Rejection is difficult and inevitable if you’re a writer. There was one time in the early days of my short writing career when I simply couldn’t deal with it; not because I thought I had such an incredible talent that it was outrageous that someone didn’t like my work, but more the opposite. It confirmed to me that I didn’t have what it takes to make it. I didn’t consider the fact that the competitions I was being ‘rejected’ in had had hundreds (or in some cases thousands) of entrants; all I could see was that my stories were rubbish and therefore I was rubbish!
My attitude has thankfully changed since then. I still get disheartened when I’m not shortlisted or don’t win, but I’m slightly more philosophical about it than I used to be. I can also acknowledge that judging is likely to be subjective. Recently, for example, I came second in a small competition with a story that I thought was terrible, and when I entered the same competition a month later with what I considered to be a much better story, I didn’t get anywhere.
As much as rejection can be hard to take, success, even a small taste of it can have the opposite effect. This month I was long-listed in the Fish Publishing Memoir Competition and that meant so much to me. It was a tiny sign that I was on the right track, it was a sign that I was improving and it was worth sticking with it.
I’m a quiet person, an introvert I suppose. And yet I have many friends, adore parties and need to be with people regularly. It’s a dichotomy really. But over the last six months, since I began to make small changes to my life in order to focus more on writing, I’ve spent a lot more time than I previously did sitting in silence. I say silence, but there’s never absolute silence. Right now, for example, I can hear a ticking clock, singing birds and distant cars from the main road a few minutes away, but there’s little noise.
I need this virtual silence in order to be creative. I’ve tried working with music or the TV on in the background but all it does is distract me. Ideas, for me, can only flourish in soils of silence.
This week is the second week of my flash fiction course. It’s challenging but stimulating as every day we have a short assignment. As I’m in a different timezone to most of the other participants, I find that I’m posting my work slightly later. This isn’t a problem but I do find myself feeling slightly anxious when I can’t think of anything to write, which was the case this morning. When this happens, I make a coffee, open my laptop and lie back on my beanbag. Then I start to think, in silence and eventually a story begins to form. The writing process is magical and its main ingredient is silence.
One of my writing objectives for this year is to become more prolific. In the past it would take me forever to write a story, edit it and get it to the stage where I was happy with it. In fact, I was very often never happy with it yet would give up on it before it was ready and move onto the next one.
Short stories, despite (by their very nature!) being short can often take a stupidly long time to get to an acceptable stage. Indeed, I’m still working on a story I started four years ago, and sometimes it’s difficult to know when to stop. However, what I’m finding now is that by focusing more on flash fiction, I’m producing work very quickly and this has a very positive psychological effect. Granted the piece might be super short but often the hardest part of writing, for me anyway can be thinking of a good idea. Once the idea is there, it’s not so difficult to get some sort of story down. Therefore by getting into the habit of producing lots of very short stories within a short space of time, you’re effectively exercising your creativity, so that as soon as you see a picture or phrase or hear an anecdote, you start to naturally concoct a story, and once you’ve finished one, you mentally move onto thinking of a new one.
I’ve also found that a piece of flash fiction can either be a standalone piece or developed into a short story or scene in a novel, so for many reasons it’s a useful genre to try to write. I’ve already produced more writing in the first four months of this year than I did in the whole of last year so I feel quite happy so far.
Today I woke up feeling very different to how I felt at the weekend. Saturday was a fabulous day writing-wise. I did a short story for an online flash fiction course, my regular blog post and a weekly flash competition and I went to bed really feeling like a writer! Today, however I have self-doubt. I’m not working for the next month so have planned to devote much of that time to writing yet I’m doubting whether I have what it takes to succeed, even though this year has been relatively successful for me so far.
My main obstacle has always been self-doubt. It’s plagued me in several areas of my life, but no more so than in writing. Writing is difficult – it’s demanding, competitive and it requires a huge amount of hard work, often for little or no reward, so it’s something you have to want to do very very badly in order to have any chance of success. It makes you wonder why anyone even bothers to try! And yet I know that it’s what makes me happy, what makes me tick. Being shortlisted or even long listed in a competition probably gives me more satisfaction than any other thing in life, and completing a good flash fiction piece or short story is such a wonderful feeling. At times like this, my self-doubt disappears and I feel a sense of connection with the world, a feeling that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, and remembering this feeling this morning will go some way towards eliminating the doubt.
Another obstacle is procrastination, although I’m managing it better now. I think as writers, we sometimes wait for the best time to write a story, instead of just putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and getting it down. The worst thing about procrastination is that in the act of putting something off, you end up focusing on it even more to the extent that it preoccupies you, so obviously it makes sense to simply get on with the task in hand. I’ve noticed recently, now that I’m procrastinating less, that I’m much more prolific. I can think of ideas more quickly and once I’ve got a story out, I move onto the next one immediately. This approach will (I hope) eventually result in success!
As I’ve become more serious about writing, I’ve started experimenting with new genres. I began with short stories and features and then ventured into flash fiction and I’m currently taking an online flash fiction course with Kathy Fish, a well-known flash fiction writer.
I only started blogging this year and although not a genre as such, it’s a wonderful way to practice different types of writing while providing the opportunity to connect with other like-minded people in the blogosphere.
I’m also halfway through a novel, which I’m going back to next week. This is probably the genre which most overwhelms me, partly because of the length, but also because structure is not my strong point and I must admit to feeling slightly apprehensive at the prospect of organising such a long story.
Another thing I’d love to have a go at writing is haiku. I very much enjoy reading them – love the brevity and the unwritten meaning behind the words, and having spent some time in Japan, the genre resonates with me. In the book, ‘Writing and Enjoying Haiku: a Hands-On Guide,’ by Jane Reichhold, the author aims to show how haiku can
bring a centred calming atmosphere into one’s life, by focusing on the outer realities of life instead of the nagging of the inner mind
I’m hoping that writing haiku will therefore have both a positive effect on my emotional well-being, while helping me to improve skills of subtlety and word choice when writing.
A term coined by Arthur Quiller-Couch in a series of lectures (On the Art of Writing) he gave in 1916. The full quote is above.
‘Murdering your darlings’ refers to deleting every word that isn’t pertinent to the story, even those words or phrases that you’ve grown to love. It’s not at all easy to do, but I do believe it’s all about non-attachment and losing your ego!
I used to read and reread little phrases I’d included in stories, thinking how wonderful they were, but I look back at them now and cringe as they are real examples of ‘purple prose,’ aka navel-gazing rubbish! If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s to pare down the message to what really needs to be said. The purpose of writing a story is not to show the world how great your lexicon is, it’s to tell a story that people relate to and by using pompous vocabulary and taking twenty words to say something that can be said in five, the message is diluted and a chance for meaningful communication lost.
Once you’ve written your story, I think it’s important to let it rest for a while. It’s almost as if you’ve planted the seeds and now you have to let them get on with the business of growing. If you try and edit immediately after finishing the story, it’ll be very difficult because at this stage you’re too close to what you’ve written. You can’t ‘see the wood for the trees,’ as it were, (or words!), but by leaving your piece for a few weeks or even months, you will be able to see the story through fresh eyes, so when you return to it, you should have a much clearer idea of what needs to be changed.
I did this with a piece I wrote a while back. It was driving me crazy at the time as I was trying desperately hard to get it right, so I put it on a writers’ forum and absorbed the ideas proffered by the members; but then I started to struggle as I still couldn’t really understand what needed to be changed. I now feel ready to go back to it as my head is clearer.
I’m hoping this is the same with novel writing as I haven’t revisited my novel since I finished 50,000 words in November. There were bits of the story, especially near the beginning that I didn’t like too much at the time of writing, but now I feel it’s time to edit; enough time has passed!