Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Fighting Writer's Block

Yesterday I was tearful. My writing, in particular, the re-drafting of my second novel, just wasn't flowing. I had the house to myself for days - more peace and quiet than I've had in ages - and yet I couldn't write.

Months ago I thought I could put down the pen and call my second novel finished. But feedback from beta readers told me otherwise. Following rejections from 12 literary agents, I sent the manuscript to beta readers for feedback. A few agents told me my work was good but not quite right for them. The beta readers helped me see where I'd gone wrong and I set about starting another 'final' draft.

Trying to re-work a manuscript you thought was finished is hard but I was sure I could do it. Feedback was positive and from the comments from betas and my critique group, I was confident about the story.

I had been putting off the this draft for a while, preferring to read fiction rather than write it. Last night, after reaching just page two of the final draft, I had had enough. I could hardly string a sentence together and I didn't know why.

I went off to bed and picked up a novel which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award. It's a great read and wondered what it was about this book that got it shortlisted. Previous to reading this book I'd read a short novel that was set in the same era and part of London as my story. It had been recommended for the tone. And just before that book I'd read another great book in which the writer expressed the emotions of the characters beautifully, something a few people from my critique group said my story lacked.

At the beginning of my writing career I was always told that to be a good writer you must read a lot. Then it occurred to me that the two books I'd just read and the current book could potentially be the answer to my re-drafting prayers and the cure to my writer's block. All I had to do was analyse the style of these writers, absorb what they were saying and how they said it.

What was it about these books that made them so good, so readable and successful? What did they have that mine didn't? The answer to those questions haunted me as I drifted into a fitful sleep, woke several times through the night and rose with a revelation. I knew the answer. I knew what these writers had done and I knew how to apply their expertise to my own story.

This morning I beat writer's block. I re-drafted those first two pages and I have way forward - at last! So what were the books that helped? Here they are:

Helped me improve on how I was putting across the emotions and feelings of my characters

Gave me a better flavour for the period I was trying to capture
Showed me the standard of quality of writing that gets a book shortlisted for a prestigious prize

Being a reader doesn't mean copying. You can't copy someone else's style and expect to be as good as someone else. So if you are blocked, look at what you've been reading and unravel the reason it has you turning the pages. Apply it to your work and cook until golden!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Author Interview - Rebecca Burns

Today I am happy to feature Rebecca Burns, writer of Literary/Historical Fiction and author of two short story collections, Catching the Barramundi and The Settling Earth.

Tell me your success stories in terms of publishing/self publishing?

I started writing short stories in 2008, when I was pregnant with my second child and forced to take a period of absence from work. My first story sent away for publication – “A Pickled Egg” – was accepted by The London Magazine, one of the UK’s oldest and best established journals. Since then, over thirty of my short stories have been published online or in print. 

I have been featured as a writer as part of the Grassroutes project, a project funded by the Arts Council and run by the University of Leicester, which showcases the best transcultural writers in the county. I won the Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition (previously the Daphne Du Maurier Festival) in 2013, and was runner-up in 2014. I was winner in the Black Pear Press Short Story Competition in 2014 and was longlisted for the Green Lady Press Short Story Competition in 2014. 

In 2012, my debut collection, Catching the Barramundi, was published by Odyssey Books, and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Prize in 2013. In 2014, my second collection, The Settling Earth, was published by Odyssey and was again longlisted for the Edge Hill in 2015.

What are your top writing tips for any aspiring writer?

Send your work out! It is important to build up your portfolio, if you want to interest publishers or agents. There are hundreds of journals and online magazines out there who might be interested in your work – sign up to a search engine/database for these journals and take note of their submission rules. Then work on your stories and send your stuff out.

What are you working on now?

The Settling Earth is set in colonial New Zealand and I drew on my research undertaken for my PhD, achieved in 2005. I am working on a novel which takes up the lives of several characters from The Settling Earth, and is set in 1893, the year that New Zealand gave women the vote. The novel explores the experiences of two sisters – their loves, their challenges, and their engagement with the suffrage campaign.

Thank you Rebecca

Discover more about Rebecca on her website and connect with her here.

For a print copy of Catching the Barramundi click here  or for ebook, click here 

and, to purchase a print copy of The Settling Earth click here or for ebook, click here