The Modern Super-Power – Part Two

Want a super-power? Concentrate*…

Man, that was HARD. I wrote recently about focusing on one thing at a time. I’d been listening to a podcast where Tim Ferris said he’d once heard someone say that being able to focus on one task at a time for up to two to five hours was the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

If you write, you’ve turned procrastination into an art form. I have. My distractions include the cat. Oh, where are you wee Freddie, do you want a little cuddle? To be honest, most of the time, he probably wants to be left alone to sleep in peace.

Then, I run up and down stairs engaged in trivial tasks, such as putting my empty Diet Coke bottle in the recycling bin when it could quite happily wait until lunchtime. Or I check my emails and react to them, instead of doing what the professionals tell you and checking them, prioritising and replying to them once or twice a day.

I decided I would try to write for two hours straight without the distractions. I usually listen to the radio, so I turned that off. I closed Mailbird, so I didn’t see any notifications of new emails, and I highlighted things that I needed to look up, such as London tube station locations, so I didn’t surf the web while writing.

The discipline I needed! My first challenge was overhearing a conversation going on below me. Yes, I am that little old lady beloved of novelists who twitches the net curtains and peers out of the window at her neighbours. (Not so old though.) I desperately wanted to duck down beside the window ledge and see what was going on.

Then, I finished my Diet Coke and longed to take the empty bottle downstairs and out to the recycling bin. The bed in the spare room needed to be made (I’d left it earlier because the cat was sleeping on it) and while I was trying to find a way to describe a new male character, I itched to go next door and toss the duvet in the air.

But if you don’t count a toilet trip, I did it: two hours’ straight of writing and one whole chapter was the result.

To celebrate, I folded up all the socks that needed pairing. And now I’m off to make the bed in the spare room and annoy the cat.

Rock and roll, eh??

 

*Pic thanks to Maxipixel.

 

The Modern-Day Super Power

And today’s challenge is… I listened to a podcast earlier, where the guest was Tim Ferris known for books such as The Four Hour Body/Working Week and others.

During the podcast, which centred on self-improvement, he quoted someone who’d come up with the line that in today’s world, if you are able to focus on one thing only for two to five hours, it’s the modern-day equivalent of a superpower.

What do you get if you focus solely on one thing for two hours, then? I’m on a mission to find out. When I write, I seldom, if ever, complete any piece of writing without doing something else at the same time.

Mostly, I’m listening to the radio. But I’m also watching the email icon, and if I get a new e-mail, I’ll come out of Word and read it. Then, I might write something and feel the need to look stuff up—whether it’s fact checking or the thesaurus as I seek an alternative to a word I keep using. Or I’ll just look up anything random that pops into my mind.

There’s one piece of work I do every week that I never manage to write without doing something else. I wander off to see if my cat wants attention, or I check on the washing hanging outside. I fold up clothes or change the sheets on my bed. As I don’t find the work inspiring at all, it’s an effort to finish it. It would be much less of an effort if I just concentrated, wrote the whole lot at once and got it over and done with.

Ah, procrastination… thine embodiment is the writer.

The radio? Switch it off. My inbox? Close the mail app. Checking things—highlight them as a reminder to verify or refine after the words have been written. Housework? It will wait.

Here goes…

 

Pic thanks to Topher McCulloch on flickr

 

The Girls: A Review

The Girls in the GardenThe Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girls* is a gripping read. I’ve read most of Lisa Jewell’s books over the years, and her latest novel is an accomplished achievement. As a writer, she just gets better and better.

The book tells the story of a family who move into a flat in London, which shares a large garden with the properties of other families. The story is mostly told from three viewpoints: that of the 12-year-old daughter, Pip; her mother; and a woman who is a long-term resident.

It starts with the discovery of Pip’s older sister Grace in the garden, unconscious and half naked. The story then moves back to the arrival of the family in the area, and how they adjust to their new lives and living with their new neighbours.

Jewell is known for writing intelligent women’s fiction, and this book is no exception. It has a crime fiction element to it too. Who attacked Grace and why? The final revelation is a surprise, and the author cleverly sets up a few red herrings on the way. Themes that run through the book include trust and adolescence. How would three girls, home-schooled and growing up in a close community react to strangers coming in?

My only minor criticism would be that Pip’s letters to her dad sound a little too grown-up from time to time. There’s the odd word or phrase that’s too adult. Having said that, through her depiction of Tyler and the three Howe girls, Jewell portrays fantastic characters and demonstrates a great understanding of what it’s like to be a teenage girl.

*The book I read was called The Girls, not The Girls in the Garden. Maybe it has a different title outside the UK.

View all my reviews

Kelly’s 40th

sweet wrappersI seem to have hit my stride – discovered what I really like writing about, and that makes writing really easy.

It turns out I like writing about the emotional ups and downs of Scottish women in their 40s. As I’m a Scottish woman in my 40s, then maybe that’s not surprising. Write about what you know, right?

Anyway, here is chapter one of what I’m writing now. It does contain some adult content and bad language, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, please don’t read any further.

 

 

January

Hey @Kelly1976! Just to let you know we can’t make ur 40th on Sat. Bit of an epic Christmas & New Year. Sorry! Sure it’ll be fab #Kelly40!

Wow. An “I’m not-coming” RSVP via Twitter. That had to be a first, setting a new lower-than-ever standard for etiquette. It was the day before her party, and the unwritten rules of politeness according to Kelly Thompson was that if you had to cancel at short notice you did it by phone.

A text or email was bad enough – but Twitter was public. Said friend had just revealed how (not) special she thought Kelly was and told millions of people at the same time.

Having a birthday on the 3rd of January had always put her at a disadvantage. As a child, most people had chosen to give her joint birthday and Christmas presents, and Kelly always suspected that the combined value did not add up to the same amount as two separate gifts. The same rule applied to birthday parties. Her younger and older sisters both had birthdays in the summer. Their celebrations felt quite distinct from Christmas.

Children and teenagers were quite happy to party any time – it didn’t matter to them that Christmas and New Year had only just taken place – though her mother often tried to move the party closer to New Year so she could see her friends at the same time. But at least in her youth, those Kelly invited always came to her parties.

Unlike now. She ought to be used to it. For the last 12 years or so, there had been a marked reluctance from friends and even family to throw themselves enthusiastically into any birthday celebrations precisely because of the proximity to the festive season. It hurt then, it still did.

It rankled all the more because she was single. If she had a partner, perhaps he would have booked her into a top hotel – the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire perhaps – for a weekend, spa appointment, taster menu and the finest selection of wines all included. Then, she supposed she wouldn’t give a flying fuck about organising a party or some kind of special celebration with friends to mark the passing years. Nope, she’d be too busy listening to the sommelier as he explained precisely why this particular white went so well with the amuse bouche she was about to eat, as her imaginary husband/partner toasted her, embarrassing her by telling the waiters they had to treat her very well, as the love of his life was 40 today.

Of course, in this little daydream, the waiters all protested vehemently. “Forty? No, no. That’s can’t be possible. Surely madam is celebrating her 30th birthday today?”

Sighing, Kelly stood up and stretched raising her arms high above her head. As a freelancer, she mostly worked from home and that meant spending long hours in front of her PC. Some years ago, she’d invested in one of those Swiss ball chairs which was meant to help with posture – forcing you to sit up straight instead of slouching forward. It was effective, but it didn’t make up for the hours she put in for her various clients. You just weren’t meant to sit for long periods of time.

Outside, it was your typical early January early evening in Glasgow. The rain had been falling steadily all day, and the skies hadn’t brightened from gun-metal grey. At this time of year, the days were short, but this one had felt particularly short because it had been so overcast. She’d had to switch on the lights in her Merchant City flat at three o’clock. The blinds were all firmly pulled down now, and the place felt cosy.

Despite its city centre location, Kelly’s flat was quiet. It was located at the back of the block in Wilson Street and thus not near to the main road. Her windows were triple glazed and the old building featured thick walls. The worst noise was often seagulls – who could start up early in the mornings, but not at this time of the year. She wasn’t on the side nearest to the area’s pubs either. The flat’s relative peace and quiet was an advantage she hadn’t fully appreciated until a few months into her move there. She’d befriended one of her neighbours – a gay guy, who lived on the same floor but whose flat faced the opposite direction. The noise difference was considerable. He had often knocked on the door at night, begging her to let him in so he could sleep in her spare room in the days before she’d turned it into her office, the noise at his side of the building too much for him. Kelly had agreed, secretly thrilled as it felt a bit like having a boyfriend or partner. She always hoped that other people coming down the stairs noticed them leaving her flat together in the morning and thought of them as a couple.

It helped that Josh was incredibly good looking. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he was at least taller than her and he had inherited some impeccable genes from his French mother – olive-skin that always tanned at the merest hint of sun, thick, dark hair, huge Bambi eyes and cheek bones to die for. He was a rower too, and it showed – his shoulders and arms muscular and his torso patterned with lines that defined the much sought after six-pack. He’d let Kelly touch it the first time she’d seen it, her jaw dropped in awe.

“Is that real?” she’d stuttered, and he’d smirked. “Too right. That’s what marks a gay man from a straight one – the care he takes of his body. Darling, I’m a slave to the gym.”

Naturally, his chest was hairless too. And yes, he also favoured the back, sack and crack wax. She hadn’t seen the evidence of that at the time, but some months later after a riotous night out, he’d happily showed her and her best friend Nell what a hairless backside and balls looked like.

“Weirdly naked,” Nell said, and then asked if she could touch them. Kelly protested, but Josh let her, saying it was the closest he’d been to a woman since the age of 14. The three of them watched in interest to see what his cock would do. It slowly stiffened, Josh shrugging apologetically and then glancing at the two of them speculatively.

“I don’t suppose…?”

Nell had looked on the verge of agreeing to whatever, but Kelly stepped in. “Absolutely not! One, you’re gay Josh, and two, Nell’s married.” She held her hand up as Nell murmured that giving a gay man a hand job wasn’t technically infidelity, surely.

“Yes, it is! What do you think Daniel would say if you explained to him that you’d just jerked off another man? Want me to throw a bucket of ice water over that Josh?”

Both of them looked suitably chastened, the change in mood backed up by Josh’s rapidly deflating erection.

Kelly supposed it was his fault she was so fussy these days. He’d set the standard for how a man should look if she were to fancy him, and his image often popped up in her mind when a man stripped off in front of her for the first time. Much as she tried not to, Josh’s torso would float enticingly in front of her, obscuring the view of saggy man boobs, and a stomach that rounded outwards.

At least she could count on him to be there tomorrow night. Josh had moved out a few years ago – his BBC Scotland job allowing him to upgrade and buy a house in the west end of Glasgow. He’d also met someone, marrying the guy last year when the laws had changed to allow marriage and not just civil partnership.

Moving into the kitchen, Kelly opened the door of the cupboard – the high-up one where she deliberately kept her stash of chocolate in order that it was out of reach. The little psychological trick – out of sight, out of mind – had its limits, and inside that cupboard was several blocks of Dairy Milk, truffles and boxes of wraps that clients had given her at the start of the holidays.

There was another disadvantage of the January birthday thing, especially when you were approaching the big 4-0. Didn’t most women embark on a fevered diet before their fortieth – vowing that the old saying, fair, fat and 40 would not apply?

If your birthday was in early January, though, you had weeks of festive feasting just behind you snapping at your heels. All those Christmas parties and huge meals that marked out December – rich, luxurious foods people didn’t usually eat. Mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing, cakes and puddings galore. This year, Kelly’s mother Rose had gone completely over the top. Her oldest daughter Louisa had come to hers for Christmas, having spent all of the Christmases since she’d been married with her in-laws. Louise had decided early on that her in-laws were far worthier of attention and attendance than her own family.

Conscious of the honour, Rose went all out, anxious to create a feast so magnificent her fussy oldest daughter would never go anywhere else again. Once the attendance had been confirmed, she had rushed off to the shops and bought every food magazine she could get her hands on, flicking through them feverishly in the search for the best menu she could find. The resultant Christmas meal had included canapes, a first course, a fish course, the main course, pudding and cheese and biscuits. Kelly had thought she might pop afterwards. Josh would have told her, “Well, you can always say no, can’t you?”. As if it was that simple. Rose was a feeder. She took refusals to eat her food personally. A person had to say “no” at least three or four times before she stopped offering you second helpings. Most of the time, it was easier to wearily accept.

There had been lots of leftovers and everyone had been sent away with foil-wrapped packages. As Kelly was the family’s only vegetarian, the goat’s cheese and mushroom pie hadn’t been touched by anyone else, so off she went with enough food to feed eight people. Her mother had perfect hands for pastry and what she’d made for this pie was flaky and light. Kelly had also ended up the recipient of 12 mince pies, lots of cheese straws and a white chocolate cheesecake that only had a quarter missing from it.

She had left the food in her fridge from a few days, in which time she had made some serious dents in the cheesecake, but eventually she threw it all out, covering the lot with washing-up liquid to deter any bin raids late at night.

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How to Self-Publish…

If it looks like a book...

If it looks like a book…

OK, OK – this one is a bit of a misnomer in a blatant attempt to try and get more search engine hits. I am, in reality, a brazen, attention-seeking hussy who will stop at nothing in my quest to make the world sit up and notice.

(I should have called this post how to self-publicise, rather than publish really.)

Anyway, I am jolly excited today because publication of my own book is indeed imminent. It would be foolish to name a date, but the moment of holding a hard copy of Katie and the Deelans in my hands creeps ever closer. Excitement reigns in the highheelsandpinkglitter household.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

There’s a saying about press & PR (it being dead an’ all) that companies or brands are no longer content trying to get published, they are publishers in themselves and the same can apply to writers. Why bother with the faff that is agent-hunting [cue: different submission versions required for each, plus the wait for replies, plus the generic rejection emails] when you can cut to the chase AND not have to hand over a fair whack of your sales?

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Really, the title of this post is – why self-publish? There’s an excellent guide here as to the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Naturally, as it suits my purposes (and my efforts with traditional publishing have so far yielded a big fat zilch) I’ve chosen to focus on the drawbacks of traditional publishing (and thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for this info):

Traditional Publishing Drawbacks

It’s slow: It takes somewhere between 9-18 months for a book to be released once it is submitted to a publisher, an infinity in the digital world.

It’s unfair: Publishers take the lion’s share of royalties, usually 85-92%. That means most authors earn about a buck per book, or less. Publishers hog roughly 70% of electronic royalties, for a product that has almost no production or distribution costs.

It’s outdated: They are not social-media savvy; they may have powerful inroads to traditional media, like TV and print magazines, but those things are increasingly irrelevant to book sales.

It’s ineffective: They do not give most authors a very big marketing push, or sometimes any marketing push at all.

It’s short-lived: Most authors’ books will be in bookstores for a few weeks and then get pulled from the shelves when they don’t sell very well, leaving it entirely up to Amazon sales. This begs the question: why not just use Amazon?

It’s not cost-effective: The vast majority of authors don’t make any real bankable money on their books.

Thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for the above info.

My own route to self-publishing goes like this… Write a book. Phew – that’s the difficult bit over and done with, hmm? Ah no. Re-write book once. Re-write book twice (this time stripping out a lot of excess stuff, even though it made me want to cry).

Use social media. I found a publisher through LinkedIn, specifically the small and perfectly formed Comely Bank Publishing, a publishing firm aimed at creating opportunities for Scottish-based authors.

CBP’s modus operandi is:

Comely Bank Publishing aims to create opportunities for local Edinburgh-area authors to publish works of interest using twenty-first century publishing options, including ebooks and print on demand.

We genuinely believe that too many authors are failing to have their works published because publishers and publishing agents have become too cautious, grasping at poorer-quality work simply because it carries the name of an established author or a bankable name such as a sports star, and that the future of literature can only be saved if bright new talent is nurtured as it used to be.

[There are specific resources on this site designed to help new authors think about some of the issues surrounding publishing.]

Thirdly, find a professional proof-reader. I looked through elance. I work on elance so seeing it from the other side was interesting and enlightening (and I also picked up some tips for how to structure my proposals from now on).

And next? Well, next is apply the changes from the proof-reader, make a cover design decision and then… PUBLISH. And flippin’ self-promote like mad.

 

Additional image thanks to wikipedia. Mywritingblog.com available here.