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.

Advertisements

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.

News of all kinds

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. The day after I wrote my last post, where the dog and I had taken a trip to the orchard and it had inspired me to write a poem, Shadow collapsed and had to be put to sleep. It has been strange here ever since. If I could describe how we were with each other, I’d say that when we were together we would constantly look to each other. When we were apart, I would constantly look forward to seeing him. He was just a constant. To not have that now is the hardest thing, because there are habits that grow with love that you don’t even know are there. Each time I face a new automatic habit and then remind myself that he isn’t there it’s heartbreaking. But, looking back at our photos and videos together, I know he was happy right to the end, and that is the most reassuring thing of all. He was a rescue dog, and taking him from the shelter five years ago was the best thing I ever did. I would encourage anyone who is considering getting a pet to please go to your local rescue shelter first and foremost. We couldn’t have had a better fit in our lives, even if we’d raised him ourselves.

In terms of writing, I have never been the type of writer who thrives in dark times. In fact, my muse tends to dry up completely. It was a huge effort to complete the poem, ‘The Tree That Ate the Children’, the week after Shaddy passed, and I managed to just meet the deadline for submission. I don’t know if it’s any good, but it was finished and submitted, and that was enough that week. I’m pleased to say I managed to write yesterday. There are a number of exciting horror submission calls for the end of July/start of August, and I really hope I can come up with some good gory tales!

One word of warning that I learned myself this week – final deadline dates don’t always stay the same. I’ve known them to be pushed to a later date before, but never cut off a few weeks early due to popularity! This has happened with Dragon’s Roost’s ‘Monsters in Space’ anthology. It was such a great brief and I am happy to hear that they have had a successful submission response. But I am definitely sad that I didn’t get a shot at taking part! Still, it has taught me a new writing lesson, which I’ll try to bear in mind in future: Submit early if you can. I always tend to plan my submissions based on final date. I really need to revise that method in future!

Finally, the truly wonderful news this week. I submitted to SNAFU’s Last Stand sub call last month, after reading the brief and falling in love with the concept. The fact that Tim Miller is providing the introduction really is the icing on the cake. To appear in the anthology that features the director of Deadpool would truly be a life-affirming moment in my writing. Not to mention the fact that my hubby rocks around in a Deadpool dressing gown in the evenings, and that we used to have a hamster called D-Piddy in honour of the merc with a mouth. Tim Miller aside, the anthology itself looks to be incredibly special, not surprising since it’s coming from Cohesion Press. On Saturday I received an email saying my story had made it to final deliberations! After such a difficult couple of weeks this news was well received to say the least. I don’t know if I’ll make the final cut, obviously, but it is a huge boost to know the dream is in touching distance. Here’s to dreams coming true, even in the worst weeks!

Inspired by Nature

I had a little giggle to myself this morning. I’ve got a list of upcoming submission calls that I’d like to try my hand at, one of which being the Forty-Two Books Putrescent Poems anthology. I woke up keen to get started, but struggling for ideas. I knew it had to be horror – that was the easy part. Horror is the one sure theme that always inspires me to give a submission call a crack! But what kind of horror? Demons? Ghosts? Mass-murderers or psycho hitch-hikers? There are sometimes too many possibilities, when it comes to giving something a shot!

I decided to get out into nature and see if the clean air and greenery would set my creative juices flowing. I grabbed the dog and off we went to the local orchard. It’s a beautiful pathway, surrounded by rolling fields and dotted with apple and damson trees. It just so happened that there were groups of school children receiving lessons on the different types of flora and fauna in the area. This meant that the pup had to stay on his lead, much to his dismay, but I had fun eavesdropping on the lesson as we passed:

Teacher: “So, tonight, when you’re having your tea, try taking off your shoes and socks, sticking your feet in your plate, and eating your tea with your feet!”

Children: (Giggles and squeals) One kid in particular: “Even tuna fish sandwiches?!!!”

Teacher: “Even tuna.”

Aside from the fact that a tuna sandwich might be the easiest thing in the world to eat with your feet (ah, to be a kid again), an idea popped into my head while I was looking up at the trees and waiting for the dog to finish his business. Kids + Trees = A tree that eats children. So that’s what I’m writing my poem about.

I don’t know if that’s quite what people have in mind when they say you should get inspired by nature. But it worked for me!

June Goals

June was a fun writing month for me. I took on an extra day of work in my day job, so I knew I had to shake up my writing habits if I was going to keep any kind of momentum. I think it was the unexpected jolt I needed, in all honestly. I’ve been feeling a bit stagnant recently, experiencing days where I had free hours stretching ahead of me – a perfect day for a writing spree. But I just didn’t have the motivation to create anything new. I would wake up with the best intentions, only to find that three YouTube Unexplained Mystery videos, lunch out, a movie, and a long hot bubble bath later, that it was time for bed and I hadn’t managed to write a word! Having the extra day away from my computer really made me value the time I did have with my imaginary worlds. I missed them, as I knew I would, because I didn’t have the option anymore.

It just so happened to fall that a number of open short story calls were coming to a close on 30th June. With my restricted free time and a looming deadline, I actually managed to get my butt in gear and create four new stories to suit the submission requests. I was inspired by the themes, and I was thrilled to see so many fantastic horror opportunities this month! Horror inspires me like no other genre, so I thoroughly enjoyed planning, creating, and writing my attempts.

That said, I’m pretty sure three out of the four don’t stand much of a chance. There is one that I’m keeping a quiet hope burning for, but we shall see. Even if none of them get selected this time around, that’s four new stories that might be suitable for other placements later in the year, on weeks where I really don’t feel like writing, so it still feels like an accomplished month.

July is going to be all about the second edit of my full-length work in progress. I’ve got a number of chapter insertions to make, a timeline to perfect, and I’m sure a few plot-holes to iron out! I had a fantastic night out with my girlfriends on Saturday, which absolutely blew the cobwebs off! I’m still recovering from it, I have to admit, but it was a lot of fun letting our hair down, sinking a few wines, and having a good old girly catch up. For me, the night out heralded the end of my June goals. I gave them a good solid crack, and I guess it remains to be seen how successful the month’s work will be in terms of publication. But no matter what the outcome, I gave it my best shot. That’s all we writers can do! And, as I said on Saturday night, “I’ll drink to that!”