Five tips for writing around a day job…

Writing while holding down a full-time job can be a bit of a ‘mare at the best of times. Some authors write late into the evening, some get up at the crack of dawn. I’m lucky enough to be able to weave into my working week, and I thought you might want to see what my typical writing week looks like, followed by five tips that you might find useful. Firstly, here’s what this past week looked like…

MONDAY
AM
I live out in the sticks now, so on a weekday the whole family is up at 6, out the door by 7, and on our various busses and trains by 7:30. My commute into London takes about an hour and forty minutes. Plenty of time for writing! I’m fed and caffiened by this point, and raring to go. I generally get my best stuff done on the morning commute.

This particular morning, I was working on my first Woodville book. I’m currently about halfway through and it’s like wading through treacle, but progress is progress.

LUNCH
Mondays are podcast launch days, so I spend my lunch break on the social media for the new episode.
My wife Claire is a gardening blogger and author, and I worked on uploading her new gardening eBook to KDP.

PM
I’m working on a couple of projects with Jon Wright at the moment and he had been tweaking a pilot script we’re working on, which I reviewed on the train home and made a few light edits.

TUESDAY
AM
More Woodvile work. Averaging about 500-800 words each morning.

LUNCH
More Bestseller Experiment social media and I also send a newsletter out on my mailing list with details of the show.

PM
Worked on formatting Claire’s new eBook on Parsnips… very different to my usual stuff, but it’s nearly sowing season and she needs to get these online pronto!

WEDNESDAY
AM
Woodville – good progress. About 1000 words.

LUNCH
I added hyperlinks to Claire’s eBook. She links to seed companies and her videos on Youtube, so there are loads of them! Far more than any novel. I also worked on tweaking the keywords and metadata for Back to Reality and that afternoon I got a telling off from Amazon for adding a subtitle that has text that isn’t on the cover art. We were threatened with having the book removed if we didn’t amend it. Grr.

PM
Script rewrites on the train home for the thing Jon and I are working on. Really good fun as these are light changes, as opposed to the first draft slog of the Woodville stuff. It’s tempting to stick with this tomorrow morning, but I must be disciplined!

Mr. D and I had planned to record the podcast tonight (we usually record on a Monday), but due to all sorts of extenuating circumstances (and Canadian weather!) we’ve have to postpone it. Will we get an episode out in time for next week…?

THURSDAY
AM
Woodville. Hitting my stride with this noise. Daily word count is improving.

LUNCH
I listen to the interview I recorded with next week’s guest, making notes in anticipation of recording the pre- and post interview stuff with Mr. D. Also make further tweaks to Back to Reality’s metadata. Claire and I also got our PLR statements. In the UK, every time a book is taken out of the library the author (and illustrator if applicable) gets 8 pence! My statement could pay for a takeaway pizza. Claire’s could pay for a nice weekend away!

FRIDAY

A day off from the day job at Orion. I spent the morning at home and Jon popped round to make the final changes to our pilot script before sending it off to our agent. We read it aloud, acting out the parts and pising ourselves laughing. Very good times.

In the afternoon, the Canadian weather eases and Mr. D’s power is back on, so we record Monday’s episode, plus the Deep Dive episode for Patreon listeners. Poor Dave our editor only has a few days to cobble our witterings together!

SATURDAY

Dave sends us the rough edit of the podcast and I listen back, making notes and suggestions for edits, as well as writing the description you read on the website/iTunes etc and the keywords we use for the blog.

No other writing done today (apart from the first rough draft of this blog!)

In the afternoon, I read an excerpt from a friend’s book and send him some notes.

SUNDAY

Today is our wedding anniversary, so me and the family went to see a movie and had a cheeky Nando’s for lunch, and now I’m writing this blog, but I’m already thinking about what I’ll be writing tomorrow…

 

Five tips for writing around a day job:

  1. Spot and schedule: Spot those spare moments in your week and schedule those as writing times. They don’t have to be long. We’ve had guests on the podcast who can work in fifteen minute bursts. Little and often works best. Set reminders in your calendar and stick to them. There’s a temptation to be flexible with these times as it’s not a “proper job”. I’m very protective of these slots and treat them with the same weight as meetings scheduled for my day job.
  2. Shut out distractions: You might be working on the train, or the office, or a busy home. There will always be noise and distractions and, if you’ve only got half an hour in which to write today, then those distraction will eat that up in no time. Find a quiet spot and shut the door. Make it clear to your colleagues and loved ones that you’re not to be disturbed. If you do work in an office, get away from your desk if possible. Otherwise, you’ll have colleagues interrupting you with work queries in your break. At work I’ve been known to stick a Post It note on my headphones with “Sorry, can’t talk: Writing” written on them… It works! Your colleagues might think you’re mental, but it works. I love a pair of comfy noise-cancelling headphones for my train journey, and I currently use an app called Scape which plays woodland noises etc, which I find really conducive to productivity (I still have music playlists, but are finding them a little too distracting at my age!).
  3. Finish mid-sentence: If you’ve only got a short time in which to write, there’s nothing more likely to eat into that time than you sitting there, staring into space, wondering what to write next. I try to finish any session mid-sentence, so when I return to writing I simply finish that sentence/thought/scene/paragraph and I’m already up and running.
  4. A.B.T: Always Be Thinking. You might not be able to write all the time, but you should engage your brain for some good, solid thinking as often as possible. Five minutes on your hands? Skip back to what you were last writing: what were the problems? How can they be solved? What happens next? And whatever you think of, for the love of criminy take notes! If you’re anything like me, you’ll have forgotten everything by the time you get back to writing.
  5. Write early, edit late: This is a personal one, and perhaps more to do with being middle-aged and sluggish, but I work on new stuff in the morning when I’m bright and breezy, and edit that same work in the evening when I’m lacking buzz and energy. I also have a method that I call Be Kind Rewind: whenever I get stuck, I’ll go back and edit/rewrite the previous 500 or so words. By the time I’m done working on them, I usually have enough momentum going that I crash through any block that I might’ve had when I started.

If you found those helpful, please share with your fellow writers. How do you work around the day job? Please leave your comments below…

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Brandon Sanderson on the podcast this week!

A bit of a legend on this week’s podcast. Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to grab an interview with fantasy titan Brandon Sanderson while he was on his UK tour for the truly mammoth Oathbringer.

I’ve seen Brandon at a few convention panels in the past, and he always gives thoughtful answers, and he has his own podcast – the excellent Writing Excuses – so I knew he would be a terrific guest. And this was one of the reasons we opened the questions to our Patreon supporters, who gave us some cracking queries for Brandon, and some of whom are currently freaking out on social media having heard his replies.

You can listen to the interview here.

Thanks to the wonderful Stevie Finnegan for finding time in Brandon’s busy schedule for us!

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If you liked that episode and want some more, we’ve started having post-podcast deep dive discussions for our Patreon supporters. You can support us and get the extra content here.

And if you’re looking for something new to read in 2018, then grab a copy of our novel Back to Reality on Kindle now!

SHANNON MAYER

Lara Dearman on the Bestseller Experiment

We had the brilliant and all round lovely author Lara Dearman on the podcast this week. Lara is a debut novelist who has gone from community college courses to a major publishing deal with her book The Devil’s Claw. It’s an inspirational listen and I know Lara will go on to great things. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN NOW

Also have a listen to this week’s Deep Dive, where Mr. D and I discuss the topics brought up by our chat with Lara, and I reveal my true feelings about Enid Blyton. CLICK HERE for a wee snippet.

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If you liked that episode and want some more, we’ve started having post-podcast deep dive discussions for our Patreon supporters. You can support us and get the extra content here.

And if you’re looking for something new to read in 2018, then grab a copy of our novel Back to Reality on Kindle now!

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In Defence Of Plot Holes

There’s been a lot of chatter online regarding a certain new space opera movie. I forget what it’s called. Flash Starkiller and The Laser Sword of Doom or something. In amongst all the manbaby cries of “You ruined my childhood by making it for girls!” there is a common criticism that actually carries some heft. Here’s when one reply I got when I blogged about how much I liked the film…

It can’t be denied that the film has plot holes. One occured to me only this morning: if Luke flew his X-Wing to Ach-To, how did he do it without Artoo? I didn’t think you could fly an X-Wing without an astromech… okay, maybe you can, or because The Force, or whatever?

That’s just one of many little niggles in the story, but here’s the thing, and you might want to be sitting down for this one… Ready? You sure…?

ALL OF THOSE SPACE LASER SWORD MOVIES ARE FULL OF PLOT HOLES!

All of ’em. Here’s a few that come to mind…

  • Just how long was Luke traning on Dagobah? The weeks/months/years it takes to become a Jedi, or the few hours it took the Falcon to fly to Bespin?
  • Why would Obi Wan take a baby Skywalker to the planet where his dad was born and not bother to change the kid’s name?
  • Why did the Death Star come out of hyperspace so far away from Yavin and give the Rebels so much time to prepare?
  • Who did Leia’s hair and makeup in the Ewok village?

And that beloved saga isn’t the only one suffering from holy story syndrome:

  • How did Andy’s poster get back on the wall in his cell in The Shawshank Redemption?
  • Who heard Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud”?
  • What was Bruce Willis doing in his downtime when he wasn’t hanging out with the kid on the Sixth Sense?
  • Almost all of the finale of Ocean’s 11
  • Every Bond film ever made
  • Just how did Tom Hagen cut that horse’s head off in the Godfather without waking anyone? And I’ll buy lunch for anyone who can explain the plot of The Godfather II to me without hesitation, repetition or deviation.

Most, if not all, stories have plot holes in them. I would go so far as to say that life itself is full of plot holes, but this isn’t a post-Brexit therapy group so let’s move on.

We’re willing to gloss over plot holes because WE RESPOND TO STORIES ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL. And boy do we get emotional when we talk about beloved series and characters. And because they’re so beloved they’re put under far more scrutiny than those lesser movies we might watch once and then forget.

As a writer, this doesn’t mean you now have licence to fill your script with gaping plot holes. We all vary in our tolerance of plot holes, and you need to work hard to ensure that your story makes sense. When you spot a hole you need to fix it, and don’t just paper over the cracks hoping we won’t notice.

Always work under the supposition that your audience is smarter than you are.However, it’s inevitable that one or two might slip through, no matter how rigorous you are, especially if you’re writing science fiction and fantasy where you’re working with magic and hyperspace and other wonders that don’t exist.

But ask yourself what’s more important: a watertight logic puzzle, or a fairytale that punches you in the gut? I know it’s not an either/or situation, but I know which end of the spectrum I veer towards.

May The Force Be With You and Toto’s still going to be put down by Mrs. Gulch when Dorothy wakes…

Until next time, happy writing!

Mark

PS. Don’t get me started on people who think they’re clever pointing out petty continuity errors in movies.

PPS. That novel I wrote with Mark Desvaux doesn’t have a single plot hole in it. Not one. I dare you to find one. Grab your copy here and prove me wrong.

PPPS. Oh, and if you want to support our work on the podcast, we now have a Patreon. Do please support us and we can keep this train rolling.

Subscribers to my newsletter get this kind of stuff before anyone else, the lucky things. You can join their ranks by signing up here (and you can choose a free eBook while you’re at it!)

My plans for 2018, and your favourite episode of the Bestseller Experiment revealed…

Okay, maybe the answer to the latter is obvious as it’s the one episode that we go on about more than any other, but I think you’ll enjoy the countdown of our top five as it contains some of my favourite moments. Have a listen here.

And there’s a little mini episode introduced by our editor Dave (who has a great trailer voice!), where you can hear clips from the Deep Dive extras for Patreon supporters. Me and Mr. D talk about New Year’s Resolutions, which I don’t really do, but last year I did make a list in my diary of the things I wanted to achieve with my writing in 2017. They were…

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BOOM! Managed to get a tick on all of those… There might be something in this list making stuff after all…? The smudge is a top secret film project that I’m working on with Jon Wright, and there’s definitely been some action on that front, though the problem with film and TV is that so much of it is out of your hands (especially if you’re the writer) that you can make all the lists you want, it ultimately comes down to all sorts of ducks and stars aligning, so I find it’s less stressful to just go with the flow.

So what do I want from 2018? Here’s the current wish list…

  • Get my fantasy novel The End Of Magic published (more on that soon!)
  • Self-publish at least one of my Woodville novellas
  • Get some TV assignment work
  • Get one my spec scripts optioned/off the ground

How hard can it be?

What are your writing plans for 2018? Whatever they are, I’d love to hear about them. Sharing the pain is half the fun of being a writer. Until next time, keep writing!

 

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If you liked that episode and want some more, we’ve started having post-podcast deep dive discussions for our Patreon supporters. You can support us and get the extra content here.

And if you’re looking for something new to read in 2018, then grab a copy of our novel Back to Reality on Kindle now!

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Your favourite episodes of The Bestseller Experiment (part one)

In an act of seasonal optimism/hubris (delete as applicable) we released a new episode of the podcast on Christmas Day this week. It’s the first of a two-parter in which we reveal the top ten favourite episodes as voted for by our listeners… and in typical Bestseller Experiment style, our top ten is actually a top twelve. Oh well… Have a listen here and let me know if the episode you voted for is here…

 

In this episode you will discover…

  • The most important lessons we’ve learned from our guests
  • Which author we were most nervous about interviewing
  •  How Donald Trump was key to our success
  •  The names of those on Santa’s “Nice” list

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN NOW

If you liked that and want some more, we’ve started having post-podcast deep dive discussions for our Patreon supporters. You can support us and get the extra content here.

And if you’re looking for something to read over the Christmas holiday, then grab a copy of our novel Back to Reality on Kindle now!

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Book Review: Back To Reality by Mark Stay and Mark Oliver

This just made my day…

Rhoda Baxter

Back to Reality: The feel-good novel of the year!Back to Reality: The feel-good novel of the year! by Mark Stay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve listened to the Marks’ podcast (The Bestseller Experiment) for a year and I was keen to read the book to see if it was any good. And it was!
It’s a fast and funny time slip type story. 42 year old Jo (with her unhappy life) suddenly finds that she’s swapped bodies with 24 year old Yohanna who is really Jo from an alternate reality. They have to get back into each other’s bodies before their time runs out and one of them dies.

Having listened to the podcast I felt weirdly affectionate towards this book even before I started it, like I’d watched this story grow up, and there are certain bits (like the character names) that popped out as Easter eggs. This added an extra dimension to…

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We got Mike and Linda Carey on the podcast!

I first met Mike Carey about ten years ago. We shared the same agent at the time, and have to admit I struggled to reconcile this friendly, soft-spoken man with comics like Lucifer and Hellblazer, but I soon learned that people who write horror stories tend to be the nicest and most well-adjusted creative types out there. Having written a few horror scripts myself, you soon find that you can put all your anxieties and dark thoughts on the page where they belong.

I was delighted to finally interview Mike and his wife Linda for The Bestseller Experiment podcast, and we cover some key topics, including…

  • How comics can help you structure a story, and the key differences between comics, novels and screenplays
  • How co-writers can find a single voice with harmony and negotiation
  • How your short story can evolve into a full-length novel
  • How sequels can evolve from the negative space of the first story

You can listen now here!

If you liked that and want some more, we’ve started having post-podcast deep dive discussions for our Patreon supporters. You can support us and get the extra content here.

And if you’re looking for something to read over the Christmas holiday, then grab a copy of our novel Back to Reality on Kindle now!

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How Rian Johnson just saved Star Wars

This blog post has MASSIVE SPOILERS for Star Wars The Last Jedi, so if you haven’t seen it yet, please scroll no further than the porg of spoilderdom…

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Ready for spoilery thoughts? Here we go…

“You have to kill the past,’ says Kylo Ren in Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars saga. To say that this film has been divisive would be an understatement, but the film wears its themes on its sleeve, and the viewer soon discovers that this will be no ordinary Star Wars story. It opens with a comedy sketch co-starring Adrian Edmonson, followed by Luke tossing his lightsaber over a cliff, then the Resistance fleet is all but wiped out, General Leia is ejected into space, Admiral Ackbar discovers that even he can’t repel scripts of this magnitude, and no one says “I have a very bad feeling about this,” or any of its variants, which might be a first for the series.

This is an irreverent movie, and thank the Maker for that. I enjoyed The Force Awakens and Rogue One very much, though both were quick to doff the cap to tradition and tiptoed very carefully through the minefield of fan expectation. Johnson’s film streaks gleefully through the minefield, flipping the bird at any man-baby fanboy appalled at the liberties he takes (and it does seem to be all men complaining… We really have to stop getting so petulant about stuff like this, guys).

As I watched, I kept thinking; “I didn’t know the Force could do that,” and “Ooh, that’s new!” and it engaged me in a way that a Star Wars film hasn’t done since Return of the Jedi, and it’s given me a fun quote that I’ll be using on my kids for years to come: “Congratulations. Everything you just said in that sentence is wrong.”

It’s not perfect. The middle is pretty baggy, Snoke is still uninteresting as a villain. and threads are set-up and resolved a little too quickly – mainly the excursion to Canto Bight and Poe Dameron’s mini-mutiny – though one has to wonder if the latter of these was affected by the sudden passing of Carrie Fisher. (Pauses to sniff and make excuses about something in my eye)

Fisher is heartbreakingly good in the few scenes she’s conscious in, and it makes you wonder how great she would have been had she lived to complete the role. Hamill shines, giving a career-best send-off to a character that started as a callow youth, and ends a grizzled, regretful war veteran in hiding. His final vision of two suns setting is a wonderful bookend to his story, and a genuine lump-in-the-throat moment.

For me, the most thrilling part of this film is its message that anyone can be the hero now. You don’t have to be a Skywalker, or even a distant second cousin, or a collection of immaculate midichlorians, as many thought Rey to be. You can be Rose, or her sister Paige, or that stable boy and his friends at the very end. Heroism doesn’t require a special lineage, you don’t need to come from a renowned family, or be in the top percentage of society. In a time when we’re seeing the powers-that-be on their worst behaviour, that’s a very important message for any yoot watching this film. And this is a film for the young fans; giving them ownership of the series with a range of diverse and interesting new characters. Maybe that’s why the older fanboys are so distressed…? Someone else is playing with their toys and they’re not playing by the rules…

Curiously, and refreshingly, the film doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Rian Johnson has cleared the decks and JJ Abrams now has a free reign to wind-up the trilogy any way he pleases. I hope he has as much fun with his new film as Rian did with his, and takes advantage of how Rian Johnson just saved Star Wars saga from disappearing up its own continuity. The fact that none of us has the first clue where this is going next is really exciting and I can’t wait for Episode IX.

The best shortbread cookies you’ll ever taste!! Honestly!!

I heartily endorse this message…

Clairesallotment's Blog

When the weather outside is very cold, frosty, and wet, playing in the garden isn’t an option. So you can either do a massive pile of ironing (nah!), or those other boring household chores that you try and put off for as long as possible (do I have to?). Instead, you can get out your cookery books, look through the recipe books, and bake some of the most wonderful shortbread cookies ever. You can add whatever flavourings you like, just keep the basic shortbread the same.

So why not make the house smell wonderful, and once you’ve made your cookies, sit down with a couple of them and a nice cup of tea. The ironing can wait for another day…..

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