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Posted on 13 November 2017 14:44

At this year’s NAWG-Fest in September, I met Cressida Downing, who was one of the tutors. She also runs reading retreats with her friend, Sara Noel, and I went on one this weekend just gone.

I’ve been to lots of retreats over the last few years - generally for writing - but this was the most luxurious, indulgent, well-catered weekend I’ve ever spent. They really had thought of everything - goody bags full of wonderful gifts, spare essentials in case you forgot to pack anything, reading lights for borrowing, and an amazing range of food, to suit any dietary requirements. As someone with diabetes, I’m used to organisers just assuming I won’t have dessert, and that I’ll forego snacking, which is always rather depressing. Here, though, there were cheese plates to round off each delicious meal, low sugar muesli for breakfast, and both low sugar and savoury snacks, so I felt very well looked-after.

The main purpose of the weekend, of course, was reading. I carve out time in my busy weekly schedule for my writing, but I don’t do the same for reading, so it was glorious to set aside many hours over the course of a weekend to do just that. Cressi called me a few weeks beforehand to talk about my reading, and provided me with a list of recommended books, one of which she lent me over the weekend. I’m not usually very good at concentrating on one thing for long periods of time, so I had packed my usual array of other activities (knitting, writing, TV episodes) but I found them entirely unnecessary. There was something about the atmosphere at the retreat that made me really want to dedicate all my attention to my reading, and I never felt the need to take a break and do something else.

Obviously, there were welcome interruptions in the form of meals, and Cressi offered optional walks on both days (which I did take and very much enjoyed). Cressi and Sara were always available in the kitchen for conversation and very attentive provision of refreshments. But I was at my happiest, curled up in an armchair in the lounge, with up to three of the other attendees, just reading, reading, reading and reading some more. There’s something very companionable about sharing a space with other people who are all reading, and I loved every minute of it.

I got through 850 pages across 15 hours of reading at the cottage (in stints of 2-4 hours at a time), and then read another 200 pages on the 2.5 hour journey home. I completed three books, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

Reading is so important for writers, but it’s also wonderful just to relax and give yourself over to a book. I’ve already booked my place on the next retreat in February, and would highly recommend any other book-lover to do the same.

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 13 November 2017 13:44

Summary:

Reading has been the order of the day this week, though I’ve also done quite a bit of planning for the new novel, which I’ve found really useful.

 

Tuesday:

I missed my usual writing date because I had to work on Monday, so I pledged to work on the new novel every evening this week to make up for it.

Today, I added a section to the third scene, to give the protagonist some dialogue. I then carried on with the Six Month Novel Programme workbooks, which gave me some new plot ideas and deepened my understanding of the main characters.

 

Wednesday:

I added some character detail to the second scene of the new novel, and carried on working through the Six Month Novel materials. I’ve never done this amount of planning for a project at the start before, and it’s definitely helping cement the world in my mind and develop the characters in interesting ways.

 

Friday:

More planning for the new novel, exploring different plot points and subplots.

 

Saturday:

I read some more of Wonderbook and made notes.

I had an epiphany about the main arc of the new novel - at core, it's not an action adventure but a love story and that's the arc it should follow.

 

Posted on 05 November 2017 20:49

Summary:

So, it turns out that if I have more time, I do get more stuff done on writing projects, as evidenced by the fact that I had this week off work, and have done project stuff on six out of seven days.

 

Monday:

Today required some personal dedication on my part. I had a three hour gap between two appointments in town, so I found a cafe, bought some coffee and got on with some projects.

I made final edits to the cafe story, based on comments from my Write Club buddies, which were much more incisive than those I received from Scribophile. It’s useful to get a range of opinions, though, and I think the story has been much improved by the additional editing. I gave it a final read-through to make sure it still made sense, and then it was finally ready to submit.

Then I discovered (as I had for one of the competitions I entered the day before) that it needed to be sent in hard copy, which led to a printing/posting scramble. It seems very odd, in this day and age, that hard copy entries are required, since it must make administrating the competitions much more difficult. Hey ho.

I spent two hours submitting pieces to seven more places - phew! This really does take up a lot of time, but hopefully will garner some publications.

 

Tuesday:

I moved my usual writing date with Ann to today. We met at our new regular, Good and Proper, at 11am, and I embarked on my list for the day. First up was a reviews catch-up, always a good way to ease me into working gently.

Then I launched into the expansion of a short story I wrote a very long time ago, and which I received some useful feedback on last month. I added a new section, then posted the whole thing on Scribophile to get more comments on it.

I did a couple of Scribophile critiques to get my karma points up and speed my story into the spotlight.

I went through this month’s Writing Magazine and circled all the interesting-sounding submission opportunities, of which there were quite a few.

I then decided I wouldn’t feel satisfied with myself unless I made some progress on the new novel, so I dragged the third scene out of my brain, kicking and screaming. It wasn’t my best work, but it introduced some of the central plot points in what I hope is an intriguing way, and at least it was words on the page.

I started a spreadsheet to keep track of characters and plot points as I go, since I’m working from a very rough outline that doesn’t have a lot of detail yet.

That brought me to a solid five hours of work for the day, which felt really good.

Bear accompanied me on my writing date today so, when we got home, I helped him post the photos he took, even though he has grossly misrepresented my productivity on writing dates!

I also got news that a Canadian publisher wants to record the short story that eventually became the first novel on their podcast, which is exciting!

 

Wednesday:

I edited the podcast story as per instructions from the publisher, and sent it back to them along with a bio, an author photo, and a list of my publications. 

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

I gave the first 1,500 words of the new novel to Geena to read and she came up with some great ideas for story and character development.

 

Thursday:

I read out the first 1,500 words of the new novel to my parents over lunch, which highlighted some repeat phrasing I hadn’t noticed until I heard it aloud. Very good lesson there!

 

Friday:

I collected all the workbooks from the Six Month Novel Programme and started completing them for the new novel. I also set myself a deadline for completing the first draft, which is provisionally the end of May 2018, as I’d like to be able to say I’ve got something mostly done when I meet agents at Winchester Writers’ Festival in June 2018.

No harm in being ambitious, right?

 

Sunday:

I added some new submission opportunities to my rolling spreadsheet.

I posted reviews of the film, two plays, and two new games I experienced throughout the week.

I did a detailed critique on Scribophile to build up my points and get my current story closer to the spotlight.

I submitted two stories to paying publications for consideration.

I also read through the first 1,500 words of the new novel and fixed the couple of repeated bits I found on Thursday.

 

Posted on 30 October 2017 11:25

Summary:

 

Bits and pieces, here and there throughout the week. It didn’t feel like I was doing a lot, but what I did was useful and progressed several projects. And at least I kept my brain ticking over and working on stuff.

 

Monday:

 

I took myself off to Good & Proper quite early today, and managed to stay for five hours, with Ann joining me for the last three.

 

I wasn’t quite as focused as the day before, despite my schedule, but I wrote the second scene of the new novel and discovered quite a liking for the initial antagonist, who is going to end up being much more of a main character that I had planned.

 

I did several critiques on Scribophile to build up enough points to post another story whenever I want, and also received some useful comments on the cafe story.

 

I also typed up more snippets and notes from one of my completed notebooks, discovering the start of a story I began at Moniack Mhor last December, which I had completely forgotten about.

 

Wednesday:

 

I had a great discussion with Hannah about our current writing projects, and also did another Scribophile critique, to try and get my cafe story closer to the spotlight. I’m remembering how much time and effort has to go into getting the most out of Scribophile, but I think it will still be useful to post stories there from time to time. It’s also a good thing to keep on my task list, so I can do critiques here and there to keep my points level up for when I need it.

 

 

Sunday:

 

I went along to Let’s Write Together, which I haven’t done in many weeks. It turned out to be very useful, as I didn’t feel very motivated to do anything earlier in the day, and the two hours spent with Nil prompted me to edit the cafe story, based on the comments in the five critiques it had garnered on Scribophile.

 

I also submitted entries to three different competitions - one for the novel, one for flash fiction, and one for travel writing. So I’m keeping my diversification up!

 

Posted on 22 October 2017 17:55

Summary:

Two official writing days instead of one resulted in masses of stuff accomplished.  Go figure.

 

Monday:

I met Ann for our usual writing date.

I started with this month’s discussion post for GYWO, which had the title:

"Feast or Famine: the pressure of fan expectations when your work seems to be doing too well VS when you feel like your work is largely ignored and you need to keep motivated."

I wrote what I thought was a helpful post, talking about inner motivation and not basing your satisfaction in your writing entirely on how other people react to it.  But several writers responded that they prefer not to be told why they should or shouldn’t be writing, which is absolutely fair enough!

I then completed a few reviews, including those for the October Wordy Birds Reading Challenge category, which was a book by an author I’d met.

I was feeling a bit de-motivated by this point, but I decided to press on, and ended up completing a total re-write of the cafe story that had been accused of being more of an anecdote.  I shifted it from first to third person, added in more dialogue, upped the emotion in places and generally tried to make it more like a short story in terms of drama and arc.  I was pretty pleased with the result, but I’ve still got time to do another pass at the weekend before I have to submit it.

 

Wednesday:

I did a Bear post about our adventures at the weekend on the Rustington Out of Bounds Adventure Golf Course.

 

Saturday:

I went to a London Writers’ Cafe event, where everyone had submitted the first 300 words for a professional editor to give feedback on.  Each author read out their piece and then the editor gave brief comments on both good things and areas that could be developed.  It was really interesting to hear other people present their work and there was a huge range of style and genre in the thirty submissions.  The editor found something positive to say about everyone’s work, and gave some useful feedback on things to think about, but didn’t seem have much to say about mine, so I didn’t find the session particularly valuable overall.  Always good to meet other writers, though!

 

Sunday:

Today was an Urban Writers Retreat day, which is always a good way to get things done, since it runs from 10am to 5:30pm and nobody is allowed to talk, except for a brief period at lunchtime.

I read through the cafe story and made a few edits, but still wasn’t sure it entirely worked, so I sent it to my Write Club buddies for evisceration, as there were still nearly ten days to go until the competition deadline.

I edited a short reflection on the importance of Stanley Park in Vancouver for my mental health, which is for a competition about how particular places in the world have affected you.

I did another pass on the short story I’m trying to lengthen to fit a Writing Magazine competition and managed to hit the right word count, hopefully without diluting the tension too much.

That took care of the three main things on my list, and it was only 11:30am, so I logged onto Scribophile for the first time in months and did a critique (prompted by Ann asking me about the site last week, which reminded me I hadn’t used it in ages).  Then I sat and stared at my list for a while, feeling like the admin tasks would be a waste of valuable time, and the big projects were too daunting a prospect to launch into - so I wrote a blog post about my dilemma!

Then, I used the goal-setting worksheet Charlie always provides for Urban Writers Retreat days (which I had not filled in for today) and made a proper plan for the afternoon, and also for tomorrow.  After that, I felt much better and ready for lunch.

After lunch, I did more Scribophile reviews until I had enough points to post the cafe story for some additional, more varied feedback.

Then I finally broke new ground on what used to be the comic book idea, and which now has a working title of Changing Colours.  I wrote the opening scene, and it felt quite exciting to be starting a new long-form project.  Lots and lots and lots of work ahead on that one, though!

Next on the list was finally getting round to collecting stuff I wanted to keep from my completed project notebooks.  I picked the oldest and set to finding and typing up the relevant information.  The notebook dated back to January 2016 and contained my notes for about a year.  it was really interesting to look back on what I was doing during that time, and I picked up notes for a possible fanfiction, as well as my observations from rereading Perdido Street Station from the point of view of learning how to be a better writer.

The last thing on my list was to brainstorm some ideas for a new short story, based on a prompt for an upcoming competition.  I did a tarot reading for some initial thoughts and then did some free writing around the idea in my new notebook, ending up with a skeleton outline to work on more tomorrow..

Overall, the morning felt very scattered and as if the time was stretching out before me with no end in sight.  The afternoon was incredibly focused, and disappeared in a flash, leaving me wishing I had more time to work on stuff.  The only difference?  A plan for what I was going to do throughout the day!

 

Posted on 22 October 2017 11:34

I’m at an Urban Writers Retreat day today, which is usually an excellent way to get tons of stuff done.  And I have a long list of things I could be doing.  But I’ve already finished the three main ones I wanted to complete (all of which turned out to be quite simple and quick) and I’m not sure what I want to do next.

 

I’ve been bemoaning the fact that I don’t have time to read all the things I want to read about writing, or to collate and type up my notes on the things I’ve already read, or that are stored in one of my completed project notebooks.  But, now that I have the whole afternoon stretching ahead of me, those tasks feel like a waste of valuable time I’ve been presented with, to work on my writing.

 

On the other hand, though, there are two or three bigger writing projects on my list that I would be getting on with, but I don’t want to work on those, either.  They all feel too daunting to launch into, and too much like effort right now.

 

But days like today are designed precisely to provide the time and mental space to get on with the things I don’t normally have time for, or to dive into something new and huge and exciting.

 

So, as I frequently discover in such situations, it’s really not about how much time I have.  It’s about utilising that time effectively.  And, today, I feel tired, spaced out, and underprepared.

 

Charlie, who organises the Urban Writers Retreats, always sends out a goal-setting worksheet during the week beforehand, and I’ve always completed it for the retreat days I’ve attended up until now.  This time, though, I didn’t do it, and I think I’m suffering for it.  The worksheet asks questions about what you want to achieve over the course of the day, then breaks the day into manageable slots for you to plan what you’re going to work on.  I thought just having my list of available projects and tasks would give me access to my options without restricting me as to what I would do.  But it’s just left me floundering and failing to achieve anything (except this blog post, I guess!).

 

I have another full day of writing project time planned for tomorrow - so, I think my best move would be to complete a goal-setting worksheet for this afternoon (in the time I have left before lunch) and then do another one for tomorrow.  And hopefully that will set me off towards amazing productivity!

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 16 October 2017 08:50

Summary:

On every day but Monday, I intended to go through some of my filled-up writing project notebooks and type up anything I want to keep or work on further.  But I’ve been very low on sleep this week and found it impossible to motivate myself to do this, despite having plenty of time.  I have subsequently felt very unproductive as the week has gone on, even though Monday was very good.

My scheduled writing sessions in the week are great - but I think I need to consider dedicating more time at home to writing projects or writing admin as well.  After all, just because I’ve scheduled a writing session doesn’t mean I can’t work on stuff at other times as well!.

 

Monday:

Ann was initially unavailable for our usual writing date, so I got up early and headed into town to see if I could recreate a productive atmosphere on my own.  I went to Good & Proper in Clerkenwell, which proved very conducive to achieving this, with a great range of tea, friendly staff, comfortable seating, free wifi, and nommy food.

I started off by writing reviews of the three films I saw yesterday at the London Film Festival.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been completing image-based prompts from Seempli, which have been tremendous fun, and have certainly made me more observant of my surroundings, and more open to viewing things in a creative way.  Today’s prompt also involved a writing aspect, asking me to compose a passage of exactly fifty words, inspired by my photo.  Writing to a specific, very small word count is always an interesting exercise, and I really enjoyed completing it.  I also wrote a blog post about the site, highly recommending it.

Ann managed to join me after all, two hours into my planned mammoth writing session, which definitely kept me at it longer than I would have done otherwise.

I finished the first draft of the short story I started last Monday.  The competition deadline is 31 October, so I planned to run it past Write Club for feedback before submission.

I did a first pass on an old story that I want to expand to meet a competition word count.  I'll need to come back to it again to add in a bit more, but I don't want to ruin it by putting in unnecessary material, so I'm taking it slowly.

Lastly, I brainstormed the opening of what used to be the comic book series idea, gradually preparing to break new ground by actually starting the narrative.

So, overall, it was an extremely productive five hours!

 

Friday:

I spent a highly enjoyable hour on the phone with my Write Club buddies.  They confirmed what I had feared - that the competition entry I finished on Monday is more of an anecdote than a short story.  So, we brainstormed ways to make it more dramatic, and ways to bring the characters more to life, giving me plenty to think about.  It will need a complete re-write, but it will be improved out of all recognition once that’s done.

 

Posted on 09 October 2017 12:14

A few weeks ago, I discovered Seempli.com and have been enjoying engaging with it ever since.  It’s billed as a way to boost creativity, and it certainly seems to be working for me.

 

I’m not the most observant person in the world.  I originally failed my driving test on observation and awareness (kind of important when in charge of a car), and my husband is always pointing out things I haven’t spotted when we go out for walks.  I would like to claim that my mind is too focused on inner storytelling to be bothered with the details of my outer environment, but I think I’m just generally oblivious.

 

So, the idea of observational creativity at Seempli appealed to me a lot.  Basically, it’s a daily prompt, which you fulfil by taking a photograph of something inspired by it, when you’re out and about.  They have a ‘starter pack’ of what they call Seeds, with guidance on how to go about fulfilling them for the first three weeks.  After that, you can just use whichever Seed is posted on the site each day, or pay to upgrade your membership so you can access more comprehensive packages, along with the Prisms, which provide context and restrictions for whichever Seed you’re using.

 

It’s been tremendous fun trying to find monsters and happy shadows in my surroundings, taking photos of things that remind me of Shakespeare plays or other countries.  The last few prompts I’ve done have been combined with writing exercises, motivating me to find inspiration in my pictures to fuel creative writing as well as observation, which is fun and very useful.

 

I haven’t sampled the paid-for aspects of the site yet, so I don’t know whether or not to recommend them, but the introductory selection of prompts is proving by highly enjoyable and thought-provoking.  Also, after several weeks of feeling quite demotivated in my writing, I’ve had a resurgence of ideas and productivity.  I don’t know if this is solely as a result of Seempli, but I’m pretty sure it’s helping.

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 09 October 2017 09:06

Summary:

Tons of stuff going on, both within my brain and without, this week.  It feels like a renaissance of my creativity.  Now I just have to capitalise on it and get some work done!

 

Monday:

I’ve been asking my subconscious crew for some insight into which big writing project I should launch into, now that the novel is on hiatus for three months, and I got my answer this morning.  The one I keep coming back to is the comic book series idea, but I have no idea how to progress it as a comic book, because it’s so far outside my skillset and I don’t feel I have the time or the energy to dedicate to learning how to do it.  But the story excites me, so I’ve decided that I’m going to work on it as a prose piece, since that’s what I know how to do, and see what happens.  It’s really good to have a clear sense of the way forwards, after several weeks of directionless lack of progress.

I attended my usual writing date with Ann, and wrote the first 1250 words of a short story for an upcoming competition.

 

Tuesday:

 

I went to an enjoyable and useful London Writers’ Cafe event about getting short stories published.  The speaker was Rupert Dastur, editor of TSS Publishing, and he was very personable and knowledgeable about his subject.  But he suggested so many things to read, research, follow and take part in, that I had to wonder - where does anyone find the time and the energy to dedicate to all this stuff?  Don’t get me wrong - I’d love to do more of it myself, but I find it difficult enough to carve out time to write during the week!  On the plus side, I wrote so many notes that I almost filled up my current writing notebook - and you know what that means…

 

A trip to Paperchase!

 

Wednesday:

I went to Paperchase at lunchtime, spent twenty minutes inspecting every notebook in the shop, and came away with a lovely little owl-themed spiral-bound pad, spending only £6.  That’s quite an achievement.

 

After work, I met up with some of the writers from the Six Month Novel Programme and we did what writers do when we’re together.  We commiserated about our struggles, provided moral and emotional support, bolstered each other’s confidence, discussed different methods of getting things done, and generally had a good old chinwag.  The others were all very enthusiastic about the comic book idea, so I packed some materials to help me work on it on my long tube journey to and from Hounslow tomorrow.

 

Thursday:

The good old subconscious crew came up with a ton of ideas for the initial antagonist in the comic book series, which is now not going to be a comic book series (or at least not at first).  So, I spent a large part of my journey home from Hounslow writing notes about her, as planned.

This story is definitely now in my head, and I’m really excited about working on it, so I’ve definitely made the right decision.

 

Friday:

 

The subconscious crew came up with another whole load of great stuff while I was in the shower, presenting me with all the details for the second half of the story that went through the Master’s Review Workshop.  I’d evidently been thinking about it on some level all week, and now I have a really good extension and ending for it.

 

Saturday:

I woke up to an email from the editor of Lyonesse fantasy and science-fiction magazine, saying they wanted to actually pay me for a short story I submitted to them in August.  This is my first acceptance since I started only submitting to paying markets.  Plus, it’s for a story I love, but which has been rejected by four other publications.  So, a really great start to the weekend!

 

I made two short story submissions, and also received news that one of my stories had been passed to the third reading stage of submission for a production company that produces fiction podcasts.

 

I helped Bear with his second post about our group gaming holiday.

 

I then revised the first chapter of the novel, based on the feedback I got from my editor last week, and also sent her the whole manuscript for a developmental edit she’s going to do by the end of the year.



Posted on 02 October 2017 10:47

Summary:

No actual writing this week, as I was mostly away on a group gaming holiday and decided to take a break.  I could have done some over the weekend, when I was free and at home, but I had a three-day headache and not enough sleep, so I gave myself a pass and mostly just watched TV.

 

However, this episode is not entirely empty, as other people were working on writing projects on my behalf, and I received several communications from them that were of interest.

 

 

Tuesday:

I received the editorial notes on the first chapter of my novel, which was the culmination of the Six Month Novel Programme.  They were largely positive, praising the pacing and characterisation and expressing enthusiasm for the story as a whole.  The main negative was that I over-explain and do too much world-building at the start, with the advice that I pull back and trust the reader more to figure things out for themselves.  This is a common criticism of my novel (weirdly, I encounter the opposite problem with my short fiction, where readers often want more information than I’m prepared to give), and may not be a particularly easy fix.  However, the editor is keen to work more with me on the full manuscript, and I’m certainly going to take her up on that.

 

 

Wednesday:

I received my Reading Retreat prescription from Cressi, which contained some interesting choices:

 

Non-fiction books about the craft of writing (which I specifically requested):

ON WRITING by Stephen King - already on my reading shelf
BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott - something that has been recommended to me before but that I’ve never got round to acquiring

Fiction (for good examples of world-building and ‘showing not telling’):
HOW TO STOP TIME by Matt Haig - already on my Amazon wish list
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey - something that intrigued me earlier in the year when the film came out
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES by Seth Grahame-Smith - apparently just because I was re-reading P&P at the time I spoke to Cressi and she though I might find it fun
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS by John Boyne - I didn’t like the film, but it would be interesting to read the book as it is about a child, but not really a children’s book
THE EMPIRE OF THE SUN by J.G. Ballard - I loved the film, and would be really interested to read the book, especially considering it is largely autobiographical

 

I cannot express just how much I am looking forward to the reading retreat weekend - it will be book-ended by reasonably lengthy train journeys, which will be perfect for doing some writing, as I intend to keep to the spirit of the weekend and only read while I’m there.  I have a feeling it’s going to be glorious.

 

 

Friday:

Over the summer, I took the opportunity to take part in the Master’s Review workshop, whereby I submitted a short story for feedback from a professional editor, and the comments back today.  The editor said he would usually provide a manuscript, marked up with in-line changes, but felt this was unnecessary for my story as the prose was already very clean and well-written.  He praised both the idea and the execution, but said it could do with being developed more, and lengthened to perhaps twice its current word count.  He gave some ideas of things to think about in the expansion and suggested appropriate places to submit it once the revisions are done.  

 

As with the editorial comments on the novel, it was lovely to receive such positive feedback from a professional editor, and it has given me something to work with on a story I have faith in but wanted some guidance on improving.  But, given how little constructive criticism I actually received, I do wonder if it was worth what I paid for it...

 

 

Sunday:

I helped Bear put together his first post about the group gaming holiday, which was fun, as always.

 

 

Back to real life next week - the day job looms on Tuesday, but I will also be able to get back into my usual routine of writing time, so it will hopefully be a more productive week.

Posted on 25 September 2017 08:54

Summary:

 

Lots of lessons learned this week - not least that Weeknotes is an excellent way to track progress.  This is because, by the time Monday came around again, and I was compiling my notes to post, I had completely forgotten everything I had done and learned earlier in the week!

 

Monday:

 

I cut a story down to half its original length to fit the requirements for Life Plus 2M Volume 2, and submitted it.  The editor contacted me later that afternoon to say he was delighted with it and had accepted it for inclusion, which was a nice boost.

 

After I contacted them about my error in submitting to their novel competition, Mslexia kindly allowed me to re-submit my entry with the contact details cover page attached.  Phew!  I’m certainly not expecting to get anywhere in the competition, but it would have been very frustrating to be disqualified due to a submission error.

 

I had a long list of possible things to work on at my writing date with Ann, and started with a blog post about the positive side of rejections.  I had intended the lesson to be about finding encouragement wherever you can, but ended up concluding that I need to do more research into the publications I submit to.  Interesting to discover a useful lesson in the process of writing about something else!

 

I did a bit of free writing for this week’s Hour of Writes prompt, and came up with quite a nice little plot very quickly, which demonstrated that my creative brain is still in there somewhere.  I didn’t feel like actually writing it, though, so decided to leave it to percolate for a bit and come back to it later in the week.  I don’t often employ free writing as a technique for generating ideas, but it has yielded some good results in the past, so perhaps I should try it more.

 

I also thought briefly about the prompt for an upcoming competition and realised I already had a great story to fit it, based on a real-life adventure from last weekend, so I put that on the development list as well.

 

Building on my lesson about researching publications, I read the most recent online edition of Spartan literary magazine, to see if it’s something I might like to try and write for.  I think it would be a good fit for some of my more esoteric offerings.

 

I finished the session by reading a bit more of Wonderbook, so an eclectic but quite productive day overall.

 

Tuesday:

 

I received an email from the people who run Reading Retreats periodically, saying they had one space left on their half-price taster weekend in November, so I snapped it up forthwith.  Three nights in a pleasant environment, with the sole focus being reading - what could be better?  They also offer a personal reading prescription service, which I am taking up, as I’m always interested in book recommendations and I’m hoping they’ll be able to point me towards some exemplar ‘showing not telling’, as one of them is a professional editor.

 

Wednesday:

 

I went to a work-related conference that finished at 3:30pm, so I planned to find a cafe afterwards and work on at least one of the story ideas I came up with on Monday.  I was feeling very scattered and anxious after the conference, and certainly not very creative, but I followed the plan, not the mood, and managed to complete an entry for this week’s Hour of Writes competition.  It certainly wasn’t the best writing I’ve ever done, but I’m glad I made the effort.

 

Thursday:

 

My Mslexia Indie Presses Guide arrived in the post - many, many submission opportunities to explore and add to my spreadsheet.

 

Friday:

 

I had a very pleasant phone conversation with Cressida, who does the book recommendations for the reading retreats.  We talked about both reading and writing, and she said she would send me my suggested prescription in the post.  The retreat itself sounds so wonderful - I can’t wait.

 

Then we drove to Norfolk to embark on our annual group gaming holiday, and my focus moved away from writing for the rest of the week.

 

Posted on 18 September 2017 14:54

Rejections are an inevitable part of being a writer, at least if you have any ambition to see your work printed by anyone other than yourself.  But there are different types of rejections, and some of them can have beneficial consequences.

 

I’ve been actively trying to get my short stories published since the start of 2016 and, in the 21 months since, I’ve received nearly 150 rejections.  So, I’m very used to them by now, and they generally don’t bother me that much any more.  Sometimes, they still hurt, particularly when it’s a piece I’m really proud of and I’ve targeted the publication really carefully.  Mostly, though, I see them as an opportunity to find somewhere else to send that piece, and I like to have 20-30 submissions out in the world for consideration at any one time.

 

There are some rejections, though, that are nearly as good as an acceptance - not quite, but nearly.  Those are the ones where the editor has taken the time to provide feedback on the piece.  If this is in the form of a comment on why it was rejected, that can be extremely useful in identifying ways to strengthen the piece and make it more likely to be accepted by the next publication.  I’m always grateful when editors take the time to do this, as they are busy people with many, many submissions to review, and I appreciate the effort they’ve made to be constructive in their rejection.

 

Even better, though, are the ones that provide positive feedback on the writing, even though they’ve decided not to publish it themselves.  You see, there can be many reasons why an editor does not select a piece of writing for publication, and quite a few of them have nothing to do with the quality of the writing.  Particularly when you first start submitting pieces of consideration, it can be difficult not to be discouraged by rejections, and a common conclusion people come to is that they are just no good as writers.

 

So, I think it’s especially valuable when editors go out of their way to let writers know they’ve enjoyed a submission, as it gives the writer the confidence to send it elsewhere.

 

The first time I was actually paid for a story came about because of just such a piece of feedback.  I had written a story specifically for a quite prestigious fantasy anthology, and was cautiously optimistic about its chances because I thought it was one of my better efforts.  The email I got back from the editor said:

 

“This is a perfectly good story, but it doesn't quite have the feel I want for this anthology. Try this on another market.”

 

This bolstered my confidence in the quality of the story, so I sent it somewhere else and it got snapped up straight away.

 

Having achieved a small run of successes with mostly non-paying publications, I recently decided to limit my submissions to only paying markets.  Since then, none of my stories have been accepted for publication.  This might have led me to believe that my writing isn’t good enough to be paid for - except that I’ve received multiple pieces of very positive feedback.

 

One magazine praised my submission for containing “beautiful writing” and “a compelling story”, even though it didn’t fit what they were looking for.  So, I have submitted that story to a prestigious competition, and will see what happens.  An editor of anthology told me my story had “almost made it” and asked if I had anything else I could submit.  I sent two more stories, both of which she praised, but neither of which quite fit the theme.  That suggests that she likes my writing in general, so I’ve subscribed to find out about more upcoming anthologies from that publisher, so I can write something specifically for them next time, and maybe get a look-in.

 

One of my favourite rejection responses said:

 

“Your piece has many merits; in the end, however, it’s just not quite right for us.  Thank you for sending your piece in. We hope that you continue to draw on your considerable talents as you move forward in your writing.”

 

Now, to my mind, there’s no reason for a rejection to include such lovely comments if they’re not sincere, as editors are unlikely to want to encourage more submissions from writers they don’t think are good enough.  So, I take rejections like this at face value, use them to off-set the discouragement of not being successful, and keep the publications on my list for future submissions.

 

Another lesson I should perhaps learn from these rejections is that I need to research the publications I submit to more carefully, and target my writing better towards what they’re looking for.  I do try to do this - after all, it would be foolish to send an existential literary piece to a publication that specialises in military sci-fi.  But I could certainly do more work in this area.  If only I had more time to read past issues and study the stories that have been accepted, I might have more success.  And perhaps that would be a more worthwhile use of what time I have than some of the other things I do.  Certainly food for thought.

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 17 September 2017 17:17

Summary:

I’ve been a bit all over the place this week, finding it difficult to settle to anything, and not feeling as if what I’ve been doing is particularly worthwhile.  Still, recording it all for Weeknotes shows me that I am getting things done, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

 

Monday:

I had a writing date with Ann, though I felt unfocused and as if I didn’t have anything I really wanted to work on.  I read through a workbook from a daily writing programme I came across some time ago and reminded myself why writing every day really doesn’t work for me.  It becomes a chore, something I have to get done to complete my tasks for the day, and I end up obsessing about the number of words rather than thinking about the content and quality.

So, I switched to some pre-writing worksheets and did some brainstorming for a project that’s in the first stages of creation.  I’m excited about it, and I’m keen to produce something, but it’s intended to be a comic book series, which I have no experience of, and the learning curve feels way too steep at the moment.  I wrote some interesting and useful notes, but I’m really not sure what to do with it now.

I spent the last half hour of the session going through and marking up the submission opportunities at the back of this quarter’s edition of Mslexia, which I have just subscribed to.

After the writing date, I walked from Brick Lane to King’s Cross for what was billed as an ‘editing workshop’ by London Writers’ Cafe.  It turned out to be more of a lecture by a professional editor, which contained some useful tips and amusing anecdotes.  Perhaps if I’d read the description of the event more carefully, I would have been more prepared for the format, but it didn’t feel particularly useful, overall.

However, I did happen to sit next to one of the other writers from the Six Month Novel Programme, and we walked back to King’s Cross together afterwards, so that was nice.

 

Tuesday:

I decided to give myself the rest of the week off from actual writing.  Hannah wasn’t free for our writing date on Wednesday, and I wanted the whole day to myself on Sunday, so didn’t sign up for the Let’s Write Together session.

 

Wednesday:

I read an article in Mslexia, which was very appropriate to my situation.  It pointed out that a run of small publication successes is inevitably followed by a period of nothing, because successes raise your ambition and you start submitting to places that are more difficult to get accepted by.  I made the decision recently to start submitting only to paying markets, and I haven’t had any acceptances since.  I have, however, had quite a bit of positive feedback, which is very encouraging, so it’s important that I don't give up!

New Urban Writers’ Retreat dates were released so I booked onto the only one I can make, in October.

 

Thursday:

I booked a place on another London Writers’ Cafe workshop, which involves a real-life agent providing feedback on the first 300 words of every attendee’s novel.  Got to be worth it!

I spent some time adding all the submission opportunities from Mslexia onto my rolling spreadsheet.  Plenty of potential projects to think about and work on!

 

Friday:

Earlier in the week, Dave sent me details of two YouTube channels about writing - Ellen Brock and Chris Fox.  So, I watched a couple of videos from each and decided to subscribe to both.  One of my biggest problems at the moment, though, is that there are so many resources available to me as a writer, and not nearly enough time to consume them all, so new YouTube subscriptions isn’t going to help much with that!

 

Saturday:

Nada. Zip. Nothing.

 

Sunday:

I submitted the novel for two competitions and also submitted a short story for consideration by Fireside Magazine.

I generally find the process of submitting work both time-consuming and frustrating, as it involves very careful reading of guidelines, much irritating formatting and general annoyance related to form-filling and attachments.  Today was no exception, as I failed to save changes to a document, which resulted in me submitting my manuscript without the cover page to one competition (which may disqualify me), and the other competition guidelines were extremely unhelpful as they didn’t specify how, where, and what to actually submit.

I also discovered that my posting window for this month’s GYWO discussion post (on balancing personal time and writing time) was 14-16 September, not 16-18 September as I had thought, which meant I was late posting.  Luckily, the topic matched a personal blog post I wrote a few weeks ago, so I amended that a bit to fit the purpose and send it off to the moderators.

I read a bit of Wonderbook, a weird and wonderful reference book about writing fantasy, which I started much earlier in the year but put aside some months ago for reasons I can’t remember.  It’s got a ton of really useful and imaginatively presented information about writing - I’m just not sure how best to capture and retain any of it, to use in my own work.

Lastly, I caught up on my reviews, including the one for the September category of the Wordy Birds Reading Challenge, which was to read a children’s book.  So, hopefully, that will be read out on East Point radio (based in Lowestoft) later in  the month.

 

According to the above, I did quite a lot today (and the rest of the week) - so why does it still not feel as if I’m really achieving anything?

 

 

Posted on 11 September 2017 13:40

Summary:

 

Weirdly, I think I’m missing having a big project to work on.  I’ve been doing writing-related stuff, but I haven’t felt very focused or motivated this week.  Perhaps I need to pick my next novel and throw myself into it...

 

Monday:

 

I spent the morning going through all the stuff I brought back from NAWG Fest and adding all the Writing Magazine competition and submission info to my rolling spreadsheet.  I also sent my Editing Action Plan and first 3000 words to Amie for her editorial feedback, which will be the official end of the Six Month Novel Programme.  I also sent the whole novel manuscript to Tony, Jane and Beckah for their comments, though I stressed that I don’t want any feedback before December.

 

I generally felt quite demoralised about writing in general and my lack of editing motivation in particular.

 

I went to my scheduled writing date with Ann anyway and did manage to get stuff done - not least editing the competition entry I got feedback on at the weekend.  I also caught up on my reviews and wrote a blog post about needing constant reinforcement of lessons learned about writing.

 

Tuesday:

 

Nada.  Zip.  Nothing.  Which is fine.

 

Wednesday:

 

I felt very demoralised about the day-job and had a splitting headache at the end of the day, but still went along to my writing date with Hannah, since she promised she would actually turn up this week, and I didn’t want to be the one to cancel.

 

We had a very encouraging conversation about balancing confidence and complacency, versus falling into a pit of despair about the quality of one’s writing and chances of ever getting published.  Writing can be a very isolating activity, and it’s always a good idea to talk to other writers to gain some perspective and exchange moral support.

 

I sent a pitch paragraph for the novel to Dave’s nephew, Laurence, as he said he had some friends who might be prepared to read it and send me feedback.  It will be very useful to get comments from some younger people (early 20s) as they are more likely to be my target market than the people who’ve read it so far.  It’s quite terrifying, though, as they are completely unknown to me, and might be painfully honest (which would be good, if not pleasant).

 

I edited and submitted my entry for the Retreat West Short Story Competition (based on feedback from Write Club over the weekend).

 

I also wrote one of my better reviews for The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, discussing enjoyment of a book as a reader versus analysis of a book as a writer.  I’m struggling with this a bit at the moment because I’m at the editing stage with my own novel so I’m finding it very difficult to take off my editorial hat and just read stuff for fun.

 

Thursday:

 

Nada.  Zip.  Nothing.  Which is still fine.

 

Friday:

 

A trip to Bristol for work would normally mean writing on the train, but I got engrossed in my book and didn’t do any in the end.

 

Saturday:

 

Back in May, I submitted a sample of ten pieces of flash fiction to a publisher specialising in collections of the same.  The editor emailed me to say my ten pieces weren’t strong enough in total to make a collection, but that she had particularly liked five out of the ten, and could I send a further five for her consideration.

 

It was a very long day, involving a flight in a four-seater prop plane, which ended in an unexpected landing at an airfield in the middle of nowhere in Somerset, and a long train journey back from Yeovil.  But I was enthused by the at least partially positive response from this editor, so I spent some time in the evening selecting and formatting five more stories to send across to her.

 

Sunday:

 

I posted on my website about The Wishing Star, adding it to my publications page.

 

I also wrote and posted a Bear story about our aborted trip to Guernsey on Saturday.

 

So, overall, plenty of stuff done and plenty of days where I worked on writing projects.  But it all feels a bit nebulous at the moment.  Maybe, after six months of intensive work on the novel, my brain just needs a break for a while.  Or, maybe, if I launch into something huge and new, I’ll rediscover my enthusiasm.  I guess I’ll never know until I try...

 

Posted on 04 September 2017 16:22

I got back from NAWG Fest yesterday, after two days of workshops, q&a with agents, and lots of chatting with other writers.

 

I didn’t learn anything new.

 

But it was still a valuable (and highly enjoyable) experience because there was a lot of reinforcement of things I already knew.  As humans, we develop habits over time, and it’s much easier just to keep on with those than it is to implement new lessons learned.  Even if you have a lightbulb moment about something and think your life is going to be changed forever, actually making that change can be incredibly difficult.

 

So, going to a workshop about the five most common mistake writers make was useful to remind me of what those are and re-motivate me to ensure they don’t crop up in my work.  And going to another workshop about showing rather than telling was helpful in reiterating the best ways to go about doing this (especially since it’s the common mistake I make most often).

 

On the Sunday afternoon, I changed my mind about which workshop I wanted to go to, and ended up attending one I’d done last year, all about getting in touch with the subconscious.  I initially hadn’t intended to go, as I thought I knew it all already.  And I did.  But it turned out to be the most useful (and enjoyable) workshop of the weekend, because it reminded me of all those valuable lessons I learned last year, and then forgot to utilise in the intervening time.

 

I’ve definitely been neglecting my subconscious crew, and I suspect my writing has been suffering because of it.  It was lovely to share a guided meditation experience with some of the other attendees in the workshop, and it was great fun to ask myself questions and get unexpected answers I didn’t realise I knew.

 

I’m a Writing Magazine subscriber, mostly for the section at the back with all the submission opportunities, but I do enjoy the articles as well.  They tend to be quite repetitive, since there’s only so much you can say about the process of writing, but I always enjoy reading the magazine regardless.  That’s because I find it so useful to read that advice over and over again, in the hopes that some of it might eventually stick in my brain.

 

So, I will keep going to workshops and I’ll keep buying Writing Magazine, and maybe one day I’ll be able to change more of my ingrained habits for the better, by replacing them through constant reinforcement.

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 04 September 2017 14:24

Someone my husband, Dave, knows started a project called Weeknotes, whereby he puts together a summary of what he’s done at work each week and posts it online.  Other people have started to do it too, and I wanted to join in.  I wasn’t overly enthused about compiling Weeknotes for my day job, but I thought it might be fun to do it for my writing, so here goes...

 

Monday:

 

I made good use of the train journey back from Edinburgh.  I wrote and posted all my Fringe reviews, and remembered to Tweet them (1,314 words added to the word tracking spreadsheet).  I read through the final worksheet for the Six Month Novel Programme (I can’t believe it’s over already) and despaired of my ability to apply all the editing suggestions to my novel manuscript.  However, when I then read the first chapter backwards, I discovered how useful an editing trick that can be, which just goes to show that Amie and Charlie really know what they’re talking about.  I duly completed the Editing Action Plan for the final submission of the programme, and I feel pretty good about the Grand Plan for the novel.  Finally, I did a Tarot reading for a new short story, which I find can be a fun way to generate and develop ideas at the start of a project.

 

When we got home, I planned the next submission opportunities for the stories that were rejected over the weekend (one with some lovely feedback about the writing), and emailed Hannah to check she was free to meet up after work on Wednesday for our writing date.

 

Tuesday:

 

I couldn’t sleep because my stupid brain was thinking about the novel, and Dave was snoring like a pneumatic drill.  I tried kicking him, punching him, waggling his pillow, and bouncing on the bed while sighing loudly, but there was no response.  I finally got a reaction by poking him in the arm with a fingernail.  He apologised for disturbing me, rolled over and immediately started snoring again.

 

So, I got up at 4am and used the extra time to prepare and submit a short story to Strange Horizons, to update my current project list, and to write some notes for the support call with Amie and Charlie at the end of Six Month Novel Programme.

 

Wednesday:

 

I remembered to pack my tablet, and made my way to the usual tea shop after work.  I edited a 12,000 word story, re-read the Tarot notes from Monday and wrote the first draft of what was was intended to be an entry for the upcoming Writing Magazine Single Character Competition.  It turned out way too short, but was easily adapted for this week’s Hour of Writes prompt, Back To Normal.

 

Partway through the session, I got a rejection from a publisher with some very harsh feedback about the story (not how I’ve been taught to give feedback at all!), which was a little demoralising.  I’ve got to the stage now where stock rejection emails don’t bother me, and I really appreciate it when editors take the time to write something positive about the submission.  I’m generally very happy to receive constructive criticism, but this was phrased very baldly, and not in a helpful way.  Hey ho.

 

I texted Hannah after 90 minutes and discovered she wasn’t coming after all, so packed up a bit early and headed home.  It was a shame not to see Hannah, but the existence of the appointment meant I got a lot done that I wouldn’t have done at home, so it felt pretty productive overall.

 

Thursday:

 

I had dinner with Geena and talked about my plan for the novel, how to deal with bad rejection feedback, and writing in general.  It’s always good to talk to Geena.  I think we’re very good for each other’s mental health.

 

I got an invite for a London Writers' Cafe editing workshop on 11 September and signed up for it immediately.  I need all the help I can get in this area.

 

Friday:

 

I submitted one short story to Freeze Frame Fiction, another to Centropic Oracle, and also entered the EFG Short Story Award.  I currently have 29 submissions out for consideration, with six more waiting in the wings, which I think it pretty good.

 

I typed up and submitted my first Hour of Writes entry since June.  I’ve only entered a couple of times in the last few months, and certainly not every week before that this year.  After submitting 104 weeks in a row up until December 2016, I wonder if my relationship with Hour of Writes is coming to an end.  I’m still getting the prompts every week, and I still have about 30 credits to use up, so I’m not going to cancel my account just yet.  Maybe I’ll get back into it properly at some point.

 

I gave myself permission not to write on the train to Coventry. Instead, I went through the Writing Magazine competition supplement and marked all the stuff I might be interested in entering.

 

At the NAWG Fest open mic session, I was presented with my copy of The Wishing Star, a collaborative writing project where 19 different authors wrote a chapter each of a teenage romance/adventure.  It’s still a rare enough occurrence that I get excited about seeing my name in a printed book, and it was even more fun when various people asked me to sign their copies of the book.

 

Saturday:

I attended workshops on common mistakes writers make (I only make one out of the five but it’s quite a major one and difficult to fix) and Show Don’t Tell, which is the mistake I make, so that was handy.

I organised a Write Club meeting with Tony, Jane and Beckah, which was the first one I’d managed to attend in person.  They gave me tons of useful and encouraging feedback on a competition entry that’s due soon, and I really enjoyed spending time with them

 

Sunday:

 

I attended workshops on creating conflict and getting in touch with the subconscious.  The first gave me the opportunity to develop a story I’ve been thinking about for some time, and the latter reminded me of all the great lessons I learned on this subject at last year’s NAWG Fest.  I’m going to write a blog post about the need for constant reinforcement of lessons learned.

 

 

So, in summary, I feel like it’s been a good week for writing.  Lots of variety and lots of opportunities to work on projects and spend time with other writers.

 

Posted on 20 August 2017 14:44

At the moment, I am struggling with finding balance in my life.

 

I work in an office four days a week, and often have several social engagements throughout the week and at the weekend.  So, it can be difficult to find time to write.  It helps a lot that I have several writer friends who are much more dedicated than I am, and who keep me on target by scheduling writing dates and not letting me wimp out at the last minute.

 

But it can be tough.  I recently had a glorious weekend of three whole days with no commitments, and was encouraged that what I wanted to do with my time was work on writing projects.  I knuckled down and put in five or six hours on all three days, getting a huge amount done and feeling very proud of myself by the end of it.  Partway through the Monday afternoon, I found myself thinking, “This is what I want my life to be!”

 

Then I went back to ‘real’ work on the Tuesday and spent the rest of the week dragging myself around the office like a zombie, totally exhausted and utterly unable to concentrate on anything.  It turns out that spending three days focusing really hard on creative projects takes up just as much energy as my day job, if not more.  Who knew?  So it’s really not feasible for me to go to work in the office for four days, and then essentially work full days at writing for the other three days of the week.

 

It’s also starting to feel like I haven’t written anything new in a long time.  This clearly isn’t true, since I wrote two or three new pieces at Felixstowe Book Festival at the start of July, and I’ve taken part in two fanfiction events in the last couple of months, as well.  But so much of my time and energy since March has been taken up with redrafting the novel, I’m feeling the need to get my teeth into a new, big project that’s fresh and exciting.

 

I have at least two in mind, but I also have to remember that the novel isn’t done yet, and the current plan requires quite a bit more work before I can shift gears to focus properly on something new.  And then there’s all the reading I want to do.  There are so many great books about the craft of writing, and I want to read them all.  And that’s the aspect of my writing life that’s being most neglected at the moment.

 

But, the end of the Six Month Novel Programme is in sight (and it’s been an amazing and very productive experience), and there are developments in my day job that may mean I’ll be going down to three days a week in the office before the end of the year.  Maybe I can work out a schedule where I spend three days in the office, two and a half days writing, and still have a day and a half for fun and falling down.

 

So, I guess the answer is just to keep swimming.  I need to ensure I make the most of the time I have available, but also that I take time to relax as well.  Life is long, after all, and as long as I’m enjoying my writing, that’s still the most important thing.

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 31 July 2017 14:17

Yesterday, I experienced a profound sense of accomplishment.

 

The four-month writing period of the Six Month Novel Programme is coming to an end, and I actually finished writing the last scene of my current draft about three weeks ago.  That felt pretty great, not least because it happened on a writing date with a friend who was also there when I finished my first draft of the novel nearly two years ago.

 

My task for yesterday was to put the whole thing into one document and then go through it to indent all the paragraphs, separate all the individual scenes, and add in the chapter breaks.  I thought it would just be a tedious exercise in formatting, and it did indeed take many hours.  However, along the way, I spotted a few easily correctable errors, expanded the climax scene, and added in a few lines that significantly improved the thematic pay-off in the epilogue.  All those felt like important changes, and I was glad to have made them.

 

What prompted my surge of satisfaction with the novel, though, was just the act of seeing it as a cohesive whole.  Even though I wasn’t actually reading it, I still scanned through the whole thing, discovered where the natural chapter breaks fell, and got a real sense of it as a proper story.  It’s 93,000 words long, and it tells a complete tale with characters who change and develop, and a world I have created, which faces challenges and comes out the other side.

 

Much more so than typing THE END at the bottom a scene that was just one of many I wrote and edited over the last four months, this act of creating one file with all the words in one place has made me feel as if I’ve really written a novel.  And it feels really, really good.

 

There’s still a long way to go, of course.  Editing boot camp starts next week, and only really focuses on the first 3000 words.  After that, I need to go through the other 90,000 words myself, ask some good friends for more feedback, spend several months rewriting, and then hopefully submit it for agent responses at Winchester Writers’ Conference next June.  That’s a lot of work to get done, for an uncertain outcome nearly a year in the future.

 

But I have a novel.  And I have a plan.  And it suddenly all feels very possible…

 

XXXXX

 

 

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Posted on 08 July 2017 07:11

Last weekend, a few friends and I went to Felixstowe Book Festival.  This was my third event of this kind, and probably my favourite so far.  NAWG Fest in September last year was an intensive two days of excellent workshops, with a couple of author talks thrown in.  Tremendous fun, but very tiring.  Chipping Norton Literary Festival, in May, was all author panels, which I found very interesting, but didn’t spark my creative muscles.  So, I was glad to discover that Felixstowe had a range of different sessions on offer, including both panels and workshops.  I signed up for several of both, and thought the combination worked really well.

I had a great weekend in terms of writing.  My first workshop was on OuLiPo, a French movement, which focuses on applying restrictions to the writing form, in order to prompt the writer to think harder about word choices.  We did a couple of exercises - one in which we wrote a few lines using only one vowel (in my case, a) and one where we wrote some more lines missing out a particular letter (in my case, s).  It was fascinating, and really brought home to me that I don’t think that much about the individual words I choose when writing.  Using only the one vowel was much the more difficult task of the two, but even avoiding the letter ‘s’ proved challenging, especially since I chose to write a piece about two people having an argument - and couldn’t use ‘said’.

My second workshop was on short stories, and where to get inspiration.  The exercise we did involved having a selection of photographs to get ideas from, and I wrote a short piece about a woman being held up at gunpoint, with a weird twist of perspective.  I was very pleased with it, got a good reaction from the rest of the group when I read it out, and have subsequently entered it in a flash fiction competition.

The third workshop was about microfiction, and was much more focused on actually getting some writing done than anything else.  The tutor gave us each a piece of paper with a prompt on it, and then we had 25 minutes to produce a piece of writing.  My heart sank when I saw my prompt - Once Upon A Time.  But, I quickly rallied, thought about a more interesting way of using it than the traditional one, and completed a 250-word story within the time limit.  Everyone read out their pieces, and I was impressed by the range of styles and the level of quality.  After the session, one of the other attendees chased me down in the corridor to say how much she had enjoyed my piece, and that she thought I should enter it in a competition - so I have!

Whenever I go on a trip (festival, retreat, course) involving writing, my main objective is to come away with a piece of writing I never would have written if I hadn’t gone.  And I certainly achieved that on this occasion - with three new and interesting pieces to my name.  So, the weekend was definitely a success!

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 05 June 2017 17:09

I didn’t write anything all last week.  Then, I had a tiring, somewhat stressful but ultimately enjoyable weekend away at a gaming event, getting home later last night than planned.  And I’d completely forgotten about my dentist appointment this morning.  All I wanted to do with the rest of today was sit on the sofa and watch TV.  But I had a writing date scheduled with a writer friend this afternoon, so I duly made my way to Brick Lane to meet her.

On my journey, I thought about how fried my brain was, how tired my body was, and how much I didn’t want to spend the afternoon writing.  I was feeling demoralised about the intensive novel drafting programme I’m in the middle of, and the short story with the looming deadline felt like a millstone around my neck.  I was sure I wouldn’t be able to focus, that I’d get nothing done, and all I would get for my trip out would be more despair.

Then, I arrived at the cafe, got myself some tea, chatted for a while with my friend, and settled in to write.

Three hours later, I had edited two chapters of my novel, written an entirely new (and very exciting) scene, completed 1,200 words of the short story (only 2000 to go), and pruned another short story to fit the word limit of an upcoming competition.  I had also found multiple new submission opportunities in the back of Writing Magazine, my go-to place for where to send my completed work.

So, after failing to schedule writing time last week, and feeling as if I would never write another word again because it was just too hard, I had a tremendously productive afternoon and now feel very pleased with myself.  I’m also enthused about getting to the wholly new section of my novel, rather than being terrified of it, and I am confident I can complete the short story in plenty of time before the deadline.

An assigned slot of two to three hours, outside the flat, with another writer to keep me focused and provide companionship *always* produces good results, no matter how I feel on the day.  But this is a lesson I have to keep re-learning, as my brain is so very good at persuading me I have to be in the “right frame of mind” to write, and that today is not it.

At least the lesson was very fresh in my mind when my friend suggested we meet again on Sunday for more of the same.  I said a very enthusiastic yes, and now it’s in my calendar so I’ll have to go!

XXXXX

 

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