To Count Or Not To Count

Word counts are both a bane and a boon for a writer. People living under a rock for the last sixteen days may not have a clue about Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). Simply put, it is an exercise undertaken by a collection of people who consider themselves to be writers to pen a fifty thousand word novel in a month or less. I am not currently participating in this interesting practise.  I have tried a few times over the years and “won” once or twice. If I’m honest though, the fifty thousand word splurges (or thereabouts) that have come out of my attempts at Nano, have been generally unworthy of ever showing to the humanoid world and not worth putting the effort into fixing up. One thing that I did take from this exercise is the practise and discipline of tracking word counts.

Some people refuse to count the words they write, opting to just wing-it instead. I am not one of these people. Working in accountancy, I have an odd affinity for numbers. I like certain number patterns, or any number containing a 2 (which is my favourite number incidentally… yes, it’s perfectly normal for someone to have a ‘favourite’ number – don’t judge). I don’t much care for the number 7, although I can’t fathom why. What I can tell you is that I obsess over word count. I have a spreadsheet that tracks progress of each book (as I usually work on several at the same time), over an annual period. So far this year I have written 225,741 words. Bearing in mind that these are tracked words for my bigger novels and exclude things like blog posts, shorter stories and anything that I’m not planning on either submitting to publishers or releasing into the stratosphere of self-publishing, the actual number of keyed utterances is probably far larger (possibly double).

What is the point of this weird obsession I hear you ask?

It’s all about progress. I’m an antsy and anxious person. I need to know that I’m achieving something, otherwise I’ll sit around worrying about how little I’ve achieved. If I can look at a document and quantify exactly how much (or on occasion – how little) I’ve achieved, then I can use the satisfaction of a growing word count to bolster my determination, or contrariwise, use the dissatisfaction of a waning growth rate to kick myself in the backside – proverbially of course. I’m not a contortionist.

I can’t fully explain or articulate the joy of seeing the word count at the bottom of my document hit 1,000. It’s a very satisfying milestone. I actually race towards the number 2,222, which gives me an unseemly and possibly inappropriate endorphin boost. Other numbers give short little bursts of happiness as I see them float across my screen. 5,000 – 10,000 – 22,222. I’ll never forget the first time I managed 10,000 words in one day, I was buzzing on a high for a long while afterward. I could probably go back to my old spreadsheet and tell you the precise date on which that occurred, but I know not many people besides myself would be genuinely interested in such minutia, so I’ll rein it in a little.

The point is, that for me, I cannot function anywhere near as well without a detailed tracking of just how many words I can manage to write on a daily basis. I therefore feel deeply connected to any of my fellow writer friends who insist upon sharing their word count updates with the world. I know it must be tiresome to anyone who doesn’t write, or who doesn’t track their word counts, so I can only apologise if you’re rolling your eyes as you read this. But to the rest of you who find themselves consumed with numbers almost as much as the words themselves, I say BRAVO! Count every one of those suckers you manage to squeeze out of your mind and shout it out loud when you hit an awesome number in your total count and feel free to let me know if you're a fellow obsessive counter. There’s no shame in that.


Write on


Sometimes life gives you lemons. I hear you’re supposed to make lemonade when this happens. The trouble is, life doesn’t give you the sugar and equipment to accommodate the making of lemonade. It just lumps a pile of mouldy, manky looking lemons in your lap and says “here you go you bastard.”

Life keeps throwing lemons at me lately. I wonder if the universe mistakenly has it on record that I can juggle, and is expecting me to put on some kind of farcical show of juggling fifty lemons whilst riding a unicycle through a pit of dragon fire. If only I could. Even then, I’m not sure if I could manage to make lemonade at the end of it.

What does this have to do with writing? Writing to an author is like brown sugar to junkie.  When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. When I’m not talking out loud, I’m listening to the voices in my head (I’m not crazy I swear…). These things don’t go away when the world sticks a big fat lemon in your life and expects you to put everything to one side to deal with it. In fact, it only makes the desire to write even stronger. It’s escapism. It’s fantasy. It’s a safe place. It’s a judgement-free zone. I can build and destroy a universe in one page and no-one gets hurt. I can fix things in my imagination that I can’t fix in real life. It’s addictive. It’s as simple or as complex as I want it to be. It’s cathartic.

But above all, I can control it.

When the world around me is turning to shit, I can open a document, write my heart out and disappear from that fucking great big lemon that won’t go away. It might only be for a minute, or if I’m lucky a couple of hours, but that’s better than nothing. Some people watch TV. Some people watch sports. Some people socialise (crazy people). Writers write. When I’m away in my own little world nothing can hurt me unless that’s part of the plot, and even then it’s only on my terms.

In times of crisis we gravitate toward comfort and safety. Right now, I’m not writing anything for the purposes of publication. I’ve pushed aside the projects and pleaded where I can for extensions to writing deadlines. Right now, I’m writing for pure personal edification and gratification. I’m writing because that’s all I know. I’m writing because if I don’t write I’ll have to deal with the un-lemonadeable lemon - to focus on what can’t be fixed or cured by me sitting around worrying about it.

Maybe when these lemons stop piling up I’ll get back to the serious stuff, but right now the less pressure the better.


Write on.


I am not perfect. No-one is. You aren’t either. It shouldn’t come as a shock, therefore, when we put our creative endeavors out into the world and ask the population to give feedback on it, and some of it ain’t so rosy. “You didn’t do X,” or “Why did you do Y?” or even “It’s utterly shit, don’t make people waste their time looking at it.”

Feedback, reviews, critique, writers love and loathe it. I need it. I crave it. I hate it. Gimme gimme gimme reviews but oh god I can’t stand to read them… it’s like some form of self-torture. Are we writers masochists?  It certainly seems that way sometimes.

I joined a local writing group recently. I told them about my books. These are a group of people, the majority of whom haven’t managed to complete an entire novel yet, let alone publish it. I’m somewhat of an anomaly to them. On my second visit to the group, one of the lovely ladies told me she had purchased my book and was reading it, and wondered if I would mind if she recommended it to her reading group. I nearly threw up in her lap, so visceral was my reaction to hearing that suggestion. Yes, oh my good yes, people reading my book? People wanting to talk to me about my book? Awesome… but, shit, they probably won’t like it. Statistically at least one or two of them will probably hate it. Even if they do like it, there will be bits of it they don’t like.

Cue “Why did you do X,Y,Z?” type sentences. Or “I thought Character A would have reacted differently in Chapter 19.” Or “What happened to Character B midway through the book was abhorrent and you are a bad person for even thinking it.”

I’m surprised I didn’t just throw up in her lap to be honest. That chain of thoughts went through my head in about a millisecond and my actual reaction was to just smile and mutter a lot of incoherent “um” and “uhh” type sounds. How eloquent.

I have to remind myself frequently that I am not perfect. My books are not perfect. As it is, another online reading group is currently reading The Machine, 60 or so perfect strangers looking, reading, JUDGING my words, my work. I started reading the book myself having not looked at it for at least six months and I cringe at the first few chapters. They are not well written. The writing improves markedly about a third of the way in, but I accept that some people might not make it to that point. What should I do? Pull the book for a rewrite? Do you think other far more famous and successful authors would do that? Would Stephen King consider rewriting Carrie all these years after? We change so much, so quickly as authors, as artists, as we grow and work. The improvement in my ability is evident within the chapters of my debut novel, never mind the others that have come afterwards. Is it fair to judge my ability as a writer now on something I wrote two years ago when I was far less experienced?

I don’t know. I’m still not perfect. I’m better than I was, but not as good as I will be. I think that’s why it’s so hard to take the negative feedback. The nit-picking comments. The snide remarks. “I’ve improved!” is a pretty poor response. I can’t really expect people to take that into account when reading the book I wrote two years ago.

But what I would ask people to remember is that I’m human. I wrote a book. It’s not perfect. It was never meant to be perfect. The only intent behind the endeavor was to write something that would be enjoyable to read. You can pick it apart, pull it to pieces and put it back together again as much as you want, but all I really want to know is “did you enjoy it?”

If the answer is no, then never mind. Thanks for taking the time to read it anyways. You can’t please them all.

If the answer is yes, then that’s good enough for me.

The critique I will take. I will listen and consider. I may absorb some of it into my future literary endeavors. Then again I might not. After all, nobody is perfect. Not even you.


I have recently been offered the opportunity to write blurbs for other authors in exchange for a fee. Now don’t get me wrong, I jumped at the chance, I mean who doesn’t want to get paid for their writing? But it got me thinking just why is it so hard to write a blurb?

To start with, let me explain, the blurb is that bit on the back cover of the book that gives you a little peek at what the book contains (or the short introduction paragraph that you see provided for an ebook). It is not a summary per se, and certainly not a synopsis (which is another evil piece of work). Its purpose is similar to that of the cover - to capture a reader’s attention and draw them in. To give away a little clue as to what awaits inside the cover. Therein lies the difficulty. When you have a full length novel, filled with amazing world building, detailed characters and an intricate plot, how can you be expected to extract just a tiny piece of that beautiful masterpiece to present as representational of the whole?

It’s hard, believe me. I’ve done it myself four times now and I sit there staring at the blank paper thinking “Why? Why must I do this horrid thing?” but there are a few tricks you can use to overcome the moment of despair.

1)      Pick a character (or a couple of your main characters) to mention and consider their traits - e.g. John B knew his habit of collecting newspaper cuttings of serial killers would get out of hand one day, little did he know just how bad a habit it was.

2)      Consider including a mention of the setting of your book – e.g. Sam J spent his life riding the rails on the steam locomotives

3)      Include a hint at a hurdle – a situation that your characters are faced with in the book

4)      Try to keep the blurb below five hundred words, any longer and you risk waffling with information that although no doubt important, is not pertinent to the goal of the blurb.

Also go and look up some of your favourite books on amazon and read the blurb that is presented for them. Figure out what works and what doesn’t and see if you can apply the same formula to your own work.

If all else fails, then you can always pay someone else to do the work for you… I can think of at least one person who offers such a service ;)


Write on!

The Underdog Genre

When I began writing my erotic romance book,  I started it for no reason other than I had this story in my head that wouldn’t go away. I viewed it simply as an exercise in writing with no intention of writing a whole book, let alone a series, and certainly wasn’t considering publishing. Well here we are several months later, the first book is out, the second is half way done and the series will be a trilogy – this damn story just will not go away.

What I have learnt since embarking on the next phase after the first draft was completed – you know the phase no-one tells you about, the networking, the marketing, et cetera – is that erotica is generally looked down upon by the literary elite. I tell my authorly friends that I’m publishing an erotic romance and watch their noses screw up in disgust. I know why. There are lot of badly written books in the world, especially when it comes to erotic works. It is very easy to write a bad erotic book with one dimensional characters (and that’s being generous) and a non-existent plot. Add to the fact that erotic books – in spite of having a humongous audience – are still seen as a guilty pleasure, a naughty taboo, something people just don’t admit to reading. Most writers who do publish erotica do so under a pseudonym. So for me to stand up and proudly announce that I’ve written one and stuck my name on it in big letters, people look at me like I’m mad.

But guess what folks? I’m not. I approached this book as with any other. I began first and foremost with the characters. I’ve said before that the thing readers connect with in a book is the characters. Not the plot, not the worldbuilding, not the situations – the characters. I didn’t even start to think about sex (even though there is a sex scene right at the beginning of the story), until I knew a lot about who my starring people were. Then followed the plot, which is born from the characters and their needs and desires, then the worldbuilding and so on. The sexy parts of the story are entirely relevant to the plot. This – I hope – is what takes my work, and any other good erotic story, and sets it apart from the plethora of ‘bad’ erotica out there.

Additionally, my approach to the actual naughty bits was considered. I avoided the overly graphic descriptions, any that you might spot are sparsely scattered and carefully placed. You can write erotica without being vulgar. Neither do I sugar coat it, I call a spade a spade, nobody gets ‘deflowered’ the sexy parts are sexy.

Am I still glad to have stuck my name on it? Absolutely. I stand by the work. I’m not ashamed of it in any way shape or form and if you think I should be then you are the one with the problem, not me.

Here’s to good erotic literature. It is looked down upon, sneered at and thought of as the underdog genre. Pushed to the darkest corner of bookshops (if at all) and condemned as poor writing for horny housewives by literary snobs who secretly like a good hard hump just as much as anyone else. Don’t discount erotic work without first reading one of high-calibre, and if you don’t know where to start, I can make a good recommendation ;)

Check out the look inside feature and see if you get hooked…

Write on!


First blog of 2016 and I’m rolling out the big guns. This “issue” has affected virtually every writer who has ever existed at some point in their writing experience. It’s upsetting, distressing and can leave you in a rut for months if not years.

Do I have a solution?

Not directly, BUT, I would like to offer a different perspective. Thinking about it a different way has helped me to get through these moments a lot quicker.

The majority of time wasted in writing involves us making a decision.  I came to a full stop the other day when I had to name a new character. I wasted over an hour trawling through my facebook friends names and baby names and name generator sites until I got the answer. That’s a whole bunch of time wasted on one small issue. It would have been easier to stick a placeholder in and keep on writing.

Bigger decisions need a different approach. Consider you have put character X and Z into situation A and we want to move them to situation B. A and B might be a universe apart physically and/or conceptually, so the journey between the two needs to be seamless. The trouble comes when we don’t know how it happens. So we sit and stare at the screen and then go waste time on social media whining about writers block. None of which is going to help you fix the problem.

If you’re a plotter, the answer is easy, just keep writing down options and ideas until you find the one that fits best and then go write it.

For me, the only way I get out of this is by forcing myself to write. I’m not much of a plotter. I’ll make vague notes about certain key points that I want to hit over the course of a book, but the rest is pure flow. The solution is virtually the same, stop worrying about the how and just start writing. If the first thing you try doesn’t work then don’t be afraid to delete and start over. Frustrating as it may be, it’s part of the process, a necessary evil.

Once you know WHAT you’re writing, the block will pass.


Write on!


I’ve been struggling with a chapter in book three for weeks. It’s not like me to get so stuck. I know the action that I want to happen, but for some reason my brain has stopped effective communication with my fingers. I think there’s some kind of war going on between them that they haven’t told me about. It’s like having two naughty children who have declared each other mortal enemies over some small spat and there is just no talking to them.

I’ve tried it all

– I’ve ignored the book for a few days hoping I can come back to it refreshed

– I’ve physically forced myself to write even though I know the words are awful and will need a heavy edit

– I’ve tried reading a new book to see if that will spark the imagination.

None of it has helped.

I don’t want to call this writers block, because as I said before, I know what to write, I know what happens in the scene/chapter, I’m just struggling with the ability to write.

Then I had a mini breakthrough. A small nugget of character dialogue popped into my brain and I know precisely where it belongs, right at the end of the chapter. So I wrote it, leaving a big gap between the linear parts that are done and the bit I’m working towards. All I have to do is fill in the stuff in-between. Now I have that goal to work towards it feels as though a fog has lifted and as soon as I have the time to focus on it properly (preferably without being bleary-eyed from a lack of sleep), I know I’ll be able to move on.

So next time you’re stuck, try the back-to-front approach. Write the end point of a scene/chapter/entire book and with any luck it may clear the miasma of ineffectiveness.

Good luck

Write on!


Hollywood has sold us a dream. Ever noticed how almost all the movies that come out have a rather formulaic plot? There’s the conflict, the characters, the love sub-plot, the bad guy who adds to the conflict, the build-up of tension, the near-fatal moment where we think all is lost AND THEN it all resolves nicely just before the credits roll. Even if a few beloved characters are killed along the way, even if half the world is destroyed, even if the original goal was not achieved, somehow it gets turned around and the audience is left feeling all warm and fuzzy as if all is right in the world.

Now, I know there are examples where the formula is switched up and turned on its head. I know there are prime examples of unhappy endings, but the vast majority still follow this formula to this day. Consider, then, do books do the same?

I believe (generally speaking) that they do, and there is a very good reason for it. We engage in hobbies like reading and watching movies to immerse ourselves in a fantasy world. We want horror movies to frighten us, while in reality we sit comfortably with popcorn in our laps. We want a romance to make us feel all smooshy inside even if we’re lonely in real life. What we don’t want is to invest time and money in something that leaves us feeling confused and/or depressed at the end of the story. We want to leave the characters behind with a smile on our faces as we slowly return to reality and waddle off to our real lives in a daze.

Consider this when you’re writing your story. You don’t have to have a happy ending, but what happens in the end will be the last moment your readers experience in the world you’ve created, so make sure it’s meaningful and worthwhile, give your readers something to remember and send them away feeling fulfilled and gratified. You can do this, even with a sad ending if you put enough care into it.


Write on!


So, my first book is one month away from publication. One month. I started writing the book in January 2015. To go from scratch to publication (with an actual proper publisher I might add) in less than twelve months for a previously unpublished author is not bad going in my book (pun intended). Add to that the fact that book two is complete and I’m a third through book three with contracts in hand for the whole bloody trilogy you could say I’m quite chuffed about the whole thing.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to understand the level of authority I’m about to apply. I’m no expert. I’m a newbie, a beginner, green as can be, but I’d like to share with you my thoughts on just how much stuff goes on after the first draft is completed before a book is actually presented to the world for sale.


Everyone has heard of it. Most writers have had some experience of it in some way or another. I wasn’t totally uninitiated in the world of editing, but I really had no idea just HOW MUCH editing went on. I’ve been told that as first drafts go, mine was fairly clean. Overall the structure didn’t change much so the majority of edits were grammatical, but it took AGES. Round after round, every word every comma, every sentence, paragraph, everything was read over and over and fiddled with until it was as perfect as could be. It took MONTHS – and it’s probably still not 100% perfect.


The cover design concept was mulled over, the artist chosen, the first sketch, the second sketch, tweaks here and there, on and on. I was lucky enough that the publisher had a physical painted version of my cover made up, it gives it a unique feel in comparison to the digitally designed covers that are the fashion these days. Again, it took MONTHS.


I use Microsoft word. I thought I was fairly good on formatting. Turns out that wasn’t the case. The words have been jumbled up and rearranged on the page so many times. Add the fact that ebook and print formats are both very different kettles of fish and you get the idea, it’s a lot of work, and every major change means another full read-through of the entire book.


There are so many places that sell books these days. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, istore – the list goes on and on, and you need to add the book to each of them and set up an author profile and link it to the book every time. Whilst I certainly had help in doing the profiles, it was something that I hadn’t even considered doing all those months ago when I was happily plugging away at my first draft thinking that once it was done, all the hard work would be over. How wrong was I?

Of course, I’m lucky, most of this work has been done for me by the publisher and my involvement after the editing stage has been limited. It’s still been exhausting and stressful and very educational. I will never again underestimate the work that goes into a book after the writer has finished the first draft.

Best of luck to any other writers out there who are trying to jump onto the wagon, it’s a hell of a ride.


Have you ever noticed how supposedly impartial news articles are utterly biased? I don’t read newspapers, haven’t done for years. They are generally filled with hateful opinion pieces that contain very little actual news. I occasionally catch up on what’s going on in the outside world by glancing at the BBC, but even they have their fair share of agenda pushing claptrap.

You know the one that really gets to me? When they say ‘Government U-turn on issue X’. It’s sensationalism at its best. If you look at it from a sensible point of view, what they are saying is, the Government originally had idea X, they looked into it and decided that it was not feasible nor cost effective in reality and therefore no longer wish to pursue it. That is how I would expect the Government to act. To blindly push on with your ideas without regard to their usefulness nor effect on others is how dictatorships are born. However a headline of ‘Government acts in a reasonable manner on issue X’ won’t make sales.

This use of language to twist how an idea is presented is utterly relevant to writers. The way we tell the story directly reflects our opinion of it and is how we try to guide our readers opinion. If we were to write in an entirely impartial and unbiased manner the work would read as though it were written by a robot. I think it’s important to consider the meaning between the lines of your work and how it presents to others. This way you know who you are likely to attract as a reader (i.e. someone of like mind to you) and who you are likely to repel.

Let’s say you have a character of ‘loose virtue’ in your book, if you consistently refer to him/her with negative language or even if you use your other characters to place that negativity onto that character for you, then that is the opinion you are trying to push onto the reader. Consider:

“Aaron is a complete slut, the first thing he does in the morning is trim his man bush to look tidy for whichever female he’s going to boink in the evening”


“Aaron is a free spirit, he loves all kinds of women... frequently”

The difference is subtle but the resulting spin is markedly altered.

So be careful what language you use in your work, it speaks volumes about you the writer, and your characters position on certain subjects and will ultimately project onto the reader in one way or another.


Write on!


Let me tell you about a ... uhh ... friend of mine. She was sitting on the toilet, minding her own business, doing her... business, when someone stuck their head around the door and started screaming really important information at her. I...she... had never got off the toilet, flushed, washed her hands and run back to her computer so fast in all her life.

That, dear reader, was an attack of the muse. To non-writers, the concept of a muse must seem like a bizarre imaginary friend that creative types carry around with them. I suppose that’s true in a way. Let me tell you though, that friend, is temperamental at best, often shows up at inconvenient times (see above) and if you throw them a party - put everything in place just the way they like it and dress yourself up all pretty, you’ll be disappointed to find they don’t turn up.

There is a reason my muse popped up whilst I was ‘otherwise indisposed’. I believe that inspiration sits on a very fine edge between the conscious and subconscious. During those moments when you are awake but not really paying attention to anything, you’re just functioning at a base level of awareness, running on auto-pilot, and your mind regresses into some hidden cave full of treasures. The vast majority of my plot and character revelations occur whilst I’m in the shower. Something about the white noise of the water, the soothing feel of getting clean and the utter bliss of warm water sends my mind into writer mode. My poor husband is learning not to speak to me until after I get out the shower and sit down at the laptop to frantically type up the shit I’ve just thought of. I get irrationally mad at him if he distracts me; it’s as if being brought back into the real world will cause me to forget something important in my imaginary world. Actually it’s not irrational to get mad, because that does happen. I’ll wager most writers have had that moment when they wake up in the middle of the night with some amazing revelation of story that they simply needed to act on and write down.

The trick is to try and replicate that state of mind during the times when you are sat with the document open – or pen in hand – ready to write. No easy task, granted. How to achieve that will vary from person to person. I like to listen to some calming instrumental music and zone out. It also helps to take a long walk or just sit quietly for a time with a blank mind.

The muse is a fickle creature, but when he/she wants to play it feels like you’re opening the best present ever on your birthday. Best of all, it’s free.


Write on.


I’ve read a good number of books. Some are fine, some are awful, a rare few are brilliant. I’ve taken a lot of time to think about what things make a book “good”. Of course it’s an entirely subjective issue as no two people appreciate the same things in the same ways. I adore Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, I know other people who just can’t see the appeal of them. So it’s difficult to pin down the exact elements that make a good story when readers have such a diverse range of likes and dislikes.

However, there are a few things that need to be right to take almost any book from blah to wow, I’ve already discussed the first and I believe, most important thing in previous blog posts – character. Another, equally important issue that is inextricably linked to character is emotion. I’ve written a good number of stories over the years that had interesting plots and good dialogue, but … they were shit. It has taken me far too long to figure out why. Only through reading a number of stories and analysing what it was that made them a thrill to read, did I start to notice what I was missing. Emotion.

Before you roll your eyes at me and say ‘oh here comes some rubbish about how every book needs a romantic subplot’ that is not what I’m talking about. We humans are emotional creatures. Emotions even exist in other species in ways that are observable and probably more complex than we can comprehend. Human beings live on an emotional level from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep – and even during sleep through our dreams. The most level-headed and detached people in this world are often the hardest to understand or make for the most terrifying people that exist.

As a reader we are actively (though not often consciously) seeking to empathise with the characters in a story and you can only do that if the author shows you how the characters feel through their experiences. Note I said ‘show’ not ‘tell’ this is a classic case of the old adage. I could write ‘Bob felt a bit peeved as Jill spoke’ which falls flat, or I could write ‘The sound of Jill’s voice was drowned out by the sound of Bob’s teeth grinding together’ – this is a rather unsubtle example, it could still be improved, but you get the point.

I often get hung up in the plot and the flow of the story and I have to go back and edit in the character emotions afterwards and only then does the story start to become something much more than just a bunch of people going through the motions.

So the moral is, your characters think and feel everything that is happening to them, don’t deprive your readers of those inner thoughts and experiences. Show the emotion.

Happy writing.