Category Archives: Rejection

When the self-doubt creeps in…

I was asked how I dealt with doubt. How I dealt with writing something and then thinking it’s pants and wanting to abandon it. What should you do?

Great question from Daniel.

How do we deal with doubt?

Well, self-doubt is another part of process, trust me — and before we start having regular acceptances and even when we do, we all doubt in our ability. We might have friends, writing groups etc.saying this is great but nothing we do finds the work the validation we seek and it’s tough. So there is doubt in a general sense and since rejection is part of process all you can do on that one is to keep writing and keep getting advice — and keep writing. Oh and keep writing. Work through the doubt much as you work through the pain of exercising on top of aches and pains from yesterday’s exercise! It does get easier as you shape up the muscle!

But how about when you are in a project, something like a novel that seems to be going well and then you think — this isn’t working. Start over?

It’s a hard one. I don’t tend to abandon short stories or novels, but I do leave them to rest if they really don’t feel as if they’re working, right now at this time. And often something happens that makes me go back and then usually the distance from it  enables me to see what direction it wants to take. But there are a couple of older short stories I probably won’t go back to. Sometimes you really do have to let go. But if that inner part of you says this is a great premise, worth fighting for, go back and you might be amazed what happens.

The trick is being discerning enough to know something won’t work and time to say bye-bye and knowing when it has that extra something that will get it noticed but either you are not ready to write it or it needs time to settle. And again I truly believe that writer’s instinct will develop the more you write and you will just know. I know I Am Wolf, my feral child novel, has something. I sense it. But I also knew it wasn’t holding together as it should, so when my agent told me what I knew, it proved my instincts were correct. I won’t abandon it, I will allow it to sit and I know when I do come back to it I will find a way to fix it.I just know it is a story that needs to be told. I just need a way to make the reader connect to Amy. She needs time in rehab and then I will go back to her.

Self-doubt has crept in recently with Isle of Pelicans as I still fear the plot isn’t quite there and has challenged me the whole way. So I want to get this draft down (that is always a good feeling) so I can rest it and work on something new now and then come back to it. But I will come back to this one.

What helped me last week deal with doubt was writing a completely new short story that refueled by obsession with writing and it worked. If you haven’t written a short for a while you have this crazy notion you have forgotten how. I know it sounds insane. So now I feel better and the story has been subbed.

Allow stories time to rest and reexamine, but if in doubt write something new. And if it really isn’t working, know when to let go. Nothing is wasted because it’s all part of a long but rewarding process and patience is essential for a writer.

But don’t keep starting one thing and then abandoning it for another or you won’t finish anything. If you get to that stage, take a complete break and don’t write anything for a short time. I don’t tend to do that, but I do know there are times when the words come and the stories work and other times when they don’t. IT’S NORMAL!

Well as normal as life can be for those of us who live inside our own heads!

This is very apt.

Self doubt

Whatever you do — don’t give up!

HAPPY THURSDAY ALL!

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In The Spotlight Guest Post R J Ellory [Spotlight On Crime Series]

I have a very special guest in the spotlight this morning — a very special guest. R J Ellory is the author of many books, perhaps shot into the public eye when A Quiet Belief In Angels made the Richard and Judy list. I love his writing style, writing sometimes on the darker side — crime/psychological thrillers — just my bag. Well worth looking at his extensive list — not that he needs me to sing his praises, the books speak for themselves.

I met Roger (in the virtual sense) through a writing friend and we have stayed in contact. He signed his novel Bad Signs to me and I loved it. So I asked, even though I know he is SO busy, if he would share some of his journey with fellow writers (and readers.) As Roger will tell you himself, it has been a long journey and he is testament to the fight, if you want it enough and you’re prepared to work at it, you can get there. So without further ado I would like to welcome to the spotlight, author R J Ellory (pause for RAUCOUS applause) …

 

Spotlight

 

Welcome R J Ellory

 

RJ Ellory Image

“I started writing my first book, and over the next six years I wrote a total of twenty-three novels.  Once I started I couldn’t stop…”

 

Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book published.

 

Okay…well, my name is RJ (Roger Jon) Ellory, and I was first published here in the UK in 2003.  That was the end of a fifteen year-long ‘battle’ to find a publisher.  The first published book was the twenty-third I wrote, and the gap between when I first put pen to paper and first secured a publishing contract was fifteen years, taking into account that I wrote nothing for eight of those years due to accumulated ‘disappointments’ and mental exhaustion!  Of course, my own experiences are unique, and I am sure that there are great many more published authors out there who secured publication with their first or second novel, but this was just my journey and this was what it took for me.

 

Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

 

I tried to work through an agent, and secured the services of three or four, but nothing came of it.  I think they just didn’t have the persistence that I had, and they each gave up after two or three attempts to find me a publisher.  I ultimately secured a contract with a publisher (Orion UK) directly, and my editor advised me to get an agent, recommended three or four, and even then – knowing that I already had a publishing contract with one of the most prestigious publishing companies in the UK – only one agent contacted me and met with me.  That agent is still my agent twelve books later.

 

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group?

 

No, I never belonged to a writing group.  I never had anyone read my work before I sent it off.  My wife used to read my work, and she was never anything but convinced that I would one day be published.

 

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book/story had been accepted?

 

My wife, of course.  She said, ‘About bloody time!’

 

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

 

Working with a good editor is the same as learning any new subject.  I have studied music, graphic design, photography, all sorts of things, and working with an editor starts with the same premise.  There is a great deal of difference between writing a novel and writing a novel for public consumption.  Your editor, usually, is the first person to read your novel as an ‘audience’.  He will see holes that you didn’t see.  He will see plot weaknesses that remain unknown to you, even when you have dragged your way through two rewrites.  There is an old expression: A wise man is a man who knows he knows nothing.  I approach my working relationship with my editor on this footing, that he does know better, that he can teach me a great deal from his own experience, that he is working towards making the book as good as it can be, and I am very fortunate to have one of the finest editors working in the UK book industry.  There is no book I have written that is not better as a result of his working on it.  He advises, we discuss, I then amend, rewrite and/or edit as applicable.  After working on twelve books together, we have a system that could not be better.  Not that I have any criticism of self-publishing, but that basic and fundamental relationship between writer and editor is missing, and I do not see how a book could be as good as it could be without that external and objective critique and input, especially from someone who is vastly experienced and knows exactly what they are doing.

 

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

For years I wrote longhand, almost three million words, but now I use a computer.  Sometimes when I’m away from home I’ll write longhand, and then transcribe when I return.  I tend to write a whole book, furiously ploughing through it, and then I go back through from start to finish and handle all the snags, anomalies, mistakes, cut back on the over-writing as best I can.  It’s kind of organic in a way, like it’s something that takes on certain character aspects of its own.  It’s like living with a bunch of people for a few weeks, and you watch them grow, watch them take control of certain elements of the story, and then when you’re done it’s like losing something.  Capote once said that finishing a story was like taking a child out into the yard and shooting them.  Perhaps a little melodramatic, but I know what he means!  When a book is finished it kind of leaves a hole in you, and then you have to start another one right away!  I am disciplined.  I start early in the day.  I try and produce three or four thousand words a day, and work on the basis of getting a first draft done in about twelve weeks.  Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes shorter.  For me a book always begins with the emotion I want to evoke in the reader.  That’s the most important thing for me.  How does a book make you feel, and does that memory stay with you?  So that’s my first consideration: the emotional effect I am trying to create.  The second thing is the location.  Location is vital for me as the location informs and influences the language, the dialect, the characters – everything.  I choose to start a book in Louisiana or New York or Washington simply because that ‘canvas’ is the best for to paint the particular picture I want to paint.  I buy a new notebook, a good quality one, because I know I’m going to be carrying it around for two or three months, and in the notebook I will write down ideas I have as I go.  Little bits of dialogue, things like that.  Sometimes I have a title, sometimes not.  I used to feel very strongly about having a good title before I started, but now – because at least half the books I’ve published have ended up with a different title – I am not so obsessive about it!  And as far as little idiosyncratic routines and superstitions are concerned, I don’t know that I actually have any that relate to starting a book.  I do have a routine when I finish a book.  I make a really good Manhattan, and then I take my family out to dinner!

 

What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

 

Other writers inspire me.  I spend my time finding books by writers that make me feel like a clumsy and awkward writer.  I love film, too.  Music, of course.  Artists in all areas inspire me, especially those who have had to really work hard at creating recognition for something special or unusual.  I am inspired by the achievements of people in all fields, to be honest.  The basic truth that kept me going for yeas despite many hundreds of rejection letters was a quote from Benjamin Disraeli: Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose.  I also love the following words from Eleanor Roosevelt: It is never too late to become what you might have been.

 

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

 

I was always creatively minded, right from an early age.  My primary interests were in the field of art, photography, music, such things as this.  Not until I was twenty-two did I consider the possibility of writing.  I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine about a book he was reading, and he was so enthusiastic!  I thought ‘It would be great to create that kind of an effect’.  That evening – back in November of 1987 – I started writing my first book, and over the next six years I wrote a total of twenty-three novels.  Once I started I couldn’t stop, and now I think it just took me those first twenty-two years of my life to really discover what I wanted to do.  Now it seems like such a natural part of me and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  As for what I am trying to achieve as a writer, for me the most important thing about any novel is the emotion it evokes.  The reason for writing about the subjects I do is simply that such subjects give me the greatest opportunity to write about real people and how they deal with real situations.  There is nothing in life more interesting than people, and one of the most interesting aspects of people is their ability to overcome difficulty and survive.  I think I write ‘human dramas’, and in those dramas I feel I have sufficient canvas to paint the whole spectrum of human emotions, and this is what captures my attention.  I once heard that non-fiction possesses, as its primary purpose, the conveying of information, whereas fiction possessed the primary purpose of evoking an emotion in the reader.  I love writers that make me feel something – an emotion, whatever it might be – but I want to feel something as I read the book.  There are millions of great books out there, all of them written very well, but they are mechanical in their plotting and style.  Three weeks after reading them you might not recall anything about them.  The books that really get me are the ones I remember months later.  I might not recall the names of the characters or the intricacies of the plot, but I remember how it made me feel.  For me, that’s all important.  The emotional connection.  Those are the books I love to read, and those are the books I am trying to write.

 

How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

 

I did over one hundred and fifty library events in the first year of being published, all of them without charge.  I set up Facebook pages, Twitter pages, a website, whatever else I felt would help get my name out there.  I went to festivals, book-signings, seminars, and did anything and everything I was asked to do.  I think publishing has changed so very dramatically over the last twenty years, and the nature of how books are read (or not, as the case may be), has meant that we have had to adapt quite markedly.  It is an audio-visual age, and reading as a leisure activity seems to have declined so very much over the last decade or so.  While everyone is running around scratching their heads and trying to figure out why book sales have deteriorated so much in the UK, we seem to be ignoring the fundamental fact that literacy levels have collapsed, educational standards are at a record low, and reading for pleasure is rapidly disappearing.  It has been suggested that e-books and other digital formats have contributed to this decline, but that makes no sense as the shortfall in book sales is not being compensated for by downloads.  Also, changing the way in which books are being read does not make a non-reader into a reader.  Readers are readers, and they will read regardless of the format.  If the combined might, influence and financial power of the key publishing companies in this country devoted their energies and resources to a huge literacy and reading campaign, then they would secure their own future, both organizationally and financially.  However, it may be too late to reverse the dwindling spiral.  I hope not, for losing the book as a mainstay of entertainment, pleasure and education would be a huge tragedy.  Even though it may not sound so, I am an optimist at heart and I hope we can revive the book in the country.  We still publish more books per capita than any country in the world, and I think we carry a responsibility to maintain what we have created with our language.

 

Tell us about the latest published work …

 

The latest book (released on May 22 this year) is called Carnival of Shadows.  The blurb is as follows:

 

Kansas, 1959. A travelling carnival appears overnight in the small town of Seneca Falls, intriguing the townsfolk with acts of inexplicable magic and illusion. But when a man’s body is discovered beneath the carousel, with no clue as to his identity, FBI Special Agent Michal Travis is sent to investigate. Led by the elusive Edgar Doyle, the carnival folk range from the enigmatic to the bizarre, but none of them will give Travis a straight answer to his questions. With each new turn of the investigation, Doyle and his companions challenge Travis’s once unshakeable faith in solid facts and hard evidence. As the consequences of what has happened become ever more disturbing, Travis struggles to open his mind to a truth that defies comprehension. Will he be able to convince himself that things are not what they seem? Or will he finally reconcile himself to a new reality – one that threatens to undermine everything in which he has ever placed his trust? In his powerful, atmospheric new thriller, bestselling author R.J. Ellory introduces the weird and wonderful world of the Carnival Diablo and reveals the dark secrets that lurk at its heart.

 

 

On facebook I can be found under both Roger Jon Ellory and R J Ellory

On twitter, it’s just @rjellory

My website is www.rjellory.com

 

The book can be obtained anywhere on-line and in bookstores.

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

 

The work I progress is a slow-burn mystery set in West Texas in the early 1970s, but there are two stories that run parallel.  The backstory, for want of a better term, is in the same town but twenty or thirty years earlier.  Very little violence, very little bad language, and the crimes perpetrated are deception, falsity, greed and jealousy.  Currently there is no title, but I am close to competing the book and we shall see what transpires!  As for where I will be in ten years’ time, I am sure that there will be another ten novels published, but I am also branching out into music, and I don’t doubt that I will have a good few albums and a few national and international tours under my belt.  That’s what I hope, for music is something I very much want to pursue as vigorously as writing.

 

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

 

Very simply the tenet from Disraeli above, and also something else that I feel is very valid, in that the worst book you could write is the one you think others might enjoy, whereas the best book you could write is the one that you feel you yourself would enjoy.  There is no formula for a good book.  You cannot predict what will be successful.  If you try to jump on a bandwagon and catch the current genres of interest, you will inevitably finish your book right about the time that the interest has waned and the public are following another thread.  True commercial success has come about as a result of writers creating their own genres and sub-genres, but writing for commercial reasons is always the very worst reason to write.  I think it was Hemingway that said, ‘Compared to writing novels, horse-racing and poker are good solid business ventures’.

 

Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it

 

I am a guitarist and vocalist in a band called Zero Navigator.  We have just completed our first album, produced by Martin Smith of ELO, and featuring percussion by Hossam Ramzy, he of Page & Plant, Peter Gabriel, Shakira fame.  We are currently filming a video for the first single, and will be on tour soon.  I think this is a good example of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, ‘It’s never too late to become what you might have been’!  Our website is at http://www.zeronavigator.com

 

Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

 

I think that’s a really tough question!  There are characters who I see I would like to know, those I’d like to find out more about, those I feel sympathetic or paternal towards, those I feel could teach me a few useful lessons about life.  Actually, I think it would be interesting to raise the issue of autobiographical writing here.  How much of an author’s work is autobiographical?  I think we absorb so much from life – some of it good, some of it bad.  We take in events and circumstances, we deal with them (or not), we recover, we carry on, we try our best with everything we do.  Sometimes we get it right, other times we get it wrong.  That is life, and that is living.  As with any field of the arts – whether it be painting, sculpture, choreography, musical composition – the creator must draw on personal experience and personal perception in everything he or she creates.  I think that what we paint and what we write and what we sing are merely extensions of ourselves, and that extension grows from personal experience.  I think there are very few writers who write their own lives into novels, but I think there are a great deal who write their perceptions and conclusions and feelings about their own lives and the lives of others into the characters they create.  From that standpoint, every character I have ever created must have some small aspect of me within them…and that, in itself, could be quite a scary proposition!

 

Thank you so much Roger for being so honest and generous in your answers. You truly are testament to the journey and that if you have the talent and the belief you can make it. I am thrilled to have you in the spotlight on my blog and I am sure your story will inspire the readers of this blog. Thank you so much.

Have a great day everyone!

 

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Creating your life …

Was there a defining moment when you said I am a writer?

This was a question asked of the winners of the Commonwealth Book and Short Story Prize at the Hay Festival and one I remember the winners saying, in a round about way —  we all still think we’re winging it. It comes down to that idea that we need to be published, and then maybe we need a bestseller and then maybe we need lots of bestsellers AND then maybe perhaps we might think we’re a real writer. I heard Neil Gaiman say, or words to this effect anyway, that he still thinks he’s just been lucky.

So do we all think we’re winging it?

Or maybe we are all just insecure and even with a string of books and successes we will live in a continual pursuit of validation?

Well maybe so, maybe that’s part of being human?

So now we need to start believing in ourselves more.

We need to stop being too hung up on if we’re a real writer or saying I want to be a writer and say I write therefore I am (to misquote Descartes). And that means if you write, you are a writer. Say it now. Out loud. Go on! Throw your arms in the air writers and say “I am a writer.”

You are now on your way and you must never say I want to be a writer — again! Got it!

Yes we need validation as a measure of that success but it can come in many forms. I think what we need more is rejection. And yes I did just say that. I tell you why — because it’s through the rejection comes the drive to be better, no, a step further than that — to be the best. And so begins the real journey. The proof you’re getting closer to that is success, so now we have the validation and for me that’s just permission to do the dance! Or at least that’s how I feel. Seek to be the best. Focus primarily on the writing. That is my motto anyway. And if your focus is just money — forget it, that is a by-product of the success. Write well. Tell yourself that is your goal: write well, write well, write well and do whatever is needed to achieve that.

Had I not had (and no doubt will continue to get) the rejections, I would not have made it my mission to learn and learn and learn some more and seek the perfect story, the perfect novel — if such a thing exists — but  it’s in that pursuit and desire to learn your craft is borne the success. Or so I think. And it’s a philosophy that seems to be working.

For me there was a defining moment when I started to say “I am a writer” and that was long before I gave up the day job. And to this day I believe that statement, made not with arrogance or because I’d had a string of bestsellers (that is to come she says with hope) but because I write, every week day and therefore I am a writer. And I don’t just mean I write a blog (I do sure) or I write emails (do that too) or Facebook posts or Twitter (yep do that) but I mean I write my fiction with dedication and drive and I do it every day. So therefore, by definition, I am a writer. Right?

And it was making that statement and then registering as self-employed long before I started earning any money from it and was in fact still in full-time employment as well, that created the reality that has become. So now the focus is on being an even better writer and the bestsellers. Think of all that dancing to come! I’m ready! Are you?

I do think we create our own reality and so it is down to us to make the necessary changes.

I believe in The Secret.

Tomorrow I have the very great pleasure of welcoming crime writer, Stephen Puleston to the spotlight in the first in my Spotlight on Crime series.

Have a great day everyone! I plan to write and then I have some poster distribution up at the uni and some shopping to do! Have fun whatever you’re doing. And always remember to celebrate life and successes no matter how small — always remember to dance!

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On Writing Groups …

Good or bad?

How much do you get out of yours?

I hear mixed things about writing groups and I know why. We met last night and we have a smashing group that appears to work — it gets people writing, entering competitions, sharing work and a large number of the group are published, competition winners or at least enjoying writing — and when it started in 2006 no one was — and a good number of these founder members remain.

I think the success of a group depends a lot on who’s running it and what the writers themselves want from it — being allowed to make suggestions and move it in the right direction. Feedback needs to be constructive, well given and all members need to know something about the others so when feedback is offered you know if it’s based on something solid — i.e. can you trust their opinion? Yes all opinion counts but it’s a bit like X factor — seeking the opinion most of Simon Cowell because he knows the business. ‘Oh I liked that’ is not enough.’ Don’t get me wrong, all opinion counts of course it does, but the really pull it apart, how to change it needs a little more! But as you work together you do refine this ability. And I should know! I now do it as a living!

What our writing group did, as it grew, now boasting close to 40 members, although we expect about 15 per meeting, was form satellite  critique groups so that those wanting it, could offer much more one to one, share work in advance type of feedback. My novel group closed at our faithful 4 members  and is amazing. It’s not about genre, we all write different things, so never think it has to be all the same genre — good writing is good writing, but the members need to be a similar standard if possible — that might be the hardest part to get right. I say this because otherwise you spend far too long on one person who gets the fundamentals wrong.  But there is a dichotomy there because you need someone with more experience to guide the group and learn from. But groups find their feet! Our group knows its stuff and that’s important to me. I need to know I really trust the opinion of the writers teasing my work apart. They are all published, one had an agent, 2 of us have MAs and all have attended numerous courses and know what we want. Others have joined and come and gone. But that’s because you must have the staying power and a novel, for its crit group to really work, needs people who come all the time otherwise you lose the continuity you need for critiquing a novel. How can you look at arc for example if you flit in and out. We’ve been going for a few years and several novels and when I move I will miss it.

The  main writing group is forming another novel group now as we had to close ours to new members.  I think you need to have about 4 members for it to work at its best or less as too many and you have issues with time, getting through them and the larger the group the more  likelihood that someone will be missing and if you haven’t looked at someone’s chapter for 2 months it’s hard to follow properly, so my feeling, or at least what worked for us, was small group, regular meetings, all similar ability (forget genre). And I’m sure the new group will find their feet — so long as they know something about novel-writing — this is the danger with anything of mixed ability — making sure the advice is solid. But we did okay and we learned a lot as we went along. And so will they, I’m sure.

We also have a great short story group I dip into once in a while, but I have to say not for a while but I tend to work Sundays when they meet — and a poetry group that does struggle for attendees and now tries to do it online.

We charge an annual sub of £10 which allows you access to the crit groups, pays for speakers etc and then £2 per night for the use of the room — a café that stays open for us. We meet in the evenings (which means we get people who work, day time groups tend to attract more of the retired folk — we get both!) and we meet once a month for the main meeting.

There, like any group, have been differences of opinion but as a rule it’s a great group and open to all suggestions and we often have guests or at least run little exercises or discussions — always trying to be flexible to meet members’ requests. And anyone is encouraged to run one of these ‘open forum’ sessions.

But I know of some groups you have to produce work and pass a test to belong to — er — how do beginners ever learn that way? Surely they need to work alongside the more experienced — at least in the main meetings anyway?

I guess for me what I get the most out of the group, since I don’t really need it to inspire me — because I will write, is the crit group for helping see what I can’t in my novel and the social aspect. The people in my group are my best friends — truly and the group rescued me at a tine when I needed someone. I was writing and needed feedback — sure, but I was also grieving after Lee died and suddenly this group became my life line — friendships that I know will last forever — beyond the writing meetings — so much more. Writing doesn’t need to be isolating is my message — loud and clear!  So if you can get the group dynamics right it will grow like a big pulsating mass spinning off the talent its nurtured! Now it sounds like a tumour — but you know what I mean, it’s something great and buzzy and happening — if you get it right!

If your group doesn’t work and there’s no flexibility then — join another.

We have structure to the meeting because you have to, but we are sometimes accused of a little too much chit chat. but I say this — since writing is something we do alone, then the meeting is more than a place to share ideas and work, it’s also a place to chit chat about writing too. The real work is what the meeting inspired you to go home and do — right? I can’t say that enough!

So what about you? What are your experiences?

Mary Ward, wonderful friend founded it in October 2006. I joined in April 2007 and then took over the chair in October 2007 until October 2010, now still Vice chair, but we have Daniel Dowsing  in the seat (following a year with writer Phil Thomas) and that’s about it. New leaders is essential for innovation or it stays in the same place. I hadn’t intended to be there 3 years but was voted in again but did decide 3 years was enough. Don’t want it to get stale.

I hope, when I move back to Canvey Island to start a writing group to meet like-minded people as they don’t seem to have one!

Thanks to Daniel our rather antiquated blog is now a proper website — take a look: http://www.bangorcellarwritinggroup.co.uk and we’re now a member of the National Association of Writing Groups so people can find us on their website too!

That’s all for today! Have a truly wonderful day! And remember to dance!

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Keeping your feet on the ground … while inside you’re dancing

The process of getting recognition as you strive for success is your validation.

It’s proof you’re on the right track.

We all seek it. Don’t we?

But we must not get complacent.

Every small success, every positive  comment about your work should be held dear. And every bad  comment or suggestion should be taken in as you strive to be as good as you can be. Don’t disregard any constructive feedback. Everything can be better.

It’s a continual learning process and no matter how much success you get, perhaps becoming that best-selling one in a million writer that does have that ultimate validation — in truth, no one is without flaws and everyone is still learning.

I think it’s vital to enjoy and celebrate the successes because along the way there will be many rejections. If you can’t handle that, best go do something else instead.

But you will handle it if you see it as a way to improve — at all times. Just keep going.

I like to think we never stop learning and so need to retain that humility that nothing is a given.

It’s true that statement, accredited to a few that say ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get.’ Keep learning and keep looking at ways to get better.

I am in the process of really going back to the proverbial drawing board with the I Am Wolf novel to look at weaknesses of plot. voice, what kind of book I set out to write and what it turned into and do I want it like this? When I look at it as a whole I know it’s miles better than anything I was capable of when I started writing and better than some of the MSS I sent out back then too! Now I won’t let it go until it’s as good as I think I can make it — and even then I will have Welsh Books Council critique it for me — they were great with the last one, I mean really great 🙂 and then after further revision only then will it be submitted.

I think it’s naive to send lesser drafts out and I was naive back then. Now I know different.

Is it going to be easy? Of course not. And just because I have my first novel signed doesn’t guarantee anything. So while I have been dancing a lot lately, my feet are still very much on the ground. Most of the time!

It’s the process I love and a life without a goal for me is no life at all. So those that tell me they hate editing — again, go do something else.

For me — if I don’t love something, I don’t do it. I am all or nothing and I strongly believe it’s the passion that fuels us to do whatever it takes to be better, to be as good as we can be. Without it, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today.

But hey there is a massive road ahead and it’s paved with many rejections. But you can bet it’s where you’ll find me — last man standing. Because one thing you should know about me by now — is I never give up.

And nor should you.

We are always so close to a small miracle every day. Make it happen.

Welcome to another amazing week everyone!

Small steps, big dreams ...

Small steps, big dreams …

Always believe anything is always possible.

That’s my life’s philosophy. What’s yours?

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A celebration of writing … with lots of cheese

I am really loving being able to interview writers on this Blog, ones that have a book to show for their hard work, be it self-published or a more traditional route. In one way or another we are all insecure and seeking validation. Right? And this comes from small successes along the way, being picked up by an agent or publisher, seeing our self published book up there on Amazon … and I guess in the end, whatever route you chose, someone somewhere loving your work. I think the best comment I had lately from an agent friend was ‘this story has stayed in my head since I read it.’  And given the very positive comments around that — he means in a good way! I hope! Not like the voices … only kidding!

I don’t know about all of you — but to write one of those stories that lives in the reader’s head long after it’s finished (again in a good way!) is what it’s really about. That in some, albeit small, way your words have changed the way someone thinks, rewired a part of their brain. I even remember my first fan mail about a short story in a collection — all the more valid because I didn’t know her. She looked me up and felt compelled to email me and then said how excited she was to get a reply! It’s just me!

And in a world where it becomes the norm to have rejections, we even pay for ‘criticisms’ (are we mad? I think we all know the answer to that!) and this drive to soldier on, and do a lot of waiting — if you don’t have patience, maybe best not seek a career as a published writer. First we get lots of plain old rejections, but for those that will never give up, they get better. I’ve even celebrated good rejections! Am I mad I ask again? And yes you still know the answer to that.

But onwards we march because we believe in what we have to say. That is the key, right? If you don’t believe in yourself  who else will? And there is a big difference between being arrogant about your skills, i.e. refusing to accept the need to change things, than believing in yourself  and your ability to change by being open to suggestions.

Someone once (some time ago) said to me that they didn’t want to take some advice about ‘showing’ where they simply reported facts to a reader: he was sad, he was angry (this ran throughout a first draft) because they didn’t want to change their style. Now this isn’t about style, this is about technique and comes down to the thing I say repeatedly — but is this the very best way to ‘tell’ this story? If we can’t see what makes writing more powerful, and are not opening our heart to suggestions (even if some we do dismiss — that’s okay too) then we will never get better and we will never achieve what we want to. Writing is all about growing.  As I said once before, if you just want to write for the pure pleasure good for you. However, if someone pays me for advice (and of course I don’t expect them to accept it all!) then I assume they want to make it as good as possible for a reason, to learn to be a better writer, yes? So choosing to disregard fundamentals is a shame.

So why am I whittling on about this (again!) well because I feel like it! And because I think the In The Spotlight series is there to show you can do it. You. Really. Can. I have also invited a couple of ‘famous’ authors as well, not sure if they’ll bite (I mean this is little ol’ me) but famous or not every writer I have featured and will feature is there for the same reason: they didn’t give up. It’s in their successes we can see our own. I like that, I might have to say it again: it’s in their successes we can see our own. And again (rule of 3 and all that or is it the OCD — kidding!) it’s in their successes we can see our own

Everyone started somewhere.

I will leave you with the words of Barry Manilow (don’t groan!) that inspired me years ago and still does …

No one knows what you want more than you.

No one will be as sorry as you if you don’t get it.

So don’t give up your dreams. Ya hear.

I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t — so don’t you.

And in my words (yes little ol’ mad me …)

Believe.

Always.

Celebrate yours and others’ successes.

When you think you can’t take it anymore … a small miracle is about to happen.

If you believe.

Find your spotlight ... it's waiting for you

Find your spotlight … it’s waiting for you

 

Ps I love cheese!

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Teasing the story apart … critique is the best medicine?

Recently I was asked to look at a short story by a friend.

It’s a really good short story and I saw a lot of potential in it.

Serendipity played a part because I also became involved in a project that I will talk about here soon — and the story was seeking a home in support of a cause that just fitted perfectly. So I’ve made a number of suggestions to improve the showing which I only saw as an issue because the writer is used to writing more for children which leans more towards ‘telling’ … and there one vital plot point I felt needed some TLC. There was a moral at the end, a statement of change in attitude that didn’t make sense — there was no foregrounding that validated it. And in fiction everything has to be there for a reason. It’s such  a lovely story, this was something that should be easy to address. And actually with a little thought the moral will in fact be much more powerful. This has led to some interesting debate.

I work with a lot of writers and since most come to me and pay me to look at their work, they are usually receptive to suggestions. But at the same time it’s their work and I wouldn’t want to make it something they’re not happy with. They make the changes they agree with, I only make suggestions. But these are educated suggestions based on experience and knowledge. It’s not just me saying this is how I would do it. But there are some who find it harder to accept that things need change. After all the stories are their babies. But if we’re serious about making it in this mad publishing world — we need to conquer that. My friend is slightly different because I probably gave her more than she bargained for.  Having a look at something and then critting it and making editorial suggestions was more than she asked for! But she did have publishing it in mind — so someone had to do that at some point.

Of course I’m not saying, and never would say ‘This is how you MUST do it. I am ALWAYS right’ — watch the clients run away and never come back! To the contrary — they nearly always come back! I’d be a lousy editor if I did say those things. I like to think I am honest but I justify all my suggestions. But just as the writers in us seek validation by our successes, I feel the same way when I work with authors. I go the extra mile because I really want to make a difference and lately I’ve had two novels back as follow-ups that have improved so much I can not tell you. The writing is sharper, all the issues that made it clunky that said ‘ I am a new writer’ have completely disappeared. Plot issues are resolved — and how great that feels to me. They have a chance now. It would be lovely to say they will definitely get published, we all know that is a hugely difficult road, no matter how good it is — but they are, in my opinion, now publishable standard and what’s more important is the authors can see that too.  That makes me a happy bunny.

When I was approved to work for Cornerstones by being tested on my critiquing, that was a lovely validation.

But it can be the simple things. The short story I started out telling you about is still being worked on and I’m confident it will be great. But after several discussions of me trying to explain why the ending didn’t quite work, she told me how it never ended at that point originally and the moral was added as an afterthought. I had a eureka moment then. It validated just what I was saying — had it been in her head focussing her writing then the foregrounding it needed to give it validity would have been there — intuitively. That’s the magic of writing. Things happen, character say things, phones ring … we write them in without ever intending to and then realise something is acting at a subconscious level and perhaps telling us that’s what the story needs. Then we might need to add little foregrounds to it as we edit.  When the friend suggested maybe in that case just remove that ending all together I said I really wouldn’t do that! We are still thinking on this. But I’ll tell you why — when something happens like that, it happens generally because we know instinctively the story needs it. It closes the circle and makes sense of the story. The moral is so valid for the story and the statement it wants to make I cannot tell you. So I think the author was right. But what was then needed, I feel was to look at why she wrote that and go back and give it the credence it deserves. This might be hard to follow as you don’t know the story — but trust me on this. And since there was also an important plot point that I felt needed more — I could see this was where that needed to be. I hope she takes my suggestions because I really can see how a small change will make such a big difference to the overriding message of the story.

But if she really doesn’t see it or agree — then I have to accept that. I can be persuasive — for the sake of good fiction and it does pay sometimes to go with the gut feeling and we should always strive to make the story as good as it can be — but at the end of the day, we both need to be happy — plenty more stories to fix.

So there is a little insight into the things I deal with. In some ways I still feel like the scientist, the vet student I was in a former life — only some plasters are harder to make stick.

What do you think?

Have a wonderful midweek y’all!

first aid pic

There, there, there …

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Seeing the road ahead …

Sometimes I wonder, when I started out with serious intentions of making it as a published novelist, had I known just how long it can take, and how many ups and downs the road can have, in striving for this elusive ‘perfect’ novel — would I still have taken the first step?

Sometimes I wonder, when I work with new writers still taking those first tentative steps towards their dream — should I give them the wake up call or let them keep dreaming?

Sometimes I wonder.

Of  course I would still have taken those steps.

Of course I want those writers to keep dreaming — ‘informed’ dreaming — this is a long road but you don’t have to take it alone.

 

Writing for me isn’t a choice but a part of me and it started when I was a child. If any of us were gifted with hindsight would we do things differently?  I am glad not to have hindsight. Someone said to me once if I had known when I met the love of my life — or should I say when an 8 year friendship turned into something romantic, would I still have kissed him if I’d known three years later he was going to die of cancer? That person even suggested I might not. Of course I would! Of course. And I’m glad I didn’t know because everything would have been tinged with urgency and sadness. I live my life to make everything count anyway. I always say I love you when I feel it … so of course. And the same with my writing.  We learn and are shaped and become what we are. both in a personal sense and as a writer from life, from the journey. We are what we are because of everyone we meet along the way and every experience we have. It is what makes us who we are.

Yes it is a long road and it can be difficult — because when you want something so much you want it now. But patience is essential for a writer. Work at it  and it will come. Can you learn to be a good writer? Yes. Yes I think you can learn anything, it’s the passion that fuels the success. The passion that gets you out of bed at 4 am to write (as I used to) and it’s the passion that lets you brush off another rejection and keep going. In fact passion has a lot to answer for — in more ways than one.

But above all passion makes you want to be better. It makes me want to be a better writer and it’s that that gives the drive and the tenacity to keep going even when you doubt yourself.

I like to see the road, I like to see where it might bend, where it might be a hill or where it might be a lovely smooth glide, so yes look ahead and be ready. Look back and see how far you came … but if I really knew what was ahead … nah. Let’s enjoy seeing what it brings.

Let’s keep the dream alive.

What do you think?

145

See what the road brings …

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Should you write what feels natural … or what you think the agent/publisher wants?

I am throwing this question into the mix as we go into the weekend. Although I am suddenly aware it’s the last Friday of the month and I have been so busy I’ve not had time to think about Fiction Clinic, but we will have it next month. But this question is on my mind for personal reasons and also because of things I’ve heard talked about recently amongst writers.

So I thought I would throw it out there and see what you think?Here it is again: Should you write what feels natural … or what you think the agent/publisher wants?

 

I write from my heart. I don’t try to be any one thing or the other … apart from good, and that is something we have to keep working on. My short stories tend to feel more literary, some of them, my novels more commercial, but I don’t force it to be something it’s not. I love good literary writing, I love good commercial writing … actually I prefer to think I love good writing full stop and let’s leave the classification to the agents and publishers. But when it comes to seeking that elusive agent or big publisher, where the decision has to be a commercial one … should we forget what the heart says and do what’s expected to get the work out there or stay true to what comes naturally?

In my case I am writing a lot of things set in the US in my novels which is a distinct stumbling block when it comes to representation … but should it be? Because this is something that has come to my attention recently it’s made me look at the current novel that for what it’s worth I am really excited about and feels as if it’s coming along well … I had one of ‘those’ moments yesterday when I thought … yes, this is working. But since writing is like the wind — it changes from day-to-day, what I wrote yesterday might be deleted today … you know what I mean I’m sure. But it is about a US reporter. I had thought about whether she now ought to be a UK reporter but it means changing the story so much, and since voice is the one thing I love the most,  the whole voice would change. So I pose the question… do I write it as it is (60 K in now) or rework it to make it British, but change it (possibly too much) just so it gives me a better chance of getting an agent?

I think I need to stay true to the voice of the novel and what it is now … but it is something to think about.

What do you think?

And on that note I bid you all a fantastic weekend.

:Last day of the Paws Competition! Kids have until midnight ... and I might leave the form on for one extra day (you heard that here first!) LINK

Last day of the Paws Competition! Kids have until midnight … and I might leave the form on for one extra day (you heard that here first!) LINK

 

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Are we hung up on getting things published as the only measure of success?

Success is measured not in how much money you make and in how many best sellers you have. Success is personal to you. 

I thought I would talk about this because I am well aware that I talk a lot about publishing as the ultimate goal — and with good reason, because for most of us that is the goal. I also work in publishing, so I see my Blog as a place to talk about all things writing; the nuts and bolts of it as well as what inspires us and how publishing works and so on. But it came to my attention recently that we do rather make publishing the be all and end all. I know the writing group I used to chair and now am vice chair, changed because my focus was very publishing orientated. When it started a year before I was thrust into the leadership role, I had not had anything published, not did I know very much about it. My personal journey over those three years in the helm saw publishing success and my job for Bridge House and not only myself, but a few members of the group also started to get published. So naturally the focus became very much about that. I hold my hand up to that.

And in many ways, even with other leaders who have really added new life (I think it’s vital to share leadership) things have changed, we all leave our marks — but still I know I steer many discussions towards publishing. And I know some people do not feel this is the only way to go.

So I think we need to shake things up and talk about other things too, within the group.

I recall now one lovely lady who was in the group when it first started, a German lady. She delighted in bringing cakes along, often to the annoyance of the lady who ran the cafe! Understandably. But yummy German cakes sneaked under tables are always good — right? And I think she missed her homeland as she got older. Many of her stories reflected that, wonderful fairy tales she’d created, often about her home and always magical. These, I recall, were handwritten, amazing when you think as well English was not her first language. We’d all sit around munching these forbidden cakes while she read to us, like child’s bedtime. I have a feeling she is no longer with us, this lovely lady, I think she died some time ago now. But what I think she does, as she invades my memory now, is remind us what writing should be. The writing wasn’t perfect, it would probably never be picked up by a publisher, she would never make money from it. But she didn’t write it for that. She never sent it off anywhere — she probably never typed it up. What she did was write it, enjoy writing it, edit it and then read it out to smiling faces stuffed with her home-made cake. It was that very thing that I know made her happy (and us fat!). I think there is a lesson in there for all of us. Success for her was what she saw in our faces. (not cake!)

So maybe the emphasis is loaded towards measuring success by the number of books lined up on the shelves carrying our name. She says glancing at her own books … yes I do sadly measure it that way. But I also measure it in ‘good rejections’, positive comments and how I see it improve. It’s a tough journey. I am guilty of making getting my novel accepted almost like ‘life and death’. I have only cried once, as in really cried when it didn’t happen. And that was because the agent was so positive and the back and forth went on for three months. And I made the mistake of seeing it happen, of tasting the feeling (as the Law of Attraction says you should) but when she ‘didn’t quite love it enough’ I felt about as deflated as you could get. I have had a great many very near misses, and I like to think I am now a little more pragmatic and hardened to it … but it has to hurt … because it means so much. And I know I will write and write and do whatever it takes to be as good as I can be. I know we can all be very hard on ourselves when all we need to do is look at how far we’ve come, right?

And perhaps we ought to think about that lovely German lady, Bernie her name was … and remember that we are successful. All of us. We are. We are. We are. And never forget that.

Even if, like me, you still yearn for that novel success with a hunger that hurts … keep going and think about Bernie once in a while, because you are already successful.

Success is measured not in how much money you make and in how many best sellers you have. Success is personal to you. 

Miracles

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