Writer’s block

I’ve never had it, never believed in it, and according to her very brilliant book, the same goes for the very brilliant Ann Patchett.

What I have had (and what I believe everyone who has “writer’s block” is actually suffering from) is a healthy dose of fear and procrastination. Having sat down at your desk, arranged your pens and picked your playlist, you then stare at the screen and wait for something wonderful to happen.

And you wait…

Still nothing…

Okay, that feels like writer’s block, but it isn’t. That’s fear; fear that what you write is going to be a rubbish, and the longer you sit staring at your screen, the worse the feeling gets, until you suddenly remember that the dishes are piling up (you have a dishwasher) or the carpets need vacuuming (you have a cleaner) or that the car is still covered in bird poo (you don’t have a car).

That’s procrastination, and it’s usually followed by guilt, which is usually followed by a doughnut, and then more guilt.

Okay, so back to the writing desk. The junk you’re so worried about writing? Well…write it. All of it. Just bang it out as fast as you can, and when you’re done, just keep going. Anything that comes into your head: the odd bit of flowery prose, a poetic shopping list, what you saw when you stood at the summit of a mountain. Anything that gets the right side of your brain firing.  I mean, you wouldn’t start a six-mile run without warming up first, would you?

Now after about ten minutes of stream-of-consciousness type hammering, I usually find myself drifting back to the story I was supposed to be writing, but sometimes I don’t. Don’t get hung up on the idea that you have to work day in day out on the same piece. Take a break if you want to; write something else. The important thing is that you write every day.

But what do you do with all that crap you’ve written during your warm-up? Well, I tend to keep it. Most of it is exactly that – crap, so I probably won’t look at it again, but if I happen to read it through again, I might find the occasional phrase or sentence that I can rework into something halfway decent.

Or sometimes I just post the whole thing as a blog entry… 🙂

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing And Life

A talented and astute writing friend of mine (cheers, Penny!) put me onto this little gem:

The Getaway Car

If you haven’t heard of Ann Patchett, you should have. If you haven’t read Bel Canto, why not?

The Getaway Car is a fantastic read which seamlessly blends a short autobiography with the odd practical hint for the budding writer. Turns out that the road to being published is littered with police stingers.

Anyway,  well worth the few hours it’ll take you to read it. I think it’s Kindle only at the moment. With any luck, that’ll change.

A few times throughout the book, Ms Patchett that folk often approach her offering her the chance to write the book they don’t have time to write themselves (in return for half the proceeds!). That struck me as really weird; unless you’re dead, why would you want someone else to write your story?

Diving into CreateSpace

Believe it or not, there’s a subclass of humanity that prefers real books over Kindles and iPads. I should know; I’m one of them, which is why I decided to give Publish On Demand a shot. To be honest, I think I saw it more of an adventure: I’ve always been a little curious as to what goes into putting a printed book together and, without too much outlay, this seemed like a pretty good way to find out.

There are a couple of well-known POD outfits out there. I think Lulu is probably the most well-known, closely followed by the Amazon-owned CreateSpace. As far as I can tell, when it comes to POD there’s not much between them, but Lulu also covers eBook publishing so has the advantage if you’re looking to do the whole thing from a single service. Since I already had the Kindle and the iPad covered I thought I’d give CreateSpace a bash. From looking at the instructions (and you must read the instructions), CreateSpace looked like much less hassle for a good result. I also thought as they were owned by Amazon then it would be much easier to get the book into the Amazon store – that was mistake number one.

Both services offer a set of Word templates to help get your book into the correct format (I picked a 6×9 because I wanted to show off the cover … :-)), and as long as work slowly, don’t bugger about with the template’s formatting,  and save often then you shouldn’t find the process too difficult. Tedious, yes, but not too difficult.

You should only worry about the cover design once the book is in print format. Why? Well, you need to know how many pages the finished book will contain to work out the width of the spine. Your cover designer will know all about this, but if you’re doing the cover yourself, both Lulu and CreateSpace have onsite calculators to help with this.

Incidentally, I’ve never seen an author-drawn book cover that I’ve actually liked. If  you’re taking the time and trouble to go to print then you may as well stump up the money to get a decent cover designed.

Once I’d uploaded the book interior (pages) and the exterior (cover),  I ordered the proofs. And this is where I realised I’d made something of a mistake. Although it is attached to Amazon, a company with an almost galactic reach, CreateSpace is very US-centric: the proofs had to be shipped from the States (not cheap). What’s more, even though CreateSpace is attached to Amazon, there is no guarantee that your book will appear in any Amazon store other than the US one.

Bizarre, I know.

Although I haven’t tried them, I understand that you may have better luck with Lulu if you want to sell on Amazon UK. That’ll teach me to read the small print.

Anyway, a couple of weeks(!) later, the proof arrived.

If there comes a time when you feel like jacking it all in, here’s what you do: get a single copy of your book made up.

Hold it in your hand, caress the paper, drop it onto the dining room table and listen to the sound it makes. You can even read it again if you want to.

Trust me, you’ll feel renewed.

Speaking of reading through, CreateSpace will allow you to order the books without ordering the proof first. This is madness, I tell you, sheer madness! I cannot imagine why anyone would order a boxful of books without a thorough proof-read beforehand. It’s a false economy; don’t do it.

And if you are new to self-publishing then you could do a lot worse than spending a few hours on Catherine Howard’s extraordinarily useful, extraordinarily honest and extraordinarily pink website. In my case, not doing so was mistake number two; if I had, I wouldn’t have made mistake number one.

Or would that make it mistake number…well, you get the idea.