What I Wrote and Had Published in 2020

In 2019, I wrote 166,000 words. At the time, it was a new personal record. This year, however, I outdid myself, writing a total of 242,000!

Poems Written: 5

Poetry Submissions Sent (many including multiple pieces): 20

Poems Published: 1 (and 1 held for publication in 2021)

Short Stories/Pieces of Flash Fiction Written: 6

Short Story/Flash Fiction Submissions Sent: 16

Short Stories Published: 8 – a new personal record!

Some of those stories made it into FOUR different anthologies, now available to buy worldwide.

And probably most important of all, I crowdfunded a fricken novel! Which leads me to say, I think 2021 will be even better. At least in terms of books.

2021 Goals

Usually, at this time of year, I write a little re-cap of everything that’s happened in my life over the past twelve months. For what should be obvious reasons, I’m not feeling much need to sum up 2020. (Though I will put up a post next week detailing what I wrote and had published during that time.)

I started the year with fourteen goals, seven of which I completed, two of which I came close to, but didn’t quite meet (reading and blogging), and some of the rest of which quickly became moot. Given that everything that happened globally, I’m gonna call that an overall win.

Moving on, here are my goals for 2021:

  1. Read: Twenty or Thirty Books (including at least two on writing craft) –– this is way down on the ever-increasing number I usually set, but given everything else I have planned, I decided to go easy on myself in this area.
  2. Blog: At least two posts per month –– Again, intentionally setting the bar lower than usual, because I don’t want to be forcing it or stressing about it.
  3. Study: Complete the Masterclass classes I’m signed up to (by April, when my subscription runs out)
  4. Newsletters: Increase these to three per year
  5. Make at least two poetry submissions per month (each submission typically containing multiple pieces)
  6. Submit at least two short stories per month
  7. Finish writing at least three fan fiction works-in-progress
  8. Finally get the third Belfast Writers’ Group anthology out into the world (Summer?)
  9. Finally, finally, finally publish my debut novel (Spring 2021) –– Despite being number nine on this list, this is actually my top priority and the reason I’m both cutting myself slack on reading and blogging, and increasing the number of newsletters I put out.
  10. Rewrite my second novel (Camp NaNoWriMo April)
  11. Finish my third novel (Camp NaNoWriMo July)
  12. Publish a different book –– Keeping all of the details of this secret, for the time being.

Plenty to be getting on with, I should say!

Reading and Writing Update – November 2020

Reading

I have not been reading quite as much this year as previous ones, so instead of stressing about my Goodreads challenge, I decided to take the pressure off and lower it to a more manageable level. Because I firmly believe reading should be fun, not a chore.

My goal had been 65 books and is now 50, of which I have read 47. That leaves me 94% done, and 4 books ahead of the [new] schedule.

I’m currently in the middle of a couple of books – an ARC* of In Pursuit of Happiness by Freya Kennedy, and re-listening to the audiobook of Side Jobs (short stories from the Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher – so I’m pretty confident that everything is now well within reach.

*Advanced Reader’s Copy 

Writing

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and so, I’m knee-deep in trying to squeeze out 50,000 words in 30 days. This year it’s going… slowly. I am way behind target – sitting at only 15,000 words at the time of writing – but I’m not ready to call it quits yet. As with the reading, I’m trying not to stress out about it too much, because I know from experience how much that doesn’t help.

Any words I get this year, I am totally counting as a win. I said in my last writing update (Summer 2020) that I have somehow been writing more than ever during this strange, unprecedented year, and that has slowed down considerably as we’ve come into autumn, but considering the move and all, I’d say that’s more than fair. It’s not like churning out words at full steam all of the time is sustainable, anyway.

So, I’m pretty happy with how things are going.

Publishing

Recently, I had a poem included in Issue 7 of Re-Side, an online literary zine. I have a short story forthcoming in Scarlet Lead Review. And I’ve had two short stories accepted for Hidden Voice Publishing’s 2020 anthology.

Pretty chuffed with all that!

Please tell me in the comments of this post how you’re doing, dear reader. And until next time, stay safe.

The Numbers Game

I think about submissions a lot. Not just figuring out what I will send where next, but bigger picture stuff like how many submissions is “normal” or “enough.” How many acceptances equals success. Torturous questions like that, that don’t really have a real (i.e. definitive) answer. I adore definitive answers. Objective feedback. Hard and fast rules that tell me when things have worked and when they haven’t. With such a mindset, it’s hard to know why and how I ended up writing for a living – where I’m not sure certainty ever happens – but, you know, such is life.

Further to thinking about submissions a lot, I have this one particular friend (hi, Elizabeth!) I talk about submissions with a lot. She’ll come over for tea and a chat, and that chat will almost always turn to which journals are open, who has a good reputation for replying fast (or at all), and whose guidelines are completely incomprehensible.

Even further to this, it has not been unknown for me to start making notes during these chats or periods of intense thought. I will often look up my submission folder in my email inbox, or pull up one of my many spreadsheets. But in all this, I wondered, has anyone else perhaps looked into the submission process more thoroughly? Has anyone ever sat down and researched the stats behind this seemingly mysterious process of firing your word babies out into the void, hoping one of them will land somewhere and… I’m not honestly sure where I was going with this metaphor, ‘word babies’ is maybe one of the worst phrases I’ve ever written and I apologise, but I’m sure you catch my meaning.

It’s all well and good to torture yourself, wondering if the five submissions you made yesterday were “enough,” or if that one you spent two weeks on a month ago was “worth it.” I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be much more effective to torture yourself by the cruel and unusual means of comparison? Continue reading

Coming Back?

The organised chaos of my new workspace

*taps microphone* Is this thing on?

I think this is me, coming back from my little hiatus. I feel a little ridiculous for how weird it feels. Coming back, I mean, but also having been away in the first place. It’s only been a month, (only, she says!) but it feels so much longer. I feel rusty. Right now, I’m supposed to be taking part in a writing sprint but I’m weirdly hesitant. Gun shy, I suppose.

I’ve spent all of August and what we’ve had of September so far orchestrating a full-house move and it’s been… a lot. A lot of stress. Physical and emotional strain. I’ve moved before, a number of times, but specify ‘full-house’ move here because switching between student accommodation or transitioning from a single room in my parent’s house to having my own place is different from this. It didn’t have a patch on this.

It has taken all of my time and energy and it’s not 100% done, but mostly there, and now I’m back, here again. I got so excited by the prospect of being able to write again. I set up my new workspace and literally clapped my hands with glee. And I’m sat here… stalling. Scared? Maybe. Why am I scared? I don’t know. Like I said, I feel ridiculous for it. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think this is one of those things most if not all writers go through. I’m not sure if it’s burnout, but probably. Burnout sucks.

The ‘library’ area of my new house

But I guess the important thing is not attaching a label to my weird absence of words and focus on going forward. I am typing here, so that’s progress. I endeavour to come back here next week and write another post. And another one the week after that. I’m not entirely sure what those posts will be, but I’ll give it a shot. Because what’s my other option? Not write at all? Ha! No. That’s a truly ridiculous idea.

I’ve come back, so I trust the words will, too.

…in reading back over this before I hit ‘publish’ I’m tempted to say my apprehension makes sense, because writing can very much be like opening yourself up and bleeding. And I think my scabs from before are all hard, but that sounds incredibly melodramatic.

Also in re-reading, I’m concerned that I’m not saying anything new or different from my last post, but it’s an accurate representation of where I’m at right now, so… *shrugs*

It’s possible I’m overthinking this. Honestly, I’ll be fine.

Stay tuned!

Summer Writing Update

My last writing update was in March. Before lockdown. Before George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets again. Before so many things, most of them stressful and traumatic (and some of them both).

The world has changed in some ways, stayed frustratingly the same in others, and we all are struggling on. So, let’s catch up.

I’m going to be talking about my reading and writing for the first half of the year in this post, but I recently shared a health and fertility update here, if you’re interested. And if you want to read about my response to the BLM movement, see here and here.

Reading

Sadly, because of the aforementioned global shitstorm, there is not a lot to report here. I am currently four books behind in my reading target for the year – 28 books read so far out of 65 (43%) – but am confident I can and will catch up.

Writing

Shockingly, I have been writing more than ever. I genuinely don’t understand how or why this has happened, because I’ve lost count of the number of times in the past three months where I’ve been close to tearing my hair out with frustration at my supposed lack of words. (As my long-suffering husband can attest.)

Here is a little breakdown in stats:

  • January – 9,000 words
  • February – 29,000 words
  • March – 24,000 words
  • April – 28,000 words
  • May – 32,000 words
  • June – 22,000 words

Overall, that’s 144,000 for the year.

Obviously the numbers are a little rounded, but compare them to last year when I wrote a total of 166,000 words over the course of the full twelve months, and 2018 when I wrote 146,000. It makes me wonder what word count I’d be sitting with right now if the world wasn’t on fire.

But what I will note is that, despite the steep rise in my word count, the projects I’ve been working on are not what I had intended right at the start of the year. For the most part, I haven’t really had the brainpower to work on “original” fiction, instead sticking well inside my comfort zone of fanfic.

Going forward, I have some plans, uh… planned. July is Camp NaNoWriMo, for which I have set my monthly goal to 30,000, but outside of that I’m keeping my writing goals for the rest of 2020 fairly quiet. Things are going on in the background, but it’s too early to talk about them yet. By the time my end of year update comes out, all will be revealed, so stay tuned! And please let me know how your writing is going.

‘Till next time!

Writing Masterclasses: A Review (Part One)

Recently, I’ve been taking part in online writing classes via Masterclass.com, and I thought it might be beneficial to others for me to review a little of my experience so far. So, here we go.

Overview

Masterclass is an online streaming service that offers video lessons in a range of topics from world-renowned experts with wealths of experience. There are over 80 courses, consisting of twenty lessons at ten minutes each on average. Topics are grouped together under Culinary Arts, Design, Photography, and Fashion, Film and TV, Music and Entertainment, Business, Politics, and Society, Sports and Games, Science and Technology, Lifestyle, and of course Writing.

The writing classes are what this review is going to focus on, as it’s the particular thread I’m pursuing.

In total, at least right now, there are 251 video lessons on writing from twelve different writers: David Sedaris, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Billy Collins, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, R.L. Stein, David Mamet, Malcolm Gladwell, Judy Bloom, and James Paterson. These cover storytelling, writing comedy, drama, mysteries and thrillers, writing for younger audiences, writing poetry, etc.

Features

As a streaming service, you can access Masterclass via pretty much any device with an internet connection. I personally use the site ‘in browser’ via my laptop, but there are apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android devices, and Roku (though I hold my hands up here and will admit I have no idea what that actually is).

As well as the main video classes themselves, there are semi-regular ‘Masterclass Live’ special, one-off lessons.

There is a community forum to discuss the teaching on offer, ask questions, and request feedback on work, though I’m not sure how well this is moderated. From the brief look I’ve taken, it doesn’t seem like the instructors themselves interact with this space at all. Continue reading

Embracing Norn Iron

I have lived most of my life in Northern Ireland. I was born here. My parents are from here. My husband and his family are from here, too. You could say I’m kinda invested in this place.

But this place is complicated. Geographically, it’s complicated. Politically, it’s really complicated. Culturally, it spends most of its time confused and upset.

Because of this, and for a whole host of more personal reasons, I have always felt conflicted about good ol’ Norn Iron. (As the locals call it.)

It’s quite possible I’ll always feel a range of emotions about here, but what I have come to terms with is that this country – this land – is part of me, and I am part of it.

I used to see being in Northern Ireland as being the worst of two worlds, almost literally. And there is a little basis for that viewpoint even now, but you don’t need to be a genius to see how pessimistic that is.

As I have gotten older and discovered how much I don’t know (about lots of things, not just regarding N.I.), I have learned that the choices we make and the opinions we hold have power. If I stayed stuck in my previous mindset I wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but I would be worse off for it.

These days, I’m actively choosing to watch out for positives because, yes, they do exist if you look for them. Not everything has to be doom and gloom. And being aware of positive things and appreciating them helps to encourage further positive things.

Prime example: the literary community, like all of the other communities, is divided in a lot of ways. There are opportunities open to the UK, and there are opportunities open to Ireland. This used to frustrate me, because my heart would pull one way, my head would push the other, and I never knew which way, if either, I was actually supposed to go. I was caught in the middle, foolishly thinking I had to pick a side, wholeheartedly dedicate myself to it, and cut myself off entirely from the other.

And here’s what I took way too long to figure out: I don’t have to be either/or, I can be both!

That’s liberating. That’s revolutionary. That… probably should have been way more obvious than it actually was, but that terrible mindset I was talking about had blinded me like it blinded – and still blinds – so many others.

All of that to say this (because, yes, I am coming to a point here and it will explain the photo I’ve picked to accompany this blog post): back in the day if you had asked me to take part in a project celebrating Northern Ireland, I may not have said anything, but internally I would have cringed. Now, though – with my new found acceptance of this place and my place in it – I am more than happy to take part in such a project. Ecstatic, even. And asked to take part I was!

When lockdown first started and ‘social distancing’ was still a relatively new term, Angeline King – the lady currently at the helm of Women Aloud NI – hatched a plan to give WANI members a project to distract ourselves with.

“Let’s write a book!” she said, and we only went and bloody did it!

North Star is an anthology of short stories and poems that celebrate the six counties of Northern Ireland, and has a specific section for the city of Belfast, too. I am in there and I am proud to be so.

Again, national pride can quickly become a thorny issue, but this isn’t about that. This is about representing the best of our communities and pulling together to make them even better.

From here on out, that’s certainly what I’m hoping to achieve. Who’s with me?

My Shortest Story Yet

As inspired by a dream

When my parents went off on their cruise and left me to house-sit, with strict instructions to “take care” of the dead body in the living room, little did I know they’d be needing the damn thing for part two in their ritual.

Writing Realisations

Sometimes things that should be perfectly obvious manage to, somehow, evade our notice. In terms of my writing – something you would expect I’d know quite a bit about – I have encountered two such examples. Two facts that surprised me that really shouldn’t have.

In the first instance, I was talking to some of my writing friends the other day about how it wasn’t until maybe a year after I finished the first draft of my novel (Full Term) before I realised it is, in essence, a baby fic.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it mostly floats around in fanfiction circles and just means, as the name suggests, a story primarily featuring a pregnancy and/or baby.

Now, obviously I knew there was a pregnancy in my novel – it is indeed the hook of the story – it was just that I hadn’t put two and two together and thought of my novel in those specific terms. Probably because it’s a fanfic term and the novel isn’t fan fiction. But here’s the really interesting part: when I finally made the realisation, I was embarrassed.

I really believe in Full Term and the story it tells. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, and I’m excited to see where it will end up published. None of that has changed but, in the moment I attached the ‘baby fic’ label to it in my head, it suddenly felt foolish.

It took me a second moment to figure out why, and a third to dismiss the embarrassment as the truly foolish thing. Because what it boils down to is basically snobbery, and snobbery has no place in literature, if you ask me. But let me back up for a second and unpack that a little. Continue reading