Reigniting the Spark

I used to find motivation pretty easy. All it would take was an interesting story, a mystery, a book with an intriguing character, or a film that I wished I’d written. Lately, whether it’s because of lockdown blues, self-doubt finally taking hold or – dare I even think it – age, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to find that spark again.

The kind of spark that sends you characters when you’re trying to close your eyes at night and leaves your heart racing so fast you’re still awake at 3am thinking up voices, items of clothing, favourite places, and songs for a person who doesn’t even exist.

The thrill that stops you from reading in the middle of a bath because the words on the page have been pushed out by the words forming in your own mind. Where your eyes trace the paragraphs on the book held above the bubbles in front of you, but your mind sees something completely different as your brain replaces that story with your own.

The joy of taking a walk and feeling the heartbeat of a new protagonist forming with every step you take, until you can’t wait to get home and sit at your computer.

I miss that feeling.

The funny thing is, I had it until the moment I finished my last book. Since then, I’ve been in a slump. But maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me, “Don’t you dare start something new until you’ve seen this one through!” Because, now that I’ve finished it, I need convincing that it’s good. And, for someone like me, that doesn’t come from inside. The process of submitting is mentally draining and makes me clamber into my cave before it’s even really begun, which is a feeling that I know many of you share. But this is the brink. This is the truly exciting part. The moment when anything can happen.

So, perhaps the spark is changing for a reason. It’s not the after-effects of lockdown, or the self-doubt taking over. It certainly isn’t age, because…fuck that! The spark can’t be about new projects for a while. It has to be something different. Something that already exists. The sleepless nights can be from wondering whether today’s agent query will be the one that leads to success. The bath time daydreams that take over the book I’m reading can be about signings at a book fair, or the premier when it gets turned into a movie (it’s going to happen – of course it is! I’ve picked out my dress and everything…)

The spark might well be there if I just let it grow for the manuscript I already have, rather than something I’m yet to write. Losing it may be just another form of self-sabotaging procrastination, when really all I need to do is light the match under the next stage of the process. Next time I take a walk, I won’t be thinking about a new protagonist. I’ll be thinking about the ones I already have. I’ll get as excited about you meeting them as I was to get home and write about them when I first started my book all those months ago. And I’ll hurry home to sit at my computer. I’ll hit “submit query”.

And that’s when I’ll feel that spark.

New Year, New Writing Me…?

Welcome to a new year, my writing friends. A new decade, to be exact. I already feel as though this will be a year of change. A change in practice. A change of habits. Renewed motivation and drive. I took a couple of months out to re-charge my batteries and shake off the technological burn-out I’d been experiencing. A hectic and challenging few months at my day-job had left me unable to enjoy time at the computer at home, and fighting to summon up the enthusiasm to post cheerful insta pics and remotely positive blog posts.

A break has done me good, I’m happy to report. I have something of a plan going into 2020. I am determined to organise my time and to ensure productivity no longer goes hand-in-hand with burn out. I have identified my problem – I’m an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person. In the past I have had no problem writing thousands of words, zoning out and immersing myself in my imaginary worlds, fingers flying over the keyboard and my brain working overtime to catch up to the images being acted out by the characters in my mind. But then comes the edit. Picking apart the plot holes and rectifying lazy setting descriptions. And then, inevitably, comes the loss of confidence. The spark dries up. The project gets shelved for a shiny new idea and off I go again, hurtling towards exhaustion but ultimately getting no closer to my goal of becoming a novelist.

2020 will be different. I’m determined to get a grip on my writing practice to ensure I move steadily towards my goals. I’ve bought a diary and have entered upcoming short story submission opportunities that I might like to try. This will hopefully allow me to manage my spare time more effectively and give me plenty of opportunities to build my short story portfolio while simultaneously completing my novel. I’ve set time aside in January to carefully plot my chapters and I’m ditching word-count focus until I know exactly what I need to write.

And one final vow going into 2020: To take it easy on myself. As writers we demand so much of ourselves. Of our time. Of our energy. Of our lifestyles and headspace. We aren’t superhuman, at the end of the day. The year has begun with nothing but negativity in the news of the world around us, and it can be disheartening. It’s hard to focus on our goals when the lives we live sometimes feel so perilously out of our control.

So, this year, take a breath. Allow yourself the time you need to be brilliant. Enjoy the small steps that you can take in order to achieve your goals. No matter what is happening around us, our writing is the one thing we do have control over. If you’ve been struggling to motivate yourself, just as I have, think of a plan that will take some of the pressure off your shoulders. Get back to doing what you love. And look after yourselves this year, my writing friends.

Who’s afraid of the big bad edits?

A few weeks ago I received a rejection email with a twist. On this occasion I was fortunate enough to have the editor come back to me with my story marked, suggesting that if I make some changes he would reconsider the submission. I was blown away by this opportunity, as I know how rare it is to get a second chance when it comes to submissions!

I went back to him asking for a latest date that he would expect me to return the altered manuscript, stating that I knew that this was no guarantee that I would make it into the anthology even after the edits, and thanking him for the opportunity to try again. He then wrote back to me thanking me for my response to his suggestions, stating that not all writers take the offer of edits quite so well.

This struck me as crazy! Here was a professional, who whilst considering my story had made edits in track changes, without me paying him a thing, and had offered me a second chance at publication if only I follow his advice. For a story that I wrote for his anthology. Who in their right mind wouldn’t snap his hand off, I wondered?! I mean, I know that your own writing is precious, and that having someone turn around asking for changes is like someone saying your baby would be cute if only it had brown eyes and curly hair. But I know I would have had to have paid a fortune sending it off to an editing company for the same pleasure. And his suggestions were completely valid: There was too much description before the action began. There were too many characters for a short story, and some of them had to go. I did need to ramp up the connection between the two main characters, and – damnit – the ending would be better if the narrator actually made it to safety!!

So I sat down to work through the changes, taking each point and scrutinising how to make the edits successful without losing my voice and my original intentions. Sometimes it’s difficult to take criticism, but thankfully this editor made both positive and negative comments with a considered, encouraging tone. I’ve received other edits by more brutal readers in the past, and this was a cake-walk in terms of bruised ego aftereffects! I was dreading making the edits, because I do hate editing. But this was kind of a fun experience, much to my surprise. I learned more from his suggestions that I ever have from courses or classes. I am grateful to him, and glad I learned a while ago to keep an open mind and listen to the experts (probably the most difficult but most important step in my writing career).

All I can say is, no matter how much it hurts, if someone offers you the chance to make edits to improve your story to their publishing standard, don’t let your pride get in the way. You’ll become a better writer from it. Fast-forward a month and I’ve made it into the publication! I am over the moon about it and can’t wait to see the book published. So, here’s to second chances, and expert advice.

Submission Lessons

Well, it’s been a bit of a stop-start month, after pledging to get straight into the swing of 2019! But now, after a fantastic birthday weekend away watching Britain’s Strongest Man live, I can happily report that I am back in the writing game.

I’ve spent this week getting my short horror stories organised and finding potential publishers for those that don’t have homes at the moment. I found a helpful list here: https://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/2018/05/mega-list-of-paying-markets-for-horror.html , that tells you all of the current magazine calls for horror/speculative fiction. Little warning – they’re not all 100% up to date. That’s no comment on the website – it is excellent, and it would be impossible to keep up with all of the sites they showcase! But just be aware that some of the publications are no longer seeking unsolicited submissions, and some of the windows have closed. But it gave me a great starting point. First of all I made a list of my stories and word-counts, making it easier to match them to suitable magazines.

Does anyone else find the term ‘speculative fiction’ a little unnerving? Definitions vary, as do preferences from the editors themselves. I’m sure some of my stories would fit the bill, but the idea of avoiding realism is a strange one. I am never quite sure to what degree they are referring to. This is something I am definitely going to explore further this year! Anyway, that aside, I learned an interesting tip that I had never noticed before. I was making a submission to Red Sun magazine, and noted the often-seen request to anonymise the story. However, Red Sun didn’t just request that the actual story document be made anonymous. They specified the need to right-click on the file, enter the document properties, and delete your name from the creator and PC owner data. I had never actively recognised the need to go to such depths for anonymisation before, and now I’m wondering if this is something I should have done on previous submissions that came to naught. But, live and learn! From now on, I will be taking that extra step when publications ask for the story to be anonymised, just in case.

I am cautiously optimistic about one of the stories that I sent. I originally wrote it for the San Cicaro submission call, and received a fantastic response back from the editor. He disclosed that they considered the story until the eleventh hour, but ultimately refused it because the anthology is due to come out the week that the second part of the new IT movies comes out. Now, I just want to make it clear, there are no killer clowns in the story! But it is about a group of kids going on an adventure to try and discover the origin of strange events occurring in their hometown. I respected their decision, and am grateful for them taking the time to give such strong feedback. If they hadn’t, I may have shelved the story as ‘rubbish – unpublishable’, which I realised I had been doing when a story had been rejected by publications in the past. It taught me that this reaction is crazy – the story may not suit one editor for one reason or another, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good story. I looked a little further into this and found a comment from a writer who stated that it takes an average of ten submission attempts before a story is snapped up. Ten! So, never give up on your story. Keep submitting with a positive attitude. You never know the reasons that may have caused the editors to turn it down (after all – I would never have thought the local cinema listings would have had an impact before that rejection!)

Oh, one last tip – some of the magazine websites I viewed had a submission page that did not state they were closed for submissions. It was only after painstakingly formatting the work to their specs that I went to another area to submit and discovered that the submission window had passed. So, before amending your story formatting to fit a specific request, always check both the home page, submission page, and contact area to make sure they are ready for your work!   

Happy submissions, everyone!

Oddballs and writers

This year will be the year. I just know it. Never mind the fact that I’ve said this every year for as long as I can remember. This year, 2019, big things are going to happen. And, even if they don’t, it’s going to be fun sharing it all with you.

Writing can be an isolating occupation. We spend most of our time with our fictional characters, dreaming up worlds that don’t exist and having conversations with people we have imagined. We are odd. We have to be, let’s face it. So I’m reaching out to all the other oddball writers out there who also see big things happening this year. Let’s be odd together. I want to share every step of my progress this year with people who understand just how strange the writing life can be. Let’s motivate each other, commiserate when things don’t go to plan, and talk about what writing really means to us. It’s difficult to explain it to someone who doesn’t write. But I know you get it.

A little bit about me, just so you know who you’re reading! I live in Lancaster, UK, a small city that has a castle, a quayside, and a very bleak history that gives me endless sources of horror-related inspiration. I have always loved writing, ever since I was a toddler. I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. I have had a few short stories published, and last year one of my horror works featured in the compilation Secret Stairs, which was number one in the Amazon horror chart for six weeks. My dream goal is, of course, to publish a novel. At the moment, I have a very rough draft of a young adult fantasy WIP on the go, which I am hoping to polish up and edit to within an inch of its life over the coming weeks. I’ll let you know how it goes.

There are so many wonderful blogs out there, I am not expecting to compete. But please stop by and let me know how you’re getting on with your own goals for 2019. We can do this together. Hopefully we can motivate and inspire each other, and make each other feel a little less alone on those frustrating days when editing is going terribly or the rejection slips are coming in thick and fast.

2019 is ours, oddballs and writers. We’ve got this.