It’s the beginning of a whole new year; what time could possibly be better to become more motivated and inspired? You have a whole 365 days ahead of you, and now is the time to start making them count, so we're asking authors what they've got planned for the year ahead!
Eilidh K. Lawrence talks about going back to basics in both her writing and for the sake of her self-care in 2019.
As 2018 draws to a close, I’ve been moving forwards by going back. Back to basics, that is. I decided recently that I wanted to get back to basics in terms of my mental health and well-being. Then I realised I could also adopt this approach in relation to my writing.
I have a rubbish immune system and never fail to catch whatever is going around. If I get tired, run down or sick, it becomes harder for me to manage my anxiety disorder, and low mood creeps in. I can find myself unable to carry out all but the most simple of tasks, for a week or more. It’s incredibly debilitating. Although medication can dampen down anxiety, and talk therapy can give you tools to combat it, there isn’t a cure as such. Prevention is key.
So back to basics! In this article I’ll discuss the basic steps I can take to combat anxiety. Maybe you’ll find them helpful too. I’ll then go on to look at what I’ve gained from rewinding to my newbie writing tools. Good sleep hygiene is crucial to good mental health. I’m trying to be firm with myself in sticking to a bedtime routine, which is easy to slip away from. Preparing an action plan for each day in advance can help increase motivation and reduce that feeling of being overwhelmed. Pleasurable activities should feature in action plans to help ensure you carry these out. Doing things you enjoy can help you recover from anxiety episodes and lift your mood. These plans should also include scheduling exercise and preparing healthy meals. Diet and exercise are huge factors in terms of wellbeing. For me, a walk in the park counts as a pleasurable activity and exercise, so it’s a great first step on the road to recovery and a way to maintain wellbeing too. Eating better by cutting down on processed foods, and replacing them with wholefoods, is something I know I can do, if I put my mind to it.
Speaking of minds, these need looking after too. Mindfulness has been proven to reduce anxiety and may help prevent and treat depression as a supplementary treatment. It can also increase cognition and focus. Practicing mindfulness may seem to be more involved than a basic tool, but for me it is something to go back to, as I’ve taken a course. However I fell away from actually sitting down and doing my practices.
There are a number of meditation and mindfulness apps that can help anyone who is interested get started, and I would definitely recommend trying one or two of these out if you are new to this area. For me, mindfulness is something I know how to do. I just need to get into the habit of taking the time to do it. And what better time than New Year to start forming positive habits, whether they be new or something we’re returning to? Like practicing mindfulness whilst sitting beside my SAD lamp, which is another tool I have access to, but don’t use enough. Considering and rediscovering the tools I already have, has been a useful way to plan for a fresh start with respect to managing my anxiety.
So I wondered, if I could I go back to basics as regards my health and well-being, could I do the same vis-à-vis my writing? Spoiler: Yes, I could.
I have been writing an Amish category romance on and off for two years, and I’m only a third done. That’s slow going! I received an absolutely wonderful report on my partial manuscript from an RNA New Writers’ Scheme reader in early October, but I hadn’t touched the manuscript till I decided to try a new approach. A fresh start.
How could I go back to basics with my writing? Well, simple, practical steps seemed like a good place to start. I tidied my desk and went back to reading in the line I’m targeting.My desk is always covered in make-up and hair products. A messy desk is not an inviting desk! Reading in the line is the most straightforward and common piece of advice I see for authors wishing to write a category romance. Familiarising yourself with the books you want to write is as basic as it gets.
Then came the actual writing stuff. I highlighted up my NWS report with all the suggestions for changes and I set about addressing those. This was a great way to get me involved with my manuscript again.
I’ve had a lot of feedback to the effect that my Darcyesque hero Eli is unlikeable. How very dare they! But if my readers can’t see that my hero really is likeable, honest, then I’m doing something wrong. My NWS reader also gave me notes on my heroine’s Abigail’s conflict. Clearly I needed to do some character work. Enter: Character Sheets. I dug out my C.S. Lakin Character Development Sheets for Eli and Abigial, read them over and filled in the bits I’d skipped previously. My evening class creative writing tutor was also an endorser of character sheets. Oh, and since I wanted to get Darcyesque right, I watched both adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, obviously.
I went back to the plot board. I first wrote my synopsis using index cards and a physical cork board. Each card described one of C.S. Lakin’s First 20 Scenes for Romance Novels. Susanne Lakin has created a number of worksheets for writers. I’ve listed them in the Free Online Writing Resources section of my website. Since I last worked on my novel, plot changes had been suggested by my NWS reader and a contest judge. Instead of just trying to add these in, I reacquainted myself with my synopsis, which had already changed quite a bit, and wrote out a whole new set of cards, incorporating the latest changes I wanted to make, and reinforcing the new complete plot in my head. They’re colour-coded and everything.
Lakin suggests writing out of order, in a particular alternative order, which I used at the start to get the bones of my novel down, but then I got caught up in writing and rewriting the opening for contests. I’ve now started revisiting my drafted scenes and both editing and making additions, till they are full, complete scenes, incorporating the suggested changes. I’ve learnt a lot since I first wrote them. Only after I’ve done that will I write from start to finish, joining up the scenes. I can’t say this is the best method for writing a novel, not least because I haven’t finished one yet, but it’s given me a solid plan to follow, and I think I need that to stay on track.
Way back when I met my Amish critique partner (Twitter is a wonderful thing) she sent me some helpful sheets. There were two lists giving examples of facial expressions and body language, as well as a list of Amish vocabulary. Although I read through these, I didn’t take the time to incorporate them in my writing, as I was trying to plough forward. I should have printed them off and kept them with me as I wrote. I’ve done that now, with the examples that suit my style (some of them just aren’t me) highlighted. Reading over the list of Amish words helped get me back into that world.
With respect to the Amish world, going back to sources like memoirs and YouTube videos, and my early notes, has helped me reconnect with my characters’ environment and experiences.
I’ve returned to the Khan Academy Grammar Course. This course has self-tests so you can figure out what you need to work on. There are video tutorials and exercises for each section. Knowing the names for things I already do might not matter, but I’ve learnt some new rules, for example that adjectives should be written in a particular order. Taking the course has been confidence-building. I also bought The Chicago Manual of Style (14th Edition, I’m not made of money) in the hope of keeping things professional and consistent going forward.
The craft book that I keep going back to is Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance. It’s great to have access to an incredibly helpful, romance-specific craft book. The way it’s divided up means you can zoom in on a particular aspect, like character. Kristen Keiffer’s The Pre-Write Project workbook is a really great way to start a new project or develop elements of an existing one.
This all sounds pretty time-consuming, and it is. In my first week of using these writing tools, I only wrote about a thousand more words of my Amish novel. But that was a thousand more than the week before that, and the week before that and…
The best way for me to keep writing is to stay healthy. I hope I’ve managed to show some basic steps to promote wellbeing and some basic tools to help reengage with a languishing manuscript.
For more information about Eilidh and her writing projects, check out her website, and follow her on Twitter.