Sunday, 30 November 2014

Blogging is not a waste of time

I've been writing this blog for nearly a year now, and it's true to say that blogging has really helped me as a writer in more ways than one. Here's why I think blogging isn't a waste of time:

1. It teaches you discipline

To be a good writer, you must write regularly. Writing this blog on a weekly basis is a commitment; one that I choose to uphold as much as possible. Honouring this commitment gets me in the frame of mind to complete my other writing projects; it's like a snowball effect. Writing this blog quite simply makes me want to write more. I've definitely been more productive in 2014 in terms of how frequently I'm writing, and that is all because of Candleandbook.    

I like this's not over the top.

2. It makes you more creative

Thinking of new ideas for blog posts week in, week out can be quite challenging, but it has definitely made me more creative. Having to think of new material constantly for this blog means that my brain is now faster at generating new ideas, and I find that I hardly ever get writer's block these days. Ideas seem to attract more ideas.


3. It gets your work noticed

This blog actually got me a writing job, since my boss saw it and asked me to write for her PR company part-time. If I hadn't been writing this blog she would have no idea that she'd liked my writing style; this blog effectively showed what I can do - if you're a creative person, blogging is a great platform to show off....and you never know where it might lead.


4. It gives you the space to experiment

I think that blogging allows writers an opportunity to play around a bit, which again is great for creativity. No other forum gives you such complete creative control, and having the chance to experiment with ideas on a regular basis helps me work out what I enjoy writing about, and what I don't. Blogging also teaches me things that will help me professionally, such as the importance of SEO and key words, but it does it in a way that is fun.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Christmas Books

Whilst supermarkets start thinking about Christmas in August, I like to start thinking about it round about now...thinking about it in mid November means that I have enough time to buy Christmas presents, enjoy carol services, and visit Christmas markets, without getting sick of it all. You'd think that during this time of year I would also be reading Christmas themed books but truth be told, I usually read Christmas themed books at other times of year, because for some reason I always seem to stumble across them as I'm preparing to go on my summer holiday. However, if you're in the mood for some Christmas themed books, to read in the coming weeks, here are the ones that spring to my mind:

1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Yes, yes I know it's an obvious choice....but Dickens is pretty much the King of Christmas; in fact many of the traditions we now associate with the holiday stem from this book, or the other Christmas stories written by this well known philanthropist. You may think it's not worth bothering with reading the text because the story is so well known but actually it does hold a few surprises. I'd also advocate reading this because it's by far the most accessible of all Dicken's works, and is a gateway book to his other, more difficult tomes. Plus it's heartwarming and all that.

2. The Secret Shopper Unwrapped by Kate Harrison

I loved this book, primarily because I'd already read every Shopaholic book before reading this, [although I gather there is a new one out - hurrah!] and I wanted a fix of shopping magic [even though I don't own many clothes, I do like reading about them!] and this more than delivered. The characters were very well drawn - I really felt like they could be real people, and I loved the setting of the Department Store...because I'm the kind of person who gets excited by department store decorations [Debenhams in Clapham has some pretty ones at the moment!]. I also liked the premise of three women all united as secret shoppers, and I enjoyed the Christmas quotes and tips littered throughout the text.

3.   Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle

I haven't read this one, but it is written by two authors I really like, John Green and Maureen Johnson [and I'm sure I'd also like the writing of Lauren Myracle if her style is similar] so I have high expectations of it; its been on my reading to-do list for yonks.  I like the way the three authors have collaborated to make three interconnecting stories  [that sounds like it would have been a fun writing exercise - anyone fancy collaborating with me?] Unfortunately, the stories are all romantic [what is it with Christmas and romance? All my most romantic memories are around this time of year too ...there's just something in the air! ] and so this might not be the best thing to read if you're feeling bitter and alone, although who knows, the stories might actually cheer you up by making you feel gooey and mushy.

4. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C.Moore

Oh go on - it's a classic, and you can read it in twenty minutes [or less!] This is a great one to read to the kids, and there's so many editions, you can pretty much pick one with illustrations to suit your aesthetic. Bonus points if you actually read this poem on Christmas Eve. I think this version looks nice and cheery, love that red!

I won't say Happy Christmas just yet [let's save that for nearer the time] but I will say Happy Run Up to Christmas!

Friday, 14 November 2014

5 Ways that Books have helped me

Yesterday I was feeling incredibly lonely and miserable, so I stopped off at Foyles on the way home. I had a book in mind [Thinking About It Only Makes It Worse]by the comedian David Mitchell] that I knew would comfort me, and I was right. My loneliness dissipated as I read Mitchell's witty diatribes, and that got me thinking about how books have helped me in the past:

1.  They've inspired me

Books are quite literally fuel for my brain. All of my best ideas come from reading books [although music and people have a role to play too] and I feel that if I stopped reading, my creativity would dwindle. Books give me energy, they get me thinking, they get my brain going. I feel that to a large extent, books have shaped who I am - being a bookworm is a huge part of my identity. I certainly wouldn't have such a passion for writing and storytelling if I didn't love reading so much.

2. They've got me through breakups

I have wonderful friends, most of whom have always been very supportive when I've gone through heartache in the past, and I feel that books play a similar role in my life. Books are just there for you, they never run away, they're never too busy, and if you pick up a funny or uplifting one, they provide enough comfort to get you through even the darkest of days.  

From the

3. They've given me advice

I don't like taking advice from anyone [though I do concede that I can't do everything by myself ] and its rare that I actually ask for it. I find that people usually dispense it without my wanting them to, which can be very irritating. Somehow though, it's easier for me to swallow advice if it comes from a book. My favourite bit of advice that I ever got was from Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? where Kaling advocated creating your own  writing opportunities, instead of waiting for someone to just hand you work on a plate. I took that advice to heart, and its one reason why I decided to start this blog in the first place, so that I could create my own opportunities - this blog is a stepping stone to creating the future I want.

4. They've taught me things

In a world where Google dominates everything, it's easy to forget that you can still learn things from books, and some people would go so far as to say why bother trying to learn things the old- fashioned way? Well, it's true that Google is an incredibly useful tool [I certainly use it all the time] but the things I've learnt from books have made more of an impact on me. Books have taught me how to empathise with people, 'to walk a mile in another man's skin' [to paraphrase Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird] they've taught me how to understand others and how to relate to them.  Books have taught me a lot more about dealing with humanity than Google has.

5. They've made it easier to do difficult things

I use books as a reward for getting work done. When I was at university, I would write a paragraph of an essay and then read a paragraph of a fun book. For some reason, reading kept me in the mood to write [although doing it that way took some time!]. I sometimes use a similar system today, if I complete a blog post, I can read a chapter, if I send a manuscript to an agent, I can read another. If I sort out some admin I can maybe even read two. Pretty much everything I've ever achieved on my own has been done whilst reading books, as they always motivate me to keep going even when I resolutely don't want to [though I hasten to add I don't read whilst I'm at work - except whilst eating my lunch, as I know that my boss reads this blog!]  

I hope that I never stop reading; books really do enrich my life and I'm grateful to them for that.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Day in the Life of An Unpublished Writer

One of my favourite columns in the Sunday Times is the 'A Life in the Day' column, which goes into detail about what different people do with their day. I like the column because I am inherently nosey - I love hearing about other people's routines [surely this can't just be me?] and so I thought I'd do a run down of my own Thursday writing routine [just in case anyone was wondering what it is I do all day when writing at home!] Bear in mind I'm only a part-time stay at home writer...the other three working days of the week are largely spent running around after small children [although I do still manage to write when they're at school!] but I'm afraid I can't go into my adventures with those persons here. Also bear in mind that my routine isn't set in stone, but this is what an ideal writing day should hopefully look like for me.  I've only been a stay at home writer for a few weeks, so It's taken me a while to actually get into a routine. So, here's what I try to get up to when I'm working at home on a Thursday:

9 am - This is usually when I get up. Yes, some writers like to get up at the crack of dawn and eek out a thousand pages before breakfast, but I'm not one of them! 9am seems like a reasonable time to me, it's late enough that I'll have had a decent lie-in, but not so late that I can't get anything done. I have an unimaginative breakfast of toast with oodles of butter [I have been told off for the sheer quantities of butter I consume, but we all have to have our vices] accompanied with a cup of instant coffee [I actually prefer instant coffee to real coffee, I have also been told off for this]. I'll put some laundry on, as sorting out my life puts me in a productive frame of mind. I usually wash at night in case people think I'm unhygienic.

Mmmm....Instant coffee

From around 9.30 or so I start writing. I'll usually begin with this blog [as I am doing right now] as firstly it's fun [honestly, I would happily blog full-time] and secondly it gets me in the frame of mind to do the less interesting stuff later. I think it's important for me to keep up this blog, as it hopefully showcases the fact that I have some kind of writing ability to potential employers/readers. The blog usually takes a couple of hours to write [it's putting the images in and sharing it that actually takes me the longest amount of time] but I'll admit I could probably write it much faster if I was under duress.


Around 11, I'll stop to take a break - I seem to write best when I have frequent breaks. I can only write in short, concentrated bursts otherwise I get a bit cantankerous and my brain starts to protest! This usually involves watching something on 4OD. At the moment, I'm favouring The Mindy Project or The Apprentice, You're Fired.  At 11.30, I'll eat my lunch, which usually consists of tuna, red onions and potatoes [or something similar!] Yes, it's early, but that's when I get hungry for some reason.

Around 11:50, I'll get to the most tedious part of my day namely, writing to Literary Agents.  I am currently trying to get my first novel published, and this means that I have to metaphorically knock on the door of as many agents as I can. The only trouble is, each agent requires something different from me, some want a synopsis and the first three chapters, some want a letter of introduction, some want an author's autobiography, some want to know what my literary plans are. It's not a matter of copying and pasting the same cover letter again and again - each agent has different interests, so I do my best to appeal to what they're looking for. I do have a basic framework for a cover letter on hand, but I find that more often than not I have to adapt it each week to match the agent's specifications. On average, I write to three agents a week, and it takes me two or three hours to successfully compile everything they're looking for.

Dear Mr Agent...Please will you publish my novel. Thanks. 

3pm - I have to take another break, as at this point I feel mentally exhausted. Sometimes I might venture outside for a walk or I might read in bed for a good 45 minutes, as I find nothing more relaxing than reading.

From 4 to 5pm - I might apply for a writing job during this time, as even doing unpaid writing work will help me build up my writing portfolio. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll have gained a position writing articles [even if I don't get paid for it] and if that is the case, the I'll use this hour to write the articles. If I don't manage to finish writing the articles during this time, I'll carry them over to Friday.

Dear Miss Employer...Please will you give me a writing job. Thanks. 

5pm - is dinner time, and the end of my working day. To anyone who thinks I'm lazy, bear in mind that I work ten hours pretty much without stopping the other three days, and that I actually write 15 to 20 hours a week on average, and that I'm only paid for 6 of those hours. I also don't think I'm lazy as I actually use my days off to further my career, rather than just sitting round doing nothing [defensive writer is defensive!]

Friday's routine is more relaxed - it's my creative day, my 'play around with words' day, where I might work on my second novel, or work on a play or a short story. Friday is the day where I'll enter writing competitions, finish any unfinished articles and do any additional writing admin or life admin, such as doing my invoices or my taxes [fortunately I only have to do this once a year!] and if I ever get lucky enough to have an agent, this will hopefully be the day I'll meet up with them if they need me to.  I also tend to finish a bit earlier on Fridays, as writing for two days each week [and 6 hours during my other working days] actually takes quite a bit of mental energy.

I hope I haven't put anyone off trying to be a writer, it may be hard going, but it is also really rewarding!