inspiration, motivation, On writing, Personal

A tale of persistence and joy.

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Persistence. Ugh. Sometimes it’s TOO HARD. In fact, it’s often always hard because if it was easy we wouldn’t call it persistence, we’d call it something else, like, idk, ENJOYMENT.

 

But it’s necessary.

 

And so very rewarding.

 

If you don’t trust me, trust Cap.

Cap do this all day

 

You may know if you saw my post from earlier this year that 2018 was a difficult year, to put it mildly. Poor health was followed by a bad episode of depression and struggles with anxiety. Although depression affected pretty much every area of my life there was one bit it targeted with particular cruelty – my writing.

 

2018 was going to be the year I really took action to make my writing dreams a reality. I paid more attention to craft, I not only finished a book but REVISED it (a fate I’d previously circumvented because ugh), and I engaged in the writing community on Twitter.

 

So it seemed particularly unfair that it also became the year that I would weep for hours in front of my computer because I believed deep, deep down that everything I wrote was trash. Not the jokey ‘here, have my garbage fire of a draft! lol!’ but a genuine deep belief that this thing I wanted more than I’ve wanted anything for a really, really long time, was out of reach because I simply wasn’t good enough. That I was, and would remain, a failure because of my own incompetence.

 

I was also weeping in the shower because I’d forgotten to bring a dry towel into the bathroom, to be fair, but the usual self-doubt and cycle of rejection that comes with writing and putting your work out there was amplified a MILLION-fold by the depression. I couldn’t see any of the positive comments from beta readers, only the critical ones. And I mean that almost literally – they became nearly invisible. I know this because once I was well I went back and reread some comments and SAW all these amazing positive things I hadn’t seen before.

 

HOWEVER! 2018 was also the year that I finished revisions, queried, got full requests, dealt with rejections, queried again, and again, sent to competitions, wrote another book, started writing three other books, came 12th in a writing competition and was awarded a Judge’s Favorite.

 

For so much of 2018, I was on the verge of quitting.

 

I was going to give my book away as a PDF to people who were silly enough to want to read it.

 

I was going to stop querying.

 

I was going to stop calling myself a writer.

 

But I didn’t.

 

Even in the worst moments there was a little corner of my soul that wouldn’t give up

I kept pushing ‘send’ on the queries, even though my heart raced with anxiety every time.

 

I queried that manuscript 84 times. I moved on to another one. And another one.

 

I would love to tell you how I did it. But I don’t really know. I know I didn’t do it alone. My writing friends had my back the whole way through – they let me freak out and panic in the DMs, encouraged me, lifted me up, cheered me on.

 

Treatment helped a TON.

 

But sadly there’s still no handy medicine for self-doubt and that rears its ugly little head ALL the TIME.

 

Ultimately, I did it because I kept going. I persisted (see, I told you it was necessary). Even when I loathed every word I put on the paper, I kept writing. I kept revising.

 

And it does pay off.

 

This year I entered the same manuscript I spent so much time hating last year into the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Fabulous Five Contest.

 

It won its category.

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Talk about validation!

 

It’s had more full requests.

 

My son said after looking at my query spreadsheet and I’d explained all the red was rejections and the scattered green was the requests: “Wow. If you’d let all the red stop you, you’d never have got to the green!”

 

So simple, so true, and yes, so hard.

 

But so worth it.

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For some reason the heavy wooden rectangle that came in the mail today gave more weight to my achievement.

 

It made it more real.

 

I’ve propped it up next to my computer, near my index cards shouting positive and encouraging things, reminders like RUN YOUR RACE.

 

Because persistence is draining, we need the reminders of the good things on the journey.

 

It’s very much a journey – I’m still waking up to rejections from agents, still don’t have that publishing deal – but it’s a journey worth taking.

 

And I know I can do it.

On writing

An approach to revising – how ‘placeholders’ helped me not freak out

IMG_5845Revisions are tough. I mean, drafting is hard too, but you get to ignore the bad bits and the lumpy plot and the endlessly repeating ‘looked’, because everyone tells you to “Just get it out! words on a page! You can edit a bad page you can’t edit a blank one!”. You can’t escape this in revisions.

 

I’ve been carrying out a lot of revisions lately and am super happy to have completed the third draft of my Dust Bound fantasy novel. (SUCH a relief). When I first started the revision process I found it very overwhelming and difficult to get a handle on. I could do a couple of tweaks, sure, but I found really improving it a harder thing to figure out. I didn’t know where to start.

 

Sandcastle from Sand Shannon Hale Quote

This advice about sand to sandcastles is often given, and during my drafting stage it was really reassuring. But not for the revisions.  I had no idea how to get from vast quantities of sand, some pristine, some with bits of cat wee, some left best unmentioned, to glorious turrets of a mighty sandcastle.

 

Then I had an epiphany.

 

I didn’t have a vast sprawling sandpit with nothing on it. My manuscript wasn’t a virgin beach. There were lines, small heaps, markings in the sand. Foundations. Placeholders. These are the statements that are usually ‘tell’ statements. “They walked through the lush fields.” It’s a sentence that doesn’t do a lot. It’s a placeholder. It helps tell the writer the story so we can go back and flesh it out.

 

I realised this was my process.

Find the StoryTell the StoryShow the Story

 

This made the whole thing far less overwhelming. I wasn’t starting from scratch. I wasn’t trying to get from finding to showing, or from sandpit to sandcastle. I was moving slowly in stages, each point moving me that bit further on.

The way to get from tell the story to show the story, for me, was to identify the placeholders and focus on developing them.

 

An example is probably best to demonstrate what I mean:

 

This is the first draft:

 

They noticed the quiet hum of the nomad camp the closer they got. It wasn’t silent, but it wasn’t just the dust that muffled the noise. It had the feel of people who knew exactly how loud they could be before they started drawing the attention of the boogieman in the dark.

Around a small fire, which was responsible for the glow, sat 15-20 people. A rigged cloth stretched high over the flames to catch the dust, allowing the fire to smoulder without being damped.  There were no old people and no children around the fire. That didn’t mean there were none. Covered carts ringed the clearing and it was through two of them that they walked, weapons down but out.

 

This is full of placeholders. Key signal words – ‘noticed’, ‘wasn’t’, ‘was’, ‘it had’, “there were”, “they walked”.

 

Focusing in on these words and statements, recognising that they provided a foundation for my sandcastle, enabled me to develop them into something more immersive:

 

Flickering light turned into the steady glow of a small fire. Thin trees opened to a clearing ringed by covered carts standing guard against the outside world. The quiet hum of people, all too aware of the threat of black tipped wings in the dark, grew louder with every step. Sweaty palm slipping on her knife handle, she edged closer to Ryder. Flames threw shadows shifting over the Dust, sending shivers crawling over her skin.

The carts loomed on either side of them as they walked a pathway into the centre, whispers trickling out from frayed canvas covers. A warm glow danced over the people gathered around the fire, eyes fixed on the newcomers. Rigged cloth stretched high over the flames to catch the Dust, allowing the fire to smoulder without suffocating under grey powder. No children playing, no old people talking. An expectant hush spread through the clearing

 

The biggest thing for me with my placeholder epiphany was a liberating acknowledgement that I didn’t have to have it right the first time. That it was a process. It helped me feel less overwhelmed and gave me a strategy for my revisions.

 

What are your best revising/editing tips? Share in the comments below!

On writing, Personal

Of drawings and ‘I can’ts’ and maybe I could haves.

I’ve been trawling through old writings I did when I was 14, inspired by a #WriteFightGifClub post on Twitter. I found some real doozies, but I also found some old sketches I made when I was convinced I would be an author someday.

 

Somewhere along the way I lost both the belief that I would be a writer, and the belief that I could draw.

 

I’ve reconnected with my writing soul, but my drawing soul is still very much under the debris of adult skepticism.

 

When you’re a child, you don’t question your ability to create. You just do it. I love watching kids draw and then be overtly and happily proud of the result. It broke my heart when my son stopped drawing because what was on the page didn’t match what was in his head because the same thing happened to me.

 

So these are to remind me that maybe, like the melodramatic and half baked pieces of writing that I unearthed and smiled over, these too are a part of my creative side that could be fostered and dusted off and maybe, just maybe, I can believe again.

 

old sketch commander
This was titled Commander Shereen. I can’t remember what story she was attached to.

 

Old sketch lying down

I was quite influenced by Larry Elmore’s drawings.

 

Old sketch wise warrior

This ‘wise warrior’ kind of looks like my dad.

 

old sketch portrait

I’ve never been great with portraits. They all look the same.

 

old sketch punk witch

This is a very 80s looking witch i believe.

 

old sketch princess

and my princess about to rescue herself.

 

I had fun looking at these old pictures and wondering about the girl I had been, who believed so strongly that she could write, and draw, and do well at both.

 

I think I’m going to try and recapture that.

 

How about you? what did you love doing when you were young that you just stopped doing?

life, On writing

The little moments of life that sneak into your writing. Like ninjas. But nicer.

writing in cafeThere’s one of those little sayings ‘You know you’re a writer when….’  And sometimes that feels exclusionary, like “Well, I don’t always look up murder sites in crowded cafes but I think I’m still a real writer Susan”, but I think everyone who writes ends up putting parts of their daily life into their work. You can’t help it sometimes. Those little moments or feelings sneak into your creative mind like friendly ninjas and go “Oh hey! have you seen me? I’d look pretty good in your WIP don’t you think?”.  And they do say to write what you know, so…

 

A little while ago I was running late for work. Traffic was horrendous. I had dropped my son off to his Granny after a long commute and was hoping I’d at least get to school before the first class. I drove down the side road and turned into the main road only just slowing, not stopping completely at the stop sign. Habit I think – mostly because there was never anyone there. That day there was a cop on a motorbike. The red and blue lights flashed, the siren went, and with a sinking feeling in my stomach I pulled over. Continue reading “The little moments of life that sneak into your writing. Like ninjas. But nicer.”