Well, it’s been over a year since my last post, so I figure it’s time to catch you up with what I’ve been up to recently.
I’ve been taking my masters in Creative Writing and Publication, as I mentioned I would be doing in a previous post, and I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it! So much so, that I’m currently going through the application process to take a PhD in Creative Writing. Fingers crossed that’ll all be settled quite soon – and in the meantime I’m looking for a ‘proper’ job (or, at least, one that brings in enough money to pay my bills and leave enough over for food!)
While a lot of the masters has been about longer-form fiction, we also had a flash fiction module which has strongly resurrected my interest in the form (not that it had ever really gone anywhere!) So I’ve been writing a fair amount of flash, and I’ve combined these flashes with my New Year’s Resolution, which was to try and submit at least 100 times this year.
I came up with this resolution because I do struggle with rejection – I’ll submit two or three pieces, have them rejected and then lose all my confidence for a few months! This way, even if pieces are rejected I have still achieved something positive, a result towards my 100 submissions. I can also recycle rejected pieces, immediately sending them somewhere else following a rejection, thereby quickly ticking off another notch. Hopefully this will help to prevent the two-and-three-month long doldrums, encouraging me to keep on sending work out and logging a few more successes.
In fact, this has already proven itself successful: from maybe three accepts last year, I am already on five positives: three for Pandora’s Inbox (link attached below), one for Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine which is shortly forthcoming, and one, the latest, for National Flash Fiction Day’s Flash Flood. My entry, ‘Soccer Mom’, will be released at 18:00 on the 15th June 2019 – do keep an eye out for it, if you are a fan of the site.
I have submitted perhaps twenty of the hundred pieces I am meant to be sending out this year, and we are already nearly halfway through the year! I am hoping to have a bit more leisure time during the summer, while I am working on my dissertation, to send out some more flashes and short stories and hit my target.
The PhD will be a novel-length piece of writing, as well as a twenty-thousand-word critical piece which, at this stage, is looking to be four 5,000-word essays on the themes and issues highlighted within the creative piece. I am very much looking forward to getting to grips with the next level of writing!
Here’s a piece that I had published in Pandora’s Inbox that was also included in the print version.
I really liked her shirt. It was white with lace flowers all around the bottom edge in a cheerful sunflower yellow, and nicely fitted to her figure.
When I was little, I loved our living room. We had floor-to-ceiling windows with French doors that were usually open onto a garden filled with hot-pink bougainvillea, smoky blue hydrangeas and flame-coloured zinnias. The curtains, white and almost see-through, billowed in the light breeze that carried the scent of roses into the room. I would have spent hours, if my mother had let me, just watching the play of sunlight through voile and the movement of the flowers in the wind, but she chased me away to the kitchen to play near the maid or out into the garden where Dad would be tinkering with the car or laying out another bed for the growing veggie patch he was putting in.
So, when I saw her shirt and smiled and said, ‘I like your shirt. It looks like curtains,’ I knew what I meant.
Here’s the link in case you would like to read it in situ (scroll down to my name and pick ‘Curtains’) or you can check out the other pieces, many of which are very good indeed. Alongside another short story, there is also that rarest of commodities, a poem of mine!
Such a wisdom here xx
I decided to honor Dr. King by posting some of his most memorable quotes. The problem lay not in finding them, but in knowing when to stop! Imagine if he’d lived beyond his brief 39 years; oh, how we need his mitigating, bridge-building voice today! But rather than merely honoring his legacy, let us strive to embody it, to show through our words and, yes, the content of our character, how things could be.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
“The hottest place in hell is…
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I am an avid reader of blogs and sites offering advice on how to write, when to write, and what to write. I’ve read so many now, that I am well aware that there are some pieces of the advice that will always pop up as standard: write everyday, write what you know, write what you love – as well as some that are controversial: ‘write lots of bad writing to improve’ versus ‘write carefully from the beginning, craft every word’ etc. Unlike many of those other posts, I am writing strictly about my own personal experience, so there isn’t going to be much in the way of pontificating advice; rather, I’ll just tell you what worked for me and why…
Growing up in Zimbabwe, I have always wanted to be a writer. I did want to be a vet for about two years between the ages of seven and nine, but I realised that I wanted to be a vet so that I could write wonderful anecdotes about the job, a la James Herriott…
I always had something published in the annual school magazine – usually poems in which every line rhymed – and was the inaugural editor of the weekly school newspaper in high school. This meant that I was quite confident that I was good at writing, and I began to hunt around for work in that field. In those days, and in that place, there was precious little going. Any commissions were snapped up by journalists and writers who had all the right connections, and my many, many letters of enquiry received multiple ‘no thanks’ or ‘we will keep your info on file’.
My first paid commission was an interview with a local news anchor. I was paid something like ZW$45 for the piece, but ended up spending ZW$35 on a lunch for myself and the anchor in question. I also slaved over every word, coming in at exactly the requested word count, and including lots of interesting information about the man. When the piece came out, it had been slashed to about two-thirds the size, my carefully crafted words had been pruned massively, and the editor had switched around several paragraphs. After a couple of hours sulking I read through the piece as published, and then compared it to what I’d originally written. The printed piece was better; easier to read and the layout, in some indefinable way, looked more professional than my school-girlish offering.
This was my first lesson: Don’t be precious over your work. Editors know their onions!
Now, the way I got that first commission was an eye-opener too. I met my now-husband when he was renting a granny-flat on a property. The landlord’s daughter was the editor of the magazine, and it was my boyfriend telling her about me, and how I wanted to write for a living, that got me the job. My next commission in the world of writing was for a bunch of weekly crosswords for an independent newspaper. I compiled ten small crosswords and one big one per week (one small cryptic and one small easy for Monday to Friday, the big one for a Saturday being something of a mix of all types of clues) for the paper which came out daily, Monday to Saturday. I got that job through my tried and untested system of writing and offering my services. The only difference with this letter was that it landed on the editor’s desk at exactly the right time – his current compiler had been becoming more and more unreliable and had just arrogantly demanded an immense increase in pay for his work, believing that the editor would struggle to find a replacement. He phoned me on the spot and said ‘If you can submit two weeks’ worth of puzzles in three days’ time, you have the job.’ I said, ‘I can do it,’ put the phone down and, sweating nervously, set to work, getting them submitted to him with half a day to spare.
Second lesson: Be aware that work will come up in weird and wonderful ways – look out for opportunities and seize them. Traditional methods of finding work DO work – but often it’s very much a case of being in the right place at the right time…
I compiled crosswords for a few years, and it was great! I began work on a Monday, completing the weeks’ work on the Tuesday evening and submitting it on Wednesday. I worked from home, so I could look after the children and do the school run, using their nursery and nap times to get my work done and dusted. It was great, and for that two days’ work, I was paid about the same as a fairly low-level, but full-time secretary – more than enough for our needs, until rampant inflation made a mockery of the economy.
It was around this time that we gave serious consideration to moving to the UK – my mum was British, as was hubby’s dad – as our whole way of life were at risk. The children were rapidly approaching school age, and we would need to raise school fees for them. Our home was a rented cottage on a farm that had been designated for seizure, and farm violence was breaking out all over the country as the economy tanked. And my crossword job was for an independent paper, which meant that they were a nuisance to the government who were making threats to shut down the independent media. The decision was more or less made for us: it was a case of move or starve, so we sold up everything in order to be able to afford our tickets, and set off.
Once we were settled in the UK – a matter of around a year, time made longer thanks to the vagaries of a viciously nutty sister-in-law (a story worthy of its own blog post one day!) I once again looked into writing for a living, sending out emails and letters offering writing and crossword services. However, my efforts came to nothing, and I (reluctantly) went back to work as a secretary/ admin assistant.
All this time, I wrote fiction in my spare time, occasionally entering competitions or submitting to magazines – but quite halfheartedly, I wasn’t terribly confident in my creative writing abilities any more after all that time raising the children and not having much in the way of adult conversation, never mind stimulating repartee…
As I could only work part-time because hubby’s job made the school run impossible for him, the jobs I could take were rather limited – and then I was made redundant twice in a row. After the second time, I decided that the ‘security’ of salary was maybe not as secure as it should be, and began to cast around for any kind of work that could be done at home, with a special eye out for any writing work.
I found work at home as an online call-centre operator, and it was alright. It paid the bills and offered advancement, but after a very short time I found the work soul-destroying. We had a very limited script, weren’t allowed to chat to the customers (and for some, I very much had the impression that these calls represented a large part of their total human interaction every day…) and had a fair number of hard sell products to persuade customers to purchase. It was during a particularly trying period that a couple of the other ladies who worked for the online call centre were chatting on Facebook, when one of them mentioned that she had just found an online writing site that she had signed up with for extra pennies.
It had been about five years since I had last looked for work at home as a writer and I was amazed! There was writing work available by the score! I signed up with Textbroker, the site mentioned by my friend, and pretty soon, I was writing so much that I was neglecting the calls. I was able to write up to 8 pieces a day, and this made me almost enough money to get through the month… Enough, anyway, that I was able to stop taking the soul destroying calls and write instead.
Lesson 3: Choose your compromises. I was happy to write for less money, but would have needed a lot more money in order to continue with the (better paid) phone calls… Ensure your sacrifices are manageable.
This was in 2011. I worked purely as a freelance writer for the next three or so years, and thoroughly enjoyed it, although the money was highly unreliable. Some months I would do well, and pay all my bills and be able to treat the children; other months were a trial, constantly scrabbling to make sure that minimum payments were met and that there would be milk and bread in the house.
One thing I noticed pretty quickly was that I got very much faster at typing. I would begin to plan out what I would write as I read through the brief, and was able to strip down my research so that it didn’t take up too much time – when you are paid by the word, you learn to put words down faster!
Lesson 4: You will acquire skills without intending to, simply by practising your craft.
Then, in 2014, our eldest son was ready for university. My husband asked, out of the blue, ‘Have you never wanted to go to university?’ Well, yes, I had. In Zimbabwe I hadn’t been able to afford it, and I’d been working full time, or looking after children – but now… Our youngest was in high school, and I no longer needed to be home for the school run in either direction – I was suffering something of an almost empty-nest-syndrome. So I applied for a place at the local uni and was fortunate enough to be offered an unconditional place, which I accepted immediately.
While I was taking my degree, all the hard work on the writing sites started to pay off. I scored a couple of private clients, who are wonderful and send me work when they can. I still write for Textbroker and a couple of other sites as and when I have time, in between my on-campus job and my private writing.
My degree was fantastic, so good that I’m currently waiting to start my master’s in October. I’m much more confident in my creative writing once again, and have recently started writing a blog for another private client – he essentially buys our groceries these days! I’ve started work on my portfolio, and hope to have a good solid base of work that I can improve on and workshop during the master’s.
Lesson 5: Write whenever you can. If you have fifteen minutes and an idea, write. if you are on the train for half an hour, write. If you have a it of time while dinner cooks, write. Don’t say things like ‘Oh, I’ve only got twenty minutes, that’s no good.’ You will be quite surprised to realise just how much writing you can get done in a very few minutes, especially over time. At first, you might not manage any more than one sentence or the ghost of an idea, but with time and practise, you will soon be able to rattle out a couple of hundred words in that twenty minutes.
And, one piece of advice that still rings true comes from Jodi Picoult: You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.’ Write. Write a lot, but write with purpose. I’ve never been one for meaningless exercises – being paid by the word taught me to put a value on my time, and I won’t waste it unnecessarily.
As I said at the beginning (of this rather longer than expected blog post) this is not exactly advice – it seems to have turned into a ramble along how I got into writing instead of how I manage the process!
I hope you’ve found it interesting, and here is a link to my latest story that has been published by the University of Chester’s Pandora’s Box – click here.
I’ve been away from my blog for nine months this time – long enough to have a baby! (Don’t worry, I haven’t!) But it does serve me right for saying that I would do better than leaving three months between posts… in a way I did ‘better’, just not the way I meant!
In the interim, I have graduated uni with a first class combined honours BA, and have signed up for a Masters which will begin in October 2018, running for a year. After that, the real world beckons, but hopefully with a job in publishing, editing and/ or creative writing of some kind.
I’ve also completed my detective novel, the writing thereof anyway, but am struggling to find the time to read it through properly. I’ve gone through the grammar and spelling and so on, it’s seeing if the story hangs together on paper the way it does in my brain – that’s a bit harder to tell as I *know* all the bits that I might not have made clear in the book… Anyway, it’s pretty much done and when I have a week to read it through I will then start the slow, steady hunt for a good agent.
Preparatory to the masters, I’ve recently been going through all my writings to try and get all my bits and pieces of creative work in one place – there are hundreds of short stories and flashes mainly, but I’ve also found that I have a number of long stories – ten thousand words plus – and even two or three that are, or will be, novel-length when they’re finished.
So, despite my lack of blogging, I have not been unproductive – and my plan (ahem, please note ‘my *plan*’) is to send off many of the short stories and flashes to online publications, and then blog about the successful ones. Of course, that might not happen, so all I can say is: I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last blog and I hope to leave less time before the next.
But no promises!
I’ll leave you with a picture of tonight’s handicap to writing – you try typing with a solid furry body resting entirely on your dominant arm…
This is brilliant!
This blog’s been quiet for over three months this time – the longest gap since I began the blog. I do have a good-ish excuse though, among other things, I’ve been proofreading and editing my biggest piece of writing to date.
(Quick side note: the ‘other things’ mentioned above include finishing third year of a combined BA, including sitting an exam which involved writing two full length essays as well as revising for said exam…)
All of the above has taught me one thing: don’t leave all the editing until the end.
I generally keep an eye on spelling and grammar as I go anyway – I cannot physically leave a typo or misplaced comma once I’ve spotted it – but a lot of writing advice blogs* say that it is best to write the whole story down as fast as possible without making any corrections or doing any proofing. This is the way I work with short pieces of up to, say, about three or four thousand words, but I’ve come to understand that this is not how I am going to be comfortable working with longer pieces.
They say that the reason for writing straight through is so that you don’t lose the flow of the story, and I can understand that. However, for me, when I have a story on the go it tends to stay fresh (touch wood!), and – as long as I don’t leave it too long – I can pick it up quite smoothly after a break.
What I do struggle with is proofing. I don’t like the tedium of going over my work critically, and I find it very draining if I have a lot of text to go through. I managed the first read through fairly easily. The second was tedious, and took much longer than it should have – I tended to start reading the story, rather than scanning for sentence structure and errors. The third – and hopefully last, for a while at least – draft is almost ready, at which point I’m going to start scouting about for an agent. Any further drafts and amendments will be in response to the agent’s (should I succeed in finding one) suggestions.
For my next big piece of writing (calling it a ‘novel’ before it is ready for publication seems a bit pretentious) I think I will write it as I did this piece, in natural sections, but this time stop to edit each section as I go. As long as I make a note of any ideas I want to incorporate into the narrative (which I do anyway) I won’t miss any important pieces of information or leave out any crucial clues.
In hindsight – 20-20 as always! – I should have realised that this would always be a better way for me to work. With my academic assignments, I very quickly learned to reference and footnote as I went along, to save the frustration and time-consuming agonies of trying to re-locate that really good quotation, or find the page number by trying to skim read the whole book again! Putting in quotes and references while the book/ article/ online source was in front of me, meant that a) I saved time and b) that when the essay was complete, so were the references, leaving just the bibliography and proofreading to do.
So there you have it: the reason I haven’t been around very much the last few months! Hopefully, it won’t be so long before the next blog post. I’ve attached a little anecdote-type flash narrative below, based on, as they say, true events… Enjoy!
Until next time
*There are many writing advice blogs out there, some good, some bad, some excellent, some awful: pick the good ones that relate to your writing style and ignore the ones that advise you to make huge and drastic changes to the way you work. Some of these bloggers seem unaware of the fact that everyone is different and that what works for one might not be ideal for someone else!
Graduate Job Seekers Training Session
We gather in a small room, with rectangular desks arranged in a square. None of us speak, except to the friends we’ve come with: business major remains with international business; creative writing with English lit. stays with English lit. and creative writing, and the criminology single honours ignores the microbiologist with an interest in brewing. Or is he a biologist with an interest in microbrewing?
We sit in near silence, and wait until 10am, when the session will begin.
The lady in charge begins, running through her planned timetable, promising to be done by 11, rather than 11:30 as advertised. (A latecomer slopes in, sits down in the nearest seat, self-important and unapologetic.)
‘To give you time to ask me private questions, should you wish to,’ she continues. ‘But for now, let’s go around the room and you tell me what sort of graduate jobs you’re looking for.’
‘Marketing, lovely. That’s a huge field. Huge. You’ll have to narrow that down.’ She writes it on the wipe-board.
‘I started in HR!’ She rattles off a potential career path that has the HR hopeful scribbling down lengthy notes. The rest of us allow our attention to drift.
‘Editing, publishing.’ The wipe-board pen makes soft squeaks.
We are interrupted by the sight of the campus cat strolling past, tail held at a jaunty angle, tortoiseshell fur gleaming in the sun.
A whisper of excitement rises, fades, swells as the cat comes into the room. We have been chosen.
The microbiologist and the latecomer bend to stroke the cat. She ignores the latecomer, favours the microbiologist. The microbiologist scratches under her chin, caresses her ears. She approves, moves closer.
Then. The latecomer, bastard, grabs at the cat. Hauls her up, undignified. Puts her in his lap, holds her there. She wriggles. He tightens his grip.
She meows loudly, fights him, scratching. He releases her, with the air of one humouring an ingrate. She runs off, will not return.
We stare at him.
The lady asks, ‘What are you studying?’
‘You won’t be a full psychologist until you have your PhD, so you’ll be an assistant psychologist for some years.’
He nods, but she’s already writing.
We all nod in silent agreement.