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Posted on 22 October 2020 08:18

My last blog post saw me clearing the decks to focus on my second novel throughout September, in the hopes that I might finish my next round of revisions and have it in decent shape to submit to my publisher in November. That's definitely not going to happen.

 

Two days after I posted that, my publisher sent me the final edits on my first novel, asking me to review them, make necessary amendments and send the manuscript back within 6-8 weeks. 

 

I had hoped to be able to work on both novels throughout September, but it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t hold them both in my head at the same time. So, the second novel got put on hold again while I was concentrating on the first, since that was the one with an external deadline (and a publication contract).

 

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting and improving the first novel, and the editorial comments from the publisher were constructive, reasonable, specific and easy to implement. The manuscript went back to them on Monday, so today was my next scheduled writing session after completing that task.

 

I went back to my previous plan of doing three writing sessions per week and spending at least the first hour on the second novel every time. I still have a clear plan of what I need to do, but I’m still having trouble actually getting on with it. Having the excuse to put it off while revising the first novel was great, as there were good reasons for doing it so I didn’t have to feel guilty.

 

But, as of today, I have no excuses left.

 

So, I opened up the latest draft, looked through my notes on the next set of required revisions, and set to work.

 

It went...okay.

 

I added in some good stuff and crossed several bullet points of my list. And it was good to get back into the story, since I do believe in it and want it to be finished. But I was very aware that I wasn’t giving it my all. I skimmed over some of the harder aspects, rationalising that certain things were fine as they are. And I was glad to stop after (not quite) an hour.

 

So, there’s definitely room for improvement!

 

But I started and I achieved some things. And that was the most important hurdle to clear today. A greater sense of dedication will hopefully develop as I get more into it. And there are always more rounds of revision to pick up on some of the details I may have missed. Today, I made a start and that feels good.

 

Posted on 31 August 2020 13:27

August has been an interesting month for my writing.

 

I finished and submitted three short stories, which felt really good and also cleared my writing to-do list of everything except the novel.

 

Also, after planning to complete the next round of edits on the novel by the end of August, and realising very quickly that this wasn’t going to happen, I also came up with answers to most of the remaining plot problems, thus enabling me to reorganise my notes multiple times.

 

So, going into September, I ought to have a clear run at the novel, as well as a clear path to get the edits done this month instead.

 

But, I just did my planning for September in my writing diary and - guess what? There are two writing competitions I want to enter in September, and four more submission opportunities in October that I’d like to write something for, and which will likely require some prep work in September.

 

And I’m also still on the editing team for an anthology that needs all its submissions finalised in September. Plus, we’re still recording the podcast monthly, so that’ll always be on the schedule in one form or another!

 

So, it seems I’m never going to have a totally clear run at the novel. And I think perhaps that thinking I need one is incorrect. I always like having several projects on the go, and being able to switch between them. The idea of only working on the novel for a whole month is absolutely horrifying.

 

But, I also feel as if I haven’t really been getting on with the novel lately.

 

My August plan of always doing the novel first, every time I sat down to do any writing, worked to a certain extent. I did do some very useful work on it. And keeping it in my mind, and at least actively thinking about it several times a week, is probably what enabled the subconscious crew to come up with all the amazing solutions they presented me with in the last week.

 

So, in the grand scheme of things, I am making progress on the novel, and have been doing so regularly since the start of July. But, my original plan was to be in a position to submit it to my publisher today - and that’s really not happening. Even if I start really pushing myself and get all the current round of edits done by the end of September, I’ll need at least another month to do a read-through, find and fix the inconsistencies, and do a final edit.

 

Maybe I can submit in November then? Maybe.

 

With projects that have no external deadline, it’s very easy to let them slip. But, if I’m making steady progress and I know where I’m going with it now, does the timeline really matter? Probably not, but I do want to keep giving myself deadlines, just to make sure it doesn’t slip off my writing schedule altogether.

 

But it’s important to accept that there are always going to be other projects that crop up to get in the way. And that’s a good thing. I like writing short stories. I like submitting to anthologies and competitions. And I honestly don’t think I’d be working on the novel more if I didn’t have those other projects on my list. In fact, I think I’d probably be working on it less.

 

So, I welcome the arrival of the next edition of Writing Magazine (which should be turning up in the next week) because it will likely have some new and exciting submission opportunities for me to add to my list. But I’ll keep putting the novel at the top of the schedule for every writing session, just to make sure I keep chipping away at it.

 

The decks will never be clear. And that’s okay. Because what on earth would I do with my time if there was nothing on the to-do list?

 

Posted on 20 July 2020 09:54

My current main writing goal is to get my second novel in shape to submit to my publisher in September.

In May, I finished editing the second draft and sent it to eight lovely people for feedback, which I received back by the end of June. I took a few days off work at the start of July, with the intention of going through all the feedback, collating my notes and completing a comprehensive editing plan, which I was then going to work my way through for the rest of the month. August would then be available for a sense-check, line edit, and reading the whole thing aloud to myself to check the flow.

Things haven’t gone entirely to plan. It’s 20 July and I haven’t even built my editing plan yet, let alone being most of the way through implementing it.

But that’s okay, because I was well aware that my July plan was ridiculous and unattainable. It was designed to put editing the novel front and centre in my awareness and hopefully encourage me to spend more time on it than I would otherwise. How successful that has been so far is debatable, but I’m not beating myself up over my lack of concrete progress.

This is especially because of an interesting experience I had a week ago, when I was massively procrastinating - and thought I wasn’t doing anything useful at all, other than playing around with coloured pens.

When I started going through my feedback, I had the notes from my beta readers up on my computer screen, and I went through them one by one, writing the points I wanted to action by hand in my A4 novel-notes-notebook. So, that exercise created a list of points by beta reader, which could be used to build my editing plan.

Last Monday, instead of going straight into building that plan electronically, I decided I wanted to organise my notes better, so it would be easier to see what I needed to do (otherwise known as putting off the actual work). I went through all the handwritten pages, colour-coding all the points by character, theme, or editing issue. And then I transcribed them all into a new section of my notebook, using the appropriately coloured pen to write each section.

So far, so completely useless, right?

As it turned out, this was very much not the case!

There are aliens in my novel, and the main issue that most of my beta readers raised was that there wasn’t enough information about how the alien society worked, how their ‘governing body’ actually ran things, and how the threat of war was even really a threat to them.

These are all very big world-building questions that I hadn’t put nearly enough through into, and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to address them - which was why I was reluctant to get on with the actual editing of the novel.

However, as I was collecting and transcribing my notes about the aliens (in sky blue), my brain started whirring and several very important ideas and plot points suddenly came together - and answered all the questions everyone had about the aliens! So, the very laborious process of collating my notes multiple times over several days actually gave my subconscious the time and the impetus to think about all these questions and come up with ways to work them out.

Admittedly, that was a week ago, and I still haven’t actually built my editing plan, or started the proper work of really revising the novel, but still… I think after all that mental effort and epiphany, I needed a bit of a break!

 

Posted on 11 June 2020 10:30

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Posted on 28 April 2020 10:20

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

1) Tell me about the mud:

 

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

 

 

2) I untie the rope:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

3) Last time I lost the joy of writing…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The novel writes back...

 

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

 

Perseverance is the key, and it always had been.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

5) Sunshine and rainbows:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Posted on 28 March 2020 12:34

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

 

So far in 2020, I have:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

In virtual spaces and our collective hearts.

 

Posted on 20 February 2020 11:59

One of the most frequent pieces of advice out there for writers is that you should write every day. Some sources even go so far as to say that you’re not a writer *unless* you write every day. And I say that’s rubbish.

 

I’m currently partway through a challenge I set myself to write every day during February, so this is day 21 of writing in a row for me (as I actually started on 31 January) but I don’t feel as if it’s helping me as a writer or even that I’m being generally more productive.

 

Looking back over my Weeknotes for the past three weeks, I’m not sure I can even claim that all those days are really writing days. I’ve certainly found myself getting towards the end of the day and creating ‘writing’ work for myself, just so that I can tick off another day on my tracker.

 

And that, to me, doesn’t feel like joyous, creative, real progress on my writing projects. It feels more like a chore that I have to complete, and one that I haven’t really been completing in a genuine way.

 

I haven’t been particularly motivated with my writing so far this year, it’s true. And I was hoping that this challenge might galvanise me into getting back into the meatier projects more. But it’s actually had the opposite effect. Rather than wanting to get stuck in for a long session on a complex piece of writing, I’ve been fobbing myself off with spending five minutes on a review and declaring myself done for the day.

 

I’m going on a reading retreat next week - Tuesday to Friday - which would normally mean I wouldn’t do any writing at all. If I do write on those days, I’ll only be doing it to fulfil the requirements of my challenge, and it will impact detrimentally on my time away. So, I’ve decided that I’ll maintain the writing plan for the rest of this week (and possibly Monday), bringing me to a total of 24 or 25 days in a row. And then I’m going to give myself the rest of the week off, so I can dive into my reading on retreat.

 

I generally find my writing process works best if I schedule three decent sessions a week, preferably out of the flat, though I’m getting better at writing at home. That way, I’m much more likely to get stuck in and make some decent progress. And I also get time for relaxation during the week, without the necessity of writing every day hanging over me.

 

So, rather than forcing myself to write more than I want to, I’m going to focus in March on getting back into the habit of regular, long sessions, and see how that goes.

 

And I am a writer. My work has been published in lots of places, and I’ve been paid for it multiple times. I will shortly have a contract with a publisher for my first novel, which has been a major goal for some years now. But, regardless of any of that, I am a writer because I write. Not every day, but I still write, and that makes me a writer, no matter what anyone else might say.

 

Posted on 20 January 2020 14:09

I worked incredibly hard on my writing last year. Novels, blog, reviews, articles, short stories, competitions, developing and producing a podcast - I did it all.

And I’m incredibly proud of what I achieved. I saw my work in print and online. I got great feedback from editors and readers. I got paid. And I got offered a contract for my first novel.

But, by the time Christmas rolled around, I was absolutely knackered.

At heart, I’m actually quite a lazy person. It takes a great deal of energy and effort for me to motivate myself to get things done. And I don’t always enjoy the process, even if I feel better afterwards than if I hadn’t bothered.

I’ve always struggled with short term temptations and had difficulty with the concept of delayed gratification. And, at the moment, my productivity engine is very low on fuel.

I have no intention of giving up on my writing. And I do still have important and exciting goals for 2020. But I’m definitely taking a step back from my usual crazy schedule. I may not make my habit pledge for Get Your Words Out this year. And that’s fine.

Top priority are the novels. I’m currently proofreading Artisan before sending it back to the publisher at the end of February, after which they will send through my contract and we’ll see what happens from there. I’m surprised and gratified that I’m really enjoying reading it again, so there will be no problem with me hitting that deadline.

I also want to get Colours to the point where I can send it to the publisher for consideration, in the hopes that they will want to publish that too. There’s still quite a lot of work to do on it, but I have a clear plan and I’m chipping away at it bit by bit, making sure it doesn’t drop off my radar.

There’s also revision to do on my novella, Beneath the Tree, and I’m looking forward to getting back into that once I get some more reader feedback.

But that’s about it. I’m submitting entries to a weekly competition when the prompt fits something I already have written. And I’m considering other submission opportunities as and when they come up. I only had one I really wanted to do at the start of the year, and I did come up with the bare bones of an idea for it, but it just feels like too much to try and get a whole story done and the approaching deadline was starting to stress me out. So, I deleted it off my list and I’m not going to worry about it.

And that’s okay, too.

I don’t feel disappointed in my lack of progress or effort. I know what I’m doing with the projects that are important to me. And I’m letting the rest of it go. For now.

And that’s okay.

 

Posted on 29 December 2019 10:04

I’m not normally someone who brags about their accomplishments, but I’m going to make an exception here, because it’s been a phenomenal writing year for me and I want to celebrate that! I’ve worked really hard, persevered in the face of rejection and lack of motivation, and I have a lot to show for it at the end of 2019. And, while a lot of things in the world are not how I would like them to be, I can say with confidence that my writing is on track and I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved.

 

Part of my success story is all about persistence and taking opportunities where they arise. I have a spreadsheet of rolling submission possibilities and I use that in two ways. First of all, to prompt me to write new stories, based on themes, word counts and deadlines provided by competitions and anthology calls. But I also keep a list of publications that accept submissions of the type I write, so I have somewhere to send those stories when they get rejected.

 

In 2017, I made 105 submissions and got 8 acceptances. In 2018, I made 101 submissions and only got 5 acceptances. I was very happy with all of those - getting publication acceptances is not something that has diminished in its excitement value over time.

 

I really upped my game in 2019 and made 160 submissions. And my total acceptances to date number 22, which is very satisfying. Now, I should say that seven of those are for the same publisher, who produces drabble anthologies and basically accepts work from everyone, so I’m not sure they really count. However, you have to be accepted into one of their drabble anthologies to be able to submit to their paid short story anthologies, and I’ve also now got acceptances for two of those, so I think the drabbles were very useful groundwork (as well as a lot of fun).

 

One of my other tremendous satisfactions for 2019 is that I’ve sold five stories that are all several years old and have been rejected 12 or 15 times each from different places. But I don’t give up on stories often, so I just kept on sending them out there and I will finally be seeing them all in print in 2020, as long as all goes well.

 

I have also written about 20 entirely new short stories and flash pieces (not including all the drabbles), three of which are included in the publication acceptances. One of these is a story I’ve been wanting to write for years and never been able to get to work. And now it’s a real thing that exists in the world, albeit still requiring a lot of work to get it up to submission standard.

 

I had multiple writing goals at the start of 2019, one of which was to start work on a non-fiction project. This fell by the wayside fairly early on in the year, when I realised it was going to take a lot more time and effort than I had available at the time. And I don’t feel bad about that. It was too ambitious a project for 2019 but it’s still on my list, and I may come back round to it in the future. What happened instead, on the non-fiction front, was that I got caught up in the idea of making a podcast with my husband, and that has become a tremendously fun reality. We went from concept to release in three months, and now have 11 episodes recorded and six released. We’ve settled down to about 20 listeners per episode, which is way more than we expected - we have no idea who most of these people are, but we’re delighted they seem to be enjoying our show! So, that’s a whole thing I had no idea would come into being this year and it’s something I really love.

 

But, of course, my biggest and most exciting achievement of 2019 is the offer of a contract to publish my first novel! The novel began as a short story I wrote all the way back in October 2010. I submitted the synopsis and first three chapters to my chosen small independent press in summer of 2018 and they requested the full manuscript in August of that year. In January 2019, they came back to say they really liked it and wanted it for their list, but that they wanted me to give it another once-over to look at the pacing. I did another edit and sent it back to them at the end of June. Then, on 2 December 2019, they offered me a contract to publish!

 

There’s a lot that could still go awry before I actually have a copy of my book in my hands. And I’m very interested to find out what kind of contract terms they are going to offer me, as this will be entirely uncharted territory for me! But I like what I know about them, I’ve been impressed with our interactions so far, and I’m feeling very good about the whole thing at the moment. I have some very minor tweaking still to do on the manuscript, and they don’t have space in their production schedule until March, but watch this space. I’m hoping for big things on the novel front in 2020.

 

So, there you go! Hard work, perseverance, patience and luck has got me where I am today, and the view is awesome. Here’s to a successful 2020!

 

Posted on 10 November 2019 17:38

This weekend, I was supposed to be at a two-day writing workshop, which I had booked some time ago and was really looking forward to. I’ve been a bit scattered with my writing since completing the first draft of my second novel over the summer, and I thought I would benefit from some structure and some outside guidance.

 

Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, the workshop was cancelled, leaving me with a completely free weekend to myself, since my husband had already booked a trip to an annual board games convention. I could have enjoyed a lazy, indulgent couple of days at home. But instead, I decided to create my own structure to get some writing done. I know I benefit from scheduled writing sessions out of the flat and from organised writing retreats out of the county. So, I planned my own personal writing retreat.

 

I picked an Airbnb in Maidstone because it’s the other side of London to where I live but close enough that it wouldn’t take long to get there after work on Friday night. It was also very close to a station and within walking distance of the town centre, so it would be easy for me to get supplies. I was originally intending to travel back into work from the Airbnb on the Monday morning, but then everyone was rewarded with an extra day’s holiday where I work, so I booked the Monday off in order to enjoy a relaxed departure.

 

I haven’t been feeling very focused or productive this week, so I was worried that all I would do would be to eat too much and watch TV on my laptop. But, at my writing session on Thursday, I built myself an ambitious writing schedule for the weekend. And, by the time I had arrived at my Maidstone getaway on Friday and had some dinner, I found I was actually keen to get started on my writing.

 

My only complaint about the Airbnb was the lack of a teapot but that was easily rectified by a trip to House of Fraser on Saturday morning, and I actually kept entirely to my schedule for the whole of Saturday, working on four different projects and making significant progress on some stories that have been seriously lagging of late.

 

Sunday was a bit more freeform, since I woke up keen to continue with one particular project, rather than the ones listed on the schedule, so I gave myself permission to diverge from the plan, and actually completed both a longer morning writing session and a first draft. By dinnertime on Sunday, I had achieved more than I expected, if not exactly my stated goals.

 

So, a solo trip away and focused sticking to the plan (in terms of timings if not content) really worked wonders for my productivity! Might I have achieved the same if I had written the same schedule but just stayed at home? Perhaps. But I’m not sure I would have come up with the same plan if I hadn’t made the effort to set aside the weekend as a specific writing retreat and paid good money for accommodation just for that purpose. Maybe I could try a similar thing at home another time, knowing the power for a written schedule.

 

Anyway, I’m very glad I did this, and even more glad that I found the energy and the motivation to make the most of it. Sometimes, a change is better than a rest!

 

 

 

Posted on 03 October 2019 10:01

Most writing projects, regardless of genre and purpose, will have some kind of restrictions and/or guidance in terms of length. From novels to novellas to novelettes to short stories to flash fiction to drabbles, the categorisation of stories has a lot to do with word count. And, even within these categories, most publishers and competitions will give a range within which they are prepared to accept pieces.

 

Because most of my new work is prompted by upcoming submission opportunities, I usually start a story, knowing roughly how long it needs to be. And, over the years, I’ve developed the ability to plot and plan stories to fit a particular word count.

 

A piece of flash fiction will likely just be one scene, evoking a sense of the wider story but not laying it out in concrete terms. A 2,500 word story will likely follow one series of events from start to finish, tying off loose ends. As stories get longer, they require more characters, additional subplots, more layers of complexity and more comprehensive planning and tracking.

 

It doesn’t always work out so well, though. For example, what was meant to be my second novel has only just topped 50,000 words in its first draft, which is way too short for a novel and actually a bit long for most novellas. So, at the moment, its future is uncertain while I work out whether it can be expanded to novel length or cut down a bit for the novella market.

 

And sometimes, I’ll get an idea, independent of a prompt or often coming out of a workshop, that doesn’t fit neatly into a preconceived format. I’m working on a story at the moment, which has been rattling around in my brain for about three years and has not yet seen the light of day. I first developed it at a writers’ conference, over the course of a weekend of workshop sessions. I’ve always liked it and regularly returned to it over the years, as submission opportunities have come and gone that I thought it might fit. But, even though I have a ton of notes, a rough outline and a set of characters I love, I just can’t seem to write it.

 

Recently, though, a new opportunity presented itself, for a fantasy novella of 20,000 to 40,000 words, with a publisher I like. And something clicked. I think the reason I’ve been having so much trouble with this story is that I’ve been trying to fit it into a box it’s too big for. The scope of the story is larger than I first thought (though not enough to make a novel) and needs more space to develop properly. So, now I’m working on it with a target of a much higher word count and it already feels more possible.

 

Stories have a size and a shape and it’s important to be able to recognise early on the dimensions of those things. Certainly, stories can be expanded or contracted to an extent, but I think they know how big they want to be, and it’s the writer’s job to listen and recognise that. I’m now hopeful that my story will soon be completed, and I’m excited at having something to submit for what sounds like an excellent publication opportunity.

 

Posted on 09 September 2019 08:16

A lot of my focus so far this year has been on editing my first novel and finishing the first draft of my second. When I completed both over the summer, I planned to take a break from writing altogether for a few weeks, to recharge and enjoy the lack of deadlines. But what actually happened was that I wrote every day for over two weeks and produced a ton of new stuff.

 

That intensive creativity has dropped off now, and I’ve mostly been writing reviews for the last few weeks, with only bits and pieces of fiction here and there. What I think happened was that, once released from the obligation of working primarily on huge and complex projects, my brain decided to celebrate its freedom by coming up with loads of ideas for little pieces of a kind it hadn’t been able to produce for a while.

 

This coincided with me discovering Black Hare Press and Fantasia Divinity, both small presses that regularly publish collections of drabbles. Given a theme and a required word count of exactly 100 words, I went to town and produced over twenty of these little gems in very short order. I’m subsequently going to be included in four upcoming anthologies.

 

When I’m writing short fiction, I do love a theme and a word count, and I’ve got very good and tailoring ideas to specific lengths. It turns out that crafting a story into exactly 100 words comes quite naturally to me, and it’s tremendous fun.

 

I do now want to start working on some slightly longer stories as well. Finding a middle ground between drabbles and novels would be good! But I’m definitely going to continue producing drabbles when opportunities arise and I’m grateful to have discovered them at the perfect time when I really needed something quick, easy and fun to do after finishing (temporarily) work on the novels.

 

Posted on 09 July 2019 13:06

My friend Charlie, who co-runs the Six Month Novel Programme, has a mantra for the writers she helps. When writing a first draft, give yourself permission to be "gloriously craptastic". The most important thing is to get the words down on the page. You can edit later. Because, if you get caught up in doubts, or a desire for unattainable perfection, you’ll never get through it. It’s better to have a flawed thing that exists than a shining masterpiece that only lives in your head.

 

She’s right, of course. But sometimes, taking this approach is easier said than done. At the moment, I’m struggling a bit with the first draft of my second novel. I have a publisher interested in the first one, which is very exciting, and I’ve just sent the latest version of that back to them for a final decision.

 

In the meantime, I’m aiming to complete the first draft of the next one by the end of July, as per the Six Month Novel Programme schedule. But it’s dragging. It’s going to be way too short to be called a novel. The middle section is very saggy. The characters have no idea what they’re doing and I have no idea how to get them to the end. And the ending I have planned feels like a cop-out. I’m treading water, putting down words I don’t think are very good, just to be able to tick a few more scenes off on my checklist.

 

I have so many other things I’d rather be working on. And I’m using the (vital) need for self-care as an excuse not to write.

 

But, while I may not want to write this novel at the moment, I do want it to be written. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I grit my teeth and get the hell on with it. Once the first draft is done, there will be a month of editing boot camp, and I’ll send the first 3000 words off to Amie (Charlie’s partner in crime) for an editorial review. I have a concrete plan for what happens after that. I’ll take a break from the novel, work on other things and then come back to it towards the end of the year. I’ll apply the editing guidance and Amie’s feedback to the rest of the manuscript, and then ask Amie to do a developmental edit of the whole thing. Then I’ll take another break, and schedule coming back to it to apply the further feedback early next year.

 

So, the path is clear. The steps are known. Once I get over the hump and finish the first draft, I can employ external help to figure out what to do with this story. But I have to get the first draft done first. And the only person who can do that is me. So I’d better stop writing blog entries and reviews and get back to it!

 

But what if it’s no good? It’s a first draft - it’s not going to be good. But at least it’ll be there, and I can make it better.

 

Posted on 13 June 2019 12:54

I’ve talked a lot in various blog entries about finding brain space, not taking on too much and trying not to put myself under too much pressure with my writing. But last week, I had an entirely new experience of taking a complete break from everything.

 

I went on a retreat at The Sharpham Trust down in Devon, called “Creating Space - a Mindfulness and Creative Enquiry Retreat”. Based on a cursory perusal of the information on the website, I originally booked it back in December because I thought it would combine meditation and mindfulness activities with opportunities to work on my creative projects in a restful setting.

 

As the time for the retreat approached, however, I started reading more about it and realised it wasn’t going to be what I thought. The pre-travel guidance talked about letting go of all the obligations of normal life, switching off entirely from the outside world and focusing on being rather than doing. I was apprehensive going in, but decided to adhere as much as I could to the spirit of the endeavour.

 

I duly finished off any projects that would create a sense of pressure during that week, and also got to a good breaking off point with both novels. I deleted all my calendar reminders for the week and decided to try keeping my phone switched off the whole time (I didn’t succeed at this, but only checked it for five minutes once a day to clear my email and I didn’t go on the internet at all).

 

So, instead of having a plan of all the things I was going to do and all the things I wanted to achieve, I spent four days without a to-do list and with no expectations of myself other than engaging with the scheduled activities.

 

And it was wonderful!

 

My inner critic (hi, Winston!) popped up on the first day, to let me know how unproductive he felt we were being and how much precious potential writing time we were wasting. But I calmly acknowledged his concerns and then dismissed them.

 

I did yoga, I meditated, I was led around the garden with my eyes closed, I danced with a bamboo stick, I drew freeform pictures with crayons, I went on long walks without any digital entertainment, I spent about 40 hours in complete silence, I ate amazing vegetarian food, and I connected on an unexpected level with both myself and the other people in the group.

 

I filled almost an entire exercise book with reflective thoughts on my experience, but I didn’t work on any of my writing projects, and it felt great. If I’d known when I booked the retreat exactly what it would entail, I never would have gone, but I’m so glad I did it and I enjoyed every minute.

 

I’ve struggled a bit this week with being back in London, having to go to work, and trying to get back into a proper writing schedule. But I’m doing a good job of maintaining a greater sense of inner calm and trying not to be too focused on timings, goals and productivity all the time. There’s definitely a balance - obviously, there are things I want to achieve with my time and they require effort, attention and planning. But creating more space in my daily life for being rather than doing, and adding reflective and meditative activities to my schedule more, has had a profound effect on my sense of personal contentment.

 

I hope I’ll be able to maintain this new attitude in the long term. And, if I find I can’t, I can always go on another Sharpham retreat to remind myself of the benefits!

 

Posted on 29 April 2019 11:00

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been very good at keeping to my schedule for both novels. I intend to send the revised Artisan back to the publisher by the end of May and I’m already two thirds of the way through. The Six Month Novel Programme gives me a detailed schedule for Colours and I’m not having too much trouble keeping up with that. But making revisions to one novel while drafting a second is proving more difficult than I anticipated.

 

Revising and drafting are two very different writing skills and require two very different writing mindsets. The first needs careful attention to detail, keeping track of what effects changes might have, and the weighing of each sentence to judge its worth. The second needs abandonment of doubt, the ability to forge onwards regardless of quality, and the uninhibited pouring of words onto the page.

 

On top of that, with two novel-length, multi-strand plots on the go, I also have to be able to switch between very different worlds when I move from one to the other. Artisan has more whimsy and more magic, while Colours is more real-world but with aliens. They have contrasting voices, tones and structures as well.

 

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that editing four Artisan chapters and drafting eight Colours scenes per week is a challenge, even though it feels like I’m not really doing that much work at all, in terms of time spent on writing. It generally takes me about ninety minutes to complete my assigned novel-related tasks on any given day, but I then find I don’t have the energy, motivation or focus to work on anything else. So, my short fiction and my fanfic have rather fallen by the wayside during April.

 

But that’s okay. The novels are the priority at the moment, and I’ll be done with Artisan again by the end of May, which will give me more brain space to focus on the more difficult second half of Colours during June and July. Then, I’ll hopefully be ready to take a break from Colours by the time I get any further response from the publisher about Artisan. It’ll be nice to get back to only working on one of them at once.

 

I guess this is the life of a novelist! I assume they must always be working on different stages of at least two books at any one time. There wouldn’t be space in a yearly publication schedule for anything less. And I don’t think many novelists publish a lot of short stories as well, though I know some do produce those as well.

 

Of course, last week my brain decided to go off down a rabbit hole related to the next novel on my list, which I have a certain amount of material for, but which I wasn’t intending to look at again until at least 2020. So my brain apparently has ambitious plans for my writing, and it seems as if novels are what I’ll be mainly focusing on for the foreseeable future (I have a fourth and fifth on my list for eventual development).

 

And, as ever, it’s all about using the time I have available in a productive and efficient way, without driving myself too hard, and whilst paying attention to my need for pure relaxation time, as well as a busy social schedule and three days a week at my office job. It’s a lot to juggle, but I think I’m doing okay with it all at the moment. The most important thing is knowing when to let go of less important or less urgent projects without resenting the time and energy the novels are sucking up right now. If there’s a short story in my head (and there are at least a couple floating around at the moment), they’ll either still be there when I have time to dedicate to them, or they’ll dissipate without attention. There are plenty of submission opportunities coming up that I’ll likely decide not to take up. And that’s fine, not least because there will always be more later on.

 

The desire (and potential opportunity) to see Artisan published in the reasonably near future, and the need to have more material to show the publisher once we’ve hopefully established a relationship, are what’s driving me at the moment. It may sometimes feel repetitive and a bit of a grind. But it’s still where I want to be right now and I’m very lucky to have the ability to be able to pursue these dreams.

 

Posted on 15 March 2019 15:06

I had such a great start to the year, I guess it was inevitable that it wouldn’t last.

 

In the space of two months, I developed a daily writing habit, wrote six new short stories and two articles, took part in multiple short fanfic challenges, got high praise from someone I respect for my reviewing skills, got a really positive response from a publisher about my first novel, and devised a plan to finish my second novel.

 

And now I’m struggling to find the motivation to write anything at all.

 

The Vaults festival is over, so no more weekly shows and reviews. The fanfic challenges I take part in seem to be taking a couple of weeks off. I’ve had feedback from an editor friend on how to revise Artisan and I don’t know what to do with what she’s suggested, or what to do with what the publisher has asked for. Completing the first draft of Colours seems an insurmountable task with deadlines I’ll never meet. I haven’t had any publication acceptances since November. And I’m not feeling remotely inspired by any of the upcoming short story submissions I could write something for.

 

I’m still just about managing to write every day, though I do feel like I’ve cheated a bit on some days, and it’s starting to feel like a chore rather than something I’m enjoying.

 

Wow - I’m very whiny!

 

Maybe it’s time to let go of my attachment to daily writing. I’ve only ever managed ten days in a row before, so 74 is quite a record! And it’s not something I’ve ever felt very strongly about. I think what I’ll do is give myself the weekend off completely from writing projects, and come back to it fresh on Monday, when I have a writing session planned in town, following by a coaching session by my friend, Claire. I can spend the day taking stock of my various projects and making some new plans (I do love making lists!) and then talk about some of these issues with Claire in the evening. And if I come at it from a place of refreshment, rather than forcing myself to carry on with a habit that’s turned unhelpful, perhaps I can find my energy again.

 

Just coming up with that approach and writing it down has made me feel better. I know this is just a temporary slump and that my writing mojo will return. And I think it’s a case of being kind to myself for a couple of days and enjoying some relaxation, rather than always thinking what I could be writing in every spare minute.

 

Now that sounds like a plan!

 

Posted on 26 February 2019 10:49

I’m gearing up to take part in the Six Month Novel Programme, which starts next week. One of the first tasks you have to undertake is to select what is called a ‘companion novel’ to read. You’re supposed to choose something that contains an aspect of writing you want to work on in your own novel, not for the purpose of stealing ideas from other writers (instructions are to avoid anything that has a very similar plot, for example), but to learn skills and approaches from them that can aid you in your own writing.

 

I think the idea is to choose a book you love and that you know well, but I went in a different direction and selected one I had been intending to read but hadn’t got round to yet. It’s similar to mine in that it involves a small group of people responding to an alien presence and the protagonist is a woman of colour, but otherwise it goes in a completely different direction.

 

What I didn’t realise before reading the book is that it also has other similarities to mine. The chapters are very short, the backgrounds to the main characters are revealed in flashback and the action builds up from fragmented pieces into a whole gradually.

 

I also didn’t like my chosen book very much, which made me wonder if I had made a mistake and should go back and select something else for the programme. But, I decided there is just as much value to learning from books you don’t like as from books you love, and I’ve gained some good insight into potential pitfalls for my own novel.

 

I recently got some feedback from a professional editor on the opening sections of my novel and one of the things she criticised was me telling the same events from several different perspectives, without adding any new information. This was the thing that annoyed me most about my companion novel because it felt like the same scene was happening over and over again and the plot wasn’t moving forwards at all. So, it was very useful to experience that as a reader, because I can now apply that lesson to my own writing with a much better understanding of the problem.

 

The extreme shortness of the chapters was also an issue for me, because it felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time with the characters to get invested in their fate. So, this is something else I’m going to be wary of in my novel, working to ensure the action isn’t too fragmented and that the reader has time to immerse themselves in the story before it moves on.

 

So, while I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience of reading the novel I selected, I think it’s going to prove extremely useful to have done so. I’ve made a lot of notes and feel more aware of the possible problems that could be created by the style and structure I’ve chosen for my own novel. I feel better prepared to continue with my first draft and that, after all, was the purpose of the exercise.

 

Posted on 03 February 2019 16:51

I thrive on variety. I do my best work when I have multiple projects on the go and can switch between them at will. If I get bored with or stuck on one thing, my brain will likely come up with ideas on how to progress with something else. This helps me to keep working on projects regularly and stops me getting blocked from writing for long periods.

 

But there is perhaps a limit to how much I can work on at the same time. A range of stuff is good. So, it generally works if I have a novel, a short story, a fanfic and an article on my to-do list at any given time. That way, I can gain satisfaction from a quick win or delve into a much larger project. It also generally means the various projects are at different stages, so I’ll have plenty of choice depending on whether I want to brainstorm, bang words out onto the page or revise.

 

At the moment, my list is pretty stuffed.

 

My first-choice publisher has asked for some revisions to my first novel before they make a final decision about whether they want to accept it. Which is awesome, but which is also going to take a fair bit of work. There’s no deadline, but I want to get it back to them by the end of June, or before, if I can.

 

I’m reviewing at The Vaults 2019 for Fringe Guru, which involves one or two shows per week until mid-March, with short deadlines for the reviews. I’m loving doing this, but it’s taking a significant chunk of my writing time each week, and also taking up an evening a week for actually going to the shows.

 

I’m writing discussion posts for GYWO again this year, which is a monthly commitment and also something I really enjoy.

 

I have my usual rolling spreadsheet of submission opportunities, which has me working on two short stories for deadlines at the end of February. And I’ve just started a ten-week online writing course, which is going to involve developing several ideas for short pieces.

 

I’ve got back into short fanfiction challenges this year, which are great fun but require several new ideas per week, and also often involve reading and commenting on other people’s entries.

 

I’m still quite keen to work on my idea for a non-fiction book, though starting the research on that has been delayed as I’ve been too busy with other stuff.

 

And, this morning, I applied to take part in this year’s Six Month Novel Programme, with a view to getting a first draft of my second novel done by the end of the year. This may have been a mistake. I mean, getting a draft done is one of my main goals for 2019 and I could really use the structure and external encouragement/deadlines of the programme. But it’s also a big commitment and really intensive.

 

I have a plan as to how to fit both novels into my schedule, and I’m currently writing every day, which is unusual for me and going really well so far. I also have a lot of writing sessions booked into my calendar and I’m doing a lot better at writing at home as well.

 

But I suspect several things are going to have to fall by the wayside as the year goes on. I’m pretty sure I can’t keep up my current output on everything, especially if I get onto the Six Month Novel Programme. I think it will be good for me, though, and certainly help me towards what is probably my hardest goal for the year. If the amazing happens and I get a book deal in a few months, I really want to have something else ready to send to the publisher while the first novel is in production. And, if the first one doesn’t work out, it’ll be even more important to have something else in the works.

 

So, I’m going for it, and I’ll just have to be aware of the possibility of burn-out. It’ll be sad to give up on the fun/silly/small stuff and I’ll do my best to at least keep my hand in, so I don’t get overwhelmed by the bigger projects. But I’ve got to keep my eye on where I really want to go with my writing and make sure I dedicate enough time and energy to the important stuff. I’ll just have to see how it goes and adjust accordingly.

 

Posted on 03 January 2019 19:19

It’s a brand new year! And, no matter how arbitrary that may be, that means goal-setting. And I have big plans for 2019. So much so, that I’m going to write them down here for all to see (though I reserve the right to discover they are wildly unrealistic later…).

 

First of all, by the end of the year, I want to have a concrete publication plan for Artisan. Hopefully, the publisher who asked to see the whole manuscript last summer will contact me in February to say they want to offer me a book deal. The next best option would be for them to offer feedback on revisions and ask me to resubmit once I’ve done them - this would at least give me a direction for rewrites and a reasonable chance of a favourable response later in the year. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ve already made submissions to a few other places, so maybe one of them will pick it up. And I still have others I can try, including Unbound, which seems like an interesting option. If I haven’t had any luck by September, I’m going to look into self-publishing options. So, come 2020, I hope Artisan will be on its way into the world, one way or another.

 

My second goal is to complete a first draft of Colours. I started really strong with this one back in December 2017, and made good progress through to the end of March 2018, getting to 25,000 words. After that, I pretty much didn’t work on it for the rest of the year, apart from a brief spurt in August to add in an extra POV stream. It’s currently with an editor for developmental feedback and I’m expecting to hear back from her soon. I’m hoping this will kickstart me into getting on with it, and also help me with the best way to move on from where I’ve got to. So, come 2020, I should have something reasonable to show whoever is going to publish Artisan, as a follow-up.

 

Thirdly, I’m going to find another paying market for my non-fiction articles about the creative process. I really enjoy researching and writing these, they’ve had good feedback from the places I’ve submitted them up to now, and I think it would be another good revenue stream for me. I have an idea for a first attempt, in terms of both content and destination, so that’s high on my list for my first proper writing session of 2019.

 

In fourth place, not to be forgotten - I don’t want to let my short story writing drop by the wayside while I’m focusing on bigger projects. I’m going to keep adding to my rolling submission spreadsheet and try to keep my out-for-consideration pieces around 20. Ideally, I’d like to write an entirely new short story every month for a competition or anthology, but this may end up not being feasible.

 

Because, fifth and lastly, I have a new major project on the horizon. A couple of years ago, as a result of an amusing brainstorming session to come up with possible titles for Artisan, I had an idea for a non-fiction book. Over Christmas, this idea rose back to the top of my mind and I started getting really excited about looking into it. Now considering in 2018, I decided to learn how to write comics and quickly discovered it was way too hard, this project may well falter before it even gets off the ground. However, I’m currently very keen to research how to write a non-fiction book, and then research the particular subject of the one I want to write. It seems like something that should be possible to work on at the same time as my fiction projects, and also like something that should have a fairly predictable trajectory and process. I suspect it will prove much more complicated than I anticipate, but I’m enthused about giving it a go.

 

Ambitious? Well, absolutely! And it’s likely some of these goals will be abandoned somewhere along the way. However, I work best when I have multiple projects to work on at once, and I’ve definitely been coasting with my writing in recent months. So, I want to launch into 2019 with a whole load of exciting plans, along with my intention to maintain a better and more rigorous writing schedule. I have all my January sessions booked in my calendar, so here’s to motivation and productivity!

 

Posted on 03 December 2018 10:33

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fandom. There’s a musical playing at The Playground Theatre at the moment, called Fanatical: The Sci-Fi Convention Musical, which I have already seen twice and will be seeing twice more before it closes on Saturday. It’s about a fan convention for a fictional sci-fi TV show, and it celebrates all aspects of being a fan, not least the creation of fan art and fanfiction.

 

The song I relate to most is “Hey, Look What I Made”, in which one of the fans says her dad calls her fanart “talent gone to waste”, which is a reaction I have also had towards my fanfiction. But I very firmly believe that fanfiction got me where I am today - nearly twenty original short stories published, and a novel out for consideration by several small presses.

 

I went to my first fan convention in January 2001, at a time in my life when I had lost all confidence in my writing and in myself.  I suffered from mild depression throughout my university years, during which time I was in a relationship with another writer. I felt as if his talent was so far above mine as to swallow mine whole, and I stopped writing altogether towards the end of our time together.  I should say that this was not in any way his fault, and he would be horrified to learn of it, but that’s what was going on in my head at the time.

 

Whilst queueing to get into the convention, I inserted myself into the conversation of the two people in front of me, and a wonderful new phase of my life began.  They were both fanfiction writers, and they introduced me to a whole online world I had previously been unaware of. Here, I discovered like-minded fans of all the films and shows and books I myself loved, who were creating new stories within those worlds for others to enjoy.

 

Fanfiction is often derided, and it’s true that there is a lot of awful stuff out there.  But isn’t that true of most things, including published original fiction? There’s also a tremendous amount of truly amazing fanfiction, if you know where to look for it, and even the dreadful stuff serves an important purpose.

 

Fanfiction gives the writer an established setting and familiar characters in which to explore their deepest and most outrageous desires, to experiment with their writing, and to gain much-coveted feedback from readers.  I am certain there are many more traditionally published authors who cut their teeth on fanfiction than would be prepared to admit it.

 

Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey may have produced a somewhat warped view of fanfiction in the mainstream consciousness - but a more recent TV show, Dickensian, shows fanfiction at its very best, in my opinion.  A mash-up of Dickens’ most colourful characters proved truly delightful, and I’ve used it many times since as an example of how fanfiction can be both wildly inventive and simultaneously respectful to its source material.

 

For me, fanfiction provided a safe space in which to find my creativity again, where I could post my stories and get instant feedback from a friendly and supportive group of readers. It gave me ten years of writing practice before I started trying to write my own stuff, and I know my writing benefited hugely from that. Even though I am primarily working on original projects now, there are two fanfiction events I still take part in, and thoroughly enjoy, every year, and I don’t intend to give them up any time soon.

 

I completely understand the attitude of writers who do not wish their creations to be warped out of all recognition in the hands of depraved fanfiction amateurs.  However, it seems clear there is little they can do to stop it, and I think they might be better served by embracing the phenomenon than by attempting to quash it.  I, for one, would count it one of my highest achievements as a writer for there to be fanfiction based on my original work posted on the internet. This is because fanfiction comes from a place of passion and enthusiasm, and is a mark of great love for the work it’s based upon.  I can only dream of having fans dedicated enough to spend their time dreaming up new scenarios for my characters, and new stories for my worlds.

 

I will never forget the joy and confidence fanfiction has inspired in me, and I will never be ashamed to admit that I am a fanfiction writer.