Creative Writing Workshop – the BIG mistake I made

The room looked HUGE

Almost a year ago I was asked by a friend if I could pull together a private creative writing workshop.

Initially, I said no, I’ve written a few books, sold a few books, but still felt I was winging it as far as being an author was concerned. I certainly didn’t feel qualified to teach anybody anything.

She asked again a few weeks later. This time I was going through a (stupid)  ‘pushing myself out of my comfort zone stage.’ Figuring I had months to prepare I shoved aside my fear of public speaking and agreed and then promptly buried my head in the sand. If I didn’t give it too much thought, it couldn’t be happening.

Only it was.

At the beginning of this year I realised that I only had a few weeks to prepare. I never go into things half-heartedly so panicking I ordered literally every ‘how to write a novel’ book I could find (and there are a LOT out there). I had many sleepless nights. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew NOTHING. I  had previously been told by a copy editor that I mixed my concrete and my abstract nouns (apparently this is bad), got my clauses in the wrong order (apparently this is worse). I was an imposter with no formal qualifications.

I spent hours – HOURS – online, looking at what other courses offered, realising that to give a basic grounding in the fundamentals of writing I needed 6-8 weeks. I had an afternoon. And yet, as a former course junkie I knew that many workshops contained a lot of waffle, ice-breakers, time-filling exercises that didn’t always mean a lot. I wanted to write a programme which covered ideas, plot, point of view, show don’t tell – a lot to cover in a relatively short period. I spent a ridiculous amount of time pulling together content, my fourteen-year-old son testing everything I’d produced. 

‘I love the exercise with the news headlines,’ he said.

‘It took me half a day of trawling the internet to choose them,’ I told him.

‘Mum! You’re a writer. You could have just made them up.’ 

He had a point. I’m an idiot.  

I carefully wrote and rewrote my itinerary, growing quietly confident I could do it. Until several days before when the thought of sitting in front of a room full of strangers brought me out into a cold sweat. I roped in fellow author, Darren O’Sullivan.

Not only is Darren a former teacher, he’s a good friend and a fabulous writer (check out his books here). We often talk at literary festivals and events together and as our approaches to novel writing are completely different  I knew we’d both bring something unique to the course. Aside from that, we always have a blast. 

And we did.

Who can be nervous with Batman at their side?

The course participants were lovely. Really lovely. Thankfully, not one of them came in waving a grammar quiz at me, or demanding to see my (non-existent) degree.

During the afternoon, I was asked a question about whether it was bad to write out of order. ‘The thing I love about writing,’ I said, ‘Is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.’ As I spoke I wanted to smack my palm against my forehead. In the lead-up to the course I had got it horribly wrong by trying to over complicate something that is fundamentally simple. It’s not easy to write a book, I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but there are things you need to know and things you don’t. I STILL don’t quite understand concrete and abstract nouns and why they shouldn’t go together. If I’m honest, I don’t really care. What I do know is how to construct a story that keeps readers turning the page, the elements every novel needs. My hours of angst had been unnecessary. Ultimately ‘write the story you’d like to read’ still remains the best advice I can give.

Darren and I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and hopefully so did everyone that came. They all left with the start of a piece of writing that they can develop, a smile and a copy of my latest thriller, The Family and me and Darren got to take home the leftover cake. 

I learned a lot during the workshop, both about myself, (I can do things if I push myself) and things I’d forgotten about novel writing that will help me going forward, including the one basic thing I’d let slide recently. I’ll be sharing that in my next post.

The perfect publication day raising money for Parkinson’s

Every hour someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In the UK alone one in five hundred people are living with this condition which causes progressive physical and neurological symptoms.

Yesterday was the publication day for my fourth psychological thriller, The Date, and rather than have a typical launch, celebrating with family and friends, my sister Karen and I headed to London on a mission to raise money for our local branch of Parkinson’s.

Laura Devine Solicitors hosted the event which they meticulously planned. Thanks to the gorgeous weather we were able to drift out onto the roof terrace while caterers plied guests with champagne and canapés.

Listening to Karen make a candid, heartfelt speech about the affect Parkinson’s has had on our family, her more than anyone, was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had to swallow the lump that had risen in my throat before I could take part in a Q & A with my agent Rory Scarfe who is also a great supporter of Parkinson’s UK.

My publishers, Sphere (Little, Brown) kindly donated paperbacks which were raffled and the total by the time we had to dash for our train was £500.

Everyone’s generosity was hugely appreciated and I can’t thank everyone enough who organised such a fabulous event, attended and donated.

Parkinson’s UK is part of a global community ensuring the millions of people living with Parkinson’s across the world don’t have to face it alone. You can find out more about the fabulous work they do here.

Fear of Public Speaking, Hypnosis & Me #AnxietySlayer

I’ve always had a huge phobia of public speaking and have previously blogged tips from Graeme Cumming, an author and member of a Speaker’s Club (you can read that post here) but despite the excellent advice I still never felt brave enough to try.

Last week I wrote the post I never thought I would. I spoke at my first literary festival – Althorp no less, hurrah – and you can read that post and see the photos here. Prior to taking the plunge I had a course of three hypnotherapy appointments with the fabulous Carmen Wilson of Inspired to Change and although I still had a degree of nerves afterwards, it was I think, a normal amount of nerves. Before I’d have been a sobbing mess rocking in the corner, and when I cry it isn’t movie crying, with a single tear streaking down a perfectly made up cheek, there’d have been streaming snot, a blotchy face, the works.

I am absolutely delighted Carmen has joined me over on my YouTube channel for a ten minute chat about why so many of us have fears, and how hypnotherapy works, and we both share our tips for speaking at events if you’re not in a position to have a course of treatment.

You can view the conversation here.

There’s lots of fabulous content coming up on my YouTube channel so if you’re interested in writing tips and hearing from authors, editors, publishers and agents please do subscribe here.

Until next time.

Louise x

 

 

Soaring High #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Douglas M. MacIlroy

 

I’m free and yet I’m not. Not in a cage but still trapped by bars of my own making, but they bring me comfort, these bars. They keep me safe. They stop me flying because if I were to flutter my wings where would I go? Who would I be? What’s to stop me falling? The world is so huge and I feel so small. So insignificant.

I screw my eyes up tight, blocking the voices telling me I can, my own telling me I can’t. I try. There’s a shift. A movement and then it happens. I’m rising, soaring, flying. Free.

 

How joyous I was when I saw this perfect prompt. This weekend I conquered a lifelong phobia of public speaking and appeared at the Althorp Literary Festival. You can read how I got on here and see the photos.

 Yesterday I had a great time on the radio chatting about Friday Fictioneers, the way it’s helped me tighten my writing and my love for the WordPress writing community. You can listen to that here.

 Soaring High was written for Friday Fictoneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Read the other entries and join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

 

 

 

One terrified writer, one HUGE literary festival, one big mistake?

Over the past year I’ve been asked to speak at several events, some big, some small, but all have one thing in common – I’ve said no. I think I can pinpoint exactly when and why my phobia of public speaking started, but knowing that, understanding that, hasn’t made it any easier to cope with. On the occasions I’ve tried, I’ve ended up in such a state I’ve not been able to sleep or eat in the weeks preceding and have been physically sick and unable to talk on the day. Shaking, dry mouth, fainting, you name it, I’ve suffered with it.

Althorp Literary Festival is in its 14th year and when an email dropped into my inbox I assumed it was asking me to buy tickets as I’ve attended most years as a guest. Instead, it was an invitation to take part in a panel event. I felt equally honoured and disappointed. There’s no way I could possibly take part, or could I?

Unusually, I didn’t rattle off a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’ straight away. Althorp is a very dear place to me. I grew up 10 minutes down the road and have many happy childhood memories of our Sunday afternoon drives through the beautiful grounds after a roast lunch, my parents in the front of the car, me playing eye-spy in the back with my sister, ending with tea and cake and the more I let the memory cover me like a blanket, the more it grew – the urge to say yes. My fingers hovered over the keyboard before I quickly punched out an acceptance. And then I cried. And then I set about finding a solution, painfully aware I wouldn’t just be representing myself but also the festival, both my publishers and my agent. No pressure then. My google research resulted in me booking a course of hypnotherapy. I genuinely enjoyed every second of my talk and I’ve since signed up for various events and I honestly can’t wait. Next week I’ll be interviewing my hypnotherapist, Carmen, and she’ll share her thoughts on why public speaking is such a common phobia and give her tips on giving a great performance and I’ll be talking about the things that worked for me. (You can now read that post here).

Today though I want to share my memories of what was an amazing weekend.

On arrival I was escorted to the Green Room, the library. The sight of all those books was instantly calming, admittedly so was the sight of the gin…

It felt so surreal at first and I had to remind myself to focus and pay attention to the other panellists as initially I was sitting there thinking ‘I’m on a stage at Althorp! How did this possibly happen to me?’

IMG_2026

There were books everywhere and at my first official signing I had a touch of anxiety I’d scratch the beautiful desk. I didn’t, and chatting to readers was one of the highlights of my weekend.

Umm there’s always one, lowering the tone, photographing the food. That would be me…

The grounds are absolutely stunning.

And no festival would be complete without a champagne bus. thankfully the sun shone and it became open top. 

I met some amazing people, caught up with old friends and made some new, and whether I’m invited back as a speaker or not, I can’t wait for next year’s event.

Huge thanks to everyone involved in putting together such an amazing festival and leaving me with memories I shall always treasure.

Public speaking tips for writers (putting a bag over your head is not one of them..)

I am a writer. I am an introverted writer. The thought of public speaking makes my skin prickle and my head swim and yet it is something writers are often expected to do, and to be honest, despite the fear, it is something I am eager to do. The chance to meet readers. To talk about my books. A couple of weeks ago, on World Book Day, I gave my first ever talk to 250 primary school children on reading, writing and following your dreams (you can read about that here.) Beforehand I was lucky enough to get some tips from my good friend and fellow author Graeme Cumming who is so adept at public speaking he belongs to a Speakers Club (for fun!!!). Thankfully I got through my own talk without fainting/vomiting/crying/all three and I’m delighted to welcome Graeme onto my blog today to share his wisdom with you. 

Getting up and speaking in public is stimulating. For most people, though, that stimulation isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Over the years, research has shown that, when it comes to fears, public speaking tops most lists. Fear of dying tends to rank about 4th or 5th, which kind of puts things in perspective.

Some time ago, it was pointed out to me that, for pretty much anyone to be successful in their chosen career, at some point they’d have to speak in front of others, otherwise you limit your opportunities.

Up to then, I’d been thinking I could get away with it. In meetings, I didn’t ask questions, I never volunteered to make presentations, and the closest I got to being the centre of attention was if I made an off-colour joke. I realised things needed to change, otherwise I’d still be a low-grade building society clerk when I retired.

Fast forward… well, quite a lot of years, and here I am embarking on a new path with my life, that of author. One book out and two in the pipeline. I’m a writer. But does that mean I no longer have to speak? Not a bit of it. Sure, we have social media to help us connect with our readers and the wider world. But that doesn’t mean to say we don’t need to get up and speak to groups. There are book launches, invitations to speak to peer groups, libraries, book clubs or schools. We may even have to make a presentation to agents or publishers.

A lot of people ask me: what can I do to eliminate the fear? The bad news is that it never really goes away – at least, not in my experience. I first started practicing public speaking nearly 30 years ago, and I’m still nervous if I have a new engagement.

But that doesn’t mean to say I have the same fears I started with. Those have been worn down as a result of practice and experience. Like any activity, the first time you try it, you feel apprehensive – usually because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. But the more you do it, the easier it gets, and you even begin to look forward to it.

In the absence of having the opportunity to get loads of practice, though, here are some things to remember that’ll help with the nerves:

* Your audience have come along to see you. They’ve made an effort to come out and they’re interested in what you have to say. They’re already on your side

* Since most people put public speaking at or near the top of their worst fears, an audience will have a degree of sympathy and understanding that it’s a nerve-wracking experience. They’ll forgive your mistakes because they’re just glad they’re not doing it.

* You may be about to make your first ever speech, but the audience don’t know that. They also don’t know what goes into giving a speech, so they have very little to judge you on. Pretend you do it every day of the week, and they’ll assume that’s the case.

* If you’re visiting groups who regularly have speakers, they’ll have seen some dire performances. By coming along with something you’ve prepared well for, you’ll already have a head start on a lot of their previous speakers.

That last point about preparation is important. Don’t go into a situation hoping you can wing it. Only a very few people have that ability. So do spend some time preparing what you want to say. You don’t have to be word perfect – though my own preference is to rehearse – but you do want to know in advance what message you want to get across to your audience.

Something else to bear in mind is avoiding the temptation to give excuses in advance for why you’re about to give a rubbish speech. We Brits seem to have apologetic genes, but we should never say sorry for our performance. Most of the time, the audience won’t know the difference. What you consider to be bungling will seem like it’s just part of your style of presentation.

There are techniques you can learn to improve as a public speaker, and if you do face the prospect of having to do it, they can be useful. Even though I’ve been involved in public speaking at one level or another for nearly 30 years, I still like to practice, which is why I joined a Speakers Club. These are safe environments in which to learn and develop, and are usually relatively low cost. Some people will go on training courses for Public Speaking, which are intensive and you learn a lot quickly. But, unless you practice regularly, you can lose the skills just as rapidly.

I hope these tips and comments will help, but if anyone has any questions or would like to learn more, please do contact me via my website and I’ll be happy to assist.

Thanks so much Graeme for taking the time to share your experiences. I’ve found it really useful.

Graeme Cumming is the author of Ravens Gathering, “a dark and creepy piece of horror and mystery writing”. His talk, “How to Become a Bestseller” gives an insight into the modern world of writing and publishing. For fun, he is also currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club. You can read more about Graeme and his work at www.graemecumming.co.uk.