How to murder rejection

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Image: Pixabay

Here’s a riddle for you.

What is made from paper, but these days most often from pixels on a screen?

What, despite its ephemeral nature can cut like a wound, its sting successfully piercing the heart of any creative soul?

What wounds like a well aimed blade? Like being dumped for the first time? Like being a huge Star Wars fan watching the The Phantom Menace for the first time? 

What can leave you feeling low, worthless, convinced that you’ve pointlessly wasted years of your life when you could have been pointlessly wasting it in some other way?

Answer?

It’s our old friend REJECTION, of course.

Now, those of you who have read this blog before know that rejection is something of an obssession of mine – perhaps because I’ve been laid low by it’s poison on many occasions.

But, there is heartening news, my dear, beautiful bundles, because here is a gorgeous fact to ponder.

REJECTION IS MERELY A STEPPING STONE TO ACCEPTANCE.

You can have that nugget of wisdom for free. If you want to type it up, add a picture of a kitten and hang it in your study, you do that.

For guidance on how to cope with this thorniest of writing issues – and for a nice list of famous authors who’ve been rejected more times than you have – why not pop over to the Mslexia blog, where my latest post is up and waiting for your perusal.

Be lucky.

 

Why I gave myself ‘permission to be crap’

 

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Image: Pixabay

 

When is a novel like an old jumper?  

Well, let’s start off by getting this straight – I’m a rubbish knitter. I know the theory of combining lengths of wool, needles and fingers, but have got no further than small strips of uneven textile, with even my best examples resembling something a box of frenzied kittens have been let loose on.

Anyway, in my experience, a novel resembles my attempts at knitting a jumper.

Both can be big, baggy – out of shape and slightly out of control. And full of holes. Where I want my text to be neat and controlled, where I want to create fantastic patterns and spin wonderful colours, there is instead a saggy, loose ‘something’ that resembles a novel as closely as a jumper does.

Well, alright, novels are not made from wool. They have chapters instead of rows and words instead of stitches … In fact, let’s drop the jumper simile now as I’m actually starting to feel like one of those aforementioned kittens – all tangled up and irritated enough to eat a nest full of sparrow chicks.

You get my point, I hope.

Writing a novel of 80,000 words or so is tough. Not only do you have to have an idea that will sustain you through what could be a year – several years? – of writing, you have to ‘juggle’ so many things.

There’s a ‘ball’ for character, one for plot, setting, sub-plot, theme, pace That’s six ‘balls’ on top of juggling the skills a writer hopefuly already possesses- the ability to write clear, interesting, cliche free prose. Surely, too many ‘balls’ and not enough hands.

You can see how easy it would be to find yourself empty-handed, surrounded by balls.

Now, I’ve written three of these unwieldy creations, all unpublished, of course and varying greatly in quality. At least two are unpublishable at the moment. The most ‘finished’ one is the YA fantasy novel. I’ve spent so long with this book, these characters – writing and re-writing – that I’ve written nothing else ‘big’ in the past two or three years.

But now I’m at the stage where I want professionals to consider the book, it’s time to crack on with the sequel, right? I have a reasonably coherent plot . I’ve given my characters plenty of opportunities to do some interesting, upsetting, dangerous, thrilling things. No one’s gonna come out of this one unscathed and in fiction, that’s a good thing. So far so great.

Thing is, the more I developed the plot, the more confident I felt in which direction my beloved Edie and her pals would go – the more unable I felt to write.

You see, the first book just spilled out. I plunged into the story like  a poodle BASE jumping off Niagara Falls – unaware I was doing anything wrong. I did it without a thought and with enough enthusiasm to power a rocket. And that helped me to just write.

Eight years after I started the first book, I’ve learned a lot – I’m better at this writing lark than I was back then. Problem is, I now know how hard it is to get it right.

The weight of this knowledge has been paralysing. I’ve stared at the screen, genuinely wondering how on earth I’d written a book before. I couldn’t imagine how any of my characters think or speak, what they would do in any given circumstance. I read and reread the opening chapters of the first book, trying to absorb the tone, the voice. I even started writing a few, faltering paragraphs. But still – I didn’t feel right.

And then I did something idiotic. I renamed the file I was working on. It’s now called

PERMISSION TO BE CRAP.

And the first line? The line that greets me everytime I open that file?

PERMISSION TO BE CRAP, SUH? PERMISSION GRANTED.

It’s worked. Instead of being hung up on creating something wonderful from the start, I’ve allowed myself to just write. I’m officially allowed to be rubbish.

Not everything I’ve written is good. The opening chapter at least will be deleted. But there’s a section or two where my characters have emerged, recognisable, with the same voices and speech patterns, the same attitudes.

So, next time you stare at a laptop screen, and the pressure is too much – give yourself permission to write execrable nonsense.

It might just help.

 

 

 

Why the Zero is my Hero

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Image: Pixabay

 

What is it about the ZERO that makes people either party until bits of their anatomy have to be pumped out in a controlled medical environment, or run for the nearest hilltop, waiting for the sky to split open and for a host of trumpetting angels and cloven-hoofed demons to ride forth and claim their own?*

Remember the Millenium? Remember how the world celebrated? 

I spent the night of December 31st 1999 sitting in a garden chair by a makeshift fire of damp twigs and cardboard, beside a disused canal in rural Wales. It doesn’t compete in the glamour stakes with the celebrations that were swinging in the capital cities of the world – the parties, the fire work displays, the casual acts of violence and intimacy that no doubt ensued from that biggest of global bashes – but it was possibly the most memorable New Year I’ve had.

The weather was mild. The scent of grass and pondweed and damp wafted up from the water. Beneath the chatter and the snap of moist wood, came the occasional splash of a disturbed moorhen – the nocturnal meanderings of the local frogs. We drank a lot of wine, which made us by turns juvenile and melancholic.  

I watched footage of the new millenium, broadcast from around the world, cities and Pacific islands alike falling like dominoes into the black hole of a new era.

It felt kind of exciting, being a witness to such a significant event. I almost felt sorry for those born just too early or too late.

There was a darker side too.

Remember the Millenium Bug, otherwise known as YK2? This happened at the stroke of midnght on the 31st December, when all the world’s clocks reset to 1900.

Planes plummeted from the sky like clumsy children from a badly constructed climbing frame, the World Wide Web shut down, power stations stopped functioning, nuclear plants were sent into meltdown, flinging the world into a post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval dystopia, where the main source of currency is now the potato, man whittles his fellow man into interestingly shaped flutes to appease the Fearsome Bug God, Arachnoros, and every year the date is commemorated by sacrificing a BBC News reporter, though not David Dimbleby, of course, because he was the first do be eaten once the lights went out forever.

Don’t remember that?

Well, that’s because despite the hoo-ha, the rumpus and the hullabaloo … Nothing happened. You’d expect those in the media who worked the world up into such a nihilistic frenzy would look shamefaced after the event. Though if they did, I don’t think any of us noticed, because we were all nursing the worst hangovers for a millenium.

Zero is always significant for anniversaries too, isn’t it?

Do you know anyone who planned to skydive from Concorde, bungee jump from the Golden Gate Bridge or swim with sharks because their 39th birthday was approaching? Do couples invite everyone they’ve ever met to local scout huts and force them to listen to Agadoo, whilst eating stale sausage rolls and drinking flat beer because it’s their 42nd wedding anniversary?

No. All of these abominations are performed in the name of a number with a zero attached.

When you think about it, the Millenium was no more significant of itself than any other year. It’s neither a herald of a great age, nor a precursor to the world’s end. Because every numbering system we have is a manmade construct, a way for us to record things. In the Hebrew calendar the year is 5776. In China they’re still in the Year of the Sheep until the beginning of February. These time schemes are only significant to the specks of human life that follow them.

The date is not stitched into the fabric of the universe, so when a year approaches with lots of holes in it – 2,000 for example – that fabric has no more reason to rip apart on that day than any other.

So, in honour of my reaching 200 posts on this blog in the eleven months since its inception, I give you the 

ZERO.

Significant to the future of civilisations or just a useful mathematical newcomer, the world would be a duller place without you.

***

*And for those of you who think it’s better to be claimed by the angels, you clearly haven’t read your Bible. Angels are not sweet, winged protectors of the weak, but terrifying messengers from God often with lots of faces and random animal parts thrown in, well armed warriors with the ability to incinerate all who see them. If you meet one, run and hide.

Here is the BBC’s reassuring guide to YK2. Doesn’t it look quaint after the fact?

 

 

 

How to stop worrying about not earning a living from your writing

 

 

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Image : Pixabay

 

You there!

Yes, you, skulking at the back behind the stack of half-finished novel manuscripts, the mountain of mouldy coffee cups and the dogeared copy of On Writing.

You with the mole-like eyes, squinting into the sunlight as if you’ve been hiding in a cave for the last month.

You with the calloused fingers worn to nubs, the hunch and the haunted look as if you’re hearing the voices of a whole cast of characters other people can’t.

You’re a writer, aren’t you? Thought so.

Let me ask you –

Do you earn thousands of pounds every year from your writing?
Do your books top the New York Times bestsellers list?
Have your stories been adapted for film, turned into multi-million dollar, block-busters, viewed by every nation across the planet?

No?

Then you are part of the 98% of authors who DON’T make a good living from their writing.

Depressed but still want to write?

Be depressed no more, my hunchback, moley, squinty, fingerless chum.

Just pop along to the Mslexia blog, where I will cure you of all your money worries.

100% satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.*

***

*Please be aware that satisfaction in this product is in no way guaranteed. No refunds.

And while your there, why not check out Sonya’s post on how to find readers for your blog – maybe with her help, you can make your first million.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to murder Prevarication and Distraction

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Image: Pixabay

 

You have a few hours free.

You’ve sent the kids off to play by the railway line (cos you know, they love Thomas the Tank Engine and there are so many nettles and hogweed, urban foxes and rats down there, it’s virtually a nature walk).

Your other half has gone to the football / aqua-zumba / sealion taming lessons you bought them last Christmas.

The house is silent except for the scritch of woodlice at the skirting board.

You open your laptop or take out your Transylvanian vellum notebook and ivory and tiger skin Montblanc pen.

You breathe deep, slow, open your mind to the ideas sloshing around it …

You catch sight of that unruly pile of Amateur Shed-Builder Monthly magazine. The untidiness distracts you, so you straighten up the stack and retake your place.

You breathe again …

Actually, now you think about it, you’re pretty thirsty – better put the kettle on. And there’s a piece of that Venezuelan Mud Pie left your mum made that would go down very well. And you’d better just check Ebay, because you put a bid in for the entire DVD collection of Chastity and Me staring Bill Clinton and your Aunty Paula would really love that for her birthday …

Six hours later and all you’ve managed to write is the word fish fifty times.

If only you weren’t so easily distracted …

Well, if you pop along to the Mslexia blog, I might just have a few suggestions for you …

 

 

 

 

How to massacre your Fear of Failure

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Image: Pixabay

 

Another day, another Monster post.

Don’t fret, though. We’ve left Krampus, that stalker of naughty children behind, thank goodness. That guy’s creepy. I’m surprised German kids sleep at all as December looms – though I guess having a demon who drags young people to Hell for misbehaving saves on the paperwork produced issuing  ASBOs*.

No, Krampus is long gone, but the

Many-Headed-Hydra-of -Writing-Obstacles has raised another noggin.

Last time, we dealt with Lack-of-Self-Belief (or Lacky to his closest enemies).

Now, up on the Mslexia blog, I’ll show you how to conquer his sibling,

Fear-of-Failure.

Sharpen your finest weapon, pack your biggest shield and don your thickest mail undies because this one’s a nasty piece of work and it’ll take all your fighting skills to cut him down.

***

*For those of you not living in the UK, an ASBO is an Anti-Social Behavour Order – a form of legal restriction issued by police to people deemed to continually behave in an anti-social manner. You know the kind of thing – being verbally or physically abusive, spraying grafitti, wearing a tasteless leisure suit in a built-up area …

How to enjoy a fellow writer’s success

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Just me – working out by the lake … Image: Pixabay

I pull at the plastic, feel the soft, warm substance give under my fingers, the soundless rip as it comes apart along the seam. The tear releases scents that make my head reel- crisp paper, fresh ink. A clean, industrial scent that means hours of solitary pleasure … The cover is slick, light reflects off it like a mirror. It folds perfectly, not yet creased, not yet stained with spilt tea or torn from being stuffed down the side of the sofa.

My writing magazine arrived today. When bowed by rejection or exhausted from re-writing the same story or passage for the umpteenth time and still not being entirely happy (dammit), my writing mag is a pleasant world to sink into.

My favourite section is the Subscribers’ News. You might not think so from my recent post, but I do actually enjoy reading these bits. I like to know that Fiona from Warrington has worked hard, written hard and finally had her memoir about her years working in the local biscuit factory published. And her granddaughter designed the cover because she’s been to art college, you know, which is all very lovely.

Now, you’d be forgiven for believing writers are an unpleasant bunch, jealous of others’ success. You often read of an author criticising another for the quality of their work, of them posting negative Amazon reviews on a rival’s novel, ripping it to shreds and giving it one star in an attempt to damage their career. It seems this is not merely a phenomena of the internet age, either. But as an amateur I’ve found other writers (including professional ones) supportive and helpful – willing to read, advise and guide.

Maybe my response to these stories is a selfish one. Maybe subconsciously I’m thinking, If he / she can get published then maybe I can too. I think there’s something in that. But there’s also a pleasure in seeing how proud someone is of their own work, deriving pleasure from their pleasure.

Now we’ve all heard of the German word schadenfreude which means to take pleasure from the misfortune of others. But I’d like to nominate for today’s Wednesday Word Tangle a word that is the antonym of schadenfreude. I want to nominate …

MUDITA

Yes, it’s another non-English word – Sanscrit this time. 

It means ‘vicarious joy’ or ‘the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being’. 

A feeling to cherish.

***

Thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W

 

 

 

How to murder lack of self-belief

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Image: Pixabay

 

Do you have a burning desire to write but think being published is something other people do? 

I felt like that for years.

People who eat chips and sausage from their laps in front of the TV don’t become writers do they?

People who wear tie-dyed leggings, glug too much vodka and orange on a night out and live in grotty one room flats with mushrooms growing out of the window frames because they can’t afford to live anywhere dry with only a minimum wage coming in – those people don’t become writers, do they?

People who didn’t revise for their exams, who had to quit college before they were thrown out … These people don’t get publishing contracts.

That’s what I thought, for decades. And though I still only have a few publishing credits to my name, something has changed.

Alright, one thing that’s changed is I now have enough writing practice under my ever-expanding belt to be able to string a reasonably coherent sentence together – just .

The other change?

I BECAME A KILLER

My third blog post for Mslexia – How to Murder Lack of Self Belief – is up and live on the site now.

Pop along to see how I did the deed.

 

 

A pile of steaming dung: when a $ 2 million advance becomes worthless

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Image: Pixabay

I’ve burbled on a few times on this blog about my dream of having a publishing contract, being given an advance of six figures, a movie deal … A poster of my face as large as the side of a fifty story building pasted across the moon so people could recognise me from earth …

Well, maybe not the last one.

I suppose I’d translated a large advance and being the subject of a bidding war into literary success, a sure fire winning combo for a solid writing career. A story I read today has made me rethink.

The New York Post’s Elisabeth Vincentelli gave City on Fire by the interestingly named Garth Risk Hallberg a scathing review. Vincentelli called the book an

Overhyped … steaming pile of literary dung.

The 900 page novel was at the centre of a bidding war some while back, which garnered the debut author $2 million – ten publishers bidding over $1 million. The book has already got a movie deal.

Now, not being familiar with the NYP, I don’t know if it makes a habit of flying in the face of accepted wisdom – I don’t know if their writers tend to be perverse for the sake of argument. I’m guessing from the shock tactics of the piece’s title, it’s not seen as a serious literary journal. Maybe one of our American cousins reading this could enligthen me.

But the book certainly hasn’t captured the readers’ imagination as the publishers will have hoped – the book was languising at number 825 in the Amazon chart as Vincentelli wrote her piece.

And although the Guardian was less scathing, admitting Hallberg was a promising talent, it did say the book was no masterpiece.

Now, first off, I’m feeling sorry for Hallberg.

Yes, he’s already earned a pile of dosh from the book. But he didn’t ask to be caught in a bidding war and the ‘genius’ of his novel was something bandied about by publishers, not him, I’m sure.

Maybe it would have been better for him if his career had a quieter start, with less fanfair, allowing his talent to gradually grow with each new book he released. 

Instead, it may have stalled before it’s properly begun. I do hope not.

And second off? Well, we all know publishers have missed signing great books because they’re hard to categorise or just plain weird – but that so many could misjudge the reading zeitgeist, leaving themselves so seriously out of pocket … That’s surprised me.

It’s made me rethink my own parameters for success. Maybe I won’t be so desperate for that six figure contract after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Fire-Garth-Risk-Hallberg/dp/0385353774

http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Fire-Garth-Risk-Hallberg/dp/0385353774

Traditional publishing VS Self-publishing: Let’s get ready to rumble!

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Image: Pixabay

 

After yesterday’s post about the premature self-publisher, I was mulling over the whole Self-pub VS Traditional publisher debate.

I’ve so far been put off self-pub because tech is not my thing. When I began this blog, I had to take WordPress Blogging 101 just so I knew what a widget was and – don’t laugh – I’ve only just recently learned how to included YouTube videos in my posts.

Yeah, I know, I’m lame. But please remember when I was growing up, computers were only just appearing in the classroom, and they still had those snazzy orange-tinged screens. Pong was cutting edge back then, so I don’t think I’m doing too badly.

Anyway, let’s decide this thing once and for all. 

In the Blue corner, several hundred years old and weighing in at a trim 150 pounds, the Leviathan of Literature, the Maestro of the Metaphor,

Traditional Publishing!

And in the Red corner, less than 20 years old and touching 155 pounds, the New kid on the Printing Block, the Nipper of the Novel, iiiiiitsss

Self-Publishing!

Let’s get ready to rumblllllle!

SELF-PUBLISHING pros and cons

Control ‒ the author has total control over content, cover design, layout. All pros, especially for many who don’t fall into prescribe genres or writing styles. But also a con if the author has poor judgement on cover design (we’ve all seen those covers that scream SELF PUBLISHED – image and font picked out of a hat). It also means they don’t have a professional proof reader or editor on hand to guide them – though these skills can be bought independently.

Tech savvy rating ‒ the author has to be able to upload, format, add photographs if necessary. A skill some of us struggle with, nay flee from screaming / have nightmares over involving man-sized homicidal novels trying to give us lethal paper cuts because we got their formatting wrong.

Marketing ‒ to sell any books at all, the author has to develop their own marketing strategy, set up their own interviews, contact the press etc etc. Without good planning and a thorough strategy planned in advance, the book can sink without trace into the sludgy waters of the Self-Pub Swamp.

Money – any earnings go directly to the author (after publishing costs  and tax have been deducted, of course). Though if sensible, you’ll pay for editorial services and a cover artist. No 10% to agents – no publisher’s cut. Of course, the book may be more difficult to promote without a publisher behind it, so may sell less than if produced conventionally. 100% of nothing is still nothing.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING pros and cons

Control – although the author can have input over cover design, the final say will no doubt be from the publisher. But they’re the professionals so should know what sells ‒ a good cover should boost your sales. There will be more editorial input re contents and if your novel seems hard to market (perhaps it straddles genres or is unconventional in other ways) you may not be picked up by a publisher at all, no matter how good the writing. You will have a team working on your side, proofing, editing – though we’ve all read conventionally produced books which contain errors or could’ve done with a few hundred words fewer, so even the professionals aren’t infallible.

Tech savvy rating – zero, as other people do it all for you.

Marketing – you’d think having a big publisher behind you would lessen the authors marketing load. This is not really the case these days as writers are expected to promote their books to the same extent self-pubbed writers do. However, there are occasions (see Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist), where publishers see the product as a potential big hitter and will throw a substantial advertising budget behind it. And it still seems the case that you’re more likely to get your book in bookshops if you’re traditionally published.

Money – you’ll have an advance and only begin to earn extra money on top once (if) you sell enough copies to cover that. If you have a 10% cut of sales and your agent takes 10% of that … you can see there may not be much left to play with.

So, the result?

It’s a close run thing – no knock outs. This bout will have to be decided on points.

I think if you’re confident in your own IT skills and have the energy, ability and imagination to promote yourself, if your editorial skills are top notch or you can pay to have a professional do it for you – then self-publish. And as my last post proved, you may start off self-published and could snag a conventional deal anyway if you make a big enough splash.

If you’re not confident in all of these things, need the validation that comes with a book deal and have a carapace of steel that can cope with a ton of rejection – try the old fashioned route. But still be prepared to do your own marketing and if the continued rejection gets you down, there’s always Kindle Direct Publishing.

Bout result – an honourable tie.

***

What do you think? What’s your experience? What pros / cons have I missed?