Phillipa is a well known name in the word of romance and women's fiction and I am delighted to welcome her as a guest on my blog. I asked her what writing rules, over the years, she's allowed herself to break and whether there are any that remain sacred!
Over to you, Phillipa.
Five rules I’ve learned to break in ten years of writing…
…and one I never would
1. Write what you know. Erm... not necessarily. Ages ago, I read a quote that said: ‘write what you want to know’. Personally, I always include a big element in a book that I don’t know anything about so I can go and find out. That’s usually at least two jobs/lifestyles I know nothing about and dozens of emotions to explore. Otherwise I’d be really bored.
2. The editor is always right. Not always, not even 90% of the time but he or she is usually paying so learn to pick your battles. When you first get edits, by all means scream, rant and chuck your toys out of the pram. Then, take a deep breath and a few days to consider why s/he wants you to make the changes. Make them work for you, or explain calmly and rationally, why they won’t. Most reasonable editors will come to a compromise. If you’ve signed away your IP rights, ignore the above. You really do have no say. If you can’t live with that, don’t sign any agreement that requires you relinquish the rights to your characters and the story.
3. Show, don’t tell. Well, yes, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes a pithy summary is far more reader friendly than pages of acted-out drama. Narrative can also be a great way of showing the passage of time by slowing pace or adding variation.
4. Never compare yourself with others. Easy to say: impossible to do. There will always be writers who sell more/win more awards/have more Twitter followers/are younger, cooler and cannier at using Instagram filters etc than you. The trick is to use others’ success to spur yourself on. Envy is a horrible emotion but it’s human. Learn from your own responses to others, analyse them for use in your work and be generous to your fellow writers. The vast majority are some of the most wonderful supportive people on the planet. The rest can be inspiration for your next villain!
5. Write every day. If you can do, then great but if you’re like me, you’ll probably need ‘white space’ in your writing life. Take breaks when you need them, and over a career, you’ll probably need them a lot. You may be out of contract and have lost your confidence; you may simply be burnt out and exhausted. If you’ve suffered a major life trauma or bereavement, you may find you simply cannot physically sit at a laptop or have no idea why anyone ever writes. Be super kind to yourself and allow time to recharge your creative batteries.
And one not to break: Never Give Up
If genuine Writers’ Block strikes, and is a result of trauma or exhaustion, then focus all your energies on recovery and your health. Tell yourself you’re never going to write again if it eases your load and takes the pressure off. However, if you’re ‘merely’ full of self-doubt, then a change may be as good as a rest. Try a different tense/POV or a short story or novella or poetry. Lie to yourself and say you’re only writing for you, you’re never going to submit this project: it’s a piece of pure self-indulgent fun.
One morning, I promise, you’ll find you’re back on the horse and galloping along like Poldark.
Phillipa Ashley, writes romantic and women’s fiction for a variety of international publishers including Avon Harper Collins, Penguin and Headline.
After studying English at Oxford, she worked as a copywriter and journalist. Her first novel won the RNA New Writers Award and was made into a TV movie called ‘12 Men of Christmas’ starring Kristin Chenoweth and Josh Hopkins. As Pippa Croft, she also wrote the Oxford Blue series for Penguin Books.
Phillipa’s new book, Summer at the Cornish Café, will be published by @AvonBooks (Harper Collins) on May 5th – and is the first of a trilogy set in Cornwall.
Summer at the Cornish Cafe is available to pre-order here