Writing with a toddler handicap

Back before I had children and had all day to write (all day!!! Madness.) I never thought I could write with noise or distractions. I rarely wrote to music and agonised over the words, the words, the damned words every moment. I would reach the end of the day with sometimes fewer than three hundred words done and a deep feeling of annoyance and drown my sorrows in a glass of wine. Aah good times yes?

Last week I finished a draft of my fantasy novel sitting on my unmade bed, laptop on a pillow being pelted about the head with a sock by an irate toddler who was not taking ‘mummy needs to finish this book” with any tolerance. I was literally writing the last lines and only managed to do it because I was able to hand him to his granny and shut the door for the last ten minutes. Such is the change in my circumstance and I can feel other writing parents out there nodding their heads and saying, ‘yes, welcome to the club, we are all mildly insane here’.

So my writing time now is vastly different to my previous life. However because of the time constraints I am forced to write more in a shorter period and agonise less. In a half hour session I can sometimes get fifteen hundred words down, or close to two thousand on a really good day and I don’t agonise over what I may have written because there’s lunch to make or a crying baby to soothe so after the session is done, I’ve clocked off. And there’s a certain freedom in that. My writing time now happens when both my children are asleep. Some days this doesn’t happen, other days I might get two hours so I’m training my writer brain to be more flexible and switch on when the opportunity is there.

It doesn’t always happen. Some days I’m just too tired and do nothing but sit on the couch feeling mildly guilty, drinking tea and watching Ellen, but that’s the reality of writing with small children  it’s always swings and roundabouts.

I have learned a few things though about how to cope:

1. Don’t re-read the previous session’s work, there’s no time, just get typing.

2. Don’t worry about spelling errors or hitting the comma key instead of the full stop, that’s what the edit is for just keep going with the flow of the words that are coming.

3. If the words aren’t coming use the time to plan. I review my outline and make notes on scenes that need to be written. Sometimes just making notes can spark a writing flurry.

4. Be happy with any word count I manage to get done. Even one hundred words is better than no words. Writing a book is a marathon with rest stops, not the hundred metre dash.

The main thing I’ve learned though is to be okay with that fact that there will be days when I accomplish little more than a few words and a line of notes and other days when I get nothing done at all. I’ve gathered more patience, let go of any delusions of perfection and accepted that for these few tracksuit years, writing will be harder, take longer and deadlines will need to be fluid, but that’s okay because I’m certainly not alone in this and one day I’ll be back to those full days of writing and wine and look back on this with some nostalgia.

Or possibly not. Excuse me now, must fly, I think Ellen is starting….



Pitching your book from an agent’s perspective: AFCC 2014 Singapore

Writing a great pitch about a book to gain an agent or publisher is one of the hardest tasks for any writer. What do you put in it? How much of your book do you share? What do they want to know????  It’s all very hard and even for published authors it can cause you to pull out your hair and take up drinking tequila slammers again as if you’re at a college pool party.

However help is at hand! One of the panels I went to during my recent trip to Singapore for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content was by Fran Lebowitz on pitching. Fran has many years experience as an agent having worked for twelve years as an agent with New York based agency, Writers House. She had some great tips to share and went so far as to collect pitches from the audience and gave helpful criticisms about each pitch to help those authors make a more successful bid for a publisher.

Technically a pitch needs to be short, punchy and sincere. Everyone in publishing is time poor so you need to gain their attention in a way that makes it easier for them. Waffling on about yourself, your hopes and dreams and all the airy fairy stuff will see your pitch relegated to the round file (ie the bin) and send the agent/editor to the drinks cabinet. Don’t do it. You need to project professionalism and convey the heart of your story in as succinct but interesting a way possible. Easy right? Not.

So what did Fran say? This is what I noted down:

1. Start with who you are, if you have any published work tell them and if one of those books sold well, or went into reprint tell them that. If you’re not published don’t be worried about not having any sales to tell, mention something interesting about your self, something they can use to promote you. Something different about you. Did you scale Everest? Win an interesting competition? Have a hobby that sets you apart or an interest apart from your writing that could be a talking point? Really think about yourself as a marketable asset as well. For example I would include that I have an unusual birth heritage and love to travel and how done a lot of it.

2. Now you’re talking about your book. Tell them the genre and readership.  Think about what already published book you can compare  your novel to. Now this does not necessarily mean picking the mega seller. Be realistic and show with your choice what sort of readership your book is for, but don’t undersell it either. Research your market well and be aware of what is already out there so you can tell the agent/editor your book would appeal to those who read X.

3. Find the hook – this is the more interesting part of the story, or part of the character that is different and put that first in your description. The first line about your story can contain a lot of information but it must be substantive, not impressionistic. Don’t waffle be specific.

4. Don’t be repetitive and don’t try to introduce too many names of the characters in your book. Stick to the main characters names and if referring to others just use their relationship to the protagonist. eg. Hannah’s aunt, mother, neighbour, friend. The agent/editor wants to know who the book is about; the main character.

5. As an aside Fran also mentioned that when you’re out and about trying to get attention for your book at conferences, or conventions, think about having postcards printed with the book’s details and your contact information. It can’t hurt.

Good luck fellow writers!