Season of mists and manuscripts

People often talk about writer’s block, but sometimes a rough patch along the creative journey feels like facing a nebulous invisible barrier, mysterious as autumn mist. This often strikes writers who’ve embarked on a novel – typically 100,000 words – or a Young Adult or Middle Grade work, which may be up to 60,000 words.

Tackling a project of this scale, even if you’ve done so before, is an immense task on many levels – emotional, practical, creative. Even in a ‘normal’ year without all the anxiety and uncertainty arising from the pandemic, a writer may face a ‘misty patch’ that gets in the way of finishing that all-important first full draft. Often, it seems to arise around 35,000 to 40,000 words in – a huge investment for any writer, but perhaps only a third to half way through the eventual book.

“If you’re stuck in the middle, try writing the ending next.”

Here are three tips to help you find your way through the mist:

1.Write in patchwork form

There’s no law that says you must start at the beginning and write in linear fashion until you reach the end. Pick a chapter further along in the narrative – or maybe the very last scene – and write for enjoyment without worrying about where it is leading. You can stitch it all together later. If you’ve written a synopsis or treatment for the project, you’ll know exactly where each scene goes. If not, you have the joy of finding out!

2. Write the hardest scene

Sometimes there can be a fear of a particular step in the story that is acting as a brake. Author Louise Tondeur recommends writing the hardest chapter. What would help you tackle it? Imagine how you’ll feel once it’s written. Relieved? Happy? Encouraged? Possibly all three. Mapping out a rough but robust summary of the chapter before starting to write can also help, Lou says.

3. Give yourself permission

Novelist Laura Wilkinson describes an early, complete manuscript as a ‘dirty first draft’ whilst acknowledging how important it is to write the whole story, rather than polishing early chapters or sections (or, as it’s otherwise known, procrastinating!). Getting the whole story down is vital, since without this the process of editing and refining cannot begin. Sometimes the thing we need most is to give ourselves permission to ‘just write’, without the pressure of perfectionism.

“Look on your writing project as a glorious patchwork.”

If your manuscript seems lost in the mist, think about the extra clarity that comes once the weather clears, try a few practical techniques – and award yourself an autumn-themed treat once you’re back in your stride. A nutmeg-scented candle, a morning off to kick about in the leaves, or a socially distanced coffee with a like-minded friend looking over water, drinking in the ebbs, flows and sparkle and the bright clear light.

Good for the soul, and for the work in progress.

Guest writer: J Ayoola

Jokae Ayoola debut author with her picture book How We Love Our Hair

I’m delighted to welcome debut author J Ayoola to my blog as she launches her picture book How We Love Our Hair. Designed to inspire girls to enjoy and care for their afro hair, this fun, character-filled book with illustrations by designer Pelumi I is full of practical tips. Welcome to this little corner of the #WritersCafe!

What inspired your project?

The inspiration came from my personal experience with afro hair and the experiences of women around me. Often the struggle of not knowing how to care for afro-textured hair has created frustration for many with my hair type. So, I decided I wanted to write a book to educate little girls from a young age about afro hair care so they wouldn’t have to experience the same challenges. It is also a book for parents who have not yet got to grips with the fundamentals when it comes to healthy hair care practices.

What was your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge was staying motivated. I have had some difficulties with health which have caused setbacks, but I soon realised that this project was just what I needed to take my mind off it all and keep going.

What’s your favourite aspect of the book?

That each character has their chapter with an educational theme running through it.

What have you learned along the way?

Perfectionism is good but can slow you down so at some point you have to let go and realise there will always be room for growth.

Top tips for debut writers?

  1. Build your audience, whether it’s creating posts or reposting posts for an audience on social media. Ask yourself, where do they hang out online? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or all three? Then join them and be a part of the fun, engage and build a mini-community. You will need their support when you launch.
  2. Seek out other self-publishers and find out what challenges they have and what tips and advice they can give you. Social media is an excellent place for this.
  3. Don’t forget to document or write down the steps you take along the way; this will make it easier for when you do future books. The same with expenses, keep a log and try to stick to a budget.

Order your copy

Having worked with Jokae as a Cornerstones mentor, I am delighted to see her project in print. How We Love Our Hair is available to order online. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.