Expectations

I’ve just submitted a script to the BBC Writers Room (literally about 10 minutes before ago, as I write this). I mentioned my plan to my Screenwriting tutor, who warned me that the Writers Room has bad rep for being a cosmetic exercise that rarely leads to anything. This seemed fair warning from a man with a strong independent, self-publishing, go-and-film-it-yourself mentality, and whilst even the blurb on the page says it’s rare the scripts themselves will be made, having heard Anne Edyvean talk at the Mosely Litfest about the opportunities it has opened for some writers, it seemed worth a punt. If nothing else, it was an excuse to extract it from the dusty recesses of my hard drive and sort out the issues raised in my feedback.

Given the low chance of success for breaking in with any creative project, I’ve generally found that keeping my expectations low whilst repeatedly butting my head against the wall is the best way to stay sane during this process*. There was a wonderful blog post Kristen Lamb made some time back (I mentioned it in an old blog post running along a similar theme as this) about the real odds of success… It basically says the odds are crappy, but…if only 5% of people get through the slush, and only 5% of those get a request for full, and only 5% of those get signed by the agent…etc etc…well the only way to succeed is to keep trying. Because even if the odds are against you, as long as you’re working on your craft, and you’re submitting, eventually something will hit. There’s no guarantee it’s going to be the success you might want, but if you don’t try, then it will never happen.

This was the essence of the conversation I had with my husband on Tuesday morning, the first real “day off” I’ve had since my assignment was in. After the kids were at school & nursery, the laundry was on, I’d washed up, cleaned the cooker, even listened to a particularly excellent episode of the Ditchdiggers podcast, with Lexi Alexander talking scripts and films…even then, before emailing my tutor, as I eyed up the chaos that is our house, I asked “should I even be wasting my time?”

Lovely man that he is, my husband replied “You’re not wasting your time.”

“There’s pretty much zero chance of anything coming out of this.”

He shrugged. “There’s only zero chance if you don’t submit.”

And that’s the (slightly rambling) story of why our house is still a mess, (but I’ve got my first sitcom submitted to the BBC! Huzzah!)

 

 

*Whatever you might hear to the contrary…

Resistance

I appreciate it’s not a new topic in relation to writing, but I’ve recently started a meditation series on Acceptance (via the Headspace app), which, rather than pushing you towards accepting a situation, reflects on how you are resisting certain changes, relationships etc.

On a personal level this has helped tremendously. My grandmother died very suddenly a month ago. She was such a wonderfully kind, loving woman, and such a big part of our lives for many years, not to mention one of the most active, lively octogenarians around, that her death was (and still is) an intense shock. Realising how much denial I’m in, how much I’m resisting the idea of losing her, is starting to lift that shock a little and help me begin to grieve.

I’ve realised how much I’m resisting other, more subtle parts of my life. The children are growing up, my youngest properly starting to grow out of the toddler phase. I never thought I’d be sad to have him sleep through the night (still not a guaranteed event), but as it turns out, I miss cuddling up to the little foot gouging at my ribs, and I’m not sleeping as well as a result. My eldest recently turned five, and (always the headstrong-teenager, even as a baby), is enjoying asserting herself and pushing all the boundaries with her new-found little girl understanding. All this will change, or I will change with it, but I’d forgotten that, as with all things child-related, the change will be smoother and faster if I work with it, rather than fighting every step.

There’s resistance with work: Finally deciding to give up teaching, only to be pulled back in with a contract that fits too neatly around my other commitments to say no (plus we need the money!). Feeling sucked back in to something that drains me to the detriment of my health and my family is scary, as is knowing I’ll have to re-evaluate again once this job comes to an end. I hate it, and I hate feeling like I have no choice (I know I do, but realistically, I don’t).

Finally, there’s resistance with my writing. The impact of everything else going on in life, plus a self-consciousness as I go through my Masters degree that have made the words stick. Pulling them out a sentence at a time for a workshop a few weeks back was like walking through tar. I need to scrap most of those, so am conscious I still need to get 10k good words together for the deadline in a month and a half. And I know most of what I have is rubbish, but I don’t know what to do to improve it.

But I know this. So I’m hoping that by letting myself relax, by letting the story come in its own time, I’ll get there. I’ve had a couple of bursts over the last week. Only minor ones, a paragraph or two, but shifting the work in ways I’m happier with. So fingers crossed I’ll have a few more of these (hopefully longer ones!), and I’ll be able to get there.

If not, the beginning of May is going to be a long week of pulling teeth words!

 

 

 

 

Public Reading

Life has been a veritable whirlwind of challenges and new experiences, many a result of starting a Masters degree in Creative Writing this September, others, just life. Hopefully I’ll get the time to write about these in more detail, but I wanted* to come on and write about my first experience with reading my work in public, which I did on Monday.

I have read in public once before, at a small, informal event organised at my writing group leader, held at her house with drinks and a party like vibe. Monday was not a much larger gathering, organised by a local author, for other local writers to showcase their work (and for the self-published authors, make some sales!). It was far more terrifying than I had anticipated, and I did burst into tears as soon as I got home***, but overall, I believe that it went well (at least, that’s what I’ve been told!).

These are some of the lessons I’ll be taking from it:

  1. Practice your piece (aloud!) in advance.

    Due to last minute tweaking, university commitments family interruptions and traffic, I was unable to do a final read-through  on the day of the reading. I’d read it aloud in advance, but sat at my computer a few days before. I lip read it on the train home to check timings, I did not stand in front of a mirror in the privacy of my own home doing a dry run. Doing so would definitely have left me more confident when it came to the public event.

  2. Keep it simple.

    The best pieces read (in my mind) were linear and from a single viewpoint. First person worked well. My piece was fairly complex, and took a lot of cutting to get it within the time allocation (more on this in a minute!). It switched between two locations, indicated by scene breaks on the page, but less clear to listeners (it’s not good writing practice in general, but a few insertions of “meanwhile, over in…” may have helped). The story was located in Zambia, and I had meant to use a few gentle accents, but as I’m terrible at accents in general****, in the sheer panic of the night I forwent most of them and just ploughed through the piece. Maybe a few extra dialogue tags would have helped clarify the character interactions. I had also included a lot of medical/scientific terminology. My Science background took over, so I was fine with pronunciation, but it’s definitely an issue to bear in mind if inserting technobabble!

  3. Stay within the time frame.

    One of the positives of the night was knowing my piece finished just within the allocated time-slot. I kept the introduction short (I had pre-planned what to say), but I didn’t have to worry about evil looks from the organiser***** or pointed tapping of watches.

  4. Wear layers.

    I was fine in the café, until I stood up to read. Then my blood pressure soared and I was very aware of beetroot cheeks and sweating! Having something I could take off might have helped me feel less self-conscious. (removing my wool dress would not have helped me feel less conspicuous!!). On a similar note, staying comfortable in general removes pressures, so pop to the loo before and make sure you have a glass of water to hand.

  5. Look up!

    Even if you’re nervous, looking up at the audience makes for a much better connection and helps people enjoy the pieces better. It also projects a calmer image than may be the case.I glanced up about 3 times in the piece, even though I knew I should have been doing so more. A writer friend who was there recommended marking points in the text to look up, which is something I’ll definitely be doing next time.

So overall…terrifying, but definitely a good learning experience! Plus it can’t have gone that badly, because I’ve volunteered to do it again, and the organiser didn’t run away screaming. All positive! 😀

 

*aka. use some gained time from a cancelled lecture**

**Or really, procrastinate on the reading I should be doing.

***I think it took that long for the adrenaline to wear off!

**** My husband had mocked me earlier that everyone might think it was set in Romania. He had a fair point!

*****She’s a very lovely lady, so these would probably have been mostly in my head.

Levelling Up

Life feels like it’s whizzing past so frantically these last few months that I’ve gone into survival mode and stopped even thinking about how long it is since I’ve done all the things I promised myself I’d do regularly (like updating this blog!). But there are a few things I’ve been meaning to come on and talk about to do with my writing.

Even though my productivity has gone down (illness, work, life all taking over), a few exciting things have been happening that make me feel like I’m levelling up as a writer.

The first boost I got recently was my first personalised rejection. And this made me ridiculously happy. Being a now loyal listener of Mur Lafferty‘s ISBW podcast I’ve been trying to embrace the rejections as they come (they’ve not been prolific because my first submission sat for about 8 months at one of the big publishers and I’ve been slow getting more pieces up to a standard I’m happy to send out.). But a few days ago I got a rejection that was not only personalised, but positively glowing (at least I’m taking it as that!) about the piece. This came at a much needed time as I was pushing through exhaustion from work, kids etc and starting to wonder if I should keep beating myself with this whole writing malarkey. Clearly, yes, because a few days later…

I got accepted onto a Masters course in Creative Writing!!

This is a biggie for me, because I’d already handed in my notice (teaching jobs come with ridiculous notice periods so I had to take a punt!). Although the course isn’t a heavy time commitment (2hrs on a Weds morning, which after a Science based, lab filled undergrad degree seems nothing! I know there’s more to it than that, with reading etc. but still…), just having an day a week to focus on writing feels like a luxury. I decided on the part-time course because I’m doing this for me and my craft; I don’t need to rush through for a qualification, I can afford to spend time really honing my skills. It wouldn’t be possible without the new postgraduate loan scheme, and I’ll have to pick up cash to cover the bills with supply teaching, but with my eldest starting school (eeek!), and my youngest 3 in May, we’re looking at saving multiples of thousands of pounds in nursery fees, which takes some of the pressure off, whilst also making me acutely aware of how unsustainable spending every holiday marking, planning and report writing is if I want to actually be there for my kids as they grow up!

So I’m allowing myself a few weeks to recover, get the house in a less chaotic state of papers, outgrown baby things and grime, then from September I’ll be ready to pick the pace up again and get stuck in to my course.

A Brief Update…

I’m torn. Part of me feels guilty that it’s been so long, but the other part of me is trying to be a realist and remember exactly how hectic life has been recently. That I’ve passed out before 9pm every night this week (often before the kids have) is tribute to how exhausting things have been.

I forget exactly where I was the last time I blogged*, but this is where I am now:

  • The first draft of my second novel is complete, rested (a little) and now being worked on. I burned out a bit at the end, so spend a couple of much needed weeks off playing Fallout (3…sadly I’m not flush enough with cash or time to justify updating our PS3 yet). I was reluctant to get back into it, but made myself tart up a chapter to take to my writing group, and not only was it well received but seeing the prose tidied up gave me hope again for the story as a hole, so I grabbed at the momentum and have been working on it since.

 

  • I’m going against the advice to print and read the whole thing in one go. I tried it last time, and found I got overwhelmed by the pages of scrawl and notes everywhere. Because I know a lot of the issues that are in the first draft I’m doing a brief read-edit to get the whole a bit tidier before I do the Big Read. Hopefully it will help me get a better overview with fewer things to niggle over.

 

  • I’ve mentioned before that I like to use a spreadsheet to log my wordcount. I’ve found that logging my editing days and notes is just as motivational. It lets me see how well I’ve actually done when I’m on a good run. I’m focusing on time spent, change in wordcount (goes up and down depending on what scenes I’m working on need), notes on revision tasks undertaken, and general notes (usually along the lines of “Urrrgh, so tired…”).

 

  • I’ve been working on a couple of short stories-one horror, one children’s picture book (diversifying much?!). Both started well then stalled for different reasons. I’m hoping to dip back into them when I get a bit of inspiration or I need a break from novel revisions.

 

  • I’ve been reading more. Largely because I got to actually have some holiday during my recent holiday, and I remembered how lovely it is to read a book properly instead of in 1-2 line chunks before someone interrupts me, so I’ve been making more of an effort to get those longer lengths of time (although that’s largely come at the expense of writing time, so I’m not sure how sustainable it will be. Hopefully as the kids get bigger and life gets a little calmer…hahaha!)

 

  • I’ve been outlining(!!!) my next novel. This was partly something I’d intended to do, then used to procrastinate starting revisions! As it is I’m enjoying dipping in, partly because it’s my Big One that I devised the concept for before I’d even started writing my first novel (it was initially going to be a board game, but it turns out board game design is HARD! Who’d have thought it, huh?!), so it’s already been stewing a while, and I’m happy to let it grow. The most productive parts have been writing short character pieces and scenes in the world, rather than trying to force a plot (I tried this and have scrapped most of what I came up with because it felt so…forced!)

So that’s pretty much me for now. I’ll try to make more effort to update, and who knows, even talk about non-writing things!

 

*I could (and maybe should) check, but I promised myself this would be quick else I would have argued myself out of logging on!

I’m at THAT point in the manuscript…

…It happened last time, too.

There I was, past the muddly start, past the “I should go back to re-write the start” convictions, skipping through the words with the happy knowledge that that end is in sight. It’s so easy, I just need to…

Wait. What do I need to do?

I’m not mad-keen on outlining. I see the benefits, I made a hearty attempt this time round, but honestly, once I get a grip on the story, I want to just write it. So I plan ahead, but the further I plan, the more I want to just see how I get there. Which is fine…

Until now.

My outline for the last chunk of my story runs something like this:

“[protagonist] breaks into building. Gets captured. Manipulates powers*. Burns the place down. Everyone escapes.”

Easy.

Except, ummmm… *this.

I’ve been brushing over it, using the square brackets I’ve been so pleased with, but finally crunch time has arrived. I have to fix the mechanics on which my story is based, because otherwise I have no idea how to bring the ending together. I could (and probably will) fudge it to some extent, but the carefree sense at the start of the story has worn off. I’m committed to this one now that I’m so many thousands of words in, and which I know that I’ll have to go through and redo large chunks of it, I’m reluctant to do that here, because I keep telling myself that I need to know the ending to really know the start.

So I’m going to give myself a day or two to recover and research. Then it’s time to sit down with a notebook** and get working again.

 

**I bought a notebook! It’s pretty colours.

 

The Joy of Completed Works

No, sadly not the novel. I’m having a couple of days to mull over a sticky point before I whip myself back onto that one…

But I was skimming through some upcoming deadlines and competitions on the Word Factory site, and realised when I clicked on some that I actually have some things I could submit!

These are little short stories that I’d finished some months back but hadn’t found places to submit them, partly because they’re slightly outside of what I usually read, so researching was going to be more effort than just pulling up a website or two and checking the submission guidelines.

Whilst there’s obviously no guarantee that anything will come from it, it was incredibly satisfying to be able to send off an enquiry knowing that I’ve got something all ready to dust off, rather than the blind panic of trying to fit a story in to meet both a deadline and a criteria, which my rather unstructured writing approach (just blurting onto the page whatever the story seems to want) makes rather stressful!

So the lesson is…unless you have a looming deadline, write what you fancy, smarten it up, and keep hold of it…you never know when you might stumble into an oppertunity!