Get a Group

A few months ago I went to a workshop. There I bumped into a woman who is regularly published as a Womag writer (woman’s magazine fiction). We got chatting and now I’m in the same e-critique group as she is.

My output has gone up hugely.

I’d been looking for some like-minded folk for feedback for years. I had other writers to look at my work but they don’t read the sort of magazines I target, so while it was well-intentioned feedback, it wasn’t necessarily that helpful. Also, their output isn’t actually very high. I had no one really pushing me to work. Except me. And I can be a bit, well, laid back.

The writers in my new group, however, are inspirational. There’s nothing like feeling the slowcoach to make you pull your socks up and work harder and faster.

My spreadsheet of submissions for this year consequently looks like this:

  • Jan – 1
  • Feb – 3
  • May – 2
  • July – 1
  • August – 2
  • October – 6
  • November – 8

November includes my first story written and submitted in under 24 hours. When was the workshop? September.

I go to a local writers’ group, too. It’s well run by a lady who has an MA in writing, but most of the attendees are not interested in getting published. It doesn’t matter. I get inspiration here, and this week inspired a story I submitted to Woman’s Weekly. I also get to help new writers, which is a good feeling. One of them, who only started writing in May, has just had a piece published in a local history anthology which I had spotted and flagged up to the group. She is chuffed and it’s given me a rosy glow, too.

So, my best advice to all writers is to find a writing group to support you with your work. Any group can be effective, but one specific for your needs is best. This can take some time to find, so be patient and be prepared to cast your net wide.

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World Kindness Day

Paws for Thought, picture courtesy of Pixabay

Today I went in search of a new magazine called In The Moment. I’ll be honest, I’m not a great magazine reader: I was after its short story as this has been flagged up as a new market. Sadly, the magazine was proving difficult to find.

It wasn’t in any of the larger supermarkets so I had to make a special trip into W H Smiths in town. It’s a while since I’ve been there, to be honest. And it had changed. The long magazine display along the left wall had been replaced by books. The upstairs book department had closed. I eventually found the magazine display, drastically reduced, in the middle of the shop. There were a few mindfulness-type mags, but no sign of In The Moment. Rats.

I queued and asked the chap behind the till. He’d never heard of it, but suggested that if it was a ladies magazine then it might be in a separate display, one which I hadn’t noticed. Readers, I checked every title, and finally, on my hands and knees, peering into the top, rearmost corner of the bottom shelf, I spotted the corner of a magazine on which was written ‘In The M’. Eureka!

How those less determined than me are meant to find it, I have no idea. So, £5.99 lighter, I headed to Debenhams, a lunch of fish and chips (I’m not allowed fish in the house) and settled down to enjoy.

The story is in a handy, handbag-size pullout section which also contains a decent-size crossword and advice on managing flu – appropriate for November. The story was beautiful and left me with a sense of feeling good. Just what you want over a quiet lunch by yourself.

Now I’m sitting at my desk looking through the rest of it and I’ve spotted a diary date of Nov 13th – World Kindness Day. Take a moment to be kind to yourself and others, inspired by the Small Kindness Movement to spread kindness in society. What a lovely idea. Far better than burning a 400-year-old terrorist and frightening our pets half to death with flashes and bangs.

On which note I’m going to give a quick plug for an anthology written by some writing pals of mine in aid of an RSPCA group. It’s called Paws for Thought and you can get it here. It contains 27 stories by well known womag writies such as Patsy Collins and Beatrice Charles.

Rejection

I’ve had a rejection. The novella I had great hopes for has been returned as ‘not for us’ after nearly 5 months.

I opened the email while on a lovely weekend visiting relatives in South Wales. I was in bed settling down for the night when I clicked on it, so obviously then I couldn’t go to sleep as I was Down In The Dumps.

On getting home I read it again and, you know what? It wasn’t that bad. Yes, it was a form rejection but a pleasant one. Why? Because they’d be happy to consider further submissions and they wished me the best of luck placing my manuscript with someone else.

They probably send the same email to everyone, including those who can’t spell or write coherently. But that’s not the point, is it? Getting a rejection is a miserable business so getting one that gives you hope is a lovely thing. And I can sit here and tell myself there is an alternative wording for those writers they really don’t want to hear from again!

So, I need to seek alternative homes for my 23K of passion, and think about why it got rejected in the first place. The publisher (Carina) doesn’t give individual feedback but they do have a blog where they list the 10 most common reasons for rejection. 

Looking at this and re-reading my story, I’m guessing I mainly fell into the too much back story at the beginning trap. I have now re-read two of the publisher’s books and their typical heroines/heroes meet in the first one or two pages. Mine don’t do that. I made the mistake of painting the scene – an archeological dig on Shetland – and then setting out my heroine’s internal motivation first and that lasted a good few pages. My hero entered while she was still off shopping for supplies. Need to work on that.

What I can’t be objective about is if I have fallen into any of the other traps. I think my story is engaging, but others may not. It is, as the email says, a subjective thing. It’s entirely possible the problem is number 2 – that in an overcrowded genre my story doesn’t stand out as fresh or unique. On the other hand, it did take nearly 2 months longer than stated to get returned. That has to be a good thing, right? Hopefully they thought about it at least.

Although they state they don’t have time to give individual feedback, they do sessions on Twitter where they quote editor’s comments on rejected manuscripts. There’s one here. They don’t, of course, identify the manuscript so you can’t possibly know if the comment refers to yours making it a completely useless individual feedback exercise. Clearly these comments hit a nerve with editors. However, it’s all very well saying ‘don’t bore the editor’ but if nobody tells you it’s your manuscript that’s boring, it’s very easy to convince yourself that yours is the one that is really well written but “I didn’t like the hero.” How much better it would be if they had a list of the 10 reasons in the form rejection email and the sender could tick one or more when sending it. That wouldn’t take much time, would it? And it might attract better targeted submissions next time round. As it is, I’m not really sure what I need to work on.

Never mind, onwards and upwards.

 

That non-existent writer’s block

I have it right now. Whatever I start falters. At the moment it’s a story about a rocking horse sheep. Going nowhere. Literally. Also three books with plots in suspension. Whatever I turn my fingers to keyboardwise peters out after a few sentences. I’ve even, shock horror, resorted to housework today to try to shake things up.

We’ve all been there. So what does one do?

There’s a raft of ideas on multitudinous blogs. Most of them say keep writing. All I’ve written today is a humourous reply to a prompt on my Facebook writing group page that got some instant likes and a laugh from the prompter. Which was nice. But it hasn’t moved the sheep story one iota. It’s sitting there as stubbornly unmoving as, well, as a sheep.

So I’ve turned to a Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I don’t normally read books on writing, but I’ve found it highly readable so far. It has a no-nonsense style, lots of short, to the point sentences with bullet points and minimal waffle. Okay, the author is a little bit in love with Dean Koontz but every good character has a flaw.

I’m in the ‘how to explode with plot ideas’ section. I read it on holiday last week and vowed to follow his advice when I got home. Did I? Hell no. And here I am. Blocked

What I should have done was:

  • schedule a regular time, once a week at least and
  • get relaxed, allow my mind to run free, at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time and
  • select one of the exercises below.. etc.

I’ve got at least 30 minutes now. There are a ‘top 20 exercises’ from ‘what if’ to ‘desperation’ (i.e. writing about the wall/screen/coffee cup that’s sitting in front of you). Today I’m going to do, let’s see…obsession. “Create a character, give them an obsession, see where they run.”

I should also put a reminder on my calendar for this time next week to do it again. And again. Which reminds me. Writing group on Monday and I haven’t even looked at the task. Tsk Tsk.

Waiting for the lift

It’s not very often that I link to other writer’s blogs, but this one caught my eye today.

stair lift
It feels like I’m waiting at the bottom of one of these – not a super-duper swish and shiny elevator

I’ll be honest, I had not heard of Laura K Benton, but the idea of successful authors sending the elevator back down for authors-in-waiting struck a cord. The gist of it is that once you’ve made it, don’t forget all those waiting patiently in the foyer for their big break, and help them where you can.

It reminded me of an audience with Susan Calman that I went to last year. She was promoting her autobiography at the Manchester literary festival and was clearly nervous. But one thing she was very clear about: as a comedian, she found other comedians on the circuit not very nice. But authors at festivals? Absolutely brilliant, couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of people.

She might just have been saying that, of course, but anyone who has been to a literary festival will recognise the senitiment; authors love going to these things – it’s the fun part of the job.

The elevator came back down for Laura in several different ways, and I’m pleased for her. Meanwhile I’m waiting here patiently for the ‘ping’ and the doors to open. Better have something decent to show for it when that happens…