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.

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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. 😛

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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! 🙂

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Another pep talk and some headway

NaNoWriMo’s done something to me. After all the hype and productivity and cameraderie, I feel as though I’m floating around not really sure what to do with myself. My focus this month was going to be on sending out articles and queries (which I have been doing) while sitting on my completed novel until the new year, when I can look at it with a fresh mind. Except something’s been niggling at me and I’ve not felt any kind of satisfaction with my output. Not least because I feel like it’s a slow process, but because I miss the pressure of NaNoWriMo and the buzz that comes with it.  I was chatting to someone today who is actively still using Word Sprints, which I think is a wonderful idea. For something which I found so productive in November, I’m surprised I didn’t think of this before. Well, I was aiming for finishing my second novel by the end of this year (providing the world doesn’t end on Friday, of course), but I didn’t put any challenges in place for myself. I had targets; realistic targets, for the non-fiction side of my work. Yet the targets weren’t stretching me enough. So last night, I sat for two hours (yes, really) and drew up a spreadsheet with a chart to measure my word count, so I have something I can use to monitor my progress and push myself. I’ve only got basic knowledge of formulas in spreadsheets, so it’s nowhere near as great as the NaNo word counter, but it will do. Additionally, after speaking about word sprints, I decided to go with my method of getting those words out, which involves sprinting for 5 mins, then having a break, then 10 mins, then break, then 15 mins, then break, and so on. I think the longest I managed in November was 30 minutes when an acquaintance bullied me into getting another 1k out in those 30 minutes as I was so close to the finish line. It was epic.

So, the end result is that I have a word counter, and a new focus. I feel great now, I don’t feel like I’m floating around like a ghost trying lots of different types of food, only to realise that I can’t taste anything because I’m a ghost. Sorry, that was a terrible metaphor, but I am pretty tired. I managed 2k of my novel today in the space of an hour, which is more than I’ve achieved all month.  

Time is of the essence, and studying markets and sending out query letters is something which requires a lot of attention, which I don’t have the opportunity for during the day due to the narrow time slots I get between my daughter needing my attention. Perhaps I’ll be better off concentrating on getting those words on paper while she sleeps, and leaving the tasks which require greater concentration for the evening.

This is what it’s all about, juggling your life, juggling your time. If you can take control of the tools you have and use them to the best of your ability, if you can push yourself and realise that your only limit is where YOU draw the line, then it is entirely possible to get where you need to be.

Be organised, be focused, and persevere.