How often should you post on your blog (and announcement on the future of this blog!)

After a prolonged absence, I’m back and thought I’d talk about how often you should post on your blog. And why I haven’t posted regularly for a while.

Most advise you to post often on your blog. I used to post every week, but after a few months I found I was running out of ideas. This blog was meant to be talking about the writing process and my experience with self-publishing, but once I had explored most subjects (at least that’s my impression), I found myself rehashing the same subjects through a different lens. And I wasn’t enjoying writing anymore. This is partly why I haven’t posted regularly. I prefer to not post anything, than post something I have written halfheartedly.

To this effect, I’ve been thinking about diversifying this blog and write other pieces, not just about the writing process. So I will be rearranging things on this blog and publish something different soon (I’m thinking along the lines of short stories and free poetry).

If you’d like a sneak peek, you can go to my instagram and look at the highlight titled “Thoughts” where I’ve started posting free poetry and quotes.

I appreciate every one of my followers and I’m very grateful you take the time to read what I post. I hope you will like the new stuff I will post soon. Stay tuned here for the next post and thank you for your support until now!

You will receive an email/notification when I post something on my blog (if you’ve subscribed to this), but I will also announce any new blog post on my Facebook Author page and my instagram page, so be sure to check those platforms for regular updates as well.

What would you like to read on this blog? Short stories or free poetry? Or something completely different? Leave a comment below. 🙂

Looking back on 2020

It’s been a long year and a rather hard one. I remember thinking on New Year’s 2019 that 2020 would be my year. I had lots of plans and they didn’t really happen. But that doesn’t mean it was a year wasted.

I thought that 2021 will be much better because Covid19 will be under control. With the latest news I’m starting to think 2021 will be just as challenging. But I’m determined to make the best of it. And therefore, I also have to look at 2020.

While I didn’t write as much as I had hoped during 2020, I maintained this blog and I’m working on the sequel of When Colour Became Grey. This year was exceptional because the world was very stressed about the virus and the unknown it represents. It’s hard to feel inspired and write on your fantasy novel, when you’re thinking about money and preparing a plan in case you lose your job.

Now, I know what’s coming. I know the governments can with very little to no notice close all borders and impose restrictions. It’s still incredibly stressful to have this unknown around you, to be scared of going outside and being isolated from others, but I know what the restrictions will be. And you learn to live with the fact that you can’t plan in advance.

In a writing context it means that I have to be flexible with my writing schedule, and at the same time I need to stick to it a bit more. This year I’ve let myself go, but next year I need to be more productive. I have another idea brewing in my head for a short story that I may slip in before publishing the sequel of When Colour Became Grey, but I haven’t fleshed it out enough to start writing it.

I definitely have writing targets for 2021, and once I’ve moved, I will visually display them so I keep an eye on them. 😉

And while 2020 might not have been what we all hoped, 2021 will be better. I for one will not let Covid19 derail my life more than it already has. I will make the best of it, however I can.

What are your writing goals for 2021? Did you reach all your writing targets for 2020?

The number 1 lesson learned from my first book launch

Perseverance.

There is no overnight success, it takes a lot of time, a lot of energy and money. The money to me is not so material than the time and energy aspect. The fact that promoting a book takes money is obvious to me, but I had underestimated the amount of time and energy it would take.

Naively, I thought that by telling all my friends and family, colleagues and anyone I vaguely knew about the book, everyone would buy the book, leave glowing reviews, and it would somehow take care of itself and sales would just multiply exponentially with Amazon’s trending features etc. I’m not saying you can’t have a bit of luck and you publish the book that everyone has been secretly dying for, it’s read by masses of people around the globe who all rave about it and suddenly you’re on Oprah. It’s possible, but highly unlikely. And I’m not saying this to discourage anyone. I’m saying this to prepare you for the marathon ahead of you.

Your network will read and promote it, but your network is not enough, unless you already have a large robust network of readers. And creating a network takes time and effort.

Firstly; no one knows you. Why would you buy a book from someone you’ve never heard of? The cost of a book is low compared to other activities, yes. A paperback is basically the price of a glass of wine at a restaurant and an ebook can be priced as low as 0,99GBP. But when is the last time you bought a book from someone you had never heard of? That’s the first hurdle.

Secondly, and heavily linked to the first point; your book has no or very few reviews. When is the last time you bought something that had no or a very low number of reviews? How much would you pay for something that you basically can’t return because the book is not like an iPhone cover you can return if you don’t like it?

And thirdly, linked to the second point; if you buy a book, you’re committing to reading it. And that means you’re asking a reader to not only pay for your book, but also spend time reading it. And if you’ve ever had the experience of reading a bad book, you know how selective you become especially towards unknown independent authors.

These are the three main hurdles as I see it. So you can’t rely on your network to do all the work for you. You’re the one who wants to make this book a success, so you have to promote and advertize it.

And simply throwing money at it doesn’t work either. If you want to advertize and promote your book, you need to understand the options you have, and dedicate time and energy to figure out target audience, ad words and search terms, create promotional text and pictures, analyze sales and adjust your campaigns.

However, all this is not said to discourage anyone. It’s to let you know publishing a book is just the first step. It will be a long grind and this is just the beginning. But it is worth it. Every time I read a positive review it makes my day. Because even if I know it’s a good book, it’s nice to share this with other readers and be confirmed that it’s not just you that holds this belief. Especially if you’ve faced criticism before, or been told that no self-published author can ever “make it”.

All you can do is keep at it. Making a book a success is a lot harder than it looks, but also very much worth every sweat and tear.

Why it’s good to get bored

During the day you’re always busy doing something; working, running errands, cooking etc. And when you’re writing, your mind is also active. You’re thinking about plot line and characters, how the story should develop, how to market your book…

It’s hard to be bored nowadays. When there’s nothing to do, you still reach for your phone or tablet, or distract yourself by doing something. You don’t really ever sit down and look out the window to let your mind wander. And that means on the one hand you can organize your time, always increase your productivity and utilize your time at the optimum level. Even when you relax, you watch tv or read a book or have a conversation, but you don’t stare outside and see where your mind goes. On the other hand, by always doing something with your time, you don’t let your brain entertain itself by forcing you to be bored.

I believe that being bored is important. I believe we should take the time to stare into the air and wait for our minds to wander. And the reason for this is creativity. Because when you’re bored, that’s when your creativity switches on. Connections are formed that you wouldn’t have predicted otherwise and you can have brilliant ideas.

So even if it looks like you’re wasting your time, you’re actually letting your mind work in the background. And there’s a way you can potentially influence in which direction your mind wanders. When I was studying in school I used to quickly revise one last time before going to bed on the evening before a test, so it would be the last thing on my mind before sleeping and I would hopefully remember it better in the morning. It meant that I would dream about the subject as well. Using this, when I effectively force myself to get bored, I always start by thinking about the books I’m writing. And as time passes, my mind wanders in random directions, but at least I’ve started with my books so hopefully I can then trigger some great ideas.

Have you tried this as well? Do you get bored? And how do you “use” your time when you’re bored?

Using Word features to organize your thoughts

It’s sometimes difficult to keep track of what is happening when, especially if you write a longer book, or to remember if you’ve explained something already or if it’s just in your head.

When I write, I often let my mind wonder and let the fingers type away on my keyboard. I don’t worry too much about how it works in the overall story. I have the outline of the story in the back of my mind, but I don’t interfere or direct my thoughts in any one way or another.

In draft one, I have lots of scenes and patches written. Next step is about connecting and changing them so they make sense and fit together. I don’t write the whole story in the first draft.

Often I will have many open questions that remain unanswered for months on end, until I figure out what to do with them and how they fit in the story. It can range from a character I haven’t introduced or assigned a role yet, or a scene I don’t know where to place, but it can also be insiders that hint towards something, but I haven’t yet written the corresponding part to it. I need to remember to finish that thought somewhere. For this I use footnotes in Word a lot. I use them to remind myself of plot holes or things that don’t work at the moment. Often I will forget about them until I read the footnote (hence why I always write it down). And reading them repeatedly helps me remind myself of what I still need to figure out. These footnotes accumulate in the back of my mind so when I write new parts, or rewrite parts, I will remember them and incorporate them.

I also use colours when I want to highlight something that is currently written a certain way, but needs to be rewritten, but I can’t figure out how yet.

I also highlight important things that I know will be key moments in the story, so that when I look for them or want to double-check what I wrote previously, I can quickly find it. I use this for example when I introduce a character for the first time.

How do you organize your thoughts when you write?

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. 🙂

Does great writing only come from pain?

There is a theory that all art is best when it’s fueled by pain. While I agree that some art created from pain is great, it can’t only be about pain, and it shouldn’t keep you from writing from a place of happiness.

When you’re in pain, you’re more in need of an outlet where you can share your pain, but “hide” behind the creative aspect of it. When you use a creative way to express your pain, you can direct your pain and manipulate it in a way that’s the most freeing for you. You’re in control of what happens; if you’re writing about a break-up, you can end it differently than it ended in real life. You can share your deepest darkest thoughts, live out a fantasy, and free yourself that way from your pain.

You can seek to be understood, but at the same time you’re separating yourself from your pain by turning it into art. That art is a piece of you, but only a piece and doesn’t reflect your true self (not always at least). And once you write out your pain, you can leave it and find peace.

There is also something interesting about exploring other people’s pains through their art (explore as in live, feel and share). Someone might be able to capture and express through their art what you feel, and it can liberate you as well. Art is a form of communication and a way to link people from across the globe together. Maybe it’s because we all struggle in some form or another in our lives, and it’s easier to connect to art that speaks to some aspect of our life. It gives us an escape, but at the same time it’s a way to be inspired, feel comforted and share our own experiences.

I said at the very top that it can’t only be about pain though. If a story is only about struggling, it can become very heavy and dark. So I think it’s about finding the right balance between pain and happiness. Writing (to me) is a reflection of the ups and downs of life, so it can’t be all good or all bad. It’s a mix between highs and lows. I also think it’s limiting to say that you can only write from a place of pain; I think writing is about exploring all your feelings, and expressing them whether they are happy or sad, angry or nostalgic.

What is the easiest part of the writing process?

Last week I explained the hardest part of the writing process for me, I thought this week I’d delve into what I found was the easiest.

Instinctively, I would say the easiest part was the character creation. I had a very clear image of the main characters and their motivation, partly because I base them on people I know, partly because whenever I experienced writer’s block I would spend time with my characters. This would often trigger ideas for the plot line. This also meant that when I then came up with ideas for the plot line, I knew if it would fit with the personalities of my characters, or if the plot line would need to be tweaked to make it work, or if my characters needed to be “strong-armed” into reacting the way I needed them to.

Character development along the plot line was a bit harder, but because I knew my characters pretty well, I knew what kind of catalysts I would need to make them evolve along the story. By extension, I also didn’t have too much trouble finding character names. Only the main character changed names several times.

Another easy part which I had alluded to in my previous post, was the editing process. It took a long time, but once you’ve written the story all the way through, you know where you want to go and you can more easily cut scenes that are not really advancing the plot. I’m basing this on working with an editor. He made this part infinitely easier. When he made suggestions, I knew if I liked his suggestions, or if I disagreed with them. This gives you perspective and makes it easier to trim your story and perfect the pacing.

In writing the sequel, I found it easier to start writing the beginning because I already have a base I can use. I would say I’ve written the first quarter easily, but then it slowed down. I have the ending figured out (more or less) and parts of the middle, but it’s connecting the parts and making it all flow that seems to be trickier. What do you find easy when writing? What is harder?

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?