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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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Posted on 14 May 2017 11:09

My relationship to aural input whilst writing has changed dramatically over time.

I used to need complete peace and quiet in order to write, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to listen to music at the same time.

Then, I started using instrumental music as a way to focus and block out distracting background noise. I think that was probably when I first discovered the joys of writing on long train journeys, and needed something to drown out my annoying fellow passengers. But I couldn’t listen to music that had words, as I would find it too difficult to concentrate on the words I was trying to produce myself.

More recently, my preference for listening to music while writing has changed again. I can now pretty much focus on my writing anywhere, at any time, and am actually composing this post in a very noisy cafe in central London, without any of my own music in my ears. I can just about make out the Red Hot Chilli Peppers playing overhead, and that’s fine. However, my optimal musical input for writing is now angry rock music - Linkin Park, Seether, Fireflight, Skillet - you get the idea.

But there is one album that is guaranteed to get me in the writing mood, and that’s The Pale Emperor by Marilyn Manson. Now, I’ve never been a Manson fan, and I don’t like any of the other albums of his that I’ve tried. But the first few bars of the first song on that album (Killing Strangers) instantly locks me into creative mode and has me itching to get my fingers on a keyboard.

I first came across this song on the soundtrack of John Wick, a film that came out in 2014. I absolutely loved it, saw it in the cinema twice, and obtained my own copy as soon as it became available. Then, Easter weekend last year, I booked myself a little holiday cottage and went away for three days to write on my own, and hit a road block. I decided to rewatch John Wick just as relaxation and the song, Killing Strangers, really stood out to me. So, I found the album it was from, and put it on to listen to as I got back to writing. I ended up having it on loop for the rest of the weekend, and got tons of great writing done.

So, now, that whole album, and the opening song in particular, are forever associated in my mind with really getting down to some writing work, and I rely on it to help me out whenever I’m stuck or just not really feeling it. And, because of the way in which our brains function, it works wonders!

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 17 April 2017 16:46

After two writing weeks on the Six Month Novel Programme, I am six chapters and over 30,000 words into the new draft, which is way more than I anticipated.

The outline has changed multiple times, I’ve discovered major issues with the order of events, my favourite character has disappeared from the story altogether, and I’ve tied myself up in knots over making sure all the most important plot points are covered early on.

But, overall, I feel pretty good about what I’ve got so far, even though my plan for how to go about it went out the window after the first scene.

My original intention was to do a blank page re-write, without referring to the original draft.  Now, the reason for doing this was because I have a lot of new material to incorporate and I had no idea how to insert this into what I already had, without getting in a mess and potentially screwing it up completely.

However, by putting together a detailed outline over the last month, I can easily see how existing scenes fit into the new structure, where the new information needs to be added, and what of the original can potentially be kept in the new draft.  So, instead of opening a new document and just writing the whole thing again, I’ve actually been cutting and pasting bits of the old draft into what I’m doing now, and then editing them as required.

It sort of feels like cheating, but then why duplicate effort unnecessarily?  I’m not simply shoving them in wholesale, with no thought as to how it all fits together.  I’ve had to do quite a lot of revision to meet the new POV structure, and I’ve been editing as I go, to address some of the stylistic issues that came up from previous feedback.

I was worried that just re-writing everything might be boring, and that it might lead to be skipping over important scenes, or missing out vital moments altogether, so I’m avoiding that, and making more progress more quickly than I thought possible.  However I approach this draft, I’m going to need to go through it all multiple more times in the revision stages, so I don’t think it’s too much of a problem using old material at this point.  I have good writer friends lined up as fresh eyes to give me feedback once I complete this new draft, and that’s when I can really work on the stylistic stuff.

I hope I’m not just finding arguments to justify being lazy.  I don’t think I am.  The purpose of this new draft is to get all the exciting new action into the existing story, and it feels like I’m succeeding with that so far.  Things will inevitably get tougher as I get further through the story, as I’ll need to create more and more new material, so my method in these early days feels like a good way to get back into the novel and comfortable with working to an ambitious schedule.

Regardless, I have over 30,000 words, and they feel like good words.  So, why question it?

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 02 April 2017 14:40

When I wrote the first draft of my novel, it took five years, a lot of teeth-pulling, and a gradual progression from the original 1,500 word story to the eventual 90,000 word novel.  There was a lot of mystery and excitement along the way, coupled with periods of staring into the void, wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

Now, I’ve signed up for the Six Month Novel programme, and I’m in a whole new world of plotting and outlining.

This process is entirely new to me.  Oddly, considering how much I plan and schedule every other part of my life, I’ve never been a planner when it comes to my writing.  But, if you’re intending to complete a whole new draft of a novel in six month, you really need to know where you’re going with it!

So, I’ve created bullet lists, identified four point-of-view characters, categorised the main arc plot and a couple of sub-plots, and done character studies for the most important people who populate the story.  And, today, I completed a proper outline chart, with scene and chapters and outcomes, and everything!

Somehow, along the way, though, my favourite character seems to have disappeared from the story altogether, and I’m really not sure how that happened.  I got halfway through the outline chart, and discovered I hadn’t mentioned him yet, and I proceeded to the end of the plan without needing him to appear at all.  That was quite a shock, I can tell you!

This time around, the novel starts in a slightly different time and place, so the introductory scene for that character has been cut.  Meanwhile, a character of a similar personality and background has come more to the foreground, with his own point of view scenes, and it turns out I don’t need both of them.  The point-of-view character can do everything the now-defunct character previously did, and this will likely make their sub-plot tighter and more impactful.

Apparently, outlining can be brutal!  But, I’m hopeful that the exercise will result in a leaner, more focused, and more interesting novel.  And that can only be a good thing.  I believe it’s called ‘killing your darlings’ and you don’t even have to be intentionally armed with a pruning implement to do it.

Now, it’s on to the actual writing, which starts tomorrow, and will continue apace until I have 100,000 words by the end of July!  I wonder if any more characters will have disappeared by then…

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 13 March 2017 20:04

Whilst on the retreat in Devon last month, I got to talking to my lovely host, Charlie of Urban Writers’ Retreats, and she mentioned she was taking applications for her annual Six Month Novel Programme.

Since I had just reached the conclusion that the next step for my novel was a blank page rewrite, I went upstairs to my room and submitted my application that afternoon.  It was only after I had been accepted onto the programme that I really thought about what it would mean.  And that was an intensive four-week plotting bootcamp, four months of writing 5000-6000 words per week, and a four-week editing bootcamp to round things off.

Considering I’m currently working four days a week in a department that is chronically short-staffed, and I have a very full social calendars of exciting trips and events to look forward to, perhaps committing to writing a novel in six months was not the most sensible thing for me to do…

I started out terrified and very anxious about the whole thing.  However, we just started week two, and the amount of thinking, planning, discussing and brainstorming I have done is phenomenal!  After months of languishing in notebooks and on my PC, my novel is now firmly back in my head and the second draft is rapidly taking shape, and in really interesting ways.

The Six Month Novel community is warm, welcoming and active.  Our fearless leaders, Charlie and Amie have provided a brilliant structure and lots of encouragement and advice, and the whole thing suddenly feels quite doable, and really rather exciting.

I was having lunch with some friends today, and telling them all about it.  One of them pointed out that, by the time we go on holiday together in September, my draft and initial editing will be done, and (considering I haven’t actually started writing it yet) that was a really weird thought.  But a good one.

I’ve already decided who my four POV characters are, drawn a rough flow chart of the main events, planned a brainstorming session with some good friends to hash out some of the world-building and, crucially, decided on the opening scene.

So, here’s to a crazy few months of creativity - and a new version of the novel at the other end.

Check back here for updates, and let’s hope they continue to be as positive as this one!

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 22 February 2017 19:18

This is an article I wrote this month for the Get Your Words Out online community:

 

So, you’re fearful of putting your writing out there into the world…

Well, you’re not alone.  Every writer experiences anxiety about letting other people read their work.  Every writer fears rejection and criticism of their work. 

The first thing to do is actually finish something and get it ready to submit.  Now, I’m very familiar with the feeling that your writing is never good enough to reach that point.  That’s your fear talking, and stopping you from getting to the end of your story.  So, focus on the process and not the predicted result.  What do you need to do to finish?  Break it down into small, manageable steps.  Make a list.  Work on each stage one at a time, and enjoy the satisfaction of ticking things off.

No story is ever going to be perfect.  If you think it can be, you’ll never be able to let it go.  So, give up on perfection, but don’t give up on improving.  You can always learn new things about the craft of writing, and apply them to your work.  But, at some point, you have to declare your story done, and accept that it will never be as amazing as the beautiful, shining vision you had in your mind when you first came up with it.

Now you’re ready to send it out into the world to seek its fortune.  But you’re still scared, and that’s okay.  Acknowledge your fear, but don’t let it tell you what to do.  What are you really scared of, after all?  That you’ll send your story to an editor and they’ll reject it?  Well, there’s no getting around the fact that this *will* happen.  But that doesn’t have to be the end of that story’s life, or your continued life as a writer.  

You are not your writing, so don’t take rejection personally.  And, also, just because one editor doesn’t take your story, that doesn’t mean nobody ever will.  It might not be to their taste (fiction is pretty subjective, you know), or they might have already accepted something similar, or they might just not have space for it right now.  The next person you send it to might love it and have just the right place to put it - you won’t know until you try.

At the end of the day, if you submit, your story might get rejected.  But, if you don’t, it’ll never get accepted.

One thing you can do is identify places you can submit your work that offer feedback.  That way, if they reject your writing, you’ll have some idea why.  And, more importantly, you’ll have a way forwards to revise and improve the story so you can send it somewhere else and be more likely to be successful.

These places are few and far between, but they do exist.

Scribble magazine in the UK, for example, prints ten short stories in every issue, and the editor always gives feedback if he rejects something.  If he accepts something and prints it in the magazine, the readers then send in feedback that gets printed in the next edition, so it’s a great place to find out what works and what doesn’t work for some people.

For science fiction and fantasy short stories, there’s a website called Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, and they also always provide feedback on the stories they reject.

One of my first publication successes came out of a rejection.  I submitted a story to a prestigious fantasy anthology and the editor emailed me to say it was a perfectly good story, but not quite what she was looking for, but she said I should certainly submit it elsewhere.  So I did, and the next editor accepted and published it!

If you’ll allow me the indulgence of relating more of my personal experience of submitting writing…

Since January 2016, I have made 110 submissions to competitions, fiction sites, anthologies, and magazines.  Of those, 24 have achieved some measure of success (competition shortlist or acceptance for publication) - and perseverance is the key!

One of my stories was rejected by five different places before the sixth accepted it for publication.  And one magazine rejected three of my stories, before finally accepting the fourth one I sent them.  So, don’t give up!

One thing I can tell you with certainty.  Rejection hurts - but the pain lessens with every rejection you receive.  And acceptance feels amazing - plus, that feeling doesn’t diminish over time.  My 24th success was just as sweet as my first, and every rejection now just prompts the question - where else can I send that?

So, take a deep breath - and go for it!  You’ll never know what you can achieve until you try.

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 12 February 2017 15:21

Last week, I took a lovely, four-day trip down to Devon, to attend a residential writing retreat at Stickwick Manor, organised by the ever-awesome Charlie from Urban Writers’ Retreat.

It was great to get really away from London, escape the distractions of daily life, and forget all about the stresses and annoyances of the day job.  There were five other writers there, plus Charlie, and she looked after us so well.  All meals were laid on, and amazing meals they were (sea bass, lime chicken, steak and ale pie) and we didn’t have to worry about any of the washing up or tidying.  I was heavenly.

Everyone else seemed to work really hard, but I have to admit I spent quite a lot of time goofing off and watching TV.  However, given how hard work has been for the last few weeks, I think it was just as important for me to take some time to relax and rest, as it was to focus really hard on my writing.

I got some reviews done, I revised a story I wanted to rework for a specific submission, and I finished the first draft of a short story that’s been languishing since before Christmas.  I also did enough critiquing on Scribophile to allow me to post both stories for feedback, and I read a fair chunk of my current writing reference book, Wonderbook.

So, I did far more writing and writing-related stuff than I would have done at home, and I also enjoyed some much-needed me-time.

Bear also enjoyed himself, and took some lovely pictures.

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 29 January 2017 13:45

Charlie, who runs the Urban Writers’ Retreats I go to, also just finished running an online writing programme for four weeks, starting on 2 January.  It consisted of a daily email, containing a writing prompt, a suggested amount of time to write (starting at five minutes and working upwards), and either a task to help with story-planning or a link to an article or video containing writing advice.

The idea was to kick-start the year with good writing habits, supported by a community of other writers engaging in the same tasks.  The emails were bright and encouraging, the exchanges with the other writers in the Facebook group were interesting and supportive, the linked writing advice was excellent, and the prompts were thought-provoking and a lot of fun to do.  We were also supposed to keep a writing journal, recording three things each day that would inspire us or that we were grateful for.

Now, as a general rule, I don’t write every day.  It’s not a habit I find either easy or useful, and I decided last year that my plan to schedule writing time twice a week or more would suit me better.  However, I did complete the prompts every day from 2 January through to 15 January, and thoroughly enjoyed the exercise.  I sat down to do it every day, having no idea what I was going to write, and always came up with something unexpected, if not always of fantastic quality.  I completed the ‘three things’ diary up to 18 January and then again on 22 January, and did manage to record some interesting stuff that may prove useful at a later date.

From 16 January through to 18 January, the prompts centered around picking one of the previous ones and looking at it from a different angle, or developing the idea further, and I fully engaged in those, resulting in the beginnings of a short story I’m quite excited about.

Then, work got crazy, my brain fell off a cliff, and I’ve barely written a word since.

However, I really enjoyed what I did of the programme, the story I started is now on my projects list, and I’m really looking forward to working on it in my next scheduled writing slot, which is tomorrow afternoon.  I also intend to complete the final task of going back over all the prompts and diary entries to find more ideas that to cultivate, and I know there are at least two or three in there that are worth taking further.

So, despite the fact that I dropped out of the last ten days of the programme, I found it a very valuable exercise, and I hope it will lead to some interesting projects to work on in the near future.

XXXXX

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Posted on 09 January 2017 16:35

I’ve been thinking about my writing goals for the year, in conjunction with my renewed pledge to write 150,000 words for Get Your Words Out in 2017.  And, interestingly, my main goals for this year are actually about writing less, rather than more.

 

1) Put the novel in a drawer and forget about it for at least six months. Then, take it out again and decide if it's worth saving. If it's not, let it go and be happy about it.

This came about because I got a very interesting report from Cornerstones, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of my novel.  I was aware of most of the weaknesses already, but the report suggests there is more work to be done on it than I feel willing or able to do at the moment.

This is not a bad thing.  The purpose of writing the novel was to see if I could.  And, regardless of its actual quality, it exists as a 95,000 word piece of fiction that tells a coherent story.  So, yes, it turns out I can write a novel!  Whether or not I can write a good novel remains to be seen, and is a challenge for the future.  I may come back to work on the one I’ve got, or I may start something new with the lessons I’ve learned.  I don’t know yet, and that’s okay.

 

2) For every short story submitted somewhere, get at least some feedback and do at least some proper revision before submitting it. (This will mean I submit a lot less, but hopefully what I do submit will be better.)

I had some success with publications in 2016, and have already had some more in 2017.  But, I know I have a tendency to dash off a first draft and just submit without taking the time to let it sit for a while, and then revise it.  So, my plan is to attempt fewer submissions, and schedule in more time for revision, which has never been a strong point.

I’d also like to take the stories that have been rejected multiple times and see if I can re-work and improve them before I send them out to more places.  Outside feedback is going to be essential for this task, as I find it difficult to see how to improve my own writing, even when I know it has flaws.

 

3) For every entry submitted to Hour of Writes or Fandom Weekly, leave at least a day after completing a first draft and read it through again before posting.

As above, even for the short and fairly frivolous things I write, I want to spend more time on them, and particularly ensure I have enough time to leave them and come back to re-read them before I post.

 

4) Spend more time on my reviews and make them proper analyses and recordings of my reactions - to offset the reduction in word count I'm anticipating on other stuff, I've decided to count my reviews in my tracking this year (I didn't last year), so I need to make sure they are worthy of being counted.

This feels a bit like cheating, since it’s a large number of words I left out of my tracking last year, which is going to boost this year’s word count significantly.  However, now that I’m advertising my reviews a bit more, I want to put more time and effort into them.  And, if I do that, I think it’s fair for me to include them in the tracking.

 

So, everything this year is going to be focused towards honing my skills, revising on a more regular basis, and hopefully producing a smaller, but higher quality, output as a result.

 

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 29 December 2016 17:49

One of the other writers on the course I attended recently at Moniack Mhor told me about an online critiquing website called Scribophile, so I decided to check it out.

I found signing up and navigating around very easy.  They have a checklist of all the various things you can do on the site, which makes it simple to find what you’re looking for and learn about the various features.  I love a good checklist, so I breezed through all the tasks in no time, gaining immense satisfaction from ticking them off!

The site is very well designed to prompt you to give as much as you get.  In order to post a story for comments, you have to pay a certain number of karma points.  And the best way to build up karma points is to critique the stories of other people.  You get points based on the length of your critique, with bonuses if people like your comments and find them useful.

It’s also in your best interests to critique other stories, as that gets your own work into the public listings faster.  This is because stories remain in what’s called the Main Spotlight until they’ve received three critiques, and there are only so many slots available.  So, from what I can see, the site is extremely well organised so that stories get critiqued pretty quickly.

I’ve posted two stories so far, and the comments I’ve received have been comprehensive, insightful, constructive and encouraging.  The site seems to be populated by people who are very willing to provide in depth and useful feedback, and I hope they feel the same way about me.  It’s also given me the opportunity to read a wide range of other people’s work, which is always interesting.

There are plenty of forums for interacting on a more social level with other writers, so I could see the site taking up rather a lot of my time, if I had more of it to spend there.  As it is, I’m happy providing critiques and posting stories for now.  It certainly fits very well with my plan for next year of obtaining feedback on all my new work before submitting it, so I expect I shall be venturing there frequently in the coming months.  A serendipitous discovery to launch my 2017 writing agenda!

XXXXX

 

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Posted on 11 December 2016 18:16

I spent the whole of last week on a writing course at Moniack Mhor, near Inverness.  It was aimed at science-fiction and fantasy writers, with workshops in the mornings, led by the two tutors, Juliet McKenna and Pippa Goldschmidt, and the afternoons left free for individual writing time.  I always find these kind of events really useful and enjoyable, but this one also provided me with a new focus for my writing as we head into 2017.

I’ve never been very good at revision.  I’ll write a story quite quickly, then leave it a few days and come back to it to revise it before submission.  However, no matter how much time I allow for this stage of the process, and no matter how long I spend rereading the piece, I rarely make very many changes.  I find it very difficult to identify where the problems and areas for improvements might be, and even more difficult to know how to address them.

I have a particular story that I wrote back in January, and that I was quite pleased with at the time.  It didn’t get anywhere in the competition it was written for, and it has since been rejected by four or five other publications throughout the year.  So, I decided it would make a good piece to send in prior to last week’s course, for the tutors to give feedback on.  I discussed it with both of them in depth, and also gave it to one of the other writers on the course to look at.  For a story that was only 750 words long, it generated a huge amount of feedback, which was all very useful.

It gave me a lot to work with and multiple aspects to look at in a different way, and I spent the rest of the week rewriting, expanding and tweaking, as my brain kept seizing upon new turns of phrase and new bits of description I could add.  I can say with some certainty that I’ve never expended so much time and effort on such a short story before, but it was definitely worth it.  I read out the finished result (now 1500 words) on the last evening of the course, and got a very positive response from my audience.  In particular, the three people who had read the original version all said it was much improved, despite some of their feedback being directly contradictory!

So, my plan for writing next year is going to be to attempt less, and spend more time on each individual piece of work.  It has been brought home to me just how valuable an external perspective can be in motivating me to revise and re-work, so I plan to seek feedback much more widely and more consistently.  I’m hoping this will result in a much higher quality in the finished products, and that will then result in more success with my submissions.

The hardest part will be narrowing down my options and not trying to submit to every single competition and anthology going!

XXXXX

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Posted on 30 November 2016 15:31

This blog post marks a major achievement in my writing.

At the beginning of the year, I joined the Get Your Words Out online community of writers.  In order to sign up, you have to pledge to write a certain number of words over the course of the year.  They also have to be certain kinds of words - not just random scribbles in a private journal, but actual progress on works of fiction, or blog posts intended for public consumption.  Now, on looking at the available pledges, I was somewhat dismayed to discover that the lowest number open to me was 150,000 words.  At the time, this seemed pretty much out of the realms of possibility, but I decided to sign up anyway and do my best.  At the very least, it would mean a new tracking spreadsheet to add to my collection.

I’m so glad I did.  The community has been fun, supportive and motivational.  I’ve made friends, taken up challenges, played bingo, hosted discussions, and generally found the structure and target-setting to be hugely beneficial in my productivity.  Tracking my word count on a weekly basis, and logging it with GYWO every month has focused my writing and prompted me to make more and more effort to find and schedule time for it.  Plus, I’ve met people who will encourage me to spend more time writing, as well as providing feedback on the things I produce.  In particular, I now have a regular writing buddy to spend every free Monday afternoon with, drinking tea and putting words on the page.

And, unexpectedly, this very sentence includes the 150,000th word I have written this year!

I really didn’t think I could do it - and it turns out I have, with a whole month to spare!

Of course, just because I’ve written 150,000 words in eleven months doesn’t mean those words are any good.  And focusing too much on quantity is never going to result in good quality.  But, they are 150,000 words that weren’t in existence a year ago, and that feels like quite an achievement in and of itself.  More important are the actual stories those words make up - the individual works of fiction, the building and maintaining of this website, the submissions that have led to actual publication.  I have no idea how much of that I would have achieved without GYWO, but I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t have been nearly as much.

So, now I have December to add to my total - and I’m certainly not going to rest on my laurels, just because I’ve reached my target for 2016.  I’m also very definitely going to sign up for GYWO again next year.  I’ve thought about upping my pledge to the 200,000 target, but I’ve decided against that.  I probably could do it, but I think it would be putting too much pressure on myself and creating too much of a focus on the number itself, rather than the writing.  I’ll hope to do more than my pledged 150,000 words again in 2017, but mostly I’ll look forward to engaging with the wonderful GYWO community again, as it has added so much enjoyment to my writing this year.

XXXXX

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