The Art of Crafting a Great Second Draft

As Hemingway once said: ‘The first draft of anything is shit’, and when I’m coaching other writers I always advise they give themselves permission to write badly first time round.

If you’re striving for perfection in your first draft and stop-starting to edit as you go it’s impossible for your ideas and creativity to flow.

Your first draft should be raw and rough around the edges and full of typos and grammatical errors and inconsistencies, as you focus on pouring the story on to the page.

But your second draft definitely shouldn’t.

Your second draft is where you start searching for the diamonds in the raw and sculpting your lumpy, clunky first draft into a far tighter, more polished story.

But how do you do this?

Here are my guidelines for crafting a great second draft…

Look at it with fresh eyes

Once you’ve finished your first draft, leave it for a while – at least a week, preferably more – so that when you do come back to it you’re looking at it with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what you spot when you’ve had a bit of time away. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

 

Print out a hard copy

When you’re ready to come back to it, print out a hard copy and sit down and read it through as if you were a reader who’s just picked it from a shelf. It’s amazing how much clearer you will see what’s working and what isn’t from reading a hard copy than from the screen.

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Make quick, hand-written notes

As you read your first draft through, highlight any issues in pen on the manuscript – but don’t spend too much time doing this. The key thing you need to do is read the story through in one or two sittings to be able to get a bird’s eye view of the whole thing.

 

Look for bigger picture issues

In this read-through you’re looking for the bigger picture issues rather than typos or grammatical errors. These issues can be broken down into the following three categories: PLOT, CHARACTERS and WRITING STYLE…

 

Plot

Use the following questions as a checklist for your plot…

  • Where does it sag?
  • What could be cut?
  • Does the dramatic tension build throughout
  • Is the dramatic climax at the end? (Your most exciting moment should not be happening in Chapter 3. The everything that follows will be an anti-climax)
  • Is everything resolved at the end? Make sure there are no strands or subplots left unresolved

 

Character

  • Which characters aren’t fully formed?
  • Are any characters inconsistent?
  • Who’s voice isn’t distinct?
  • Which relationships between your characters aren’t quite working?
  • Is any of the dialogue unrealistic?

 

Writing Style

  • Is your description vivid enough
  • Do you use all of the senses ie; smell and sound as well as sight?
  • Are any parts over-written? Time to kill your darlings.
  • Have you chosen the best, most-telling details in your description of place?
  • Is the author voice consistent?

 

I hope this helps and happy second drafting!

 

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You can find more advice on writing and rewriting in my book Dare to Write a Novel.

Find out more here.

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What to do When Your Dream Bubble Bursts

Recently, my son and I went on a mini road-trip adventure in America.

My son is football-mad (soccer-mad for US readers) and has been following the fortunes of an American team called Sporting Kansas City for several years.

Sporting Kansas City are known for having some of the most devout fans in all of America and their ‘Cauldron’ stand is legendary.

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So while we were in the States we got on a bus to Kansas and went along to a game.

The Cauldron was everything the YouTube videos had promised it would be. The atmosphere was electric and the sound of the crowd deafening.

Several guys had stationed themselves at the front of the terrace, next to the pitch but facing the fans.

One pounded on a bass drum and one played a trombone. One was covered in tattoos and led the chanting and another wore a huge white feather headdress and danced around.

They proceeded to whip us all into a frenzy, like some very alternative cheerleaders.

It was hugely entertaining hearing British football songs with an American twist. ‘Vindaloo’ became ‘Barbecue’ and the opposition fans (from Philadelphia) were treated to a rousing chorus of, ‘You can stick your Philly cheesesteaks up your arse!

And whaddya know, as soon as we took our places on the stand – expecting to meet local Kansans – we got talking to a guy from Essex!

He’d been living in the States for a few years and was with a group of friends who supported SKC.

Much banter and hilarity ensued as the beer and margaritas flowed and the songs got louder and louder.

At one point my son suggested to Essex Guy that he should start a chorus of, ‘You dirty Northern b*****ds,’ a song which routinely gets chanted in UK football stadiums (with Northern substituted for Southern depending on the geography).

Essex Guy immediately agreed and began to chant.

He chanted and chanted … but no-one else joined in.

What had seemed like a great idea started to become a little embarrassing.

But Essex Guy was undeterred.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I’ll have a word with the guys at the front and get them to start it.’

Off he disappeared into the crowd, heading for the alternative cheerleaders.

We waited and waited but the chant never came.

Some twenty minutes later Essex Guy reappeared holding a huge plastic recycling container.

‘I couldn’t get them to sing it,’ he told us, ‘but don’t worry, I’ve got this.’

He then turned the plastic container upside down and began hollering into it like it was a megaphone.

YOU DIRTY NORTHERN B*****DS!

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It was hilarious … but still no-one joined in.

And then a security guard appeared and demanded he give the recycling container back.

No way! You’ll never stop me!’ Essex Guy cried before disappearing off into the crowd again, with one last defiant chant.

This memory from my holiday popped into my mind recently when I was thinking about the dreams we have that don’t come true.

Although it’s a comical example, I think it makes for a great analogy.

You have a dream – in this case to share a funny football chant.

You get all excited imagining your dream coming true – in this case, an entire football stand singing your chant and being hugely entertained.

You pluck up the courage to take action – in this case, starting the singing on your own.

And then it all goes wrong – in this case, no-one joins in.

What seemed like a good idea starts becoming a little awkward and embarrassing.

Maybe you hang on in there and try a different approach – like using a recycling container as a megaphone.

But even taking a bolder step doesn’t work – the dream still doesn’t get realised, people still don’t join in.

It can be enough to make you want to curl up in a corner and never have a dream again.

I’ve felt like this at various points in my writing career.

I’ve had a dream about writing a book that will become a best-seller and inspire hundreds of thousands of people with its message.

So I’ve written the book and it’s been published – but then it doesn’t sell many copies.

Or it doesn’t sell enough copies to be deemed a commercial success.

This is the reality for most authors.

Last year I was advised that unless I got a celebrity to endorse my novel, The Moonlight Dreamers, UK retailers wouldn’t stock it in bulk, if at all.

I didn’t get a celebrity to endorse it and so the retailers didn’t stock it in bulk.

I’ve had exactly the same thing with its sequel, Tell it to the Moon.

Despite the fact that the books have got great reviews it’s not enough for most retailers in the UK to really get behind them.

It can be so crushing to invest so much hope and time and effort into a dream, only to be met with disappointment and frustration when it doesn’t come true.

There have been several times over the past few years when I’ve thought about giving up on my writing dream for good. Particularly after the whole ‘celebrity endorsement’ rigmarole.

But I won’t.

Because I’d rather keep believing and keep trying and keep daring to dream than give up and do f*** all with my life.

And anyway, writing is my passion. Always has been, always will be.

While I was writing this blog post I got the following comment from someone on Instagram:

Your book Moonlight Dreamers changed my life and made me feel like I can do anything I put my mind to.’

Reading it brought tears to my eyes and re-inspired me.

So what if UK retailers won’t stock my book in bulk because I haven’t got a celebrity endorsement?

Something I’ve written has made a total stranger feel like she can do anything she puts her mind to … and who knows where that might lead.

Which brings me back to my Essex Guy analogy.

OK, so his chant didn’t sweep across the stadium, causing much hilarity to thousands of fans.

But it did cause much hilarity to me and my son – and hopefully you reading this too.

It did provide us with a holiday highlight we’ll never forget.

I’ll also never forget his irrepressible humour and spirit.

That’s how I want to be in life – taking chances, working hard to make things happen (on my own merit), never giving up no matter what.

If you don’t like ‘the rules’ find your own way of breaking them.

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

Even when a dream doesn’t come true the way you’d hoped there’s always a silver lining.

You always will have achieved something.

You will always have a reason to feel proud – because you aren’t one of life’s quitters, you’re a dreamer and a doer.

And in the end, it’s far better to have dreamed and lost than never to have dreamed at all.

If you need more inspiration on not giving up on a dream play this song. And keep on keeping on.


In Celebration of Celebrity Publishing

I’ve been invited to take part in a panel discussion on celebrity children’s publishing.

One of the questions up for discussion is:

“Books by celebrities are often looked on as less worthy than books by ‘proper’ authors. Is this part of a culture of snobbery in children’s publishing?”

My short answer to this question would be, ‘yes’.

My longer answer goes something like this…

In my recent blog post, Be Proud of Where You Come From, I talk about what it was like growing up on a council estate and an excruciating lunch I had once with a group of publishing people, who openly mocked those living on estates.

I’ve worked with many different children’s publishers over the last few years (nine in total) and I can tell you it is an extremely middle-class and privileged world. And I can count the number of non-white people I’ve encountered in children’s publishing on the fingers of half a hand.

I have no idea exactly how many working class or non-white writers are commissioned by these publishers but I’m willing to hazard a guess that, historically,  it’s been a small percentage.

Until the advent of ‘celebrity publishing’.

Celebrity publishing has meant that people from working class and ethnic backgrounds, who’ve achieved success in less elitist areas such as sport, or music, or the online world, have been given a chance to share their stories through book deals.

And more importantly, when it comes to children’s publishing, to share their stories with young people who might have come from similar backgrounds. Young people who might not have automatic access to a library of books. Or even a single book. Young people who’ve never been encouraged to read.

When I was a kid, none of my friends on the estate I grew up on had bookshelves in their bedrooms. None of them had books in their bedrooms.

This isn’t necessarily because their parents didn’t understand the importance of reading.

When you’re struggling to find the money to feed and clothe your kids, books become a luxury item. A luxury item you simply can’t afford.

I once did an author talk to several hundred high school students in Wales. The students had been bussed in from all over the region – some were from affluent areas and others were from very poor communities.

I’m afraid the kids from poorer areas probably won’t be able to afford to buy your book,‘ one of the organisers told me at the beginning of the event.

When I was doing a book signing at the end it broke my heart to look into the auditorium and see whole blocks of students – all from the poorer schools – still seated, having to look on, while the richer kids queued up to buy books.

So, what exactly does this have to do with celebrity publishing?

I know for a fact that many, many young people from poorer backgrounds have got into reading after their favourite celebrity has published a book. I’ve heard this from young people during school visits time and time and time again.

And whenever I’ve heard it, it’s made my heart sing. Because I know what a big deal this is. Because I know that this, sometimes very first owned book will be a treasured gift. A gift that may well spark a life-long love of reading that might otherwise have gone undiscovered.

So, when I see snooty articles and headlines about celebrity books being ‘turkey twizzlers for the brain‘, or responsible for dumbing down an entire generation, it makes me sick.

It’s such a lazy bandwagon to jump on.

So easy to join the chorus of negativity without even knowing – or bothering to learn – the truth.

So-called ‘celebrities’ aren’t Dick Dastardly style characters, rubbing their hands with glee while they plot the intellectual downfall of our kids.

They’re ordinary humans, who’ve worked hard to achieve extraordinary success. And, when they’re given books deals as a result of this success, they work extremely hard to make sure that their books uplift and inspire their fans.

I know this to be true – not only from the celebrities that I’ve helped but from other writers who’ve also helped celebrities with their books.

I also know from publishing friends that a large chunk of the money made by celebrity books gets ploughed back into commissioning new and unknown writers and mid-list authors. So it simply isn’t true to say that celebrity books are stealing opportunities away from writers – it would appear to me that they’re actually funding opportunities.

I’d urge anyone who feels that celebrity children’s books are ‘less worthy’ than books by ‘proper’ authors to go and spend some time on a sink estate – or in a run-down school.

Talk to the fans of these celebrities about what their books have meant to them – the positive difference they have made. And how these celebrities’ stories – both real-life and fictional – have given these young people hope and inspired them to dream. 

Instead of mocking and joining the latest twitter witch-hunt, shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that, in this increasingly online world, young people are still reading?

And shouldn’t we celebrate the fact that celebrity children’s publishing is making the world of books accessible to a large section of young people who have traditionally been under-represented and ignored?

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Tell it to the Moon, the sequel to The Moonlight Dreamers, is available to pre-order on Amazon now. Perfect reading for dreamers … and anyone who wants to be the change they want to see in the world.

 


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.

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.


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.

 

 

 

 

 


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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Busting Through Writing Blocks

What’s the one question I get asked time and time again when I’m coaching other writers?

“How do I make it through the blocks?”

Writer’s block can strike at any stage of the process: at the very beginning when you’re trying to come up with ideas from scratch and also at any point mid-story.

For me, when I’m writing a novel, it tends to strike around page 60 and the story that had been flowing along nicely comes juddering to a halt. It’s happened so often I now call this The Curse of Page 60.

In the 15 minute podcast below, from my new book Dare to Write a Novel, I share the techniques I’ve used over the years to help me get through this.

Every time I’ve written a book I’ve experienced blocks (so please don’t worry, you definitely aren’t alone!) and every single time I’ve got through it, using the tips and tricks in the podcast.

The important thing to realise is that feeling stuck or blocked is a natural part of the creative process. So don’t let it get you down and whatever you do, don’t let it make you give up.

Grab a notebook and pen, make yourself a coffee / tea / strawberry margarita and press play on the audio below for a whole range of ways to reignite your inspiration…

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY: Why Getting Dropped By My Publisher was the Best Thing That Happened to Me

 

 

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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