The deadline is fast approaching…

Shortly after walking away from five days in the beautiful botanic gardens of Adelaide, with sixteen other writers, led by the fearless and charismatic Fiona McIntosh, I set myself a deadline to finish the second* first draft of my manuscript. October 31 was my D-Day.

That deadline is fast approaching. And, I’m not going to meet it.

It was an ambitious deadline, considering I have a toddler, a part (might as well be full) time job and freelance work on the side. I’ve made my peace with it. Working to a deadline is a hugely motivating way to achieve your goals. But it’s important not to get too caught up on the times when those deadlines fall through the cracks.

I had set myself a word count across four days a week. Some weeks I hit or even surpassed it, other weeks I didn’t come close. My son and I both got hit with Influenza A a few weeks ago, there was no writing to be had during that time!

Though the deadline won’t be met, I feel like I’ve still achieved so much in the past six months. Whilst I may not write every day, when I do carve out the time, I feel completely connected to my story. I’ve made huge changes and I’m proud of the work that I’ve achieved. I no longer dread opening my laptop to work on my WIP, because the story is clear to me now, and though it’s far from perfect, I am more in love with my characters than ever before.

I’ve also been able to acknowledge my limitations and put some strategies in place to work with them. After trying to fit writing into my son’s nap times and getting frustrated when he would wake up “too early”, I decided to ditch the nap time writing and either postpone it until after bed time when my husband is home and can deal with unexpected wake ups, or focus my writing energy on my train commute twice a week.

I also –  somewhat indulgently – put my son in childcare for a few hours on one of my days off so that I can buckle down and get more words on the page. I struggled with this idea at first, as if I was somehow putting my writing in front of parenting, but thankfully I have a wonderful support network of parents who reaffirmed my belief that we can’t pour from an empty cup. Resenting my son for my lack of writing time was emptying my cup quicker than I could refill it.

So where am I at with just a few days to go until deadline? As of this morning, I had written over 73,000 words. I am at the pointy end of the plot and the finish line is in sight. I have a clear idea of my ending, it just needs to be written! The anticipation of reaching the end is motivation enough to see me through the last 10K or so. I know there’s still plenty more work ahead of me, but the thought of sitting down and reading this new story from start to finish gives me such a thrill.

I am loving this journey so much more than I thought I would the second time around. I just hope that one day you all get to share in my characters’ challenges and triumphs, too.

*After feedback and learning so much at masterclass, I decided to start my WIP again, from scratch. I’d already written an 85K first draft, but so much of it needed to change that it felt more efficient to cut my losses and start again.

Managing the dreaded inbox

I recently started a newsletter mailing list (if you’d like to be on it – click here). It’s taken me a long time and a lot of toing and froing in my mind to come to this decision, but ultimately, it’s a worthwhile thing to have, especially once my book makes headway. I’ve committed to only creating a quarterly newsletter at this stage, because I don’t have the time for anything more frequent. The exception being if anything juicy or exciting comes up with my writing that I have to share immediately.

The reason I was so reluctant to start a mailing list was because I get So. Many. Emails. Between my day job, my writing and my personal account (which I’ve had since basically gmail was invented), the sheer volume of communication I receive is overwhelming. And I just didn’t want to contribute to someone else’s overwhelming inbox.

Why should you care about how full other people’s inboxes are? I hear you ask… Well, for one thing, my go-to way of dealing with too many emails is simply to delete them. Most of the time I don’t even open them. If the preview lines I can see on my phone don’t grab me, or if it’s from an account I don’t remember signing up to, or if I just don’t have time, I’ll delete it. This system is pretty flawed, because I know I’m actually missing out on a lot of great content. Which had me thinking, there must be a better way!

At my day job, I have a rule for managing my inbox. I call it The Scroll Bar rule. My aim by the end of every day is to ensure that I have only enough emails that there is no need for a scroll bar. If you work with Outlook, you’ll understand what I mean; once you get more than a certain number of emails hit your inbox, a scroll bar will appear so it can just keep adding more emails. On my laptop, the maximum amount of emails is about 10 before it expands to a scroll bar, more if I’m projecting to a bigger monitor. Those emails kept in the inbox are the ones that I still have to deal with or reply to, for some reason or another. Anything and everything else is either deleted, archived or filed into one of my many sub-folders. Now, I work with people who keep ALL of their emails in the central inbox and don’t have any sub-folders, and frankly, I think these people are monsters. Folders are my sanity system.

This system works well for me and I get a bit of satisfaction out of reducing my inbox to just the bare minimum. Even if it means that by tomorrow it will all be undone. At least I’m reading the emails and dealing with them, rather than deleting en-mass like I do with my other accounts.

So, I’ve decided to apply some of these inbox management systems to my other accounts.

Step 1: Clean up what’s already there.

Before I can implement The Scroll Bar rule. I really need to wade through the trash and work out what I actually want to be receiving, and what is pure rubbish that I should just unsubscribe from. This is a mammoth task, and one that I don’t have the time, nor the patience to tackle in one sitting. Instead, I’ve told myself that each time I open my emails I must look at every new email and make a snap decision: in or out?

If you’re in, I read the email and then delete/file it. If you’re out I find the tiny unsubscribe link and follow the bouncing ball. Do the hard yards now so that future you will thank past you for it.

Step 2: Work out where the problem is and fix it.

Before I can progress, I need to know how I have so many damn email subscriptions in the first place? Cutting the thing off at the knees will help ensure I don’t get into this mess again.

I’m sure many of you, like me, have signed up to some mailing list or another because you were going to go in the running to win a washing machine or there would be a free giveaway associated with your loyal following. I’m done with all that. I don’t want promises of stuff I don’t need. If I like your content, I’ll come back to your site. I’ll add you to my blog reading list or I’ll subscribe to an RSS feed (is that still a thing?). Just like my wardrobe doesn’t need any more shoes. My inbox doesn’t need any more eBook guides. Note to self: Don’t sign up to any more mailing lists unless you really REALLY want to.

Of course, this doesn’t account for all those sneaky companies that on-sell your contact details to other companies. But this is an easy one to deal with: If you don’t remember signing up, unsubscribe and delete immediately. Don’t even get caught up in the headlines and empty promises. It’s time to be brutal.

Step 3: Manage what does come in more efficiently.

Finally, I need to organise the stuff I’m keeping so that I can access it again later. Did you know that gmail has a setting that will delete emails in your central inbox after a certain amount of time? I’ve been caught out with this before and lost some important stuff, so if you’re using your inbox as a safety net, best to check if there are any underlying rules.

To get around this, I’ve created sub-folders in my gmail accounts too. If I want to keep anything that lands in one of those accounts, they have to be archived in the right folder. This means not only having no scroll bar, but having no opened and read emails in the inbox at all. If I read it, I must deal with it immediately.

And that’s it. Just rinse and repeat for the rest of your life.

The Writer’s Room: Jezz de Silva

Oh boy, do I have a good’un for you all today. Not only am I welcoming my first ‘bloke’ to the Writer’s Room, I’m welcoming a bloke who’s also a Romance author.

The affable Jezz de Silva has published two Romance novels, with his most recent, Against All Odds having just been released in September 2017. Jezz is an absolute character whom I’ve gotten to know through his humour and continuous tweeting of adorable animal GIFs on Twitter.

I found myself smiling and nodding along as I read through Jezz’s answers to my questions. I love his message, his optimism and his determination to see every heroine and hero achieve their happily ever after. Above all else, I love that Jezz proves that you don’t need a university degree to be an author. All you need is passion, determination and commitment to get it done, which he has in spades.

My long suffering First Reader and I live in a tiny one wombat town in the hills outside Melbourne, Australia. And when I say one wombat town I really mean it. I see the little girl when walking Bear and Max, my plot and character consultants.

Our little patch of heaven is overrun by a zoo of geriatric rescued animals who eat us out of house and home when not sleeping or guilting us into walks. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

When not tapping my fingers or banging my head on a keyboard creating happily ever afters, I love spending time with family and friends, cooking, EATING, gardening, renovating our castle, and teaching personal protection.

Apart from family and writing I have one other passion that transformed my life.

I grew up an insecure fat kid (now chunky old man) and started studying martial arts twenty years ago with the specific goal of becoming a ninja death killer. I collected black belts, fought in the ring, gave up a professional career to teach personal protection, and even worked as a bouncer.

A lifetime ago I started training with the toughest and scariest guy I could find. That man is now like a brother from a different mother and with the help of the nut bags we train with we’ve finally figured out what ‘IT’ is all about. ‘IT’ is becoming a better person, sharing what we’ve learned, helping others, and living confident, healthy, and happy lives with people we love.

I’m not a big fan of bullies and since women are victimised most in society I help women live safer, confident, and happier lives… Just like my heroes

Buy Against All Odds:
Entangled Publishing
Amazon US
Amazon Australia

  1. First of all, can you talk us through your writing process a little bit? (when, where, how much etc?)

Usually a lot of banging my head on the keyboard, then some crying, followed by more head banging. My First Reader and I don’t have kids so when I’m not day jobbing, sleeping, or getting yelled at, I’m writing. My best words come in the morning so I get up around 5am, seven days a week, and write before walking our dogs. I usually try to fit in two or three more sessions throughout the day. I write slowly so this is the only way I can get enough words down. I draft in Scrivener and revise/edit in Word. I don’t keep count as I find it turns writing into ‘work’. Instead I work as hard as I can without going nuts while making sure I’m still having fun and enjoying life.

I started as a pantser, but have become a plotter to save wasting precious words heading down wrong paths. I now write the dreaded synopsis first and use it as a starting point for a detailed outline before getting stuck into the first draft, which I find the hardest part of writing.

2. What inspired you to start writing, and in particular to start writing Romance?

We downsized our lives seven years ago and left careers we hated. I started test driving cars five years ago as a part time job and listened to podcasts and audiobooks throughout the day. After close to twenty years of studying violence and personal protection I wanted something more uplifting and ended up in Audible’s romance section. After binging on dozens of romance novels I suddenly realised all my favourite stories, movies, and TV shows usually had a love story somewhere in the plot.

Five years ago a scene stuck in my head and wouldn’t get out. I’d wake with it on my mind and went to bed thinking about it. I ended up writing it down and two years, twelve drafts, a critique group, multiple professional edits, and submissions later that scene made it into ‘Home’ my first novel (and it’s still my favourite scene in the book).

My First Reader and I still look at each other and shake our heads because the last creative writing I did was back in high school twenty-seven years ago, and I’d never even dreamed of writing since, let alone making it a career.

3. Where do you draw inspiration for your stories?

My characters, but especially my heroine. I want to give her the hero, life, and HEA (happily ever after) she deserves.

4. Your book ‘Against All Odds’ was published on September 18 by Entangled Publishing. Can you share a little bit about your publishing journey?

WOW! My publishing journey has been crazy and turned my life upside down. After finishing my first novel I figured what the hell and had a crack at getting it published. I had dreamed of getting published, but never really believed it would happen until I at least had a few novels hidden under the bed. Samhain contracted ‘Home’ (I’ll never forget that email) and I was off and running.

‘Home’ released and Samhain contracted my second book, only to close down a few weeks later. After months of limbo I figured what the hell and had a crack at getting an agent. Two weeks and a lot of happy dancing later I signed with Janna Bonnikowski of The Knight Agency. Around six months later Entangled contracted ‘Against All Odds’ and book 2 in the ‘Outback Hearts’ series, and we were off and running again.

I have no idea what the future holds, but my core job will remain unchanged. Keep improving and keep trying to write great books.

5. I don’t generally read Romance, but I really enjoyed Against All Odds. Besides the love interest between your two main characters, there were a lot of strong sub plots, including cancer, limb amputation, death of parents, Australian Aboriginal culture, blended families and life in the outback. Did you have to do a lot of research to bring all of this together and maintain authenticity?

A lot of what I write comes from what I already know. What I don’t know I research heavily. The last thing I want to do is throw my readers out of the story or upset people by doing a crappy job of representing them. I can not comprehend how long research would have taken without Google and the interweb. I also don’t want to bombard my readers with stuff that doesn’t matter so I try to leave out as much of the ‘research’ as possible and only use it to enhance the story. (Note from Kirsty: I LOVE the idea of ‘leaving out’ the research so that it doesn’t distract from the story, rather, enhances it).

6. Your voice and characters are quite distinct. Did you spend a lot of time working through your characterisations or did they come to you fully formed and ready to come to life on the page?

The honest truth is I have no idea where my voice comes from. Everything I do is centred around my characters. I only use plot to challenge my characters and bring them together. I have a rough idea who my characters are before beginning, but fall in love with them as the story progresses and I get to really know them. If I don’t fall in love with them, something’s wrong, and I revise accordingly.

7. Why do you like writing strong and independent female characters?

With my personal protection work I’ve seen and felt the impact traditional society has had on women and it drives me @#$%ing nuts. Ultimately I hope to show how powerful and amazing women are and how they deserve a HEA. Not just because they’ve found their partner, but because they’re living a life they’ve chosen which makes them happy. I can’t stand Alphaholes or any story where the heroine is simply used as a plot device or a doormat who’s ‘lucky’ to have a HEA. I’m also really looking forward to including more personal protection concepts in future books.

Another reason I like writing strong, independent female characters is that I fell in love with one twenty-six years ago and I’m hoping she’ll read this and buy me a donut 😉 (Awwww)

8. What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

Putting smiles on people’s faces. There’s enough negativity in the world and if I can help someone escape for even a few hours, it’s an awesome feeling.

On a more practical note: writing is one of the few professions you can do anywhere, anytime, by yourself, and with hardly any equipment. Writing is by far the hardest mentally and emotionally demanding career I’ve tried, but after two decades of searching, and without even looking for it, I’ve found my perfect career.

9. What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey?

I only have high school English, but I’m extremely lucky to have had the time to listen to thousands of hours of writing podcasts and how-to books. Following writers over their careers, some for as long as a decade via their podcasts, prepared me for just how demanding writing is. I still have no idea where commas and dashes go, much to the frustration of my agent and editor, but I’m slowly getting there.

10. Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?

I’m still very much emerging myself, but the best writing advice I can give is to embrace the fear and have a crack. FINISH your story (everything starts after you finish that story) and send it out to friends, critique partners, editors. Get as much brutally honest feedback as you can. Cry, throw tantrums, swear, then analyse that feedback with an open mind. Absorb what is helpful, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then send it out and start the next story.

The biggest question you have to answer for yourself is: ‘Can I write?’. Once you TRULY believe you can, rejection becomes less daunting and you’re free to hunt down your dreams.

 

I hope you love this interview as much as I have. If you have any questions you’d like asked in future interviews, or would like to be part of my ‘The Writer’s Room’ series, please contact me, I’d love to have you!