Why People Have Favourites

I always say that my favourite colour is purple.

It’s been purple for as long as I can remember. But I don’t own anything purple, and at work I secretly prefer the red mug. (It’s too late to admit the truth.)

If I stop to think about it, the truth is obvious: I don’t have a favourite.

How can purple be better than green or orange? While I prefer different colours in different contexts, no single shade stands out as supreme. So why do I cling onto my childhood answer instead of owning up?

Some writing advice I once read stated that in order to write believable characters, you need to understand them. You need to get into their skull. Write their diary entries. And list their favourites.

Knowing someone’s favourites is portrayed as an indication of knowing a person. But what does it actually tell you about them?

Perhaps I’m looking at this the wrong way.

Discussing favourites is a conversation starter, a way to find common ground. And, in writing, it’s a way to discover what truly matters to your character.

The important question isn’t what their favourite colour is — but why.

Does your character love red because it reminds them of blood, or because it’s the colour of love? Does green make them think of deathly poison, or of newly grown grass? Pinpointing your character’s thought processes is the best way to get to know them.

And if your character turns out like me, and doesn’t have favourites? At least you know they’re comfortable with ambiguity.

How to Attend A Book Launch

Yesterday I attended my first ever book launch.

The book in question — not my own, sadly! — was the dark political thriller The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor. (You may recall he ran the writing course I attended).

Having never been to a book launch before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What is the correct etiquette? Must you buy the book, or not? What do you wear? Will there be alcohol?

How to Attend A Book Launch

  • To buy, or not to buy?
    While authors would certainly like everyone attending to buy the book, I doubt they expect everyone to — particularly if you’re hard up on cash and/or not interested in the genre. Don’t feel pressured into buying: the important thing is to show your support in whatever way you can.

  • Bring friends!
    The venue will look at turnout for the event, and will be more likely to invite the author back if he/she can draw a crowd. Round up your friends and/or partner and/or dog and bring them along!
    (Yes, there was a dog at the event!)

  • Promote the author online
    Another way to show your support is to promote the event online. You can tweet or blog about it, and even set up a Goodreads event for the launch. Anything that will spread the word!

  • Don’t harass the author
    Book launches are like weddings: everyone wants a piece of the action. The author will want to circulate to greet attendees, so be respectful and don’t hog his/her time.

  • Enjoy yourself!
    What you wear doesn’t matter. Take the time to meet new people, listen to the author’s reading and get your book signed. It’s not every day that you can browse a bookshop with a glass of wine in your hand…

Do you have any other tips to add to the list?

* * *

The Washington Stratagem by Adam Lebor

Washington_Lebor Yael Azoulay, the U.N. covert negotiator, had to kill or be killed when she went rogue in Geneva. Now back in New York, she is tasked with meeting the man at the dark heart of the American military industrial complex. Yael soon discovers a chilling conspiracy that reaches to Iran…and a dark secret from her past. The endgame is a devastating new war in the Middle East. But the closer she comes to the truth, the more she exposes herself to powerful enemies who neither forgive, nor forget.

#Bookadayuk

October is by far the best month of the year.

There’s #stoptober to stop smoking, #soberoctober raising money for Macmillan Cancer Research, not to mention my birthday.

I’ve also just discovered Books Are My Bag, a campaign celebrating brick and mortar bookshops. They’ve come up with the fairly catchy #bookadayuk meme for October – and I’ll be taking part.

For October 1st – a book to curl up in front of a fire with – I am going to go for one of my all-time favourites: The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman.

What’s yours?

(Psst! Follow me on twitter @am_harte!)

bookadayuk

Signs You’re Procrastinating

Procrastination affects the best of us — but how can you tell if you’re under its dreaded curse?

This post is for any writers seeking a diagnosis on their procrastination levels. If this sounds like you, please call a doctor immediately.

Are you procrastinating?

You sit at your desk to write, and then…

  1. You find yourself reading nail polish ingredients.
  2. You examine everything else on your desk except for your laptop and/or notebook.
  3. You realise the messiness of your desk is a distraction and tidy everything away.
  4. Making tea or coffee is all of a sudden essential.
  5. You may as well do the dishes while the kettle boils.
  6. You decide that now is the best time to clean your keyboard. With a toothpick.
  7. You finish your tea and make a sandwich.
  8. You look up the origin of sandwiches on Wikipedia.
  9. Twitter is somehow open despite a personal promise not to use social media.
  10. You spend several minutes reading a blog about procrastination.
  11. You write this post.

Oops… guilty as charged.

(Psst! I shall be without internet for a couple weeks, so if I don’t reply don’t get offended!)

Burn Out

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that the best of us burn out.
– Adama, Battlestar Galactica

It’s only in the last few days that I’ve started writing again.

Sometime over the last few months I burned out. Whether because of day job stress or something else, I’m not sure. But it’s only now, after sobbing my eyes out over a particularly dramatic BSG episode, that I’ve started thinking about it.

The truth is I’m afraid to fail.

I start writing and immediately my mind thinks: let’s set targets, goals, deadlines. Let’s measure our progress.

I write two consecutive #fridayflash? My mind decides I should write one EVERY week. I try to rationalise: how about every other week? How about twice a month overall?

You can cheat the system for a little while, but soon the lack of progress wears thin.

For my current WIP, I decided I’d write 60k in six months. I set up a fancy excel to track my progress and expected completion date. I told my friends, who also began to check in on me.

When the words failed, I started copy pasting large chunks from my scribbled notes into the main document, just to make up the numbers. To trick myself into thinking I was being productive.

I want to be a successful author. So many people know of my ambitions that the pressure of their expectations weighs on me. My friends tell me: “So just write. You can do it.”

Yet I’m not writing.

I look at what I’ve produced over the last few years and think: that’s it? One novel. Some short stories. A series of abandoned ideas and a lack of commitment to anything else.

Eventually I tell the emo voice in my head to get lost and set more goals. It only works for so long.

But maybe now I’m at a turning point.

I haven’t failed if I don’t finish the novel by September. I haven’t failed if I don’t apply to agents by end of next year. I haven’t failed if the next book isn’t as well-written as I want it to be. I haven’t failed if I’m not selling short stories to magazines.

I haven’t failed if I never become a famous author.

What matters is that I love writing. What matters is that I’m writing for me.

Even the best of us burn out.

I’m not afraid anymore.