Parents: How to write around children

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Parents: How to write around children
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Tips, advice, helpful resources for keeping kids occupied and happy while we're trying to write... and of course, a space to have a really good moan when it all gets a bit too much.

HI All, I have had my 8 & 11 year old daughters at home since March - home schooling and then entertaining during the holidays - I'm lucky enough to still be working full time - all be it from home, my wife is a midwife pulling 12 hour shifts in horrific conditions. You can now spot a medic as they all have have spots around their mouths, ether that or their sniffing glue!

When she's at work it's been chaos - during teams meetings I've had:

Slime dropped on my head. One child on each knee crying. (they fight a lot). A rabbit running around the table and staring at the other teams participants - that one went down well actually, more interesting than the teams meeting. My eldest in the background making tik tok videos, my youngest presenting the world with a nose-bleed, both of them freaking out after a wasp flew into the kitchen, excessive noise as they play roblox in the next room. More tears as they have cut and styled each other's hair. (I got into a lot of bother for letting them do that.) They also took next doors cat into the blow up hot tub (when it had no water in it they turned it into a den. The cat didn't like it. The hot tub no longer works. Cat claws and blow up hot tubs don't go well together it seems.

As for writing - well on the back burner for now - I only get to do some during lunch time when my wife's not sleeping or working and able to manage the carnage. I don't think my kids are overly naughty but they're so used to having a catalogue of activities - gymnastics, swimming, brownies/guides, running club, drama, musical theatre that they are bored.

Also, we as a couple have not had a single hour when one or the other of them have not been with us - grandparents shielding - kids and parents are not designed to be together 24/7!

Schools in Scotland go back in 2 weeks - salvation is at hand....unless we get a second wave!!

fingers crossed


Today is the first day that I've had to myself to myself since lockdown started.  My daughter is having a much needed day without my company after being stuck at home with me 24/7 for four months and I've taken the day off work to give myself some rare time to write without interruption. I took an hour out of my writing this morning to catch up on Holly Seddon 's Jericho Festival webinar on 'How to Find the Time to Finish Your Novel.' I realise the slight irony with this, but in my defense I did listen to her session whilst also doing a workout so I think that still counts as efficient use of time! It was a great webinar and I've taken plenty away from it, particularly around how not to feel guilty about spending time writing and how to find time to write even when it feels like there is no time in the day to do so. 

I'm a new writer, writing my first novel, and spending any time on writing always feels like a bit of an indulgence.  Listening to Holly today helped me put a whole different perspective on this and I'm now more motivated then ever to get my book finished. Thanks Holly! :)

My youngest kids (5 and 12) broke up from school yesterday and they're already yelling at each other in the other room about something that's happening on the Nintendo Switch. Two months to go! How are you all doing?

There are at least two published writers that I know of, who home school ALL the time. Not just during lockdown. Sophie Anderson and Matt Haig. So it CAN be done!

Searching online for general advice for working whilst home schooling, it seems to come down to what Holly said below about finding slots when the children can be independent. 

The challenge I am finding at the moment is that when they are being more independent, I'm shattered! But that's something for me to work on...

Good luck everyone!

 i wonder what the outcome would be, if a brainstorming session was organised to engage wee ones, and then you try (subject to age), to tell your story (so far), or a synopsis, and get reactions, suggestions and directions from your children, ... almost, regardless of age, to then mould their truth, and uncluttered views and insights to develop the story, based on innocence, and blissful ignorance. would that then make for a much shorter work, cos they just cut through he crap? 🤔 ... 😁. just thinking out loud... stay safe all 🙃

How are we all doing? Here in the Netherlands the youngest kids are back part time and I've seen a huge improvement in their happiness and in my work rate! From tomorrow, my second oldest is back several days a week. I'm nervous, very nervous, but trying to be sensible. 

I always knew kids needed structure and routine but I didn't realise how much I needed those things until this happened! 

"how do i like my children? fried!" was WC Fields a writer 😂 i think many parents are concerned with judgement over decisions regarding time occupied for children. occupied with what? if i let them do this i could write, but what would others say? should i be spending time with them, as in orchestrating things for them to do? if i feed them this, they will love it, it's quick but not the healthiest... what will others say? children just need attention when they need attention, love when they need love. success in life i feel, is just about accepting the moment in front of you right now. that by giving time as and when needed, everything will be ok. including your creative flow. this 'sense' of 'expectation' will deliver great rewards (like comfort), when your path is one of love for all things (including yourself 😁). remember, when you get 'uptight' about anything, that constricted  🤔... 'bit' 😁, is also a constriction on your thought processes; ergo you are somewhat polarised perhaps? 'blind anger' blinkered view' etcetera.                                       the cure ... 

pause, be present. be loving. it cost nothing eh!  🙃 (kids just want to do, what they want to do. if safe and happy, rock on 👍)

i have a 9yr old. school work 🤔 just bits. reading ("come and do it in the office with me" 😁), ... anything else, "come do it in the office with me 👍. will his partial lack of academic application during several months of pandemic isolation impact his his success at 18 or over when he's sitting in a chair having an interview ... i think not. would anyone in their right mind mention lack on focus for all things school during lock down, again i think not. 

conclusion. don't sweat the small stuff. 🙃

How is everyone doing? The best tip I've heard is to tire the kids out early, all the school work and activities when they have maximum energy in the morning (if possible) and then when you let them zonk out a bit in the afternoon, you can hopefully get some work done... this isn't always possible in our house but when we can do it this way, it definitely works best. What about you?

Hello everyone!

I hope you are all keeping safe and well, and that things aren't proving too horrendously challenging for you right now.

I am SERIOUSLY struggling to write at the moment. So this is the perfect group for me.

I have a Reception and a Y2 child at home. They're quite demanding. As, no doubt, all children are, whatever their age. It might be difficult for us, but it must be so hard and confusing for them too. I am trying to be understanding. 

I hadn't logged on to Jericho Writers in some time, but woke up yesterday and felt the urge to attempt to restart my writing!

Looking forward to being inspired by, learning from and maybe even groaning melodramatically with you all.

Best,

Rebecca

https://jerichowriters.com/hub/how-to-write/vivid-verbs/

If you're helping your kids with their English and encouraging them to write creatively, this guide may help. It's the ultimate guide to using verbs in your writing and icludes list of 333+ strong verbs.

Here are some learning resources I've found useful for distracting children without guilt!

https://www.oxfordowl.co.uk - you can join for free and there are print outs and online activities.

https://www.mathletics.com/uk/ - there is a free trial and you can get quite a lot done before it runs out! I've actually subscribed because my little one loves maths and can't get enough of it.

For younger kids, CBeebies is great: https://global.cbeebies.com 

I've ordered a load of workbooks as well, spelling and phonics mostly for my five year old. 

What are you using?

Of all the writing habits I have, one of the worst – the worst from good financial sense point of view – is that I like writing LONG books.

My first novel was a spine-breaking 180,000 words. Not one of my novels has ever been less than 110,000 words. The first “short story” I wrote was 8,000 words, which is to say miles too long to be an actual short story. Heck, even this email is likely to be far longer than any other email you get in your inbox today.

Ah well. There are some things you can’t fight, and my addiction to length is one of them.

But that also means that when it comes to short-form copy, I’m at a loss.

I’m not especially good at book blurbs, which want to be about 100-120 words (depending a bit on layouts and where you’re expecting them to appear.) Since titles need to be short and punchy, I’m not especially good at those either.

In a word: I’m pretty damn rubbish when it comes to coming up with titles … and this email is going to tell you how to write them.

Which means if you want to ignore the entire contents of what follows, on the basis that I obviously, obviously, obviously don’t know what I’m talking about, then I have to say that the evidence is very much in your favour.

That said, I think it’s clear enough what a title needs to do. It wants to:

  1. Be highly consistent with your genre
  2. Offer some intrigue – for example, launch a question in the mind of the reader
  3. Ideally, it’ll encapsulate “the promise of the premise” in a few very short words, distilling the essence of your idea down to its very purest form.

The genre-consistency is the most essential, and the easiest to achieve. It matters a lot now that so many books are being bought on Amazon, because book covers – at the title selection stage – are no more than thumbnails. A bit bigger than a phone icon, but really not much. So yes, the cover has to work hard and successfully in thumbnail form, but the title has more work to do now than it did before.

Genre consistency is therefore key. Your title has to say to your target readers, “this is the sort of book that readers like you like”. It has to invite the click through to your book page itself. That’s its task.

The intrigue is harder to do, but also kinda obvious. “Gone Girl” works because of the Go Girl / Gone Girl pun, and those double Gs, and the brevity. But it also works because it launches a question in the mind of the reader: Who is this girl and why has she gone? By contrast, “The Girl on the Train” feels a little flat to me. There are lots of women on lots of trains. There’s nothing particularly evocative or intriguing in the image. I don’t as it happens think that book was much good, but I don’t think the title stood out either. (I think the book sold well because of some pale resemblances between the excellent Gone Girl and its lacklustre sister. The trade, desperate for a follow-up hit to Gone Girl, pounced on whatever it had.)

The third element in a successful title – the “promise of the premise” one – is really hard to do. I’ve not often managed it, and I’ve probably had a slightly less successful career as a result.

So what works? Well, here are some examples of titles that do absolutely nail it:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Brilliant! That title didn’t translate the rather dour and serious Swedish original (Man Som Hatar Kvinnor / Men Who Hate Women). Rather it took the brilliance of the central character and captured her in six words. She was a girl (vulnerable), and she had a tattoo (tough and subversive), and the tattoo was of a dragon (exotic and dangerous). That mixture of terms put the promise of the book’s premise right onto the front cover and propelled the book’s explosive success.

Incidentally, you’ll notice that the title also completely excludes mention of Mikael Blomkvist, who is as central to that first book as Salander is. But no one bought the book for Blomkvist and no one remembers the book for Blomkvist either. So the title cut him out, and did the right thing in doing so.

The Da Vinci Code

Brilliant. Dan Brown is fairly limited as a writer, but it was a stroke of genius to glue together the idea of ancient cultural artefacts with some kind of secret code. Stir those two things up with a bit of Holy Grail myth-making and the result (for his audience) was commercial dynamite.

And – boom! – that dynamite was right there in the title too. The Da Vinci part namechecks the world’s most famous artist. The Code part promises that there are secret codes to be unravelled.

Four words delivering the promise of the premise in full.

I let You Go

This was Clare Mackintosh’s breakout hit, about a mother whose young son was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The promise of the premise is right there in four very short words … and given a first person twist, which just adds a extra bite to the hook in question. A brilliant bit of title-making.

___

So that’s what a title wants to do. A few last comments to finish off.

One, I think it’s fair to say that it’s quite rare a title alone does much to propel sale success.

Because there are a lot of books out there, and because everyone’s trying to do the same thing, there’s not much chance to be genuinely distinctive. My fifth Fiona Griffiths novel was called The Dead House, but there are at least three other books on Amazon with that title, or something very like it. That didn’t make my title bad, in fact – it did the promise of the premise thing just fine – but I certainly couldn’t say my title was so distinctive it did anything much for sales.

Two, if you’re going for trad publishing, it’s worth remembering that absolutely any title you have in mind at the moment is effectively provisional. If your publishers don’t like it, they’ll ask you to change it. And if they don’t like your title #2, they’ll ask you to come up with some others. In short, if, like me, you’re bad at titles, you just don’t need to worry too much (if you’re going the trad publishing route, that is.) There’s be plenty of opportunity to hone your choice well prior to publication.

Three, you don’t want to think about title in isolation. There should, ideally, be a kind of reverberation between your title and the cover. That reverberation should be oblique rather than direct. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go had for its cover image a butterfly trapped against a window – a metaphorical reference to the anguish of the book’s premise. If instead it had shown a mother obviously distraught as a car struck her son, the cover – and title – would have seemed painfully clunky and ridiculous.

If you get a great cover image that doesn’t work with your chosen title, then change the title. If you have a superb title and your cover designer’s image is too directly an illustration of it, then change the image. That title/cover pairing is crucial to your sales success, so you can afford no half-measures in getting it right.

That’s all from me.

My kids are making elderflower cordial and singing as they do so. They are also wearing helmets for no reason that I can possibly understand.

Till soon

Harry

PS: Want to know what I think of your title? Then I’ll tell you. Just pop your title (plus short description of your book) in the comments below. I’ll tell you what I think.