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Just start

Some years ago I was talking to a friend of mine, a multi-published writer who had been battling with writers block for some years.  She’d tried all kinds of things — courses, workshops, therapy, even hypnotism — but nothing seemed to work.

Until she tried something, a small seemingly insignificant thing, with a writer friend.

“You’ll laugh,” she told me. “It sounds so stupid. Quite ridiculous, really.”

It wasn’t ridiculous, but it did seem to be a very small thing: she and a similarly blocked writer friend made a writing pact.

Now, lots of writers make pacts with fellow writers. It’s a common thing to do — it’s motivating , it can be fun, and it helps break down the isolation of being a writer. Some compete to beat each other on the word-count, others pact to write 1,000 (or more) words a day.

But my friend’s pact was simply to write one sentence a day. That’s all — just one sentence. It didn’t need to be a long sentence or even a brilliant sentence — just a sentence.

But it helped get her writing again. See, she’d write her one sentence, and that was all she needed. Some days that was all she’d do. Other days she’d write a couple more sentences. And some days more that that. But all she had to write was one sentence. One sentence and she was a working writer again. The pressure was off.

It  sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it? One sentence a day sounds like nothing. But it wasn’t about “one sentence” — it was about starting. About “showing up” to write.  And about taking the pressure off. 

Often the hardest thing for any writer is sitting down and just starting. We find all kinds of excuses, we noodle around on the internet, play games, find chores around the house to do — write blogs (cough!) — all of it putting off the moment where we actually start writing.

So just one sentence was a great way to start. I know other writers who put a timer on for 15 or 20 minutes, because the idea of writing for four hours, or all day can be intimidating — a lot of writers write with the Demons of Doubt at their shoulder — but 15 minutes is very do-able.

When I give writing classes I nearly always set a writing task for participants — writing there and then. I usually give them around 15 minutes to write. Some get stuck in straight away, others take longer, but I’ve never run a class where someone does nothing.

Often they’ll write a page or more — usually in handwriting, which, when typed up will come to anything from 200 words to 500 — in other words at least a page of typing. I point out to them that if they wrote for 15 minutes every day, by the end of the year they’d have a novel.

The hardest thing though, is starting. Just sitting down and writing. 

When I’m stuck, I take myself to my local library and write by hand. I’m not allowed to leave until I’ve filled three pages. That comes to around 1000 words, typed up.  It focuses me, and gets me moving, just as a teacher saying “write now” does, or a timer. Other writers I know write in a cafe, or restaurant.

I was at my library a few days ago, and saw a very famous Australian literary writer sitting in there with his laptop. He was texting on his phone. I was so tempted to go over and say “Oy, you, get writing — we need more of your gorgeous books.” I didn’t  — I know him slightly, but not well enough to tease him like that.  In any case, it would have been the pot calling the kettle black. I sat in a different corner and write my three pages and when I next looked up, he was gone.

But I knew exactly why he was there — to tell himself, “Just start.”

Favorite Summer Drink

Don’t look if you’re stuck in freezing temperatures, but for those of us in summer, this is my new favorite drink — iced green tea with and mint and a few slices of fruit. No added sugar or anything else — just green tea, mint and fruit. Sometimes it’s a few berries, today it’s fresh peach slices. Make a jug, chill and . . . yum yum — healthy, delicious and refreshing.

Welcome to the new

Hi, and welcome to my new blog home. I’ve had to leave my old blog here, in favor of a new one that will be compatible with my gorgeous new website. 

So I’ve been thinking about how to launch this new blog, and what to include, and how different it should be to the old blog, content-wise. I asked on FB and people said: 

“I like to be surprised and, especially, to laugh. So your current menu is perfect for me.”

OK, so the occasional funny anecdote and unexpected posts. Can do.

“I love to hear about new books and snippets of life.”

“Fun stuff, booky stuff, slices of life, booky stuff, writing stuff, booky stuff.”

Yes, I can do that. Especially the “booky stuff.”

“Have you done a blog showing your “writing sanctuary”. Pictures of your desk. The order. The mess?!?? What you use. I love things like that.”

I do too, but I told him I’d rather shoot myself. My office is soooo messy. I might, at a pinch, show little bits.

Basically I write in a small room surrounded by crowded bookshelves (though not over the window.) The desk is covered in “stuff” — pens, notebooks, books, envelopes on the back of which I’ve scribbled things — sometimes a whole scene outline. The floor used to contain more piles of books, but now it’s usually covered in shreds of chewed up paper and card. No, I don’t chew paper or card, but my dog is young and likes to chew and she steals things from the waste paper bin under my desk. And though I pick it up, it’s a never-ending process. She doesn’t chew shoes or books, so this is pretty harmless. I do give her a large bone every day, but she has good strong teeth.

“Your inspirations and what makes you create such great books. More about you and your life. I love to hear more about Milly. . .”

Milly — she’s the one who chews.

“. . .a blog that adds value to my day .. either by making me think or making me laugh or just being amusing.”

OK, that’s a bit tougher, but I’ll try. All suggestions welcome.

“I’d say you had it nailed. I like the pictures of your crafts too.”

My crafts. I say on Twitter that I procrastinate creatively, and that means I make stuff — jewelry, Christmas ornaments, dolls house things — whatever takes my fancy. I don’t sell any of it though, just make things for me and my friends. And though it is procrastination, I argue that fiddling with small things often helps me nut out a plot problem. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“I come back because I admire the writer and their work and like to get insights into their writing process. It’s the stuff that makes me feel like I’m not alone in tearing my hair out when my characters aren’t behaving, and provides inspiration to make me stop procrastinating.”

I’ll try. I can talk about writing forever, but that could get tedious. I also have writing articles on my writing page. Now that I have a new website instead of the creaky old one, I’ll be adding some new writing articles. Stay tuned.

“I know you read widely outside the historical romance genre. You could add more of that if you wanted to.”

Thanks, I’m always reading and I’m planning to make that a regular feature. I love getting reading recommendations, too.

So that’s it for this first post. Let me know if there’s anything you’d particularly like me to blog about. If I use your suggestion, I’ll send you a free book.