How to Make a Map of Your Fictional Setting

Often, the part of the writing process I enjoy the most is not writing. After living in Cornwall for three years while I was studying creative writing, I knew I wanted my story to be set somewhere on the coast.

I couldn’t get the narrow cobbled streets and the mesmerising shore out of my mind, and I wanted to write about them. But I did not want to base my story in a real place, so I decided to make up my own.

Of course, I could make it all up as I went and no one would probably notice any inconsistencies, but it made me uncomfortable no knowing where everything was. I needed to map out my characters route to work, to know where the train station was and how long it took them to get from A to B.

So I decide to make a map.

If you, like me, you fancy creating a map of your fictionalised setting, I’m here to give you ONE of the many ways in which you can achieve this.


What you will need:

  • 3 sheets of paper
  • various writing instruments: pencil, pen, a light grey marker
  • paints of any kind (I used diluted gouache in lieu of watercolours)
  • paintbrushes of various sizes
  • a smartphone with a camera or a scanner
  • a photo manipulation software with an overlay effect (I used Photoshop, but you can look for a free alternative which will get the job done).

Steps:

  1. Think about your town: what are the particular locations you need to make sure you include in your story? They can be places such as your characters’ homes, spots in town which they visit regularly (workplace, shops, parks) and any significant landmarks (town hall, beaches, museums). Make a list of all of them and try to think of where they are in relation to each other. Is your character’s commute to work 45 min by train? Then your characters either lives or works outside of town, or lives in a big city with lots of traffic.
  2. Find an online map generator. I used this one in order to get a ‘natural’ shape. None of us are cartographers, so you’re not expected to draw up a whole town all by yourself. Find inspiration where you can. I flipped through multiple iterations of coastal towns until I found one that I was happy with. I knew my setting was small, parallel to the coastline and that all the streets started in the centre of town. Once you find the most convenient one, save it and print it.
  3. Next, I recommend taping the print-out and a clean sheet of paper to a well-lit window. With a pencil, trace the general shape of the town, but did not worry too much about keeping all of the original details. They are not relevant. Instead, sit down with the minimal outline and begin to draw the main streets. For mine, I even outline the houses, but these may have been an ill-thought addition to my design because they took the best part of two hours to finish, albeit I do think it adds a bit more flair to the overall result. I also added a rail line, because it is referenced a few times in my novel. Draw any other details you think will help you, such as the windrose, a measuring unit etc. Trace over the pencil with a pen and mark out the main streets with the grey marker to make them stand out.
  4. The next step begins much like the previous one: take a new sheet of paper and trace the outline of the streets. This time, instead of meticulously outlining each house in the neighbourhood, apply some colour to the landscape. Don’t worry about finding the exact shade of green or blue. These details can be done in post.
  5. Lay the pages on a flat surface and take a picture of both maps (my recommendation is to use a mobile scanning app, there are some great free ones out there) and upload them onto your computer. Ensure they are straight and that you have captured the entire page. Crop out the margins until your flat surface isn’t showing anymore.
  6. I used Photoshop for this next step, but you can use any software which will allow you to overlay two images. (Canva is a great free option.) And then do just that! By taking the opacity down you can line up the two images so that the streets match up. If you want, this is where you can add other elements to your map – textures, street names and so on.
  7. Finally, play around with the colours and the contrast until you reach a result you are happy with, and… Ta-da!

I’m really happy with how mine turned out. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to help me locate my characters and it probably won’t make it in the novel (it’s not exactly a work of art and I’m not writing an epic fantasy), but I still love having it.

Have you ever created/thought about creating a map for your setting? I’d love to read about it in the comments!

-A. C.

My Publishing Research Project

I’m doing a study about stigma in publishing and I need both readers and authors’ help to collect meaningful data.

For years, publishing has been controlled by gatekeepers, people who have the final say in what is worthy of reaching an audience, but the digital revolution has brought with it more means for writers to self-publish. They can easily access goods and freelance services in order to edit, design, print and distribute a book, but how has their work been received?

The stigma around self-publishing has grown strong over the last decades, because this opportunity has opened up the marketplace to anyone who cares enough to put in a little bit of work, and that means more than a few bad cases have managed to get into readers’ hands, only to be discarded quickly due to their lack of quality.

My project aims to challenge this stigma. By collecting data from authors and readers, I want to raise the argument that self-publishing isn’t all bad, just like traditional publishing isn’t all good.

Here is where you can help!

Due to recent events that shall remain unnamed, social media engagements have gone down. The internet is flooded with additional content, and it is harder for online data collection to break through and reach the right audiences, or stay on their feed long enough to capture their attention. The more responses I get, the better I can understand what is happening and the more relevant this study becomes.

I am collecting data through two online surveys:

A Reader Survey

The first one is a survey aimed at readers – anyone who buys books online or in-person can fill this survey out. It looks at what influences book-buyers’ purchases in order to determine what someone who wants to self-publish might want to focus on in order to get their book into readers’ hands. This survey takes all but 5 minutes to complete.

Reader survey: https://forms.gle/QGscyncmJmTMQSeC8

An Author Survey

The second survey is aimed at published authors – anyone who has a book out there, or is soon to have a book out there, from self-published to traditionally published and everything in between, is welcome to fill this survey out. It looks at authors’ experience with publishing, trying to determine how much writers themselves contribute to the stigma. It is a bit more detailed than the reader one, but it should still only take 10 minutes to complete.

Author survey: https://forms.gle/5cTwhXHeb3QnCzJb9

If you fall under any of these categories or know someone who does, I would be ever so grateful if you could take a few minutes to answer the surveys and share them so that they can reach the right people.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and help me with my research!

-A.C.

The 4 Stages of My Creative Process

This is my dream desk, just FYI, possibly also facing a seaview.

At the start of this year, I was struggling with my creativity. What was troubling was the fact that I didn’t want to create anything. And for someone who hopes to make a career out of creativity, lacking the desire to create is like asking a surgeon to operate without a scalpel.

Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern emerge in my creative process: I get into a creative ‘streak’ and I ride the wave of excitement for a few days. I get drunk on the ‘fresh new-car scent’ of my creativity, but that gets old, fast. I get bored, frustrated, I feel out of my depth or I simply lose the desire to continue.

A thought came to me shortly after NY. It was more like a realisation: what I enjoy about being creative is getting to the end result, having a finished product I can show other people and be proud of. But to get there, I have to go through the process of making it. More often than not, I spend more time in that process than I do enjoying the end result before I move on to the next project.

And I asked myself: Wouldn’t it be so much better if I learned to enjoy the process itself as well as the final product?

But that, of course, created a snowball effect, because unless you sit down and think about it, it’s likely no one truly knows what their process is made of.

I sat myself down, turned the lamp on and pointed it in my eyes and began to interrogate what was happening inside my head.

“Do I have a process?” “Where does it start and where does it end?” “Is it a good process?” “What is a good process?”

That led to harder stuff, like asking myself why sometimes stuff didn’t work the way I wanted it to.

When Klaus and Elijah Are Talking About Their Mother's Grimoire ...

And because I am a massive nerd and my attention span shrieks at the sights of large, unmanageable tasks, I made a list, a chart, a rain-dance, and I was finally able to determine what my creative process looks like, at least, the way I see it. It turns out my creative process is less of a romanticised poetic ritual and more of an inquisition regarding my intentions.

I must make a disclaimer before I dive into it: I am no expert. This is my experience. This works for me, and it might work for someone else, but it might not. A grain of salt… yada yada.

These four questions are the cornerstones of my creative process:


Who is creating?

We all know the obvious answer since we are on my blog, talking about me. (I’m not a narcissist, I promise.) Just like you act a little different when you are in a room full of people vs when you are alone, there are different facets of your creative self, and they don’t always like to show up when you expect them to.

The reason why this is the first question I ask myself when I want to create is simple: you wouldn’t ask a carpenter to fly a rocket, and you wouldn’t ask a child to solve a political problem. While the results of doing those things might be interesting and at best amusing, in either case, you might end up with a catastrophe on your hands.

It’s been a while since I believed in the whole ‘muse’ concept because I don’t think any sort of being or notion is going to come to my rescue sent by the angels. I think the muse is often confused with who’s in charge of the operations…

“the muse isn’t speaking to me” = “the right person isn’t in the driver’s seat”

What am I creating?

It’s important to pick the best way to convey what you want to communicate. What form will best serve you and your goals for this particular creation? Is it a poem or a blog post? Is it a painting, a photograph, or a new system to organise your sock drawer? (The latter has been the answer to more problems than I care to share.)

Just like picking the best person for the job, it’s important to pick the best place for them to do it. Going back to my earlier analogy, you would not ask a surgeon to operate underwater. The instruments would float away, the patient would bleed out in minutes. It’s a fool’s errand.

How am I creating?

We’ve been talking about the mental process, but what about the physical act of creating? Sitting down (or standing) to make something sometimes requires as much forethought as to the previous points.

What tools do you need? Don’t limit this to instruments. Of course, you need a pen and paper to write a poem, but you might also need time, silence, a glass of wine? Some people like the sound of a café in the background (you can listen from home by looking for a playlist on the internet), while others like to listen to the rain beating against the window.

Whatever it is, make sure you gather your tools before you start. It’ll prevent you from getting distracted once you reach the coveted ‘flow’ state. But don’t fall into the trap of making the whole toolbelt indispensable, because as we have learned recently, the outside world is unreliable. In this case, like many others, less is more.

Why am I creating?

This question has the same answer 99% of the time. Because I need to get it out. Creation is the need to express. Love, anger, sadness, but also shock, order and ruminations of the mind. Our brains cannot hold it all in. The 1% left holds enlisted needs such as assignments, jobs, commissions etc, but I don’t really count those under the same creativity umbrella.

This question doesn’t always impact the process as much as the others, but it’s still a good one to ask.


Then I sit down and do whatever I need to do. If I feel lost or fed up, I go back to these questions. Now I find enjoyment in the routine, the process of moving forward question by question, and I don’t need to have all the answers at once. Having these four seems to be enough. I really love this quote by Neil Gaiman:

Sometimes it’s like driving through fog. You can’t really see where you’re going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you’re probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you’ll still get where you were going.

If you fancy it, please share what your creative process consists of and where do you apply it?

Until next time, I hope everyone is safe and healthy!

-A. C.

All About My Writer’s Notebook

Most writers I know have an addiction to something (coffee, Twitter, buying books, stationary). I have been collecting notebooks for years and years, and recently I have started to make my own. I really enjoy crafting my own supplies. I feel like it gives me a certain kind of creative independence, and it allows me to connect with my craft that much further.

Last week I prepared two notebook-making workshops as part of my university’s Summer Showcase, and I have three new notebooks which need to be given a purpose. If you would like to make your notebook too, you can follow this tutorial.

I finally have no excuse but to set up my own writer’s notebook, something that has been on my to do list for months.

In the past I’ve had a few pages with notes scattered about in my day planner, but it’s always difficult to recall which idea went into which planner. Every few weeks I would have to go back and rip those pages out so I could collect them in my archives.

I’ve heard a few of my favourite social media writing influencers talk about them, and they seem like a great tool to incorporate into my routine.

Reasons why you might use a writer’s notebook

To keep track of ideas that pop into your head while working on other projects. There is nothing more distracting than having an idea for a different project and being anxious you’re going to forget it before you’re ready to move on to it. Write it down and give yourself permission to forget about it (for now).

To collect information. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out and about enjoying my day when I hear or see something that I think would work great in my story and I’d have nowhere to write it down. Or if I did, I couldn’t find it when I sat back down at my desk.

To reflect on your writing practice. This is an essential skill I picked up while at university. Reflection not only helps vent out frustrations and clear your head, but it also allows you to analyse your practice and identify what you need to change or improve about it.

To leave something behind. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as that. My mum showed me one of my grandfather’s writing notebooks and I found it fascinating. I had no idea he was a writer up until that point, let alone the fact that he was a really good writer. Having that allowed me to connect with him on a deeper level as I didn’t get a chance to do so when he was alive because I was too young to remember.

To take the pressure off. I always experience ‘performance anxiety’ when it comes to starting a new story. The blank page exerts too much pressure on my fragile new ideas, so having a place where I can develop them and free-write is a great way to relieve that added stress.

How do you start a writer’s notebook?

You don’t have to go to the extremes that I did. I just love crafting, so I made my own notebook. But any store-bought alternative will do for this. Keep it accessible for your lifestyle!

Make sure whatever alternative you choose is something that is attractive to you, something that will make you want to come back to it time and time again.

I made my cover from upcycled materials: I found the blue paper in a waste pile in the library and I gave it a little spruce with a decorative doodle. The black ribbon has been waiting in a ‘random drawer’ for a while and it was just the perfect size for the project. Finally, I chose to leave the spine raw because I like the way the rows of stitches look in contrast with the elegance of the bow.

What I included in my notebook

-Contents page. This is not for every single thing that goes into the notebook, just things I know I will want to come back to over and over again, such as notes from my reading or templates/maps etc.

-Notes of encouragement. This section (3 spreads) is used to collect kind comments I have received about my writing over the last three years and moving forward. The process of writing them all down has been beneficial to my confidence already.

-Reflections. I will, of course, continue the habit of keeping a reflective journal as part of my writing practice. It’s truly helpful to me, and a tangible way of tracking my progress. 1-2 pages per writing session are usually enough for me.

-Collected words/quotes. Sometimes I really like the sound of a word and I want to remember it so I can use it in a later project. They usually end up on random bits of paper that get lost.

-Character notes. I come up with characters more than I do with story ideas or plot points, so this is a given for me.

-Notes & free-writing. Just general notes, a space for all of those little scenes that just jump out and disappear like a rabbit in front of a car’s headlights. The notebook is there to make sure they land safely.

-Clippings. Pictures, newspaper stories, anything that catches my eye and sparks a line of dialogue or a good metaphor is worth recording in some way.

So, there you have it, all about my writer’s notebook. I’m excited to explore more of its uses, and I want to hear your suggestions about the kind of things I might keep in it. Do you have a writer’s notebook? If yes, what do you keep in it?

What is Writing?

What is writing, after all?
A form of communication.
A listing of symbols through which we convey meaning.
I am of the belief that it’s a kind of magic.
It’s time-travel.
It’s the undenied profession of human existence.
It’s a ritualistic expression of self and discovery.
It’s catharsis, murder without jail.
It’s growing up on advice to your younger self.
It’s an ailment to ignorance.
It’s a remedy for innocence.
It’s miss-demeanour in the form of truth.
It’s honour in the form of lies.
It’s clandestine thoughts finding a home.
It’s nonsense with meaning.
It’s the bridge between idea and feeling.
It’s a nest of possibilities.
It’s What Ifs? coming to life.
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How I Write

Recently, I had a flip through How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors by Dan Crowe and Phillip Oltermann, and was fascinated to learn about all the quirky rituals and specific places that help writers complete their work, and found a few inspiring. I realised that we all have quite particular ways of doing things, and in this post, I will share how I practice writing and what helps my craft be as effortless as it can be.

Where do I write?

The place where I write changes depending on what it is I am working on. If it’s a new idea, something that’s barely taken its first breath onto the page, I like to write at home, wherever home happens to be that day (I move a lot). This helps me develop the idea in a safe space, where no one can distract me from it, and the novelty of it is enough to keep me engaged.

If it’s something I’ve been working on for a while, I like to work in a crowded place, but one where no one is going to bother me — coffee shops, the library, on a plane… Because once I’m settled on an idea, I get distracted easily, so being in a public space keeps me conscious of what I’m working on. I can’t exactly scroll through Pinterest in a library where working spaces are scarce and people wander around waiting for one to open up.

How do I get started?

Coffee. Hot or iced, sweet or bitter, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s coffee. Keep it coming, but switch to decaf after 5pm.

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My writing desk.

A tidy space. I don’t like chaos on my desk, it’s distracting. I could spend an hour cleaning up my desk, taking away from my writing time, and then I’ll be too worked up about losing that time to get back to writing.

Rainy days. They always do the trick for me, although I confess I don’t know why.

How do I actually write?

I usually read what I wrote last. I end up editing most of the time before I can write something new. I like order, and I like to know I’m building on a solid foundation (as solid as a draft can be).

How much I write depends on how well I’ve prepared myself for the writing day. If I’m in the wrong place, I’m out of coffee or my desk is a mess, I probably won’t get past the 500-words mark. Even on days when everything is right, I might not get more than a sentence down. It’s not an exact science, and I try to be flexible with it, but I do get frustrated some days.

Do I write every day?

No.

Would I like to? Yes. Is that realistic? Most certainly not for me.

Where do my ideas come from?

Fishing. Ideas come from the depths of a lake I call ‘Anywhere’. As David Lynch appropriately described it, ‘ideas are like fish, and you don’t make the fish, you catch the fish, [and] desiring and idea is like putting a bait on a hook and lowering into the water.’ An idea can strike from anything, all I have to do is pay attention to when the line is moving and reel it in.

 

Photo by Matthew LeJune on Unsplash

The Value of Personal Archives

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Most recordings and accounts of our lives are now being distributed online. ‘Science and culture in the 21st century are born digital; today’s Einsteins, Rembrandts, and Bachs create and record their works on digital devices.’ (1) We are archiving our lives in real-time, probably without even realising it. Everything we post on social media, our search history, our preferences and dislikes are all collected somewhere in ‘the cloud’.

How important is it to keep most of this information? Probably not very important, as our preferences and dislikes tend to change once every few decades, moving from childhood into our teenage years, and then into adulthood.

But what is personal archiving, and how can it help writers (and artists in general)?

There is a common desire amongst artists to outlive their time on Earth, to be immortal, and the only way for us to do that is to leave a piece of ourselves behind — art, buildings, children, etc. — in order to remind future generations that we were there. ‘Personal [digital] archives democratize access to the future and, for some, fulfill the deeply human urge to leave a legacy.’ (2)

Keeping fragments of old works, failed or successful, is an informative tool for artists and art lovers alike. Archives record progress, struggle and sentiments. But ‘the archive is popularly conceived as a space where things are hidden in a state of stasis, imbued with secrecy, mystery and power,’ (3) for the next generation to exhume and reanimate. There is something personal, intimate in keeping a record of our lives through art, because in art we tend to express ourselves more bravely, less constrained, and ‘at a time when we both crave and feel overwhelmed by information, the archive can seem like a more authoritative, or somehow more authentic, body of information or of objects bearing value and meaning.’ (4)

We all have different ways of preserving and storing our history. In my personal practice, I keep old stories, notes and ideas in a leather-bound folder, which can hold up to four notebooks at a time. This houses section from old journals, post-its and collages I’ve collected over the years, and it is very much a paper montage of my art through time.

Looking back through my personal archives has helped me identify common threads and themes I come back to over and over again in my writing, informing me that there is something there I haven’t fully explored, or explored to a satisfactory level. I am allowed the privilege of observing my development as an artist, and these records also allow me to review old notes and pull out paragraphs which have never made it into a full story so that I am able to repurpose and recycle them.

New developments come in the way in which archives will continue to work from the contemporary artists. The Future Library project is pioneering the archival system, by collecting text from authors and sealing them away for the next century. Meanwhile, the project will invest in growing the trees necessary to print these text, thus contributing to our environmental welfare. The Future Library’s creator, Katie Paterson, had developed similar projects which ‘consider our place on earth in the context of geological time and change.’ (5) They attest for our current social needs, and in 100 years’ time, they will expand on a narrative that runs much deeper than the face-value meaning of the collected manuscripts.

Personal archives, and archives in general, are adaptable, organic evidence of cultural heritage, and they hold value not only for the ones keeping them but also for incoming cohorts.

(1), (2) Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, edited by Donald T. Hawkins, Information Today, Inc., 2013.
(3), (4) Breakell, Sue. (2019). Perspectives: Negotiating the Archive.
(5) Information, The Future Libary.
Featured Photo by Dương Trần Quốc on Unsplash

Always Feeling Like an Impostor

I remember I got invited to a spoken word night to read some of my work, and all I could think was ‘Huh, surely someone has made a mistake, my stuff isn’t good enough to be read out loud.’

One of my short stories got picked out of a dozen others to be published on my university’s website, but surely, another mistake had been made. ‘I’ve read some of the other stories, they were way better!’

Even recently, when my advisor gushed over how much he liked my idea and how excited he was to see where I was going with it, I found myself thinking  ‘Surely he’s just trying to be nice.’

This, as I’ve found out recently, is not an uncommon reaction among creatives in my generation. It’s called the impostor syndrome and ‘some researchers believe it hits minority groups harder, as a lack of representation can make minorities feel like outsiders, and discrimination creates even more stress and anxiety when coupled with impostorism.’ (1)

Frankly, it makes me feel inadequate and underqualified like I’m a fraud or I’m not good enough to be in the position that I find myself in.

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Illustration by Heather Buchanan

It’s completely irrational and not at all productive to have this internal monologue, especially when presented with evidence against it. Although I was shaking the meat off my bones and could barely read through my whole set of poems, people came up to me and said they enjoyed it. My story got published and no one said ‘Why did that one win, it wasn’t that good.’

Keep a daily diary and record every instance in which you receive positive feedback, Dr. Cokley advises.

“Do that over the course of a week or a month and go back and look at all those instances in which you’ve gotten good feedback, where you’ve been told you’ve done a good job and done something well,” he said.

When your impostor feelings take over, this daily diary can serve as a reminder that you’ve earned your way to this position. (2)

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A fuzzy snapshot of my first-ever poetry reading.

But a surge in confidence is ever so hard to get a hold of because we’ve been conditioned to always look for flaws. I blame social media for that. The constant exposure to the ‘gurus’ who get paid to show off the best side of life makes me think there must be something wrong with me.

The perfect writing routine, the perfectly arranged rainbow bookshelves, the unattainably long reading list. Trends, challenges and hashtags. ‘Be there or be square.’ This influx of information and showcase of everyone else’s measure of qualification pushes me to look for whatever I must be doing wrong, because why else would I feel so self-conscious about calling myself a writer/reader/blogger/person?

But often times I can’t find anything. No unruly thread to pull at and say ‘Aha! This was it. I’ll trim this off and it will all be better!’ What’s left to question, then, other than me? ‘Am I simply not cut out for this?’ When an opportunity presents itself I always want to ask ‘But why me?’ because I know I’m not the best performer or the best writer.

‘Wait a minute,’ a voice in my head appears. ‘They didn’t ask for the best, the asked for you. Yeah, you. You know why? Because there is no one else like you, no one who can tell it as you do.’ The world doesn’t have any other me. So I must show up, write, enjoy. I must, because no one else can do it as I do. That’s why I have to accept when my work is being recognised and when I am in a room full of people, I have to own it, to be confident in saying ‘I am.’

Have you ever experience the impostor syndrome?

(1),(2) Wong, K. (2018). Dealing with impostor syndrome when You’re treated as an impostor.

Prussia Cove Writing Trip

A beautiful backdrop, completely disconnected from the outside world and seemingly out of this decade, the dramatic coastal path stretching left and right. Does it make you want to pull out your pen and paper? Because this is the type of thing that really gets my creative juices flowing.

I don’t get a chance to take trips like this very often for a few different reasons: I don’t have a car to get to remote places and I can’t usually allocate the finances to extend my stay beyond a half-day, which is why I am so grateful that I was able to go on this trip.

We stayed at Porth En Alls for two nights. The site is made up of clustered old houses and charming cottages scattered around the cove. The scenery is very dramatic, especially on stormy days. I love the disconnected atmosphere, it was definitely the best place to have a writing retreat.

On Saturday morning, Wyl Menmuir took a few students on a writing walk which culminated at Cudden Point. Wyl read out some of his favourite passages and poems, and we used the landscape to respond. I find that this exercise always works wonders for me. There is something about the immediacy of the landscape, the rapidly changing nature of it and my effort to try and capture it that inspire some of my best passages.

 

 

For the rest of the day, I continued to mull over what I had written on the walk and I began thinking about how I would incorporate those paragraphs into my current work.

Writing about nature and place is a significant part of my practice. So little attention is now being paid to the natural environment and its declining beauty. But it is a stunning, wild and wondrous thing, and worth writing about in great detail.

I want to incorporate more writing walks into my practice. It’s actually something I used to do regularly a few years ago. The reason I don’t most days is that I, like so many others, get wrapped up in silly mundane tasks. Making sure the house is in order, keeping up with family and friends on a regular basis, it’s can get too demanding sometimes.

Although it was short, our trip to Prussia Cove was definitely inspiring. It came at the right time for me. It’s brought it back to my attention that I have a goal, and I need to do more things that will bring me towards that goal.

Defining Success as a Writer in the Marketplace

I want to talk about two things that have been cropping up a lot in the past few months in daily conversation as I am nearing the end of my writing degree: being successful and getting published. I want to discuss how they can be defined, and what they mean for me.

What is success?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

Stephen King said that “(successful) writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well.”

Herbert Bayard Swope told us what success is not by giving us his “formula for failure: try(ing) to please everybody all the time.”

What does it mean to be a successful writer?

We can say, perhaps, that success is defined individually by each of us. By this premise, what does it mean to be a successful writer?

For some, being a successful writer is simply writing something every day. For others, a six-figure publishing deal with one of the Big Five is their indicator that they’ve made it. There is a whole spectrum of ‘success’ floating between these two, and there is nothing wrong with whatever definition you have of it. Success is what you make it.

Going after someone else’s definition will only demotivate and demoralise you. Remember that not everyone has the same means and circumstances to achieve the same thing. That’s why it’s important to set realistic goals for yourself.

If your goal is to be published, don’t let yourself fall into the mentality that being published by a big name in the industry is the only successful form of publishing. There are many cases of writers published by indie presses who’s novels have gone on to be nominated for awards and be highly acclaimed, such as Graeme Macrea Burnet’s His Bloody Project (2015, Contraband), shortlisted for the Man Booker. Self-published authors enjoy their own share of success, one of the most well-known examples being E.L James, who published her novels on a fan fiction website and gained the large following that led to her publishing deal.

As for my definition of being a successful writer, it can be summed up in five words: to write what I enjoy. As a writer, I don’t want to be in the marketplace if it means not practicing what I believe in. Something my dissertation advisor asked in our first meeting is “If you don’t enjoy what you’re working on, how do you expect a someone else to enjoy reading it?” Your first reader, your main audience, is you. You have to be pleased with your writing, and inherently with your definition of success.

Do you agree with what’s been said? How do you define success? I’d love to know your thoughts!

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