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Writer's Respite

Advice, tips and helpful hints to help you on your publishing journey.


Whether you are trying to do writing, ghostwriting, or some other creative endeavour, it can sometimes feel like you are at the mercy of an unforgiving and fickle muse that you can’t control. If you view your creativity and writing as reliant upon some unreliable entity, then you are going to encounter a lot of frustration.

Luckily, you are not completely at the mercy of the uncontrollable muse. There are things you can do to establish a creative process, and if you continue to put in the work and be consistent, then the muse will start showing up for you more often.

The Writing Process

Our brains love routine and consistency. You can train your brain to be creative and switch to a creative mode by establishing a writing process. Creating a routine around your writing or ghostwriting will help you increase your focus and concentration when it is time to write. Pick a time and pace that is set aside for writing. Turn off notifications and your phone, so nothing interrupts your process. You may even want to add in a certain scented candle or a favourite beverage to your routine.

Learn from Other Writers

The creative process is different for everyone, so it makes sense that you can learn a lot from studying the creative process and relationship to the muse that other writers have developed. Read a lot about how your favourite authors approach writing and if something feels right, try it out for yourself. It may take some trial and error, but don’t give up!

You can also form or join a book group to talk about your writing with other writers and help them with their writing as well. You can find authors to connect with or observe by visiting writing websites like or listening to TED talks focusing on writing.

Writing Exercises

It is really easy to feel stuck when you are writing. Writing exercises are a great way to break out of a rut and help generate new ideas and get the words flowing. Keeping a page or book of writing exercises handy where you write will make it easy to make the most of your writing time.

Turn to Nature

Sometimes taking a break and reconnecting to nature is a good way to get the creative juices flowing. Turning your brain off for a minute and practising a little mindfulness can get yourself out of your way. Reducing your stress by reconnecting to nature will help you come back to your writing, feeling more energized and inspired.

Immerse Yourself in Art

If you feel stuck in your own creative projects, then it may do you some good to explore the creative works of others. Taking a break from writing to listen to music or pursue another artistic endeavour can help break up your day. Infusing your life with all kinds of art can help you live a more creative life overall and come back to your writing project with new focus and concentration.

Keep Writing

Sometimes we get so focused on writing well that we are unable to write at all. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing practice is to just simply write. Stop thinking so much, and just start writing. You can always go back later and change what you don’t like, but if you don’t write something all you will have is a blank page.

Unfortunately for creatives, the final, very un-creative aspect of being a writer holds a lot of power over how their work lands. We writers labour for months, years, sometimes even decades over our pieces of art and should we find ourselves conjuring up the nerve to share what is personal, we are rewarded with the crushing and leaden task of looking at our work as a product. The publishing process can be daunting for so many reasons, the least that we can do is prepare as much as possible to make our lives as easy as they can be.

Around the world, right now, a plethora of nervous artists will be sitting with their vice of choice, a cherished manuscript and a freshly ordered copy of this year’s Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, hoping with blind faith that it holds the secret to driving their dreams into maturity. But the Yearbook, for all it’s worth, is both heavy enough to cause wrist damage and hops over some vital information that a first-time publishing writer needs. So, let’s take a stress-free stroll into the minefield of publishing.

1. Write your book. It may sound obvious, but some agents will list just a 10’000-word (or 3 chapters) submission and summary on their websites and this can be tempting for people who don’t want to waste their time writing something that may never be published. But how can you sell a book you haven’t finished? How can you even summarise a piece of work that might sweep you off into a different direction as you are writing it? The publishing process is incredibly unforgiving, and you need to give yourself the best chance you possibly can. The real waste of time is arriving at stage 2 without a fully polished manuscript that you both love and understand inside out. Write your book, edit your book, rewrite until you can rewrite no more and dream around the fringes of your book; most importantly of all: KNOW YOUR BOOK.

2. Decide whether you want to self-publish or use a publishing company. This isn’t a step to be rushed through and there isn’t a right answer or a wrong answer. Like people, different books have different needs and desires and finding the right process will enable your book to blossom and will involve a realistic view of what you expect from your project and who it is aimed at. Working out your audience is a big part of this.

3. Prepare for submission. If you have decided to use a publishing company, you will need to find an agent. Almost all publishing houses these days do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so you will need to do your research and find an agent who suits your project. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is a numbers game. Flicking through listings and emailing every agent under the sun for the same submission, is not just a waste of time, but can be detrimental to your chances. Take your time. Read through the biographies, find out who is right for your project. Are they accepting first-time authors? Are they only interested in children’s books? What style of writing do they enjoy? Will you connect with this person in a professional capacity? When you have found 4 or 5 agents for whom you really understand what they are looking for, you can move forward more confidently.

4. Create your first submission. Pick the agent you wish to submit to first and spend time collating everything they ask for. (i.e. a summary, 10’000 words, info about you, cover letter etc.)

a. Cover Letter: Be sure to include the personal details about them and how you feel that they are right for your project. You are selling yourself and your work, but it has to be a mutually beneficial relationship, highlighting why you will work well for each other. It will give both o confidence that the relationship will work. Read, re-read, re-read, re-read re… and for God’s sake, remember to be professional and treat these people - read demi-Gods - with respect. Do not address your prospective agent the way you would a good friend and do not try to fool them into thinking that this is the best book they will ever have the honour of reading and do not lie. The good thing about staggering your submissions (stage 6) is that you can honestly tell each agent that you are not sending out many submissions, you do not need to lie. Be modest, be flexible, be honest and try to connect.

b. Book Summary: Most agents will ask you to include a plot summary if they aren’t asking for the full manuscript. It is incredibly tempting to look to skip some corners here and send the same summary to each agent, it might well be that that is what you end up doing, but really think about it first. Remember that each agent you have chosen from the previous step you have done so because they meld well with one specific aspect or tone of your book. Your book is multifaceted, and the way that you write a brief description is going to highlight, deliberately or not, a different facet of the book: so let’s make it deliberate. Write your summary with the things in mind that you and this agent have in common. This will help you learn more about your book too. For example, if you propose four different angles to four different agents, and one shows interest, perhaps this is the most interesting angle to your book, and you should consider exploring it further, or alternatively perhaps you realise you don't gel as well with this agency as much as previously thought.

5. Know the market. This is the kind of thing creatives really do hate. It can be heartbreaking to think of monetising your art but try to think of ‘knowing the market’ less as an indication of what makes money, and more of an indication of what the people now are thinking about. You are not writing timelessly; you live in a vibrant culture of movements and philosophies. Knowing the market will help you think of your book in the context of the art scene as a whole.

6. Send. When you are happy with what you are about to send, take the bold step of sending your first submission. Only send one, you will need some time to reflect on what could have gone better or the direction you want to go in for your next submission (because there will be one). Try and stagger all of your submissions like this.

7. Get rejected! Your first rejection is something to be celebrated, you have put yourself out there! This is a watershed moment in your creative life, and it will be the first of many, many rejections before you find where your work will fit. Every time you get rejected, revisit your submissions, revisit your summaries and the work itself and make it the best it can be. Congratulations, you are doing so well.

You can define a net in one of two ways, depending on your point of view. Normally, you would say that it is a meshed instrument designed to catch fish. But you could, with no great injury to logic, reverse the image and define a net as a jocular lexicographer once did: he called it a collection of holes tied together with string.

Julian Barnes in Flaubert’s Parrot, then goes onto explain how the same could be said of biographies as so much does escape. And yet, as Ted Hughes once wrote, ‘I hope each of us owns the facts of his or her own life.’ And that is the other point: we must.

There are parts of our lives regarded as, not quite us. We look back at a particular period as if peering at a naughty child through a classroom window, neither wanting to disturb, yet unable to believe our eyes. We shy away from the parts of ourselves that aren’t too pretty, editing extensively to make them shiny and admirable from all angles. But few, if any, lives pan out this way. Everybody has blips, failures, sicknesses so that the list of disasters is endless, but the question becomes, not the extent of the pain, but what actions were taken thereafter; how, in other words, you responded. More often than not, such events appear as bitter bolts from the blue; we were planning against one disaster while another came up and nipped at the ankle. But this happens to be the point of transformation’s promise. It takes one by surprise and yet attempts to comfort with the distraction of challenge and growth, despite our many protests to the contrary.

What I have learned in recording people’s lives, is that the more successful a person is, quite often the more misshapen it once began; the more inspirational, the greater the loss at pivotal moments and the richer, the greater the deprivations in early life. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules, but these are the patterns I’ve noticed.

And so what becomes more important than hiding secrets is revealing transformation, that peculiar kind of alchemy more familiar to the human spirit than we care to attest. It must grow from a foundation of hope, like the lily bursting forth from mud, often unconscious, yet once noted, capable of attuning the mind to future possibilities. Much later, we must look back but with objectivity and distance to gain a greater understanding of how these – all too frequently - awe-inspiring acts were accomplished. Firstly, though we must comfort ourselves knowing dreams can reform at any moment. Most of all we must believe – just as the toddler did when learning to walk – that great things are possible. Yet biographies show us more than the end: they show us the journey, providing signposts along the path. You might say that they direct us toward our dreams.

Unrecorded lives still move human evolution forwards, that is society, forwards but even these apparently normal lives make up an essential part of the whole. Some are more exceptional in resilience, but everybody has something to teach and everybody something to learn.

The stories of our lives must thus be enthusiastically tied together to form a net, no matter how frequent the holes. Failures that had bright and gleaming linings need to be celebrated, as do the wrong paths and the crazy people and places or those events that eventually lead to greater joy. But without the calamities and the suffering, would our lives - the world - really change? Not so fast, I expect. So go tell your stories as if retelling a great epic, for in five hundred years, no matter what you have achieved, nobody will quite believe the circumstances you lived through.

Therefore, harness hope and look back with a sense of fondness. Many fish will continue to escape and return to the stream, but there always remains enough to determine character, cultural contextualising and social peculiarity. Naturally, there will be areas of obscurity and absence because, at times, human beings are a mystery unto themselves, but record we must of for no other reason than to throw off and release the past and move closer to some, as yet, unattained form.

As a biographer, it is always the inner life that holds more interest than external situations; for the patterns of life are firstly held in the mind. Once this is gently unravelled, however, events become explicit, making individual sense and then it is those that have understood the peculiar mechanics of their own mind who produce the greatest and most flourishing lives.

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