Monthly Recap: December, 2016

Keeping in the spirit of the entire year, this recap is of course, late. I’ve actually just hit publish on the annual Writer’s Edit Year In Review article, so I’m in a very reflective mood, perfect for this sort of post, right?

Today I’m writing this recap from my office in Sydney. I’m surrounded by boxes of Kindling stock freshly arrived from the printers in the US, ready to sell to the masses in the new year. It’s a good feeling, if not for the clutter.

Last year, I did something a little different for my December recap. I published a list of lessons I learnt throughout the year, and I’m going to keep with that tradition from now on…

So, let’s jump in… What did I learn in 2016?

1. Trust your gut

This one is first on the list for a reason folks, and it’s a lesson that’s taken me a good two years to really master.

If you’ve been reading my monthly recaps over the year, you’ll probably guess that this lesson is mainly in reference to my first novel Red Hands.

When you’ve got a niggling feeling in your gut that something’s not working how it should, trust it. Your instincts are there to be listened to.

2. Write what you love

From someone who was trying to fit a particular mould of writer, who had forgotten what they loved reading and writing the most, this lesson was one of my all time favourite lessons I’ve learnt over the last 12 months or so.

I’ve thrown myself back into the fantasy genre, and have loved every second of it. I’ve never been more productive, more passionate about my characters and story, or more certain of my goals.

If there’s one thing I’d tell new writers, it’d be this: writing what you love will see you through all the challenges, all the low points, and it’ll make those wins all the more meaningful.

3. Everyone’s time is equally important

A while ago on Your Creative Life podcast, a guest was speaking about making sure you don’t think your time is more important that anyone else’s.

I can’t remember the exact episode (though I recommend you get through them all), but it really struck a chord with me.

I’m definitely guilty of this at times. I’m often frazzled and stressed, and feeling out of my depth, which can lead to me cancelling plans and brushing people off.

If someone’s taken time out of their day for you…

a) they’re a special person and,

b) you should show them the same respect.

We’re all given 24 hours in a day, and everyone’s time is just as valuable as yours.

4. Chill out before you burn out

Myself, Kyra and Claire talk a lot about the dreaded ‘writer burnout’, and what it comes down to is self-awareness and self-care.

We all have those busy periods, and we all have moments of complete chaos and stress (personally, I feel like I have these multiple times a week)… But it’s important that you get to know yourself, and the signs that tell you a burnout is looming.

I’ve burnt out a few times this year. There was a particular time where I had an editing deadline, the final proofs for Kindling III due, a number of freelance clients waiting on projects and a whole bunch of other commitments jam-packed in there too.

Here’s where you have to learn to manage yourself.

Don’t try and do it all at once. Don’t work a 16 hour day and expect to get up at 7am the next (whoops).

Chill out before you burn out.

If you’re after more self-care tips for writers, we published a great article over on Writer’s Edit discussing exactly that.

I can’t stress how important it is that writers look after their mental health.

5. Use beta readers

I’ve sung the praises of beta readers in previous recaps, but this was a massive lesson for me this year that I wish I’d learnt long ago.

Using beta readers helps the writing and re-writing process so so much, and saves an author a hell of a lot of time and tears.

This year, I asked Kyra, Claire, Kelly and Aleesha to beta read my first fantasy book. These incredibly talented women came back to me with amazing feedback, feedback that has instantly helped shape my manuscript into something I’m much more proud of.

Working on the problematic scenes they highlighted, as well as ironing out plot holes and beefing up weak characters with their support and guidance has made what’s often a lonely and daunting journey all the more enjoyable and exciting.

I can’t thank them enough for their efforts, their sensitivity and their suggestions.

6. Protect your reading time

In the past, I’ve likely talked about the importance of protecting your writing time. And it’s true – protecting the time you have to write is vital if you want to get anything done.

However, something that’s not mentioned nearly as often is: protect your reading time.

As someone who reads a lot as part of their job, it can be easy to fall into the mindset that reading is a chore (sadly, this does happen sometimes!).

However, what I’ve learnt this year is how important it is to make time for reading for pleasure.

Whatever makes you want to stay up until four in the morning, read that, and read it often.

There have no doubt been a number of challenges in my path this year, and reading has definitely helped me overcome these.

Read every day if you can, trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

7. Trust your process

Every writer has a different process. I’m fascinated every time I talk to another writer and discover how they put their words on the page.

Take my friend Ben for instance, he’s a perfectionist – he makes every sentence perfect before he commits to the next. Then there’s me – I hammer out a messy first draft before I begin to contemplate it at a sentence level.

This year, I often found myself questioning my own process: Is there a wrong way to write a book?

In short, no.

You have to write in a way that suits you, your lifestyle, your genre, your routine and everything in between.

While my process means multiple (and I mean multiple) drafts, it’s in these drafts that I get to know my characters better. It’s in these drafts that I raise the stakes of my story, and iron out the plot holes I couldn’t see before.

Nothing is perfect, but I’m on my third novel now, and I think I may have got the hang of this.

8. The publishing industry… *face palm*

I think we can all safely say that 2016 was a revealing year for the publishing industry, particularly in Australia. We witnessed…

  • The threat of the potential lifting of parallel book importation restrictions
  • Massive cuts to arts grants and established organisations
  • The call to have authors pay for and submit their own work to awards rather than their publishers
  • Publishers opt for defensive strategies rather than seeking out new talent and taking a chance
  • Some of the world’s biggest publishers paying six figures for books supporting extreme sexist, racist views

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s just what’s in the news.

I’ve been talking a lot about the current state of things with the Writer’s Edit team and my publishing friends, and to be frank – it’s been a disheartening year.

Which is what’s made my decision to go indie, all the more simpler.

9. You can never be overeducated

I may have stolen this from the front of my Kate Spade Christmas journal (thanks Yas <3), but it really rings true.

It’s something I’ve noticed that everyone I admire constantly strives to do: they continue to educate themselves.

I’m not talking about going back to uni time and time again (though there’s nothing wrong with that either). I’m talking about seeking out information, I’m talking about enriching your knowledge on the subjects you’re passionate about.

I’m so lucky to be surrounded by grounded, intelligent people who are always willing to discuss and debate the topics they’re passionate about.

From hen’s weekends and book clubs, to Harry Potter parties and Writer’s Edit meetings, I’m constantly learning new things thanks to the amazing individuals around me.

These people always remind me to question, to challenge and to take initiative.

10. Look forward, not back

Although this post is also about past lessons learnt, it’s also about using these lessons to look to the future.

Sometimes, it’s hard not to dwell on the tough times, but even amidst the obstacles, the future is exciting.

***

What I read:

  • The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler
  • The Thief’s Daughter by Jeff Wheeler
  • The King’s Traitor by Jeff Wheeler
  • The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna
  • Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
  • How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle by Martin Crosbie

***

Before I go, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the people who made 2016 special:

Dave Hickman, Kyra Thomsen, Claire Bradshaw, Annelisa Kalaiziovski, Eva Davis (nee Kozarovska… woah that’s weird writing ‘Davis’ for the first time!), Yasmin Scheuerer, Tara Bennett, Aleesha Paz, Benjamin Stevenson and all my other incredibly supportive friends.

I also want to thank YOU! Thank you for reading and supporting this blog.

As for what 2017 will bring… There’ll be a post on that shortly.

Until then, a belated Happy New Year to you all.

– Helen

Note: featured image via Unsplash.