The Gritty Truth About Writing

It was a Saturday night.

My head was thumping and my eyes were sore.

My entire body ached – especially my shoulders, which were knotted tight.

How much longer will this go on for? I wailed into the darkness.

I thought of the rest of the world all out enjoying their Saturday night – dancing, laughing, drinking cocktails with fun names like Tequila Facelift and Vodka Orgasm – and it made me want to weep into my glass of water.

But I wasn’t ill that Saturday night.

I wasn’t stricken down by the flu or in the grips of a migraine.

I was writing my first novel.

And I was wracked with exhaustion and despair.

I had no idea if what I was writing was any good.

I had no idea if I’d ever get the plot to work.

I had no idea if my characters were likeable or even believable.

Basically, I had no idea.

I felt like giving up practically every single day but somehow – thankfully – I kept going.

And I kept going because I had grit.

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Writing a book takes creativity and imagination … but it also takes a huge amount of determination.

It’s easy to dream of writing … but quite another thing to keep on showing up at the page, day after day after day after day.

Or, in my case back then, as the mother of a young son, night after night after night after night.

So, how do you find the grit to get the words down on the page?

How do you overcome the nagging doubts that sit on your knotted shoulders as you type, telling you you’re not good enough?

The answer is, you have to want it really bad.

And you have to get crystal clear on why you want it so bad.

It could be that you’re desperate to share the message of your book with the world…

Get crystal clear on why that is. Who or how would you be helping?

It could be that writing is as essential to you as breathing…

Get crystal clear on why writing makes you so happy. Make your writing all about enjoying the journey, stop obsessing about the destination.

It could be that you love the idea of entertaining or inspiring or thrilling or scaring readers with your words…

Get crystal clear on how happy this would make you feel. Picture your words lighting up others all across the world.

If it helps, free-write your answers to the following prompts:

  • I have to write because…
  • My dream life as a writer would involve…
  • If I don’t follow through on my writing dreams I’m afraid that…

 

Back when I was writing my first novel my main motivation was the financial freedom a book deal would give me.

When I had moments of doubt and despair like on that Saturday night I’d remind myself of exactly how badly I needed to make it as a writer.

Making it as a writer would put me back in control of my own destiny again, doing something that I loved, and really, who doesn’t want that?

So, I kept on showing up at the page, learning my craft from my many mistakes as I went.

And a couple of years later, my first novel was published.

I’ve since had ten other books published under my own name, plus several more as a ghostwriter.

And one thing I’ve learned more than anything else is that it’s grit, fuelled by desire, that makes writing dreams come true.

 

For more writerly inspiration please visit the Dare to Write section of this website.


The Gilmore Girls Guide to Great Writing

The only good thing to come out of my bout of flu earlier this year was that – in my desperate search for something to watch in my feverish, bed-ridden state – I came across the show Gilmore Girls.

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Gilmore Girls is a comedy-drama series about a young single mum and her daughter, set in the fictional small American town of Stars Hollow. It originally aired from 2000 – 2007 and all seven series are now available on Netflix PLUS a Gilmore Girls revisited special.

Each series contains twenty-two, forty-five minute episodes. It’s a Netflix binger’s paradise. And – in my humble opinion – a masterclass in great writing.

To anyone interested in writing, I thoroughly recommend you watch it. Here are my takeaways from a writing point of view and why I think it’s so good…

 

Great, nuanced characters

Gilmore Girls has a huge cast of characters, all of them colourful and well-rounded. It’s a great example of how it pays to spend time developing your characters before starting to write. Take time to flesh out their backstory; to give them interesting quirks and traits and to develop their own distinctive voice.

 

Whip-smart dialogue

And speaking of voice, Gilmore Girls excels when it comes to dialogue. There’s a lot of dialogue in the show but it’s razor-sharp, funny, pacey, and packs a punch. The verbal sparring between the characters is brilliant and each of them have their own distinctive verbal ticks.

 

Wonderful world

The world of Stars Hollow has been so well realised you want to slip through your screen and live there too – or at least I did! The funny traditions, the town meetings, Luke’s Diner, the store, the town troubadour(!), the writers have created a wonderful world for the show. Take time to develop the settings for your stories so that they become characters in their own right.

 

Perfect balance of humour and poignancy

Although Gilmore Girls is way more funny and feel-good than sad, it still has its very poignant moments. This contrast between light and dark makes it compelling viewing. You become emotionally invested in the characters because the writers show us their vulnerabilities and make us truly care. Make sure your own story contains light and dark. Play on your reader / viewer’s emotions to make them care.

 

Realistic relationships

The relationships between the characters in Gilmore Girls are believable and compelling. Even the closest relationship in the show – between Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory – is tested at times. And when they become estranged in one of the series it made for gripping viewing. On-off romances, mother-daughter tension, professional and love rivalries, friendship, fallings out – Gilmore Girls has it all and handles it all in a way that’s engaging and believable.

 

Well-developed secondary characters and ‘baddies’

Even the minor characters in Gilmore Girls are interesting and well-developed. The same is true for the occasional ‘bad’ character. We’re shown why they’re troubled and as a result feel empathy for them. The writers haven’t been lazy or taken any shortcuts and this greatly adds to the richness of the viewing experience. Take the time to fully flesh out all of your characters – it will really pay off.

 

Full of heart

As a result of all of the above Gilmore Girls is full of heart. You feel better for watching it; warm inside and more hopeful and optimistic about the world. It’s like mug of hot chocolate in TV form but without being too sickly-sweet. I can’t recommend it highly enough…

 


Don’t Give Up Too Soon

 

TRUE STORY: Once upon a time, I wrote a book. I was very happy with what I’d written – excited by it, even. I handed it into my publisher feeling elated.

Then I got my editor’s letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She liked the way I’d written it but not the key storyline, which she asked me to take out.

I was gutted.

But I took out the storyline and delivered Draft Two.

I handed it into my publisher feeling relieved to have completed the rewrite but slightly dejected. It didn’t feel like it was mine any more. It felt flat and uninspired.

Then I got my editor’s second letter.

In summary: she didn’t like what I’d written.

She felt it was lacking in drama.

I agreed.

But by this time I was so disheartened.

I was about to move house. I had another book to deliver. I didn’t have time to do another major rewrite. I didn’t have the energy.

I cried.

I got into a major ‘woe is me‘ strop.

I comfort ate my way through the Cadburys catalogue.

I wondered if I ought to just quit.

Sometimes giving up can seem like such an inviting option.

Especially when you’re wrung out and feel stretched to breaking point.

Quitting = an end to the stress

Quitting = an emotional fire exit

But giving up too soon can lead to a lifetime of ‘what if‘s and disappointment.

Sometimes, when you’re close to giving up, that’s the very time you need to dig in and double down and graft your way through to the other side.

You don’t need to quit, you need shedfuls of grit.

Once I’d taken a couple of days to wallow in self pity I reminded myself that having a book deal – especially nowadays – is a privilege and an honour.

I reminded myself of how hard I’d worked to get to this point.

I reminded myself that sometimes life isn’t easy but it’s the hard times that make you appreciate the good.

I told myself that I’d rather be a grafter than a quitter any day of the week.

And then a very good friend of mine gave me this invaluable piece of advice:

‘You sound as if you’re not coming from your heart any more. You’re too caught up in your head. Forget what’s happened and tune into your heart. Write from your heart. Forget all the rest.’

So I got back into my heart and I got stuck in.

And I approached the story with fresh, rather than jaded eyes.

And I wrote for from the heart and for the love of it – and for the love of my characters and the reader too.

And this time round, the writing experience was an absolute joy.

Everything fell into place.

I laughed and I cried and I hoped and I dreamed along with the characters.

And when I typed THE END I knew that this third version of the book was the best by far.

But if I’d given up after the second version it never would have seen the light of day.

Sometimes we need to push ourselves to the limit to discover what we’re capable of.

We need to push ourselves past the fire exit marked QUIT to find our way to the prize.

Athletes know this.

They train themselves to break through the wall. To keep going no matter what.

Creatives need to do this too.

We need to train ourselves to overcome criticism and rejection and the desire to quit and to keep on creating anyway.

I delivered the third version of the book to my publisher feeling happy and light.

Then I got my editor’s third letter.

In summary: she loved it.

She thanked me for not giving up.

I thanked her for pushing me to do my very best.

Don’t give up too soon. Dig in. Double down. Keep on creating from the heart. Keep on pushing yourself to do your best work.

 

Need help with your writing…?

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If you enjoyed this post you might like my book DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL, available from Amazon here.

You can find out more and download it as a PDF here.

And you can follow my writing-related posts on Instagram here.

 

 

 

 

 


How to Create a Colourful Cast of Characters

What makes a great book for you?

For me, it’s a cast of colourful, believable characters that I come to think of as friends.

The first time I started writing a novel I did very little preparation work on my characters – I was itching to get on with the story and I had a basic idea of what my main characters were like, so what could go wrong?

What went wrong was that, because my characters were only sketchy outlines in my mind, that’s how they appeared on the page.

And because I hadn’t taken the time to really get to know who they were, I didn’t know how they’d truly react in the situations I put them in.

So the writing of the book became very stop start and the actions of the characters inconsistent and unbelievable.

Thankfully, I realised what was wrong and instead of ploughing on regardless, I went back to the drawing board – or rather, the character board.

I decided to spend some time really visualising my characters and I trawled through magazines and websites, looking for images that related to them. Photos of people who looked how I imagined the character to look. And pictures of objects, outfits, phrases and places that I related to them.

And, as I pinned these images to a noticeboard on my wall, my characters finally started coming to life. Actually being able to see them and their world helped them become solid and three-dimensional, rather than sketchy outlines.

Once my character board was complete I sat in front of it with a notebook and jotted down any thoughts or ideas the images gave me for the characters and the plot.

And it was amazing just how many ideas I got.

From that moment on, I’ve always created character boards before I start writing a book.

My new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, has just come out and it features four very different main characters.

Oscar Wilde fan Amber is an avid blogger and loves vintage clothes and records. Kind-hearted, hopeless romantic Maali is devoted to her Hindu faith and dreams of being able to talk to boys. New Yorker Rose is the daughter of famous and divorced parents and she dreams of owning a Harley Davidson and becoming a patissier. And free-spirit Sky lives on a houseboat with her yoga-teaching dad and dreams of finding the confidence to compete in poetry slams.

You can find character boards for all of them here. Simply click on the character’s name and scroll down the page.

You will see images of clothes and objects and quotes and places that are all in some way linked to the character.

Hopefully by looking at each board, you’ll begin to get a feel for the character and see how creating character boards of your own will help bring your own writing to life.

You can create physical boards in your office / home or you can create them online on Pinterest.

They’re a lot of fun to make and they’ll make the writing of your story so much easier … and the reading of your story so much more rewarding.

 

The Moonlight Dreamers is out now

… and Amazon have made it their YA Book of the Month.

A beautiful book about friendship, standing up for what you believe in and finding the courage to be yourself and find your own unique place in the world.’ Lamont Books
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Sensational and unforgettable, falling in love with this book came as naturally as breathing. The best book I’ve read all year.’ Blog of a Bookaholic
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This absorbing tale will inspire you to celebrate your individuality. A great contemporary summer read with a bit of Oscar Wilde thrown in.’ South Wales Evening Post Book of the Week
.

Find out more and order a copy here.

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Dreamers of the World Unite … and Write

It’s one week until my new novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, is published and to celebrate I’m running a writing competition.

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The Moonlight Dreamers is all about the importance of daring to dream. My own dreams have got me through some of the toughest times of my life and I feel very passionately about sharing this message.

I’ve already started running Moonlight Dreamers workshops and one question I always ask participants is: What is your dream for the world?

The answers I’ve been getting are very inspiring, so I thought I’d make that the focal point of this writing competition…

What is your dream for the world?

Two of the main characters in The Moonlight Dreamers are avid writers – one a blogger and one a poet – so in keeping with that, entries can either take the form of a guest blog post or a poem, whichever you prefer.

If you need any prompts to help inspire you, try the following questions:

If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?

What makes you really angry about the world we live in?

How could people make a positive difference?

What gives you hope?

Prizes

The three winning entries will all receive a signed copy of The Moonlight Dreamers + a signed copy of one of my other YA books (you choose which one) + some other fun goodies to help you dare to dream. Your entries will also be published on the (soon to be launched) Moonlight Dreamers website.

Runners up will also have their entries published on the site.

Entry details

:: Entries should be no longer than 500 words

:: Only one submission per person

:: Please state your name and age on your submission

:: All ages welcome (the entries will be judged in age groups)

:: The closing date = Thursday 14th July

:: Please send your entry to:

contact[AT]siobhancurham[DOT]co[DOT]uk

Please feel free to share this post with any writers / dreamers you think might be interested.

And if you’d like to find out more about The Moonlight Dreamers, this lovely review from The Blog of a Bookaholic gives loads of info … without any spoilers.

Happy writing!

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Behind the Scenes Secrets of Writing a Book

I’ve just finished writing a book. It was a book that ended up consuming most of my waking moments – and a few of my sleeping ones too.

And now I’m emerging, blinking into the light – and back on to this blog – I thought it might be useful to write a behind the scenes look at my writing process.

It’s a process I’ve honed over many years and many books so I hope it helps anyone new to writing who might be reading this – or anyone old to writing but feeling a little jaded or in need of fresh inspiration.

Initial brainstorm

The first thing I do when planning a new book is take myself out for a brainstorm. When I’m writing I like to stay at home but I seem to brainstorm much better away from home: in a park, in a cafe, on a walk. When I was brainstorming Tell it to the Moon I took myself to a local cafe for the day to flesh out the characters and come up with a basic plot outline. (TOP TIP: Fleshing out the characters first gives you loads of ideas for the plot.)

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Finding the fire

Once I have the basic outline I ask myself: Does it fire me up? Does it have me itching to write? Will I be motivated to write upwards of 70,000 words? When I asked myself these questions regarding my initial outline for Tell it to the Moon, the answer came back, ‘Erm, not really, no.’ The idea was interesting to me but not incendiary. So I asked myself another couple of questions:

What are you really passionate about at the moment? What, if you could work it into the plot, would have you burning to write this book?

I got the answer immediately: I feel really passionately about the pressures facing teens which result in ten percent of them experiencing mental health issues. And if I could create a storyline that would hopefully empower and inspire young people to demand positive change then I’d definitely be fired up to write.

I changed my plot accordingly.

Schedule your word count

Once I had my characters fleshed out and my plot outline nailed down I worked out a schedule that would enable me to deliver my first draft on time. For me, this was to write 10,000 words per week. Every week I’d look at my diary and schedule in smaller chunks – 3,000 words on Tuesday, 2,000 on Wednesday, 3,000 on Friday, 2,000 on Saturday etc.

Finding your pace

I never rush the beginning of a book. I take my time to find the voice and the rhythm and I reassure myself that it’s fine to write badly at first; at this stage of the process it’s all about getting into the flow.

Making course adjustments

Inevitably once you start writing, you’ll discover things that don’t quite work when it comes to your plot outline. That’s OK – adjust away. Ditto, characters. Be open to tweaking and changing. I made several course adjustments during the writing of Tell it to the Moon and the book’s a lot stronger for it.

Hitting a block – or two

I always hit a block at some point during a book when something isn’t quite working and the solution isn’t yet apparent. Here’s what I did this time round – I wrote TO the book. And by that I mean, I journalled about the issue. I wrote about the block I was encountering and I wrote about how I could fix it. I kept on writing until the solution appeared. It’s so much easier to write your way out of a block than think your way out. I highly recommend it.

Another great way to brainstorm your way out of block is to jot down potential ideas on post-it notes or index cards, then move them around until a way out begins to take shape.

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In for the long haul

Writing a book is the literary equivalent of running a marathon. It makes sense therefore that you take good care of yourself throughout the process. When I was deep into Tell it to the Moon it was the fag-end of winter and everyone around me were dropping like flies from the latest flu or cold virus. I couldn’t afford to get ill and take a week out of my schedule so I upped my intake of raw food and green juice and I sailed on through, blissfully snot-free. I also made sure I got outside loads and did plenty of physical exercise. Personally, I find yoga, walking and dance really conducive to creativity.

Focusing on the finish line

When I get to the final quarter of a novel I find that it takes on a momentum of its own which requires my undivided attention – and Tell it to the Moon was no exception. In the last three weeks of writing I hunkered down and became a real hermit. The only way I could focus on bringing all of the different plot strands together was to make my life as distraction-free as possible. My friends barely saw me, I lived and breathed the book, I didn’t even go on Netflix! But it paid off. I got the job done. I was able to type those magical words THE END knowing I’d given the book my all … and let me tell you, there’s no better feeling.

Tell it to the Moon is the sequel to my novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, available to pre-order on Amazon here.

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Haters Gonna Hate but Creators Gonna Create

Nothing new in this book. Nothing incredibly moving either. It talks about basic stuff that most of us already knew anyway.”

The quote above is a review of my book True Face posted online.

There was a time where reading a review like this would have sent me into a tailspin for days and I would have been plagued by questions like these:

Had I messed up? Had I written a truly unoriginal book? Was it, as Kate Moss might say, a ‘basic bitch’ of a book? Would it help no-one? Were the stories that I and various contributors shared unmoving? Were tales of cancer and parents leaving and eating disorders not grim enough? Should I have had a worse life so that I could be more moving? Or maybe it was my writing that was unmoving? Maybe I was so bad at writing I could even make a terminal cancer diagnosis seem like a basic old walk in the park.

The fact is, it’s tough being on the receiving end of criticism.

Especially when you’ve worked really hard on something that you want people to enjoy.

But here’s the thing…

We can’t please all of the people all of the time.

We can’t control how others will react to us or our creations.

We can only ever be responsible for ourselves.

One of the worst stories I’ve ever heard about criticism for a piece of writing comes from my friend Anna May Mangan. I’ll let her tell you the gory details…

I once submitted a play to a theatre producer who I knew was mostly interested in young talent. In my covering letter I explained why I had only started to write at the age of 50. I  told him my late start was partly because I was a two times cancer survivor and often hadn’t had the physical or mental energy to write. He replied by saying it was a pity that I had recovered and was now well enough to write because I was terrible at it. That same day, whilst crying tears of anger and shock after reading his savage reply, I started to write my family memoir. When I sent it out to agents I had numerous offers of representation and  it sold very quickly it to my favourite publisher, Virago.  It became a bestseller. His cruel comment was the kick in the ass I needed to stop making excuses and JUST WRITE.  For new and established writers the message is the same …. JUST WRITE – it’s that simple.”

It is that simple.

But it’s also *!%$-ing hard.

We’re human. We have feelings. And criticism hurts our feelings.

If we let it.

About a year ago, I decided to stop letting it.

Or at least, I decided to stop letting criticism from strangers hurt me.

I decided to focus solely on what I was responsible for ie; myself and my creations.

As long as I knew I’d given my all to a book – that I’d sat down and written it with the very best of intentions – then I didn’t need to worry.

Of course some people aren’t going to like what I write.

Just as I don’t like every book I read.

We’re all different, with different tastes – that’s part of what makes the world so interesting.

And we’re all entitled to our own opinions.

But what if the criticism comes in the form of a personal attack as Anna’s did?

Should we just accept it then?

I think we should.

What compels a person to launch a spiteful attack against someone they don’t know?

My guess is anger or bitterness or regret or sorrow. Or all of the above.

One thing’s for sure – it certainly isn’t coming from a place of happiness or zen-ed out inner bliss.

When criticism isn’t constructive; when it’s bitter and mean, I think it says way more about the critic than the criticised.

So let it go.

Or let it fire you up, like Anna did.

Take anything useful from the critical reviews or the rejection letters … and disregard the rest.

In a world where one in nine people don’t have enough to eat, where 70 million children are being deprived of an education, who cares if someone didn’t like what you wrote?

Do you like what you wrote?

Did you lose all track of time while you were writing it because you were enjoying yourself so much?

Do you feel proud of yourself for pursuing your creative dreams?

Haters gonna hate but creators gonna create and I know which one I’d rather be.

The truth is, when you focus on writing purely for the love of it you stop caring about the hate.

 

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL – OUT NOW!

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Ever since I started coaching writers it’s been a dream of mine to write a book about writing. Now – finally – that day has come.

DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL is like having your own personal writing coach in book form, with expert advice on every aspect of the writing, editing, re-writing and pitching process.

You can find out more about it here.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

And if you don’t have a Kindle, no worries. You can buy it as a PDF to download to your computer or other reading device here:
Buy Dare to Write a Novel

“While there are many books on the technicalities of writing, there are few which deal with the problems that face the aspiring author in the other aspects of writing – the personal. Siobhan looks at those areas – why do I want to write, how do I make time, how do I justify the effort, how do I motivate myself – and draws on her experience as a life coach, and as a successful author and editor to provide strategies to work towards achieving your writing dreams and aspirations. Yes, there is sort-of technical stuff there, too; to do with how to develop characters, how to plot, how to keep track of your characters and plot, how to defeat “blocks”, but none of the formulaic “write to the beats”, “6/7/8/9 basic plots” stuff that so many writing handbooks trot out. You even get audio chapters, where Siobhan talks you through the process of visualisation, a technique very few self-help writing books I have come across ever mention, but one that I find particularly useful. I’ll mention here that I know Siobhan; I was a member of one of her writing workshops for a number of years, and benefited greatly from receiving these lessons and strategies first hand. Now I live too far away, this book makes a great replacement for her personal mentoring skills, and I can highly recommend it to any writer who is contemplating starting out on the journey, who is struggling in the process, or is looking to re-ignite their creative fires.” Amazon review

Please feel free to share it with your social networks and any writing friends.

Thanks so much!

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