Monday, 22 December 2014

Every Writers Big Question Can you start again in the New Year?


 The Big Question: Can you start writing again in the New Year?

It won’t be easy. Even if it’s your new year resolution. 



The midwinter festivities, be they Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Yule –  the time you’ve taken out to celebrate, shop, wrap gifts, pray and sing, party, cook, eat, drink, unwrap gifts, party some more and finally (deliciously) sleep, has taken you away from your normal routine. For people with paid employment, getting back into a work routine is hard, but they have the boss and the alarm clock on their side with that one. Writing is often done as well as paid employment and rarely has the debatable luxury of a boss on your back.

 The only motivation is you - wanting to write. 

read like mad
It’s even sadder and harder if it had been going well, because you’ll notice the difference and mourn the loss without quite knowing how to get back in the grind. 

Here’s some tips from a lot of different writers about how to get into the grove and start writing regularly in 2015;
  • Nina Milton recommends writing when you wake. Just for five or ten minutes, and without thinking at all about it. As you’ve just woken up, the latter part of this...the ‘not thinking’ part won’t be too hard at all. If you keep the pen and pad by your bed right beside the clock at glass of water, it will be hard to bypass it. 
  • Lifehack recommends; Read great writers. This may sound obvious, but it has to be said. This is the place to start. If you don’t read great writing, you won’t know how to do it. Everyone starts by learning from the masters, by emulating them, and then through them, you find your own voice. Read a lot. As much as possible. Pay close attention to style and mechanics in addition to content. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/a-guide-to-becoming-a-better-writer-15-practical-tips.html
  • Nina Milton recommends you find  a writing group  you can hit it off with. Search out a local writing group and ask if you can come along to see how they do things. Writing support is invaluable, and knowing you need to write for the next group meeting is a great motivator.
  • Susan Hill recommends you buy a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Apart from  all the info you need to think about submitting, there are powerful articles https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/
  • Nina Milton recommends you go for a walk...alone. Let the ideas for your writing swirl around in your head. Take a notebook and pen.
  • Mslexia recommends you enter their short story competition. You have between now and the 16th of March to write your story and send it in. There’s a first prize of £2000 to get you salivating. Trouble is, you do have to be a woman; https://mslexia.co.uk/whatson/msbusiness/scomp_active.php 
  • Nina Milton recommends you switch modes; if you usually write onto a screen, switch off the PC and use a notebook. If you usually use pen and paper, force yourself to write on your laptop.
  • Stephen King recommends you first write for yourself, and then worry about the audience.
  • Nick Barton ( @NickBarton101 ) recommends  cutting out all the tempting opportunities from this month's @WritingMagazine. 
  • Nina Milton recommends joining a writing course. Local writing courses that started in September may now have ‘fall offs’ and so room for you. You’ll have to work hard to catch up and that will really get the blood pumping
  • Writer’s Relief recommends The Happy Writer ebook to kick start your 2015 http://writersrelief.com/the-happy-writer-ebook/
  • Rachel recommends marketing your work while you are writing (just to add the pressure) http://rachelintheoc.com/2014/12/top-3-writing-marketing-tips-author/
  • Nina Milton recommends taking out a subcription to a writing magazine in the new year. Writing Magazine is the market leader; Writer's Forum is also loved. Mslexia has the edge though, and you can still read it if you're a bloke.
  • Fiction Writing Tips ‏@WritingCraft recommends you , check out this online editiing tool… http://socialpolitan.org/fiction-writing-craft/page/AutoCrit.php
  • Nina Milton recommends that you just get on with it by trying a freewrite
    • Choose a topic, perhaps a single word, to stimulate and encourage you. 
    • Decide on a time limit, say ten minutes. 
    • go for a winter walk
    • Start writing. Allow your thoughts to ‘drop down’ onto the paper in an unfocused way. 
  • It doesn’t matter if the topic changes. It doesn’t matter what you write.
  • Once you start writing, you must not stop. You must not lay down your pen at all. If you run out of things to say, write…I can’t think of what to say…or…what shall I write, what shall I write…or repeat the last word you wrote or any other repetitive phrase over and over until you get going again (it won’t be long).
  • Do not stop to correct your work.  Don’t correct spellings, grammar or punctuation or the proper sequence of events. Try not to cross things out.
  • Use memory and your thought processes to keep writing. For example, your subject is ‘sky’ and you begin writing about stars. Then a memory of lying on your back watching the clouds comes to you, but as you write about that, you recall what you did before or after watching the clouds, so you write about that, and as you do so, you get interested in writing about the people you were with. When memory runs out, you make stuff up. 
  • Remember, that none of this need see the light of day. The reason you never need to stop writing is because it really doesn’t matter what you write.   
  • Read through your work straight away – especially if you don’t think you’ll be able to read your writing later – and use a highlighter to outline the parts you think are worthy of keeping. 
  • Feel free to add further thoughts or expand the ones that are already down.
  • Combine two recommendations! Try Freewriting when you first wake up in the morning. By writing in this half-trance state, you lift the lid to your internal world. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

How Am I Doing? Every writer wants an answer to that one


How am I doing? Almost all my students ask me that. Some ask me very regularly, some only at the beginning or end of their time with me. In fact, I think every writer wants an answer to that question, but not every writer has a tutor, or mentor who can help them. 

And in fact, you don't need someone to tell you the answer – you can easily find it out for yourself. In fact you can keep an eye on your progress as a writer as much as you like.

Jean Burnette, author of Who Needs Mr Darcy and
A Brazilian Affair, ready at her writing desk
I recommend that my students and writing buddies buy a notebook. Actually, I recommend they buy several – loads of notebooks – but just one of these will become the key to monitoring your own writing progress. I suggest that you call this your 'Progress Notebook'. (Open College of the Arts students have a different name for it, which they already know, of course.) This notebook will be where you actually write about your own writing. I recommend that you do this at least once a week - more frequently if you write every day or most days. This sort of analysis is very like the 'reflective practice' you may be asked to undergo in your paid employment, but it shouldn't be such an onerous task! 

Reflecting on the progress of your ‘writing life’ in this way will increase your ‘learning curve’ considerably – amazingly.  Even though it’s possible you may think you have no ‘progress’ to record at the moment – even though you're hardly writing more than a shopping list – thinking about your own writing in this way can be massively beneficial.

Your Progress Notebook can help you talk through your writing. It’s important to help yourself to make sense how it works for you – how your thought processes relate to your growing battery of skills and understanding. When you put all this down in words it begins to be understood on an intellectual level…whereas, when writing, you may be learning more on an intuitive level. It’s like ‘synergy’ in medicine – the idea that two separate things work okay separately, but together they work really well – more than twice as well. 

This is writing about the writing process, that is, the mental and practical activities that make the most logical progression towards a completed piece of work. It is the full process that takes the writer from nothing – not even the glimmer of an idea – to the completed manuscript, ready for printing. 

Even a small project or exercise has its writing process, shunting it steadily from conception to final proof-read. Your Progress Notebook can be of enormous help, recording how, why and when you…think about what you’ll write; draft it out; read and polish until you’re happy with it. 


You don't have to write realms. A hundred words or less can help you clarify problems and address them. Even so, at first, even bearing in mind all the above, you might find it hard to know what to put down in a Progress Notebook. Sectionalizing your analysis may help your understanding. Try writing about:
  • What works for you as a writer, and what you find difficult
  • Why you’re choosing certain genres and ways of writing…or thinking of doing so 
  • What you think about your abilities – track their improvement
  • Commentaries on the books you have read and how they inspired your writing
  • The pitfalls and joys of the writer’s life
If you can't think how to begin, try commenting on some specific piece, such as some writing exercises. You can find these all over the internet, including sites which offer a 'trigger' on a daily basis. I've included one below, so that you can start straight away. Complete the exercise, read it through, think about it and write down those thoughts, whatever they may be. 

As the first weeks of owning and using a Progress Notebook move on, you'll be able to be a bit more specific about the things you're noting. You'll be able to talk to yourself about  ‘parts’ of your writing, for instance; your thoughts and your preferences on:
      • Reporting actions
      • Voicing opinions
      • Creating dialogue 
      • Description
      • Narrative lines and 'arcs'
      • Characterization
      • Structure and plot
      • Your understanding and clarification of concepts such as Show, don’t Tell
      • Problems of drafting, redrafting, tightening 
It has been said that writers are ‘born not made’, but they don’t come fully-formed from an egg – they have to practise their skills to hone them. Like musicians, writers do have to practise ‘over and over’, and it really does get better as you do that. Recording the slow improvements you make will help you see real progress. 

However, we’re all different, and will want to record our thoughts on progress and the writing process individually. You might prefer A4 sheets of lined paper rather than a small notebook. Or you might not get on with writing by hand at all, and prefer store your thoughts in an electronic file, reading them on the screen or printing them out to clip into a plastic file. Some writers find it better  to keep reflections in a ‘mind file’, where the cogitation on the writing process started in the first place. However, I do recommend physically making these notes and keeping them for reference – if only to aid any reflective summary you might be asked to submit to a tutor or mentor. And don't forget that a separate notebook helps will get your thoughts down in a more ‘private’ environment. 

Here is a writing exercise that will get you going.

Chose any one of the autobiographical subjects from the list below.

THE WARMTH OF A  KISS
TOO DIRTY FOR A BATH
A FOOL AND HIS MONEY
BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE
ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM
A FRESH START
DRUNK AND DISORDERLY
BLAST FROM THE PAST
A TRAGEDY FULL OF JOY 
DARE TO CONFRONT YOUR FEARS
LAZY HAZY DAYS
THROW AWAY THOSE L PLATES 
DON’T SEND IT TO THE CHARITY SHOP

Now write a short account of a memory from your past life within the context of one of these titles. Remember…this is a fun exercise …try not to let it get on top of you don’t worry about the standard of the writing – you needn’t show anyone. 

Make a few notes below, then start in earnest on the next page.

Now record your thoughts and reflections – the opening entry in your new Progress Notebook. 

Just play with this…how you feel about enjoying your writing. Write freely, putting your thoughts down one paper as they come into your mind. Try to express why you want to write, and in what way(s) you enjoy the process


Monday, 8 December 2014

Coming Soon, the Title and Cover of the Third Shaman Mystery - be the first to see it!

Even I haven't seen the cover of my third book yet! And the title on that cover is a closely guarded secret. But all will be revealed in the New Year.


It's clear that even I'm scared
by the content of my novels.
They are known to keep people
awake for most of the night as
they cannot put them down.
If you haven't yet discovered
Sabbie Dare, Shaman Therapist,
you're in for a treat.
Available on Amazon, Waterstones and
all good US bookstores
 or direct from Midnight Ink Books.
So what can I tell you about book#3 to whet your appetite? I can hint that this one is set in Glastonbury, the hub of paganism and all things strange and wonderful in the UK. Sabbie Dare is yet again confronted with death and needs the help of her shamanic guardians to reach the kernel of the mystery. The story is filled with Sabbie's shamanic friends in all their colourful glory, and we're going to be introduced to a member of the Dare family that even Sabbie has never met before...and will never wish to meet again. 

Be the first to hear the exciting news, almost as I do, by subscribing to Kitchen Table Writers. The news will break here first. If you want to get the Shaman Mystery gossip just click on subscribe to my blog on Google or via your email.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths – the Kitchen Table Crime Review


Elly Griffiths’ books are always steeped in the past. Her husband is an archeologist…as is her wonderful protagonist, Ruth Galloway. Her landscape is the evocative and edgy coastline of Norfolk, where the early Bronze Age timber circle known as Seahenge – which I wrote about in an earlier blog; http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/home-and-seahenge-by-francis-pryor.html – was discovered during a receding tide. Griffiths uses the wonderful flatness of this land the almost sinister fen country, the looming mists and intricate waterways – to marvellous effect.

Ruth Galloway is a fascinating study of a professional woman trying to make sense of today’s world. The Independent describes her as…[not] a sexless zombie in a starched white coat; she is really, messily, female. And she doesn't always get things right… 

I understand exactly what they mean. Ruth's life never quite goes to plan. She’s too quick to call a politically correct digging impliment a spade. She’d like to lose weight. She like a lot more regular love, please. She has parents who seem to think that she’s still their little girl, even though she’s head of a forensic archaeology department. And in this novel, she has a secret which creates a warm and touchingly humorous sub-plot throughout the novel. 

Despite the persistent frustrations and exasperations of her busy life, Ruth is physical yet academic, open-minded, and sensitive to people’s feelings. I’m sure that’s why the crime-reading public love her.
  
In The Janus Stone, (Mariner Books), Ruth is investigating some Roman remains when she’s asked to visit a building site where a child’s headless skeleton has been unearthed. An old mansion is being demolished, and this was, in the past, an orphanage. These bones are much more recent that the Roman remains, and the two histories unravel slowly and dramatically as we reach the thrilling crescendo of the story. 

Because I use portals and transitions so much in my Shaman Mystery Series, I particularly loved the links to Janus, the old Roman god of doorways, beginnings and endings.

This is my first Elly Griffiths book. I wish I’d discovered her before, but I wouldn’t know about her now if I hadn’t been compared to Griffiths, as a writer of edgy crime novels. 

US review publication, LIbrary Journal, said of my first book, In the Moorsthe visceral suspense Milton creates is commendable, not to mention terrifying. I like pairing her work with Elly Griffiths’s atmospheric English mysteries…

That was enough to send me scrabbling for one of her books and I have not been disappointed with The Janus Stone.

Kitchen Table Writers: Nina Milton reads from her book Unraveled Visions

Kitchen Table Writers: Nina Milton reads from her book Unraveled Visions

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Questions, Questions, the life of an Author in Soundbites.


Do other writers feel hemmed in by questions? 

When I was starting out, I didn't like telling people I was writing, because they would almost instantly start asking, "are you published yet?", and as I wasn't, it freaked me out. But then I got my very first story published in a magazine and naturally, I wanted to shout that from the rooftops. I soon wished I hadn't, because the question quickly changed to "have you had any more things published yet?" I didn't like to point out – even to myself – that first of all, one has to write new things, or the chances of publication dwindle. 


Attempting to see into the future and
guess the next question
hasn't got me anywhere yet. 
But I did write new things. Stories, articles and books for children. Yet again, the questions changed. "How's the writing career going?" became the main query. I shrank away from answering because we all have our dry periods and I have had many in my writing life. "Are you still getting published?" was the question in narrow second place and that was even harder to answer. Or rather, it was easy, but painful to answer. "No, I'd have to say. No, I'm not."

Finally, however, I landed a contract for a trilogy of thrillers entitled The Shaman Mysteries. All of a sudden, I couldn't wait for the questions, because I was proud and ready with the answers. Yes, I’m writing number two. Yes, it's going well. Yes, number three is in the pipeline. 

The questions have become more interesting, too. People ask all sorts of things, now. "Where do your ideas come from?" (the Muses, I think...)"Is Nina Milton your real name?" (yes, it's my married name. If you share a name with a great poet, what's not to like?) "Are you Sabbie Dare?" (Nope. I wish. She's thinner, younger, more outgoing and far, far more courageous than me.)

Now, anyone can ask me a question by going to Goodreads. People can pose questions by clicking  on https://www.goodreads.com/author/1386905.Nina_Milton/questions 

Already I've been asked some interesting things; "What's the best thing about being a writer?" and "what advice can you give aspiring writers?" among them. 

Today, I was asked:  "I'm a bit in love with your central character in the Shaman Mystery Series. Can you tell me anything about the 3rd book? Are you writing one? Will it be out soon? I can't wait!"

Sadly, I couldn't do anything about his romantic dilemma, but I was able to tell him that the third book is now firmly in the pipeline and will be coming out in September (US) and October (UK) 2015. The title is really enticing, and the cover design has been chosen. 

Oh, yes, that's the other question I often get asked. Do I design or choose the book cover? Do I choose the title? It's a disappointing answer, I'm afraid. Most publishers don't allow their authors to pick titles or go anywhere near book covers. But this time, the title is the one I gave the book from early on in the writing process, so perhaps Midnight Ink are beginnning to be a little more trusting that other publishers. And, although even I haven't seen the cover picture yet, I do know that it ties in fantastically with the title and the overarching theme of the book.
As soon as I'm able, I'll be revealing the title and the book cover. I'm at least as excited as my readers, and I wouldn't want to keep them in suspense for a second longer than necessary. 
So watch this space for all the Shaman Mystery gossip and please don't be afraid to pose me a question on my Author Page at Goodreads...I'm certainly not afraid to answer them any more.