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?

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

Literary Audit March 2020

I was going to put up a post with tips for working from home today but… well, it’s my birthday and – honestly – I want something a bit more fun. Indulge me, will you, dear reader?

It’s been four years since I first conducted an audit of all the words I’d ever written (original post linked here), and it’s fair to say a lot of my stats have changed since then, with some projects being finished, some scrapped, new ones being taken on etc. I’ve of course shared bits and pieces of statistics between then and now, but not all of them in a singular post – until today!

Going forward, I might do a yearly update to help track my progress, but for now, let’s get onto the figures.

Note: I’m not including my previous self-published poetry and short story collections in my list of book projects, because at this stage I’m really trying to pretend they don’t exist. A line in the sand has been drawn and I’m moving on.

Writing Project Master List

Memoir: WIP*

Novels: 2 Complete, 7 WIPs

  • Family Ties Trilogy
  • Death Girl
  • Rain After Fire
  • Family Secret
  • Holes
  • Sasha
  • A Man Convinced

Short Story Collection: WIP

Short Stories (individual): 66 Total, all Complete

  • 3 Awaiting Publication
  • 4 on Submission
  • 16 Ready to Submit
  • 43 Published (by self or otherwise)

Continue reading

Reading and Writing Update

It’s been a while since I updated this blog with reading and writerly things, so I’m here today to fix that.

Books read so far this year: 11/65 – 17% complete – 1 book behind schedule

Currently Reading: Jumping in Puddles by Claire Allan

I got a lot of words in February – 28,997 in 29 days, to be exact. And for the most part, the momentum seems to be carrying over until March. Long may it last!

27th of February I had a short story published by Visitant Lit. It’s called Earworms, is a horror/fantasy piece, and might not be suitable for overly squeamish readers. Read at your own discretion. (Apparently I gave my beta reader nightmares.)

Going forward, I’m going to have a piece published in volume two of The Bramley – the literary journal of Flash Fiction Armagh. I’m even getting paid, which is a first! It’s only a token fee but, even so, it feels like a milestone.

The short story I had published online in August last year will be coming out in print in April 2020.

And, in other news, I’m doing a little bit of client work at the minute, and Belfast Writers’ Group things are moving forward again. We hope to have the third anthology out this summer.

Events

I’m due to read a selection of my work at The Secret Bookshelf at the Courtyard, Carrickfergus for World Poetry Day on Saturday 21st March. It’s a bit of a ‘pop up’ event, but I believe I’ll be ‘on’ at 1pm (maybe 1.30) I’ll confirm on social media closer to the time.

Camp NaNoWriMo April: I am all signed up and planning to redraft an existing work-in-progress ‘Death Girl.’ (Previously titled Born of Death.) At this stage, I have most of the main plot points but don’t know if it’ll turn out to be a full-length novel or more of a novella.

April is also challenge month for the fan fiction site I’m part of, so I’ll be writing a story for them, too.

That’s everything for now! (I think.)

Writing and Mental Health

A couple of days ago, I asked people on my Facebook Page and Twitter timeline if there was anything, in particular, they’d like to see me blog about. One person said ‘writing and mental health’ and I thought, aha!

In the past, I’ve talked extensively about writing and about mental health, but I hadn’t as yet brought the two topics together. So, here we are.

Let’s start with the key facts, shall we? Writing can be tricky and mental health even more so. Put them both together and, well, things ain’t so simple.

Sometimes when I’m having a bad mental health day, I write a ton, and sometimes bad mental health means I can’t write at all. I find writing definitely helps my mental health, but if I find myself unable to do that thing that helps, what then?

Being completely real: if your mental health is super bad, picking up a pen isn’t going to cut it, you’re going to need help from outside yourself. On that note, I have a post about getting help and what that actually means linked here, and I have a post about counselling here.

But let’s assume, for the sake of this particular post, that your mental health is not so great but not exactly critical. If you’re already a writer, you may find accessing your creativity to be a bit of a struggle. In which case, I suggest switching things up. Usually write fiction? Try an angsty blog post, or a terrible poem. (I’m a big, big fan of both.) Usually a non-fiction writer? You could try creating something based entirely in fantasy just for the escapism. Either way, these words are for you. You can show people, if you want, but you’re under no obligations. If you’re in a sucky mood, allow yourself the freedom to have your words suck. Put down in text things that you could never and would never admit out loud. This can help even if you’re not already a writer, too.

One thing I find particularly useful is letters. I might write one addressed to my brain, or my body, my depression, or a specific place. Sometimes writing a letter to a person in your life will help, even if you never send it. The important thing is to get it off your chest so it’s not pushing you down.

If writing really isn’t working for you, try painting, or music. There is no one-size-fits-all here. One day, one thing might help and another it could be something else entirely. If you’ve tried writing in the past to lift your spirits and it didn’t pan out, what’s to say you shouldn’t give it another go?

If you have thoughts, anecdotes, or other tips to share, I’d love to hear them! Please leave a comment and please, please, talk to someone if you’re really struggling. You deserve the help you need.