target audience, but those that have read When Colour Became Grey have identified a much wider target audience. And how to incorporate early reader feedback also touches on a more philosophical question on how you approach your work; are you writing something and then searching for the audience, or do you get an audience first and then deliver what the audience wants. There is no right or wrong answer, it’s a question of how you see your books.

Was it easier or harder to write during lockdown?

Currently, I’m based in the UK. And we were under lockdown roughly between March and June. Some people have taken that opportunity to write books or music, or even produce a movie.

For me lockdown was not as productive creatively as I would have liked it to be. I was working full-time but I didn’t have to commute and with everything closed, I had a lot more time on my hands. However, especially in the beginning of lockdown it was hard for me to motivate myself to write. Once I was done working, I needed to get some fresh air and movement. Everyone was anxious and I found myself unable to concentrate on writing. I needed more human interaction, not less. Writing is very isolating, because I can’t really write when I’m around people. For me to write well I need to be in a room by myself, with music drowning out any other noise, and no one interrupting me. So this was incompatible with the need for social interactions.

Therefore, unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of lockdown and write more. I’m very envious of those that used that time to be productive. But I’m also not too hard on myself for not having written more. It was an exceptionally stressful time and while I could have forced myself to stare at a screen and try to come up with words, I knew I would have trouble concentrating and immersing myself into my fantasy worlds. I would have been even more frustrated with myself for not being able to write pages upon pages.

So I took it easy and focused on writing in this blog regularly, write down any new ideas I had, and every now and again work on the sequel to When Colour Became Grey. It’s important to not be too hard on yourself and to allow yourself to also focus on other things. Forcing myself to write can sometimes trigger new ideas, but more often than not it has the opposite effect.

I took advantage of lockdown in other ways by seeing my family for a prolonged time [I was still following guidelines!], by connecting with people through social media, home-gyming and focusing on yoga and mental well-being.
How was lockdown for you? Have you been able to write or pursue your art?

How much is your book based on your own life?

I sometimes get asked if certain characters are a reflection of people around me, or if this or that scene is a direct reflection of my life due to some apparent similarities.

While I do get inspiration from my life, people around me, everyday situations, entertainment (movies, etc.), I don’t transpose “real” things directly into my books. I mostly get inspired by things you cannot really grasp, like a feeling, a look on someone’s face, a dynamic between two people. These are often also not things I’ve lived myself, but rather something I’ve observed.

If you look at the feeling of love as an example, there are different variations of it and different degrees of intensity, so you can explore it in different forms in a fictional setting. Some feelings are also nowadays very neglected such as loyalty, that can be interesting to investigate. If you’re finding it hard to get inspired by your own life, I’ve found that travelling and exploring other cultures can greatly inspire you. Obviously this is not really possible at the moment, but you can try things outside of your normal realm such as watch a movie that is absolutely not your genre, try out different cuisines, learn about a subject you’ve never thought of before.

You can also take something that happened in a real life, and flip it completely around into something creatively more interesting. For example you break up with your partner because he/she cheated. That’s (unfortunately) quite common in real life. But what if you take this and transpose it into a fictional setting; your two characters break up, but instead of being able to go their separate ways, they’re suddenly forced to work together because of… well whatever, you can make it up. And then you observe the character dynamics. Will they be able to put the cheating aside to work together? Are they going to talk about it or are they just going to pretend it didn’t happen and move on? Throw in an old boyfriend or girlfriend in some capacity or another, and see how that changes the dynamic.

Most of my inspiration is not directly linked to my personal life. I like to escape into my fantasy worlds and I don’t need too many reminders of my own life in there. So if there are similarities to my real life, these are purely coincidental. 🙂

What is the hardest part in the writing process?

Every part of the the writing process has different challenges. Some come to me more naturally than others. Editing for example takes me a long time, but comes to me more easily than writing a first draft.

For me, the hardest part is coming up with the plot line, and I don’t mean just the initial idea, but the complete description/action in the book. If I take the example of When Colour Became Grey then the initial idea is described in the blurb. That’s the overall direction of travel, but what happens on those 300 pages needs to be much more precise and make sense. You can’t make something happen that wouldn’t fit the character’s personality or come up with “easy solutions” or over-dramatization (I’m thinking here of a particular action movie where the main character almost dies 7 times but somehow is always saved in the last second. After the third time I couldn’t take it seriously anymore). As the author you can write exactly what you want, but readers need to accept where you’re taking them and it needs to be somewhat plausible.

To me writing is like creating an intricate tapestry. You start off with just the overall idea and you add in layers of color, pattern, use different material to give the story a different feel as you move on. The reader only sees a small portion of the threads, as if they’re going over the tapestry with a magnifying glass. But as they read on, more and more of the tapestry is revealed until they see the whole piece, and ideally you write in a way that the reader understands “insiders” from earlier in the story that they only discover once they’ve finished the story.

Initially when writing a detailed plot line, I write what the story is about looking at it solely from the main character’s perspective. Then I think about the role of the secondary characters and how they interact with the plot line of the main character (so I’m still looking at it with a view on how it will influence the main character only); are they always helping the plot advance and how do they advance the plot line, or do they interfere and force the plot line of the main character to change? After this, I question whether it makes sense for the secondary characters to act the way I’ve described it; does it fit with their personality?

I leave room for spontaneity and for the story to take control over me; just like I’ve written in my post on how to bring characters to life I let my imagination take over and take me where it wants to go. It often leads to great ideas and scenes.

How to choose names for characters

Most of my characters have changed names during the process of writing When Colour Became Grey. That’s because I either didn’t like the name anymore, or the name didn’t fit the character/story as well as I thought in the beginning.

To come up with names and get inspired, I google different lists of baby names (top 100, most controversial, unusual names, unisex names, etc.) or typical names for different countries. You can also take a name and change it slightly to make it more unique; like changing “Peter” to “Peto” (no character in my book has either of those names, I made “Peto” up writing this post 🙂 ).

Sometimes I use a name that I come across in the real world, however I haven’t used anyone’s name that I know well. For me it’s too complicated to dissociate the character from the real-life person and it also opens you up to questions on whether or not that character is based (in its entirety) on that real person. You might use their name but completely make up their personality, but your friend or colleague might take offence, or sue you for damages or a piece of your fortune if you make lots of money.

When I tell people I write, they will often ask if either they can star in my book, or if any of my characters are based on them. And just like I wrote in my previous post, I prefer people don’t know who my characters are based on and that includes names. It also makes it easier to build a character if you don’t associate them too strongly with someone real.

I try to find names that really fit my characters and speak to their personalities. Sometimes that means also using a rare or unique name. But I try to make it still somewhat easy to pronounce. Nowadays when I read fantasy, I find more and more authors use really unique made-up names that are impossible to read or pronounce, sometimes with several characters having similar names. Every author is free to do whatever they want and write however they wish, but the uniqueness of a name doesn’t make the character. You can also have an amazing character with a more “ordinary” name.

Once I have a name I like, I imagine that character in action and other characters saying his or her name, to see if the name fits. How did you come up with character names?

How do I bring characters to life?

Most characters in When Colour Became Grey are based on real people. They may not be based on people I know personally, but they are based on people that exist. Some characters are built on fictional characters from tv shows or movies, or a mash-up of several people, but I don’t ever use the same visual traits of a given person and their name. I doubt anyone would be able to pinpoint who any of my characters are based on and I prefer to keep it that way.

[Don’t use a real person that exists and use their name as well (in fiction). This opens you up to possible legal issues, especially if you display the person in a bad light and it’s recognizable who you’re talking about! I would also advise against copying fictional characters like for like. You can use other people’s work to get inspiration, but don’t flat-out copy-paste it.]

For me to be able to give life to a character I need to visualize them, especially their face. If I can’t draw inspiration from anyone I know, I will google faces or names. It’s a great way to also get inspiration; seeing a face can trigger your imagination and make you create a character you may not even have thought of before.

That is how I visually choose a character. Their behavior or personality trait is not based on that same person. If I see a face I don’t know, it’s easy to assign them character traits. For people I know it’s harder to dissociate their real personality from the one I want to create for the book. So I often spend time with the characters outside of my book to get to know them.

I can still keep writing in the book, but I will leave the reactions and intensity of the characters to a minimum until I have fleshed them out. And when I can’t write (I’m commuting, cleaning, etc.), I “spend time” with the characters. I imagine what they’re like at home when they’re alone, when they are stressed or scared, how they react when they’re angry or challenged. I also imagine how they would interact with other characters of my book; if you look at yourself, you don’t always act the same depending on who you’re speaking with and I try to recreate that dynamic with my characters.

I might be the one giving them life in the beginning, but they develop a life of their own. Wherever I want the story to go and however I want the characters to interact, is not always up to me. Sometimes I have decided what will happen in the book in a scene, but I realize it doesn’t fit the personality of the character. And then I need to adjust the story to fit the characters.

By doing this, the story often improves because it doesn’t go as I had planned it, and often when you plan a story it can be too linear, too perfect, too predictable and boring. It makes the characters also come to life and not be two-dimensional. They are part of the story and should have their space in the story, not just be part of the decor and ready to nudge the plot on, as and when needed in the direction you want it to go.

If you think of the story you want to tell, not only from the main character’s point of view, but also from other character’s point of view, you may see an angle that could be interesting to explore. How are your characters reacting throughout the story and why? Does it fit with the story itself? If the main character is evolving over the course of the story, are the side-characters also evolving? Does a dramatic occurrence such as a death only influence the main character, or does it spill over into other characters?

How many drafts does it take to publish a book?

That depends (I feel like I say that often…) on the type of book you write, how long it is, how you write, etc.

The way I write drafts is probably not exactly how other authors write. I get the impression that other authors write one draft all the way through to the end, and then amend that first draft until they get the final version of the book.

I write in my first draft until I change a major aspect of the story, then move to draft two. So I save drafts as I go along. To visually explain how I write, it’s like knitting a scarf with patterns and colour changes; when I realize I don’t like what I’ve knitted, I undo parts of it and start again, add different colours or change the patterns. But I’m not knitting it all the way through and then undoing my work.

Once I’ve gotten all the way to the end, the majority of the work has already been done and I concentrate on editing and polishing the story. This type of writing drafts works for me because I have a rough idea of where I want to end up, but a lot of the details are unknown and only come to me as I write. So if I write half the story and realize I want to change something major a quarter in, I can’t make myself keep writing to finish the story, because I’ve already decided to change something earlier on. And as I rewrite and rework the story, more things change, sometimes even the ending!

For When Colour Became Grey I had 13 drafts before I had written all the way to the end. Then I polished it for another couple of drafts, and gave it to the editor. The version I handed to the editor was about 130.000 words, and the published version is at just over 100.000 words. So I also added a couple of drafts here.

So far I’m on draft three of the sequel and I don’t think I’ll need as many drafts as for the first book of the When Colour Became Grey series. In the first book I had to do world building and think about what the tone and focus of the book series should be. I’m finding writing the sequel in a way easier because I have a base I can build on, and I have a much clearer idea of where I want book two to go, although I’m still early in the book and things have a way of changing unexpectedly…

Afterword to my readers

If there are any subjects you would like me to write about in this blog, please feel free to comment here or comment/message me on my facebook author page. 🙂

How to create your book cover

I worked with a professional cover designer to create my book cover and I highly recommend if you can afford it, to use a professional.

The cover is the visual that will sell your book. If you don’t have a good cover, it will be hard to attract readers. It’s the first impression you make on them. Your book cover will determine if a reader picks up your book and reads the blurb. It’s a powerful marketing tool and you should not underestimate it.

When I started working with the cover designer, I had drawn a sketch of what I was looking for, but I was not married to the sketch I had drawn. My cover designer had made hundreds of book covers, so I trusted he knew what he was doing. I described the book and what I wanted to communicate with the cover. In his first draft, he had completely changed my sketch and made it much better than I ever could, because he had captured the atmosphere and feeling I wanted for the cover.

The most important thing for me, was that I communicated the tone of the book and the overall story, so readers could get a taste of what awaited them. I wanted to not only have a good cover, but also one that once you had read the book, you could look at again, and understand the cover better. So when you design yours, think of what your story is in one picture. What is the atmosphere in the book? Is it a romantic story? Is it a horror story? How is the story written? Is it full of puns and jokes, or is something else? Can you include something hidden, that only someone who has read the story will understand?

While I had read on several blogs, that a mat cover was better than a gloss and looked more professional, I decided to go with the gloss. I had ordered an author copy with a mat cover, but the moment you touched it, you fingers left traces on the book and within just a few minutes it looked dirty and smeared. Most books may be in mat cover, but since I’m publishing through Amazon as a self-published author, I cannot guarantee the quality of the printer and I found the gloss cover was a better choice.