Friday, 29 July 2016

I've been rejected - and I'm so happy!

Yesterday I received an email from a publication I'd sent a short story to way back in May. I'd forgotten all about it to be honest but that's another story. The email said thanks for sending your story in, we've read it and it's not for us but good luck submitting it somewhere else.

Now those of you with sensible heads will think that I should have been upset with the rejection, yes? But no, I was so chuffed. My son and husband can't understand it, they think I'm a mad woman. Yet I couldn't take the smile off my face all day yesterday.

Now I'm not normally a fan of rejection. Like anyone else it upsets me if folk don't like me or want me, I'm only human after all. Being rejected isn't good for my self esteem, never high at the best of times, so my reaction is surprising. And if I'm honest I'd have been even happier if they had accepted my story - that would have been another post entirely!

So why was I so happy to have been rejected? Because it made me feel like a real writer. Real writers get rejected, they get rejected a lot. JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before she found someone to take on Harry Potter; Agatha Christie took 5 years to get published. Rejection is the badge of honour for any writer. Some people have started challenging themselves to get a set number of rejections in a year! The point about rejection is that in order to get rejected you have to submit your writing to the scrutiny of others. It took me a long time to feel confident enough to submit my story. Letting someone other than my loved ones read my work seemed like a really big step. The fact that the publishers of the online magazine read my work, considered it and let me know they had done so is hugely important to me. I hope my loved ones wouldn't tell me I could write well if it wasn't true but you never know. Maybe they don't want to upset me. I know that the publishers didn't give me feedback but the fact that they bothered to respond means a lot to me. I had the courage to submit, they read it and it wasn't for them. But it was read, it was considered and that counts. In my mind that makes me a real writer.

That's not something I've felt able to say very often or very loudly. So thank you for rejecting my story, I love you for doing it. My story will be re-read, edited and submitted somewhere else soon. The real writer in me will see to that...

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Which way is the best way?

I've recently subscribed to Mslexia, a lovely magazine for and about women writers. Such a wonderful read and so inspiring. But it's got me thinking and here's where I hope the friendly writing blogger community can help me.

Which is best? To write something specifically for submission or to write loads of things and pick the one that fits? I'm thinking of the competitions and invitations for submission in the back of writing magazines. I'm feeling confident enough to want to submit something but I'm not sure which approach is the best.

It feels that writing something that really fits the criteria for the competition is the way to go but then what if I have something on the old hard drive that may fit the bill: do I give it a polish up and submit it?

So I'm now wondering whether going through the various magazines and plotting my attack is the way to go. I feel like I'm answering my own question here but do feel free to contradict me!  


Friday, 15 July 2016

Word of the Week - Companionship

As usual I started to think about WOTW yesterday. Some weeks are harder to pin down and I need to worry away at the week past to find a word that fits. So I like to give some time for musing and see what pops up. This week I'd decided that my word would be companionship.

Then, as I lay in bed I heard the news of the terrible events in Nice on the radio. Suddenly I was filled with sadness and confusion. I feel increasingly that I don't understand the world anymore. Things like this don't make sense to me and I can't get my head round what is happening to the world. I have no comprehension of the mind set of people who want to harm others, to kill and maim people going about their ordinary lives. I feel numb at the senselessness of it and so, so sad that it happens again and again, in all parts of the world.

The politics of it baffle me. I don't understand how terrorising others gets anyone what they want/demand. I worry that more and more people think that violence and terror are the only ways to get your point across. As an ordinary woman I struggle to understand how hearts and minds can be turned to hate for other ordinary people.

The sense of sadness is almost overwhelming. I am sadly getting used to feeling sad for the world, for people I do not know and will never know, for those affected and left devastated by loss. My heart aches for the people of Nice today and it saddens me to think that this probably won't be the last time I feel this way.

So I thought long and hard about changing my WOTW. I wondered if I should change it to reflect how I am feeling in the immediate aftermath of this atrocity. Yet this is one incident on one day and it doesn't reflect my week or indeed anyone else's week. So I will stick with my original word: companionship.

I have spent a lovely week with my son. We have had a very companionable time together including a trip to Oxford. I reflected on how our relationship has changed over the years. Now he's fully grown (is there a song there?) we have a different relationship, less 'parenting' more companions and friends. I'm still his Mum and expect to be listened to and respected but he's an adult and responsible for himself. I look back nostalgically to the days when he was little, skipping down the hill to school. Nostalgia is a wonderful way to spend some time - I can get nostalgic for hours! Naturally all this nostalgia can mean I put my rose coloured glasses on and at times like today when we hear about acts of terror - 'None of this would have happened when I was younger' etc - and it's certainly true that some things are different and potentially scary in the world today that weren't around when I was younger. The world may have been simpler and it certainly seemed less scary. Or was it? As a young child I probably didn't pay much attention to the scary news so it may well have been a scarier world than I remember.

But I digress. This week has been a lovely one filled with companionable, happy time with my son. We had a nice trip to Oxford, indulged in some Magic the Gathering - I know, I'm learning! - and had some interesting conversations. In the light of what is happening in the world it was a good way to spend my week.   

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

What I'm Writing - Too Much Advice?

Is it possible to have too much advice? In the long dark days when I refused to consider myself a writer I read a lot of advice about being/becoming a writer. In my mind there was some magical formula to being a writer and all I needed to do was unlock the secret, follow the advice and I'd magically transform into a writer. Of course that's not true but I became aware of all the advice that is out there and how contradictory it can be.

The most prominent advice I've come across is that in order to be a writer you need to write. Seems obvious when put as bluntly as that but this advice says that you should aim to write every day. Stephen King writes at least 1000 words every day and it doesn't seem to have done him any harm! His advice is that to become a writer and to improve as a writer you must write each day. Many friends have told me that the main thing I need to do is write every day, this is the secret to becoming a writer.

Then yesterday I was sent a link to an article in which the author said writing every day was a bad thing, it didn't help your writing and could even harm your creativity. Here's the link if you want to read it As someone who is struggling to get into a writing habit this was contrary to everything I'd been told about writing. He even goes as far as to say that NaNoWriMo is a bad thing for a writer to attempt - this as I'm taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo! What is a girl to think?

Perhaps the thing that I need to take from all this is that there is no right and wrong way to tackle being a writer. What works for one person may not work for another. We all need to find what works for us. If only it was as easy as sitting down when the muse struck and letting it all flow. What about those days when the muse is taking a duvet day? We all know about those, frustrating as they are. What about those agonising times when we get blocked, when words refuse to come and when the page/screen glows blankly at us? Those are tough times and that's when I feel the pressure of the 'write every day' advice. It's so hard to write when words are fighting you and pulling away. Equally it's tough to put the pen/mouse down and have a day when you don't write. Sometimes it feels like you'll never write anything again.

So which advice should I follow? Do I attempt to write every day and enjoy the structure of following a NaNoWrMo challenge? Or should I write when the muse is tugging at my sleeve and pushing a pen into my hand?

I think for me the discipline of writing each day is more important. I have a tendency to be lazy if left to my own devices and days can go by when I accomplish little. So I need the push of knowing that I have to sit down and write something each day. It's not always quality, it's not always saved but it has been written. And that seems to be the most important thing for me at the moment.

So I'll carry on sitting down each afternoon and writing my 500 words until I win at this NaNoWriMo thing. And I'll keep my fingers crossed that I can keep it going once July is over. Because that's what a real writer does, isn't it? She writes.  

Friday, 8 July 2016

Word of the Week - Writing!

So this week's word was a no-brainer. I've signed up to do Camp NaNoWriMo and so I have been getting into my groove with the novel after a long time leaving it on its own.

I passed the 10,000 word point and that felt really good. I'm not sure how many words the average novel contains but I'm happy to have cracked a major number.

I think I've found my peak writing time as well. I write the best in the afternoon apparently. This came as a surprise to me as I thought I could write at any time. And of course I can but I'm finding that the words seem to flow best in the afternoon. So I've started to get other stuff done in the morning - shopping, ironing etc - then I can write without guilt in the afternoon. 

So that's my week in a word; full of writing! 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 4

Well so far so good.  Everything is on track and I've really enjoyed getting into a good writing habit. I've struggled to sit down and write on a regular basis as I'm forever finding things to do instead - mostly faffing about if truth be told but hey, it's what I do!

I'm also enjoying getting back in the swing with the novel. I had left it for a while as I was struggling to love it. It was all planned out and ready to go yet something about it was not right. I tried to follow all the advice to just write the first draft and then fix the problems but it was like wading through treacle. I hoped that the rest would do us both good and I could attack it with gusto.

I have to report that it's not really been like that. I've been following the plan to an extent but something strange has happened. The novel seems to have a mind of its own and is pulling me in a different direction. Something about the story I was planning to tell isn't right and I'm fighting it every step of the way. Now here's the thing: do I fight for the story I planned, even though it doesn't seem to 'feel' right anymore? Or do I let the story that wants to be told have its head?

I've read about writers who have had characters misbehave and refuse to do what they are told. I always smiled at this; after all, the writer is in control, right? Well now I'm starting to understand - my novel isn't behaving and I have to make a big decision about its future. So what to do, what to do ...

But before that I will keep plugging away at the NaNoWriMo and aiming for a win at last.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review - Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith

I read this book in one day, something that rarely happens these days. I was gripped from the first chapter and wanted/needed to find out what happened to Alex and Baby X.

I struggled to decide which genre I though Baby X fitted into. There are many elements of thrillers in it but it is so much more than that. It is the most thought provoking book I have read for a long time. I found myself pondering the themes in the book long after I closed it. There is a strong scientific thread running through the novel but as a non scientist I never felt that I didn't understand what was going on. I cannot speak about the accuracy of the science in the book but it seemed believable to me. I was forced to confront my thoughts about motherhood, artificial fertility and scientific ethics. These are serious and weighty themes so please don't think that this is a heavy tome; it has serious themes but it is a lively, lovely read. I considered what I think a mother is - is it only the biological mother, someone genetically linked to a child, or is motherhood more complex than that? I also wondered how far I thought science and technology should be part of  the process of bringing a child into the world - I was lucky in that I conceived my son naturally; but how would I have felt if I needed intervention? How far would I have been prepared to go to have the child we both wanted? But I also enjoyed some stunning writing about motherhood. Mother's Milk Books who published Baby X are concerned with all aspects of motherhood, especially breastfeeding, so was a perfect fit with this story. The descriptions of looking after a newborn and experience's of breastfeeding brought back wonderful memories of my son's first weeks and months. I especially loved the description of Baby X swooning after a feed - so vivid and exactly how I son behaved.   

The story follows the narrative of three women - Alex, the research scientist developing the Artificial Uterus technology; Karen, a woman with a history of miscarriage and failed IVF; and Dolly, a research assistant working closely with Alex. The story of Baby X is told through their interactions with him and their involvement in his short life. My feelings about these women changed as their narrative arcs played out. Alex was the most complex in that we first meet her towards the end of her narrative arc. The Alex at the start of her narrative is a rather cold, austere scientist and I found her difficult to like. However as her story unfolds I warmed to her considerably and was really rooting for her to get her happy ending. Karen was immediately a sympathetic character; it would be a hard hearted reader who didn't feel for her as she went through multiple failed pregnancies. She grew as a character towards the end of her narrative arc and became a stronger woman because of her experiences. Dolly seemed to me to be a little light relief among the serious characters. She's younger, more free spirited and a little naive. Her actions help to drive the narrative and she is pivotal in bringing the story to a satisfactory conclusion. I was rather torn at the end as I wanted two endings but was only allowed one. The very end of the novel brought tears to my eyes with its touching description of the newborn Baby X, beautifully written from a mother's viewpoint. 

I look forward to passing this book on to my sister. I think she will enjoy it and get as much from it as I have. I also hope that she will pass it on to a friend and it will begin a journey, enlightening and entertaining many other readers. A stunning debut from Becky, I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 1

Well despite me not being ready for it July has arrived. This year seems to be whizzing by faster than ever and the lack of summery weather isn't helping. However, today is July 1st and the start of another Camp NaNoWriMo, another chance for me to get into a good writing habit and write 15,000 words during the month.

I thought perhaps if I documented my experiences with Camp NaNoWriMo I'd find it easier to keep on track. I've had a go at NaNoWriMo before but I've never managed to 'win'. This time I've been more realistic about the word count. I'm aiming to write 500 words every day and I think this is achievable. In previous attempts I've set a high word count, fallen behind early on and lost faith in the whole experience. So a lower word count may mean that I can stay on track and manage those 15,000 words.

I've decided to use the time to keep writing the first draft of my novel. It seems to be taking a different direction to the one I had planned but I'm letting it have it's head and I'll worry about it when I come to editing - gosh that sounds like proper writerly stuff, doesn't it?

So here we go with Day 1 and the first 500 words towards the 15,000 and a NaNo win!