Participants: Marianne Scott, Kathleen Marple Kalb, Gerald Hornsby, Beth Hudson, Marian Thorpe, Chris Towndrow, Rik Lonsdale, Sherry Roberts, Sandy Stuckless, Karen Heenan, Anita Belli, Cheryl Whiting, Maria Johnson, Elizabeth Peters, Deborah Klée
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your plans for this month.
Gerald: My name is Gerald, and I’m a full-time author in Essex, UK. My partner Anita Belli and I are leaving tomorrow for Swanwick Writers summer school, just finalising our our presentations and workshops! Then making an online school for @EfficientNovels before Sept.
Rik: I’m Rik in Dorset, UK. Like Gerald and Anita, I’m off to Swanwick Writers tomorrow.
Deborah: Hi Rik. Yay! I wish I was going to join you. Maybe next year.
Gerald: You’d love it, Deborah. So much to do, but it’s all personal choice. You can do as little or as much as you want. So many opportunities to make new friends. And people like Rik.
Chris: Now I feel like I’m the only person in the world who hasn’t heard of this thing!
Gerald: It’s an amazing week, Chris. Although we’re jointly delivering a short course (2 hours) and I’m delivering a workshop (1 hour), there’s plenty of time for discussing writing and publishing. And no cooking! More details: swanwickwritersschool.org.uk
Rik: Imagine a week-long party with 200 writers who all get what that means. Throw in a few courses, catering and a reasonably priced bar. It’s hard not to like.
Gerald: “who all get what that means…” This is the most brilliant thing. Unless you’re a writer, you don’t really get what being a writer is like. Everyone is on the same page (but in different books!)
Beth: Beth Hudson, fantasy author, from the American Midwest. This month is rather fraught, because we’re coming up on the 1-year anniversary of a bad derecho that’s still being felt, and because that was followed last year by my mother’s death.
Maria: Sorry to hear that Beth, thinking of you during this tough time.
Deborah: Hi Beth I had to look up what a derecho was. I am sorry to hear that you lost your mother a year ago. That must be tough especially following the grief of a derecho which I understand is a wind made up of several thunderstorms.
Beth: A kind of non-tropical mini hurricane with sustained winds of about 100mph/160kph, gusts to 140m/225k. The city just to our north lost literally half its trees. They’re still cleaning those up. It was the likely cause of the stress that gave my mother her final stroke.
Kathleen: Hey! I’m Kathleen and I write mysteries. But…my day job is as a weekend and fill-in radio news anchor. So August is a very heavy work month. Plus, a lot of writing stuff this year!
Maria: Hi everyone! I’m Maria in NW England, I write historical fiction and fantasy. I’m gonna work on my 4th historical fiction novel, write some more of this new story idea in my notebook and possibly carry on editing a historical fantasy project. Also taking next week off
Deborah: Hi Maria. I am pleased to hear you are taking a week off. Have you any plans? Going away or staying at home?
Maria: Bit of both. We are away some of the week and then also chilling at home. Hoping to visit my grandmother too, haven’t seen her in person since Christmas 2019 coz of the covid.
Karen: I’m Karen, and I’m tired. I finished edits on my second audiobook, finished my first paid editing job, and on Wednesday I spent 7 hours assembling bits of my 1930s book from too many separate sources. A few days’ rest, and back to writing. As a bit more of an about me, I live just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I write historical fiction. My first three books are set in Tudor England, and my fourth is set during the Great Depression
Marian: Hi, Marian here, late again but went out for ice cream to celebrate Canada’s gold medal win in women’s soccer, one of the few sports we follow. This month? Relaxation, as much as possible. My new book releases on the 30th, so not too much to do now.
Kathryn: Hi I’m Kathryn and I write historical fiction and I hope to finish writing my novel by the end of August.
Marianne: I live in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. We’re just coming off strict Covid restrictions so I’m enjoying some recreational shopping (masked, distanced, and santized – for sure). In the evenings I binge watch wonderful TV series. I love August and the hot summer weather. I have been enjoying time outdoors with my family. My writing? Well, it’s taken a back seat, but that’s okay because we all need a break to recharge.
Deborah: Hi Marianne. I agree with you. We work so hard the rest of the year we ought to be able to take the occasional break.
Marianne: I think many writers do the same. But I admit. I do feel a tad guilty about slacking off. It’s like taking unauthorized time of work – even if we work for ourselves. Ha ha.
Deborah: I have just started to write a new novel and am going full steam now it has taken off but the marketing side of the business has taken a back seat.
Chris: Hi all, Chris from a very autumnal Richmond! I’ve started a new book in earnest, and I’m finessing a synopsis prior to querying (which I should have done last month!)
Sherry: Hi all, I am Sherry and I write children’s picture books and chapter books. For August, my focus is going to be on a chapter book series (age group 2-11) and finally getting it completed. My editor got the illustrator for my debut book. On my debut non-fiction, I am the illustrator/photographer.
Sandy: Hey everyone. I’m Sandy and I’ve got one more week of work before I head north with my travel trailer for a week. It’ll be quiet, relaxing, and hopefully lots of writing.
Anita: Afternoon all. Bit late; preparing books and presentations for Swanwick. I’m Anita. August is all about Swanwick, then planning my NEW BOOK! Just been awarded @ace_national funding to develop my creative writing! So excited!
Elizabeth: August and summer = the perfect time of year for choosing your beach reads. This week I’m devouring Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh (and enjoying that satisfying feeling of completing my manuscript / memoir).
Deborah: Hi Elizabeth. Great you could join us. Well done for completing your Memoir MS. You can feel a bit smug whilst relaxing with a book.
Elizabeth: I started it in June 2017. It took me quite some time to do as I’m my own worst critic. I couldn’t stop editing as I went along and it was this semi addiction to editing that really slowed my progress down. Is anyone else like this with their work?
Deborah: I think it depends on what your past experience has been. For example. my brother was/is a song writer and so he is compelled to edit every paragraph several times before moving on. Its his 1st novel. Poets too.
Do you schedule breaks or periods of less pressure for August or any other month? Do you think that this is something that writers should do?
Chris: I think everyone has their own writing rhythms and structure of their lives. Because it’s a hobby/passion, I don’t schedule breaks – no more than a fisherman would! I work hardest on writing during holiday times and quiet work days/weeks. August is ideal.
Kathleen: I don’t schedule breaks in my writing life…but I DO take it very, very slow in September most years to recover from the extra summer work. (I work early AM and there’s a lot of sleep deprivation.)
Gerald: I’m hoping the 2nd half of the month will be a little easier. Still a lot to do, but less time pressure. And I’m starting a new series of cosy mysteries on Sept 1st, which I’m very excited about!
Elizabeth: I don’t really tend to dedicate specific time for writing. I find short sharp bursts (when I have the urge) are far more effective. Doing it that way the writing comes more naturally than trying to force it out – as that’s when I most often get writers block.
Cheryl: Never got to take my leave the rest of the year, so took it in one go in August. I was too tired to do anything. Now I’m freelance I roll with the punches and am energized by the ‘ebb and flow’. I haven’t written for 2 weeks, feels like a deserved break.
Deborah: I think most people slowdown in August. When I worked as a management consultant, I tried to plan my time to take all of August off. I haven’t managed things so well as an author.
Marian: My breaks are scheduled either when I’ve finished a book, or, pre-pandemic, when we were off on a birding trip somewhere. But, yes, breaks are needed to renew and refresh creativity.
Anita: Yes. Thinking time and reading time; necessary for any creative practice.
Karen: I don’t schedule specific time off, but I’ve learned to listen to my mind and body and take breaks when I start to feel burned out. We don’t get a prize for wearing ourselves out.
Cheryl: As I tell my students – sometimes you need to switch off in order to stay switched on! Taking a break is so important
Maria: Absolutely! Time off helps us recharge and that in turn often helps us think of new ideas/approach a target with new eyes. Taking next week off and looking forward to having a break with the hubs.
Beth: I think it’s a good idea to have some time away for recharging. I don’t specifically schedule that time because my schedule is fluid, largely due to my having a shifting work schedule.
Kathleen: Same for me…I take slow time when I get it!
Rik: I don’t, but sometimes a ‘greater authority’ determines that I should do so.
Karen: The challenge is trying to fit in a break before that greater authority decides to break you. I know that one.
Deborah: I read a lot more in the summer months. I used to take what I called a five-book holiday. That meant a holiday where I could easily get through 5 books whilst relaxing by a pool. I’m doing that at home this year.
Beth: I just went through a spree of seven books in seven days.
Marianne: I think breaks happen naturally for a writer. I simply shutdown and ideas stop flowing. I start again when my story starts to keep me up at night.
Chris: Same here; gaps of intensive writing only happen between projects. Marketing is a very ‘bitty’ activity. Outlining is pensive and often drawn-out. Writing words uses the most concentration. Cycling between these makes up the year.
How do you fill your creative well? By this I mean what activities and/or outings do you engage in to stimulate new ideas. How has the pandemic had an impact on this source of inspiration?
Gerald: Initially, yes – the pandemic stopped me in my tracks (and I know a lot of other creatives felt like this, too). A couple of days without any writing pressure, some fresh air and chats with Anita Belli and I’m ready to go again!
Maria: I like walking and going on my exercise bike. I also like puzzle books and adult colouring books. I might even write something new in a notebook just to keep the creative juices flowing. Sometimes I’ve sketched but often this can be more frustrating than enjoyable.
Marian: I walk, or bike, or go for long drives now that’s allowed again here. Being out in the countryside always gets the creative juices flowing; the winter was hard because I’m not usually in snowy Canada, and got less walking done. The book still got written, though.
Rik: This is a good question. I think the pandemic and its impact on our ability to socialise is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, we can get on with stuff, but I think the loss of in person interactions has an invisible impact on creativity
Marian: I have been blessed with two wonderful Twitter friends, who have filled that gap extremely well – and who have acted not just as friends to chat with but critique partners as well.
Beth: Yes. It hit me very hard in some ways, and I was furloughed for almost 4 months. I didn’t get a lot done then, either, other than watching Tom and Jerry and cooking contest shows.
Cheryl: I can relate to this. I lost contracts at the start of the pandemic and felt so inert for weeks. It took me a few months to pull myself round!
Beth: I was just trying to do the least stressful and most distracting things possible. I’m glad you managed to pull yourself out.
Rik (to Beth): Tough for you. This is why things like #FriSalon are needed. Gives us a routine and focus. @DeborahKlee thank you.
Karen: I am lucky that my go-to activities are either reading or walking, both of which I did in abundance during the pandemic. Despite the change of having my husband home for 16 straight months, I actually got more done than I expected
Cheryl: I run. I used to listen to music but now I don’t so I can mull over ideas in my head. I sit in cafes and people watch it’s amazing what you can learn about professional attitudes, values, and behaviours through observation.
K.L. Bone: I usually gain inspiration through travel. I’ve taken trips through Scotland, Romania, Greece, and many more: Covid has definitely had a negative effect on my ability to do so.
Anita: Long walks, great conversations, reading. Travelling has been curtailed by the pandemic and now I am not even sure I want to anymore!
Deborah: Hi Anta. When we spent a week in Notts recently and visited a few art exhibitions it felt as though my parched soul was being watered. You don’t realise how much you have missed cultural events until you re-engage.
Anita: That’s true Deborah. We went to the National Gallery for my birthday last year and it felt amazing to be in amongst the paintings! Loved it.
Chris: I seldom need to do anything special to generate new story ideas (I have a backlog anyhow). When I’m immersed in a project – like now – taking a walk allows scene details to pop up. Long drives also allow my mind (not attention!) to wander.
Beth: Reading is my go-to, but last year I stopped being able to concentrate on reading, which is very unlike me. RPGs are my other, and we had to do those over Google Meet. Somehow, I managed to launch my novel Goldsong anyway, but it’s been a long inspiration drought. RPGs are: Role Playing Games. Like Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve been playing since 1980, in the same group since 1988.
Sandy: Not nearly as much as I should. It’s definitely something we should do. I feel it when my well is empty and it doesn’t feel good. I like to go camping and hiking. My wife and I like to take road trips to find roadside burger stands. Some days, I’m just a vegetable on the couch with a beer and a sandwich.
Marianne: Story themes just come to me. It’s weird. When I try to force a story, it’s like a door shuts in my mind. When an idea hits me, I can’t wait to get down on my computer.
Chris: Same here. I never force a story; I just let it percolate. I never sit down to write until I’m ready to. Plenty of people say you should write, come what may–that’s it’s a discipline to be learned. Personally, I want to be happy, rather than pressured.
Do you have a natural cycle for your writing business? How does this fit with the industry and the behaviour patterns of readers?
Anita: I would love to get into a rhythm with my writing business. Two books per year; writing projects twice a year, Summer and late Autumn; but funding projects is unpredictable so I do what needs to be done at the time. I am always trying to do too many things!
Gerald: I’m trying to even out the cycles. I used to write a lot in the winter (when there was nothing to see out of the windows) and do very little in summer. Sometimes, I write / publish with the holidays – Christmas, summer, Halloween, etc.
Maria: Not especially. I try to do the #Nanowrimo events and fit in with when hubs takes time off. I try to have different concurrent projects as I find this works well for my brain. Eg writing a first draft, editing an older project and writing something new in a notebook.
Gerald: I’ve done NaNoWriMo so many times now, and written two books on it, I feel like I’m compelled to take part. This year, I might have to juggle publishing deadlines to give me a chance to write a 1st draft in November.
Karen: Right now, my schedule is what suits the small press that I published with, a book out every April. My 1930s book will throw this off, because it will be done and publishable well before April 2023. I don’t really have a personal schedule. I’m still working it out.
Marian: I have a fairly natural cycle – I write over late summer/fall/winter and usually finish books in the spring. Whether that fits the industry/reader behaviour, I don’t know.
Beth: I don’t, because I am crappy at marketing. I did put Goldsong out in December, but that was largely serendipity that it fit the schedule. I tend to get more writing done in the fall and late winter, but that’s my own natural rhythms, nothing to do with readers.
Do you write when you are away on holiday/vacation? If so what and how do you write when travelling?
Marian: I have a small travel laptop, and it (or a predecessor) has been to all 7 continents with me. I can write in airports, on airplanes, at picnic/camping sites, on ferries…and I work on the novel in progress, or blog posts, or a travel diary, or all of the above. Failing that – and we’ve been in many places without power, I use a notebook.
Deborah: I once spent a couple of weeks with a friend in California. I filled an A4 pad with hand written chapters in my downtime.
Karen: I’ve never been comfortable typing on a laptop. I’m not sure if it’s a holdover from learning on the typewriter, but it just feels too flat. However, I can write on my phone, and will happily dictate. The words will come, one way or another.
Marian: I envy you the dictation. Words do not flow from brain to mouth to me, only from brain to fingertips.
Karen: I’ve just had so many great conversations, talking to myself in my character’s voices. And then not being able to recreate them later. So it’s been trial and error, but it is good for dialogue
Gerald: When I used to go away for 2-3 months at a time in a motorhome, I used to put headphones on and write in the late evening. Typing on a laptop is sort of my job, so if I go away, I’ll sketch ideas for fiction / non-fiction books in a notebook.
Cheryl: This is one of my biggest challenges as I can’t write where there is noise, and I have to sit at a desk to focus. I’d like to develop a more flexible approach and train my brain to be more disciplined.
Gerald: I find putting headphones on (the big, over-ear jobs) cuts me off from the rest of the world and helps me focus. I’m easily distrac… what’s that?
Karen: Because I used to write in snippets at my day job, I’m good at writing in small bursts, and if the need arises, I would certainly write on vacation. If not writing, I’m still certainly taking notes for possible later use.
Maria: I try to avoid working on any big projects. I might do some light writing sprints or start a new idea just for fun, totally non-pressured. If an idea for my main work is really bugging me, I’ll jot down a couple of notes.
Beth: I don’t, but vacations (rare these days) are ideas fountains. Places I visit, people I see, little tiny details on the road, all of them get stored in my hopper for use later. The first halfway decent book I ever wrote was inspired by a state forest in Minnesota.
Rik: I might use the time for planning, or write a couple of versions of ‘sticky’ scenes. But they always need more focussed work afterwards, so I don’t take it seriously. It’s impossible for me to write at Swanwick Writers apart from in class exercises. Too much going on.
Sandy: Not really. I don’t have much of a business at the moment. That’s something I’m looking to take the next step in in the next few months.
Chris: In the last few years, time away has been very productive – just writing what I would at home. The new surroundings are great for creativity too. Editing (paper or PC) is also good to do when the environment isn’t conducive to ‘new’ words.
Marian: There’s always something to do 🙂 Three of my books have been written primarily over our winters in England, but that’s 3 months in one place, not a travel holiday.
What is your favourite genre for summer reading? Do you read much when you are on holiday? Which books will you be packing/downloading?
Marian: Because I review hist fic for a review site, and do an enormous amount of historical research as well, the books I’ve bought myself for my August downtime are ‘chick-lit’ and…two historical fiction, but outside my time period. And one science fiction.
Rik: I will read anything that is to hand. I don’t care about genre or the writer’s reputation. There’s as much to learn from a less well written book as from a masterpiece.
Karen: It’s really a mixed bag. I have a lot of research I need to do, and also a lot of books from authors in the writing community, and other ones that just struck my fancy. I try to alternate.
Beth: I read primarily fantasy (with the occasional excursion into science fiction or mystery) but it’s not a seasonal thing. What subgenres I read have to do with whatever catches my interest at the time. Currently I’ve been reading magical realism.
Marian: May I ask what? I quite like magic realism, but it’s been a few years since I’ve read much.
Beth: Fluffy stuff at present. Sarah Addison Allen, for instance. Not quite in the same league as Gabriel García Márquez. I’m teetering back into reading, so I’m going for comfort food rather than challenges.
Anita: I am reading quite widely at the moment but mostly book club and commercial lit-fic. I also love a good historical. And I have quite a few friends’ books to catch up on!
Chris: I have a variety of indie books on my Kindle TBR – mostly comedic or sci-fi/speculative. I’m also going to try Giver of Stars which you mentioned as a comp. for Signs of Life. Knowing comps for any of my books is always a challenge.
Gerald: I tend to read for enjoyment, so I’ll pick things from my Kindle. I tend to buy / download during the year, and then read when I have downtime. I don’t have “summer reads” – just whatever tickles my fancy when I’m scrolling through.
Maria: I would love to go on a writing retreat one day too, maybe with other writer friends
Sandy: I wish I had more time for reading. My reading habits don’t really change with the season though. I’m still science fiction and fantasy.