Sunday, 19 January 2014

How long is a piece of string?

"It's 90,000 I tell you, Fool!"
"We'll see about that," said Roger.
I'm writing a book with a friend. She says it needs to be 90,000 words, and I say it will be as long as it will be. So obviously, instead of the usual pistols at dawn scenario, we turned to Mrs Google.

There are no end of blog posts about the subject, and it actually appears that lots of people agree with my friend, lots of other people think it can be much shorter and lots of people think it can be much longer. What Mrs Google appears to be telling me is that a women's novel can be anything between 50,000 and 250,000, although if it is your debut novel both are unlikely to be published traditionally. (Unless of course it is a work of utter undeniable genius, as ours will surely be.) A more normal range appears to be between 60,000 and 125,000, so although I am loathe to admit it, my friend's middling 90k target was sort of right.

After a hard days work,
Mrs Google enjoys a hearty sing song.
Except that I stand by what I said. Of course. Our story will be as long as it needs to be.

But what I want to know is, do other people write to fit a word count, or do you you write to tell the story? And if you do write to a word count, what do you do if you fall way short or go massively over?

Answers below, or on a postcard please...

Yes, but how long is a piece of string?

Monday, 6 January 2014

Imposter Syndrome

Call yourself a rabbit?
In theory, I am now ready to run, downhill all the way, into finishing the first set of edits on my women’s novel. I’m so nearly there…

But it has been three weeks since I last sat down to write, and in that three weeks Christmas, New Year, relatives, and the lack of routine have all been niggling away at me, whispering from cupboard tops and scratching the surface of my writer’s veneer. “Call yourself a writer?” they say. “Everyone else is better than you,” they mock. “Faker!” they sing, in tune with my morning alarm.

It’s not uncommon for me to have these bouts of self-doubt, and I know many of my writing friends who feel the same. When you self publish, you never get that moment of signing on the dotted line of a big fat book deal which signals you’ve ‘made it’, and external validation comes along drip by drop. Great reviews are always nice, connecting with appreciative readers is lovely, and sales of course are always good for the ego, and these continue even when you’re not writing. But it’s the writing, and writing more, which feeds the soul and cancels out the voices in my head; when I don’t write, when I have a ‘break’, the voices get louder and I can only ignore them for so long before they are shouting, “Imposter!”

Meerkats are the real cats.
The impostor syndrome, as it happens, is a genuine psychological phenomenon characterised by self-doubt, a sense of incompetence, fear, immobility and stress. Sufferers chalk up their accomplishments to luck, being in the right place at the right time, fluke. They may shy away from challenges, beat themselves up over mistakes and feel crushed by criticism. Chiefly, they live in fear of being found out.

For the most part, we don’t verbalise these feelings; we don’t put them into words. They are the hidden persuaders who lurk unseen and unacknowledged. When I am writing, when I am feeling good about myself, I can ignore them. But after a three week break, erk… they are starting to get on my nerves.

Dr. Valerie Young, a leading expert on the impostor syndrome, believes it's particularly persistent in creative fields such as acting or writing, where you think you're only as good as your last effort. She quotes Maya Angelou on her website… “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh-oh they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.” Mike Myers… “At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” And Meryl Streep… “You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’”
"I don't think they've spotted me yet," said a hopeful Mr Pickles.

So what’s the answer? Well there is a wealth of advice out there, including these top tips…
1. Talk about it
2. Write a list of all you have accomplished
3. Stop comparing yourself to others
4. Accept that you are not perfect, but neither is anyone else
5. Do what makes you happy…

Okay – so I don’t know if I am going to rush headlong into numbers 1 to 4, but even acknowledging the problem here has helped me a little, and I’m now ready to climb back up that hill, put on my running shoes and have me some fun.

Do you feel like joining me on the downhill leg?