Friday, 11 September 2015

Guest Post: Finding A Writing Habit | Shanna Hughes

By Shanna Hughes

Cramp and aching muscles.

That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my writing placeat least during the weekend. Because that’s when I’m holed up on the couch with my Bengal cat in a cottage from the 1800s in a town near the Shropshire hills. And I’m not torturing myself by choosing the couch over a deskI don’t have a desk, simply because there isn’t enough space.

Although I have spent a fair amount of time on that tiny couch in the past months, that was (and is) mostly during editing. My writing space is much more comfortable: my desk at work. During June and July, I used my lunch break to work on Starstruck, a young adult novel. But juggling a full-time job with writing a novel requires planning and determination, but for me, above all: structure—and back in May, before I wrote Starstruck, I didn’t have that. I had no writing habit that worked for me. The closest I came to having a habit was writing down what I had in mind at random times with hardly any outline. Unfortunately, that approach always ends with me getting stuck. On a side note: I can write short stories without getting stuck, and I self-published my first one, The Silver Braid, in January 2015.

The idea for Starstruck formed in 2007. It wasn’t until 2013 that I started writing it, but after 35k and a lot of struggling, I decided I was in need of a break. After that, life got in the way, as happens sometimes, and I didn’t write for months. In the summer of 2014 I did a feeble attempt to pick it back up, but that also never happened. Again: the absence of a writing habit. No structure.

In May 2015, I went to see YA author Sarah J. Maas in Birmingham, and her words hit home. Don’t give up. Full of inspiration, I started writing again. But for me, inspiration alone doesn’t work. I need to know where my story is heading. The beginning, the middle, and the ending, and important plot points in between. Unlike some writers, who can sit down and go for it, I can’t. If I do that, I’ll end up getting stuck because I’ve written myself into impossible corners—which was exactly what had happened to Starstruck before. And it happened this time, too. Again. I was just over 50k when I realised it still wasn’t working, no matter how badly I wanted to write this story. And of course, I knew exactly why: I didn’t have that structure I I’d been looking for. That one thing that would turn writing into a habit, something that I could commit to day after day.

Through following Sarah on Twitter, I got to know Susan Dennard, another YA author. If you haven’t seen her website already, then you really should. It’s chockfull of incredible information about everything you want to know when you write. It was here that I finally found something that works for me: magical cookies (You can check this out HERE ). It comes down to figuring out why you want to write your novel, and which scenes you imagine with it—and then making sure that everything you write has one (or more) of those magical cookies. A scene without a magical cookie doesn’t belong in your novel.

And so, armed with my magical cookies and a notebook, I threw the first version of Starstruck (just over 50k) out the window. I kept my characters, but changed background stories, which in turn influenced everything in Starstruck—and I started writing. Of course, I still had moments where I was a little stuck, or where I doubted if I was writing the right scene, but it was a big difference from my previous attempts. And when those difficult moments hit, I would go back to that very first page in my notebook that listed why I wanted to write this novel, and I would find a way to make things work. Or I would stalk my fabulous critique partner, Kim. ;-)

Eight weeks later, I had a finished (second) draft at 78k. I set it aside for a few weeks (such a struggle not to grab it and read it in one go!) and at the beginning of August, I sat down on that tiny couch in my cottage, and started reading, adding different colours of post-its along the way. Together with Kim I revised that draft, and then sent it to my other critique partner—who still offered plenty of feedback. At the moment, an experienced writer is reading Starstruck and I’m awaiting feedback. That makes me a little nervous, but hey, I can only learn from it, right?

We’ll see what happens in the future. I have been thinking about a sequel for Starstruck. Maybe I will write it. Or maybe I’ll continue working on my new project first. Either way—I’ll use magical cookies. And I’ll still be on that tiny couch in my cottage with cramp in my legs. But that’s okay, because I’ve finally found a writing habit that works for me
About the Author

Shanna Hughes (24-07-1987) has been crazy about books from a young age. It didn't take long before she created her own imaginary world and she's been talking to her characters daily ever since. Often out loud and in the middle of the supermarket.

In 2010 she completed her bachelor in business communication (communication & journalism) at the Hogeschool Utrecht, the Netherlands. From 2008 to 2012 she worked as a journalist, web editor and later also as an editor. She lives in Shropshire, England, and works as an Account Executive in Affiliate Marketing.

On Monday evenings she can be found in the dojo practicing karate (and often failing). When at home, she enjoys cooking, reading and playing and cuddling with her silver Bengal cat Celaena (she fully admits to having stolen that name from Sarah J. Maas' series Throne of Glass). When she gets the chance, she can be found in the Midwest USA, chasing storms and tornadoes. Yes, it does take a little craziness to have such a hobby. 

To find out more about Shanna, you can check out the following links: