Saturday, 13 September 2014

How to Use Interior Thoughts – Part 1

Whenever a character has any thoughts, whenever they think to themselves, or they talk to themselves during the story, it’s generally known as interior thought or monologue, or interior dialogue.
What it really means is that the reader is allowed into the character’s feelings to directly share his or her point of view, by using the character’s direct thoughts.
This device allows the writer to show what the main character is thinking or feeling, without the need to engage in conversation with other characters. It’s a good way to show what the character’s emotions and mood, strictly from their point of view. It allows the reader to become party to those thoughts, while other characters will be completely unaware of the main character’s inner feelings.
The benefits of Using Interior Thoughts
There are great advantages to including interior thoughts in your narrative. One of the main reasons is that it helps the reader gain an understanding of what the main character is feeling, it brings a sense of immediacy and connection and helps your reader identify with the character.
Moreover, it allows the reader to be privy to what is happening, just by sharing those thoughts.
It also makes it possible to learn about the main character’s true emotions, his or her fears, motivations and goals. It allows the readers to understand the character’s reactions to others, or particular events and situations etc.
It’s also another way for the writer to divulge snippets of information to the reader without resorting to large chunks of exposition and thus is helps to move the story forward.
How are they presented?
There are two ways to show the reader interior thought. You can tell them by simply stating who is doing the thinking, for instance:
‘Go right ahead, see if I care,’ she said.
Just watch me, Jason thought.
This example clearly shows Jason’s personal thoughts because ‘Jason thought’ is tagged directly onto the thought.
In this instance, however, once it is established whose thoughts we are privy there is no need then to keep putting ‘he thought’ after every instance of interior thought.
The other way is to show the reader who is doing the thinking by using narrative, for example:
In all this time, Jason had never seen his wife – soon to be ex-wife – act so selfishly when it came to their children.
His brows sagged. Selfish cow
The way the narrative is written in this example shows the reader whose thoughts they are; therefore any subsequent thoughts within the scene will belong to Jason.
When should they be used?
They form part of your character, so writers have to choose the best time to show internal thoughts and take advantage of key scenes in order to enhance them.
Think about the dynamics of the scene – the kind of scene you’ve written sometimes makes it easier with the kind of thoughts the character has. For instance, does the reader need to see the character’s emotional weaknesses, or conversely, their emotional strength?  Every character has fears, every character is vulnerable, depending on any given situation, and every character is susceptible to a range of emotions such as fear, grief, sadness, anger etc.
There may be an instance where you have action and drama and atmosphere. Interior thoughts from your main character can emphasize those dramatic moments and add to the overall tone and atmosphere.
There will also be moments within the narrative where it is advantageous to reveal more of your character to the reader, and interior thoughts are a good way to do this throughout your novel. It may be something as simple as revealing what your character really feels about another character, or what they think of the situation they are in. Readers love snippets of information like this, revealed from time to time like tiny gifts to unwrap.
Such character revelations also disclose your main character’s motivations. Readers need to know why your main character is doing what he or she is doing. What is driving your character forward?  What is behind their actions? This is what is at the heart of any story – motivation. And motivation always drives a story forward.
Like dialogue, interior thoughts also help to slow the pace of the narrative, particularly in between fast paced narrative and action scenes. This is effective if you want both your character and reader to take a pause and reflect momentarily on preceding events, before stepping up the pace again.
In Part 2 we’ll look at how interior thoughts can be written – should you use italics, should you underline, use capitals, or just use normal sentence case? We’ll also look at some general guidelines on what not to do.

Next week: How to use interior thoughts – Part 2

Saturday, 6 September 2014

How many characters in a story are too many?

I get asked about this a lot, in fact all the time. The answer to the question depends on what kind of story you are writing, whether it’s a short story or a novel.
Short stories have fewer characters because in a 1000 – 10,000 word story there isn’t room to have that many characters; it simply doesn’t work. And short stories always work very well with as few characters as possible.
Novels – being full length – have the scope to cope with a larger cast. There is room to explore them properly, with main characters getting full characterisation and backstory, therefore giving them complexity and depth.
So how many characters do you really need?
In essence, there are only two characters that any story needs – the Protagonist and the Antagonist. All other characters are secondary or peripheral. They will either be relatable or connected to the protagonist or the antagonist in some way. They are there to enhance the plot and the main characters and to help drive the story forward. If they don’t do any of these things, they’re redundant and should be cut.
The fact is that any novel needs a certain number of secondary and peripheral characters who have a function within the story. That amount can be anything from 20 or 30 characters. That seems a lot when seen in those terms, but spread over an 80,000 – 90,000 word novel, it’s a fairly average number.
Too Many Characters
What happens if there are too many characters?
Every writer will make the mistake of having too many characters at one point or another, thinking that these characters are vital to telling the story, when in fact they’re of no use to the story or the writer.
Are they important to the plot or main character? If they are not important, or don’t drive the story forward in some way, they are not necessary. Having too many characters could confuse your readers. Not only do they have to keep up with the plot twists and sub plots, they also have to remember who is who.
Writers need to remember that most of the characters should be memorable in some way, so that the reader remembers them, recognises them and relates to them. That won’t happen with a case of hundreds.
Writers often create characters that might have a walk-on part, are seen briefly, may not say anything, and are then gone, never to be seen again.  Sometimes these ‘walk-on’ characters serve no purpose to the story and should not be there. That’s not to say that peripheral characters should not be present, because they can be, as long as they have a purpose. If they serve no purpose, get rid of them.
One major problem with too many characters is that the higher the number, the less chance of having fully rounded and realised characters. Characterisation will suffer.
Another problem is that secondary characters may be left in the shadows, neglected. That’s simply because the writer has too many characters to focus on and he or she doesn’t realise that some characters have been left out. And some of those characters may be involved in subplots, so they need that attention.
At the other end of the scale, there is the common problem of having too many secondary characters slowly taking over the primary characters. Never allow secondary characters to overshadow your main character.
Writers also have a habit of inventing a handful of unimportant characters simply to serve a plot point or dish out some exposition, characters that have no purpose other than being there at the right moment, just to get the story and the writer out of a hole - deus ex falsis characteribus.
In other words, don’t use false characters to prop up a foundering story.
Too few Characters
Having too few characters can mean that the story won’t move forward. In a short story this isn’t a problem, but in a full length novel, it would be a difficult task indeed to actually tell the entire story through just a handful of people (unless you are an especially gifted writer).
Not only that, but sub plots cannot be explored with too few characters. That means the story cannot be expended to its full potential.
The story could end up being quite empty without the right amount of characters to support it, so it is all about balance. Any novel needs a decent amount of characters to tell a good story. Getting that balance right just takes practice.
They key to getting the balance right is to always explore your developing story and characters:-

1. Who are the most important characters?

2. What role will they play at the climax of the story?

3. Who are the secondary characters, why are they there?

4. Do each of the characters relate to the plot?

5. Do each of the characters drive the story forward in any way?

6. Who are the peripheral characters, what purpose do they serve?

Every story needs to be manageable. Can you manage with a cast of 20 characters? Perhaps 50 Characters? You’re in charge – in the end, you have to keep a close eye on all of them.

Next week: How to use interior thoughts/dialogue

Sunday, 24 August 2014

How to Make Readers Care About Your Story

It’s an age-old question. How do you make your readers care about your story?
It’s the ultimate goal for writers, to make their readers care enough about the story and characters, because that is what makes them read your book and continue reading right until the end.
There isn’t a straight forward answer for this one simply because there is so much involved in the process and lots for a writer to consider.
It’s not really about the story, per se, because the story can be about anything, and so it becomes a secondary thing, but it’s how the writer uses the characters within the story that makes us care about what happens and therefore it makes us care about the overall story. We want the characters to reach their goal, we want them to win the day, we want them to succeed, and that’s because we care about what happens to them.
How do we care?
Firstly, you should write the story for the reader, not yourself. This is vitally important. It is not your story. So many writers still write with the attitude of ‘why should I care about what the readers think?’
They should care, because the story belongs to your main character, and ultimately, to your reader. If you write without the reader in mind, you will fail to engage them and your story will fail. You are writing for them.
So what else can writers do to make readers care?
Writers need to create something known as immediacy, right from the opening chapter, in order to persuade the reader to invest emotionally with the story, so jumping straight into a life changing moment for the main character, or creating a terrible dilemma to introduce the basis of the story always works well.
Immediacy is what connects the story and characters to the reader. In other words, readers want a main character they can sympathise with, feel emotion towards; ordinary people who are thrust into extraordinary situations. They are not special; they are just like you and me.
But the difference lies in the journey they take, the overall story, and what happens to them. And to achieve that we have conflict.  All writers should understand the fundamental principle of conflict and how it works.
Characters + conflict = tension and drama.
Without conflict, there is no tension or drama or action. That means there is no story to tell. And readers love drama.
Conflict creates all sorts of tensions and atmosphere, it creates dramatic situations and that means the reader will want to know what happens to the main character, so conflict in the form of an antagonist and plenty of dilemmas help to draw emotion from your reader, it makes them sympathise and empathise with the character’s struggles. They become emotionally attached to your characters. And that means they care.
The other thing to consider is: what is at stake for the main character?  What will they lose? How would it affect them and the story? Will the protagonist lose someone they love? Will they lose a fortune? Will they lose their house? Their job?
The higher the stakes, the more chance your reader will care about what happens and these issues will lure the reader into the story because they will read on to see what happens. They have to know what happens.
How will your characters overcome such high stakes? Will they compromise, will they sacrifice something, will they do something momentous? Will they change as a person?
Think about it – we all have something to lose. So should your characters. And that’s what makes us care – because the characters, too, care about what happens.
Another important thing that makes the reader care about the story is the characters you create. They have to be likeable, almost real, people. As already mentioned, they should be people we can connect with because they are ordinary; they have faults and flaws, and they make mistakes, just like us, but they have been forced into a situation and how they tackle it and overcome it becomes theirs and our story.
A hero doesn’t have to be heroic to make the reader like them. They are human, and that makes them vulnerable. Such vulnerabilities make us connect to the character. What those vulnerabilities are is down to you as a writer.
One thing to remember: characters should never be perfect, because people in real life are not. There is no such thing as perfect.
Lastly, relatable themes help make the reader care, too. And that’s because readers face the same things in real life. We can relate to love or hate. We can relate to forgiveness, or lack of it. We can relate to death and life. We can relate to pain and loss. We can relate to justice and retribution. All these themes have touched the lives of pretty much everyone in some way or another, so the themes in your novel will help the reader connect to the story.
With all these aspects in place, you should have no problem is making the reader will care about your character’s story.
To summarise:

  • The story is for the reader, not the writer.
  • Create immediacy – connect with the reader.
  • Create conflict = tension and drama.
  • Make sure there are high stakes for your main character.
  • Create believable, likeable characters, people we can relate to, people who are not perfect, but people who have their own vulnerabilities.
  • Relatable themes help your reader connect with the story.

In essence, why should the reader care about your story? Because they’re the ones who will read in and enjoy it and come back for more, time after time.

Next week: How many characters in a story is too many?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

What Makes a Bad Writer?

We’ve all been bad writers at some point.  Being a bad writer is all part of the ritual of becoming a good writer. Everyone starts out a bad writer and becomes a good writer over time. (Good writers will also know that good writing isn’t formed instantly – it takes years of practice).
But how can you tell a bad writer from a good one? How do you know if you are a bad writer?
The main difference with good writers and bad writers is that good writers are always learning, always developing and are always open to feedback. Good writers know their limitations and their skill levels, and they’re always striving to become better; the best they can be.
Bad writers, however, are a different beast altogether.
Bad writers have no real grasp of their limitations, they presume to know everything there is to know about writing, without the experience to back it up. But even if they have three self-published books on Amazon, it doesn’t make them an expert on fiction writing. It just means they have a long way to go, because being a good writer can take years, even decades to achieve.
Only bad writers assume they have a superior level of writing excellence. Good writers never assume it, they earn it.
Also, bad writers don’t understand the concept of constantly editing and rewriting and the need to polish to (almost) perfection, something that’s required before it enters the public domain.  Most simply don’t have the patience for such things.
Good writers, on the other hand, will read through and edit their work several times to eliminate errors and plot flaws and they will have the patience to do so until the work is truly ready, until they have a quality piece of work.
Bad writers don’t need to go through all this, they’re already excellent.
This is turn leads to the arrogance factor. There is nothing more unbecoming in fiction writing that a writer who is arrogant and has an attitude to go with it. More often than not, those who are haughty and overconfident are simply not as good as they think. And more often than not, this notion is proven with what they actually write, simply because their ego has overshadowed any existing raw talent.
Good writers know that perfection is not attainable, but the next best thing is, so they always try to achieve this. At the same time they will acknowledge that no one is perfect. That’s why they are always learning, because writing is a constantly evolving process. They know that to be better writers, they have to learn and evolve. That’s how we all become not just good writers, but great writers.
A bad writer, however, will dismiss the need to learn. They already know all there is to know. They don’t realise that to be a better writer they have to learn.
Have you ever received negative feedback that made you get angry and defensive? The answer is that we all have.
What we write and how we write it won’t be liked by everyone. Good writers accept and understand this concept.  But bad writers don’t understand this at all. Negative feedback is met with even more negativity and sometimes these writers will become involved in online arguments with other writers or engage in emails with those who may have offered the negative feedback. It’s extremely unprofessional.
This leads to that other big negative for writers – the dreaded rejection. Good writers accept that they are not perfect and that rejections are a part of the writing process. They will also take on board the feedback and comments in a constructive way and they will examine where they can improve their work and develop their writing skill accordingly.
Bad writers won’t. They won’t see rejection as an opportunity to improve. They won’t see the positive in it. They will think it’s a personal attack on them and a rejection of their genius. They will become angry and defensive, even petulant, and that arrogance will just grow.
If you cannot cope with rejection or criticism of your writing, then unfortunately that makes you a bad writer.
Another thing is that bad writers don’t understand the concept of professionalism.
And that brings me to the subject of submitting work to agents and publishers. The good writers amongst us will pay vital attention to the guidelines of the publishing house or the agent’s requirements, because guidelines are there for a reason.
A bad writer will ignore these guidelines. The “nobody can tell me what I should and shouldn’t do” attitude won’t wash with potential publishers. If you can’t be bothered to follow instructions, then don’t bother being a writer.
Lastly, the new phenomenon of shameless self-promotion has become a nuisance. The pester power of self-published writers isn’t endearing, it’s annoying. And the “look at me and my fantastic novel” constant promotion on every available medium won’t win readers.
Good writers promote, but they also engage with potential readers, they ask questions, they answer questions, they have open discussions about their writing, they use the likes of Twitter or Facebook, Goodreads or writing forums to network and socialise and generate interest in a productive way.
What they don’t do is selfishly spam the hell out of everyone. And that’s precisely what a bad writer will do. Bad writers are not bothered about networking or socialising or engaging in discussions about their writing or indeed any constructive feedback. They just want the sales.
Ultimately, a bad writer is one that doesn’t listen and therefore never learns. So, are you one of them?
Next week: How to make your readers care about your story.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Self-publish or Traditional?

There has been a lot of debate recently about whether an author should go down the traditional publishing route or whether to self-publish through the likes of Amazon or Create Space.
Whatever the author decides, these two prospects offer different pros and cons. There is a certain element of the quality of writing and prestige with traditionally published books that is not yet present with self-published books, so many authors still pursue traditional publishing, despite the lure of becoming self-published.
Traditional Publishing
Despite what the naysayers might think, traditional publishing is still very strong and it is still important to writers.
Finding an agent is usually the starting block for most writers wishing to look for the traditional published path. Others submit their work to publishers direct, whether large publishing houses or small indie publishers.
It can be a long, drawn out process to get on that publishing ladder, so any writer who wants to pursue traditional publishing must be patient, determined and should grow a very thick skin.
  • Traditional publishing offers prestige and a certain amount of quality.
  • There is a wider distribution of saleable books and therefore an expectation of more exposure or publicity
  • Many publishers offer an advance; the amount varies depending on how well they think your book will sell.
  • They edit the book, polish it and provide the cover artwork for it.
  • The author may be expected to participate in a few marketing drives, much of the marketing is provided by the publisher because they have the advertising power.
  • It could help you to become a well known author.
  • It’s extremely hard to break into
  • It takes anything between 12 months to 18 months for the work to be published.
  • They have a lot of power over the way your book should be presented, especially with cover design.
  • They may make some changes to your work, including changing the title.
  • If you have an agent, you have to pay Agents fees.
  • You may end up with fewer royalties than you expected.
  • Many first time authors make very little money.
  • Publishers rarely make money on first time authors, and so only produce short print runs because of the cost of making and printing the books.
Self-publishing can make an author of anyone. And that is not necessarily a good thing.

This platform allows anyone to write something and publish it, regardless of experience or knowledge. For many writers who have struggles for years, it is very alluring, because finally they have something tangible, they can publish their work and call themselves an author.
The drawback, of course, is that the emphasis is on the word ‘everyone’. And unfortunately, not every ‘author’ can actually write to a standard that would be considered acceptable in the traditional sense. The quality, at present, is extremely dire because authors just haven’t taken the time to learn about creative writing and all that it entails.
Writers must have a detailed knowledge of the craft – how to structure sentences, how to deliver dialogue properly, how to use the correct grammar and syntax, how to balance narrative and description with dialogue, how to weave subplots and themes, how to manage a plot from start to finish, how to characterise. And those are just the basics. Most self-published authors don’t understand more complex concepts such as foreshadowing, symbolism, metaphor, layering, flashback, correct exposition, tenses and POV.
Most importantly they haven’t learned how to even edit their own book to a publishable standard. Any self-respecting author who is supposed to be ‘good’ at writing should be capable of this.
This is why over 80% of self-published books are written so badly by people who don’t know how to write and don’t understand the basics.

  • Self-publishing means that anyone can do it.
  • Because it is digital, there are no costs involved in the actual publishing of an e-book.
  • Authors have complete control of the creative process.
  • Authors control what price to charge.
  • Authors can decide what cover art they would like.
  • Publication is almost instant.
  • It makes it easy for authors to go back and apply changes to their books.
  • It offers larger royalty rates (but only if the books sell in the first place).

  • Because anyone can self-publish, the potential to flood the market with poorly written rubbish increases and thereby damages the reputation of publishing in general.
  • The numbers of self-published ‘authors’ is increasing daily, meaning the self-publishing market is already saturated.
  • Any artwork or professional editing comes at a cost, provided by cover artists and editors.
  • Not all ‘editors’ are experienced in editing, and because they want your money, they will not necessarily tell you that your book is rubbish.
  • Few authors make a living from it. The returns are minimal.
  • Authors have to do all their own marketing and publicity. It requires a constant push and takes up a lot of an author’s time.
  • It’s extremely hard to get books into bookstores, and even if you did, don’t expect wonderful sales.
As with most things in life, there are pros and cons. Whether an author wants to go down the self-publishing route or the traditional route, each one should be judged on its own merits, but it is worth remembering that A) people do not turn into writers overnight and B) not everyone can write.
If you are determined to self-publish, then make sure that you have written something of substantial quality, that you understand the fundamental basics of creative writing, you’ve spent a few years at the craft and have a basic grasp of the complexities involved in creating a novel.
If you don’t, you’ll be one of the countless ‘authors’ churning out unreadable garbage.
If you want to go for traditional publishing, then make sure you’ve written the best, well edited, polished piece of fiction possible, otherwise you may find the going very long and arduous.

Next week: What makes a bad writer?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Subplots

I’ve touched on the subject of plots in the past, but lots of people have emailed asking to know more about them, so here’s everything you need to know about them:
What are they?
The first thing to know is that they’re not the enemy. The subplot is a secondary plot (think of it as a mini-plot) to the main story, an additional story strand that also runs parallel to the main story, or is interwoven with the narrative.
Subplots must always connect and relate to the main story. They play a supporting role to the main story. It’s no use having a subplot about characters that only briefly appear in your novel, because they won’t have been in the novel long enough for the reader to care about them. The same is true if you have a subplot about something that has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the story. It won’t make sense to the reader, and it won’t make sense to the story as a whole.
Why do they happen?
Subplots happen because of the main story, not because it might be a good idea to add in something that is totally unrelated, or you need to fill the story with extra unwanted padding. They should arise logically and organically from the main story, so try not to force them; otherwise you’ll end up with something that is contrived.
Sometimes they emerge naturally during writing, which could be anything from the situations the characters get into, the backstory, the characters, a flashback or even the theme(s).
Sometimes we know before we start the novel that there may be one or two subplots, we may have some ideas what they are.
What’s their purpose?
Subplots have many functions. Primarily they are there to maintain the reader’s interest and to also move the story forward by revealing either new characters or new information which is pertinent to the story. 
They may be used to add additional obstacles and problems for the main character – the subplots generally involves extra stuff the protagonist has to see to and yet still be able to reach his or her goal by the end of the novel.
They also help with characterisation, allowing the reader to see the main character in a different way, with relationships and situations etc.
Another thing to consider with subplots is that they layer and help bring numerous elements together, collectively woven into the fabric of the main story. They enrich a novel with context and complexity.
Doing this will mean that the reader will then became part of the deepening story through because they are privy to new parallel storylines, whereas your main character may not. This can add suspense and tension.
Another reason writers use subplots is to allow the reader a break from the main thrust of the story, so they can breathe and reflect on what’s happened so far before returning back to the main thread.
Do I have to have one?
No, you don’t have to. There are no rules that say you need one, but it just helps the story overall if you do have one or two. They do enrich the story.
How many can I have?
Some stories have just one subplot others have two or three. Clever and complex novels may have up to five subplots. Again, there are no rules, just common sense.
Writers must realise that the more subplots they incorporate, however, the more complex the whole story gets and the more headaches it will cause trying to keep them from wildly unravelling into a big mess.
One to three subplots is more than adequate.
What Subplots should never do

  • They should never be forced, never throw something into the story because you think the story “needs” it.
  • They should never overwhelm or take over from the main story
  • They should never lead away from the main plot and become lost in a sea of complexity
  • They should never include stuff that has nothing to do with the main story
  • They should never be about peripheral or ‘walk on’ characters that make no impact on the story arc.
  • They should never be stand-alone stories – they have to have a connection to the main story.
  • They should never be used as padding to fill your story out. If they don’t have purpose, don’t use them.

Remember to resolve all subplots
The most important thing you need to do with any subplot is to resolve it by the end of the novel, otherwise you will leave your reader wondering what happened to the questions that the subplot posed by being there in the first place.
There is nothing worse than following a subplot and not knowing what happens at the end!
Make sure that you tie up those loose ends.
To summarise:

  • Subplots must connect to the main story.
  • Subplots must happen for a reason and make sense together with the main story.
  • Subplots should move the story forward. They should enrich, support and deepen the overall story.
  • Subplots should reveal information about the main story, the situation or characters, which readers should become privy.
  • Subplots should keep your reader interested.
  • Subplots must always be resolved.
  • There should ideally be no more than 2 - 3 subplots

Some people view subplots as difficult, others see them as a chore, when they're neither of these things. A subplot adds to the enjoyment of the story, the reader can become immersed in all the different threads you create, they will appreciate there is more to the story that first meets the eye.

They're not the enemy. Instead, use subplots to your advantage.

 Next week: Self-publish or traditional?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Finding the Motivation to Write

As writers, sometimes we don’t feel like writing. Often it seems our creativity has crawled off, our inspiration has gone on vacation and our brains just don’t want to bother. Our ‘mojo’ has done a runner. Some days, we just don’t want to write.
This is completely normal.
Writing isn’t just a hobby for some, it’s a disciplined form of art and it takes a great deal of commitment, time and hard work to do it, so it is no surprise that some of that discipline and commitment wavers and wobbles from time to time for various reasons.
The thing to remember is that we writers are not robots, and sometimes, after a long day at work, writing is the last thing on our minds, especially if we have to sort the kids out, tidy up, do the dinner and feed the cat. Sometimes the mind and body are too tired. The motivation just isn’t there.   
Life in general gets in the way sometimes. There is just so much going on that you don’t have the time to dedicate to writing, or it seems that way, whether it’s a full workload in the office causing you stress or running around looking after the family – the school run, shopping, errands, appointments etc. Motivation tends to vanish when we’re busy with other things and other people.
Distractions are another cause of lack of motivation to write. Social media soaks up motivation – and creativity – and drains your willpower. It’s easier to procrastinate than write meaningful narrative. We all do it.
Other times, we just can’t be bothered. The pub, the football match or the movie seems a better option. Any excuse for not sitting down and getting some writing done, or even finishing off what we started.
So how can writers find the motivation to write? How do writers stop the motivation from vanishing completely?
There are plenty of things that we can do to spur ourselves on and not fall into a laissez-fair attitude.
1. Tiredness can crush creativity and motivation. Writing doesn’t work when the brain needs to shut down. Get some much needed sleep and come back motivated and energised for writing. You’ll find it works.
2. Make some time for just you and your writing. Even if it’s just for an hour to jot down ideas or observations or do a little planning. Whether it’s early in the morning, during the day when you have the house to yourself, or whether you’re a night owl type, there is always a time to write, so don’t make excuses. Make it a habit.
3. Switch off all electronic communications such as phones or emails. Don’t go anywhere near the internet. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by social media.
4. Make to do lists. Use it as a motivational push, whether it’s a word count list, an ideas list, a planning list, a chapter list etc. They are visual reminders and help us to stay focused and disciplined and to stay on track.
5. Allow yourself plenty of breaks. It’s proven fact that rest increases productivity.  Not just longer rest periods, but little rest breaks throughout your writing sessions. Allow your mind to breathe and reflect. Go take five minutes in the garden. Walk the dog. Go stare at the stars for a little and let your mind wander. Go take a short walk in the park.
If you think your motivation is on the wane, it’s a sure fire signal to take a rest and refocus.
5. Do some reading. Reading your favourite authors has this magical quality of igniting your enthusiasm and making you want to write – it motivates us to want to be like our favourite authors, to be the best we can, it spurs us to get on with the job of writing.
6. Imagine someone, somewhere, is writing the same book as you, but they beat you to publication with it, leaving you in the starting line. So, what are you waiting for?
7. If you like to set yourself goals or targets, then do so. Set yourself a word count target per day, or a chapter, or whatever you feel you can realistically achieve. And stick to it.
NB - Don’t set yourself goals or targets if they cause you unnecessary stress. It’s counterproductive.
8. Set yourself a writing/reward system. It works in the same way as setting goals and targets, but by getting things done, you can reward yourself at the end. You have to do the work, however, to appreciate the reward. If you cheat by bypassing the work and going straight for the reward you will simply disappoint yourself and accomplish nothing.
I use this when my motivation feels depleted. If I write something – it might be 500 words or 1000 words of a story, or it might be an article – then I reward myself with some time playing computer games. That way I’ve accomplished something and I get to relax afterward.
For you it might be feet up, a drink of your favourite wine and a movie. Or it could be dinner out somewhere. The reward is whatever you make it, but you have to earn it first.
9. Enter a writing competition. This helps you concentrate on something different, away from the usual projects and it gives you a deadline to work to. Plus, there is always the prospect you might win something.
10. If you haven’t joined one, try joining a writing group or an online writing forum. There will always be somebody willing to help motivate and spur you on with advice and encouragement.
11. Music is known to help plenty of writers who use it to inspire and motivate them. I use this method all the time, because the right music can help create mood and atmosphere, it sets the scene to write, it creates the right frame of mind.
12. Have friends read your work and provide feedback. Whether it’s positive or negative, you’ll find yourself wanting to improve even further, it will make you want to write, because they are discussing your work.   
Motivation isn’t something that materialises the moment we start writing and stays with us for the duration. It’s like sunlight; it comes and goes, it fades, comes back, but it never truly vanishes. It’s always there, but sometimes we just have to find it.
Remember that somewhere, somebody will be working on an idea similar to yours. They might become successful at it than you, they might not, but as writers we have to acknowledge that we’re the only ones that can make it happen.
And whether sometimes we don’t want to, we can only make it happen if we simply get on with what we love to do - writing.

Next week: Everything you ever wanted to know about subplots