Thursday, September 8, 2011

New site - and new blog!

I know, I know, I've been terribly absent for a LONG time from blogland. But, now that Secrets & Speed Dating is on the shelves in the UK (wow!) and my second book is handed in (am awaiting revisions), I finally have a little bit of spare time. So I've finished off my new web site and blog.

From now on, you can find me at

As New Voices is kicking off again VERY soon (how exciting!) I've put together a post of all of my New Voices 2010 posts and interviews. I thought it was a good way to officially start my new blog, as, after all, New Voices is why I'm published, and why I finally decided to build a real site :)

New Voices 2010 - The Winner's Journey

I hope to see you there!

Leah xx

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Are you a procrastinator?

I definitely am! I am so envious of the many writer's blogs I visit where the authors are so diligent and so prolific - I am in awe of them :)

But I know I will never be like them (sadly), so I have my own techniques for dealing with procrastination. I was asked to write a blog post for Romance Writers of Australia's 50ks in 30 days event, which is taking place at the moment. I am an under performing participant, as I very very optimistically thought I could write 40K despite being on my honeymoon throughout June. Ha! But, I am writing, and will certainly write much more than I would have otherwise. (also, this way I am not heading for early divorce :) ).

I will be lazy and repost my blog below, or you can view the original here: RWA's 50ks in 30 days

The Procrastinator’s Guide to 50ks in 30 Days

I am a terrible procrastinator. The worst, quite possibly. But I have written a 50K book in 30 days – and that book will be my debut novel for Harlequin Mills & Boon in September. And if I – a writer who will find absolutely anything to do, other than actually write – can do that, than other procrastinators can too. I promise!

I’ve attempted 50k30days before, and failed dismally. It even took me four years to finish my first manuscript! So what changed this time? How was I magically cured of this dreadful procrastination curse?

Well, sadly – I’m still a procrastinator. Procrastination, I’m pretty sure, is here to stay. But now I have tools to deal with it. I cannot promise that what worked for me will work for you, and I can promise that nothing I’m about to say is particularly ground breaking. But it worked for me, so well that the word count I’m capable of achieving when I follow these steps still shocks me.

So here it its…

Leah Ashton’s Anti-Procrastination Toolkit

1. Erase the guilt
So you’re a procrastinator. Everyone around you is more productive and diligent than you (or so it seems!). Cue hours of self-flagellation. Or – acknowledge that you are what you are, and find techniques that allow
you to up your word count regardless. Feeling guilty won’t put words onto paper – so what’s the point?

2. Give yourself a real deadline
I would love to be one of those people who can’t bear a day without writing, but…well… I’m not. So, I need a deadline to get my butt in the seat. And it needs to be a real one, not just “I will write 10K by the end of
the month”, it needs to be a deadline with consequences if I fail. Prior to publication, my deadlines were planned around writing competitions. So if I didn’t hit my deadline, I couldn’t enter.
So, give yourself a deadline, with a real consequence. Find a writing competition with an entry date in early July. Sign up for a pitch at the conference. Anything – but make sure there is a consequence other than, “oh well.”

3. Have a plan (or even a plot)
I used to think I was a seat-of-my-pantser, resulting in the euphoric dashing off of an effortless chapter one, and chapter two and… then……nothing. I know this will be controversial with confirmed pantsers, but I strongly recommend at least a sketch of your plot. Just a vague plan of where you’re going and the main turning points along the journey. Why?
Well, nothing triggers a serious procrastination session for me than a blank page and absolutely no idea where I’m going. Reduce the risk of finding yourself with terrifying nothingness ahead of you and plan. Your plan is your safety net – and besides, you can always ignore it!

4. Remove yourself from temptation
What do you do when you procrastinate? Do you read? Watch TV? Surf the Internet? Whatever it is, get yourself away from it. Be dramatic if you have to – go write at a cafĂ©, have someone physically remove your TV from your house, give your modem to your husband and tell him he is not under any circumstances to give it back. You get the idea?
Obviously this is for confirmed procrastinators like me – if will power is enough for you, then that is awesome, but if not, do whatever you have to do. The Internet is my vice, and I’ve been known to lock my Internet dongle in my car, or alternatively I use a really nifty program called Freedom (available for Mac and PC), which cost $10 and will block the Internet for up to 8 hours – and the only way to get it back is to re-boot your computer. If it’s just some sites that suck the time out of your day, look into browser add-ons like Google Chrome’s StayFocusd or Firefox’s LeechBlock. Both will either block a site totally, or give you a maximum time limit per day.

5. Write with your friends
The discovery of sprints (where you write for 30 minutes or an hour with a friend, and then report back with your word count) was a breakthrough for me. I am a slow writer, so I never had super impressive word counts, but knowing I had to report in with my word count was super motivating.
Make sure you check into the Sprint Sessions in the RWA Chatroom throughout 50Ks in 30 Days, or follow along on Twitter. And if you can’t write with your friends? Well…

6. Sit down, and start typing
It’s hardly surprising, but the reality is if you sit down every day, without any distractions, and simply write a word, followed by another word, and then another – your word count will go up. Sometimes the idea of writing X number of words can be so overwhelming that starting seems impossible. But when you do start, and regardless if the words flow or are squeezed out painfully – as long as you’ll keep writing, you’ll hit your
word count. And once you start doing it day after day – well, before you know it – you would have written a book. Or 50Ks in 30 days!

There you have it – my procrastinator’s guide to 50Ks in 30 days. Please let me know if you reach into my toolkit – I’d love to know if it helps you, too. And as I’m also looking for new weapons to slay the procrastination beast – what tips have I missed that help you?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where did the month go?

I'm not sure how a month has passed since my last blog? One day it was April, and then - bam! - June! In my defence, I did manage to get married in May, so at least for the first part of the month I have a reasonable excuse :)

But rather than actually blogging (I have a 7.30am breakfast seminar to attend tomorrow/this morning and it's after midnight...another whoops), I thought I'd be lazy and link to a proper blog post I did on Monday at the LoveCats blog:

What is it about weddings?

There's even a pic from my wedding :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What I think I've learnt: Part 2 - plus, an exciting announcement!

I'll leave the exciting bit until the bottom of this post, and start with the second thing I think I've learnt thanks to Secrets & Speed Dating:

  • Use what I've already got
I'll be honest and admit I didn't figure this one out myself. My lovely friend Nikki Logan introduced me to this concept when I got really stuck about three quarters into the manuscript (the "right" version, for those who read Part One). My hero and heroine had just made love for the first time, and I'd written this lovely "morning after" scene. But... now what? I knew what my black moment was, but it was far too early for that. I knew I needed to show both my hero and heroine's reactions to this first night together and how nothing could ever be the same again... but the scene I was writing just felt boring.

I'd made the mistake in a previous version of the book of adding in a random plot twist ("ooh, let's have my heroine's mum turn up!"), so I knew that didn't work. But I needed *something* to happen. Something that wasn't contrived but that would keep the tension rolling along nicely.

And so Nikki said, "Didn't Sophie say in the previous chapter something something, why don't you use that?" (I'll let you read the book to find out what it was). This was a massive lightbulb for me. I'd had no idea I'd already set up the absolutely perfect scene (yay for my subconscious!) but I never would have noticed without Nikki's prompting. 

But of course, it makes perfect sense. By looking back what you are really doing is revisiting your characters - and their conflicts and motivations. By making sure you use something you've already got, you're ensuring it's the characters that are driving the story forward.

While I was fortunate to have a throw away line of dialogue to set up my next scene, I'd imagine that this probably isn't always the case. But I think the lesson still stands. Next time I get stuck, in a "what happens next?" moment, I'm going to go back and review what's come before. What have my character's already done? What have they talked about? What has happened? What would they do next?

So what do you think? Am I onto something here? (with apologies to Nikki who I have stolen this from - and quite possibly butchered in my expansion and explanation :) ).

And... now for the big news!

In about two hours, I become a LoveCat!!! I feel incredibly fortunate to have been invited to join the LoveCats - a group of Australian and New Zealand Harlequin Mills & Boon authors who have the fabulous LoveCats Down Under blog!

My official welcome post will appear very soon, where I get to answer some fun questions, and visitors get the chance to win an awesome book bundle prize!

Please come along and say hello - I'll be popping in as much as I can tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What I think I've learnt: Part 1

Way to sound super confident, hey? But the title of this blog post is true, at this stage all I have is a list of things I *think* I've learnt through the process of rewriting, and rewriting, Secrets & Speed Dating. I think I need a few (lot!) more books under my belt before I'm vaguely confident I've learnt anything at all :)

But, as some of you seem to be interested in this (*waves at Autumn!*) this is the first in a series of blog posts that I'll write over the next few months, covering "the list" (which I emailed to myself a few days after my book was accepted while it was still fresh in my mind). I won't pretend that anything I'm about to share is particularly ground breaking, but for me, it was a combination of all these things (and sheer bloody mindedness) that got me over the line.

So...Part One:

a) Trust my instincts. If it doesn't feel right, it's not. 

b) This isn't the same as it being hard to write.

See, I said it wasn't ground breaking :) But here's the thing, even though I've always known this, I somehow managed to win New Voices even though I didn't think my Chapter Two was "right". It was quite literally the best I was possibly capable of at that moment in time (it went through MANY rewrites!) but deep down, I wasn't happy with it. Yet I got through to the Final 4, and then I won. 

So, my subconscious went...AWESOME! and started to let other writing through that also wasn't quite right.

This other writing is otherwise known as "Version One" of Secrets & Speed Dating, that made it to about 19,000 words before having to be scrapped.

Version Two was much better, it got rid of some of the "not right" stuff from Version One, but I still knew that something wasn't right. Like I'd make excuses for it while describing the story to my family and friends. It wasn't a bad story, it just wasn't the right story for me to be writing. But I was so obsessed with meeting my deadline, and there was quite literally no time for me to go with anything else. So I soldiered on.

When Version Two got dumped, I dumped it properly. ALL of the "not right" stuff went. Any line of dialogue, or piece of back story, or ANYTHING that I didn't like... even if it had been in the winning chapters, went. Even if I knew, logically, that there was NOTHING wrong with what I was deleting... if I knew it wasn't right - for me - I trusted myself.

And that's how I wrote all of Version Three. And yes, some parts were really really hard to write, and I stared at a white screen and flashing cursor and whinged, and cursed, and typed, and deleted... but I never let myself get past a page of "not right" without stopping, going back, and starting again.

I know there is a lot of advice out there about writing a discovery draft, or "you can't fix a blank page" and so on. And this is all perfectly valid, and I'm sure works for millions of people. But for me, it doesn't.

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Call Story

I just have to mention again how amazing the past few days have been :) The congratulations I have received from members of the romance community - both blogland and through Romance Writers of Australia have just blown me away. Romance writers really are the best!

So, I guess I'd better tell you what happened after the end of New Voices way back in November?

Well - it turned out winning the competition was the easy bit.

My original deadline for my book was Christmas. So off I went, typing madly away, and sending chunks of my book off to my editor for feedback. All was going well... right?

By the end of November, and 19K into the book, my editor called - there were issues with my story. So I
threw out at least half of what I'd written, and tried again.

This time I got stopped at 27K words. This was about ten days before Christmas, and the email and subsequent phone call telling me all that wasn't working...well, they were just awful. Of course my editor was right (If I was honest, I knew it wasn't working), but I was very low and felt like a complete failure.

Surely by now Mills & Boon regretted choosing me as their winner?

With my editor's encouragement, I took a break over Christmas, and didn't start writing again until 2nd January. Amazingly, my editor still seemed to have faith in me!

This time I threw out everything - leaving less that 3000 words from the original book. If you read my competition entries, both the pivotal moment and 90% of chapter two is gone. My hero has totally changed. The book is SO much better for it.

I was determined to write my way this time, and while still taking on everything I learnt from my mentors during New Voices (and my editor subsequently), to trust my instincts.

The feedback on my first few chapters was very positive, as was the feedback on the first half of the book a few weeks later. We decided on a new deadline - 10th Feb.

I wrote like a mad thing, with my support team (including Nikki and Rach) getting me through. But I did
it - I subbed the book on time. A whole book in five weeks - this was amazing for slow typing, procrastinator me!

I got my revisions back quick smart (via phone call), which I managed to turn around in four days, and then had some final tiny sentence level tweaks to make. 

Then, on Friday, I got "the email". My book is to be published, and they want my next one too :)

So while I didn't get "the call", I'll claim my revision stage call as my call :) 

My editor called me yesterday with more details about release dates and so on - my book will come out as part of a New Voices anthology in the UK in October this year, and then as a Harlequin Romance in the US and M&B Sweet in Australia in 2012. My next book is due later this year!

It was hard - much harder than I anticipated when I won New Voices - but absolutely worth it.

And no... it hasn't sunk in yet :)

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's official!!

I found out today that my New Voices book is definitely going to be published. Yes - Leah Ashton, published author. OMG.

PLUS - Mills & Boon want to publish my next book. To say that I am excited would be a complete understatement :)

I don't have many details yet, but I will be published (there's that word again!) with Riva in the UK, and Sweet/Romance in Australia/US.

I'll share more of my journey since winning New Voices in the next few days, but for now, I will take another sip of my pink champagne, another hug from my super proud fiance, and enjoy this moment :)