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.

Advertisements

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. 

bring it.gif

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.

productive

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. 

mood swings.gif

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. 

denial.gif

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. 

anger.gif

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.

begging-gif-19

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.

depression.gif

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. 

acceptance.gif

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.

omgwhat.gif

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’.

yuck.gif

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

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

But what happens if this actually doesn’t work?

God, even writing this post is going to be bleak. But come on guys, let’s chin up and barrel through. I am totally in control of my emotions on this subject, and this will not devolve into a hysterical, shrieking mess. I got this.

fake swagger

Ahem. So. My Current Rejection Tally stands at 22 – and it’s actually 24 if you include the two agencies I’ve nagged for a reply but who almost certainly aren’t going to email me back. (For the interested, 11 of those 22 have been actual rejection letters, the other 11 are assumed – if two months and three emails haven’t done it, we can probably safely assume nothing will.) My top choices list all have big red ‘R’s next to them on the fabled spreadsheet, or a slightly less aggressively red ‘Full MS – R’. Even though I’m currently waiting on 9 responses (unfortunately including the 2 that I’m 99.9% sure are rejections), and have a further 19 agencies in the next batch alone – it seems like it might be time to consider what happens if every one of these agencies – and the ‘long shot’ list that comes after – results in a rejection.

I’ve written before about what I believe is the best way you can prepare for an utterly failed submission, so I’m not really going to cover the practical aspects of what you actually do next, so much as the more abstract, emotional elements. How will I actually feel, if every single one of those agencies tells me I’m not quite good enough?

Firstly, it has to be said, quite embarrassed. There are plenty of people in the world (and I am often one of them) who won’t tell anyone when they have a driving test coming up, or when they’ve started a diet, or made a new life resolution – for fear of having to admit to those same people that you failed. Now not only did I tell literally everyone about my attempts to get published, I actually broadcast it on the internet. I was aware of the extent to which this might backfire when I started, but blithely told myself (and not incorrectly, it has to be said) that it probably wouldn’t be read by anyone, anyway, and it was a good way of guilt-forcing myself into not giving up. And in some ways this has worked – I definitely would have massively slowed down my submission / general creative / positivity output without feeling as though a small collection of friends and strangers would a) notice and b) challenge me on it. In fact, the dread of embarrassment at suddenly giving up on this blog altogether has once or twice resulted in rage-fuelled Sunday night power-writings, or panic-fuelled I-have-to-catch-a-train-in-half-an-hour submissions – which may not have produced my best work, but it did at least produce work. So yes, if at the end of this little internet adventure I have to post a ‘sorry guys, but I ran out of agents who might have cared’ conclusion, I will feel pretty damn mortified.

On a slightly more optimistic note, I think a (very small, to be honest) part of me will be pretty much okay with it. Being able to devote myself fully to my new project would hopefully grease some seriously sticky wheels, and I can’t say it won’t feel refreshing to see that little ‘(1)’ symbol on my inbox and not get that contradictory swoop of hope and dread in my guts.

But let’s be honest here, the overwhelming majority of my feelings will be neatly summarised by this image:

crying in the rain

The disappointment will be crushing on, I imagine, new and exciting levels. I don’t really want to linger on this point, but think 24/7 pyjamas, crying in work bathrooms and a hopefully temporary, though nonetheless intense, crisis of confidence / self-esteem. Throw in about 6 BMI points worth of chocolate and binge-watching old Friends episodes, and you pretty much have it. It wouldn’t be pretty.

The astute among you may have noticed that I’ve mentioned giving up and starting again twice before – my current submission is actually the third novel I’ve sent off, misty-eyed and hopeful, to agencies. So do I not know exactly how I’ll feel if I have to give up and start again now? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?…your call), no. I was nowhere near as mercenary with either of my previous submissions, and submitted in a much more happy-go-lucky, arbitrary and (perhaps) healthy way. Whilst this meant neither story was exposed to as many potential opportunities, it also meant that neither of them were systematically rejected by everyone possible (though in fairness…I’m pretty damn sure they would have been). Prior to now, I have never exhausted every possibility in my bull-headed pursuit of publication – and so maintained the veil of ‘well it could have happened…’ that would be thoroughly lacking this time.

So…yeah. If this doesn’t work, it will suck. But here are the comforting thoughts on which I will leave both you and (for sanity reasons) myself:

  1. It hasn’t happened yet, and is actually quite a ways off.
  2. Even if this book is rejected by everyone, I am 100% sure that I will just write another one, and try again.
  3. One day – one bloody day – I am as sure as it is possible for me to be that my stubbornness will beat the shit out of the publishing industry’s stubbornness, and I’ll get there.

So we’ll see.

Next Post: As part of my other life in which I actually get paid for stuff, I’ve started work as the editor for Cuckoo Review – a publication in which young people in the north of England write arts reviews, supported by New Writing North and an array of professional writers. Having been doing this job for a few weeks now, it’s got me thinking about the importance of editing, and the relationship between writers’ acceptance of criticism and chances of success – cue, The Rejection Box. Didn’t I make that sound like an absolute riot!?

Submissions Last Week:

Just two, but to be honest considering the level of busy things are at the moment, and the fact that I still haven’t heard back from Full Manuscript Request #3 – unusually, I don’t actually feel the need to apologise.

Current Rejection Tally: 22