I write because the stories in my head need to be told and the best way for that to happen is for them to be written down. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t thinking up stories or jotting them down. It is as natural to me as breathing, a part of who I am.
How did you come to writing?
I was always an avid reader and when my imagination started creating stories outside of the books I loved it was a natural progression for me to write them down. I started writing my first book, featuring a butt-kicking heroine fighting brain eating aliens, when I was sixteen. But I didn’t start taking it seriously until I was a lot older.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Starting out I was just writing for fun, the idea of getting published a dream but not one I took seriously. I let life get in the way and it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I really got stuck into learning more about the craft of writing as opposed to just tapping away on the keyboard with little idea of what I was doing. So I started looking for writing courses, and even went back to university to do a BA (Hons). But it wasn’t until I joined QWC that I really found my tribe and discovered masterclasses and festivals that helped me improve my writing and get it to a publishable standard.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
If I love the story I am writing that helps to keep me motivated and disciplined, though that can slip during the long editing process or if I get stuck at any time. I usually set myself a deadline to finish each aspect of a project, first draft, second draft, edit, etc. I also set a word count goal of 1000 words a day/ five days a week. If I do slack off, I feel guilty about it and that usually prompts me to get back to work.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
I was single with no kids when I was writing for fun and had no problem fitting it in with work and socialising. Now I have two young children and a husband and have to fit my writing in when they are at school and work. I’m lucky that I am currently able to stay home so tend to write during the week. My standard day starts with getting the kids off to school, coming home to whip through the housework, and then writing until it is time to pick the kids up. Afternoons, evenings and weekends are family time and for socialising.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
My desk used to be positioned in the dining room, but a year ago we added a new master bedroom on to our house so I was able to turn the smallest bedroom into my office. So far all I’ve managed to do is get the desk set up but in 2017 I have high hopes of turning the room into the perfect study/library with a wall to wall bookcase so I can get all my books out of boxes.
What are your essential writing tools?
The obvious ones are desk, computer, notepad and pens, and a dedicated place to write. Then there are the tools gained by attending workshops and reading widely to understand my genre and the essentials that make up a good story, like goal, motivation and conflict.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
To not do it alone. Connect with other writers via centres like QWC and through festivals and workshops. Critical feedback from people I trusted and admired has been a huge boon to my writing, and I wouldn’t be published without it.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
I read most genres, even though I mainly write speculative fiction. I love fantasy and science fiction, obviously, but I also devour historical, crime, action adventure and contemporary romance. I read mainly for pleasure, but have found in recent years that I’m learning a lot by reading books outside my genre. All of my stories contain a romantic element and may include suspense and crime as well. Understanding the conventions of other genres helps me to weave similar subplots into my own work. Reading widely also means I come across books that haven’t turned out so well and hopefully that helps me to avoid similar mistakes in my own writing.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
If I get stuck on a particular story it usually means I’m trying to force it to go in the wrong direction. When that happens I will go back to the start and read through it to see where I have gone wrong and then brainstorm with pen and paper to see how I can fix it. If that doesn’t work I approach my writer friends and talk my way through the problem, and sometimes the solution appears to mid conversation.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Attend festivals and sign up to workshops. Keep learning your craft and get out there and mingle with other writers. You will become part of a community and your writing will be better for it.
Shelley Russell Nolan is an avid reader who began writing at sixteen. Since then she has spent her time creating fantasy worlds where death is only the beginning and even freaks can fall in love. Books one and two in her urban fantasy Reaper series are published by Atlas Productions.