On Following Dreams and Submitting Work

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was six years old. Possibly before – but I remember reading Secret Seven aged six and wishing I could make stories like that. The first book I wanted to write (aged seven) had the title ‘But I Only Want a Pony’ – thank f~~~ I moved on from that.

At the age of nine in 1981 I was at a Montessori school in Nairobi, Kenya, easily the single best year of my childhood. I don’t remember doing a lot of ‘work’ – or, work as I knew it from my school in Yorkshire – but the ethos of Montessori schools is to facilitate learning, find out what the child wants to learn, rather than TEACH. During my year I learned a lot about life and I wrote a book. It was called ‘Going to China by Boat’. It was a fully illustrated 39 page thing that I loved more than anything. I’ve still got it, and whenever I feel doubts (thankfully not often) I dig it out and remind myself that I’m following a path I started walking many, many years ago. In my story we sailed from Mombasa to China. We had stacks of magazines at our disposal and the pictures I didn’t draw were cut out of  old National Geographics. I remember writing it clear as day.

As I grew up I realised that knowing what you want to do with your life is a blessing – many people don’t. It’s also a curse, because until you do it you’re not quite alive.

The dream of being a writer has never ever left me and has meant a constant stream of ideas flowing through my head, all day and night long. If I don’t write for a period of time I get bunged up. I’ve no idea WHY I want to be a writer, I just do. I feel like it’s why I’m here. When I sit writing, I feel absolutely content. Each story is like a puzzle and I have to work it out. I seldom know where a story is going until it ends – or if I do this changes along the way. I don’t feel any great desire to be rich and famous but I would like to earn enough so that I can do it full time.

I was given some great advice by writers I’ve met:

1) Geoffrey Malone, children’s writer: Get a job you enjoy and write as a hobby – if you’re lucky the writing will one day take over. I became a teacher – my second passion – but the trouble with that is it needs a lot of creative and physical energy and there wasn’t much left at the end of the day to actually write. At the moment I’m incredibly lucky – we had the good fortune of working abroad and being able to stash cash before we came home and this we’ve invested in a business, a holiday let, which, though hard work, is perfect for dreaming up stories. At the moment my days are balanced equally between the two and I am so incredibly grateful to be able to do this.

2) Finish stuff before you start editing. No matter how godawful your writing appears to be (and it probably isn’t), Get To The End, and then rewrite it as many times as you like. I’ve been told/read this numerous times and it’s the most valuable piece of advice I’ve ever had. NaNoWriMo is the best way to learn this.

3) Find your original voice. Simon Gandolfi, novelist and ghost/travel writer, once told me (during a drunken night at a bike stopover in Buenos Aires when our paths crossed) that there are no original plots. None. I argued the point, still not sure. However he said the thing is to find your voice, your way of telling the story. Don’t be like ANYONE else!

4) Find your own way of writing. Some people are plotters, some are not. Some are planners, some are not. Some are day writers, some are night owls. Etc.

5) Never, ever give up. Get a thick skin, take criticism, don’t be precious about your work, believe in it but be willing to work with editors, get a good group of supportive readers. Keep on following that dream. I’m probably (if I’m lucky, going on past experience) about halfway through my life. I’ve been published in around 14 anthologies and five large circulation magazines. I’ve been part of a Scottish book trust project that had a circulation of 150,000.  All of this, a few years ago, would have seemed impossible. But a few years ago I found the courage and confidence to start sending stuff off. I’ve learned heaps on the way, met some great people, and know that this is still just the beginning.

6) Never stop trying to improve. Editing is it….

Following your dream isn’t easy. But if it’s a true dream it won’t leave you alone, even if you try to run away!

On submitting – this is my very own advice:

1) I’m able to pick my own hours at work – very lucky. However, I’m still the one who does most of the housework, cooking, cleaning, washing etc etc. I’ve had to learn to be able to work surrounded by chaos. If I began tidying, I’d never get a thing written so I do the minimum and simply pretend the rest isn’t there. As long as there’s a bit of time left to cook a meal and shove some washing in the machine, the rest can wait until I’ve no inspiration (fortunately not often). I feel incredibly fortunate that I really don’t give a stuff what state my house is in and if friends come over they know what to expect.

2) I try to have several things out on submission at once. Even if I think there’s only a slim chance of something being accepted, if they’re out there I feel more like a real writer and the hope keeps me going. At the moment there are 13 short stories out there (to as many free subs as poss)  and I’m waiting to hear from two publishers about possible short story collection publication plus a novel is out to a different publisher – not massively hopeful about this one however.

3) Mostly, rejection doesn’t bother me (it used to, a little, but my dad used to have this mantra, A Myatt Never Gives Up. It stuck.) If it does, I give it a day, pick myself up and start all over again.

4) I submit each story five times, six if I’m really in love with it. Often things rejected by a few places get picked up on the fourth or fifth outing to the world. If it’s still not accepted or longlisted somewhere at the very least, I do tend to retire it and put it away and chalk it up to learning. Sometimes I rewrite it and try again. Sometimes this works. Sometimes I’m dead lucky and a story finds a home right away.

5) I read lots of books. This year I’m trying for a book a week. I am just about on schedule. The only time I read is on holiday or in bed, or on the sofa with the kids after school. I also follow lots of writers on Twitter – their advice is always helpful. And it helps knowing other writers, people who don’t think you’ve gone seriously hatstand for wanting to sit all alone and make things up and live inside your head!

6) I once read that the first million words are, for a writer, an apprenticeship. I worked out one day I was roughly halfway through this, maybe more. So, keep on writing, just keep writing…

7) Prioritise: I often eat cold onion bhajias or something else bonkers that I’ve grabbed from the fridge for breakfast so my writing time is maxed out. Anything I can skip on during the day means more writing time. I don’t iron. I dust when the dust is 3D. Sinks get cleaned when I notice they’re grotty. I don’t watch much TV and if I do it tends to be a movie.

And on that note, I’ve got a holiday let to go and clean. Hope to be back on my comp writing my latest story in a couple of hours, for a couple of hours before school pick up.

Inspirational quote of the day (I’ve a book of them in my bog):

 

I do not think there is any quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes everything, even nature.

John D Rockefeller

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Rejection Summer

And it was. One after the other! But I’m an expert at getting back up again and being thick skinned. I learnt fast – let rejection bounce off you or don’t be a writer. We all know that one…

I tweet every now and then and one of my most-retweeted tweets was the one about sending each story out five times before putting it in the File of Doom. Generally most stories find a home before five outings but occasionally it does take that long. It’s a case of right words, right judges, right time instead of one of those elements missing. I was told by a few writers that Twitter was essential in terms of self-marketing, being noticed and networking. Frankly I didn’t think I had time but out of all the social media blah it’s the one that seems quickest to be part of and most useful in terms of content.

There were a couple of successes (see Read Me Here) but lots of Thanks but No Thankses.

One of my thanks but nos was from Cornerstones, who looked at my short story collection. It’s now off elsewhere on its journey to find a home but if it doesn’t get picked up I’ll self-publish. It was looked at during my Cornerstones mentorship so I’m happy it’s as good as it can be.

The summer was busy, sunny and full of friends and laughter and wine and music and kids’ stuff. I didn’t get much writing done – but lots of ideas got captured as they passed by and I pulled them into my notepad. I’m working on them now. New Writing Project is into the 20K word area, so getting on well and I’m getting to know my two main characters well… at the moment they’re at Glastonbury in 1994, narrowly missing each other…

My aim this Autumn is to prioritise writing more. I get involved in all sorts of community things which is great and fulfilling and generally fun, but also time consuming. Every now and then I say yes too much, realise I’m over-committed and spend a few weeks stepping backwards. One of those times coming up now. Life is short and I have a lot of words to write.

 

 

13,000

13,000 words into my new project and I’m starting to get to know my characters better. I heard David Mitchell speak once at a meet the author type event and he said one of the ways he gets to know his characters before he even writes a word is to write them letters, and get them to write to him. I chat to mine in my head, and sort of see the world through their eyes whilst I’m writing them, but it takes me a good chunk of writing them in before they properly take shape. Once they do, the story kind of takes off itself and I struggle to keep up, my typos getting more and more frequent. (I type with four fingers and the P on my keyboard doesn’t work very well. So it’s not great typing. I always promised myself I’d learn properly but never have – I’m fast, but sketchy as hell. And my four fingers get sore – a sort of keyboard hammering injury.) Once I’ve done that, I go back and read the beginning again once I know them better, and often things have changed, so big chunks get rewritten. But not until it’s all finished! It’s the bit of advice I read most often. FINISH IT FIRST. And I think it’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given.

Nice comments on the latest shortlist, which made me smile 🙂

https://www.grindstoneliterary.com/blog/flash-fiction-500-winners

 

Waiting is the Hardest Part

It’s a tricky one – on the one hand I want to savour life and live each moment and enjoy every second. On the other I want to fast forward it to get results! I’ve currently got 13 subs out there: a novel, a collection of short stories, a story to a magazine and the rest to competitions. I was really happy last week to hear I’ve got on the Grindstone flash fiction shortlist and will be published in their anthology. This makes me very happy! It makes my dream of being a fully fledged writing writer just a little more real when I get picked to be in an anthology. I call myself a writer all the time, but I still feel I am a writer-in-training.

How does one live with this balance? The only way is to forget you’re waiting for results, but this is hard as I am meticulous about keeping track of where my stories have gone. It’s the only part of life I’m organised about – the rest of it is a huge colourful chaotic blur – one that annoys me at times as it can be toooooo chaotic, but one that is also rich and fun and exciting. The writer me, the part that has a middle initial, my all important J, is incredibly organised, remembers everything, takes note of everything and keeps track. Which means I know exactly the dates when results are likely to be announced. I’d be better forgetting about it but how can I when the list sits by my computer, to spur me on and remind me how often  I’ve been published? I’m going to have to hide the list (which is in an out of date old Mslexia diary, my second, carried on in the blank page section when I ran out of room in the subs section). But if I hide the list, I’ll never see it again. Our house literally is that messy that things get lost FOREVER. So, losing my list, or having it sitting there…

Like I said, tricky.

I’ve been writing today since 9.45am. It’s been bliss. It’s now 2.45pm and I have to stop,  shower, bring myself back to reality and out of my characters’ heads, and go to pick up the children from school, cook dinner and do the activity run around. All the while not thinking about results…

Happy scribbling, wherever/whoever you are.

I’ve had this idea for years and years

Like many ideas, it’s grown and shrunk in proportion to my courage. I think many other writers in training, published writers, hobby writers have had this happen: you get an idea, you read a book someone else has written with the sameish idea which means you can’t write it because it’ll look like you copied it…

I decided to get this idea out into the world because I think it’s a) rather good and b) rather stubborn and c) I want to be first with it!

Morphic Resonance. Something my father used to talk about. Google it. It’s quite bonkers but there are examples of it all over the place…

Starting a new project means my last one is finished for now and being looked at by my mentor. This is really exciting – hopefully it’ll lead to me getting it published somehow and somewhere. If I self-publish, I know it’ll be the best it can possibly be, having been checked and edited by someone who knows their stuff. And if it stays on the back burner, it’ll be staying on the back burner in its best incarnation and is a collection of all my best stuff that’s mostly not been published anywhere else. I’ve loved working on it but am really happy to be doing something new, too.

 

 

A Drizzly Day

Which is fine by me because I can sit in my tiny officeporch, and write, look for places to submit, work on my collection, stop by ad hoc fiction’s weekly slot, flit around on twitter for a bit, dig out stories I’d thought I’d lost… I just found the very first piece of fiction I wrote that was accepted somewhere. It was called The Thinking Place, although the magazine changed the title to something I didn’t like. It was published in Feb 2008 in Take a Break’s Fiction Feast and I was paid £250! I was the most chuffed person ever. At the time I was travelling on the back of a motorbike with my now husband, then HTB. Anyway I want to add this story to my collection so I searched all my old e mail addresses and eventually found it. I read it as I’ve not read it for ages and I’d completely forgotten the ending, which I loved. I laughed out loud for surprising myself! Sometimes endings are hard – this is about my most favourite ever.

I bought myself a mentorship with Cornerstones for Christmas. My lovely mentor, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt is full of great advice and encouraging words. We’re working on my collection of short stories, half of which are a bit magical and half of which are mostly based in reality. I’m learning a lot already, two weeks into the mentorship. My goal at the end is to get it published as a stand alone collection – I know this will be difficult. If I can’t attract a publisher – even a  very very small one – I’ll self publish, but I’ll self publish knowing the collection is the best it can be and has had an expert eye passed over it.

Life continues to be extremely full, which is the way I write best. And nowadays, who isn’t busy? If I get over-busy though, I head to the sofa and read (though I can’t remember doing that since NY). At the mo all the reading I do is in bed before sleep.

This week I’ve heard I’ll be in the next Monkey Collection and for the next month I’ll be on tenterhooks with 10 submissions winging their way around cyberspace, hopefully getting somewhere.

And in other news, the P on my keyboard isn’t working very well. Makes writing on sites like Hour of Writes, where I only ever write ‘live’ on the site, very difficult! I usually manage 1700-the full 2000 words in the hour allotted. I never manage it typo-free, I often end up with something I wasn’t expecting. Sometimes it’s even quite good.

Shout out to all the fellow scribblers out there… keep those words coming…