Waiting for The Rain

Not sure what these are called (anyone?) but we saw them on our walk today.

Apparently, after all these weeks and weeks of blistering heat, rain is on its way. The lawn is yellow, the plants are shrivelling up and it’s too hot to sleep. We need it!

It’s been a football-focussed, outdoor-living, Love-Island-watching few weeks (don’t judge me!) and I haven’t done much writing, I must admit.

But I did manage to send a letter to Writer’s Forum magazine and it’s the ‘Prize Letter’ in this month’s issue, which came as something of a surprise!

Yes, the pic is a bit blurry (it’s not your eyes) but honestly, I’ve just faffed around for an hour trying to download photos and I’m afraid (as per my last post!) I’ve decided it’s ‘good enough’.

I was responding to an article in last month’s issue by Kath Kilburn, in which she advised writers on how to keep healthy while working from home (go for a walk, get fresh air, interact with others. That kind of thing).

My response was, that although I agreed with all she said, actually (*smug face*) if you have a dog, you do all those things without thinking about it. I also threw in a couple of references to the Cinnamon Trust and BorrowMyDoggy.com for those who don’t have a dog of their own but would like to walk one.

I wrote the letter (dashed off in less than five minutes) because it was something I feel strongly about, something I know about, something I’m interested in. And I thought no more about it. And there you go – it was not only published but I won a prize for it too (a year’s subscription to the magazine), so someone (the editor!) thought it was good.

It was only a little letter but perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned there (I’m telling myself, too): write from the heart, write what you know and what you’re passionate about and not only will the words flow but you might – just might – strike a chord with someone.

It’s making me think, at a time when I definitely need to rethink my writing plans, given all the recent kerfuffle with Woman’s Weekly, who are now demanding ‘All Rights’ when they purchase fiction. (see the womagwriter’s blog if you want more info on that).

PS: I’ve just checked the weather forecast. No rain for us (if it’s right!) for another week. *Trudges off to fetch watering can*

Another pretty flower (thistle?) from our walk

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Posted in Bonnie, Cotswolds, Magazines | Tagged | 16 Comments

Are We Being Too Hard on Ourselves?

Recently I met up with my writing buddy Sally, to talk about our progress (or lack of it) and to set short and long-term writing goals.

This might sound super-professional and organised, but don’t be deceived: it’s just us saying what we hope to do in the next few weeks and months (Oh, and I even wrote it down this time!).

We had a bit of a moan too, of course, about how difficult this writing palaver can be.

It’s hard to get published, to promote your book, to earn any money, to cope with (well-meaning?) people’s expectations and opinions.

And that got us thinking: where’s the fun gone? We realised we’re not enjoying our writing as much as we used to. We need to lighten up and write for pleasure, without the spectre of ‘will this be published/paid for/accepted/any good?’ hanging over us.

Perhaps, we thought, we’re being too hard on ourselves.

I can’t speak for Sally but I know that I’m something of a perfectionist and I’m not saying that in a boastful way because, actually, that’s Not Good for a writer.

It means I procrastinate and take forever to write anything (I’m continually tweaking and changing and I’ll only consider something ‘finished’ when I’ve spent hours on it – and probably much longer than I need to).

There’s a great quote (by someone) which is the mantra I would love to be able to live by: ‘Don’t get it right, get it written!‘ In other words, just get it down and then you can tinker with it (if you must!). I have a terrible tendency to want to polish and perfect each sentence before I allow myself to move on.

It means I don’t write as much as I want to. It means that attempting anything longer than a short story feels like a much bigger task than it might seem to someone who isn’t a perfectionist. It means I procrastinate because I’m waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment to start and because I know that whatever it is, is going to take a while and be hard work.

I used to work with a capable young lad called Jason who, when he was given a task to do (say, to write a press release), would just launch into it, with gusto and enthusiasm and get it done in the quickest time possible. First draft, no revisions and there! It was done! He’d hand it in – good enough, if not perfect – and wouldn’t even think about it again. On to the next thing! Oh, how I envied him (but I was also quite cross, in an illogical sort of a way. Why didn’t he agonise over it, like me? How could he possibly have done it ‘properly’ if he’d done it that fast?).

If you have perfectionist tendencies too, then I’ve looked up some tips to help us. If you’re a Jason-type, then lucky you – you can skip this bit!

1. Apparently, we perfectionists place pressure on ourselves because we’re focussed on the end result, the (often unachievable) goal, the place we want to get to.

We need to enjoy the process (and the fact that we’ll be learning along the way). I suppose this could translate into: enjoy writing that short story, regardless of whether it will be placed in a competition or accepted by a magazine editor. And if you’re writing a novel, recognise that, even if it’s never published, you’ll have learned so much just from the act of writing it, the next one will be even better.

2. I focus on what’s gone wrong, rather than what went well. You too? But one mistake doesn’t equal failure! If 95% of something has gone well, we should be spending 95% of our time focussing on that, rather than on the tiny part that wasn’t quite as it should have been.

3. Perfectionism can lead to a fear of failure, which means you avoid taking risks. It can create mental paralysis. This has definitely happened to me: I’ve had ideas for articles but not pitched them because a) they’re probably stupid and will be rejected or b) what if they are accepted and then I can’t write them?

4. Waiting for that ‘perfect moment’ to start to write, can also mean a perfectionist is a procrastinator. A perfectionist’s work is never done! It’s important to set time limits (short term – eg: an hour for this blog post – and long term – first draft of the novel to be finished by Christmas). Otherwise, you’ll never finish what you start.

5. We perfectionists need to be kinder to ourselves and not so self-critical. When I was walking the dog today I left her (special!) collapsible water bowl on a path. I went back but of course, it was gone. And my head was full of ‘How could you be so stupid?’

Here are some lovely phrases for all us perfectionists to practise and say to ourselves, every day (perhaps look in the mirror while you say them, wink and blow yourself a kiss?)

“No-one’s perfect!”
“We all make mistakes.”
“I can only do my best.”
“Making a mistake doesn’t make me stupid – it just makes me human.”
“Everyone has a bad day sometimes.”
“I can’t please everyone.”
“Not everyone is going to like me and that’s fine…”

6. Embrace ‘Good Enough’! Good enough is much better than striving forever for perfection.

7. Keep away from ‘toxic friends’ or those who want to put you down or criticise (so, if you belong to a writers’ group that makes you feel disheartened and useless, why are you going there?). Instead, surround yourself with people who lift you up and make you feel good.

8. Use social media wisely (ie: limit your time on it – or have a complete digital detox, if it’s getting too much). No-one’s life is as perfect as it can appear on Facebook and if you’re feeling a little down about your own writing, reading everyone’s ecstatic tweets about how they’ve sold a story, got an agent or won a writing competition, can make you feel even worse.

And in addition, there are often posts and tweets along the lines of ‘You SHOULD BE WRITING!’ and ‘It’s National Writing Day – what have you written today?’ that can make you feel ‘lacking’.

Alex Gazzola nails this in his blog post ‘Stop Telling Writers That They Should Be Writing!’ – definitely worth a read.

Ooh, the little perfectionist in me just said ‘8? Wouldn’t 10 be a better, round number of tips?’ But I say to that little P, ‘No, mate. 8 is good enough.’

Posted in Finding Time To Write | Tagged | 11 Comments

‘Saying I Will’ – the Story Behind The Story

Royal Wedding – photo taken from the TV!

I’ve got a confession to make, dear Readers: I keep things from you.

You see – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – my story ideas tend to come from things that happen to me. And as many of you are also writers, with your eyes and ears on ‘high alert’ for a good idea, there’s a danger that if I tell you an amusing anecdote or a strange chance remark, you’ll use it in a story yourself (possibly even unconsciously!) before I get a chance to do so. It’s fair enough, isn’t it?

Because, as we all know, there’s no copyright on ideas. I blogged about that here last year.

But if you’re wondering how I use chance remarks to generate story ideas, here’s an example:

The Story Behind The Story

The background to my story ‘Saying I Will’ (published in WW a few years ago), was originally published on the womagwriter blog but it’s been taken off, so I feel justified in putting it here. But apologies if it rings a (wedding?) bell – as you may have read it before.

‘Saying I Will’ is about a woman, Trisha, whose ex-husband is re-marrying and how it’s made her feel.

WW actually spoiled the ‘twist’ a little, as at the beginning, I wanted the reader to think it’s Trisha who’s getting married (the first line is, “On the day of the wedding, I wake to bright sunshine…” ) but in the ‘blurb’ WW printed a line from the story which clearly tells the reader that it’s her ex-husband who’s getting married – but never mind. Once they’ve bought the story, they can do what they like!

I actually got the idea for the story from 2 different sources and I love it when I’m able to bring two ideas together like that because that usually means the story has a bit of ‘depth’ and layering to it.

Source 1: The Charity Shop

I took a bag of stuff into our local charity shop one summer and commented to the man behind the counter on what another miserable day it was (it was raining). He shrugged and said, “It can rain every day this month as far as I’m concerned. Especially on the 28th.”

So, naturally, I asked him the significance of 28th (of July, as it happened) and he explained that his ex-wife was getting remarried on that day and they were having a marquee in the garden. (Sad really, wasn’t it?).

I probably didn’t help matters by telling him (truthfully) that my brother’s birthday is 28th July and he always has a barbecue and, as my brother is Mr Jammy, the sun ALWAYS shines (and actually, it did again that year and I thought about the charity shop man on that day).

But my little conversation made me think, ‘There’s a story in that’. But I didn’t quite have enough material to turn it into something…. until …

Source 2: The Daily Mail

The Mail, and other tabloids, whatever you may think of them as ‘newspapers’, are a great source of ideas and inspiration for women’s magazine stories as they have lots of women-focussed lifestyle articles and human interest stories.

And not long after the incident in the charity shop, I read an article in the Mail about what to do if your ‘ex’ is getting remarried. One suggestion was to go on holiday – to a different time zone – and concentrate on your future, instead of mourning the past.

Ta dah! That was it. That gave me the rest of the story. Trisha and her old college friend Sarah head for California and drink champagne on the day of her ex’s wedding. And when Sarah asks her if she’ll drink a toast to the rest of her life, Trisha says, “I Will!”

Posted in Blogging, Ideas, Magazines, The Royal Wedding | Tagged | 13 Comments

“Is it the Grammar?” On getting the critique of my novel back

Two things have happened recently: 1) I packed my bags and went on a tennis holiday to Greece (and managed not to fall over. Hurrah!) and 2) I’ve had the critique of my novel back. Eeek!

To be honest, I got the critique last week, by email and I only opened the file and read it a couple of nights ago (5 days later).

In my defence, we’d had visitors over the weekend and I wanted to wait until I had some quiet, alone-time, to read it … OK, that’s a bit of a feeble excuse. In truth, the real reason I didn’t read it any sooner is because I was scared!

Of course, I’ve had feedback on work before (although, not recently) but never on anything as long as 80,000 words or on anything that I’ve invested so much blood, sweat and tears in.

The good news is that it’s not completely terrible. In fact, there are lots of good bits. Modesty prevents me from being more explicit BUT (you knew this was coming, didn’t you), I’ve got to work on stuff, particularly in the final third. I need to put the characters’ emotional journey on the page much more and make the reader sweat a bit before the ‘happy ever after’. You know, easy stuff like that.

My elderly neighbour keeps asking me about my book and when I told her I’d had my critique back but I needed to do some more work now on the manuscript, she asked, “Is it the grammar?” Erm.. well no. The grammar is the least of my problems. The grammar, I’m happy to say, is just about OK.

As well as wondering if it was all going to be completely terrible, I was also putting off reading it because I knew it would mean more work. Back to the drawing board and all that. Another draft beckons – which has to be done before the end of August because I have a RNA critique to take up before then.

Of course, when you’re giving someone feedback on their work, there’s little point in being anything other than honest but don’t be brutally so. Be kind! (My critique-person was kind). There’s always something positive you can say about someone’s writing. A damning critique can put someone off writing for months, or years or even for life, whereas a few kind words can boost a writer’s (usually fragile!) self-esteem and give them confidence.

As Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

PS: This is my 600th post! Think how many novels I could have written instead…!
PPS: Is anyone watching ‘Love Island’? No? No, no, me neither. Rubbish. Mastermind for the Masses. Bubblegum TV. Absolute trash. Oh, but I really, really, really hope Dr Alex finds someone…soon!

Sunset cruise in Greece. Apparently someone saw a dolphin’s fin.

Posted in Books, Novels | Tagged | 16 Comments

The Force of 15 Minutes

While I was on holiday last week (hence no blog post!), I was perusing the books on my kindle, as you do and I re-read a handy little book that I bought some time ago – The 15 Minute Writer: How To Write Your Book in Only 15 Minutes a Day.

Yes, I am a sucker for ‘get rich quick’ (or, in my case, ‘write with minimum effort’) books!

Anyway, it reminded me, that the draft of my novel (erm, which I might have mentioned a couple of times), started out exactly that way: I had my notebook and pen by the side of my bed and as soon as I woke up each morning, I sat in bed and wrote for fifteen minutes. There, my day’s writing was done.

Obviously, I ended up spending a lot more time on it (hours and hours and hours) but my resistance to starting what I could only conceive of as an impossible feat (ie: writing a whole novel), was broken down by keeping it very small, simple and easy. At least until I had a big chunk of it written and I was in the habit of going back to it every day.

Because everyone can find 15 minutes in a day, right? Of course, you might find that a block of 10 minutes or 20, works better for you. Experiment and find your optimum ‘short burst of time’.

It’s amazing what you can achieve in just 15 minutes. Little blocks of time really do add up. I like the time pressure – it makes me work that much faster and harder than if I had an hour. Usually, once the timer beeps, I want to carry on. Sometimes, just starting is the hard bit and by telling yourself ‘just do this for 15 minutes’ you can get over your reluctance.

Projects You Can Tackle in 15 minutes:

* Write a letter to a magazine or newspaper
* Draft a blog post (ta dah!)
* Outline a short story or novel chapter
* Write notes on a character in a novel
* Write all the dialogue in a scene (fill in the rest later)
* Do some freewriting/stream of consciousness/hot penning, to warm yourself up
* Write a diary entry
* Brainstorm some ideas for a competition entry
* Pen the rough first draft of a poem
* Write and post an on-line book review

Or, if you need a bit of ‘down time’ but you don’t want to spend too long, you could: read the chapter of a book, go for a walk around the block or meditate/stretch.

You must use a timer, though. ‘Guessing’ when 15 minutes is up – or constantly glancing at your watch – won’t work. If you don’t have a timer, there’s an on-line 15 minute timer here!

No excuses now! Let me know how you get on!

Posted in Blogging, Finding Time To Write | Tagged | 12 Comments

Ditching The Kindle (& another free-to-enter novel competition)

The Daily Mail Penguin Random House First Novel competition

Whatever your feelings about the Daily Wail Mail, there’s no denying that, every so often, they run a nice competition for us writers.

For this, the latest one, they’ve joined forces with Penguin/Random House and you’ve got until 13th July 2018 to submit your 3,000-word novel opening and a 600-word synopsis of the remainder of the book. You should also include a short three-paragraph cover letter stating who you are and the main idea behind your book (which, incidentally, doesn’t have to be about horses!)

Entry is free but you must not have had a book* published before, whether that is in print, e-book or self-published.

*in the rules ‘book’ changes to ‘novel’ so if, like me, you’ve self-published some short stories, I reckon you’d still be eligible to enter. What do you think?

There are also some other rules – like you can’t already have an agent – so make sure you read them all carefully and don’t (potentially) waste your time.

All the details are here and good luck if you decide to go for it! (And bear in mind that you have to POST your entry – no email submissions, as far as I can see – so allow a couple of days for it to arrive!)

Holibobs Reading

Now… a favourite subject of mine (and probably many of you, too): BOOKS.

I’ve just read ‘My Name is Leon’ by Kit de Waal.

I’d heard of the book but I was only prompted to buy and read it by my recent visit to ChipLitFest, when I heard the author talk at an event. Ah, it’s so good. Have you read it? I won’t say too much because a) if you have read it, then you know and b) if you haven’t, then you might want to discover it all for yourself. But when I thought about why I’d enjoyed it so much, two things (apart from the wonderful writing), came to mind:

1. I was rooting for Leon from the very first page. I cared about him and wanted to know what was going to happen to him.
2 I didn’t have a clue how the book was going to end. And there was tension because there was a definite chance that it could all be going to end very badly….

I’m going on holiday soon and I’ve just ordered my ‘holiday reading’. Wheee. That’s fun, isn’t it?

But, shock news: they are all actual books, not e-books because I have decided that I don’t actually like reading on a Kindle. I tend to ‘skim read’ in a way that I never do with a book.

I like the feel of a book in my hands, I like to stroke the cover and see – actually see – how many pages I’ve got left. It’s just not the same on a Kindle (plus – and this is something that I really hate – when you’re reading on a ‘device’ you have to turn it off before the plane takes off and as it’s coming in to land. All that wasted time, when you’re just sitting there, gazing out at the clouds, when you could be reading!)

So, yah boo sucks to that this time. I’m taking books. And namely….

1. How To Stop Time – Matt Haig
2. Tin Man – Sarah Winman
3. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

(btw, if you have read any of these and thought it was terrible, please refrain from telling me! I will find out for myself. And besides, I might like it! Books are funny like that, aren’t they?).

Right, must dash. B&Q, the garden and the sunshine are calling me. But if you want more stuff about writing, then take a look at Emma Darwin’s latest blog post (today’s in fact), in which she links to lots of her previous posts, on subjects such as ‘Committing to Writing’ ‘Getting Published’ and ‘Writing Courses, the Pros and Cons’ and ‘Should I do a Writing MA?’ Loads of great reading there (as always).

(And in case you’re wondering about the horsey photo… there’s a stud farm near me and at this time of year, the fields are full of mares and foals. Every time I drive past them it lifts my little heart).

Posted in Books, Competitions, Cotswolds, Newspapers, Novels | 4 Comments

Festival Frenzy! (and some free competitions)

I have piles. Of books to read.

Right, I have quite a lot to say (and as we’ve just re-named Wednesday, ‘Winesday’, I’m doing it with a glass of the pink stuff by my side), so are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

That title is something of an exaggeration but over the past week I’ve been to two literary festivals and had a jolly time listening to five very different writers.

First, was poet Wendy Cope at the Stratford Literary Festival.

The best moment was when a woman in the audience kicked off a question by announcing (via the ‘roving mic’): “I really love your poem ‘Mrs Icarus…” Cue groans and gasps from the audience because that was, of course, not written by Wendy Cope but by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Ms Cope took it all in good humour. Apparently, the one she gets most often is, “I really love your poem, ‘When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple’, which, of course, is another one that she didn’t write.*

The same evening, I also saw Ruth Jones, of Gavin & Stacey fame, whose first novel ‘Never Greener’ has just been published. I haven’t started reading it yet but it’s chunky and will, I’m sure, be funny, so I’m looking forward to that.

Newsflash: No, there won’t be a new series of Gavin & Stacey. Or even a Christmas special. I think, judging from her polite-but-slightly-gritted-teeth response to that question in Stratford, Ruth Jones is probably asked that question every day of her life.

I had a few days’ rest from literary festivals before zooming over the border into Oxfordshire and to Chipping Norton for their ChipLitFest last weekend.

I had booked tickets for two events, only because they featured novelist Joanna Cannon (and I have a bit of a girl-crush on her, I think).

However – disaster – she was ill and not able to attend and I contemplated not going at all – but I was glad I did because I saw the hilarious (and irreverent) ‘shock doc’, Adam Kay, author of ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ in a sold-out event in the Town Hall (you feel very smug when you have a ticket for a sold-out event, believe me).

For reasons that are, apparently, revealed in the book (I haven’t finished it yet), Kay’s no longer a doctor but is a stand-up comedian and script writer now (Eek! I have just Googled him and discovered that one of his writing credits is ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’! Ah well, we all have our off days). But, anyway, he was hilarious and very entertaining and I’m enjoying the book (although it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted!).

Then, finally, I went to see/listen to novelists Kit de Waal and Joseph Knox talking about their first and (recently published) second novels. Must admit, I hadn’t heard of thriller writer Joseph Knox but he said two very reassuring things:

1. His real name is ‘Knobbs’
2. It took him 8 years to write his first novel.

And something lovely and reassuring about Kit de Waal – she didn’t publish her first novel, My Name is Leon, until she was in her mid-fifties. Hurrah for that.

Ahem, while we’re still on the subjects of festivals, let me just give a little mention to Evesham Festival of Words, where yours truly will be involved in a couple of events in the summer and if you fancy a free trip to the Hay-on-Wye Festival later this month – then, look no further than here.

Those lovely people at Waterstones are running a competition to win A GOLDEN TICKET and a 3-night stay at Hay Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend (Friday 25, Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 May 2018) in a Bedouin Tent. All you have to do to enter, is fill in the on-line form by 18th May and keep your fingers crossed!

Writing Competitions (closing May & June)

The Women’s Prize for Fiction First Chapter Competition 2018 (closing 22nd May 2018)
For the 8th year, Grazia magazine is running a ‘first chapter’ competition, this time in conjunction with ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’.

They’re looking for ‘new female writing talent’ (sorry, guys). Novelist Paula Hawkins (‘Girl on a Train’) has written the start of a chapter and you need to finish it in 800 – 1000 words.

It’s free to enter and the winner will get a meeting with a senior Penguin Random House editor, a goodie bag and have their chapter published in Grazia. They will also be invited to the awards ceremony on 6 June at Bedford Square Garden, London, to pick up their £1000 prize. All the details are here.

Richard & Judy’s Search for a Bestseller 2018 (closing 14th June 2018)
TV power couple, Judy Finnegan and Richard Madeley (as in, ‘The Richard and Judy Book Club’) have launched their third ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition in conjunction with WH Smith.

First prize – for an original novel of at least 80,000 words, aimed at adults – is a £30,000 publishing deal with Bonnier Zaffre and advice from literary agency Furniss Lawton.

Previously unpublished and currently un-agented UK writers are invited to submit their entries (10,000-word extract plus a synopsis and short author biography) for consideration.by 14th June 2018 via the entry form on the Richard and Judy Book club website, where full terms and conditions can also be seen.

Good luck if you enter any of the competitions and let me know if you win!

*it’s Warning by Jenny Joseph. But you knew that, of course. (Can you tell I run book quizzes? That won’t be a question in the Evesham Festival Bookworms Quiz Night on 27th June, by the way!).

Posted in Books, Competitions, Cotswolds, Events, Magazines, Novels, Poetry | Tagged | 7 Comments