Finding What Works For You

I’ve been struggling, so far in 2018, to properly settle to a writing routine. If you read some of my earlier blogs from last year, you’ll (correctly) get the sense that routine, schedules and templates are pretty important to both who I am as a person and how I like to work. This is not romantic. Jack Kerouac would have no time for this shit.

But what I realised several years ago now, when obsessively studying successful writers methods and habits to try and burn them into my own and thus achieve greatness, is that most of them don’t work. At least, not for me.

I do not do a whole bunch of things that writers are ‘supposed’ to do. I don’t get up at 6am to write for two hours before work. I don’t always carry a notebook. I don’t write something every day.

I have good(ish) reasons for all of these things. I don’t get up early to write because I cannot deal with mornings as they are, and anything I wrote in them would probably not be passable English, let alone competent storytelling. Also, I’m lazy. I don’t tend to write ideas down the instant they occur to me, because I like to let them rise for a while, like bread dough, developing and improving before they go in the oven – sometimes if I write an idea down too early I realise its flaws too fast and don’t give it a chance to become something tasty. Also, I’m lazy. I don’t write something every day because whenever I’ve tried to, the pressure of knowing that THIS IS THE ONLY FIVE MINUTE INTERVAL IN WHICH I CAN WRITE ANYTHING TODAY paralyses my ability to write anything at all. Also, I’m lazy.

and that works for me

But there are plenty of ‘common writing tips’ that I follow to the letter. I try to stick to a set routine. I read widely both in and outside of the genre I’m writing. I write stories I love, not ones I think will sell (as is now teeth-grittingly apparent). I hammer out a first draft without pausing to over-analyse what needs editing.

I discovered the various things that work for me through trial and error, and I’m still always learning new things that help and new things that absolutely do not. Here are a few of my personal discoveries:

  • Routine = good. Trial and error led to the realisation that I hit my writing stride an hour or so after I’ve technically ‘started’ (but there’s an awful lot of checking Twitter, getting cups of tea and staring slack-jawed out of the window in that hour), and once I stop for a break I rarely get my mojo back. For me, this means the best hours for writing are between 10am (I know, I know, it’s disgusting) and 1pm, and afternoons are only successful once you’ve ploughed through two hours of feeling like a talentless piece of human crap.
  • Being realistic = good. Whatever I do to try and help myself, there are days when I sit down, look at a flashing cursor and bleed slowly and painfully into a word doc, only to delete all 61 words two hours later when I realise it’s pointless exposition. Accepting that these days will happen, rather than feeling like a failure and stroppily refusing to start in the first place, is healthy (which is not to say that’s how I always react…).


  • Reading = good. Specifically, reading a chapter of a good book before I start writing. I find the most inspirational and least plagiarise-y (important) stuff is books that have a loose genre in common with your writing (i.e. ‘adventure’), but not the specifics (Amazonian survival story vs. fantasy witch escapades). It’s the tone that helps; what I’m after is a nugget of that feeling you get when you – for instance – come out of the Wonder Woman screening and have a physical urge to punch your way through the cinema’s fourth-floor windows and jump with simultaneous grace and power into the street. (You get that…er, right?)
  • Rejection = bad. Which brings us back to this blog. As it has transpired, spending a year being systematically told I am not quite good enough to be a writer has not done much for my ability to write. I am struggling at the minute. I seek out all the flaws in an idea before it’s even formed properly, I lose faith after 100 bad words, I look for everything that’s wrong with a chapter rather than what’s right, I tell myself I have to make it perfect rather than just seeing where my own enjoyment takes me. It’s pretty exhausting.

But if all of these trials and errors have taught me anything, it’s that there will be a balance. Rejection did not work for me, but perseverance does. And having all my personal working tools in place is making it so much easier to stagger on through this current boggy patch.

As hit-and-miss as writing advice is, the most quoted and most common is still, I believe, the best:


But do it in a way that works for you.


2018 Goals

Hello! Here I am! Posting on the 29th day of January to prove that I really did mean it when I said I’d post once a month! *cough*

And even though it seems a bit late to be posting goals for 2018 now that we’re a month in, it’s still January so whatever, I’m doing it.

i got nothing

Having received a thorough pounding to my hopes, dreams and ego in 2017, I’ve gone for slightly more…restrained 2018 goals. Here goes…

  1. Don’t. Give. Up.
  2. Try to do something that contributes towards my writing ambition every day, even if it’s tiny. Or, at least, most days. Or maybe weekdays…
  3. Submit to the Northern Writers Awards by 1st February (this one is ALREADY almost complete, given that I – thankfully – made no specifications as to quality or finesse of said submission).
  4. Submit to The Bath Children’s Novel Award and the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition later in the year.
  5. Keep an eye out for other opportunities to apply for.
  6. Make time for writing.
  7. Try to be less angry / jealous / frustrated / saddened by the current absence of success.
  8. Don’t rush so much – the publishing industry isn’t going anywhere, they’ll still be rejecting people in a year or two’s time.
  9. Read more.
  10. Finish at least the first draft of a new story. (ALREADY 6000 WORDS IN BOYS.)

nailed it

So let’s see.

Things That Keep Me Motivated

  • The only slightly nonsensical belief that, if my fate was to acquire X number of rejections before achieving success, I must have put a good old dent in it by now.
  • Drinks with fellow writers, in which you lament the universe’s (/publishing industry’s) heinous treatment of you, air your fears and then slurrily insist that the other is SO TALENTED (they really are) and you’re SO SURE they’ll make it (you really are). It helps to know you’re not the only one.
  • Sitting in a cafe and writing by hand, which still always makes me feel like a ‘real writer’.
  • Sheer spite.
  • The thought that each rejection is a step closer to the agent who will (finally) take a chance (/pity) on me.
  • Other people telling me they really do believe I’ll make it (and these people are only sometimes drunk).
  • Reading wonderful books that make me realise that agents aren’t just sadistic twats.
  • Reading terrible books that make me realise I can’t be all that far off.
  • Not thinking about it for a while.
  • Tea (the drink, not the meal. Though actually, that too).
  • Having a bit of a cry, and emerging like an angry motherfucking phoenix from the ashes.

come at me bro

The Power of Deadlines

Another quick one from me today, because I have about 70,000 words to write before December.

nervous laugh

So with that being very much on my mind, it makes sense to talk about the power of deadlines. After all, you can’t pursue publication if you can’t finish a book, and as far as I’m concerned there is no power on this earth more motivating than a deadline (except maybe food).

This particular deadline has not been set by me, but most of my writing deadlines are. I find this helps to prevent the kind of situations I end up with in my non-writing life, where I have ‘sort out Tesco clubcard’ on my to-do list for literally nine months and then realise it takes about eight minutes to tick off. Even if I don’t meet my personal deadlines, which I often don’t, I find it hugely helpful to have them anyway – I guarantee I get more done when I have a made-up deadline than when I just meander around writing ‘when the mood strikes me’ (which at the minute is for about five minutes every three weeks, and usually when I’m already half-asleep in bed).

But this deadline is different, as it is my annual deadline to submit to the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. I’ve submitted to this, I think, three times so far, and never gotten anywhere at all – but I think it’s the best competition of it’s nature, and so far it’s been doing a sterling job of helping me crank out roughly a book a year.

The official competition closing date hasn’t even been announced yet, but as it’s usually in December and I currently only have 11,000 words of my new project, please excuse me while I go scribble down some words / stare aimlessly out of the window with a Word Doc open on my lap.


Hello all, another quick one today. The post that feels most relevant is pretty depressing (SHOCKER), so I’m going to save that for the future (read: next week). Instead, I’m going to leave you with a list of happy things I force myself to think when the rejections and general barren wasteland of unsuccessfulness are getting me down:

  • Even if this book never gets published, the full manuscript was requested three times, and as far as I’m aware nobody can go back in time and take that away from me.
  • I have, like, a LOT more story ideas to turn into books to turn into rejections before I’m done.
  • JK Rowling was, like, thirty-something before she was successful – as are most other authors (though this one usually leads to ‘I CANNOT TAKE ANOTHER TEN YEARS OF THIS’ so use with caution).
  • What’s for dinner?
  • Patrick Ness says that the best writers don’t just ‘write’, they ‘write anyway’, and hell if that’s not exactly what I’m doing. (My boyfriend would like me to point out that he actually suggested this point, not Patrick Ness. But he didn’t use the interesting phrasing, so here we are.)
  • In about three hours, I can go to bed.
  • What happens if I type ‘puppy’ and ‘trampoline’ into Google?
  • When my book is one day published and I become HIDEOUSLY SUCCESSFUL, I can spend a fabulous afternoon calling all the agents who rejected / ignored me and point out to them that they are not my agent.
  • If the publishing industry thinks it’s more stubborn than I am then it can THINK AGAIN.

never give up

The Venn diagram of people who get published and people who listen to editorial advice is a circle.

As I mentioned last week, I’m currently spending a day a week working as the editor for Cuckoo Review – a publication comprising of arts reviews written by young people in the north of England. It’s easily the most I’ve ever enjoyed work I was actually being paid for, and it’s given me quite a lot to think about (not to mention blog post fodder!). My job is, very simply, to edit the reviews, give some feedback to their writer, and publish them online. I’m not talking the J. Jonah Jameson style of editing, where you crumple up reviews and chuck them out of windows, shout a lot and smoke cigars – the purpose of Cuckoo Review is for the young writers to gain experience of professional writing, to encourage them and help them develop.

But that part – the ‘gain experience of professional writing’ part – has got me thinking. Because it’s one thing to sit in your bedroom and tap away at the keyboard – whether journalistic or fictional – and it’s quite another to hand it over to someone whose sole job is to rip it apart and put it back together again, to make it fit for publication.

(Massive tangent incoming…bear with it.)

There’s a bit in Joss Whedon’s Firefly when a fairly psychopathic bounty hunter explains to a doctor that if he’s going to work on gunshot wounds, he ought to be shot – so he knows what it feels like.

you oughta be shot.gif

Now, not to align myself with fictional psychopaths, but I have – on occasion – found myself thinking similar thoughts. As someone who’s in and out of hospital more than I’d like, I have often found myself wondering whether this nurse or doctor actually knows what it’s like to take this medication, or go through that procedure that they have no hesitation in suggesting to their patients. (Slight disclaimer here: I have thought this in an idle, passing way – not in the shooty Firefly way.) But (the relevance is coming…wait for it…) I also think there’s some definite crossover here with editing.

One of the things that I think makes me particularly suited to being an editor is that, boy oh boy, have I been on the receiving end of that crap. I’ve been reduced to tears by feedback received on my MA. My own mum once nonchalantly mentioned to me that she thought the main character of – what was at the time – my 300,000+ word fictional world was ‘a horrible person’. When I sent the book I’m currently submitting to my old dissertation supervisor, she managed to tell me that it basically needed re-writing from scratch in a way that made me feel positive and motivated as I left the meeting – though to be fair:

thats witchcraft

I am no stranger to harsh editing. So I bust a gut with every review sent to me, trying to respond in a way that is constructive but kind. In spite of which, I’ve had one or two responses from the young people that have made it clear they’ve felt defensive over my edits, and this gives me pause. Because on the one hand I’m mortified that I’ve displeased them – my whole purpose with Cuckoo Review is to help them, not annoy them. But on the other, perhaps a touch harsh, hand, a part of me thinks…well, that’s life. Similar to what I was saying in my ‘how good do you have to be’ post , self-editing is an essential part of making your work good enough; and the editing of others is, if anything, moreso.

As a teenager I once swapped my recently completed first novel with a friend’s, to read and critique each other’s work. My friend gave me plenty to think about for my own story (which was, in my poor friend’s defence, pretty abysmal), but when I went through the novel I had been given in return, I found every one of my suggestions countered; every question dismissed. At the time if frustrated me, frankly because I was a bit of an arrogant sod when it came to writing, but also because I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well then why did you ask me to read it?’

Because if a piece of writing is published, you are asking people to read it. And at least some of them are going to have questions, problems and critiques. So even before reaching the realm of submissions (which I realise I have made look devastatingly tempting to you all), I think it’s wise to listen to every edit given to you. I’ve always tried to listen. Some feedback I’ve dismissed quite rightly, some I really should have listened to – but most of it, even when I haven’t liked it, I’ve taken on board. Because that’s life.

And with that, we can file this away under ‘Becky’s Egotistical Reason #542 on why the publishing industry should stop ignoring her’, and move on with our days.

Next Post: Networking. Yep. You knew it was coming. We all knew it was coming. Try as you might, there is no escaping that terrible word and it’s horrifically awkward results. Now excuse me while I hyperventilate into a paper bag just at the thought of writing about it.

Submissions Last Week:

Well the best I’ve managed in a while – a WHOPPING 3!

Current Rejection Tally: 24

How Good Do You Have To Be?

So this is a question I, somewhat arrogantly, haven’t actually addressed on the blog yet: how good do you actually have to be to get published? Temporarily pushing aside the luck, the timing, the taste and all the other myriad factors that contribute to publication: is the book actually just…good enough?

Well, actually, I suppose the first question is; does it actually have to be good? Now, you can throw all the Fifty Shades of Grey / Twilight arguments you like at me, but the answer is yes. Yeah, I know: E.L. James is rich, Stephenie Meyer got a contract within a month or something, that book you read last month was purest bollocks etc. etc. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule: every now and then I think the universe likes to throw a curveball, just to check we’re all paying attention. Plus, I maintain that if E.L. James had been submitting to agencies, she would have been soundly and eternally ignored. She was published because of her fanfic’s pre-existing  popularity, and thus a guaranteed audience – and if the last year has taught us anything at all, it is that there is absolutely no accounting for the public’s taste.

i dunno

So, let’s assume that yes, the book does – obviously – have to be good enough to be published. How do I know when I have touched upon such hallowed ground?

Well, for me, it’s a combination of four factors, in descending order of common sense.

  1. I have edited it until my eyes bleed.  

Another thing we can just assume, is that a first draft isn’t good enough. Unless you’re magic, or perhaps Shakespeare (though even then…unlikely), a first draft is never going to be the best you can make it. I – she says, preening – have edited my book so much I lost count of what technically counted as a draft when I started the whole thing again from scratch, four edits in. I have edited it so much I simply cannot do it anymore, without knowing it will actually serve a purpose. I don’t say this out of arrogance or smugness, so much as with the hollow, weary eyes of one who truly – truly – cannot listen to the sound of her own narrative without screaming anymore. So that’s my measure of when you’ve edited enough; when you know it by heart, spend half an hour debating over comma placement, and cannot look at the manuscript without feeling slightly sick.

  1. Positive feedback from knowledgeable sources.

Now, this doesn’t mean ‘my mum reads lots of books, and she loved it’ (not least because my mum – whilst generally fabulous – hasn’t read it, probably wouldn’t like it, and would have no qualms about telling me so). I am, however, fortunate enough to have been able to take an MA in Creative Writing, and so had access to published, experienced writers to edit and feedback on my work. One of them said she thought that, with some work, this story would be publishable, and I have clung to that casual comment like a particularly voracious koala bear. I expect a similar effect could be achieved by paying for a professional editor’s opinion. Expensive, but – rest assured – cheaper than an MA.

One a similar note, whilst I haven’t actually had anything approaching an offer of representation from an agent, I have had several personal, heartening rejections (ha) and three full manuscript requests, which – if somewhat soul-destroying when they come to nothing – are unquestionably encouraging in the long run.

  1. Arrogant comparisons to published books.

Now please don’t think too badly of me for this one. I frequently read books so mind-alteringly astounding they make me feel like a time-wasting goon, with not an ounce of talent to speak of. I also often read books that leave me with a sort of begrudging admiration for a phrase or paragraph that feels depressingly beyond my own meagre ability. But occasionally – just occasionally – I read a published book, and get a twisted thrill of smugness, combined with a hearty dollop of bitterness, and the thought ‘I think I would have pulled that off better,’ or ‘I think my idea’s more original than that,’ or, most often, ‘WHY is she doing that, my characters are never this plot-servingly stupid!’ (disclaimer: not always true). And hey, they got published, right?

  1. Sheer pig-headedness.

The fact is that an awful lot of the time – and especially more recently – I’m not at all sure I’m good enough. I re-read excerpts of my submission and am suddenly, burningly sure they’re crap. I write a few lines of a new project, and cringe even as my fingers tap. I receive a rejection and ignore the positive comments, so as to wallow in the ‘oh GOD, she’s RIGHT, I am a TERRIBLE WRITER’ of the criticisms. Not only is this unhelpful, I know – in my heart of hearts, and less self-pitying moods – that it’s unfair. On good days, in soft lighting, I’m pretty sure I’m a decent writer. But failing that, I am as bloody stubborn as they come. And you’d be surprised how useful that is.

Next Post: Being as I’m not currently mired quite so deep in the self-pity trench as I have been in (many) previous weeks, I’m going to try and stagger through a post on what happens if this actually doesn’t work. Because, let’s face it, there’s a good chance it won’t, and we might as well all be prepared.


Submission Last Week

Just two, because I’m STILL waiting on that third MS response…which doesn’t feel like the most encouraging sign…

Current Rejection Tally: 17