Saturday, February 10, 2018

Interview with Frances M. Thompson: 'Writing Makes me Happy'

I've got in touch with Frances M. Thompson via social media a couple of years ago, part of my travel blogging activities, and we continued the dialogue when I started to read and review her books, besides the usual photos and travel stories I've been sharing at the time. In addition to her writing projects, she created recently also WriteNOW cards which I personally love as it keeps me - and probably many people in my situation - focused and alert, through encouraging quotes of positive thinking about the many facets of the writing process. As usually when I encounter interesting people, I ask them a couple of questions about their writing life and experiences, and Frances took some time from her very busy mom, writer and entrepreneur life to answer my curiosities in an interview from my readers. Enjoy!

How did your writing adventure start? 

As soon as I learnt how to write, I remember really enjoying it and I wanted to write stories because I'd long loved books and hearing my parents telling me stories. I have old "books" I wrote and illustrated (terribly) from my early and some even printed out on paper from my teenage years, however, I can't honestly say I didn't take my writing seriously - or indeed finish anything longer than ten pages - until I was 28 and travelling the world with my partner. I'd left behind a full-time job and even busier social life in London and I suddenly had lots of extra hours in the day so the "I don't have time" excuse just didn't stand up anymore. I had also been blogging for a few years at that stage and really enjoyed writing regularly, building a platform and connecting with other people online. Writing fiction and getting some of the millions of ideas I had on paper was a natural progression... once I'd given myself a kick up the backside to get started!

What inspires you to write every day?

After five or six years of writing regularly (almost every day) I feel weird when I don't write. I think that's for two reasons. Firstly, I just really, really, really enjoying the process of writing from how it feels exercising my creativity, to sometimes entering a state of "flow", to holding a book I've written in my hands after years of work, so that's motivation enough to keep writing regularly. I also know that writing is good for my mind and soul and as someone who has had mental health ups and downs I know writing is therapy for me. Secondly, after spending time committing to writing regularly, it has become an ingrained part of my life. While the when, how often and what has changed (especially since becoming a mother), writing regularly is non-negotiable for me. It's like cleaning my teeth - I have to do it, I nearly always remember to do it and I feel weird when I don't do it or forget.

What are your 3 pieces of wisdom for an aspiring writer?

Aside from the most obvious - READ, JUST START, WRITE LIKE NOBODY'S READING - I would give the following pieces of advice: 

1. Make sure you enjoy writing. This sounds silly but don't write because you want to hold your book in your hand, write because you want to write a book. In other words, make sure you enjoy the journey more than the destination - and if you start and find that you don't enjoy the journey, that's fine! There are lots of other creative pursuits to explore and enjoy. I've learned after publishing several books now that you can't control what happens to a finished project, but you do have more control over the experience of writing it and this is also a lot more time-consuming. It's okay to struggle with writing - it's really flipping hard sometimes! - but it's not okay to hate the whole process and chase an outcome that may not be everything you wished for anyway.
2. If you do enjoy writing, then remind yourself of this all the time, and be gracious and kind to yourself in pursuing this joy. Try writing in different genres, let yourself have good days and bad days, and take breaks when you need to.
3. Make time. Time is your greatest asset as a writer and you need a hell of a lot of it. The only way I've been able to finish books is by saying No to other things, by prioritising writing over other activities and events, and by actively committing to writing regularly.

What are your favorite genres as a writer? What books you are 100% sure you will never write?

Great question! Most of my previous books have been short stories (each between 2,000 and 15,000 words long) and so far I've only also written poetry and novellas. I am working on two full-length novels at the moment - very slowly! - but I find it incredibly hard and I am beginning to wonder if short fiction is just more my strength. We shall see... In terms of specific genres, I would describe most of my stories as "contemporary fiction" but Shy Feet had at least two romantic stories, London Eyes had a ghost story in it and one story with a bit of magical realism in it, and my third collection Nine Women was definitely woman's fiction and possibly even family fiction, but it also had two very dark stories in it. My novellas are a series of mystery-suspense-thrillers based in modern day urban and gritty London so they're very different from my short stories! I would like to say "never say never" when it comes to what genre I would write in because I really enjoy trying out different genres, but I think it's safe to say I'll never write any Faith literature, and I really don't enjoy reading most Chick Lit so that's not on my radar either.

How did you start WriteNOW cards and what is the feedback from the users so far? 

WriteNOW Cards began because I was fed up! Fed up with how hard writing was sometimes. Fed up with how easy it was to think negatively about my writing. Fed up with how that would then stop me writing. This would then make me feel more fed up and low, and thus a vicious circle began spinning around and around. I'd been aware of these kinds of feelings the whole time I've been writing regularly (since 2012) but I just accepted them as part and parcel of the writing journey. Then I had my son (in July 2015) and I experienced a very hard few years with post-natal depression and anxiety. I started to use affirmations to help feel more positive about myself as a mother and person, and much to my surprise this worked. Once I was feeling better (thanks also to therapy and anti-anxiety medication) and back to work properly in September 2016 I began brainstorming and designing some affirmation cards for writers. Primarily I created them for just me to use, but I knew very early on that there was potential for others to connect with them too and I really felt inspired and motivated by the idea of helping others write more. In summer of 2017 I started an Instagram account and began selling them to other writers.

The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. People love the colours and the affirmations. Those who have the full pack (47 different affirmations) have told me that every card they've picked and read aloud has helped them feel more focused, calmer and more proactive about writing regularly which is exactly what I hoped! I'm hoping to create some new collections for different kinds of writers and also for different stages in the writing process, e.g. editing, planning, publishing and marketing, etc. Watch this space on Twitter and Instagram!

I've read your updates on Instagram and I know that you participated to NaNoWriMo writing marathon. What are your lessons learned so far and what are your recommendations to anyone trying to keep up the pace for a month of daily writing?

NaNoWriMo was the kick up the bum I referred to earlier! While I'd been writing fiction on and off throughout my adult years, I was yet to finish anything but that changed when I committed to NaNoWriMo. I wrote like my life depended on it during November 2012 and by the end of 30 days I had over 53,000 words. I was amazed and felt so incredibly proud of myself, but what suprised me the most was how much fun I'd had over the month. Yes, it had been hard, I'd gotten tired and gotten stuck (lots of times!), but I'd also laughed with my characters, felt what they were feeling and went to sleep thinking about them with a smile on my face. It was weird but wonderful. To this day, finishing that month of writing is the moment I'm most proud of!

My recommendations for anyone doing #NaNoWriMo or for anyone wanting to kickstart a regular writing habit is to make it easy for themselves and do a little preparation in advance. Cancel social engagements, say no to things that aren't necessary, fill your freezer with meals and forget about your laundry pile for a while. Just make writing more of a priority and you may be surprised just how much you get done. And then when you know how good writing feels, you will naturally fit writing into your life... hopefully!

What are your writing plans for the next 12 months?

Right now I'm doing more editing and publishing than writing. I'm working on publishing my first poetry collection, and I'm also at the final editing stages of a non-fiction book I've been working on for a while. I'm editing the next novella in my series set in London, and I'm still plodding my way through the first drafts of those novels I mentioned earlier. Because my son is still young (2.5) I try not to set myself concrete deadlines and strict goals for getting stuff done because I can't write or do as much as I'd like, so if I get any of these things "finished" by the end of the year - I'll be happy! As long as things are moving in the right direction - no matter how slowly - I'm happy. Writing makes me happy.

Photos: Personal archive of the author

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