Wednesday, 23 August 2017
Seize the Day
In the 1989 Robin Williams film Dead Poets Society, he played an unconventional teacher who encourages his students with the Latin phrase Carpe diem – seize the day. This has become a well-known saying, to encourage people not to dream of the future but take action today.
This applies especially to writers. It’s what you do today that will make your future. Don’t just dream of writing a book ‘one day’, do it now. Don’t just seize the day, seize the inspiration, seize the opportunity.
Carpe inspirationem (Seize the inspiration)
Inspiration can strike at any moment. It may be the idea for a new piece of fiction, a new place to market your book, or the solution to a problem you’ve been wrestling with. When inspiration strikes, don’t let it go.
That’s why writers are told to always have a notebook with them, though these days you can make notes on your phone. But do take notes – you won’t remember later.
One day I was standing in front of Swansea Castle ruins, which are in the town centre. I wondered what the castle was like when it was lived in, and whether there was scope for a fantasy story about going back in time. I Googled it as soon as I got home, found out some fascinating stuff and a few days later went to the library. I asked for help, telling the librarian I didn’t know where to start or how to go about researching. She was happy to help and showed me around. The result was my first book – Alina, the White Lady of Oystermouth. Not a fantasy story but a local history book. The success of that book led to a second – Broken Reed: The Lords of Gower and King John. That in turn led to a book on Magna Carta for non-historians – The Magna Carta Story.
Carpe commodum (Seize the opportunity)
You should always be prepared for any opportunity to talk about your work, your business or your writing.
Suppose you are waiting in a queue and get chatting to the person next to you. Suppose he turns out to be involved in a group that meets regularly to listen to speakers on a topic similar to yours. Will you be able to tell him about yourself and give him details to pass on to the booking secretary? What about being out one day and finding a bookshop that stocks your sort of books? Will you miss the chance to go in and introduce yourself? What will you have with you to leave with them?
Both these scenarios have happened to me. I carry business cards and promotional flyers in my handbag everywhere I go. I got the business cards from Vista Print and designed the flyers myself. Nothing fancy, but it looks more professional than scribbling your details on a scrap of paper. Also, I’m really scared of marketing, but if I can wave a piece of paper under someone’s nose it really helps my confidence.
And have you perfected your 30-second pitch yet? If you have a chance to tell someone about your book, do you know what to say to get the message over in 30 seconds? Also called an elevator pitch, you have to say it before the person gets out of the elevator (lift). Practice on your friends.
Carpe diem (Seize the day)
Do you bumble through your day without a plan? Do you plan your day but still never have time to write? If you’re a writer, you need to make time to write, but when you really can’t you can still be writing in your head. Always have something in mind to think about while you’re doing something else. I use Evernote, which synchronises between my phone and my computer, for taking notes. But sometimes I will put a passage into Evernote that I’m working on, and can then work on it wherever I am.
While you wait in a queue, sit on a bus, or eat your lunch you can be inventing new blog post titles, resolving a plot point, or thinking up a new short story. Of course, you will take notes, won’t you?
I don’t get writer’s block because I wrestle with it while I’m busy doing other things. By the time I get to write, I’ve already decided what to say. Or I’ve thought of something else to write while my subconscious continues mulling over a problem.
You may not know Latin, but just remember two words: Carpe diem. Here’s a picture for you to put up by your desk or stick to your notebook.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz