Looking back over 2017

Last year, I made a list of every children’s literature agent in the UK that was open for submission. There were 53 of them. At the beginning of this year, I resolved to submit my recently completed (and by that I mean completed, redrafted, redrafted, rewritten and redrafted several more times) manuscript to every one of them, in a do-or-die experiment to see if this could finally help me achieve my long-standing ambition to get the fucker published.

To cut a long story short, it didn’t.

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My current rejection tally stands at 45. There are a few competition / publisher rejections thrown in there as well, meaning there are still 12 agencies left on my list. I don’t think I’ll be submitting to them. I’m pretty tired.

And there has been some good news in there. I was longlisted for one of those competitions, three of those agencies had requested my full manuscript, and several more sent me encouraging responses; that this book wasn’t for them but I was doing a lot of things right and should keep going.  If it wasn’t for those few positive responses I probably would have drowned in a pool of tears and ice cream by now, so I really am enormously grateful for them.

But yeah, on the whole it has not really been a great year, ambition-wise. It is safe to say that both my ego and motivation are feeling a bit:

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But to re-employ my most wrung-out metaphor; I’ve been waiting for this bus for effing years, one more isn’t that big of a deal – I’m still not moving a bloody muscle until it gets here. So here, once again, is a Plan Of Action:

1. I won’t be posting (on purpose…) in December, because it’s Christmas and I am in dire need of both cheer, and not thinking about my bludgeoned dreams. Nobody wants to be dealing with this crap at the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

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2. Currently the plan is to keep The Rejection Box going in the new year, because there are definitely more rejections in my future, amiright?! I’ll be posting fortnightly or monthly though, as for a while my focus will be to…

3. Write something new. Again.

And who knows? Maybe 2018 will turn out to be The Year.

Until then, Merry Christmas x

 

 

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The Whooshing Sound

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I was aiming to complete my new manuscript for the Chicken House Children’s Fiction Prize deadline of 8th December. I also casually mentioned on my Twitter feed that I’d reached the 40,000 word mark of my new manuscript by early October, but had also come to the troubling realisation that:

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Which was, you know, not great.

The situation was not helped by the fact that throughout October I was having a flare-up of ulcerative colitis (a chronic bowel condition I am blessed with, of which you can find more hilarious details at my page on the women’s health blog Time Of The Month). In short, this meant that I was perennially exhausted, in pain and reaching truly unprecedented levels of raging grumpiness. None of which is particularly conducive to cranking out 5000 words a week of a story you’ve utterly lost faith in.

So on having my manuscript epiphany, I did what any fatigued, hormonal, stressed-to-the-nines writer would do. Had a meltdown, spent a week feverishly trying to find a way of balancing having enough time to fix the manuscript with making it not-shit, had several more meltdowns, and eventually was sat down by my kind and sensible partner to be told that maybe it was time to consider letting the Chicken House deadline go.

I mean, this stung. I am, historically, the sort of person who takes deadlines – if anything – too seriously, and have in the past pushed myself to depressing and unhealthy extremes in order to avoid missing one. But, my partner pointed out – with the sort of quiet, carefully-chosen words one might employ when trying to talk someone off a roof ledge – there would be no punishment for missing this deadline. In many ways it was self-imposed, it would roll around again next year, and it was making me really unhappy.

All of which was true. But to me, the punishment for missing this deadline is a missed opportunity.

This came back around to bite me again this weekend, when the deadline for the Bath Children’s Novel Award made that nice whooshing sound as it flew by me. I had been less focused on this than the Chicken House, as rather than needing a full manuscript to enter, only 5000 words and a synopsis was needed, which I had long-since prepared. Right?

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Well, I had 5000 words I fully intended to rewrite completely and a synopsis I had mentally binned but had no time to alter. So I spent twenty minutes on the day of the deadline looking over everything I had, trying to figure out if there was anything salvageable that would be even slightly worth the £25 entry fee, and eventually concluded that really, really (really) wasn’t.

I’m trying to see the passing of these deadlines not as lost opportunities, but necessary sacrifices. Even had I persisted with the manuscript as it washed down the toilet, the product would have been a ridiculously flawed story I wasn’t proud of and absolutely knew wouldn’t have a hope in hell in these competitions. But it’s been genuinely difficult not to see these whooshing sounds as personal failures. There’s been a lot of ‘if I hadn’t wasted so much time’, ‘if I’d taken longer over the planning’, ‘if I’d gotten feedback early on’, if if if if blah blah blah… And I still haven’t really shaken any of those feelings off. My attitude to writing has always been that it’s better to write something terrible than nothing at all, and that the only way to guarantee I’ll never get published is if I never submit. So to deliberately not submit, rather than submit something I know is bad, might be ultimately more sensible, but has still clashed spectacularly with my instincts.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on the next plan, and not on the feeling that I’ve set myself back a year. I’ve put the terrible manuscript aside for a while, to let it rest and see if returning to it in a few months can highlight how to fix it. I’ve gently started working on something new, but am trying to take it slowly and enjoyably with a distant deadline of December 2018, rather than looming over myself like an angry Judge Judy.

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I have embraced the Whooshing Sound. Unlike Douglas Adams, however, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed it much.

Priority Balancing

Here’s a Relatable Thing. As a writer who also has to do ‘other stuff’ (earn money, buy food, do the washing up, book dentist appointments, have friends etc.), I generally find that any writing or publication-hunting I want to get done finds itself languishing in the dregs of the Priority List, somewhere between ‘change that lightbulb in the kitchen’ and ‘tidy files on desktop’.  Unlike the lightbulb, I actually really want to do it, but the fact is that if I don’t put a load in the washing machine, I don’t have any socks for tomorrow; if I don’t make lunch, I’ll be hungry this afternoon; if I don’t earn money, I can’t pay for stuff…ever. Whereas if I don’t send off that submission…well, pretty much nothing happens.

Because of this, it’s genuinely difficult to force myself to make time for it. And half the time, I’ll set a whole day aside for writing / submissions, then find myself at 4.30pm in an unusually tidy lounge with a bunch of things checked off my to-do list and about 8 words written. But this is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ blog, so regardless, here are my top two tips for finding the time:

  1. Set aside time in advance. This always starts off being a whole day, then an afternoon, then a couple of hours, and usually at around 4pm I fling myself down on a chair and assert (to no-one in particular), ‘RIGHT. I am going to write for ONE FULL HOUR.’ (Then I spend twenty minutes fiddling with the formatting and despair at myself.)
  2. Scrounge any time you can from literally anywhere else. I have sent submissions off at work. I’ve sent them off in the middle of the night. I’ve sent them off whilst sat at bus stations. Depending on my motivational and rejection-blues levels, I’ve been pretty crazy about it. (Not that I recommend the craziness.)

And on that ALMOST totally pointless note, I will leave you.

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 Rejection Box: A Recap

I am (once again) fresh out of both news and ideas, so I have had possibly my laziest idea yet, and am literally going to give you a summary of The Rejection Box progress so far. There was going to be a graph, but I think we can all agree that would have been too far; instead, I have chosen to express each month through the medium most true to my inner nature: gifs.

January – Bring It. 

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Oh, so full of hope. Plans were in place, blog posts were long because time was plentiful, submissions flowed like the Niagara Falls. One measly rejection was received and basically lauded as a sign of legitimacy. Halcyon days, my friends. Halcyon days.

February – Productivity to the MAX.

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Still going strong – posts were lengthy and covered a range of topics that I thought would never dry up (ahem). The first full MS request was received, and even though I tried SUPER hard not to be, in retrospect the naivety of it is properly pitiful…

March – Peaks and Troughs. 

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The erstwhile peak of The Rejection Box. Yeah, there were ups and downs – two full MS requests along with two more full MS rejections, but hell if things weren’t moving. Goodness me, the mood swings.

April – Denial. 

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Looking back, this was the beginning of the decline. Assertions that I’m really not an amateur, beginning to consider what happens if I’ve just humiliated myself on the internet…but still, (mostly) regular posts on real topics. So. That’s something.

May – Anger. 

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By this point there is a definite tone of toddler tantrum-ing in the subtext of all the posts. Only at the end of May do the cracks really show themselves, but prior to that there is a clear, rage-y panic that I’m doing everything I can and it is going exactly nowhere.

June – Bargaining.

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Here we hit the wheedling stage of ‘no, come on now, don’t you think I deserve just a LITTLE bit of not-failing?’ Posts have taken a short and sporadic turn, and mostly revolve around trying to find new ways of saying I really am trying, but success is one devilishly tricksy little bastard…

July – Depression.

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With the exception of the brief moment of Chicken House potential, July was pretty much a surrender to the Failure Powers That Be. I was pretty ill this month, in my own defence, but it still reads a touch like a mental breakdown…

August – Acceptance. 

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Still not exactly ALIVE with blog posts or productivity, but I think (hope) that there is a slight upward turn here. Having been clobbered into the dirt, my hopes and intentions are JUST about ready to peek out from the ashes and play dead if Failure comes stomping past again. Maybe?

So that was worthwhile, eh!

 

 

What Does ‘Successful’ Mean?

Guys, brace yourselves. This is going to be an actual, real blog post.

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It occurred to me recently (months ago, actually, but hey) that I’ve talked a lot about wanting to be ‘successful’ and how hard I’ve been trying to achieve any ‘success’ and how desperate I am to even touch a blob of ‘success’, without ever actually defining the term. Do I mean I want to get a publishing contract? Hold my own, completed and printed, novel in my hands? Earn my living through writing? Become a squillionaire? Have newspapers hand me their monthly title of ‘the next JK Rowling’?

Well, yeah. I mean, that’d be sweet.

But sadly, I’ve been writing/trying to get a book published/cyber-stalking successful writers for ten years, and have long since tempered my thirteen-year-old intentions (of appearing on talk shows to promote the celebrity-starring film adaptation of my bestselling children’s novel) with a hearty dose of reality. Don’t get me wrong, the Dream Big Scenario is still – and will always be – to be a rich and renowned writer of books that people love.

But I’m not as stupid as I often sound.

As the years have gone by, my ambition for my own potential writing career has gradually deflated, surged up and (in the darkest hours of rejection) been replaced with the Primary Life Ambition of ‘owning a dishwasher’.  ‘Success’ is not a definition I have set in stone – even for me it’s a totally subjective concept, and I’m sure that anyone you asked would define it differently. But it’s been on my mind a lot recently, as I have once again found myself sacrificing my fought-for and valued writing time wringing job applications from my tired and frustrated brain, for positions I don’t actually want. (Please excuse the millenial* whining.)

On the plus side, it’s usually times like this when I settle on Becky’s Definitive Definition of Personal Success. And it is this: to be enabled, through publication of a novel, to build my working life around writing for children.

In translation, I want to hold my own, professionally published book in my hands. I want to earn some portion – and it doesn’t matter how tiny – of my living through writing. I want publication of a novel to give me a key to doors that are only open to published writers – to apply for residencies, take part in author visits at schools, attend book festivals and participate in the community of children’s/YA writers who are living, as far as I’m concerned, the Life of Riley.

Now don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world I’d be able to live a comfortable life by spending my working days doing the thing I love and am good at. But I think my subconscious feels that if I set my sights a little lower – to being able to call myself a published writer, and desperately pimping myself out accordingly – then maybe the universe will compromise, and give me something. You never know.

So that’s ‘success’, to me. And I’ve been thinking about it for so long, I can’t even tell if it sounds tragic or arrogant anymore…

*Please also excuse the use of the word ‘millenial’.

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POSITIVE THOUGHTS

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