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Posted on 06 July 2020 10:17

Summary:

It’s been a great start to the second half of the year! I’ve cleared all but one of my short projects off my list (and worked out what I’m doing with the last one) to make way for the grand novel revision project. And I’ve processed a lot of great feedback on the novel from my wonderful beta readers, to inform my editing plan. Very happy with progress all round!

 

Monday:

I stated my goals for the day on the UWR online session page.

Then I read through and tweaked Broken Succession and submitted it, along with a few other stories I had ready to go.

At the afternoon session, I drafted my third story for the TL;DR flash fiction workshop and edited my previous two, based on the feedback I’d received. I also revised a very old story based on feedback from an editor, and submitted that, along with my first two TL;DR pieces.

I finished off my writing session by updating my projects list, doing some end-of-quarter reflection in my writing diary and planning my writing activity for the next month. I signed up for Camp Nano and set myself the goal of completing my editing plan for Colours and adding 25,000 words to the manuscript - no harm in being ambitious, right?

Later, I recorded and edited the next interim podcast episode.

 

Tuesday:

I wrote two book reviews.

 

Wednesday:

Day One of Camp NaNoWriMo! Started well by pulling Strength, Endurance and Talent from my blessings bowl!

In the morning, I edited a story for a friend, who needed feedback quickly to meet an imminent submission deadline.

Later, I put together my work station for embarking on the great editing expedition for Colours. I also added 43 words to the manuscript so I could log a start on Camp Nano. I always said I'd never get involved in a Nano event, but this has fallen at just the right time to help me with my Colours revision, and it's a lot more flexible than the main November one, so I'm going to use it to my advantage.

I planned out my writing sessions for the rest of the week in my UWR writing diary.

 

Thursday:

I faffed a lot this morning, getting my workstation set up, pulling blessings (Time, Innovation, Contentment - another good set for my editing project) and doing a tarot reading (the Captain of Airships is ready to accompany me into my editing with calm clarity, good counsel and an unemotional perspective - yay!), making tea, arranging my pens, refilling my medication for the week…

Then, eventually, I went back to my feedback spreadsheet and started reviewing comments. I went back to the developmental edit from Amie of the Six Month Novel Programme first, to remind myself of the aspects of her feedback that I still needed to address. There were a couple of people who had given me just a few short, but useful, points so I went back to those and added them into my notes. Then I read through the four longer ‘overview’ statements and decided what I wanted to take from those.

 

Friday:

I went through the first of four annotated manuscripts from my beta readers on Colours. I made some amendments to my draft here and there but mostly compiled notes on larger revisions to consider later.

It felt good to be getting back into this story properly again. There’s a lot of work to do, but it feels do-able and I have confidence in the story, so that helps.

I added nearly 1000 words to my WIP Big Bang story, and it felt good to be making progress on that again. Then I reviewed my flash piece for tomorrow’s TL;DR workshop and added some more descriptive detail to that.

 

Saturday:

I started the day by collating my notes and writing my script for the next main podcast episode. Then I moved on to the second annotated manuscript of Colours, making amendments as required and adding notes to my master collation.

In the evening, I attended the fourth TL;DR flash fiction workshop, which was fantastic as ever.

 

Sunday:

I started out by editing a lengthy blog post for Dave. I had a brainwave about my WIP Big Bang story (the big question about how the heroes get out of the pickle they’re in was answered!) so I wrote some notes on that. I also made some amendments to my third TL;DR flash fiction piece, based on the feedback from the previous night’s workshop, getting it ready for submission.

Then I moved on to reviewing Dave’s feedback on Colours, made necessary quick amendments and added a lot more to my editing notes.

 

Posted on 29 June 2020 09:39

Summary:

This week was very much a lesson in accountability and scheduling. I had two retreat days where I wanted to get specific tasks done but didn’t really feel like it on the day. But I stated my goals on two separate online communities and that helped me achieve them, even though I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic.

 

Monday:

I had a slightly late start but posted by goals for the morning on the UWR online session page and eventually settled down to review my Scribophile critiques on Suffering. I tweaked the story based on all the feedback and was happy with the final result.

Then I moved on to my ideas from the second TL;DR flash workshop and completed a first draft of one of them.

After lunch, I went through an old short story to attempt to expand and revise it to fit an upcoming submission opportunity. I managed to add a bit, but didn’t feel that just padding out the text I already had would be productive, considering the story needed to be doubled in length.

So, I posted it on TL;DR to ask for some help on how to expand it. (Having a responsive writing community is awesome!)

 

Wednesday:

I edited an article for a friend and a flash piece for another friend.

 

Thursday:

I wrote a mammoth script for the next interim podcast episode.

I then spent most of the afternoon finishing my current book and writing the review.

 

Friday:

I gave feedback on a poem for a friend.

 

Saturday:

I stated my goal of completing the expansion of Broken Succession on both UWR and TL;DR, and then sat down to review my notes and feedback. Several extra scenes presented themselves (courtesy of the subconscious crew), so I added to my notes and then dug into the story and added more than 2300 words to put it over the required target of 5000 words.

The third TL;DR flash fiction workshop was just as good as the other two. I got some great feedback on my second story and came up with an interesting idea for my third, which may well work for an upcoming submission opportunity I’d been mulling.

 

Sunday:

I wrote a review of the film we watched for online film night on Friday.

I also submitted Suffering.

 

Posted on 21 June 2020 20:09

Summary:

Some good progress on various fronts, and a highly enjoyable collaborative workshop, which reminded me why I like spending time discussing things and working on stuff with other writers.

 

Monday:

I posted my stated goals on the UWR online session page for the morning session - namely finishing the first draft of Suffering and the first draft of the flash piece from the TL;DR workshop.

Then I completed a submission.

I also managed to complete my stated goals and posted Suffering on Scribophile to get feedback.

Later, I wrote a book review.

 

Tuesday:

I wrote another book review.

 

Wednesday:

I critiqued a short story for a friend.

 

Thursday:

I did multiple critiques on Scribophile to get my points back up and push Suffering closer to the spotlight.

 

Saturday:

I attended the second week of the TL;DR Flash Fiction Workshop.

It was awesome! We discussed a contest-winning flash fic we’d all read during the week, then we worked in pairs to review and comment on our Week One first drafts, and then we brainstormed ideas from prompts for a second story. So much fun, and really productive.

 

Sunday:

I read a few of the other pieces from the TL;DR workshop and sent feedback to the writers. I also wrote some notes for the first draft of my second story.

Later, I discussed my various ideas with Dave, refined my plan for the second story and also made notes for a completely different version to do as well.

I also made sure I had a clear plan for the UWR online session I planned to attend the next day.

 

Posted on 14 June 2020 19:47

Summary:

Monday has definitely become my most productive writing day, thanks to a great online writing retreat schedule that fits really well with how I like to structure my day.

 

Monday:

I stated my goals on the UWR online session post, which were to continue drafting Suffering and the WIP story, and also to alter three existing stories to fit upcoming submission opportunities - one to shorten, one to expand, and one to change the tone of the ending from uplifting to dark.

I set the subconscious crew the task of working out my WIP Big Bang story ready for the afternoon retreat session.

I settled down to work, but got distracted when I got an email from the editor of Writing Magazine, accepting both the articles I submitted back in November, which was awesome!!

I eventually started my writing session with a book review, then continued drafting Suffering and managed 500 words. I also cut down a 3,100 story to 16,25 to fit a competition entry.

In the afternoon, I brainstormed my WIP Big Bang story and the subconscious crew continued to exceed expectations by presenting me with a workable plot. So, I outlined for a bit and then started writing the actual story - my first fanfiction writing of the year!

 

Wednesday:

I wrote a review of a film we watched the day before.

 

Thursday:

I wrote a blog post about cultivating a positive mental attitude.

Then I wrote some more of my WIP Big Bang story, so I would have enough to submit my snippets, which were due on Saturday. I managed to add nearly 900 words to the story.

 

Friday:

I wrote my script for the next main podcast episode, and also completed the next lesson in Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass.

Later, I brainstormed and drafted ideas for an upcoming submission opportunity.

 

Saturday:

I added a bit more to my WIP Big Bang story and submitted the required snippets on time.

I did my GYWO discussion post for the month and tweaked the script for the next main podcast episode, as well as reviewing a book I'd finished earlier in the afternoon.

In the evening I attended the first session of the TL;DR Flash Fiction Workshop, which was really fun and resulted in an idea for a new flash piece that will be developed in the next workshop.

 

Sunday:

I did some submissions and edited the latest podcast episode.

 

Posted on 11 June 2020 10:30

Things have been getting hard again. The daily routine has been feeling relentless. The future is still so uncertain. Everything has been seeming to take more energy that I don’t have. I’ve been grumpy and tired and not feeling like being constructive.

 

But it’s all in my head. And I do know that. But, sometimes, it takes a while to remember, and to give myself a nudge to change my attitude.

 

Everything I am doing in my life at the moment, I am choosing to do for good and positive reasons.

 

I work at my day job because I want to earn money, and also because I take pride in doing a good job for people I like, completing tasks that are important and that others don’t want to do. It gives me structure, and three days a week where I don’t have to decide what to do next, because it’s on a list that’s not determined by me. There’s pleasure and satisfaction in that.

 

I run because I want to take positive action towards getting fitter. I enjoy setting myself new challenges to run further or faster. And I want to know what happens next in Zombies Run!

 

I cook and do laundry and wash up because I want to provide good food for myself and my husband, because I like choosing meals and knowing what’s in them. I like the kitchen to be tidy and the crockery to be clean. And it’s nice to have clean clothes, not to mention that arranging them on the drying rack and then folding them and putting them away has become a very pleasant mindfulness exercise.

 

So, whilst a lot of those things can feel like burdensome obligations that I am forced into, that isn’t true. Nobody is forcing me to do any of those things. I choose to do them because I find pleasure either in the act or in the results. And it’s important to remember that.

 

After several runs that felt really hard and miserable, this morning I got up and ran all the way round the local park and back to the bottom of the hill without stopping for the first time ever. I have run further on other routes, but I had a mental block about the park, because it’s where I first started running, so I associate it with the activity being difficult. But I knew I could run that whole distance because I’ve done it before elsewhere. So, today, I decided I could do it - and I did! And it felt really good.

 

The same lesson applies to writing. Sometimes, writing feels like a chore. And I often think that if I didn’t have external deadlines (competition entries, etc), I wouldn’t do it. But I know that’s not true. Because I wrote a novel, and signed the contract last week for it to be published (YAY!). And there were no external deadlines for that. But I did it anyway, even though it was really hard, because I wanted to.

 

I’ve tried giving up writing before. And it doesn’t stick. There are always more ideas and more submission opportunities and more encouragement and more successes, all of which spur me on.

 

And, a lot of the time, I do enjoy the writing process, no matter how much I might complain about it at times!

 

So, I’m planning to turn my more positive attitude to my writing projects and try to inject a bit more enthusiasm, while still acknowledging that pushing myself every minute to be doing something productive is not a healthy way to be, or a route to being happy.

 

I’ve been looking at affirmations for a creative project this week, and one in particular has stuck with me, as being very appropriate for this attitude shift:

 

When you’re tired, learn to rest, not quit.

 

There will always be fallow periods, times during which I need to stop, take stock and recharge. But my projects and ideas and enthusiasm will always be there waiting for me, when I’m ready to come back to them. The important thing is to find a balance between working and resting, so that the cycle is more regular, rather than there being intensive periods of productivity, followed by burnout.

 

I’ll try to keep reminding myself to make choices for positive, rather than negative reasons. And I’ll try to keep reminding myself that I love the things I do and I do them because I want to.

 

Posted on 07 June 2020 18:23

Summary:

More planning and brainstorming and revising this week than actual new words, but a couple of stories completed, lots of submissions done. Oh, and I signed the contract with my publisher for my first novel. So, that happened...

 

Monday:

I logged my goals on the UWR online retreat page, then finalised both Missing Out and Secret Admirer, after some excellent additional feedback from Dave.

Then I submitted both of them, along with a few other stories for calls that opened today.

 

Wednesday:

I wrote a book review.

 

Thursday:

I did some more submissions and enough Scribophile critiques to get my points up over five again, so I could post a new story if I wanted.

Later, I signed the contract with my publisher for Artisan!!!

I also assigned a story idea to the subconscious crew, asking them to come up with a way to move forwards with it on Saturday morning.

 

Friday:

I wrote a book review and added some more submission opportunities to my rolling spreadsheet from this month’s Writing Magazine.

 

Saturday:

The subconscious crew outdid themselves, coming up with a ton of really interesting ideas for my horror story, and completely changing it from its previous version. I wrote some notes to plan it out.

I also went through all my upcoming submission plans and worked out either ideas for new stories or ideas for how to adapt old stories to fit.

 

Sunday:

I planned out some more submissions and also set my goals for tomorrow’s online retreat.

I also made some notes for my WIP Big Bang story, and wrote the first few words of the new opening to my horror story, now renamed Suffering in Silence.

 

Posted on 31 May 2020 20:25

Summary:

Really great progress on the short story front this week, starting from an awesome session with structure provided by Urban Writers Retreat. I’m pleased that I then managed to build on that momentum to continue with the stories throughout the rest of the week. Here's hoping I can do the same next week!

 

Monday:

I started out with a couple of reviews of books I finished recently.

Then, I logged on to the UWR online session, stating the intention to spend an hour each on the four short stories I’m meant to be working on. I then spent the first half hour of the retreat making tea, setting up my writing station and faffing around on the internet. Sigh.

After that, though, I did some useful research for my astronaut story, now called Missing Out, which helped me figure out where to start, so I wrote the first few hundred words.

Then I moved onto a horror story I’ve had swirling around my brain for years, and which I thought I could write to fit an upcoming anthology call. I wasn’t convinced the idea would work, or suit the theme, and I considered just letting it go. But I did a bit of brainstorming and came up with a new approach that not only fit the theme much better, but also improved the arc of the story and made it a lot easier to write. So that was quite an achievement! I started drafting the opening, while I was on a roll and got some words down and came up with the title, Comeuppance.

After lunch, I started drafting Secret Admirer, another idea I had some time ago and had already completed an outline for. I wrote the first couple of scenes.

Then I finished off a truly excellent session by brainstorming expansion ideas for my WIP Big Bang story, and managed to come up with some ideas for timeline and setting, as well as a list of questions for my subconscious crew to work on for next time.

 

Tuesday:

I reviewed the film we watched the night before.

 

Wednesday:

I set myself the task of recreating the morning session of Monday’s retreat and finished a first draft of Missing Out. I also rewrote the opening of Comeuppance to adjust the point of view, and added a bit more.

I also edited the next main podcast episode.

 

Thursday:

I did some submissions.

 

Saturday:

I logged my writing intentions on the URW online writing retreat page and settled down to complete my first draft of Secret Admirer.

Then I wrote the next interim podcast script.

 

Sunday:

I did some reflecting, planning and scheduling in my awesome UWR diary.

I talked to my parents about the Secret Admirer story and made some amendments based on their feedback.

I also did a ‘show, don’t tell’ exercise, prompted by one of the people currently editing Colours.

Later, I recorded and edited the next interim podcast episode.

 

Posted on 24 May 2020 15:10

Summary:

A bit scattershot this week, and no real progress on any of my current fiction projects. Hey ho. Maybe next week...

 

Monday:

I did some story planning and writing scheduling.

I also helped Bear with a post about a submission he made recently to an online magazine.

Later, I did some submissions of my own.

 

Tuesday:

I read and commented on a flash fiction piece for a friend.

I wrote a review of a book I finished the day before.

I did another Seempli prompt.

 

Wednesday:

I played a new game and wrote a review of it.

 

Thursday:

I attended Boss Club with Claire of CP’s Day Off and wrote my script for the next main podcast episode.

 

Friday:

I pulled out a random journal from 2008 to flick through and found a reference to a writing project I conceived of years ago, to compile a record of significant memories from the first 24 years of my life (when I started journaling properly).

So, I found the notebook I had planned to use, which still contained the list of over 150 stories/memories to record, and I began adding to them again.

 

Sunday:

I wrote another couple of memories in my anecdotes book, and did another Seempli prompt.

I also put together a schedule for the next day’s URW online session, in the hopes of motivating myself to get on with some actual fiction writing.

 

 

Posted on 17 May 2020 20:45

Summary:

I rediscovered Seempli this week, which was fun, particularly when I realised I could transform any of the creative challenges into a freewriting prompt. I helped out another writer with comments on the opening of her novel, which felt good. And I kept up with reviews. So, modest accomplishments, but pleasing.

 

Monday:

I recorded and edited the next interim episode of the podcast.

I also read and commented on some more of my friend’s novel.

Later, I revisited Seempli and did a creativity exercise from the Master Your Creativity page.

I also did some brainstorming for an upcoming competition.

 

Wednesday:

I started out the day with another Seempli prompt, turning a visual, image-capture task into a freewriting prompt.

 

Thursday:

I tried another Seempli prompt, turning it into a freewriting exercise again. I have quite enjoyed doing that this week, giving myself a little creativity challenge, just to write whatever comes to mind.

Then I read and commented on some more of my friend’s novel.

Later, I reviewed the book I finished during the day.

 

Friday:

I wrote my GYWO discussion post for the month.

I also added this month’s submission opportunities from Writing Magazine to my rolling spreadsheet.

 

Saturday:

I reviewed a filmed version of the stage Phantom of the Opera we watched the night before.

Later, I did another random Seempli prompt.

 

Posted on 10 May 2020 18:38

Summary:

 

Lots of great progress this week, working on writing projects at least a little bit every day. I also completed the second draft of my second novel, which felt significant. You know, I think I might actually be a novelist!

 

Monday:

I logged onto Charlie’s online UWR session, stating the intention of writing the new scenes for the amended Colours climax.

Then I got to work and wrote them! That brought me to the end of the second draft, so I put some feelers out for people to read it and give me feedback by mid-June. I got several volunteers and sent it off to several people.

Later, I did some submissions.

 

Tuesday:

I talked about Colours with my mum, accepted some feedback and recorded the ideas on my new editing plan.

 

Wednesday:

I did a freewriting exercise for Claire’s instagram project.

 

Thursday:

I collated more Colours feedback from both my parents, involving the development of a very interesting idea that could add quite a bit to the narrative.

Then I wrote a blog post about the significance of finishing the second draft of my second novel.

 

Friday:

I started writing the script for the next interim podcast episode.

 

Saturday:

I logged on to Charlie’s online URW session for structure and encouragement.

I started out brainstorming ideas for my NYC Midnight Microfiction assignment, which was due by the end of the day. I was given a genre, a specific action and a specific word, all of which needed to be included in my 100-word story. I used the technique of doing a bullet point for each aspect and then just listing all the ideas I could think of for using each. I selected something from partway down each list, so as to avoid the first couple of ideas (which everyone is likely to come up with) and then went to work putting it all together.

Then I finished my script for the next interim podcast episode.

Later, I wrote an extensive review of a book and its two film adaptations.

I also started reading and commenting on the start of a novel by one of the TL;DR writers, who had posted earlier in the week to ask for feedback.

 

Sunday:

I added a section to my most recent podcast script, and continued reviewing and commenting on the friend’s novel I started the day before.

 

Posted on 07 May 2020 09:44

I finished the second draft of my second novel this week, which feels significant, if only in my head.

 

The novel is still way too short (currently at 55,000 words, so needs at least 25,000 more added to it), but I know what I’m going to do to sort that out.

 

I think it’s good. I know it can be better, and I’m keen to improve it as much as I can, but I think it’s good.

 

And it feels like a confirmation that I can really do this, that the first one wasn’t just a ten-year one-off fluke. I’m not quite there yet but, before too long, I will have written two whole novels!

 

I’ve got seven or eight great people (and quite a range) who are going to read what I have and give me feedback in a few weeks, which will hopefully give me more motivation and ideas for the expansion.

 

So, hopefully I’ll then be able to do a big push to get it in shape and send it to my publisher for them to consider.

 

I have a publisher! I have a second novel!

 

And I’m actually really excited to get started on number three. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do some groundwork on that later this year and be in a position to take advantage of the structure and support of the Six Month Novel Programme in 2021.

 

It suddenly feels like I can make a real go of this novelist thing - how crazy is that?

 

Anyway, there’s still a long way to go before the first one actually comes out, and an even longer way to go before the second one might get published. And maybe my current beta readers will come up with some terrible problems with the novel that I won’t know how to fix.

 

But, right now, it feels like I have a story I love, and that I’m actually impressed by, and that I don’t think will materially change in plot or structure between now and when it’s finally finished.

 

And that seems significant to me. Regardless of how sensible it is, I’m going to revel in my achievement, feel very pleased with myself, and take a break from thinking about the second novel for a while, until my readers come back to me with their feedback and I have to dive back in.

 

Yay!

 

Posted on 03 May 2020 19:17

Summary:

More reflective freewriting, leading to a breakthrough on the second novel, and also a decision to take a little bit of time off here and there, rather than pushing myself with a needlessly relentless schedule.

 

Monday:

I reviewed a film we watched the night before.

I did some planning for completing the next round of Colours edits.

I also did a lot more freewriting from Claire’s writing prompts, which ended up reminding me that writing is hard, and it takes effort and I’m at the least enjoyable stage with Colours, so it’s bound to be a bit of a drag. But, if I chop it up into manageable chunks and keep chipping away at it most days, I’ll get to the end before too long and then I can take a complete break while my beta readers get their teeth into it.

So, while the work doesn’t seem any more appealing, I am more accepting of the need to do it, and more aware of how good I’ll feel once it’s done.

 

Tuesday:

I reviewed an audiobook I finished the day before.

Then I completed my last prompt from Claire, and wrote a blog post about the experience.

Later, I revised my plan for the next round of edits on Colours, to be able to complete a beta-ready version more quickly so I can send it out for more feedback.

 

Thursday:

After setting my subconscious crew the task of coming up with a new climax for Colours overnight, I logged in to Claire’s Boss Club shared working session and used part of the time to brainstorm ideas.

The crew outdid themselves, basically coming up with a kickass idea right away, which I noted down in bullet points as to where things need to be amended and where new scenes need to be added. I amended the editing spreadsheet accordingly.

My schedule had three sessions of brainstorming to figure out the new climax, but I did it all in about twenty minutes, meaning I could actually start the revisions on my next writing day.

I also wrote a review of a new game we played the night before.

 

Saturday:

My original plan was to crack on with the new Colours climax this morning, but I decided to take the day off from most of my self-imposed obligations, and I ended up making a large batch of awesome stew instead.

I did attend a Decluttering Workshop run by Claire from CP’s Day Off, which was both fun and enlightening, and a very good way to explore some of the issues I’ve been struggling with over the last couple of weeks.

I distilled my learnings from the workshop into six words: Sometimes you just wanna make stew!

Later, I did do a very small amount of work on Colours, revising the editing plan slightly to fit my new climax idea.

 

Sunday:

I wrote a review of the mammoth book I finished the night before.

 

Posted on 28 April 2020 10:20

One of my friends, a qualified coach and facilitator, has recently started offering a Prompt Prescription service where she provides freewriting prompts to help clients work through an issue they are facing.

 

I decided to try it out, with the issue I’ve been having lately with my writing. I emailed Claire to explain the problem, saying that I currently had to force myself to write, and it felt like dragging through mud.

 

The prompts and my responses that developed from this exercise are as follows (Claire offered more commentary and insight based on my responses, but I'm just including the actual prompts here):

 

 

1) Tell me about the mud:

 

The mud is thick. It sucks at my boots as I drag my feet free from its insidious embrace one painful step at a time. The story is tied in a sack by a rope at my waist. I have to lean all my weight forwards to pull it behind me as the mud tries to snatch it away, leaving me with nothing. I want the story to float ahead of me on a beautiful sparkling stream, a bubbling brook that laughs and leaps and supports me as the ideas flow and the words pour forth, pulling me behind them in the wake of their joyful progress. Instead, I have to force the story on, yanking and cursing and wondering why I should even bother when nobody cares about it except me, and I'm not really sure I do any more. It would feel so freeing just to let go and let the mud close over the story sack, sucking it into the dark depths where nobody would ever see it and I wouldn't ever have to think about it again. But I know that's not what I really want. I want the story to see the light, I want it to be finished, and I want the opportunity to submit it to places for publication. I just don't want to have to slog my way through the mud to reach that point. And I remember a time when the journey was just as much fun as reaching the destination, and I wonder what happened to that feeling and whether it ever really existed, and if I can create it again. But I don't know how.

 

 

2) I untie the rope:

 

The strands of the rope are wet, the knot recalcitrant. I struggle with fibres that seem bent on staying firmly fixed around one another. The sack doesn’t want to be set free. I persevere. This has now become important to me, to release myself from this burden that I tied around myself, once, long ago. I tear at the rope, careless of my fingernails, some of which rip in the act of unencumbrance. There is pain that comes with the search for freedom. 

 

At last, the knot separates and the rope comes loose from around my waist. I take a deep breath, perhaps my first unrestricted breath in many months. This burden I have carried is unnecessary. I neither need nor want its weight dragging me down every day with the grey realisation of my worthlessness. Without me holding it up, the sack starts to sink beneath the water, towards the thick mud at the bottom, where it will be lost forever. No longer my responsibility. No longer my concern. But, before it can slip away completely, my fingers reach out of their own volition and snatch the end of the rope before it can disappear beyond my ability to recover it. I pull and yank, breathing hard. The mud is a potent adversary, trying to suck the sack into its depths where I won’t be able to retrieve it. But I am stronger. My will is greater. The sack bobs back to the surface and I pull it to me, hugging it close. I don’t want to let it go. 

 

This container of ideas and stories and creativity is a part of me, a part that is vital and important. I’m not prepared to let it go, even if it sometimes feels like an unnecessary burden. I tie the rope around my waist again, settling it into its familiar place against my side. It feels lighter. Have some of its contents escaped, now lost to the mud? Have I lost something precious in my aborted attempt to free myself of what I now see is a privilege rather than unwanted baggage. But no. Everything is in its place, exactly where it should be. It just doesn’t seem as heavy, now I have accepted it as a part of me I don’t want to lose. Before, it felt like dead weight, reminding me of my failings. Now it feels like a buoyant support, offering me opportunities that I can explore or not, as I wish. I can choose how I interact with it, rather than letting it rule my mental processes and make me feel inadequate. The sack is there when I feel like delving into it, and also there when I don’t. It will wait for me to return when I’m ready, floating beside me, rather than dragging behind.

 

 

3) Last time I lost the joy of writing…

 

I guess it came back eventually. There’s always been a cycle of enthusiasm and malaise, I suppose. And the current situation is edging me more towards malaise than enthusiasm. But I’ve also spent a long time learning the lesson that I don’t have to be ‘in the right frame of mind’ to write, and that I don’t have to wait for ‘the muse’ to strike to be able to get decent stuff done. Usually, when applying that lesson, it’s just a case of getting myself in the chair and starting - then the words flow and it all comes together (starting is always the hardest bit). There have definitely been times when I’ve allowed myself some time off from forcing myself to start, and then come back to writing later on. But I can’t specifically remember a time when I’ve really tried to start, and forced myself to keep at it for an hour or more, and just hated every minute of it. Maybe that means it’s time to give myself a break.

 

But I’ve got projects I really want to finish (and two of them have deadlines at the end of this month) and I know exactly what I have to do with them - so shouldn’t it be relatively easy just to get it done? I say that, but I sat down to work on my novel the other day and I just scanned through several scenes, added a couple of words here and there and declared myself done - when I knew there was more I could do to improve them. I just couldn’t bring myself to focus and actually do it properly.

 

So now I’m kinda depressed about it again. I’m thinking the answer may be just to let it go, give myself a break and then try again in a couple of weeks. But that will mean not submitting to two anthology calls I think I have a good chance of getting into, with stories I’m proud of, that don’t actually need all that much work doing to them…

 

There’s an online writing retreat a friend of mine is running tomorrow, which I’ve had good success from logging on to in the last few weeks. So, I think what I’ll do is engage with that at least for the morning sessions tomorrow, see if I can at least get those two stories to a point where I’m not embarrassed to submit them - submit them and then declare myself on holiday from writing for a few days and see how I feel?

 

 

4a. Write to joy tell him/her what it is you want. Then write back from 'joy'. If you end up getting in to a conversation, so be it, just remember to let each one have it's say - no interrupting.

 

4b. Go back to the metaphor and explore it more if you're enjoying that (there's always, always more). So if you're you and the sack is the ideas, what is the joy - in this metaphor?

 

4c. Write to your story/stories (whichever one springs to mind when I say that) and ask it what it wants.

 

Are you there, Joy, it's me, Annie. It feels as if, somewhere along the way, in amongst the strangeness and uncertainty of our current locked down lives, we've somehow lost touch. But it stretches back before then. I finished a big writing project in mid-December. I remember it well. It was the last writing date ever with Ann in our favourite cafe, Good and Proper, which closed down that week. And now, it looks like Ann might be moving away from London, but that's another story.

 

I decided to take a break from writing over Christmas and come back fresh in the New Year. And then it didn't happen. Oh, I've done some writing in 2020 - some might even say a lot - but it feels like I haven't ever got back properly into the groove of it somehow. When I do schedule sessions, it feels like I'm forcing it, and it's you, Joy, that's missing.

 

Don't get me wrong - I experience you all over the place in other forms. I've found tremendous joy in walking with Dave in the sunshine, appreciating the green spaces we have access to near our flat, critiquing people's gardens, and revelling in getting some exercise and spending time with each other. I've felt the joy of snuggling down in bed with a good book, or connecting with friends and family over board games or watching a movie. There is Joy in good food, an interesting online course, funny videos, good TV, meditation, and even, sometimes, running.

 

So where have you gone when it comes to my writing? Is it something to do with the main project I'm working on? Hey, Novel! You can weigh in here too, you know! You're the major sticking point. I've chopped you up into lots of manageable pieces, I've got a clear path to where I need to get to, I've scheduled sessions and made a plan to complete my revisions by a reasonable deadline. All the variables are in place for a successful outcome. So, what's the problem?

 

I untied the rope to see what would happen if I decided to let you go for a while, and sink without trace in the mud. Out of sight, out of mind, and all that. But it turned out I didn't want to let you go. I pulled you close and held you tight. And I finished the two short stories on time without too much trouble, once I just sat down and got on with it.

 

But that didn't work, Novel, not with you. I sat down to just get on with it and my mind wouldn't focus. I skimmed through the scenes, ticking them off on my list, but I didn't find a sense of accomplishment, because I knew I wasn't giving them the attention they deserved. I knew I wasn't doing what I needed to do, to make the story better. I was just going through the motions and being slapdash.

 

So, if you don't want me to let you go, but you slip through my fingers when I try to give you my full attention, what do you actually want from me? And why have you chased Joy away, when you used to make such a good pair? Did you have some kind of fight? Are you on the outs? Are you angry with me too, for some reason?

 

What can I do to make it right? Where did I go wrong and how can I make it up to you? Joy seems to still be my friend in other arenas, so she's not the one causing the problem. So, how can I get the two of you talking again, so we can be three happy gal pals again, and enjoy our time together, like we used to?

 

Go on, I'm here and I'm listening...

 

 

The novel writes back...

 

You already know the answer to this dilemma - we're all in your head, after all. You've got all the pieces, and you've lined them up in the right order. You just need to schedule some time, sit down, pick up the next piece in the pile, turn it over a few times, set your mind whirring - and go!

 

Perseverance is the key, and it always had been.

 

There are always going to be rough patches, sticky sections, where the mud is deeper and your purpose gets obscured. But just keep pushing and eventually we'll get through it together. Every good relationship takes work - you know that! If it was easy and simple all the time, it wouldn't be worthwhile - and what you produced at the end of it wouldn't be any good! I'm sorry I'm making it hard on you at the moment, being elusive and all that - I don't mean to be a drag.

 

But you're at the hardest point, you know that. When has Joy ever been present when you've been slogging away at the first major rewrite? This is your least favourite stage of the writing process, and you know it. So, you've just got to stick it out, push through and I promise you there'll be sunshine and rainbows on the other side.

 

As you pointed out, Joy hasn't forsaken you - she's there in all the other fun things you've been doing - so use them as a reward for making progress on me, the pesky, irritable, recalcitrant novel. Find Joy in crossing off the next five or ten steps in your editing plan each day. Find Joy in knowing that each time you revise a scene, you're improving a story you love and that you believe in. There's Joy in sharing your writing pain with other people and celebrating even the smallest steps forward at the end of an online writing retreat.

 

You've got stuck at the hardest part, just when it's most difficult to engage with other people or enjoy the environs of a nice cafe while you slog at the project. But there are still people out there who are keen to cheer you on, really want you to succeed, and are eager to read me when you've finished this hardest bit, and give you feedback to spur you on to the next round of revisions. So, don't feel like you're all alone with me and sinking in your endless mud hole.

 

Let's take each other's hand and forge on together until the water gets clearer again, the going gets easier again, and Joy can join us for a frolic in the grass under a clear blue sky.

 

And, if you need to take a day or three off every now and then, do it - and find Joy in it, and don't feel bad about it, because you know when you're going to come back to the work, and that I'll be here, waiting for you to polish me up into the shiniest gemstone I can be. And then we'll walk side by side to publication with Joy in our hearts.

 

 

5) Sunshine and rainbows:

 

Well, you know what they say: you can’t have rainbows without rain. Rain also washes things clean, and helps flowers to grow. So, it’s not all bad.

 

I know that I’m going to have to put in a lot of work to get my novel into the shape it needs to be in, to get it published. I know I have it in me to do that work, and that I’ll be glad I did, when it’s finally finished.

 

Writing is my thing. It’s the activity by which I most define my worth in the world, so I definitely don’t want to give it up. But I’m lazy, and I’m tired, and everything is stressful right now. So, doing the work doesn’t seem like something I want to be spending my limited energy on. But what else am I going to do with my time?

 

Oh right. Read books, take exercise, play games, do knitting, talk to friends and family, enjoy the sunshine…

 

But, if I want to enjoy the metaphorical sunshine that will come from completing the next draft of my novel, and if I want to see the rainbows cast across my mental sky after the rain has gone - I need to do the work.

 

I used to have a big problem with my office job, when I had to do unpaid overtime and I really resented it. My mum taught me a really valuable lesson when she asked me one day if someone at the office had told me I had to do the extra time, and I realised that nobody had. I was choosing to do it, of my own volition, because I wanted to stay on top of my projects and not slip too far behind, because that would be more stressful than spending the extra time on the work. Since that day, I’ve tried to remind myself that I always have a choice. And, if I choose to ignore work/projects/tasks, I have to accept that they won’t get done, and not worry about it. And, if I choose to spend time and energy on them, I have to accept that they will take effort and it won’t always be enjoyable.

 

Writing is hard. Most of the time, it’s the thing I most want to do with my time, and it’s also the thing I least want to do with my time. Sue me - I don’t want to write, I want to have written! But, in order to be the future me who can take satisfaction in a job well done, I have to spend the time being the present me who is actually doing the work.

 

This should be obvious, but it’s a lesson I have to keep learning over and over again, every time things seem too hard, and I wonder why I bother.

 

The flipside, of course, is that self-care is also important. It’s not going to do me or my writing any good for me to push myself past my limits, produce bad work and feel terrible about it. Particularly at the moment, I need to make sure I’m taking time for relaxation, connecting with other people, getting out into the fresh air, and spending time on other hobbies.

 

Treading the line between productivity and being kind to myself is very tricky, and it’s always hard to know how far to push myself to make sure I get things done, without burning out.

 

But, back to the sunshine and rainbows! I have a plan, I have a schedule, I can see the bright meadow with its sun-dappled flowers and the rainbow that stretches over it from end to end. I know I can get there, and knowing that will help me push through the mud and the rain and find what joy I can in the process, celebrating the small successes along the way to my goal.

 

 

The whole exercise was really fun and very enlightening. I think I got to a place where I realised I already knew the answer to the problem, and had learned this lesson many times before. But at the start, I was stuck and unhappy - and at the end, I felt much freer to approach my writing with more enthusiasm and more confidence. I had reminded myself of what was important to me, and accepted that it would take work to get there.

 

So, I would highly recommend Claire’s Prompt Prescription service for whatever issues you are dealing with in your life! She also runs workshops and offers other services, details of all of which can be found at her website.

 

Posted on 27 April 2020 10:22

Summary:

Lots of reflection on my relationship with writing this week, which brought some clarity but also more questions. More work to be done there, I think! In the meantime, though, I made quite a lot of progress this week, despite lack of motivation, and was very pleased with what I achieved.

 

Monday:

I logged on to Charlie’s online UWR session and set a goal of starting the next column on my Colours editing spreadsheet, with an aim to complete three scenes, and I actually did five.

Then I spent most of the afternoon editing the next main podcast episode.

 

Tuesday:

I did some freewriting, based on a prompt sent to me by Claire from CP’s Day Off, which was both fun and useful in exploring my current issues with writing fiction.

Then I went back to the Royal Election story and bashed out a few more words on that, even though I didn’t want to. And I actually finished a first draft!

 

Wednesday:

I posted Royal Election to the TL;DR Slack and also to Scribophile, to get some feedback.

Then I carried on with my schedule for the GYWO 7 Days, 7 Stories challenge and revised another few scenes of Colours, though it was a bit of a desultory effort, all in all.

 

Thursday:

I did another freewriting exercise based on a prompt with Claire, which helped me to see that my writing isn’t an unwanted burden I drag around with me, but rather a source of opportunities that is always there when I need it, but doesn’t have to make me feel inadequate when I don’t interact with it for a while.

 

Friday:

More freewriting from Claire’s challenging but fascinating prompts.

Today, I thought about giving myself a break from writing altogether for a while, but decided I really want to try and complete two of the stories I’m working on for deadlines at the end of the month.

So, I wrote a schedule for Charlie’s online UWR session for tomorrow, to try and knock those on the head.

 

Saturday:

I didn’t much feel like writing at all today and thought about going back to the plan of taking a break for a few days. But my blessings for the day were Loyalty, Steadfastness and Surprise. So, I decided to be loyal to my purpose, steadfast in carrying out my original plan, and hoped I might surprise myself - and I did!

I logged onto Charlie’s online UWR session with a state goal of getting two stories submission ready by the end of the morning.

I started with a rewrite of an old story to fit the requirements of an anthology call. Then I edited Royal Election, based on feedback from both TL;DR and Scribophile.

I finished both editing tasks with time to spare, so I took the opportunity to submit both stories and get them off my list. I felt very accomplished!

 

Posted on 20 April 2020 09:22

Summary:

I went with little and often this week, working on something to do with writing every day, and ended up feeling good about my progress, despite not actually having done all that much in absolute terms.

 

Monday:

I helped Bear put together a photo story submission for a new online publication.

 

Tuesday:

I wrote a couple of reviews.

 

Wednesday:

I recorded the next interim podcast episode and helped Bear with his next Center Parcs post.

 

Thursday:

I had a virtual shared working session with my friend, Claire, who runs all sorts of fantastic groups and writing activities, during which I completed several submissions and edited the next interim podcast episode.

I also finished a book and wrote my review.

 

Friday:

I did research for the next main podcast episode and typed up my notes.

I also put together my plan for the online writing retreat the next day.

 

Saturday:

I logged on to Charlie’s online UWR session and decided to revise my plan to just work on Colours for the whole day, since I felt I’d been neglecting it in recent weeks.

I put together a more concrete scheduling for completing the current round of revisions, aiming to be able to send it out for feedback at the end of May.

Then I cracked on with the next column in my editing spreadsheet and completed it.

I think I’d become paralysed by what seemed like a mammoth task of revising the whole novel and adding about 30,000 words to its length. But I realised while making my plan, that I can break it up into very manageable chunks, and also that I don’t have to make it perfect (or anywhere close to it) this time around. All I have to do is add and alter where required and try to expand it overall. Then, I’ll be sending it out for feedback and I can highlight particular areas of concern at that stage and get some additional external comments on how to improve it further.

This is just the second draft, after all! So, I ended the retreat feeling much better about Colours, and with a clear plan for further progress.

 

Sunday:

I finished a book and wrote my review.

 

 

Posted on 13 April 2020 09:23

Summary:

Working on creative projects felt very hard this week. I tried to balance productivity with self-compassion and didn’t push myself very hard at all. I didn’t get very much done and struggled with feeling dissatisfied with my lack of achievement.

But, I still kept to my exercise routine, completed the most important writing tasks, wrote in my journal every day, played games with people online and took part in family book club. So, all in all, it was a pretty good week for activity, even if I didn’t progress my novel.

 

Tuesday:

I wrote a review of a play we watched over the weekend.

 

Wednesday:

I cut a piece of flash fiction by half to fit the requirements of a competition, added aspects to fit the theme, and submitted it, along with another couple of pieces to different publications.

 

Thursday:

I wrote two book reviews.

 

Saturday:

I did my GYWO post for the month, which proved very apropos because it was about the difficulties of starting a story, which is something I’ve been struggling with myself recently.

 

Sunday:

I scripted the next interim podcast episode. 

 

 

Posted on 05 April 2020 17:12

Summary:

A very good week for writing this week. Progress on all fronts, a good plan for upcoming submissions and some fun challenges over the weekend. Very happy.

 

Tuesday:

I wrote a review of a book I finished over the weekend.

Before I went to bed, I set my subconscious crew the task of coming up with an idea for the TL:DR flash fiction competition overnight.

 

Wednesday:

The subconscious crew outdid themselves, laying out an entire story for my flash prompt while I was in the shower. So, after lunch, I sat down and wrote a first draft.

I exchanged stories with other TL;DR members later in the day and gave them feedback on their entries, receiving their comments in return.

 

Thursday:

I edited and submitted my TL;DR competition entry.

I helped Bear with his next Center Parcs blog post.

I resurrected some very old fanfiction, spruced it up a bit and then posted it.

After a lovely long walk in the early afternoon, I sat down with the intention to at least make some progress on my new short story (working title: Royal Election) and also Colours. I started with Royal Election and got the next scene done. Then I moved onto Colours and added some text to the first scene in the next edits column.

 

Friday:

I wrote a short piece based on a freewriting prompt.

Later, I went through the new edition of Writing Magazine and added upcoming submission opportunities to my rolling spreadsheet.

 

Saturday:

I recklessly signed up for the special apocalypse edition of Novel-in-a-Day and received my brief overnight, with a deadline of 8pm to submit my chapter.

 

This project progressed like pretty much every other single writing project ever:

Enjoy prep (in this case reading all the briefing materials)

Panic for hours/days/weeks that I can't do it (in this case, luckily only 90 minutes)

Finally get my arse in a chair, open up a new document and start typing

And then the words just flow...

 

Why is actually starting always the hardest thing?

Anyway, I sent my chapter off by noon and was very pleased with it overall.

 

Sunday:

I wrote an entry for this month’s AWC Furious Fiction and submitted it.

 

Posted on 29 March 2020 19:00

Summary:

First full week of UK lockdown, which initially looked like it wouldn’t be a productive one on the writing front. But this was turned around by fantastic people running workshops and retreats online, and a series of three days at the end of the week where I made real progress on fiction for the first time in ages.

 

Tuesday:

A friend of mine who normally runs face-to-face freewriting workshops set up a virtual version via conference call this afternoon, so I dialled in and it was a lovely 90 minutes.

 

Wednesday:

I did some submissions.

I also wrote a couple of reviews and helped Bear with his first post about our recent trip to Centre Parcs.

 

Friday:

I edited the most recent podcast episode.

Later, I sat down to try and to a proper session. I started with a freewriting prompt, which got the juices flowing a bit. I edited some existing pieces to fit the requirements of an upcoming competition.

Charlie from Urban Writers Retreat sent an email out about some online retreats she was planning to host over the weekend, so I put together a plan for what I wanted to work on at the first one.

Then I went through my unassigned pieces and found places to submit them.

 

Saturday:

I logged on to the UWR online retreat and posted my goals for the day.

Then I started off by finally cracking on with some more of the edits for Colours. I completed two columns on my editing plan by the end of the first session, which was an excellent start and the first progress I’ve made on Colours in quite some time.

In the second session, I brainstormed and wrote notes for two upcoming short story submission opportunities and also wrote a blog post about my experience of the lockdown so far.

Later in the day, I completed the first quarter reflection exercise in my writing diary and planned my writing schedule for April.

Great day all round!

 

Sunday:

Slow start today, but I logged my intentions on the UWR online retreat, made a list and set to work.

I brainstormed ideas for my prompt from the TL;DR Flash Fiction competition.

I considered the next edit suggestion for Colours and added some notes to my editing plan.

I helped Bear with the next post in his Center Parcs series.

Later, I wrote the first scene of a new short story, for an upcoming anthology call.

I finished off with another couple of submissions.

So, another great day, which didn’t initially look like it would be, but became so by slowly and steadily working my way through a very specific task list.

 

Posted on 28 March 2020 12:34

I feel like I haven’t really done much writing so far this year. We’re coming to the end of the first quarter, and my sense on thinking back is that I haven’t achieved anything at all. But, actually checking back through my records, that really isn’t true.

 

So far in 2020, I have:

  • Written many, many reviews of all sort of things, including official reviews of Vaults festival shows for Fringe Guru
  • Done a final read-through of the whole of my first novel before sending it back to the publisher
  • Revised my editing plan for the second novel and made some progress in completing edits
  • Helped Bear with multiple posts about his adventures
  • Prepped, scripted, recorded and edited seven episodes of the podcast
  • Edited and submitted a novella
  • Completed three discussion posts for an online writing community
  • Submitted 36 pieces for potential publication (and got three acceptances)

 

That’s a lot for less than three months! So, apparently, it’s a good idea for me to check my facts before I rely on your memory about what I have and haven’t done with my time.

 

I think the sticking point is that I haven’t written anything *new* so far this year. There have been quite a few submission opportunities I’ve either let slide or amended something old to fit the requirements. There have been a few I’ve really wanted to write something new for, and even come up with the ideas, but haven’t been able to start them, let alone finish them on time.

 

I thought I might get a ton of writing done while I was on holiday last week, but that didn’t happen. Then, the lockdown started and I thought I would somehow magically have tons of extra time to work on writing projects while being stuck at home. But that doesn’t seem to have materialised either.

 

There are currently six short story submission opportunities on my writing task list, with deadlines ranging from 30 April to 15 November. I have ideas sorted for all of them, plenty of days I can dedicate to writing projects between now and the deadlines, and no excuses.

 

But I’m still struggling with the effort of actually sitting down and getting on with creative projects. I can imagine a lot of people are feeling that way right now. Things are scary and uncertain in the world and, while we may or may not have more time on our hands, it’s hard to focus and it’s hard to settle to one task. And that’s okay. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge our fear and our uncertainty, and not to berate ourselves for not being mega productive every minutes of every day.

 

And, if you look back and really take stock of what you’ve achieved in the last week, you might find it adds up to more than you thought.

 

What’s really helping me is the people I know who usually run face-to-face writing workshops and retreats, who are now running them online or via conference call. The majority of my writing progress in recent years has been down to making plans with other writers to share space at a set time and help each other commit and focus. So, these opportunities to enjoy that structure and encouragement in a virtual way have been fantastic in helping me regain my mojo.

 

As someone said on a podcast I listened to last week: we need to wash our hands, but not of each other.

 

And as I wrote in a virtual freewriting workshop a few days ago:

 

Where can we find meaning and purpose in our altered lives?

In virtual spaces and our collective hearts.

 

Posted on 23 March 2020 16:52

Summary:

Lots of reviews again, but I also finally got a short story rewrite done, which has been on my list for weeks.

 

Monday:

I did a Scribophile critique.

 

Wednesday:

I wrote lots more reviews of all the games I played earlier in the week.

 

Thursday:

I finished another book and played another new game, and wrote my reviews of each.

 

Saturday:

I helped Bear with an overdue post about our most recent reading retreat.

 

Sunday:

I finished off the next main podcast script, ready to record later in the day. Then I finally finished rewriting my teddy bear love story, so it was ready for submission. I also read through an old story to check it fit the requirements of the submission opportunity I wanted to send it in for.