Back to the blog

After almost a year’s break, I’m back to the blog! I didn’t do much writing last year as I was focusing on a rather large cycling challenge (John o Groats to Lands End), which was over 1000 miles. However, in November I took a couple of workshops with renowned flash fiction writer, Meg Pokrass and they really kickstarted my creativity.

My aim this year is to get my stories published in literary journals and long-listed/shortlisted and placed in competitions, and so far I’ve had a number of pieces accepted.

On 1 January I had a story long listed in Reflex Fiction‘s quarterly flash competition – great start to the year!

In February I was runner up in Retreat West‘s quarterly themed flash competition with my story, This Time See White, a story based on the death of my father.  I also had my story, How to Write Well. Or Not accepted by the Cabinet of Heed, and have a couple of other stories forthcoming in journals.

I’ve just started another online workshop with Meg Pokrass and am hoping it’ll produce some more stories.

I trust you’re all having a wonderful year so far!

 

‘Winning’ – #AtoZ Challenge

W.jpgWinning to me does not necessarily mean coming first, although that would be nice. It’s more about being recognised i.e. making it onto the long or short list of a big competition, and just as being rejected can make me feel rather flat for a good chunk of that day (although it’s definitely getting easier to manage), achieving any level of success can feel wonderful.
I think I’ve reached the stage where I’m able to recognise good writing, certainly writing that’s more deserving of mine to win, and this is great as it only makes me want to improve.

However, it can get slightly disheartening when you feel your story is as good as the winners (I find this more with magazine stories), especially when you’re not sure exactly what you need to do to get better. I think it’s sometimes down to luck or simply the fact that the judge or fiction editor has already read something similar or prefers another style of writing to yours.

The thing I find difficult is that you hardly ever know what the problem was or how close (or far!) you were to/from the winners. That can be frustrating. I suppose the answer is just to get on with another piece of writing. Not giving up can take you one step closer to winning.

 

‘Unlucky’ – #AtoZ Challenge

th.jpegI used to think that being successful in writing had much to do with luck. I felt at one stage that I should be getting published and that I was just unlucky. However I realise now that I was pretty naive. Since then I’ve done numerous courses, read lots of books on writing, written many pieces, and also looked at magazine and competition winning stories, and I’ve come to understand that even though there is a smidgeon of luck involved in getting published, (writing is after all a subjective pursuit), success has much more to do with hard work. It takes practice (lots of it!), focused study of the market or genre you’re interested in and an awareness of what competition judges or publishers are looking for, based on what they’ve published before. It is also important to read as widely as possible.

There is, therefore a huge amount of work required so success in writing necessitates total commitment to it. I don’t believe it is something you can do half-heartedly. Yet, commitment breeds determination, at least in my case it has, and that determination can help you to 1/ deal with not being successful, whether that’s due to bad luck or not, and 2/ acquire the tools and skills that will (hopefully) lead to success.

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‘Success’ & ‘Thinking’ – #AtoZ Challenge

I’ve been so busy the last couple of weeks; mainly with Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash workshop (which I can strongly recommend), and I’m away in Yorkshire at the moment so I don’t have too much time for blogging. I’m already a little behind so I’ll post S and T today and will get back on it tomorrow!

Success

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Over the course of this blogging challenge I’ve discussed my writing obstacles; a couple being apathy and self-doubt. Another problem I have is the issue of success. Just yesterday a good friend asked me my reasons for writing. She wondered whether it was purely for my own enjoyment or because I wanted to be successful. It’s a good question and I have to say that it’s a mixture of both. I have always written, mainly diaries when I was younger but then short stories and features more recently, and although I’d love to reach the stage where I’m making money from writing, success for me is more about my work being noticed e.g. by being shortlisted or placed in a competition. It’s not really a question of being paid for my work (of course this would be nice!). Any kind of acknowledgement confirms to me that I have ability and is a sign that I should keep going with it.

Thinking

T.jpgI thought and thought about this (!!) and decided that I’d like to recommend a great article, To Write Stop Thinking by Joe Fassler in The Atlantic which was provided as inspiration on the fast flash workshop I’ve just taken.

In it, Kathryn Harrison says,

When I’m writing the way I want, the way I love, which is without thinking about what I’m writing, a strange thing happens: I feel simultaneously the most myself I could possibly be, and at the same time totally relieved of self.

I feel that what the writer is saying is that by writing without thinking, you connect with your essence. You’re not focusing on the best words to use, or how to get your message across, you are simply getting the words down and that is when the magic occurs.

When I did NaWriMo in November, I tried to do regular word sprints, which involved setting the timer for 15-30 minutes and writing as fast as possible. I found that in this way I created scenes and got to know my characters, something that would have been more difficult had I sat down and planned it.

Thinking about what to write can often drive you crazy. You’re desperate for this incredible idea that can sometimes only come if it’s given space to breathe. In this situation I always find that writing a few tentative words is enough to get you started. No matter how rubbish you think those words are, it’s important to keep going and get something down. It’s very likely there’ll be a few little gems in there.

‘Obstacles’– #AtoZ Challenge

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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!

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The peaks and troughs of writing

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Yesterday I was feeling a bit flat as I’d received three (writing comp) rejections in a matter of days. It’s so easy at times like this to get demoralised and allow the familiar feelings of doubt to creep in until you quickly end up thinking you have no ability at all (there’s such a fine line between jubilant self confidence and depressive inertia, isn’t there?) I’ve only recently committed to writing, partly because it feels right but also because I believe deep down that it’s something I can do, but sometimes I can’t help wondering whether I’m fooling myself?

What bothers me is that even though these competitions are relatively insignificant, when I get nowhere in them, (especially if I’ve won before), I feel as if I’m going backwards rather than forwards. It’s then that my mind begins to spiral out of control and I end up feeling as if I’m totally and utterly incapable of writing.

What is the answer? I suppose it’s a matter of ignoring the negative little demons and moving on by doing so many little challenges and competitions that when you’re unsuccessful, it doesn’t matter all that much. This is something I’m learning. It’s really helped reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, as she points out that the whole rejection thing is just something you have to deal with. It’s all part of the writing process.

Yesterday when I received my third rejection, I had this horrible knot of disappointment, somewhere around the level of my heart, but instead of instantly blocking the feeling out as I normally would, I absorbed it for a few seconds, really felt the feeling and that helped a lot. Then I forgot about it, opened a bottle of wine and consequently felt a whole lot better.

I don’t think rejection is ever something I’ll really come to terms with, but what I’ve discovered is that it helps to have lots of balls in the air at once. I’m now getting ready for my regular Friday competition, and if I don’t get placed in that, I’ll try to find other places to submit the story. If nothing else, the whole practice of writing to a deadline helps to generate ideas, and having a number of things out there keeps the hope of success alive.

Focusing on the process

 

focus-on-the-processWriting well is my main goal for this year; however, a kind of dichotomy has always existed for me: writing for the sheer enjoyment of writing and writing to be successful. Several years ago when I first started out, all I could think about was becoming successful and how difficult it would be. Many of us are products of the ‘instant success’ society, a world where people expect success without putting in the necessary hard work & I have to admit that I was similar. I could see the final goal – the JK Rowling level of achievement, yet there seemed to be  numerous insurmountable hurdles in the way, and this created a kind of writer’s block, where I couldn’t write a thing.

However, last year something changed. I was able to let go of the final goal and start focusing on the process and this become infinitely more satisfying.This concentration on process  has enabled me to slow down and think about how to improve and learn the craft of writing. Improvement does not happen overnight. I’ve come to realise that it may take months, years and even decades, but once you’ve accepted that, you can really enjoy the process.

Yesterday I spent about two hours trying to improve a couple of paragraphs of a short story I wrote a few months ago. This story is probably now in its tenth draft and I’m still not done, but I can see how much better it is compared to when I started. I’ve deleted at least half of the original and finetuned and added a lot to the rest and it’s only now that it’s approaching the story I intended it to be. This feeling is immensely satisfying. I have probably another ten similar stories that I need to work on and I know it’s not going to be easy. I posted a few of them in ‘Review my work’ in ‘My Writer’s Circle’ and have received so much valuable feedback and advice. At one point in my ‘writing career’ (actually not too long ago), I couldn’t have shown my stories to other writers, particularly experienced ones, like those in ‘the Circle,’ but as I can now do that, I realise how far I’ve come in terms of improvement and self-confidence. Of course not all of the feedback is good, but I think it’s a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff.  As I become slowly more experienced and a better writer, I am better able to recognise which suggestions make sense, and which I should discard.

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Girl Jumping in Harvested Wheat Field

Returning to success, I said at the beginning that I’d let go of it, and that is true to a certain extent; however, once I’ve worked on a story and made it as good as it can possibly be, I want to send it out there in the hope of getting it published. Why is external success important? Partly it is a sign that what you’ve written is good, but it also makes you believe that your chosen path of writer is the right one & that you have the right to call yourself a writer.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a thread on a Facebook writers’ page. Somebody had asked the question, ‘when it comes to writing, do you ever doubt that you’re any good?’ Underneath were hundreds of replies. I skimmed through them, expecting the gist of the answers to be the same. I figured that most writers believed they were good. Why else would they keep writing? I believed that I was the only one harbouring any form of self doubt, that I was the imposter amongst them. However, I was astonished to see that every single one expressed the same belief, that they thought they were no good. Many, like me, were plagued with demons and little voices telling them that they should stop as they had no talent. I added my comment to the thread, then opened my laptop and continued with my short story. If nothing else, those answers had proved to me that I was the same as all those other writers. We were thoughtful, sensitive people who had begun to realise that writing takes time and can be difficult, and it’s only once you commit to it, you understand that.

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This morning I was reading ‘Bird by Bird,’ by Anne Lamott. She talks about quieting those negative, critical voices in your head. She suggests isolating each one in turn and imagining it speaking as a mouse. Then she says to pick it up by the tail and drop it into a jar and do the same to all the others. When they’re all in the jar, she says to put the lid on and watch them all jabbering away amongst themselves. It’s a bit mean but it kind of works.