Thursday, 5 November 2009

The very first nibble

It's been a long time since I've written here, mainly because I've been suffering the effects of my wedding. Or two weddings, to be exact, as I had one in the UK and one in Australia. Not to be recommended. The major effect of all this fussing has been that I haven't had the time or headspace to sit down and concentrate on writing, editing or coming up with new ideas for absolutely ages. Each time I did, worries about invites, menus, photographers, decorations and family issues popped into my head. Perhaps I should have started writing about weddings instead, but I'm not really into the horror genre...

Anyway, the first good news came through a month or so ago, when I found out I'd won a Highly Commended place in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition. It's a 600 word story - a real lesson in brevity for me - and I'd felt quite hopeful about it so it was wonderful to hear some good news at last. £100 isn't bad either, and has gone towards paying off one third of my beautiful little Samsung NC10 laptop that I'd bought in the first throes of ambition.

The winning stories are read aloud by actors and broadcast on various radio stations around the Commonwealth. I was a bit disappointed by the person who'd read mine - firstly because she'd mispronounced my name (it's Fel-iss-ee-a, not Fel-eesh-a), and secondly because she delivered the final three words like the punchline to a joke, rather than as the poignant, wry observation that was intended.

Ah well.

In a rather less auspicious success, I also succeeded in winning one of those 'true confession' online magazine spots, which thankfully will not have my name attached to it. But it's AUD$200, so another third of that laptop has been paid off. Ok, so it's hardly the upper echalons of literary success, but it's all practice, right?

And the final good news is that I finished the latest edit of my second book last Sunday. Of course, that just means I have to start all over again, but I was quite relieved to see that it's hovering nicely around the 100,000 word mark without any artificial interference from me. I was concerned for a while there that it was going to keep going up and up and up. But no. So all is well. The editing process has taken me about two to three times as long as the writing process did, and I'm still a way off. I find it hard to stay focussed on editing and it doesn't give me the creative buzz I get from writing something new, but I really want to finish the book before the end of the year, so the proximity of nose to grindstone must remain close.

A few months ago, I received my first actual constructive feedback from an agent. Alice Lutyens from Curtis Brown took the time to send me some suggestions and gave me the real reason why she didn't want to take the book on rather than the usual meaningless drivel you get from most agents which is far more focussed on aiming not to offend than being honest. Ok, so Alice's comments weren't what I had hoped for - she found my writing style plodding and overdescriptive, rather than sparky and fresh, but at least she told me. Noone else has bothered to. The really interesting part about her response is that I would have thought the opposite. I rarely describe scenes, focus a lot on dialogue and felt like the book was a little fast moving. So, to hear from a professional that she thought just the opposite tells me something. At the moment I've put that book away and will come back to it and see what I think about it when I start the process of sending the new one out. I'm sure that my writing will have improved through the practice of writing the second book, and no doubt I'll cringe with embarassment about the quality of the first, but I wouldn't have known what to look for if she hadn't bothered to reply. Give a cheer for constructive feedback, hey?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Feeling discouraged

It's been a few weeks since my last rather hopeful post, and I have to admit that I'm starting to feel a little discouraged. I've started a new job, which I'm absolutely loving, but what with my upcoming wedding and a house that needs more than a lick of paint, I'm no longer finding the time to write. I miss it terribly and try to fit it in where I can, but sometimes I just can't justify heading to the computer when there's a thousand and one things to be done. So that's my first problem.

The second problem is that the rejection slips for my first book are starting to come back in droves. Well, at least it feels like droves. I've received 6 so far. The only one that actually got to me was one that stated that my submission had been 'carefully considered'. In most cases, that wouldn't bother me, but I know that I put the darn thing in the post on 30 June, and the letter dated back said 1 July. Sounds to me like it slipped through the door and was sent straight back out again. Fair enough, if you've got dozens of manuscripts to look through, but my goodness golly gosh I wish I knew what I was doing that was so obviously, easily, unmistakeably wrong.

The thing is, I never actually intended to submit this book for publication. It was supposed to be my training wheels for writing. But a few people read it and encouraged me, and now I'm starting to wonder if I made the right choice. I know it's hard to be published, but I'm starting to lose belief in my own book, and that can't be a good thing. Perhaps I should have waited until I had written something I thought was the best I could do.

I've also received three or four rejections from my short stories. I know, it happens to everyone, but I feel like I need just the teensiest scrap of something positive to feel better. I can't stop writing, that won't happen, but it would be nice to feel confident about it again.

Sorry, I've got the rejection blues, so I'll sign off here.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Writing from home - and surprise interruptions

I work full time, and write in my spare time. This generally equates to maybe 5-6 hours over the weekend, depending on where I am and how much time I can spend locked up with my computer. Thankfully, my fiance likes reading in coffee shops, so we generally manage a few hours there over the weekend.

But I've recently finished one job and am on three weeks leave until I start another. Bliss! I'm on day five of not being at work, and day three of having my fiance go off to work and leave me to my own devices. Yesterday, I wrote 13,000 words of my new book in one day. That's a record for me, and I'm feeling rather proud of myself right about now. I've worked out a fairly effective system, which consists of spending the first hour or two after he's left propped up in bed, 'under the duvet', Marian Keyes-style, I suppose. When either my rumbling stomach or my greasy hair forces me out, I shower and head downstairs to my couch, where I've set up a rather nice nest of cushions to prop up my neck. There I stay until my stomach demands lunch (I am somewhat directed by my hunger pains), which I eat while trying to do something other than writing - such as watching TV or reading. After lunch, it's time for my grand venture outside. This generally consists of a fifteen minute walk into town and a couple of hours typing while sipping a soya latte in one of the various coffee shops around the place. Around five-ish, I head home, do a few more hours then cook some food up for dinner. Yes, those hunger pangs again.

The thing is, today my schedule has been knocked off a little by various interruptions. In my duvet period, I was surprised to hear the doorbell ring. Smoothing my bed hair and chucking on a dressing gown over my extremely dorky pyjamas, I discovered the water meter man standing outside. Together we emptied out the cupboard under my sink to find my meter (I only moved in about six months ago so had never even thought about its existence before), and then I spent a good ten minutes after he left putting it back in order. My reverie interrupted, I headed for a shower. After the shower, I picked up my laptop and was heading downstairs when my smoke detector wailed into life. It doesn't like steam, you see, and I'd left the bathroom door open. Cue me jumping up and down, desperately trying to hit the off switch. Which lasted approximately two seconds before it decided that it really did detect smoke this time. I eventually found a long stick and used that to turn it off approximately 47 times before it finally stopped. Right. Then I headed downstairs, put the laptop on my lap and started writing, pleased to see on one of my obsessive word count checks that I had already done 5,000 words this morning. Perhaps 13,000 isn't my record, I told myself, hopefully. I was in the middle of writing a sweet scene, where two of my favourite characters first get together, and I was quite enjoying the ambience when my bell rang again. Two lovely old ladies were outside, hoping to interest me in their church magazine. Not really my thing, but they weren't pushy so I wished them a nice day and didn't mention anything about the interruption. That was my good deed for the day. Returning to my scene, taking a deep breath and starting to type, I realised I'd lost it. So here I am, writing my blog about being interrupted instead of writing my book.

I'd better try to get back to it. No doubt the cat's going to spontaneously combust any second and I want to get another few thousand words written first.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Am I a writer yet?

What is a writer? Is it a person who writes or a person who writes and is read?

On 30 March 2009, I finished writing my first novel, which I had started back in August 2007. I hadn't been working on it solidly during that time, but in bursts of activity. Finally, early this year, my fiance told me that he wanted me to finish it before my birthday, which happened on 1 April 2009. So I did. Thank goodness for supportive partners, right?

After that, I started sending it off to agents. The thing is, the agent concept is very confusing. Do you go one at a time? Some agents will reject you if you don't. But then some agents won't ever reply, so how long do you give them before approaching another? It's all very hard to say. I'm taking the gently-gently approach, but I might change that as things move on and no responses come back in. The only response I've had so far was emailed to me four days after I popped the letter in the post, and so I didn't feel that it had reached the desk of the powers that be. Of course, I discovered later that I'd forgotten to double space the last two chapters, so I'm telling myself that was why they rejected it. Hey, it works for me.

It also seems that cover letters must list one's publications. The whole point is that I'm not published, and it's my first book. Somewhere, in the process of writing my first book, I should also have been writing short stories and getting them published in magazines or winning competitions with them. So I've started on that as well. Nine of my stories, some of which are the kind of thing I enjoy writing, some of which are not, are out there floating in the ether being considered by various magazines. It seems that willing them to be accepted may not be enough, as I received my very first rejection slip today.

And, of course, in order not to focus on the success or failure of my first book, I've started another. And another. And another. And another. Yes, I have four new books currently underway, and it is making me feel a little unfocussed. One I loved the idea for, but just can't seem to get it going. The other I find pours out of me as easily as breathing, but I'm not really enjoying writing it. It's a bit more serious than what I usually write, and it's a lot harder to inject some humour into it to keep it readable. The third is just an idea at this stage, focussing primarily on the joys or otherwise of being thirty, and it's probably the closest thing to being autobiographical. And the one that is keeping me up at night wondering about it is the fourth one, a story about three women, told from various perspectives.

So, am I a writer? I write every spare second I get, and I love it. Writing puts me into a relaxed, energised and happy mood. But, conversely, I don't want to think that no one is ever going to read what I write. Part of the joy is thinking that they will. I know I have a long way to go, and probably thousands of rejection slips to read, but it would be encouraging if something positive came back.

Does being published make me a writer, or can I be a writer without being published? Do I want to be a writer without being published? Could I stop writing even if I wanted to? Am I overestimating the joy of being read and seeing my work slated on Amazon?

Anyway, enough questions. I gotta go write.