Five Writing Lessons I’ve Learned by Jessica Redland on the launch of her debut novel

_MG_2776-EditMy debut novel, Searching for Steven, was launched on Wednesday (3rd June 2015) by So Vain Books. My debut novella, Raving About Rhys (set before Steven but written as a stand-alone story), is also out now and I still find it hard to believe that I’m a published author!

What have I learned during the writing process? Goodness me, I could go on for ages, but let me stick to five main lessons and, because I love alliteration in the titles of my books, I’ve set myself the added challenge of making sure they all start with the same letter.

  1. PURPOSEFULNESS: Writing can be a slow process … especially when, like me, you have a full-time job too. It took me a decade from writing my first words to submitting Steven to a publisher for the first time. I did learn my craft during that time, close a business, change jobs several times, get married, have a baby and move house twice so I had huge writing-free periods. I promise I’m not that slow a writer! My advice would be to always keep that end goal – that purpose – in mind and keep going. Even if you only have time to write small amounts like five hundred words a few times a week, it will soon add up. A 100,000-word novel is just 274 words a day for a year. Obviously, there’ll be re-writing and editing needed, but doesn’t 274 words a day sound achievable?
  1. Jessica Redland - Searching for Steven - Front Cover LOW RESPATIENCE: I’ve said that writing can be a slow process but the journey to a publication is not exactly speedy either. A couple of publishers to whom I submitted Steven took nine months to return a decision, and they were publishers I’d met, had pitched to, and who had asked for my full MS. I’m actually not a very patient person. I’m exceptionally patient with other people, but not with anything that affects me, so waiting for news from publishers or agents was a bit of a challenge. At first, I was a little obsessed with checking the mail and my emails, but I finally managed to relax and accept that everything would happen in its own sweet time.
  1. PERSEVERANCE: Unless you’re one of the very fortunate few, you will get rejections. I was surprised to find that they weren’t quite as traumatic as I expected. Okay, so they’re not the most wonderful things to receive. I certainly wasn’t doing a happy dance each time one landed through my letterbox or in my inbox, but they certainly didn’t reduce me to tears like I’d expected. You see, I had a plan. I knew whom I’d submit to next so I could look at the rejections as the closing of one door and the opening of another. There must be very few authors out there who haven’t got a stack of rejections behind them, including incredibly successful authors like Stephen King and JK Rowling. It’s part of the process. It took me a year, 14 publisher submissions and 12 agency submissions before I got my break and, if the offer from So Vain Books hadn’t come along when it did, I’d have gone indie. There are so many opportunities out there to get your work published so don’t give up at the first hurdle. I will just point out that my publisher, So Vain Books, were incredibly quick with their response to my submission so not all publishers take so much time.
  1. CoversPROCRASTINATION: As anyone who regularly uses social media will know, social media is a massive distraction. Some evenings, I can have gone into my office with the intention of writing after a quick catch-up on Facebook. I glance at the clock and realise it’s nearly 10.00pm and I still haven’t written a single word of my WIP. Oops! I have to limit myself because working full time, being a Brown Owl, being a mum and being an author is a lot to fit in. If I’m meant to be spending the evening writing, I’ve learned that it’s best to close my emails, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter or I’ll procrastinate big time. I’d like to think that, if I was ever fortunate enough to be able to write full-time, I’d be really structured in my approach to social media e.g. an hour first thing and an hour mid-afternoon. But I bet I wouldn’t. I bet I’d find that it’s a case of the more time you have to write, the less writing you actually get done!
  1. PASSION: I’d hope it goes without saying that anyone thinking of writing must be passionate about it because it can be all consuming. I couldn’t imagine not writing. But it’s not your own passion I want to address here; it’s the passion of others. I’ve really touched by the time some of my friends and family have given to beta reading and supporting me. They’ve demonstrated as much passion and excitement about me being a writer as I feel myself. Saying thank you feels inadequate. I’m also very fortunate to be part of a writing collective called The Write Romantics. We all met through the Romantic Novelists’ Association and have been blogging together for two years. It’s amazing being able to share the highs and lows with nine other like-minded passionate women.
Scarborough - the inspiration for Whitsborough Bay

Scarborough – the inspiration for Whitsborough Bay

However, there are those who don’t share the same passion. The day job is a classic example to illustrate this. I’d like to think that I don’t witter on about writing because I know that many work colleagues won’t be readers and, as I work in a male-dominated environment where the age profile is mainly 50 plus, they’re not exactly my target market. I’ve occasionally made a passing comment at the water cooler when asked how I’ve spent my weekend and I’ve watched eyes glaze over with absolute disinterest. I’d like to think that, if anyone told me they did something a little unusual, I’d express surprise and interest, and then ask a few follow-up questions. What I’ve experienced instead is that they either change the subject, nod and continue making their coffee in silence, or they tell me they’d like to write a book because hasn’t everyone got a book in them? They probably do but capability of getting it out is another matter entirely! Of course, I don’t say that. I grin, ask a few questions, and return to my office with my drink, knowing that it wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last time that happens.

That concludes my five lessons for now. I’m sure I’ll continue to learn as time progresses because I suspect I’ve only just scratched the surface of the writing experience so far.

Happy reading everyone 🙂

Jessica xxx

The Blurb for Searching for Steven which can be found on Amazon in eBook and paperback formats here

601685_10151958992299073_754441455_nWhen Sarah Peterson accepts her Auntie Kay’s unexpected offer to take over her florist’s shop, she’s prepared for a change of job, home and lifestyle. What she isn’t prepared for is the discovery of a scarily accurate clairvoyant reading that’s been missing for twelve years. All her predictions have come true, except one: she’s about to meet the man of her dreams. Oh, and his name is Steven.

Suddenly Stevens are everywhere. Could it be the window cleaner, the rep, the manager of the coffee shop, or any of the men she’s met online?

On top of that, she finds herself quite attracted to a handsome web designer, but his name isn’t even Steven…

During this unusual search, will Sarah find her destiny?

‘A warm and witty tale of one woman’s search for love, with a brave and feisty heroine you can’t help rooting for. SEARCHING FOR STEVEN is a compelling debut by a talented author, and I highly recommend it.’ Talli Roland, bestselling author of The No-Kids Club

‘Searching for Steven is a wonderful, uplifting story about the magic of true love that will put a smile on your face and happiness in your heart.’ Suzanne Lavender

‘Amusing and engaging, Searching for Steven is the story to make you believe in your one true love, with or without fate leading you there’ reviewedthebook.co.uk

The blurb for Raving About Rhys (novella) which can be downloaded from Amazon here

_MG_9950Bubbly Callie Derbyshire loves her job as a carer, and can’t believe she’s finally landed herself a decent boyfriend – older man Tony – who’s lasted way longer than the usual disastrous three months. Tony’s exactly what she’s always dreamed of… or at least he would be if he ever took her out instead of just taking her to bed. And work would be perfect too if she wasn’t constantly in trouble with her boss, The She-Devil Denise. 

When the new gardener, Mikey, discovers her in a rather compromising position at work, Callie knows that her days at Bay View Care Home could be numbered. Can she trust him not to tell Denise? If she was issued with her marching orders, who’ll look out for her favourite client, Ruby, whose grandson, Rhys, seems to constantly let her down? What does Ruby know about Tony? And what is Denise hiding? 

Surrounded by secrets and lies, is there anyone left who Callie can trust?

Twitter: @JessicaRedland

Facebook: Jessica Redland Writer

Website: www.jessicaredland.com

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Face the Fear … But do it Anyway!

Fear. It’s a funny thing. An estimated 10 million people in the UK alone have phobias. That’s about 1 in 6 of us. Claustrophobia and its opposite, agoraphobia, are amongst the ten most common phobias. Fear of flying (aerophobia) and fear of spiders (arachnophobia) are in there too. No surprises there. Not in the top ten list but coulrophobia is quite common and at least one of our Write Romantics has it … fear of clowns. Having seen Stephen King’s ‘It’, I’m not surprised!

But there are some strange phobias out there too. Did you know that alliumphobia is the fear of garlic, Dutchphobia is the very un-PC fear of the Dutch (why?!) or that geniophobia is the fear of chins (yeah, not sure I get that one either). And I have two absolute classics for you here – hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia is the fear of the number 666 and hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words. Oh the irony that someone suffering from this can’t tell anyone what they’re suffering from because the word itself would fill them with fear!

Have you ever heard of novelrejectionphobia though? No? Well, that’s probably because I’ve just made it up but it’s a very real affliction that I’m facing right now. And I don’t like it.

I thought of the idea for my novel in 2002 and first put fingers to keyboard in 2003 so this year signals the culmination of a decade of work during which time I’ve learned so much about writing. I’ve written and re-written my novel (especially the start) more times than I care to remember. I’ve received several positive beta-reader reviews and two great NWS reports. So, armed with a box of freshly-printed business cards, a folder of synopsis print-outs for Novel 1 and the remaining two in the trilogy, and a handful of CDs containing Novel 1 should any agents of publishers ask for the whole thing, I attended my first RNA conference with a positive attitude that I was about to take my next step on the road to becoming published.

But things didn’t quite work out as my imagination had planned. I didn’t ‘fall naturally into conversation’ with any agents or publishers in the dinner queue and the two editors I met in my booked sessions didn’t throw their arms round me squealing, “I loved it. I MUST have the whole MS. NOW! And here’s fifty grand to secure the publishing deal!” I came home with all the business cards, print-outs and CDs still intact.

Don’t get me wrong; the two editors I saw really liked my MS. They were really positive about my voice and my style and the plot but one wanted the story to start at a slightly earlier point with some more action (both my NWS reports had said to start it later) and the other just wanted to make sure certain points came out in the MS. To be fair, they did, but a conversation with her gave me an epiphany on making a change to the start that would give my protagonist a really strong reason for seeking The One which would also provide the action the other editor sought.

All I needed to do was one more edit then get it sent off to agents. That wouldn’t take long.

Except it has.

Schools go back next week which means summer is over. Which means six weeks has passed. Six weeks during which I have been unemployed, having lost my job in late July so, in theory, have had all the time in the world to write. OK, so I spent a week on holiday and we had a weekend camping, I decorated the lounge, I cleared out the garage, I had a major clear-out of my daughter’s toys, books and clothes (which took several days) and I’ve had various appointments like doctor, dentist, hygienist etc. Not to mention actually spending time with my six-year-old and taking her out on a handful of day-trips. But there have been ‘spare’ days. Days where she’s gone to her Nana’s. Days where I’ve had cooking and cleaning to do but where I could have done it quickly and dug out my manuscript.

Yet something has stopped me. Yes, novelrejectionphobia has reached out its inky paws and slapped me about with a copy of Jane Wenham-Jones’s ‘Wannabe a Writer?’ “Yes,” I’ve cried, “Yes I do! But what if I’m not good enough …?” And so we get to the crux of the problem. Sending a previous incarnation of my MS to a few friends and family members last year was a little bit scary … but they were never going to be brutal about the feedback (I hoped) and, if they did, I’d be able to convince myself it wasn’t their genre/it wasn’t quite ready/they’re not experts or whatever excuse I decided made me feel better. Sending it to the NWS was also a slightly nerve-wracking moment … but all I was going to get back was a critique which would make me feel good about some parts (I hoped) and give me some constructive guidance on improving other parts. Even sending the first 6,000 words to a Harper Collins/Marie Claire competition has only made me feel mild apprehension … because I’ll probably read an article in a couple of months announcing the winner and realize I wasn’t short-listed because I’m assuming there will be far too many entries for them to reply personally to say “no”.

But if I send it out to an agent or a publisher, I’ll get a response. I’ll get a letter or an email. I’ll get a “no”. Or perhaps I won’t. But I’ve convinced myself it will be a no. Perhaps that’s because I’ve lost my job and had little success in finding a new one so I’m feeling like a big fat reject all round just now.

So I’ve spent the summer avoiding the final edit. Yes, I’ve had days where I couldn’t write; daughter to entertain, appointments to attend. But I spent half an hour sitting on the landing yesterday with a pair of tweezers picking out stuck bits of paper in my office shredder. Was that really the most important thing I could have done with that time? It’s not like the shredder was even jammed or going slow! I have several other examples of such procrastination that I won’t embarrass myself by sharing.

My other half put his foot down this summer and said that I didn’t have to rush out and get a temporary job (I have a few irons in the fire I’m waiting to hear on) but he expected me to do things around the house if I wasn’t working. Fair enough. But after a few days of hard graft painting the lounge, I could have put my foot down too and said I was writing for a day. But I didn’t. Because it’s easier to blame him than me for not finishing that MS. And if it’s not finished, then I can’t send it off … and nobody can tell me it’s not good enough!

At the RNA Conference, there was a session called, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” It was all about identifying what stops you doing things (usually yourself) and finding ways to overcome them. The leader of this session is a life coach. It was a good session but, as a coach myself, I was familiar with everything covered … yet it’s so damn hard to apply it to myself. I could coach and support anyone else who needed it but it would be a case of do as I say, not as I do!

An hour ago, we got back home from some commitments we’ve had today and hubby said he’d look after Ashleigh so I could work on my MS. Crikey! I think it’s because he’s made a decision to join the local archery club through whom he’s been attending a trial course. This will take time and commitment so I think this is his way of recognising I need time for my ‘hobby’ too. Only I don’t want it to be a hobby. I want it to be a career. Which means I have to send my MS off … which means I have to finish it … which means I should be working on it now instead of writing this blog.

Will someone slap me about with a cold wet kipper please and make me get my act together before novelrejectionphobia turns me into one of those writers with a PC full of manuscripts that have never seen the light of day just in case someone says they’re not good enough. Because what if I am good enough? What if they love my work? What if they want to represent/publish me? What if I become a bestseller? It could happen to me, couldn’t it? I could have the talent and timing to make it?

Right, that’s it. I’d better get my MS out now and polish it off. Could be in an agent’s inbox by the end of the week if I get my finger out.

Mind you, it’s only 20 minutes until teatime and that’s not enough time to do anything now … or is it?! Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 Julie xx