Using your emotions 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. Get ready to download in just a few days! 🙂

Whatever you’re feeling, you can use your emotions to write and let yourself be inspired by them. Depending on what genre you write, there will be emotions communicated in your writing. If your book is a horror story, the emotions may be mostly sinister, but there are still a multitude of emotions you can explore within that dark setting.

Sometimes writing is used to escape your current life situation. But what if your feelings are just too present? What if you cannot dissociate from them? As they say, if you cannot beat them, join them. In that sense, if you are having trouble connecting to your book and characters, then focus on parts of the book that are similar emotionally to your current state of mind.

Right now, I’m in lockdown, it’s cold and dark outside. I’m feeling depressed, lonely, annoyed, restless, angry. So when I write I will focus on parts of the book that are centered around betrayal, heartbreak, loneliness and despair. It will be harder for me to describe a summer wedding right now, unless I can completely disconnect from my current surrounding. And while I often can disconnect, sometimes the things in my personal life are just too present. But this doesn’t mean you cannot utilize what you feel. That way you’re not limited to writing only when you’re in a particular state of mind that fits the plot line.

What are you currently feeling? How is your writing going this winter season?

[Disclaimer: I’m working on the sequel of When Colour Became Grey, but any scenes described in this blog are always just examples. There are no spoilers in my description above. 😉 ]

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.

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.

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 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.