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Querying, rewriting and ADHD

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything other than my fundraising poems, which, though I’d appreciate you all having a read of them and sharing, aren’t the sole purpose of this blog. I like sharing my writing journey and the struggles I have, in the hope that others currently struggling with writing (or anything, really) don’t feel so alone.

And wow, have I been struggling.

Last year, I did quite a few edits of older projects, drafted a new book — something I try to do every year — and starting querying literary agents for the…seventh time, I think?

Meaning that come New Year, I was quite worn out. Add to that a broken laptop, and work became rather hard, to put it mildly. (I’m currently still using my partner’s laptop, which I’ve grown used to and he’s more than happy to let me use for as long as I want, so I got over that hurdle pretty quickly). My focus, however, has been particularly bad.

I wanted to rewrite a project that, from feedback I got from agents, was about 15,000 words too short for the genre. As I never know how to relax and get bored between projects, I actually tried to start the rewrite just before Christmas, but then my laptop failed and it got put on hold until I could grab the files from the hard drive. (I’m usually good at backing up my stuff, but as I’d only started the rewrite about three days beforehand, I hadn’t gotten round to it. Naturally, the one time I delayed, ‘disaster’ struck.) When I did manage to get back to it again, despite engaging with the story and characters, it took hours to go over four double spaced pages. I tried repeatedly to go faster, to try and be more productive with my time, but it simply wasn’t working. By the time I reached the half-way point in the book, working on it felt comparable to digging a trench with a teaspoon, and I’m incredibly impatient with certain things.

Now, here I’m going to jump in with the ADHD part, as it’s likely relevant. I’ve been on the waiting list for assessment since mid 2019. I knew it’d be a long wait, just like for my ASD one, and when the pandemic happened, I resigned myself to an extra long wait. Several times I considered getting it done privately, but it does cost a lot, and as I get imposter syndrome, one week I’d be convinced I needed a diagnosis, the next I’d be unsure — I’ve heard this is common regarding ADHD in adults, particularly as it can present quite differently depending not just on age, but gender too. That aside, I was then super surprised when I got a phone call last month saying in-person assessments where I live were no longer supported due to costs, so the people in charge had decided to go with online assessments and mine wouldn’t be too far off. After another phone call and some screening questionnaires to make absolutely sure I’m eligible, I was finally given an assessment date. It’s early next month, and I am nervous as hell. But I already sent them extra notes, so hopefully it’ll go smoothly, whether the conclusion is ADHD or something else.

Anyway, back to writing talk. I’ve always struggled with focusing on and maintaining projects, but I’m stubborn and refuse to quit. So I ended up giving myself a tight deadline and marathoning the work until it was done. It worked, but as always when I do that, I ended up exhausted as it’s really not good for me. That’s the main reason I haven’t posted much lately. All my energy has gone to rewriting, recovering, or writing poetry. (I am happy with the way the rewrite tuned out though!)

As for querying, this round is going better than past attempts in that I’ve actually had a couple of full and partial manuscript requests, but not as many as I’d hoped. Which is disheartening and has led to many hours of ‘what if I never get an agent?’ thoughts. Of course, there are many options, one of which I’ve already pursued for my previous books — finding indie publishers. But the rejections piling up still hurt.

On a side note, though, my publisher recently informed me that two of my contracted poetry books are moving to the editing stage, so that’s something to look forward to (and also be anxious about. You may be thinking I’m anxious about a lot of things, and you’d be right. That’s just my brain.)

So, to bring this ramble to a close: if, like me, you’re a creative struggling with current projects, I see you and I understand. My family keep saying productivity shouldn’t be linked to self-worth, and while I get the idea of that sentiment, I haven’t yet found a way to make it stick. Even writing this post, which I could have left until I felt better and had more energy, is part of that. I didn’t feel like I’d done enough today, so words had to be written. But maybe someday, I’ll have a healthier approach to self-worth.

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Querying — why I’m now nervous about it

I’m no stranger to querying literary agents — I’ve been in the ‘query trenches’ on and off for nearly six years now, I think.

It started with naive, three line query letters that told agents hardly anything about the book, sent to one agent at a time. And I’d wait, and wait, and wait before sending off again because I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the agency’s submission guidelines — which not only stated it was fine to query multiple agents at one time (at other agencies) but also that if I didn’t hear back within the stated time, I should consider it a pass. Sometimes I did get responses, polite rejections that it never occured to me were simple form responses.

I wasn’t too upset, because I had other books to work on. And the more I worked and improved my craft, the more my desire to one day see them in print grew from dream to goal. Quite suddenly, it seemed, I realised no agent would take me seriously unless I was serious. Partnering with a literary agent is a business partnership much like any other. Sure, they love books and want authors to succeed, but they’re not there to babysit. So I researched the querying process as much as I could. Through books, Youtube channels, agency websites, talks by agents at literary festivals and many other resources. And I’m still doing it.

Now, I’ve queried at least seven different manuscripts over the years, and my query packages (letter, synopsis, writing sample [usually the book’s first 3 chapters]) have gotten better over the years, as have the responses. I’ve had a few full manuscript requests on some, and most recently, I got a revise and resubmit. And though they eventually resulted in passes, I feel that I’ve upped my game enough that getting an agent is definitely achievable. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of other querying authors who have put in just as much work as I have, with every bit as much drive. So the competition is very real.

Which is why, having polished one of my most recent projects and prepared my query letter and synopsis ready for submitting, I’m more nervous about it than before. I have huge faith in this book — not only do I love the characters and story, but it’s my first ownvoices (I know I mentioned some of my characters in previous books are autistic, but this is the first that outright states it and is set in the real world). I’ve also been very strict with myself not to send it out too early, which has been one of my biggest mistakes with previous books. Usually, I’m too eager to get them out there without taking the proper time over them, so they’re rejected on things easily fixable.

I’m not convinced there’s really a point to this ramble, other than to express my jitters. But I’ll end by saying going the traditional route in publishing takes a lot of time and drive. Each rejection hurts, some more than others, and have kick-started bouts of depression. But I’ve seen other authors achieve the things I want to, so I’m not giving up. And I think that’s the key to breaking into this industry: the people who do keep pushing, no matter what.

Poetry, Uncategorized

A complete ramble, plus the first piece of writing I had published…

Hi everyone, I’m happy to say I’ve now finished the revamp, line edits and proofreading I was doing on one of my books and sent it off to my publisher.

I’d like to say it was a pleasant experience – and parts of it were, like getting acquainted with my characters and falling in love with the world all over again – but on the whole it made me question every aspect of my writing ability, particularly my grammar. I didn’t know it was possible to spend hours agonising over the correct usage of was and were (look up subjunctive mood, and you’ll see what I mean – technically the rule is fairly simple, but I have oodles of self-doubt), but apparently it is. Even after I sent the manuscript off (after reading and re-reading and fretting back and forth), I was still worried I’d got it wrong (‘it’ being the entirety of my grammar usage).

So my conclusion regarding having to do line edits and proofreading on my own work is that I never want to do it again. Hopefully, this was a one-off scenario and whatever is happening with the editing team at my publisher gets sorted, so I won’t have to. Still, I honestly felt like I was losing my mind.

The other side of it is that now I have finished, I’m not sure what to do with myself. Which is a little ridiculous because I know full well that I need a break, but for some reason my sense of self-worth and achievement is so thoroughly linked to my productivity that I can’t shake it. I think I was relieved for all of ten minutes after I hit send, then the overwhelming heaviness of ‘What am I going to do now?’ hit me and I spent a good few hours stimming and being lost in my thoughts.

Anyway, now I’ve expressed my thoughts on all that, it’s time for something a bit lighter. I thought I’d share with you the first piece of writing I had published, which is a poem I wrote when I was ten.

My primary school encouraged years five and six (I think it was both, but I’m not quite sure) to write a poem for an anthology called Poetic Voyages, created by an organisation called Young Writers. I think quite a few kids in my class submitted a poem, but only some were chosen. This is the cover of the one my poem is in, as there were separate anthologies put together for each region. It was published in 2002:

20200822_120845

On the back it says:

Young Writers was established in 1991 to encourage the reading and writing of poetry by young people.

Young Writers’ books nurture interest and confidence by giving young people the opportunity to see their work in print in a series of regional anthologies.

The books represent a generation of voices having their say on a wide range of themes from home and school to the environment and sport.

These anthologies are a showcase for the writing talent in schools today. 

And here’s a bit more info:

20200822_125753[1]

Lastly, here’s my actual poem in all its glory…

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(The note about whisky in the last line was supposed to be in brackets, but my pa said it’d look better without. I still think brackets would be more effective.)

It’s interesting that, considering the wide range of topics I could have written about, I chose to write about ghosts and school. Perhaps my ‘ghost’ was actually a metaphor for how terrified I was at school (if you haven’t seen my previous posts, I was severely bullied at school by one of my teachers, and quite a few of the kids too. It was not a happy time for me). That, or I’d just been watching Ghostbusters or The Frighteners. Who knows.

 

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Just an update

Hi everyone, I know this blog has been quiet recently, and the reason why is that I’ve been weighed down with edits on my upcoming book.

My publisher had a few…shall we say, hitches…with their editing team, in that at the moment, they don’t appear to really have one. I had a message from them saying my manuscript came back clean, and the majority of writers know that brilliant as their work may be, very rarely is it so perfect that no tweaks need to be made whatsoever.

So, I asked to take a look at my manuscript before they proceeded to the next stage, and as I suspected, it was littered with errors. (I wrote and redrafted this particular book about five years ago, and though it was accepted not only by this publisher, but one before {the company changed hands and I decided to part from them before the book had any work done to it}, the writing was well and truly terrible. For some reason, I’d tried to emulate the style of old time fantasy books, and what I ended up with did not hold up to today’s standards.)

I wasn’t particularly happy, but as the entire writing style needed updating to reflect my current one, I decided to revamp the whole thing, which took a month of hard work (and when I say a month, I mean it — I don’t have another job, so my time was spent wholly on that).

Now, it’s very true that editing your own writing (with publication in mind – self-edits and re-drafts before querying publishers and agents are essential) is not the best idea as generally, you’re too close to see the things that need the most work. However, because it’s been so long since I looked at this book, when I first started going over it, I discovered that it was like reading someone else’s manuscript, giving me the confidence to believe what I was attempting to do might actually work.

Having now done the major edits – I don’t think there’s a single line that hasn’t been tweaked –  I’m now on the proofreading stage. For this, I switched up how I was reading, choosing to upload the document to my Kindle and note down errors on paper as I go. This seems to be working fairly well, as the large font makes typos and grammar issues jump out at me, and allows me to do it at a decent pace and not get caught up reworking the same sentence ten times on the document. Every few chapters or so, I take my notes and apply them to the document, and when I finish the read through of the whole thing, I have a master list of overused words to check and give it that final polish.

All this work came right after doing a revise and resubmit for an agent (who ultimately passed, but in a very encouraging way) and finishing my latest work in progress, so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a break. But I’m close. Really close.

That’s all for now, though upon reflection, it’s a lot more detail than I initially planned on writing. Oh well. (Also, if there are typos in this, I apologise, but I’m too tired to correct them at the moment.)

 

Poetry

Emerging from a fortnight-long hyperfocus on manuscript revisions.

My eye sockets are deeper than they were before,

I’m peering out from the backs of tunnels that are so long

it’s a wonder I can see at all.

The screen and its grey words (the font colour may state black,

but it’s never as black as the type on a printed page)

have attempted to stamp themselves into my pupils

for hours every day over the past two weeks.

I’ve seen them in my sleep, within a blink

and those frequent moments staring into space.

Think the code in the Matrix films, but horizontal –

only after intense study does it form a picture.

But I think I went beyond that

and started picking up the letters and rearranging their parts

while at the same time

they were rearranging me.

And now I’m awake again

attempting to shift back to my usual self.

It’ll probably take me a week to find all the misplaced parts.

Perhaps I put them in the teapot; seems as good a place as any to start.

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Getting into a new WIP

It’s been difficult choosing what project to do at the moment with all the changes in place. Change is hard for me in general: I like to stick to my routines because I know what I’m doing, and if something happens that means I have to alter them even slightly, it can leave my brain completely unfocused for the rest of the day.

That’s why I decided to leave one project for a later time and try something easier. My original project was a YA speculative fiction with many threads weaved into the narrative that I’d have to keep track of, which I knew would drain my energy too much, so after moving away from it I went into full pantser mode (if you don’t know, a pantser is a writer who does little plotting before writing the first draft, so makes things up as they go along, and it’s my preferable way to write) and pulled together several ideas I had written on a sticky note.

I’m now just under 20,000 words into this new work in progress, and as it’s a middle grade book, that equates to  near the half-way mark, and I’m enjoying it. I know there’ll be lots of fixes to make to the beginning when I return to it after it’s finished, but that’s all part of the process. I’m only setting myself the goal of writing 500 words a day as I am having a hard time concentrating, as a lot of people are at the moment, but though it seems like it’ll take forever, I keep reminding myself that I’m not in a rush. I want to enjoy the process and get lost in it as much as when I’m reading a story, so a little bit at a time is plenty. Plus, when I get carried away and write more than that, it feels like a real achievement.

The main thing is that I’m enjoying all the turns it’s taking and how the characters are developing. So I’m sticking to the goal I always have when I write, and that’s to write what I want to read.

I hope telling you this gives you some comfort if you’re also getting stuck with a creative project. Many creatives are having the same difficulties, so you’re not alone. Do what you can, not how much you think you should be doing.

 

P.S the audiobook for my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, is now available. Get it here.

 

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Updates!

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I spoke about any writerly stuff, so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been working on.

I’ve just finished going through the edits I received from my publisher for my upper middle grade/YA fantasy, Nekromancer’s Cage (which is coming out in June!). I had to rework the first chapter and fill in a few little details here and there, as well as approve the changes made during proofreading.

As editing goes, it was quite a light one, but I had a tight turn around time, so it still took a lot of energy and concentration to get done. And, of course, the moment I sent it off once I’d finished, I discovered a typo in the first paragraph. I quickly addressed it and sent the fixed version off straight away, so in the end it all turned out fine!

I’ve also started work on a new middle grade novel featuring witches, trapped spirits and a stroll into death, though as I’m a very light outliner, many of the details are still hazy. But for me, that makes the writing process much more fun, and I’m looking forward to continuing with it.

Last month, I set myself the task of illustrating one of the picture book stories that have been lounging idly on my desktop for far too long. It was definitely a challenge, as I haven’t spent any significant time drawing since I left school, and as lockdown was put in place mid-way through, I was short on a few tools that I probably should have used. The results aren’t spectacular, but I’m still pleased with myself for sticking to a project like that — normally, if there’s little writing involved in a project, I lose my drive for it after a week or so and it gets put on hold indefinitely. Not this time, though! I’m not sure what I want to do with it now, so I’ve put it away for a while so I can come back to it later with fresh eyes.

It was definitely a learning curve, as I quickly realised that my text didn’t leave as much room for the illustrations as I’d thought, and so the story had to be reworked and worded more succinctly. Even if nothing comes of this particular story, at least I have that lesson to take away from it.

That’s all from me for now. I’ve decided that I’m not going to talk much about lockdown unless it’s directly relevant to my work, as I’d like this blog to be an escape from all of that (even if I do post infrequently). I also believe that there are people far better at discussing things like that than me, so I’ll leave it to them.

Happy reading/writing/querying!

P.S. I forgot to mention, a few weeks ago my publisher released the Italian edition of my middle grade portal fantasy, The Door Between Worlds. It’s the first time one of my books has been translated, which is exciting.

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Keeping up hope

Trying to find a literary agent can be a long process for many authors, and I’m no exception. I’ve been querying agents with different manuscripts for about four years now, and though I’ve eventually found homes for those books with a small publisher, it still gets me down that none of them fit with the lists of the agents I queried.

Rejection after rejection can make authors numb to it after a while, and the hope that each query or submission sent out is a potential offer of representation dwindles until it starts becoming something done out of habit rather than real intent.

I start out querying a project with all the enthusiasm in the world, but six months later when the answer has still been no, self-doubt creeps in. My usual method to combat this oppressive feeling is to simply get on with the next book, but this year something else happened that re-ignited my hope.

A writer I know, who’s also been querying for a long time, finally found representation with an agent. (And they’re raving about how good her book is on Twitter, which is awesome to see.)

I was so happy for her that it was almost as if it’d happened to me, and the reason why I think I felt that way is because I knew how hard she’d worked to get there, and all the rejections she’d faced. It was like someone had plastered a sign on the wall in front of me, saying ‘See, it is possible!’.

So now when I feel that imposter syndrome trying to take over, all I need to do is think of that, and I know I’ll pull through.

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A note on rejection

Every writer gets rejected at some point. Whether it’s by peers or beta readers, agents or publishers, it’s always going to happen no matter how good your writing is or how many times you’ve meticulously edited your manuscript.

When I was teaching a workshop at a school the other day, one of the students asked me if I’ve ever been rejected. When I said yes, and that I’ve been rejected around a hundred times for each different project I’ve worked on, she and the rest of the class were pretty shocked. And as it wasn’t something I’ve really thought about that cumulatively, I was surprised too.

I then told the class what I always say about rejection: it doesn’t matter how many “no”s you get, as all it takes to change things is a single “yes”.

Which is true for all of my published works. But I think it’s important to note that sometimes those “no”s are worth listening to, not to make you give up on a project, but to take another look at it to see if it needs to be revised. Now, if you’ve already spent a long time trying to perfect your manuscript, this is hard advice to follow. I’m no exception, it takes a lot of willpower for me to revisit something that I’ve already poured so much time and energy into. I hate it, and I put it off as long as I can. Especially when all the rejections I’ve received have been form rejections or complete silence, as I don’t know where the problem is.

However, the one thing about those kind of rejections is that for me, I think they hurt less. Whereas a rejection with feedback included is like a punch to the stomach that doesn’t disappear for days. I had one such rejection last week, and I’m still not fully over it. The feedback was quite specific, and left me wondering whether to implement it or not, a question to which I still don’t have an answer.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your point of view) the manuscript was actually one I sent out when I knew it wasn’t really ready, but wanted to see if the idea might catch some attention, so I’m actually in the process of revising it anyway. One thing that rejection made me realise is that the manuscript is more plot driven than character driven, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I might have to do some more research to make sure that when I do send it out properly, I’m sending it to people who enjoy that style of storytelling — if I choose to keep that side of the book as it is. That’s not to say I’ll be neglecting my characters, either. Far from it, in fact.

Anyway, there’s no real moral to this post (other than don’t send your manuscript out early like I just did!). I think I just wanted to share some of my rejection experience, so that anyone else in the query trenches knows they’re not alone.

Poetry

Imposter

The pages of drafts and edits could decorate my walls,

each finished book a paperweight, a door stop,

decoration for the shelves

and hideaway for the mind after a long day.

Above all, evidence.

 

Surely I can’t dispute clear fact?

 

The voice of blank bears down on me,

drawing up every negative:

comments, remarks, comparisons,

the scattered and scribbled notes in my journal,

scratched out because they weren’t good enough.

 

Weren’t good enough. Weren’t good enough.

 

Do I prove it right? Or plug my ears,

gather my notes and map them into sense

just like I did last time?