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Live webchat with author and creative-writing tutor Louise Doughty, TODAY, Thursday, 10 May at 12noon

(78 Posts)
PatrickMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 08-May-12 10:46:15

We are delighted that Louise Doughty, author of Whatever You Love (shortlisted for the Costa Fiction prize) and A Novel in a Year, will be joining us at MNHQ this Thursday to talk about her own writing experiences and what it takes to be a novelist while juggling two school aged children with no childcare. Louise is also a highly experienced tutor of creative writing and happy to take questions about everything from the value of taking a creative writing course (she's teaching one of our first Mumsnet Academy courses with author of One Day, David Nicholls) to the publishing process and getting your novel published.

Alongside writing highly acclaimed novels, Louise has written for radio and broadcast, writes a weekly column for the Daily Telegraph (Short Story Club), is a regular on BBC Radio 4, and was a judge of the Man Booker Prize in 2008. There's not much Louise doesn't know about writing so please join us this Thursday at 12 midday, and if you are unable to join us, please post a question on this thread in advance.

strangerwithmyface Thu 10-May-12 12:13:15

Hi Louise, I'm going to be cheeky and ask two questions. (1) Do you think awards like the Man Booker are a good representation of the fiction being produced in Britain or elitist and exclusive? (2) Do you write everyday or in motivated bursts?

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:15:37

Hullygully

Louise, I have written a novel of stunning perspicacity, startling wit, bittersweetness and irony etc etc and did have an agent who then dumped me when the recession hit...She found me, rather than me her (at the end of an MA in CW!), how do I get another one? Is it really worth sending it out to agents cold?

I have written a second too, and that also sits nestled in a drawer, keeping the first company...

Hi Hullygully,
Well what an annoyingly cowardly agent! It's incredibly common for them to dump authors, I'm afraid, far more common than you might think, so don't be disheartened. Sending stuff to one cold is a long shot - if there's anyway you can meet one at a conference or talk, that's a great start. Scan the brochures of literary festivals and courses to see if any are appearing near you - the ones that give talks are generally scouting for new writers. If you go cold, then make sure you do loads of research, checking out their websites, reading their existing authors, so you can sound sane and knowledgeable when you get in touch. Don't mention the other one dumping you and don't sound desperate. Sound quietly confident that they will snap you up...
Louise

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:17:33

dontgobacktorockville

Hi Louise,
I've nearly finished a first draft of a novel for young adults. I'm enjoying the wild free-for-all writing of my first draft, but I'm a bit worried how to get started on a second draft - how to tame it all in and even out the tone and the plot. Any second draft tips?

Thank you! smile

Hi dontgoback...
Have you had a decent break from it? I always need a gap where I do lots of other things before I can re-write - I can't see the wood for the trees otherwise. Also, you may reach a point where you need feedback from other parties, friends, colleagues - joining a writing group or course, maybe?
Louise

Hullygully Thu 10-May-12 12:19:54

Thank you , Louise.

<plans stalking forays>

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:20:25

writerknights

Good afternoon, Louise

Good luck with your first live web chat (this is my first time, too!)

Do you think completing an MA in Creative Writing (university based) stands you in better stead for getting short-listed / winning those big short story competitions out there - Sunday Times EFG, Bridport, Bristol Prize, etc - than honing your craft through week long creative courses, here and there, coupled with self-teaching yourself through comprehensive reading, writing and reviewing?

Thank you.

Hi writerknights,
Good to see you hear. That's an interesting question. I think the benefit of an MA as opposed to the short courses is you get to take yourself seriously for an extended period - which helps if you're working on a novel. But I don't think it necessarily ups your chances with the comps any more than the short courses and self-teaching. It's just a question of whatever fits in better with your lifestyle. With the comps, the judges don't know anything about your background, just how good your words are. 'Comprehensive reading, writing and reviewing' is a superb training ground.
Louise

Snowtiger Thu 10-May-12 12:21:45

Hi Louise
Thanks for answering my first question - if Patrick's still in the loo can I ask another? There's a lot of talk (here & in general) about MAs in CW but is it possible to write a good novel without doing an MA? I have looked into a few near me but am not only terrified at the prospect of applying, I also have no idea how I would afford the course or fit in the work / study around school hours. Should I find a way to do it or just get on with writing?

Cwm Thu 10-May-12 12:22:17

Thanks for your answer Louise. I think I will carry on with the many notebooks, scraps of paper and half filled in index cards method for now then! It helps to know that complete organisation is not absolutely necessary!
thanks

Snowtiger Thu 10-May-12 12:22:29

Whoops x-post with writer knights, sorry grin

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:23:17

Pozzled

I'd love some tips about where to start. I've been interested in writing since I was a teenager, but life has always got in the way and I never quite put pen to paper. Is it ever too late to start? I love the idea of doing a course, but feel like I should have something to show first, even if it's not much.

Hi Pozzled,
I think a course is a great way to kickstart yourself - choose one where the tutor gives you lots of exercises to get you going, rather than one where the students sit around a table criticising each other's writing. Those sorts of peer review workshops are great for more experienced writers but can be quite off-putting for beginners. Don't get disheartened if the ideas don't come straightaway. It can take years to train yourself up as a writer, get in the swing of it, and start thinking that way, but it's incredibly satisfying when you get going. Good luck!
Louise
And no, it's never too late!

thebestisyettocome Thu 10-May-12 12:24:49

Can I ask another question? (First one not answered).

How do you get over writers block, lack of confidence and rejection!

Thanks.

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:26:51

Snowtiger

Hi Louise
Thanks for answering my first question - if Patrick's still in the loo can I ask another? There's a lot of talk (here & in general) about MAs in CW but is it possible to write a good novel without doing an MA? I have looked into a few near me but am not only terrified at the prospect of applying, I also have no idea how I would afford the course or fit in the work / study around school hours. Should I find a way to do it or just get on with writing?

Hi Snowtiger,
He's back but he's in a good mood, he'll let us off. Lots of interest in MAs on this thread but do think about short courses too. Yes, loads of brilliant novels get written without MAs - without knowing you, my suggestion would be, write as much as you can on your own, but if you find you're grinding to a halt or reach the point of needing feedback, consider a course then. Having a bit of structured support is great, but it's no substitute for working on your own - which we all have to do anyway.
Louise

Hi Louise, and welcome!

I have written a novel for 9-14 year olds, and made a really good start on the second in the 'series'. (The series I have imagined in my head, that is!) Problem is, I have now pretty much stopped writing as I have two pre-schoolers and am back at work full time. I can't imagine being able to write the way I used to, just shutting myself away and forgetting all other responsibilities.

I did the send the first manuscript off to an agent when it was completed. It was my 'first choice' agent, and I sent it cold. Surprisingly, I had a very nice, detailed rejection letter with feedback, which I actually found encouraging based on what I had been led to expect.

But here's my problem: I would imagine that this type of work would only be attractive if I can show a plan for the series, and if there is a reasonable expectation that I could fulfil this and get it written. I honestly don't think I could confidently claim this, given my current lack of time to write.

Any advice for someone in this situation? Should I pursue another agent as suggested by the first one? Any tips for finding time to write? Any inside knowledge about this particular genre / age group, and what the agents may be looking for?

writerknights Thu 10-May-12 12:29:23

Thanks for your wisdom, Louise. I think short stories are great. I love their brevity yet complexity. I want to use my short story successes in these notable competitions as a springboard, into the Society of Authors, and to launch a writing career that begins with a short story anthology. The novel can wait.

Snowtiger Thu 10-May-12 12:30:50

Thank you, Louise, that's exactly what I needed to hear. Going on courses is one of my favourite procrastination techniques so I think writing as much as I can first and then maybe finding a course to help me hone my style / edit the first draft would be a good way forward.

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:31:11

thebestisyettocome

Can I ask another question? (First one not answered).

How do you get over writers block, lack of confidence and rejection!

Thanks.

Hi thebestisyettocome,
Sorry if I've missed you first question - I'll try and scroll back up. It's my first live webchat so I'm not sure I'm doing it right...
Lack of confidence is the writer's curse... It's an occupational hazard though. Every writer has negative voices in her head, you know, those nasty little ones that whisper, this is rubbish, no-one would ever read this, who do you think you are... I don't know if it helps or not to say those voices don't go away if you get published. Then you get the bad reviews on top.
I think the only answer is to have a kind of wilful, obstinate attitude that says, I don't care what anyone thinks, I'm doing this for me. I try really hard not to think about the work being 'received' in any way during a first draft, otherwise I get really disheartened. When I'm re-writing, I'm more self-conscious, but during that all-important first draft, I sort of pretend I'll never show it to anyone. It really helps.
Louise

thebestisyettocome Thu 10-May-12 12:34:17

Thanks Louise. Don't worry about my first questio as I think you've covered it in your other answers smile

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:35:05

FannyPriceless

Hi Louise, and welcome!

I have written a novel for 9-14 year olds, and made a really good start on the second in the 'series'. (The series I have imagined in my head, that is!) Problem is, I have now pretty much stopped writing as I have two pre-schoolers and am back at work full time. I can't imagine being able to write the way I used to, just shutting myself away and forgetting all other responsibilities.

I did the send the first manuscript off to an agent when it was completed. It was my 'first choice' agent, and I sent it cold. Surprisingly, I had a very nice, detailed rejection letter with feedback, which I actually found encouraging based on what I had been led to expect.

But here's my problem: I would imagine that this type of work would only be attractive if I can show a plan for the series, and if there is a reasonable expectation that I could fulfil this and get it written. I honestly don't think I could confidently claim this, given my current lack of time to write.

Any advice for someone in this situation? Should I pursue another agent as suggested by the first one? Any tips for finding time to write? Any inside knowledge about this particular genre / age group, and what the agents may be looking for?

Hi FannyPriceless,
I don't know about work for this age group, it's not my area, but I do know it's very popular at the moment. You're right to be encouraged by a detailed and helpful rejection - agents don't give those lightly, it's much easier for them to send a standard 'not for us' letter, so it sounds as though you were close. I wouldn't worry about fibbing a bit about your plans for the series - even if you don't know how the hell you'd find the time to write it if an agent 'bit', you can worry about that when they do.
Finding time to write? It's the enduring problem. Anyway you can set aside, say two hours on a Sat or Sun, where you just go to a library or cafe with a notebook or laptop? I find leaving the family home is essential...
Good luck!
Louise

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:37:30

Spirael

How about juggling children and a full time career as well as trying to write a novel. wink

Anyway, my question is:

With the rise of the electronic readers, do you think it's going to become more common for people to choose to self-publish their books in that format?

Hi Spirael,
Yes I think it will become increasingly common for people who are self-publishing to go down the e-book route. The great benefit is there isn't a huge outlay like there is with conventional self-publishing. The downside is the amount of work you have to put into promoting your e-book yourself. I love the democracy of people publishing their own e-books but it's very hard to make any money out of it and I think there will always be a market for p-books, as the industry is now calling them.
Louise

Cwm Thu 10-May-12 12:38:16

I'd like to ask a quick follow up question if I may: I've seen that there are various bits of software for writers now - Scrivener for example - I'm wondering if you've used any of these and found them useful, and also at what stage do you start actually typing work up onto a computer - straight away, or do you start with pencil and paper?

jongleuse Thu 10-May-12 12:38:55

Hi Louise, I've done a couple of short courses and am doing an MA part-time currently while working 3 days a week and with one child at school and one at preschool. I love writing, there's little that makes me happier than a few hours of writing that have gone well, but despair that I'm ever going to finish even a first draft of a first novel (about 35 000 words in to a YA thing) Weekends and evenings are a write-off (ha ha) children housework etc.
How on earth have you managed it?

Thanks Louise.smile

I'm a little dismayed at your suggestion to that I may need to leave the family home to write. That would require a complete rethink of my writing style - which to date has been in pyjamas, surrounded by snacks, and reclining on comfy pillows with a laptop.winkgrin

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:41:35

Grace29

Hi Louise,
Hope you're well. I'm writing regularly on my blog at the moment (www.mothersruined.wordpress.com), and find it a great discipline to have to produce something every few days. I've approached a couple of papers with the hope of one day writing a column... The Indy said they'd like me to write on their blog, but I struggle with news related items (i.e. a news related blog). I prefer creative writing. Do you believe it's important to experiment with different genres, or stick to what you know and like? With 3 kids and no childcare (like you) I really have to use my time sensibly!

Thanks

Grace

Hi Grace,
I'm a great believer in sticking to what you love doing - but it's a tricky one, if an opportunity opens up in an area you haven't previously tried, there's a lot to be said for giving it a go. I would have a crack at the Indy blog if I were you - you could set yourself a limit for how long you will try it. If you don't get into the swing of it, then stop. I've occasionally accepted a commission thinking, oh why did I say yes to this, then been really surprised at how interested I've got. Push those boundaries!
Louise

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:43:43

FannyPriceless

Thanks Louise.smile

I'm a little dismayed at your suggestion to that I may need to leave the family home to write. That would require a complete rethink of my writing style - which to date has been in pyjamas, surrounded by snacks, and reclining on comfy pillows with a laptop.winkgrin

Hit the local cafes in pyjamas. Make them bring you snacks. I guess it depends where you live. In my area of London, the streets are full of caffeine-soaked authors with their MacBooks, often wearing what are clearly the clothes left on the bedroom floor from the night before. No-one turns a hair. I guess if you live in a small village in the Cotswolds, it might be a bit more tricky...

writerknights Thu 10-May-12 12:45:31

Louise, this info is quick, fast and making me smile. Your fingers must be on fire! wink

LouiseDoughty Thu 10-May-12 12:45:55

Cwm

I'd like to ask a quick follow up question if I may: I've seen that there are various bits of software for writers now - Scrivener for example - I'm wondering if you've used any of these and found them useful, and also at what stage do you start actually typing work up onto a computer - straight away, or do you start with pencil and paper?

Hi Cwm,
I've never tried Scrivener or any of the others available although I know some writers swear by them. Final Draft is very popular with screenwriters. I write straight onto the computer, though. My handwriting is illegible even to me. I always edit in hard copy though. However much work I have done on the screen, there are things that leap off the page as wrong the minute I print out.
Louise

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