Ep 56 The app that replaces swear words in books, how to keep copywriting clients happy, the one crucial skill you need to write well and we talk to Writer in Residence Annabel Smith

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In Episode 56 of So you want to be a writer: The Sydney Writers’ Festival kicks off, are “clean words” offensive, the key to keeping clients happy, the one skill you need to write well, how to create a fantastic social media plan, the book Spell It Out by David Crystal, Writer in Residence Annabel Smith, understanding Scrivener, how to deal with negative people.

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Show Notes

Sydney Writers’ Festival

Joanne Harris: app replacing swearwords in novels is toxic

The Key to Keeping Clients Happy, Even When Delivering Bad News

Without This One Crucial Skill, You’ll Never Write Well.

How to Create a Fantastic Social Media Plan for Writers (or anyone!)

Spell it out: The Singular story of English Spelling by David Crystal

Writer in Residence
Annabel Smith was born in England in 1974 and moved with her family to Perth in 1988.

She lived in Melbourne for five years before returning to Perth. She holds a PhD in English (Creative Writing) from Edith Cowan University, and published her second novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, in 2013.

Annabel Smith has been writer-in-residence at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre and the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA), had short fiction and commentary published in Westerly and Southerly. She has written four novels with the latest, Whiskey & Charlie, just released.

Website
Twitter
Source Books on Twitter

App Pick

Scrivener

Learn how to use Scrivener with the Australian Writers’ Centre!

Working Writer’s Tip

People who want a negative response
Answered in podcast!

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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56

Transcript

Allison

Today I’m talking to Annabel Smith, author of novels including Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot, which is released this month in the US as Whiskey & Charlie, digital interactive novel/app The Ark, and The New Map of the Universe, which was short-listed for the WA Premier’s Book Awards in 2005.

 

She is currently working on Monkey See, an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey and an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis, which sounds very exciting.


Hi, Annabel.

 

Annabel

Hi Allison.

 

Allison

How far into Monkey See are you, with the mother of all tsunamis and an evil priestess?

 

Annabel

I’m not up to the tsunami, but I am about 90 percent through the first draft, so close to the end of the first draft.

 

Allison

Exciting.

 

Annabel

Yeah.

 

Allison

How long has it taken you to get 90 percent of the way through a first draft? Just to give our listeners an idea.

 

Annabel

It’s taken me about 16 months, but actually for most of that time I haven’t been working on it. In actual writing time probably about eight months.

 

Allison

Are you someone who plots your work out in advance? Or are you someone who sits down with an idea for an evil priestess, a monkey and a tsunami and just starts writing?

 

Annabel

This book has been a little bit different to my other books, actually. My first two books were extremely… I was a total pantser, so I just sat down and just whatever came out came out and I followed that path. My third book, with The Ark, I kind of wrote myself into a little bit of a corner at one point, and that was when I sort of thought, “Well, maybe plotting could be useful…”

 

With Monkey See, it’s going to be a trilogy, and so I thought I might have to do a little bit of plotting. Also, I applied for a grant to write the first draft. For the grant writing process I had to write a synopsis. To write a synopsis of a book that you haven’t started writing is a little bit tricky, and I did have to kind of have some ideas about where the book might go in order to apply for the grant. But, actually having those ideas I found really helped me to write the book. Now, I’m a little bit of a convert to plotting.

 

Allison

But, not spreadsheet plotter, just more of a vague outline?

 

Annabel

Vague outline. I actually use eight point story arc, that’s the formula that I use.

 

Allison

That’s interesting. I want to talk to you about the grant process and a few other things, we might do that a little bit later in the podcast. Perhaps, you could start by telling us about your writing journey. How did you come to be a published author in the first place?

 

Annabel

I always loved reading and as a little girl liked writing stories. But, I don’t think I ever thought that was something that a person could do as a job. I went to university and I did an arts degree, and in my second year of arts I was doing a couple of lit units one semester and I had to read a book a week for each unit, plus there was a kind of a bonus book for each unit for the semester. One of the bonus books was Ulysses and the other bonus book was Moby Dick. So, I was sort of supposedly churning through this crazy amount of reading, and I was a young uni student. I considered that to be work at the time, because it was mandated that I had to do it.

 

I wasn’t very pleased about it, and so the next semester I thought, “I’m not going to make that mistake again, I’m going to choose a lightweight unit without so much reading,” I thought, “Hmm, creative writing, that sounds a little bit lighter.” So, I got into it as a slack option and then when I got in there I thought, “Oh, I remember this, this used to be great fun when I was…” you know, 10, 11, 12.

 

Then I kind of kept going on that journey. I did a few more creative writing units, mostly for fun, but I had one tutor at the end of my third year, Marcella Polain, a West Australian writer, and she said to me when I was leaving, “Oh, you must keep writing.” I was kind of taken aback by that. I thought, “Oh, really? OK, then…”

 

After that I went overseas for a year and I worked as a nanny. While I was overseas I came across the Julia Cameron book, The Artist’s Way. And I worked through The Artist’s Way, the whole course and did all of the exercises and the morning pages and all of that great stuff. At the end of it I thought, “You know, I might actually give this writing thing a go.”

 

When I came back to Perth I did a honours year in creative writing. And, still, I don’t think I thought of it as a career. It was just something I was enjoying doing. At the end of the honours year my supervisor said to me, “You should apply for a PhD scholarship.” I said, “Oh, no I don’t think so. That sounds extremely serious and… no, I’m not up for it.” She said, “Oh, just put in the application, you can decide later. There’s nothing to lose. So in went the application and several months later I got a letter offering me a scholarship to study for three years and write a book. And, I thought…

 

Allison

How exciting.

 

Annabel

Yeah, I know. It was exciting. When I looked at the piece of paper and I thought, “You know what? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, no one is going to pay me to write a book ever again.” I really didn’t have any other career plans, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or be. And, I thought, “What the heck? I would be crazy not to do this.”

 

At the same time I think there was a part of me that really didn’t quite understand what I was signing up for. I remember several months later having got through the kind of process where you get it all approved and everything, I was actually sitting in my little office at the university and I had this revelation, which was like, “Oh my god, I have to write a book.” I was a little slow on the uptake.

 

That was kind of how I came to write my first novel, A New Map of the Universe. I think even then I really don’t think at any point thought of it as a career. But, I got the bug. So, when I finished that bug there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I wanted to write another book, that was absolutely clear to me that this is now what I wanted to do.

 

Allison

Having come through that sort of academic approach to novel writing, like you’ve had three years within a very creative environment, do you think that’s helped your process along? Did you learn a lot through that process that you apply ever single time that you approach a book now?

 

Annabel

I think — yes and no. I think when you do a PhD — I mean mostly there isn’t — it’s not like doing an undergraduate course where with the undergraduate course you get a lot of kind of inspiration and examining how other writers have done things, “How did they make that work?” You kind of take things apart, whereas what you get with a PhD is you get kind of like a built in editor, and a sort of guide for the process. I think what you — what I got from that — I mean I had a brilliant supervisor, Richard Rossida. He kind of helped me to undergo that process of stepping back from my own work and being able to see it more clearly. So, you’re not getting the kind of instruction and import, but you are getting a sort of — you’re getting a guide, I suppose, as someone who teaches you to see what works and what doesn’t work in your own writing, and that’s definitely something that I still use now.

 

Allison

When you approached the writing of your second novel, which was Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot, so you did that without a guide, did you find that different or more difficult or anything like that?

 

Annabel

It was easier, I think, for me, because I think what really sort of challenged me with the first book was I didn’t know how to write a book. And, I think it was just that thought of, “Oh, I’m doing this enormous thing that I’ve never done before and I don’t know how to do it.” That kind of kept on stopping me in my tracks, because I would just think about the sheer enormity of the task and I would get completely overwhelmed, and I would be like, “I can’t write anymore, it’s all gone.” Whereas, with the second book it was like, “OK, I’ve written a book now, I know how to write a book and how you do it is you just sit down everyday and put words on the page and eventually you have a book.”

 

I think I didn’t have that sort of freak out that I had with the first book. So, it was a easier, but at the same time I didn’t have that person who I could constantly go to and say, “Oh, can you look at this chapter and tell me how you think it’s going.”

 

Allison

I mean you obviously like to try new things, because The Ark, which I think was your third novel, was quite different to the first two.

 

Annabel

That’s right. Yes.

 

Allison

And you’re now working on another epic sort of sci-fi kind of quest, is that like a conscious thing? Or it is just the way that your thought processes and ideas evolve? Where your interest lies at the time?

 

Annabel

Yeah, I think it’s partly I get an idea and then the idea just sort of seems to take a certain form, it’s not that I consciously say, “OK, now I want to write a sci-fiction novel,” or, “Now, I want to write a novel in documents.” It’s more, I think, “I want to write a book, here’s my idea… this is the story I want to tell…” and then the form just seems to kind of come to me. “This is the best form for this work…” and I don’t really think about theme, I don’t think about genre. I don’t think about structure until I have the idea for the book. And then the themes and the genre and the structure kind of come with the idea for me.

 

Allison

OK, so it all evolves as you work through it.

 

The Ark, which is a digital interactive project. There’s actually an app that goes with that, is that correct?

 

Annabel

Yeah, that’s right.

 

Allison

Which you self-published…

 

Annabel

I did, yeah.

 

Allison

Like that’s a massive undertaking. Was that a steep learning curve all around for you?

 

Annabel

Basically vertical, I would say.

 

Allison

Just up that ladder. Yep.

 

Annabel

Yeah, it was insanely steep. And to be honest, I think if I had known when I set out how steep the learning curve would be and how challenging it would be, I never would have done it, because it was borderline overwhelming, the level of challenge was borderline too hard to cope with.

 

Allison

Why did you think this book needs an app? What made you think, “I’m going to do it this way.”?

 

Annabel

It’s a novel in documents, so it’s told as a series of blog posts and text messages and memos and emails. And that sort of contemporary format seemed to lend itself to the interactive form. I think that’s what initially led me to that. And, I think as well when I first started writing this book, which was probably — maybe around five years ago now, that was when people were first starting to talk about the possibilities of ebooks and digital literature, and interactive literature. It was just starting to become something that was talked about. I think I thought, “Well, I wonder how this would work?” “Does it really enhance a book?” I was interested to explore what it could do.

 

Allison

Here’s a question for you, what surprised you the most about self-publishing? What were you the least prepared for?

 

Annabel

I think what I was the least prepared for was that there weren’t programs and software and systems in place to do what I wanted to do. I thought the whole world of self-publishing was much more advanced that it actually turned out to be.

 

Allison

So you had to create a lot of it yourself?

 

Annabel

Yeah, I was kind of hacking through the undergrowth, whereas I thought there would be like a real trail to follow, but it turned out that what I wanted to do was really non-standard and that other people weren’t really doing it, which really surprised me, because I’m not a technologically cutting edge person and I don’t think I realized when I started that was I was doing was quite cutting edge. And that was kind of a shock, because I thought, “Surely someone else has thought of the things that I want to do,” and I wasn’t sure if they had thought of them in and realized they couldn’t do them, or if they just hadn’t thought of them, I couldn’t really tell.

 

Allison

Is self-publishing something that you would do again?

 

Annabel

No.

 

Allison

OK, there’s a straight answer. Why is that?

 

Annabel

I didn’t really enjoy having to be responsible for absolutely every single part of it. I realized that what I love most is the writing and that’s what I want to put my focus on, and I’m very happy for other people to think about all of the other parts of it, to think about the marketing and to think about the editing and just to plan all of the other logistical parts of it. That doesn’t really float my boat.

 

I felt like to some degree after I had actually written a book a lot of what I was doing was project management. I spent a year of my life effectively managing a project when I would have much rather been writing my next book.

 

Allison

I think something that does surprise people when they do self-publish is just the wide variety of skills that are required. I think there’s a notion out there that you can just sort of put your book out on Amazon or whatever and then that’s your job done and you just get on with the next one, but there is a lot more to it then that isn’t there?

 

Annabel

Absolutely. I mean discoverability is the biggest challenge facing self-published authors. There are just such a tremendous quantity of books coming out everyday. I mean not just everyday, every minute. And how does your book get to the top of the pile? How do people notice it? You have to be very savvy about marketing, you have to understand your genre and your niche and how to get your book in front of people, and that requires tons and tons of hours of work and of educating yourself, and that’s not for everyone.

 

Allison

No, because it’s another job, isn’t it?

 

Annabel

Absolutely.

 

Allison

It’s a different career.

 

Let’s talk about Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot, which was very well reviewed here in Australia and is about to come out in the US with Source Books as Whiskey & Charlie, has anything surprised you about the experience of going into a new market, because you’re leaping out of Australian waters and into the US. Has there been anything that you weren’t expecting about that at all?

 

Annabel

I don’t think I had really considered the process of editing the book for a US audience. I don’t think that had really crossed my mind. So, that was an interesting part of the process, because they went through the manuscript and they kind of highlighted a whole bunch of stuff that they asked me to consider Americanizing. Some of those were very everyday things, “Can we change ‘nappy’ to ‘diaper’,” and, “Can we change ‘cubicle’ to ‘stall,’ and “Can we change ‘rubbish’ into ‘trash can?’

 

But then there were some other kind of funnier ones, that I just wasn’t prepared to change. So, they wanted to change ‘oval’ to ‘track,’ like, “The guys were hanging out on the ‘oval,’ and they said, “Can we change that to ‘track’?” And I said, “Absolutely not, because we don’t have a track in Australia, schools don’t have a track, they have an oval. An oval is a very specific thing, it’s not just a kind of piece of grass, it means something specific.”

 

That process was just fascinating, the things they felt needed Americanizing, the things that — I suppose just for me kind of understanding what I was willing to negotiate on and what I felt really attached to and wasn’t prepared to let go of. Like, I wasn’t prepared to let go off, “Don’t come the raw prawn…” That was just…

 

Allison

Did they want to change that to, “Don’t come the raw shrimp…”?

 

Annabel

So, I was like, “No. I’m sure people can work out from the context what this phrase means, and I think part of the joy of reading a book from another country is learning their crazy little idioms that they have in their country and the weird ways they express things. I think, to me, that’s the whole point. So, I think we should leave this in.”

 

Allison

I think so too. I’m with you. Keep that ‘raw prawn’.

 

How does your writing process work? Are you someone who spends all day at your desk staring at the wall waiting for it to happen, or are you someone who slots it in around different things? How do you sort of go about getting the words on the page?

 

Annabel

Since my son has been at full time school I’ve had a pretty rigid routine where I drop him off, come home and just sit down, but I don’t just write. I have very nerdy little timetable where I divide my day into kind of like periods, I suppose, and I have time for admin and I have time to connect with my writing community, and I have marketing time, and I have writing time. So, I have this little timer that goes off, “Ding, ding…” “OK, next…”

 

Allison

That’s so organized.

 

Annabel

Yeah, it’s very organized, but I’ve found when I first started learning about marketing and social media I got so into that stuff. It was so much fun and I enjoyed it so much. There was such an incredible amount to learn that I literally could have spent all my time only doing that and never getting to the writing. And, also never getting to the boring parts, like the tax and the invoicing. So, it kind of worked out, “OK, there are certain things I need to do,” and I find the timetable helps me because the boring parts of writing, like admin, but also things like grant applications, I find instead of spending 20 hours doing that the day before it’s due, or two days before it’s due, I do it for half an hour a day over several weeks and that makes it more tolerable.

 

Allison

Do you aim to get a certain number of words down per day, or are you more flexible within your allocated writing time?

 

Annabel

I aim for 500 words a day.

 

I went to a workshop a couple of years ago with Peter Heller, who wrote the Dog Stars, and he said that he wrote 500 words a day and that he read about that technique from Graham Greene, apparently Graham Greene wrote 500 words a day everyday of his life. 500 words a day doesn’t sound like very much at all, but it adds up, five days a week it adds up to, I think 125,000 words a year, which if you count some of those words that you’ll throw away, that’s basically a book a year.

 

And, it feels very manageable to sit down and write 500 words a day, whereas at other times I’ve had a goal of 2,000 words a day and I’ve just avoided sitting at my desk because that goal has been too daunting. Sometimes I sit down and I think, “Oh, I would much rather go onto Facebook and Twitter then actually open my Scribner file and start writing.” But, then I say to myself, “You only have to write 500 words, and when you’ve hit 500 words you can stop.” And then I think, “How hard can that be?” So that kind of motivates me to get going.

 

Allison

If you’re in the midst of it and it’s flowing well do you continue on?

 

Annabel

No, so the whole point of that theory is that you stop in the midst of it, that way when you start writing the next day you’re in the middle of a flow, so you never have the terror of the blank page, you don’t write until the end of the scene, you don’t kind of write until you’re spent and your ideas are all finished. You stop when the juice is still flowing and then when you sit down the next day it’s ready and waiting and you can get straight into it.

 

Allison

Well, there you go. There’s something for everyone to have a try at.

 

In the past you’ve been very vocal about the realities of making a living from writing, and you’ve written several blog posts on the subject, which is how I sort of came across your work in the first place. I’ll link to those posts in the show notes, but they’re kind of about the difficulties that many writers face. What was the response to those blog posts?

 

Annabel

Those blog posts provoked the greatest response of any blog post I had ever written, because actually I think what kind of startled people was that I actually produced the figures of how much money I had earned from writing. I think people talk vaguely, “Oh, it’s hard to make a living from [being] a writer,” but when you actually see someone publish the fact that they only made $7,000 in a year people go, “Oh, wow, now I really see what you mean.”

 

I think that really spoke to people, because I think what happens when you’re writing is that you kind of secretly feel that everyone out there is doing better than you are, and these tiny checks are dribbling in and you’re feeling dispirited about it. And, I think people were kind of relieved and reassured for someone to come out and say, “Hey, this is how little money I’ve made.” I was like, “Whew, I’m not alone.” I think that was kind of the overwhelming response.

 

But, I think the other thing that really came out of that was, for me, was, “Yes, but you get to do what you love and don’t be so entitled.” Now a lot of writers kind of came back and was like, “Yeah, that’s the reality, that’s the world you’ve chosen, go get another job, that’s what I’m doing.”

 

So there was kind of a reality check for me, which is not many writers make a living from writing and that’s actually OK, and so you do something else to bring in the dollars and you do the writing when you can and make a living as best you can. But, you shouldn’t expect it to support you.

 

Allison

No, so you actually do quite a few different things as well, don’t you? You do writing, but you also do speaking and you do some teaching work and you do different things. Do you find now, like, with that perspective, do you think, “OK, yes, the writing is something that I’m grateful, I can make some sort of money from and I’m sort of out there and I’m producing my books and I’m doing my things, and if I have to do these other things as well, then that’s the reality of it.”?

 

Annabel

Yeah, I mean I enjoyed the other things around writing, I enjoy public speaking and I enjoy teaching as well. So, I don’t mind doing those things to earn money, especially if they’re writing-related. I accept that when you talk about earning a living as a writer you’re not just talking about royalties, you’re talking about —

 

Allison

All of the things that go with it.

 

Annabel

All of the things related to writing that you can earn money by doing. And those are kind of an important part of a writer’s income. I think even writers who sell lots of books still do those other things to supplement their income.

 

Allison

Yep, and because as you say you enjoy it. I think a lot of them enjoy it as well. I think many people find the public speaking aspect of being a writer quite difficult. You’ve said you enjoy it. Is it something that you’ve worked at? Or is it something that has always come quite naturally to you?

 

Annabel

It’s come naturally to me, I think. I mean when I was a little girl I wanted to be an actress, I’m a showoff. I like getting up on a stage and everybody’s eyes are on me. I’ve got the microphone, I can talk and no one can interrupt. I actually don’t find that daunting. I find it fun. I also worked for six years as a corporate trainer, so I’m confident running a workshop and speaking to a room of strangers, so I know for a lot of people it’s their worse nightmare, it’s the part of writing that they find the most daunting and frightening, but it’s not like that for me. It’s fun for me.

 

Allison

Which is great, lucky you.

 

Annabel

It is great. I’m lucky. I’m lucky, yes.

 

Allison

We spoke earlier about grants, how important do you think the grant process is for fostering new authors?

 

Annabel

I think it’s essential. I think it’s so important. I think for a lot of people when they’re trying to fit writing in around a lot of other things it’s just so hard to build up ahead of steam when you have half an hour one day and then three days later you get an hour. You can’t get a flow of ideas going. I think what the grant can do is buy you that time to just kind of get a chunk of work done and get a flow and get a feel for where your book’s going. I think that’s essential.

 

But I think the other part of it is just the vote of confidence that it gives you. It’s like somebody who knows what they’re doing, thinks my book is worth investing in, and you really struggle with doubt as a writer. It’s one of the biggest challenges. I think getting a grant is like a seal of approval… it’s like someone saying, “You are worth investing in. Your writing is worth investing in,” and that just gives you such a boost.

 

Allison

Do you have any tips for people who are applying for grants, because you have won some in the past, what sort of things do people need to think about when they’re applying?

 

Annabel

Well, I think one of the most important things is to allow yourself plenty of time. I think probably the most common mistake that people make with grant writing applications is that they start working on it three days before it’s due, and I would recommend to start working on it six weeks before it’s due, give yourself lots and lots of time to mull over your answers to the questions.

 

There’s also a lot of resources available that people don’t look into. For example, with the Department of Culture and the arts grants in Western Australia you can ring up and speak to a grants officer, you can submit a draft of your grant and get feedback on it. You can look at the projects that received the grants last time, you can see kind of frequent mistakes that people get, and reports on previous grant rounds, and all of that information is available to absolutely anyone. It gives you such a leg up. You will be head and shoulders above other people if you use those resources.

 

I recommend kind of really looking around and seeing what resources are available. I would also recommend asking anyone you know who has successfully received a grant to have a look at your application, and if you can’t do that I would just ask someone who you think knows a little bit about it to review your application, because I think the hardest part of grant writing is trying to make your project, which you completely understand and is clear in your mind, it’s trying to bring that alive to someone else who doesn’t know anything about it. And, I think sometimes when you try to explain your project you can’t see the gaps in your explanation because your mind is filling them in, because you know it.

 

When you show it to another person they might say, “I don’t really understand the connection between these two parts of your project,” and that’s exactly what a grant committee is going to say. So, just getting another pair of eyes on it and someone’s — I think that’s really key as well.

 

Allison

Now you mentioned before that you quite enjoy social media, so what are your thoughts on this idea of an author platform? Are you someone who — have you been working on building one?

 

Annabel

Yeah, definitely. I think it’s pretty important in this day and age. I think people expect to be able to find something about authors online, not necessarily everywhere, but at least somewhere. If I read a book by someone and then I go online and they don’t have a website and they don’t have a Facebook page, they’re literally just not there at all, I find that really frustrating, because I think, “I want to know more and I want to be able to connect with you in some way. I know it’s not for everyone and you have to respect that, but I think most readers now want that. And, I think there are so many different ways that you can do it.

 

You might say, “I hate Facebook and I don’t want to be part of that world,” that’s fine. There’s all sorts of different platforms. So, you can just find the one that works for you. Some people are visual, they love Instagram and Pinterest and wordy people love Twitter, and I think there’s something for everyone. I think it’s worth taking the time to explore the platform that works for you.

 

Allison

What’s your favorite platform? Where do we find you most?

 

Annabel

I think Twitter is probably where I’m most easily to be found. I really enjoy Twitter. I thought Twitter was so silly when I first heard about it. When I first looked at it was honestly like a foreign language. I just didn’t understand. I remember there was — Frankie magazine had a competition and it said, “RT to win…” so and so. And I was like, “What’s ‘RT’?” I didn’t even have a clue.

 

I think it takes a little bit of time to learn the language, but I feel like Twitter is basically a way of having the internet curated for you by people whose minds you admire, and what could be better than that?

 

 

Allison

Nothing at all.

 

Annabel

Yeah. And I love the sense of community there, because writing is a solitary activity and I think sometimes you do feel like you’re failing around on your own in your home office, or wherever it might be, and then you get onto Twitter and you say, “Oh, look… all of these other people are failing around in their home offices, feeling all of the same things that I’m feeling.” Thank goodness for that.

 

Allison

We’re all failing around together.

 

Annabel

Yeah, exactly. I think that’s lovely.

 

Allison

Let’s finish up today with our usual fabulous… three top tips for writing. Tell us what you’ve got for us.

 

Annabel

All right, so I’ve got a practical tip to start with and that is that I recommend joining or forming a writers’ group. I think being part of a group of people who will critique your work is an essential thing for a writer. I have learnt such a huge amount over the years from the different writers’ groups that I’ve been part of, not just having them give feedback on my work, but the process of giving feedback on their work too. When you look at a person’s work and you say, “This isn’t working,” and you have to say why it isn’t working, you really learn from that, because that’s a mistake that you don’t make yourself.

 

That’s one.

 

I think as time passes, you know when you first join or form a writers’ group you’re all unknown writers and you are all struggling with the same things, and then over time those are people who get books published and get on various committees. They’re people who you can get letters of support from when you apply for things, they’re people who might blurb your book. So, you form relationships with people and you can help each other along the path. So, that’s a great part of it too.

 

The second two tips I’ve got are a little bit more zen.

 

Allison

We love a bit of zen.

 

Annabel

One of them is to think of it as a long game and to try and enjoy the process. I think this is something — when you’re first writing it’s all about getting your book published, that’s a kind of, you know, that’s the holy grail. That’s wonderful, those moments are amazing. But, I think it’s about the journey, not the destination. There’s lots of ups and downs. You have to try to enjoy all of the parts of it. You have to enjoy the writing and you have to enjoy the getting out there and sharing your book with people, and you have to try and embrace all of the different aspects of it.

 

Allison

I’m still trying to embrace the waiting, I find the waiting still very, very difficult. But, yes, I will think of that. I will be more zen about that.

 

What about the third one?

 

Annabel

The third one I think actually speaks to your issues with waiting, it’s try to make peace with the parts that you can’t control.

 

Allison

So true.

 

Annabel

There are lots of parts of the writing life that are beyond your control. So you do the very best you can with the parts you can control and then you have to try to make peace with the parts you can’t control. I think there’s no sense spending energy saying, “It’s not fair,” and, “Why did this book get celebrated when it’s so mediocre,” and, “Why did this person get a grant when they’re so obviously untalented?” And all of those kind of — that trap you can get in of getting bogged down in aspects of the industry that you have no influence over.

 

It’s better to just say, “That is how it is… here are the things I can work on, and I’m going to put my focus there.”

 

Allison

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Annabel. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I hope the book goes gangbusters in the US. We shall see you online somewhere.

 

Annabel

Thank you so much, Allison.


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