Making Time to Write

It’s early in the new year and I’m right where I need to be. I’m sat at my kitchen table with my laptop open in front of me, notebooks and diary notes strewn around me. I’m in my happy place. It’s a Sunday and I have nothing to do but write.

That’s not to say that the day hasn’t been filled with other essentials. The bathroom and kitchen have been cleaned. There is a wash load turning in the dryer. I watched the final episode of Cheer in bed with a cup of coffee this morning because I just had to know if Navarro won the division championship before I could even think about writing a word. But that’s okay. Those were not wasted hours. Because now I can shake off the day, focus on my words, and breathe.

My plan today is a simple one. Write a blog post (hi there!), write a rough draft for entry into the Tales from the Moonlit Path ‘Love Gone Wrong’ horror short submission, and add to my chapter plan. It is three attainable, satisfying goals, and all three will set me up for the week on a stronger footing than I would be without them. My resolution for 2020 was geared around me maintaining productivity without becoming overwhelmed, and I’ve come to realise in the last two weeks that I am finally able to breathe. Metaphorically – and often literally – I hold my breath while I rush through the motions of being a writer. My brain races through ideas spanning ten chapters, while at the same time considering social media and blog posts, potential short story submissions, and query letters. And then I wonder why I fail to work to the best of my abilities.

January has been a much-needed huff of oxygen to my writing practice. I’m organised. I’m pacing myself. I am allowing myself space to breathe. I trust in my inactivity, just as I trust in my ability to write the damn novel. I just needed a little space to fill my lungs.

And now I’m right where I need to be. Writing.

New Year, New Writing Me…?

Welcome to a new year, my writing friends. A new decade, to be exact. I already feel as though this will be a year of change. A change in practice. A change of habits. Renewed motivation and drive. I took a couple of months out to re-charge my batteries and shake off the technological burn-out I’d been experiencing. A hectic and challenging few months at my day-job had left me unable to enjoy time at the computer at home, and fighting to summon up the enthusiasm to post cheerful insta pics and remotely positive blog posts.

A break has done me good, I’m happy to report. I have something of a plan going into 2020. I am determined to organise my time and to ensure productivity no longer goes hand-in-hand with burn out. I have identified my problem – I’m an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person. In the past I have had no problem writing thousands of words, zoning out and immersing myself in my imaginary worlds, fingers flying over the keyboard and my brain working overtime to catch up to the images being acted out by the characters in my mind. But then comes the edit. Picking apart the plot holes and rectifying lazy setting descriptions. And then, inevitably, comes the loss of confidence. The spark dries up. The project gets shelved for a shiny new idea and off I go again, hurtling towards exhaustion but ultimately getting no closer to my goal of becoming a novelist.

2020 will be different. I’m determined to get a grip on my writing practice to ensure I move steadily towards my goals. I’ve bought a diary and have entered upcoming short story submission opportunities that I might like to try. This will hopefully allow me to manage my spare time more effectively and give me plenty of opportunities to build my short story portfolio while simultaneously completing my novel. I’ve set time aside in January to carefully plot my chapters and I’m ditching word-count focus until I know exactly what I need to write.

And one final vow going into 2020: To take it easy on myself. As writers we demand so much of ourselves. Of our time. Of our energy. Of our lifestyles and headspace. We aren’t superhuman, at the end of the day. The year has begun with nothing but negativity in the news of the world around us, and it can be disheartening. It’s hard to focus on our goals when the lives we live sometimes feel so perilously out of our control.

So, this year, take a breath. Allow yourself the time you need to be brilliant. Enjoy the small steps that you can take in order to achieve your goals. No matter what is happening around us, our writing is the one thing we do have control over. If you’ve been struggling to motivate yourself, just as I have, think of a plan that will take some of the pressure off your shoulders. Get back to doing what you love. And look after yourselves this year, my writing friends.

October Writing

October was a pivotal month for my writing. As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to brand myself as a horror writer, focusing only on the horror genre and beginning work on a full-length horror novel. It makes sense, as most of my short stories have been published in horror anthologies, providing me with a spook-filled portfolio to approach prospective agents and publishers with when the time comes. Happy belated Halloween, by the way!

As of 5th October, it isn’t only short stories in my portfolio. I was over the moon to have the No Sleep Podcast pick up one of my shorts, Better Than Mardis Gras, and turn it into a segment on their incredible show. It features as the second story in Episode 16 of Season 13. Hearing three talented actors perform the story gave me goosebumps. It felt even better because this was a story that has faced rejection in the past. It reinforced the idea that you should never shelve something just because you get a few rejections. One day it may find a home, and a perfect one at that!

I have to admit, there was one glaring error in the story – a dreaded hanging adverb! There is no writing mistake that stands out more than an adverb at the end of a creepy sentence, read out by an actor, with atmospheric sound effects in the background, followed by a dramatic pause. Believe me, now I know. But hey, I cringed. I moved on. If I hadn’t have spotted that as a mistake, maybe I should worry (and yes, I wish I had spotted it before I submitted it!). But we live and learn – that’s what writing is all about. It’s a comfort to me to know that even though our work may not be as perfect as we’d like, we still get these chances to showcase and improve.

So, I’m chugging away at my horror novel. I’m not taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m enjoying seeing participant word counts growing on Insta! I’m currently on 20k and hoping to hit 30 by the end of November (definitely not enough to make the Nano grade!). Good luck to all of you who are participating. I can’t wait to hear about your successes.  

Who’s afraid of the big bad edits?

A few weeks ago I received a rejection email with a twist. On this occasion I was fortunate enough to have the editor come back to me with my story marked, suggesting that if I make some changes he would reconsider the submission. I was blown away by this opportunity, as I know how rare it is to get a second chance when it comes to submissions!

I went back to him asking for a latest date that he would expect me to return the altered manuscript, stating that I knew that this was no guarantee that I would make it into the anthology even after the edits, and thanking him for the opportunity to try again. He then wrote back to me thanking me for my response to his suggestions, stating that not all writers take the offer of edits quite so well.

This struck me as crazy! Here was a professional, who whilst considering my story had made edits in track changes, without me paying him a thing, and had offered me a second chance at publication if only I follow his advice. For a story that I wrote for his anthology. Who in their right mind wouldn’t snap his hand off, I wondered?! I mean, I know that your own writing is precious, and that having someone turn around asking for changes is like someone saying your baby would be cute if only it had brown eyes and curly hair. But I know I would have had to have paid a fortune sending it off to an editing company for the same pleasure. And his suggestions were completely valid: There was too much description before the action began. There were too many characters for a short story, and some of them had to go. I did need to ramp up the connection between the two main characters, and – damnit – the ending would be better if the narrator actually made it to safety!!

So I sat down to work through the changes, taking each point and scrutinising how to make the edits successful without losing my voice and my original intentions. Sometimes it’s difficult to take criticism, but thankfully this editor made both positive and negative comments with a considered, encouraging tone. I’ve received other edits by more brutal readers in the past, and this was a cake-walk in terms of bruised ego aftereffects! I was dreading making the edits, because I do hate editing. But this was kind of a fun experience, much to my surprise. I learned more from his suggestions that I ever have from courses or classes. I am grateful to him, and glad I learned a while ago to keep an open mind and listen to the experts (probably the most difficult but most important step in my writing career).

All I can say is, no matter how much it hurts, if someone offers you the chance to make edits to improve your story to their publishing standard, don’t let your pride get in the way. You’ll become a better writer from it. Fast-forward a month and I’ve made it into the publication! I am over the moon about it and can’t wait to see the book published. So, here’s to second chances, and expert advice.

Being the Guest of a Writing website

Something very exciting happened recently. I was honoured to be asked by the incredibly talented Kate Nilski to answer a few questions on the subject of bravery in writing for her website The World of Words is Wonderful. I received the questions and mulled them over for a while, thinking that I had a solid set of answers in my head.

Then I sat down to write. Truly reflecting on yourself and your opinions as a writer can be surprising and enlightening, and after this experience I would encourage any of you to ask a friend to set you a few questions to consider. You may be surprised at your answers! By delving deeper into my writing process, I understood that some things I took at face value were actually products of something bigger. It gave me a better understanding of why I did things in a certain way, and helped me to highlight certain patterns that I hadn’t known existed.

I am becoming more brave in my writing, mainly through sharing more about myself on social media. This interview was really the cherry on the cake. And I understand now that my writing process is ever-evolving. Since answering the questions, I’ve changed direction again! Back then, I was all set to slog away at my young adult fantasy WIP. Now I have faced facts in the mirror and decided to put that particular project away for a while to focus on horror. Becoming a writer is about making yourself a brand after all. I have an idea for a full-length terror-based plot, as discussed in my previous blog, and the excitement building from this new venture tells me it is the right thing to do. That’s one of the incredible things to embrace about being a writer. It is an ever-evolving, changing process. And so are you, the writer itself.

So a huge thank you to Kate at The World of Words is Wonderful for giving me the opportunity to tap into this aspect of myself and allowing me to reflect. It was just what I needed at this crossroads. And thank you also for allowing me to feel like a bit of a celeb! After the interview was shared on Facebook I had friends messaging me saying things like, “I thought – hey, I know her!” which felt amazing. Faking it til you make it is a huge part of taking your place on the literary ladder, and I certainly feel like I’ve hopped a few rungs this year.

You can check out Kate’s fantastic website, hire Kate for your digital copywriting needs, and have a nosey at the interview here

Unexpected Writing Inspiration

One of the main things that I love about writing is its unpredictability. You might have a set plan, and you may be productive in your routine for a while, but in the world of writing it doesn’t always work out that way.

I mainly write horror shorts when I sit down at my desk. However, this year I branched out a little and began to write a young adult fantasy novel. I was inspired by the writing community on social media, and had a few ideas about my own little bunch of budding heroes, traversing adolescence whilst dealing with their new powers. It was fun. It was exciting and, being someone who struggled through my own childhood with the X-Men permanently reminding me that it was okay to be different, it was relevant. So, 60,000 words in with only a few lingering chapter inserts, fillers, and a final edit remaining, it should be ready to roll on to the next stage. Only, it’s not happened that way. I’ve completely shelved it. I think about it often. I occasionally make an insert or an edit here and there, but I have lost that spark of inspired joy that I usually need to complete a project. This has left me with two options. One; slog on and finish it anyway. Or, two; leave it and move on to a new book. For me, these are both equally impossible without the right kind of inspiration. I didn’t know what I was going to do.

Then, this morning as I was walking to the supermarket in the sunshine, a song came on my iPod that I hadn’t heard in ages. It was Coheed and Cambria’s The Suffering, and I loved it. I stuck it on repeat, and pretty much listened to it constantly as I walked the length of St George’s Quay to town. A thought popped into my head: “The Suffering. That would be a cool title for a horror short.” As I walked the rest of the way, the story ideas began to flow. Once I had the title (thanks Coheed and Cambria!), the plot followed, and I knew that the story will be perfect to submit to the upcoming Horroraddicts.net ‘Dark Divinations’ Victorian horror submission call. And that wasn’t all, my friends! I realised that the short story would make a cool origins tale for a full-length horror story set in modern times. So, that’s what I’m going to do next. Get the Victorian short story locked down, then use it as the origins tale for a modern full length horror.

That’s not to say I’ll never return to my fantasy wip. I’ve put many hours into it after all, and I love the characters. But right now I guess it’s important to work on what feels right. Two beautiful things about writing, then. It’s ever-changing. Never set in stone. The possibilities are endless. And you can find sudden inspiration anywhere – even when you’re walking to the shops.

The Shortlist Paradox

After making a succession of short story anthology submissions this summer, the inevitable rejections have begun to slink into my inbox. It is a part of every writer’s world, so I am not complaining about the process. However, this last couple of weeks has had me musing over whether being notified that you have been shortlisted, only to be informed of rejection in the final cut, could be worse than not hearing anything at all until the axe falls.

Every submission comes with a ‘dare to dream’ moment or two. If it didn’t there would be no motive to submit in the first place! I usually submit with suppressed hopes, then put the publication completely out of my mind until I hear either way. Otherwise I find myself daydreaming about the possibilities. About what I would do if I got a yes. What would I post on social media? How would I tell my friends and family? Then the flutter of desire kicks in, and the potential for disappointment grows.

I had this recently with the latest SNAFU publication, Last Stand. As I mentioned in a previous blog, this publication was the anthology equivalent of the Holy Grail for me, as it will be introduced by the director Tim Miller. Marvel are a huge fixture in my household, so the potential to be linked to anything involving the Deadpool director was a huge draw. I crafted the story as best as I could. I looked back at previous hints and tips that the editors had provided, keen to tick every possible personal preference box on their list. Then, I hit ‘send’, locked the hopes and dreams in a little box in my brain marked “Do not open”, and went about my business. Then I heard the news that the story had made it through the first round of shortlisting. Wow. That was a buzz. The flame of possibility grew. I dared to dream a little bit. I was honoured that they liked my story, and repeatedly rationalised that at this stage, even if it was a ‘no’ in the end, I could be proud that it made it so far.

To my absolute shock and delight, I made it through the next round of cuts. At the beginning of that week, I had seen on the publication’s Facebook page that the next refusals were imminent, and I was convinced I would be amongst them. But I wasn’t. Double-wow. Could it possibly be? I started to get really excited. I talked about it with my friends, which is something I wouldn’t normally do unless I’d actually made it into the book. I’m cagey about my writing at the best of times, having always had a fear of the old ‘pride comes before a fall’ warnings. But this time, it couldn’t hurt to talk about it. It was a huge deal after all, and I clung to the fact that it was something of an accolade that the story had made it so far.

Well, come the final round of cuts. And a rejection letter. Albeit a very positive, constructive rejection letter, but a rejection nontheless. Wow again. But this time, a crushing, “Wow, I really thought I might have had that, there. Damn.” This was the moment that I started thinking about shortlist emails. They are always a joy, don’t get me wrong. And there was a point in my writing career when I would have chopped a hand off just to get one (possibly a counter-productive move – don’t judge me, I was a neurotic, fledgling writer!). But that moment of daring to dream a little bigger…The moment the “Do not open” sign gets torn off the hidden box in my brain that shows me visions of what I might do if I got the news that I’d been accepted. The moment when I let my daydreams wander to potential future opportunities that a yes decision may have brought. That kicks in as soon as the shortlist email comes in my inbox.

And, you know what? In the end, they ARE a good thing. Because it is that little boost that verifies that we’re on the right path. It’s the feedback from almost making the cut and being told exactly why we didn’t in the end that makes us better writers. That makes the next story an improvement on the last. It’s the step towards the next acceptance, because we’re always learning. The shortlist email, even if it makes the rejection a little more disappointing in the end, reminds us of why we do this. The rush. The thrill of the chase. The potential for that elusive ‘yes’.

So thank you to those editors who take the time to let us know when we’re through to the next round. And to those who let us down gently with constructive words when we don’t quite make the cut. We need thick skin in this industry, and at certain times for whatever reason, it’s not easy to remain positive. The shortlist reminds us that we’re almost there. Even if it’s a harder fall.