Are YOU in control of YOUR life?

I recently discovered a little gem, delivered in the form of a book, which was recommended by Jeff Goins – an inspirational guy who blogs about writing and marketing, creative business ideas and making a difference.

I’ve not yet finished this book, but it has reawakened in me something that I have long believed (and recently forgotten), and that is the knowledge that we are in charge of our own destinies. In fact, it’s not even that I had forgotten this, more the fact that I have succumbed to what the book’s author comes to describe as Resistance. If this sounds familiar, you might indeed have already read this book – aptly titled The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.

Because there is a little war going inside all of us. Resistance – as the beginning of this book talks about – is that little voice in our heads that prevents us from being productive, or making those all-important changes in our lives. That health-kick you keep promising yourself. That change of job you really want to go for. It’s the voice of procrastination, the nagging doubt that we won’t be good enough, that we will fail. By listening to these thoughts, we’ve already set ourselves up to fail. If you’ve ever read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers, you’ll be conscious of that familiar feeling that stops you doing something you know will benefit you in the long run. Instead, you subconsciously (or, even consciously), make all the excuses you can come up with, not to pursue an opportunity. Often, one excuse is all you need to talk yourself right out of it. You then convince yourself that you made the right decision, and feel better for it. Because it’s so much easier to stay locked inside that comfort zone of those familiar slippers, that warm blanket; to stick with what you know, and not attempt to stretch yourself. Take that path of least resistance (excuse the irony here). Because any opportunity that can make you grow as a person, isn’t going to offer that instant gratification we crave as human beings. It’s going to be hard work, you’re going to have to stretch yourself, and what if the end result is failure, after all that effort you’ve put in?

This book has triggered a whirlwind of thoughts and I’m not even a third of the way through it yet. It’s actually got me sitting up in bed at 5am, drafting this blog post with a cup of chamomile because I can’t sleep, and overcoming Resistance. It has got me laughing Resistance in the face, ignoring the voice of ‘But I can’t drink tea and read! I have to go back to sleep so that I’m not tired in the morning,’ followed by, ‘I will still have I don't have enough timeto get the kids up and do the school run and all the other chores that await me!’ This book has enabled me to go one step further, and actually write 500 words in the middle of the night (it might be morning to some of you, but it’s still the middle of the night to me). And that is the first step to me resuming my life’s journey – on my calling to writing, on improving my health, and the next step towards the rest of my life.

As Steven Pressfield says in his opening paragraph of the chapter ‘What I do’; it doesn’t matter if the words I wrote weren’t that great. The only thing that matters, is that I reached my daily goal. I ignored that nagging voice that prevented me from achieving my work or desire. I overcame Resistance. You see, that one word, that has so much control over us, is the only thing stopping you from fulfilling your dreams and aspirations.

Click here for more information: The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.

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The big R: A writer’s worst enemy… and best friend

I received my second (novel) rejection earlier this week, and it felt like I’d been steamrollered.

I have come to realise that a rejection can easily be likened to the five stages of a bereavement or break-up. Because, like it or not, you will go through them. And as this blog is about my writing journey, about my successes as well as my failures, it’s only fitting that I should share this step and the feelings it evoked.

Anger – In my case, it wasn’t so much anger, more shock and confusion. Deep down, I think I guessed it would be rejected. We set ourselves up to expect the worst, so that anything else comes as a beautiful surprise. But even though I expected a rejection, I was still shocked by such unexpected feelings of hurt and disappointment. While playing the waiting game, I think I secretly hoped for a ‘revise and resubmit’, but let’s face it, this is my first full-length, completed novel, and although I have submitted a partial manuscript before which was also rejected, this one is technically (in my book – excuse the pun) my first official submission and rejection, which is nothing in this industry.

Denial – Yep, this one definitely played its part, but this came first. Mainly because when you’re playing the waiting game, you begin to imagine that your submission hasn’t even been received, or that you followed the guidelines incorrectly, or that it’s been lost somewhere, never to be seen again. That YOU have been forgotten about. Little, insignificant you, just a tiny grain of sand lost in an entire beach. So when that email first arrived in my inbox, my heart slammed against my chest and forgot to keep beating. My whole body went cold, my hands started to shake, and I had absolutely no idea whether I should open it, because I didn’t want to know what was inside.

Bargaining – I tried bargaining with myself throughout the waiting period. ‘No news is good news. You’ve worked so hard on this book, it’s intricately woven, it deserves a decent amount of attention. Wait it out.’ Except, that little voice kept chipping away. ‘Forget it. Move on. You’re insignificant, you’ve been forgotten about.’

Depression – It hit. It struck like a giant wave engulfing me and sucking me under. Yes, it’s a cliche, but I don’t care. That’s how I felt. I told my writer friends. I told my husband. I told one of my close friends. I needed to express these vile feelings churning inside me, even if only to tell someone and have them try and make me feel better about it. It worked, a little. But the only thing that truly helped was a good night’s sleep and to get back in my chair and continue working on my current WIP.

Acceptance – Fortunately for me, I bounce easily. Also, fortunately for me, I have a fantastic support group of writing friends, who told me what I needed to hear: Keep going. I have a distinctive voice. One response doesn’t signify the end. It’s only one person’s opinion. Additionally, it’s only my second rejection. Which is nothing in this field. It still hurts, but I also know it means I have a fair way to go in honing the craft of novel writing. The best part about this rejection, is that the editor said it was a ‘fun first novel.’ Imagine that? My first novel, my first full piece of work, which went through five drafts in just over a year, which started off as a typical romance and ended up being set in the 1920s (WHAT happened?!). It was bloody hard work, it was complicated, it made me go cross-eyed, and I fell in love with my characters. So, I’m not going to forget about it and move on, I’m going to put it to one side for now. There are some aspects which need work, but the editor also said I have ‘great potential.’ She took the time to give me that feedback, as well as the parts which need more work, and I’m going to hold on to that and remember it every time I feel doubt. ‘A fun first novel’ is perhaps the most amazing thing an editor from a well-known publisher could say in a rejection, so although the end result wasn’t what I dreamed of, it will come to help me in my journey.

If you’re reading this and have recently received a rejection of your own, I hope you’ll gain some encouragement from this post. Realise that if you want something badly enough – it’s in your power to keep trying. As I have always said, the only way to fail is to stop trying.

Never. Give. Up.

Has it really been a year?

A year has passed since I gave notice to leave my safe, full-time, permanent position as a customer service executive, to concentrate on bringing up my young daughter and focus on building my writing career.

This morning, I’ve been looking back on what’s passed in this last year as I head towards the end of the rewrite of my NaNoWriMo novel, the first draft of which I completed in November 2012.

So, what have I achieved?

I wrote a novel.

I really did, from start to finish, just over 50,000 words. It doesn’t seem like much of an achievement now – as I’ve been spending the last year editing it – but it was back then. There’s not many (apart from those who have enough passion and dedication to finish one) who can say they’ve written a novel. Plenty of people are really impressed when I tell them I’ve written a book. Then I get embarrassed because I know that it’s nowhere near ready to be unleashed on the world.

I wrote and self-published a mini e-book. 

After I left the security of working in the corporate world, I threw myself into researching self-publishing – the revolution of the publishing industry – and spent the first month working on writing a little e-book about living on a budget, inspired by my decision to relinquish an income of my own. I surprised myself with the tips I came up with, and found myself wondering why we didn’t use our own advice more often. An article I’d read in Writing Magazine gave me the confidence I needed to go ahead and publish the book. It’s easy enough to self-publish, but what many probably don’t realise is the formatting involved – this took up a massive amount of my time as I played around with Word, Adobe and another e-publishing program. The book is now live on Amazon and I’ve sold quite a few copies, which I’m rather proud of. Not as many as I would have liked, admittedly, but I’ve since discovered that marketing isn’t my strong point. I’d much rather be writing and chatting with the wonderful group of writing friends I’ve met on social media.

I joined the group of The Rejected

After pouring my blood, sweat and tears into a proposal and partially written manuscript, I received a very encouraging rejection from a major publisher. Of course I was deflated, but I was also over the moon – a publisher had taken the time to read my submission and respond, even giving me some feedback. They told me it was quite clear that I’d spent a lot of time and effort on the submission however they didn’t feel the story was developed enough to be able to proceed with it. This gave me the excuse I needed to press on and make my work even better. I put that story away and decided to focus on my completed manuscript, to make it as good as it could possibly be.

I had an article published in Cat World

It might only be one article, and I didn’t get paid for it, but it was a huge achievement for me. I’ve had fillers published and am due to have another article printed in Evergreen –  sister publication to This England – this autumn.

I joined a Writers Circle

A lovely little critique group in Northampton. We all get together and read aloud our work and listen to each other, offer advice, then have a nice cuppa and a biscuit. If you haven’t joined a writers group, do it. It’s the best advice you could ever have. Writing is a lonely profession in the real world, and although I have made some wonderful friends online, sometimes we crave human contact and adult conversation. Especially us full-time mothers who spend the majority of their day with little people.

~

It’s clear a lot can happen in a year, and it’s been educational. So, what have I learned?

My first draft sucked

I wrote The Gateway (temporary title of my work in progress) in the first-person viewpoint. I sat on it for a few weeks. I read it. I cringed. So the whole thing is being re-drafted in third-person viewpoint.

The first draft is easy

It really is. You just have to get the words down on the paper. The hard part is the second draft. Bringing your writing to life. Getting rid of the cliches. Wondering if your work is ever going to be good enough. I have days where I bounce with enthusiasm over my writing. Then the self-doubt descends like a black cloud and I wonder how my work is ever going to get published.

Editors are very busy people

And sadly rarely reply to queries. I’ve lost count of the amount of emails I’ve sent with a proposed article, only to still be waiting weeks later for a response. It’s so disheartening. Imagine sending out several job applications and not having one reply? It’s hard, it really is. And definitely up there with rejection. Which leads me on to my next lesson.

I’m an eternal optimist

I’ve spent a year trying to break into the market, in both article writing and fiction writing. I’ve faced lots of rejection, I’m still writing my novel, yet I’m still going a year later. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.

The world of writers is a fabulously supportive place

I’ve discovered some great networks, made some wonderful friends and had enormous support from some really special people. Earlier this year I shared the news that I was expecting. Fate dealt a cruel hand, and our little baby girl couldn’t survive in this world. If it wasn’t for the wonderful support some of my writer friends have bestowed upon me, I’m honestly not sure when I would have picked up my laptop again, and I’m so grateful to them.

I’m not superwoman

I can’t do everything. Just like I couldn’t do everything when I was working full-time. Being a mother is a full-time occupation. It’s not easy to fit your own work in around looking after an inquisitive, demanding, hugely energetic toddler. Especially when you’ve spent most of the day (literally) running around after them as well as trying to keep the house clean, and cook a nutritious meal every night (on a budget at that). It’s a wonder I have any energy left. Actually, forget that. I don’t have any energy. I’m exhausted. 😛

~

So, what now? I still firmly believe this was the best decision I ever made. Writing is my dream and it might not be providing me with an income at the moment, but I love it and it makes me happy. A few months ago I was torn between choosing to self-publish, or try to get [The Gateway] traditionally published. I’ve read many articles and viewpoints on the debate and for now, I’m going to try the traditional route. I’m not saying I’d never self-publish, but I want to be sure my writing is good enough for a publisher to want to buy it. Several people have told me they love the first three chapters of this story and the concept, and that’s really encouraging. That’s what’s given me the confidence to proceed with this project and put the article writing on hold, so thanks to all those who have supported me so far, cheered from the sidelines and waved their pom-poms.

I have set myself a deadline to finish the second draft/rewrite of The Gateway by the end of this month (six days left!), after which I’ll be taking down the first three chapters, which are currently on the blog. I then have until the end of September to polish it, after which I’ll be submitting, with everything crossed, and my breath held in anticipation.

Wish me luck! 🙂

‘The guard cat’ – Cat World Magazine issue # 419

image

This week was a happy milestone for me as I had an article accepted and published in February’s issue of Catworld. Entitled ‘The guard cat’, the piece tells the story of my feline friend who was my own personal guard cat and loyal companion during my journey to beat Hodgkins Lymphoma. Poppy was always by my side but is sadly no longer in my life. The best part about this is she’ll now live on in my story.

The tortoiseshell cat in the bottom left corner is my current companion and very similar (albeit with white bits) to her predecessor.

After ‘liking’ the Facebook page of Cat World Magazine, imagine my glee when the image of my familiar furry friend jumped out at me. If you’re a cat lover and read this magazine, I hope you enjoy the article. Issue #419 (February) is on sale now.

I have officially joined the reject pile

Remember in October when I said I’d sent a submission off to a publisher?

Well, I had my first official rejection letter on Wednesday. It was in electronic format, for which I was quite grateful, as the email came through while I was out for a leisurely walk to our local farm shop in search of some nice steaks for dinner. The air was fresh, the sun was shining and my lungs were bursting with clean, country air. Exercise always helps with positivity and there was always Hubby’s birthday dinner to look forward to later that evening.

In short, it was a very nice rejection letter, telling me that they appreciated the care and effort which had gone into the submission (I’m so glad that showed; that’s good, isn’t it?). They felt that the stories and the characters hadn’t been developed enough yet, which I must admit, I agree with. It’s not easy sending a submission of a story which isn’t finished, but I suppose I was attempting to do something I do frequently throughout my life, which is act quickly. I know that these things will take time. I really do. I think I even knew it would be rejected. So why did I send it? Perhaps I was so keen to get that one off my desk so that I could concentrate on NaNoWriMo 2012 and that’s why I didn’t wait to develop the story further. Perhaps it’s because I started it in 2010 and have felt like a stranger to the characters and their story. Perhaps I wanted to get rejected. The funny thing is, I’ve been developing it further in the last few weeks and it’s only now that I’m almost halfway through the story that the characters are starting to get interesting. Except now I feel a bit like I want to rewrite the beginning completely. So the question is, do I continue with this one or do I put it to bed and concentrate on other projects?

My main focus for the rest of this month will be to get articles published in both a trade journal and a children’s publication. It’s part of my course and I really want to crack on with it. February will see the second draft of The Gateway. It’s been 2 months now and I’m starting to get a little itch to dig it out and read it, as I can’t even remember half of what Emmeline got up to. There’s lots and lots of research required for that one too.

Anyway, waffle aside, I just wanted to report that piece of news. It’s not just about the successes. It’s about the knock-backs, too. It’s about the ability to say “OK, that one didn’t work, but it’s fine, because I’ll do this instead. I’ll persevere.” A wise man once taught me that perseverance is the key and he wasn’t wrong. I married him.

I have joined the NaNoWriMo winner’s circle!

It’s official, I have actually crossed the finish line and completed my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo novel within 30 days.Winner - NaNoWriMo 2012

For those of you who want to know how I did it; not only have I been writing furiously alongside #NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, snatching sessions when I can, I’ve even taken to writing on my smart phone in the car (while my husband is driving of course, not me). There are some wonderful apps you can download on Android (I was using Polaris Office) and there’s even wordcount software you can utilise in the absence of MS Word. Oh, and there has been a distinct lack of television watching (with the exception of my favourite TV show The Vampire Diaries – what can I say, I’m devoted).

Most of the work has been completed in the evenings, when the house is (relatively) quiet and I can focus. Cue me emerging three hours later from my make-shift office of the cramped corner of the bedroom – with just a candle for company – with tired, pink and bloodshot eyes.

With the word target being 1667 words daily, there have been days where I’ve written nothing at all (family commitments and a teething toddler), and days where I’ve written over 4,000 words (thank you @NaNoWordSprints). It’s not an easy task; anyone who says otherwise is either an eternal optimist (and deluded), or lying.

With words pouring onto the page, the inner editor barred for the month and the clock ticking, it’s amazing how much rubbish you can churn out. I’m dreading next month, after leaving it for a few days, when I will unearth the story and read it in preparation for the second draft. It’s terrible; it’s got holes all over it, the writing sucks and I have been visibly cringing as I’ve been racing against the clock.

I realise I’m putting myself down here and need to stress the point that It Doesn’t Matter if it’s not OK. Because as I said before – I have a wonderfully flawed, completed, first draft which I can work with; I have the bare bones, the skeleton, the foundations on which to build. And actually, some of it’s not bad. In fact, I have surprised myself with some of the paragraphs. Especially some of the intimate scenes. 😉

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a prior novel which I started in NaNoWriMo 2010 which needs my attention.

As for the rest of the participants: Keep going, Wrimos! You can do it!!