Ten essential tools for struggling writers

Can I call myself a writer now? Have I qualified? It took me months to start referring to myself as a ‘blogger’. But a writer? Surely that’s akin to calling yourself a model? To claiming you have good looks. It’s like shouting, “I think I have talent!” It’s bloody embarrassing.

But, look past that, start hanging out with other writers, start reading up on what it takes, on tips, on forums and keep up the typing and it begins to get OK. All you need next is a publishing deal. That means you’ve made it. OFFICIALLY A WRITER.

Actually scratch that. Aparently all you need to do to be a writer is to write. You don’t need a publishing deal. That was so yesterday, haven’t you heard? The word on the street is *whispers* self-publishing.

2015 has been a spectacular eye-opener in the world of publishing for me.

Writing, before this, had been a bit of a dalliance. Sure, there had been childish notions of wanting to write a book – a few attempts even. There was the degree in journalism of course – a definite indication that the written word called me. And the classes and follow-on classes from the Irish Writers’ Centre. Oh and the blog.

But, in the last number of years, the buying the house, working crazy hours, getting married and having a baby years – well it all went out the window. It just wasn’t important. It didn’t call me.

And then something clicked. A little niggle. A little notion. An urge. A want. I started typing. And I haven’t really stopped.

As I look back on the past six months or so, I see a number of developments that helped me on the path. That kept me going when my inspiration was gone. That motivated me. And I have to share them.

I know the t’internet is full of blogs of helpful not helpful advice from people who you have to question their credentials. So I’ll get that out of the way first. I am only starting. I haven’t even written a proper book yet. But, I have come so much further than I ever would have expected. In just a few weeks. There is a stepping stone between not writing at all to getting on the path to publishing. And today I share what has worked for me.

  1. Scrivener


I was never sure how you put together a book. Did you create folders on your desktop and save your chapters in there? Didn’t it all get a bit messy? How did you search for some small fact you wrote a few weeks ago? A simple bit of online research led me to the software programme Scrivener – a novel writing tool. They offered a 30 day free trial and best of all, it was 30 days of writing trial, so if you only wrote every three days, you could try it for three months. I watched a few you tube videos of how to use it and soon I was away. The day I downloaded the programme was the day, my longest piece (at that stage) of work began. It makes it easy. It collates everything. And when it comes to printing out your manuscript, it formats it, in whatever way you need it to, depending on your publisher’s criteria. It’s great. And it’s only $40. Well worth the spend.

2. Writers’ Forum Magazine

writers forumIt was the husband who pointed me towards this magazine one day in Tesco among buying all the nappies and baby wipes. Did I really need to spend €6 on a niche indulgent magazine? Couldn’t I find what I needed online? Well, no. The magazine if full of insider tips, advice, information and a collection of like-minded people sharing their thoughts and insights. Every issue I discover another tributary in the river of publishing that I never knew existed. It was here that I read about My Weekly pocket series of novellas, about Curtis Brown’s pitch by Twitter and about a number of other publications accepting submissions. It opened my mind. I could see that there are many ways to get your work out there and read. Publishing a book, through a traditional publishing house is only one way of writing a book. There are many ways to skin a cat as they say. (Although, why would you want to do that, I mean seriously?)

3. Competitions and submissions

I had read about entering other work into competitions while you worked on your main fiction project in Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin’s very helpful guide Writing to Get Published. At the time I thought, how? How could I possibly put aside time to write other fiction outside of my own fiction AND keep a blog? But then I tried it. And I found I could whip up something way outside my current project really very quickly. Flash fiction (1000 words or so) is great for giving the brain a break and letting you know you can write whatever you want, whenever you want. Your current project is only a place in time right now. I used competition titles for inspiration and wrote without thinking too much about it. And even when I had a little bit of success (being placed in this competition here) or out and out rejection –

Yes tumbleweed city for me…

– I felt inspired simply by being involved and feeling like I was doing something practical, productive and creative. You will find a great list of competitions at www.writing.ie and I quite like Christopher Fielden’s guide too.

4. Writers’ Conference

learn learn
Learn learn learn

I toyed with the idea of attending this writers’ conference back in June. I read about it and thought, I really want to go there, but as it came up to the event I was struggling with the novel I was working on and thought it might be a waste of time (and money). WRONG! It was brilliant. Meeting other writers, listening to experts talk about technique and picking up invaluable tips, just from chatting on the lunch breaks, has stood to me. I keep thinking back to off-hand comments or a book that someone produced, or the girl who told me she publishes a book every three to four months. You don’t know what’s possible until you see it being done. And then you think, how can I do this my own way?

5. Writing diary

greatThis doesn’t have to be a diary, but more a note of the work you have done. It is purely for self-clapping on the back and not for beating yourself up purposes. Take a look back at the last few weeks and note if you did anything that helped further your writing. It could be a certain amount of words in one week, a few articles you pitched, a new notebook you bought and actually wrote stuff in. I remember thinking I hadn’t been doing anything and when I looked at what I had done, there a ton of tiny little gestures that all helped me in getting pen to paper. (Or finger to keyboard). Make a note of your aims too. I’m a great believe in to-do lists!

6. Self Publishing Tools

self publishingSelf-publishing had never entered my brain. I thought, no, you’re not successful if you’re basically paying to print up your own books. But, that was yesterday. A bit like online dating – when it was a murky world for those who couldn’t get a date – self-publishing is no longer for those who don’t have a hope of getting an agent. Or a book deal. EL James, author of 50 Shades of Grey, first self-published and look at her now. (I mean look, I still refuse to read it.) Catherine Ryan Howard is considered to be the queen of self-publishing advice with her book The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. I attended her seminar at the Irish Writer’s Conference this year and it completely opened my mind. Think about using self-publishing as another tool to get to where you want to go. You don’t need a load of hardbacks in your attic. What you need is good quality work, that you can point to and have people download and read. And then, maybe, when you’ve built an audience, that dream book launch where you’re standing reading your excerpts, looking like a million dollars to a packed room of people clicking their fingers, will happen. (So, that’s my dream, don’t judge me).

7. Communicating with other writers

Like bloggers, other writers are incredibly supportive. You’d think it would be all competitive and nasty, but people I’ve discovered (in all my YEARS of life) are generally very nice and want to help. Writers understand other writers. They don’t judge and they will share their advice and tips. What’s more is that you will be inspired. You’ll think, if they can do it, why can’t I? It makes it all seem real, within grasp. So hang out with writers where you can, go to conferences, join online forums, go to book launches, track down the authors you like and stalk them a little. It’s OK. They’ll probably love that you’ve joined their fan club, right?

8. A raft of classics

classic books

For a while there I was in a literary wilderness. I find it difficult to find books that I really like and enjoy. Much of what is on the best-sellers list often doesn’t appeal to me. I shunned it. And then I discovered I was just being lazy. I wasn’t working hard enough to find what I liked. Now the bedside is piled with books. The kindle is packed. And I dip in and out of books, because I read with a purpose. I read to learn. About style. About genre. About the rhythm of a writer’s words and why I enjoy one author over the next. You might even read successful authors who make you think, I could write like that. Or even, this WAN sucks! And that’s great, because then you might just start writing your own amazing copy.

9. Research tools

Cute. But ssssshhhhhh

I knew I wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure about what. Then a flicker of an idea came to me about my home town and the 19th century and I realised that this was what interested me most. With my sights now focussed on a place and time I could borrow books from the libary and look for inspirational stories from this time. When I’d found the stories, I looked for the experts and when I found these and interviewed them, suddenly I had colour, facts and more than enough research done to sit down and write. Find what research works for you. You’ll be itching to get writing as you learn.


10. A blog, twitter and website


You have to be thinking ahead. You have to think like a writer. Not just about how you want the cover of your book to look or the brand of the wine you will serve at the launch party (even if it is going to be amazing). You are setting up your own business and writing is your currency. A blog focuses the mind, gains you followers and allows you to express your writing in an ongoing way. Twitter is an essential meet and greet point, offering easy access to a whole raft of agents and successful authors; a two way communication street. And your website – well have you bought your own name as a domain yet? Why not? Don’t you want to be successful and have an audience who just love to read your work?

nicci book
My inky hands

I made a big mistake in the summer by getting to 30,000 words and reading over my work. I was so deflated by what I read that I ended up taking a break and feeling like an utter failure. To recover, I began entering competitions and looking at other avenues. I have worked at improving my writing and getting past the 30,000 word infamous writer’s block. Since then I have started two new projects and completed a novella (50,000 words) in just three weeks. I will now start the editing process and look at what avenues are open to me for publication. Getting this far is a big achievement for me. I hope these tips will inspire you in some way and help on your own journey to publication. Follow me @ladynicci, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ladynicciblog and subscirbe to my blog at www.ladynicci.com.

December Girl is now available on Audio. Visit Amazon or Audible or click on the cover below to download.

December Girl audiobook

44 Comments on Ten essential tools for struggling writers

    • Thank you so much 🙂 I’m sure everyone has their own technique and tools, but this is what worked for me and hopefully will help others 🙂

  1. I’m quite interested to write this. My hubby writes short stories as a hobby. He isn’t really involved with a community and doesn’t use anything fancier than word. He did enter a competition last year (that I found for him) and he won and got published as the prize. This has given me some ideas to suggest to him.

  2. Wow, great blog post – very informative for anyone considering writing. I’ve sort of toyed with the idea myself lately because I have been loving blogging so much. It’s great to see how you’ve put a plan together and focused on what you want to do.

    • If you pick up a copy of the magazine I mention you might find a ton of different writing avenues – doesn’t have to be fiction etc. Something might spark your imagination. Def recommend, once you’re blogging, you’re writing 🙂

    • Ha, I think half the problem with finding good books is that are MILLIONS out there, so how to you choose? I am terrible with choice, it overwhelms me. But glad to see my house library is building again 🙂

    • Hi Becky, I’m sure there are other programs out there too, but this one worked really well for me. Yes a bit like blogging, chatting with other writers is great. All friends here 😉

    • Well for me it was always this long off dream, something I might achieve decades away. But I don’t feel like that anymore. I know it’s hard work, but it’s well worth it. The more I write, the more I want to write!

  3. Such an informative post. Interesting to see that self-publishing has become so much more accessible. I love to write, which is why I’m so happy to have found blogging. Good luck with your projects 🙂

  4. Ooh, this was all very interesting and I got excited for you realising your dreams! It’s so great that you’re taking your writing seriously and pushing yourself through all the blocks as they come up.
    It’s funny too how we feel we can’t ever call ourselves ‘writers’ – it’s become a kind of sacred term, only to be mentioned in whispers 🙂

    • Yes it is a sacred term isn’t it? I guess it’s the way we learned about literature! But the whole world of publishing is opening up – aren’t bloggers the new writers of today?

  5. Some amazing tips here and great ideas. I wish you luck with your ventures. I’d love to self publish something and I think I will look out for the writing forum magazine when I hit the shops later. 🙂

  6. Great post Nicola, I can’t wait to have the time to write some more, work takes over at the moment so my writing is only half hearted it feels like!

    • Aw, we all struggle I think. Good weeks and bad weeks. I think if you’re getting any writing at all, including blogging, #winning

  7. I’m amazed by anyone who can write fiction. It’s interesting to see the different tools there are now, compared with previously where people would just write with pen and paper.

    • I went away from fiction for so long, so feel like I’m starting from way back. It’s a totally different discipline but quite exciting as you just don’t know where your character will end up and you have total control 🙂

  8. This is a really interesting post and has motivated and inspired me. I always loved writing as a child but let fear and life get in the way and stop me from doing it. I’ve recently decided to start writing again, just for myself and just because I enjoy it – with no pressure. Thanks for sharing these tools!

    • No problem at all 🙂 I def went away from it for a long time, without even noticing, and then when the babog came along it refocused me, because I wanted to write about the experience and also concentrate on what made me happiest. Best of luck, I’m sure you’ll do great.

    • Writing is a craft and I don’t think you ever stop learning! So many factors involved. Getting the words down was the biggest achievement for me. We’ll have to take a look at the quality then. I’m still a bit afraid to read back over it all 🙂

  9. I’ve bookmarked this to refer back to as so many of these tips are priceless. I`ve had the dream of being a writer for years but put so little genuine effort and intent into it all. I need to try this Scrivener programme for sure! Thank you for the motivation x

    • Hi Hayley, thanks for the comment. I’d say only get the software when you’re about ready to write something significant as it really spurs you on. I was the same, it’s just been there for years, and I kinda forgot about it. Don’t know what it was about 2015 but it seemed to be my year! Let’s hope 2016 continues that way!

    • Yes i spend a LOT of time thinking about writing and far less doing it. But we’re improving. Practice makes perfect. Also when you get into a routine – you miss it- it’s kind of your own little space bubble 🙂

  10. Am also an inspiring writer so this is great. I downloaded Scivener when I did Nanowrimo last year and must admit that I struggle to get the hang of it. Going to do your suggestion of watching YouTube videos. Thanks

    • Ooo would like to do Nanowrimo this year, is it really tough? Defo, you tube worked really well for me. I also export it as a straight word doc which means I can edit it as I like then

  11. Thanks Nicci! I’m actually living in France now, so I’d have to say it’s just getting better. There are ups and downs to being a freelancer (like all things) but once you’ve tasted freedom, it’s impossible to look back. Perhaps that’s the scariest part of all. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom. 🙂

    • Oh France, fab, love France. Very inspiring for your writing, I’d imagine. Don’t now if I’d ever be brave enough to go freelancing – think you have to work that extra bit harder, don’t you – all the time! Looking forward to reading more from you Cate, Nicci

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