Today’s guest blog is by author Michael Cairn, who’s Fantasy novel The Spirit Room just launched. It is book one of the Assembly Trilogy. As a diligent writer we will not have to wait long, until his number two Book will follow. Michael learned eight lessons as a part-time author, while writing his latest book and a couple of novellas.
“Although I wrote my first novel in a couple of months just over two years ago, the main bulk of my work as a writer started a little over 8 months ago. It was then I launched my website, started blogging, tweeting and writing daily. This year I have written over 400,000 words, launched 3 novellas with my first full-length novel out on 1st August.
I have been really fortunate in that time to connect with some writing and marketing masters, and have learnt a huge amount from those generous people who share so much of their expertise. I have also picked up a few tips from my own ever present struggle to balance my vocation of writing with a full time job; caring for a young daughter; being a part time gigging musician and keeping the Missus happy.
Here are 8 lessons learnt from the last 8 months, I hope you find them helpful.
1. Write as regularly as possible:
As a part time author, I don’t have the luxury of living the writer’s dream. My pajamas are off by half six, and I’m on my way to work well before seven. Writing regularly has helped me to
- Write more quickly,
- Get into my flow more quickly, and thus use those short bits of time more effectively, and
- Create a lot of content in a short amount of time.
Since November, I have written three and a half novels, six novellas and a bunch of short stories. Something that every experienced self-published author agrees on is that regular, quality content is essential for those of us wanting to make the leap from part-time to full-time. I have also found that it helps to: Stop writing when you are in the middle of something. By pausing halfway through a scene, it is much easier and quicker to dive back in. If you always have to begin with a new chapter, it can take longer to get going.
2. Make time.
The key thing that has made the above possible is putting aside chunks of time in the day to devote to my writing. Once these times are programmed in, they become sacrosanct. I’m hugely fortunate in having a wife who is both patient and believes in me. She understands the importance of me getting this time, and I think it is essential that you explain to your loved ones / cats / boss / students / Playstation how vital it is. Find or make time, then make it sacred.
3. Plan your time.
Try writing down a detailed account of your day, for a few days. Include timings on everything, and be as detailed as you can. What you are likely to notice are the gaps, the short spaces of time when you can’t really account for what you did. These spaces are dead time, when maybe you watched the coffee percolator, or even better, cats on YouTube, (easily done J). This is your writing time.
A focused ten minutes is two hundred words. Look for the dead spots, and use every second that you have.
4. Read constantly.
I read constantly, and have done so for as long as I can remember.
My childhood was filled with epic fantasy and Sci-Fi, my twenties with as many classics and modern literature novels as I could find. These days it’s both and everything in between, as the mood takes me. I also read comics, of all kinds, and recommend them just as strongly as books. Just as an artist studies the masters, or a great songwriter listens to the Beatles, so we must examine, critique, learn from and enjoy what has come before us.
5. Watch people.
A big part of being an author is the creation of characters, of people others want to spend time with. The more true-to-life those characters are, the more emotional impact their journey has on the reader.
I watch people when they interact, and when they think no one is watching. I watch how they walk, and use their hands, and what their forehead does when they think, or laugh, or talk to someone. I watch people across the street on their phone, and invent the conversation. Watching people is one of the best, and most efficient ways of developing your ‘show don’t tell’ skills.
6. Write stuff that excites you.
If, as a part time author, your writing comes between feeding the cat, putting the bins out, and sleeping, or in the seven minutes you get between buying your sandwich and heading back to work, you have to be motivated. The passion to write can come from many places. Creating something that you can’t bear to step away from, that draws you back to it, really helps add fuel to the fire. Create content, be it fiction or non-fiction, which gets you going, and raises your heart rate, something that transports you somewhere magical whilst you’re writing, and those seven minutes may well be as useful as seven hours.
7. Get as much quality advice as possible.
The difference that advice and help, from trusted sources, has made to my journey is quite astounding. From a self-publishing course from Jo Penn, to the countless blogs I have read, everything I am doing now has been influenced by the hundreds of people who have done it before me, and been generous enough to share their experience. For the part-time writer, time is everything, and spending five minutes reading something that could save you hours is well worth it.
8. Ignore the advice that doesn’t work for you, or everyone is different, be yourself:
Quality advice is good but you also need to know when to ignore it. I have sometimes struggled in the last few months to deal with the fact that I am a complete pantser. My plotting normally takes the form of writing a sentence, then going ‘ohh, wouldn’t it be cool if…’, then writing a paragraph and going ‘ahh, yes, and then this could happen…’ and so on. By the halfway point, I’ll normally know how it’s going to finish, but beyond that, I’m just winging it. I read blogs on writing constantly, and therefore come across plenty of advice on plotting and planning. Every few weeks I’ll read a particularly compelling one, and find myself questioning my approach. Then I’ll remember that everyone has their own way of writing, and that mine, so far, seems to be working. So I breathe a sigh of relief, ignore the advice, and move on.”
“What works for you? Do any of these strike a chord, or do you have your own helpful hints? Let me know.”
Michael Cairns Blog Tour Bio: Chocoholic Michael Cairns is a writer and author of the real-world epic fantasy trilogy, The Assembly and science fiction adventure series, A Game of War. He is a musician, father and school teacher. When not writing he can be found behind his drum kit, tucking into his chocolate stash or trying, and usually failing, to outwit his young daughter.
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