There’s a lot of bad press around being distracted at work. Whether that’s referring to the 9 til 5, your writing schedule or even the inability just to focus on your work. We’ve all been there – even me whilst I write this post – but perhaps it happens for a reason. Perhaps it’s your brain’s way of telling you that you need a time out.
More often than not a distraction tends to be something that is playful and spontaneous. It could be people watching, listening to a debate on the radio, or even something you spot in a shop window. We can’t deny that we do it but have we ever considered why we do it? Sometimes you can be aware that you need a distraction and other times you may not. If you don’t realise that you needed the distraction – more times than not – it’s because your brain could be overloaded. Whether that’s work or family life will differ to each of us and will affect us all differently.
I recently read an article about the benefits of play and how it can allow you to be rid of pressures and to be more present in a single activity. This in itself, allows the brain to think in different ways and can ultimately, allow your creativity to soar. Think that walk you took in the middle of writing your wip was an unwanted distraction? Probably not. In fact, you’ve probably went on that walk to clear your mind and let yourself think of something else for a while. While in this state, your subconscious will be mulling over your problem and by the time you get back to your writing, your mind may have conjured up a new scene, solved a plot hole or even allowed you to consider a possible plot twist. Whenever we do something that’s spontaneous and different to our working day, it surprises us and allows us to see it as a playful task or experience. As a result, your pressures gradually melt away, leaving you with a sense of play that really allows your creativity to come into full force.
Next time you go for a walk or are distracted by a game or puzzle, ask yourself once you’ve finished – Do you feel like you can be more creative? Do you feel refreshed and re-energised? Are you ready to tackle your problem?
The chances are, you might just feel ready for the new challenge ahead.
This beautiful balance is sometimes really tricky to achieve and has become even more difficult when working remotely.
Thankfully, I found something that works for me and hopefully it’ll work for you too!
Stick to your timings – whether you work 9-5 or you spend each morning on your writing, make the time for it. Then, once that time has hit, stop working and start living. Admittedly this seems a little cut throat at times BUT it can be effective.
Create a commute – once you’ve finished work, go for a walk around the block. This will be a way for your mind to wind down, reflect on the day and to prepare yourself for home life. This worked so well for me during lockdown, definitely worth trying!
Create a list! – After work we can sometimes have work preying on our minds. Oh I forgot to photocopy that, argh I meant to write 20 pages instead of ten! Writing a list will allow you to express these worries and begin to consider how to tackle them. Once you know how, you’ll find yourself at ease and will allow yourself to relax whilst enjoying your home life.
You’ve probably came across some of these ideas before, and that’s absolutely fine… but did you try any? If not then now’s the time, but don’t worry… it’s better to be late than never.
Give these ago for a full week and see if any of them significantly impact your work life balance.
If you have your work life balance down and you’re just being curious, don’t be selfish! Share your great ideas! Drop your comments below for any other work life hacks for others to use!
First lines matter. Whether they are in a blog post, a newsletter or a novel, the first line is crucial.
Whilst you’re in the editing phase of your writing, it can be easily forgotten to revise your first line. The first line will have different purposes in various texts but there is one thing it needs to be. Good.
Your first line, if writing for a newsletter or a blog, must intrigue your reader and invite them to read more. Your purpose here is to keep them reading right until the very end. A great way to revise your first line is to read your writing as a reader. Would you be interested? Would it stop you scrolling? What could you add to the line to make it more gripping? If you’re still unsure, it could be worth letting someone read the first line to give you another point of view. They may even see something that you didn’t.
If however you are revising a first line of a novel, the aim and purpose of your writing may be different. Your goal, as a writer, is to lose your readers in your novel. Allow your readers to become invested in your characters and don’t settle for anything less. Although you still need to grip the reader with your opening lines, you have a variety of techniques open to you. Here are a few that you may wish to try:
Surprise the reader
This type of hook causes the reader to raise questions or surprises them by catching them off guard. A great example of this is from Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit: ‘It was a pleasure to burn’. The concept that some would like the feeling of burning seems very unusual. The sentence itself could also suggest that someone likes the action of burning something. As your mind begins to question alternatives, it has sparked the interest of the reader to keep reading.
Begin with dialogue
This can also have a similar effect on the reader as it can catch the reader off guard. An example of this can be seen in the opening lines of Rose Macauley’s, The Towers of Trezibond: ‘”Take my camel dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass’. The animal itself may surprise the reader in this sentence, as well as Aunt Dot’s previous actions. Using dialogue in your first line brings your readers straight into the action and provides them with wanting to figure out what is happening and why.
Setting the Mood and Atmosphere
Although this technique may seem simple, it can be really effective when used correctly. Louise Erdrich does this beautifully in Tracks: ‘We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.’ In this first sentence Louise Erdrich has managed to set the sombre mood perfectly by using the setting to help set the tone and atmosphere. This technique can work really well with the show don’t tell principle, as the sentence has given its readers an insight to what is to come.
Another suggestion could also be to revise what you like to read yourself. If you love a particular author like Lee Child or John Grisham, look at how they start their first lines. How did they interest you? Why did you want to read on? This technique also works if you are wanting to write a blog post or newsletter. If you follow several blogs, which article did you really enjoy and how did it start?
Once you have tried a few of these techniques, reflect on your work and see if any of them work for you. Remember the best way to get your writing noticed is to make your writing the best it can possibly be.
Follow me on Instagram @cbarkerwriting for writing tips on a daily basis.
I used to think I knew how to develop my characters. Writing character profiles was the way to do it. Before I would begin writing, I knew what my characters looked like, their hobbies, where they lived – I even knew their favourite food. However after reflecting on these profiles, I cannot help but ask, how have these profiles helped me? In all honestly – they didn’t. Not only was I stuck with two-dimensional characters, I had also sucked all of the fun out of my writing.
E.L Doctorow describes writing as, ‘it’s like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ What struck me the most about this advice is how it appeals to character development. By completing character profiles in-depth, I knew the full route of my novel which in turn, made it seem boring. It has been suggested that to understand how your characters will react to certain events, they must be placed directly into them. How else would we know if our characters are truly brave? It is for this reason that I believe that only when we have finished writing a novel, that we gain a stronger understanding of our characters.
Sometimes when we really search deep for our characters, it can leave the writer vulnerable and open to criticism. It could therefore be argued that as a writer, we know how in-depth we need to be but scarcely do it out of fear of failure. Remember writers, ‘failure is the ingredient you have to have,’ argues Howard Jacobson and rightly so. How else would we know if our writing is good or bad? We need to be able to push past the failures in order to achieve success.
Judy Blume explains how significant a character is to a plot as they are inseparable. ‘Without a clear sense of who a character is […] the reader will be unable to appreciate the significance of your events, and your story will have no impact.’ With the understanding of how important characterisation is, it is no wonder that writers may struggle to leave themselves vulnerable on the page. It is however something that we all must do to develop our writing. So next time you find yourself feeling vulnerable within your writing, remind yourself that you’re growing as a writer.
Last week I was so pleased to see a smart stripy parcel slip through my letter box. The packaging itself looks as good as the designs for your stationery. As I began to open the parcel I could feel the enjoyment and anticipation of seeing my personalised design. The little note from Papier is also a nice touch and gives your parcel a more personal appeal.
Although there was no paperback option for my diary, I absolutely love my hardback diary. The matt finish allows the design to speak for itself. The perfect bound makes for a crisp book and allows for a ribbon bookmark to be placed in the diary.
As a writer who primarily uses lined paper, I was anxious at first to write on plain paper. However after really looking at the space given and the type of notes I wish to include within my diary, I don’t think that the blank pages will be a problem.
Each month begins with your goals for the month, a to-do list, important dates and a wish list. This is really handy if you need to see quickly whether it is going to be a hard or busy month. This check up page is also great to spur on your motivation for finishing projects or training for a sport event.
At the beginning of the diary, there is a month to view, for the full year. This makes it incredibly easy to see birthdays, big events and deadlines, without flicking through each page.
At the very end of the diary there are also some lined pages for you to use as you wish.
Although Papier’s diaries have a lot to offer, it has to be personalisation and their designs that I love the most about Papier. I know so many people who have either a name that is spelt slightly different or that have a different cultural name (either from Europe or further afield) that find it difficult to find personalised items. Papier however removes this worry and allows personalisation to anyone who wishes to acquire it.
I also love the design of my diary and I mean love! I am so pleased that Papier give credit to the artists as it allows you to look further into the artist who created your design. My design is by Rachael Cocker and is called Blooms of Joy. After surviving two national lockdowns in the midst of a pandemic, a Bloom of Joy is exactly what I need.
Since the beginning of lockdown I have began writing letters to friends and close relatives to help combat loneliness during this challenging time. Lets hope that they like Papier as much as I do! To have a look at all of their designs visit: www.papier.com and find your own personalised diary for the new year!
If this pandemic has taught us anything this year, its that we all love reading. This could be a psychological thriller, a goofy romance or even a self-help book. Whatever style or genre you are wanting to read, you will always find something. However as there are so many books to choose from, I have whittled my favourites down to a top 5 to help you find the perfect gift for someone this year. There is something so exciting about receiving a book. We all know the shape, yet with so many titles on our ‘to be read’ pile, we still don’t really know what we will get. Here are my top 5 to unwrap this year.
Thriller – One by One by Ruth Ware
What could be better than a psychological thriller located in a snowy setting at Christmas? Ruth Ware has brought a murder mystery concept into the 21st century by the use of realistic – and at times, relatable – settings with current motives. One by One takes place in a lodge that is extremely secluded. It could be perceived as tranquil. However with only a cable car to leave or escape the lodge, the characters begin to think it is anything but peaceful. As killings become more and more frequent, the serenity of the lodge begins to feel like a prison. Who will survive as the characters disappear one by one?
Romance – The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
If crime and murder isn’t your thing, then have a fling with The Flatshare. The Flatshare is about two young professionals that share a flat but never really see each other due to work commitments. This book was my favourite read in lockdown as it made me laugh and smile when times were hard. Please note that is not the type of book that I would normally read and yet, I am now anticipating the release of her latest novel, The Road Trip, out in 2021. A perfect book to lift your mood and to laugh when times are challenging.
How many times have you heard – but have you read the book?- when a film comes out? Yes, very often and why does this get asked? The book is better. Admittedly, the latest adaptation of Rebecca on Netflix is good but at times I found the film slow and it missed a few scenes that the book had solidified in my mind. Yes, readers, I wanted to see the garden at Manderley! The book on the other hand is not slow in the slightest. The novel is an exciting read and is filled with tension and suspense between the main characters, right up to the very end. If you are looking for a classic this Christmas, I would definitely recommend this novel. Who knew a young woman living in Cornwall could have such a dark mind that could write with such suspense! A much welcomed break from Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen.
Non-fiction – The Little book of Clarity by Jamie Smart
This is hands down, one of my favourite books that not only made me realise how people perceive the world, but how non-fiction can be engaging and impactful. Jamie explores clarity in this book in relation to all aspects of an individual’s life. The outward-in method that he discusses really makes you think about your own choices and your own happiness. This book is, as you may have guessed, short, clear and concise. A short but memorable read.
Self-help – Get Your Sh*t Together by Sarah Knight
I too wish I was Sarah Knight, living in the Caribbean and writing books as my profession. Who knows, after reading this book, maybe I will. Get Your Sh*t Together, provides its readers with a little tough love, followed by fantastic strategies that can be applied to all aspects of your life – be it relationships, health or work. Sarah Knight has tried to make the subject comical as it does touch on some serious and quite scary topics. However after reflecting on this book and attempting to actually get your sh*t together, you will begin to realise that this book does exactly what it sets out do. A great gift and motivator to making your dreams become a reality.
Although I have so many other great books I wish I could include, the books above have to be my top 5. Feel free to read any additional reviews I have written on these books to help you make your mind up with which to put on your own ‘to be read’ list. If however you are still wanting some book inspiration, I have provided you with a few more noteworthy reads. Who knows, you may even want to gift one to yourself.
Welcome to second instalment of Coffee Break. In this instalment the main focus will be looking at how dialogue works within prose and what we can do to make our dialogue clearer and flow with ease.
Many of us sometimes question whether when a new person speaks, we should start a new line. Admittedly this should really be happening but sometimes, when we get lost in our character’s minds it can be tricky to decipher who is really speaking. I have recently read a novel by Ruth Ware who uses the confusion of her dialogue to give the reader a hint that the narrator might not be who they say they are (Review can be found here). This further highlights how the structure of dialogue can be confusing, but can be used to complement your plot.
This quote was given to me by my lecturer at Teesside University who always used this as a rule of thumb. He explained how sometimes the reader needs to see a little bit of description whilst dialogue is still taking place. Consider this: Would you watch a play if the characters didn’t move and just read their lines? Would you even consider this a play at all? I know I wouldn’t. The reader can find out a lot about your characters in these descriptions. It could be that your character is saying one thing but their actions are saying something completely different.
When you are structuring your own dialogue, try to create a new line every time another character talks. By doing this your dialogue will be clear for the reader. Once you have your dialogue in your work clear on the page, go through the dialogue and add a little description every 6 lines. Again this will give your readers something else to consider and might sprinkle more depth to your existing characters.
Accents and Dialects
Sometimes including these within your work can add depths to your characters and give your readers a sense of purpose of where they are from and their upbringing. The important element to this however is making sure that your readers can still understand every detail. For example, where I live people love to eat Parmos. However if not everyone knows what a Parmo is then the concept of using this within language is lost.
Round of applause for anyone who does know what a Parmo is – they’re great.
Write a brief piece of dialogue about two people that get talking in a queue in the airport. These people can be from opposite places (ie. someone from Newcastle and someone from Cornwall) or you could have two people who are different ages (one could be in their teens and another could be an elderly man/woman). When you are writing this dialogue, try to think of their accent and how their perceptions of the world will come into play in their discussion.
Please let me know how you get on with these writing prompts, as I am interested to see what you have come up with! The next instalment of Coffee Break will involve a different writing focus but until then, sit back, enjoy a coffee and get writing!
Welcome to the first instalment of Coffee Break. These articles will be filled with writing prompts and advice that are tailored to a particular theme each month. This month the theme will be setting. This article will look at how to describe setting without leaving your writing clunky and how to make places memorable to the reader. So sit back, relax and have a pen and paper at the ready!
It can often be questioned how much description is too much description when it comes to setting. The truth is that many people tend to overthink how to set the scene, which in turn, leaves it looking clunky and feeling forced. What you should try to focus on instead of what a physical place looks like, is to show the setting through the eyes of your main character.
Whilst travelling you are moe likely to immerse yourself in the culture and your surroundings. You wouldn’t just look at the old theatre just off the side street – you would watch an opera in there, get a few photos and socialise there too. This is exactly what your characters should be doing. It is for this reason why the show don’t tell method works brilliantly for setting the scene.
Here is an example of telling your readers what happened:
Susan looked around at the grubby tables in disgust. Just looking at the rubbish on the floor made her body shudder. She hated this place.
Here is an example of showing your readers what happened:
Susan pulled out her hand sanitiser and used it up to her forearms. She glanced at her friend and pulled on a pair of latex gloves, ‘best to be safe than sorry in this place.’She put her coat on her seat and sat on her coat.
The first example uses some describes the main character’s feelings whilst the writer is describing the place, but all the reader knows is that the floor and table is dirty. However in the second example, the sanitiser and gloves represent that the place must be really dirty (not just a particular part such as the floor). So much so that the main character won’t even sit on the chair she has been given, without the comfort and safety of her coat. Furthermore by including dialogue, the characters actions are showcase and provides the reader with a more fluid sense on setting the scene. By setting the scene within your story you are effectively moving the story forward whilst adding description. Not only will this help the development of your characters but it will also help the pace of your writing.
Try this yourself! Imagine you have just gone to work in the middle of a heatwave. Describe your surroundings through your characters actions.
Keep me updated with your writing by leaving a comment below!
The rest of this month writing prompts will be given around the focus of setting, so stay tuned and keep writing!
It’s a great feeling wanting to write, yet finding somewhere to start can be tricky. Even if you know what you want to write, it can sometimes be difficult to start if a plot hasn’t occurred to you yet. This then begs the question: Can you write without an initial plot? This article will focus on the notion of wanting to write but not having a clue where to start. If this behaviour sounds familiar or is something that you know you struggle with, then read on for my top tips for overcoming the beginning of your writing.
Do I just begin writing and see where I go?
This is partially what I tend to do. I’ll have an idea or a style of writing I’m wanting to convey within my work and tend to work my way through it before several drafts of editing. However sometimes you may not know how to get to your destination and therefore become stuck at where to start. If this happens to you, try thinking about your characters’ journeys within the piece of writing too. Many characters tend to take their own route rather than allowing the writer to direct them. It is for this reason as to why I would encourage you to focus on character development, before you jump straight into a story. Often by doing this a character will help you create a plot to drive your writing forward. So sit back and enjoy the ride!
Wouldn’t a really structured plot help?
This can be extremely useful for long writing projects, however I believe an over-structured plot can hinder a writer’s creativity if too rigid. So how structured is too structured you ask? This is ultimately down to you. Consider how free you are wanting your writing to be. Do you just want to know how to get from A to B or do you want to know every direction and service station that you’ll end up in? When writing, the phrase, ‘I never get lost, I just end up changing where I want to go,’ comes to mind. Sometimes not knowing where you are going, helps you to explore an area you have never been to before. This is similar when it comes to your writing and creativity. Try writing where your stay begins and ends. Now ask yourself, do you need anything else to help you start writing? If yes, include a middle twist and if not, start your engine.
It’s all good writing but how do I get ideas?
Ah, this old chestnut. Sometimes considering the day to day stuff that people get up to can be a great place to start. For example, just before lockdown I was made aware of TikTok (a social media platform that consists of various videos, currently a lot of dancing!). It might be that many teenagers use this platform but what about the elderly? Imagine an old man that uses it to interact with his family and he ends up going viral and there you have it – the beginning of an idea. Make a list of daily tasks that you, a friend or a family member does and try to consider a piece of writing including this daily task or chore.
Ideas are around us all of the time, so pay close attention to your surroundings and you’ll never have to worry about finding an idea again.
With many of us working from home, it can sometimes be tricky to find inspiration in an area in which you have spent months living and working in. Some may even struggle facing their laptop, especially if they have been working on it all day. I have collated a few ideas that will provide you with a new insight into your home and how your daily routine can help you create new plots and develop characters.
Short on Time?
Many of us may be working full-time, home-schooling your children or have caring responsibilities, which can take a lot of time away from your writing. Whenever I am short on time (my teaching breaks are 15 minutes) I try to come up with a Haiku as a snapshot of how my day is going. A Haiku is a 3 line poem, with each line consisting of so many syllables. The structure is as follows:
Line 1 (5 syllables)
Line 2 ( 7 syllables)
Line 3 ( 5 syllables)
I don’t normally write poetry. However I do like puzzles and I feel like a Haiku poem is a mixture of puzzles and writing that fits really well into my short breaks. You may even prefer to write several Haikus to create a longer form of poetry.
Living on your own or being around the same type of people can be boring and will not be helping your creativity grow. Instead spark your creativity by inviting your characters over. Jot down every detail: How do they knock on the door/ring the bell? Their posture when you open the door – Do they barge past or ask politely to come in? Once they’re in the house/flat, consider which room they’ll go into. Will it be the study, the kitchen, or maybe even the bathroom? Consider all of their actions, from their fidgeting to their manners. This exercise can be a great way to get to know your characters, as their daily actions may impact their decisions within your story.
Looking for New Ideas?
Consider some of the sacrifices and changes you’ve had to make over the last few months. It could be only seeing your friends via an online chat forum, wearing a mask on public transport or only leaving the house once a day. Once you have a list of these, consider a genre of your choice. This could be any or a mixture of both. When you have decided on the genre/genres you wish to write about, have a look at your changes/sacrifices and try to write a scene in that genre. For example:
If you were writing a crime/thriller novel, your friend might think they’ve left the online chatroom when they haven’t and a crime is committed for the reader to witness?
Perhaps a man in a drive-thru has fallen for the barista who gives him his coffee on a daily commute? Maybe it was the look in their eyes, beyond the mask…