Five Straightforward Ways to Create Stronger Characters

If your story doesn’t have strong, compelling characters … no-one’s going to want to read it.

That might sound harsh. But however intricate your plotting or however exotic your setting, if your characters are flat and uninteresting, there’s nothing for the reader to invest in.

We read stories because we’re interested in people… and what happens to them.

If your characters seem insipid or passive, here are three ways to make them into stronger, more interesting people.

Continue reading »

How to Find the Time and Energy to Write When You Have Young Children

The hardest thing I’ve done in my life is having kids.

I love them to bits … but if you’re a parent, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that nothing prepares you for the reality of children!

Some people stop writing altogether while they’re busy raising small children. If that feels like the right option for you, then by all means take it – I’m certainly not here to say you should be writing. There’s nothing at all wrong with having a break.

If you do want to keep on writing though, then it’s possible to carve out a bit of time, space, and most importantly energy.

(Not necessarily easy, but possible.)

Here are some things that have worked for me: I’d love to hear your tips, too, in the comments.

Continue reading »

Six Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing Environment (and Get More Done)

Do you have lots of great writing intentions … only to find your day filling up with all sorts of other things?

When you do sit down to write, are you easily distracted?


Hey, me too!

I’ve come to realise that this isn’t a weakness in myself: it’s more about the nature of writing. There’s often a lot of resistance associated with getting started … and even once you do get going, it can be very hard to get into flow.

For years, I used to imagine that I would – somehow – become able to effortlessly focus for hours at a time.

And, in fact, I can!

But not when I’m at home.

Continue reading »

Should You Ever Edit While You’re Writing?

A lot of writers will insist that you should never, ever edit when you’re writing.

You can even use software that disables the backspace key, or that starts eating your words if you don’t type fast enough (Write or Die).

Personally, I think a rather more balanced approach is fine!

While too much editing when you’re writing can be a real problem, if you’re occasionally hopping back a few sentences to tweak something, or if you backspace every so often to fix a typo, that’s fine. (I type fast, which means I tend to end up correcting mistakes several times in a sentence…)

Here are my rules of thumb for keeping writing and editing as distinct as reasonably possible:

Continue reading »

How to Set Up an Email List – For Free

Whatever you write, and whether or not you have a blog or even a website, it’s a great idea to have an email list.

You might have heard this called an “email newsletter” or “mailing list” – it’s basically the same thing. The idea is that you let interested readers enter their email address on your site, so you can send them updates.

Some writers and bloggers do this on a regular basis, with a weekly or monthly “newsletter”. Others just email when they’ve got a particular bit of news to share – like a new book coming out.

It’s up to you how you use your email list … but it’s crucially important that you have one.

Continue reading »

What to Do When Your Writing Goals Seem a Long Way Off

What do you want to achieve with your writing?

You might have all sorts of goals. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • You want to win a short story competition.
  • You want to make an extra $500/month freelancing.
  • You want to make a full-time living as a fantasy novelist.
  • You want to sell 100,000 copies of your latest book.
  • You want to get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Some goals are more “realistic” than others. Some goals might take years or even decades to achieve.

Whatever your writing goals are, you might feel like they’re a very long way off. If you’ve currently written a total of two short stories, ever, then making a full-time living writing fiction is going to take a while.

When your goals seem so far away, it’s easy to get discouraged – or even to give up entirely. If you’re going to keep writing, you need to do three key things:

  • Set intermediate goals
  • Get support from other writers
  • Review your progress regularly

Continue reading »

Using Google’s “My Maps” to Keep Track of All the Locations in Your Novel

I’ve got a particularly bad writing habit – and I suspect I’m not the only person who does this…

All too often, I leap straight into the next scene with very little thought about where exactly my characters are located.

If I was writing something focused on a single place (neighbours in a small town, friends at school) then this might make sense. But in my Lycopolis trilogy, my characters are scattered across the UK. Often, they need to journey from one place to another … and in drafting the novels, I tend to simply ignore the finer details of where exactly everyone lives and how they get from A to B.

(I’ll admit that geography isn’t my strongest point in real life, either: if I’m going anywhere new, I tend to look at a map every 30 seconds, and even then, I often take a wrong turn…)

My lovely and longsuffering editor, Lorna Fergusson, often has to pull me up on this – reminding me that readers will want to know what road a character is driving down, or where a particular house is located.

And she’s absolutely right.

The best tool I’ve found for keeping track of everything is Google’s “My Maps”. This is really handy for not only pinning down points on the map, but also for checking driving (or walking or cycling) distances and times between different places.

Note: Obviously, this won’t help you if you’re making up a location (whether that’s a fictional town in the real world, like Sophie Hannah does with Culver Valley in her crime thriller series, or an entire fantasy world).

Continue reading »

Why You Should Join – Or Start – a Local Writers’ Group

Do you belong to a writers’ group?

Some authors don’t feel they have much benefit … and I’ll agree that if you’ve got several published books that are selling well, you’re probably rather beyond the local writers’ circle stage of things.

If you’re at an earlier point in your writing career, though, a writers’ group can be a very helpful, nurturing part of your writing life.

When you meet with fellow writers on a regular basis, you’ll (hopefully!) find that:

  • You feel supported and understood. It’s hard to overstate how critical this can be, as a writer. If no-one in your family or current group of friends “gets” what it is to be a writer, and sees your writing as a weird hobby at best (and a waste of time at worst), then you need the presence of fellow writers in your life.
  • You get practical help with honing your writing. While not all writers’ groups will workshop members’ writing, many do, and you can also approach other group members to set up a private manuscript swap.
  • You set aside time to write. Some groups exist primarily as opportunities to write alongside one another – if you join a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) meetup in November, that’s how it’ll work. Other groups do a writing exercise or two each time, then move on to other activities for the rest of the session.
  • You’ll learn more about great writing. Your group might invite speakers, or members might take it in turns to give a short talk about a particular aspect of creative writing. If you’re workshopping one another’s works-in-progress, you’ll also find you learn a lot from examining other people’s mistakes (and strengths).

While there are lots of excellent online groups out there, and these can be a great support, I’m focusing here on local groups that meet regularly in-person. It’s hard to achieve that kind of interaction and focus online.

Continue reading »

How Can You Keep Writing if You Work Long Hours?

“I currently run an IT staffing agency and work in excess of 60 hours during the week, not to mention what gets handled on the weekends. So my question is this: how would you balance that with a love and desire to write?”

This is what Bryan wrote to me a few weeks ago … and I wanted to address his question on the blog, because I’m sure he isn’t the only person in this situation.

Maybe you’re struggling with something similar. It might be a 60-hour week, or caring for small children, or looking after elderly relatives, or working two jobs to make ends meet … whatever’s going on for you, there simply isn’t much time to spare for writing.

And let’s be honest: there are no easy fixes here. If there were, you’d have found them already!

For the sake of this post, I’ll assume that you can’t reduce your working hours (or get help with other areas of your life).

And yet you really want to write.

A lot of the conventional, tried-and-tested writing advice simply doesn’t apply to you. You simply cannot write for an hour every day, or block out two evenings per week to write. You don’t have the time – and you definitely don’t have the energy.

When I asked other authors about this in the Alliance of Independent Authors members’ Facebook group, the general consensus was that:

  • It is hard to write when working long hours – cut yourself some slack!
  • You need to accept that you can’t write much, or for long.
  • Use little scraps of time to write … five minutes here and there add up.

Here are the two solutions I’ve found in my own life when time (or energy) has been at a premium:

Continue reading »

Editing Your Novel on Your Kindle: Creating a .Mobi File and Using Send-to-Kindle

Editing your novel on your kindle -- creating a .mobi file and using send-to-kindle

You’ve got a finished draft of your novel – hurrah!

Of course, you know the hard work isn’t over. You’ll want to edit your novel (and quite possibly run it past some beta-readers).

Like many authors, I prefer not to dive straight into an edit on-screen. I think it’s really helpful to read through the whole manuscript first, getting something closer to a normal reader’s experience of it.

In the past, I used to print draft manuscripts using Lulu. I’ve still got the very early drafts of Lycopolis:

For the past few years, though, I’ve been transferring draft manuscripts onto my Kindle Fire and reading them like any other Kindle book. (I also give them to my earliest readers for their Kindles.)

The best way to do this is to turn a Word document manuscript into a .mobi file for Kindle. Luckily, Amazon provides an easy, free way to do this.

Continue reading »