As I have confessed in earlier posts, I’ve not been subbing much this year. Partially due to my focus on my novels, and partially because I’m being lazy (if I’m honest). But I’m pleased to say that I have had a short story accepted this year, and it has just been published by Stupefying Stories.
I have a bit of a soft spot for this story, it spilled out one night, all in one go, and had me in its clutches from about 8:30pm until 11pm. I still remember sitting on the lounge, computer balanced on my lap, thinking I really should be getting to bed. I’m glad I didn’t because otherwise it might have sat on my ‘stories to be finished’ pile forever.
As much as I had fun with it, I know it is not to everyone’s taste. It has been through both of my writers groups with lovers and haters, more so than any of my other stories. The first time I showed it to the world one person in the group said that it wasn’t working on any level and I should give up on it.
I don’t like that kind of advice, so I ignored it. And a fortunate thing too, because I really enjoyed playing with this story and it was quite different from my usual style. No, it won’t change the world, and you won’t learn anything from the lead character’s journey, but hopefully it will make you smile, and I think that is enough.
So I hope you enjoy Stanhope’s Finest, and I’m grateful that the editors at Stupefying Stories have the same quirky sense of humour that I do!
A friend of mine eagerly confessed that he had just set up a twitter account, but had not yet worked it out. He was confused about when to use #hashtags and when to use the @ sign.
The @ sign was pretty easy to explain; its role, like that in an email, is to denote an address for someone. The #hashtag I thought I had sussed, and explained it was used when you wanted to join in on a conversation or if you wanted to expose your comment to others who were watching that #hashtag. He asked me to give an example, so I gave one that I commonly use; Chapter three finally finished, so glad I #amwriting.
NOOOoooooo! Bemoaned another friend with an #eyeroll, that’s not how you use it. The #hashtag isn’t incorporated into the sentence, you append it to the end to expand on what you have just said: A whole day shopping with the girlfriend #torture #thethingswedo
I then expressed my opinion that with only 144 characters you don’t have a lot to play with, so I couldn’t see what was wrong with incorporating my #hashtag into the sentence. At which point I was informed that I was ‘doing it wrong’.
It struck me as bizarre that people would want to put rules upon one of the ultimate tools of free speech. It’s okay though, I’ve been #torturing him with #inappropriately placed #hashtags all week.
In my writers groups I’m always the one looking for plot holes and continuity issues. It’s not that I’m particularly observant, it’s just that my confidence in my grammar is so low that I feel like finding plot holes and continuity issues is the best that I can offer!
I’m one of the gen X’s who went through on the new way of learning English back in the early 80’s, which is to say we didn’t learn it. Our grammar lesson (yes, singular) was pretty much limited to; “there are these things called nouns, adjectives and verbs, but you don’t really need to learn them.” As lazy six year olds we all clapped with excitement (high fives had not yet made it into the behavioural norm), little did we know it would set us up for a lifetime of never quite understanding our own language.
It came back to haunt me in year 12 when, in our dry-run English exam, none of us could answer the question about “the purpose of the adverb in the following sentence…” not because we didn’t know what its purpose was, but because we didn’t know which word was the adverb! So in my last year of high-school, just before I sat my final exams, I had my first lesson in English grammar.
Since then I have studied dummies guides and old English grammar books that I’ve picked up from the second hand book shop, but I still don’t feel like I’ve got a good grip on grammar. It is all well and good to say that by listening you can learn the building blocks of language, but have you heard how people talk these days? Really it is no surprise that I have a love affair with dangling modifiers and tense slips.
I’m working on a kids book at the moment, aimed at the 6-8 year old market. This area straddles the bracket between picture books and chapter books, but the books are not so long that parents can’t sit and read them to their kids. Because of this I had to make sure it sounded okay when read aloud.
I have heard that a lot of published writers go through an out loud edit, even for their adult books, and several people in my writers groups said they do the same thing for their adult stories. I had never seen it as being necessary before, and have always done all my editing and critiquing by reading in my head. But for the kids book I thought I’d better be more thorough as it might get read out loud.
Wow, what a surprise. Something my brain was happy to read, I was amazed to discover my mouth would stumble over. I didn’t realise how similar some words sound when read aloud, how twisty sentences can be when they don’t have a break in the middle. My red pen edit (the out loud edit) is by far the most prominent on the page. I slashed whole sections and simplified ruthlessly.
I think I need to do this for all my stories. As mad as I feel reading out loud when no one is listening but me, I think it does help you to see your sentences much better. The brain can be very forgiving, but the tongue doesn’t have the same level of tolerance, so I’m going to utilise that a bit more.
If there is one thing that my penchant for self-help books has taught me, it is that fear does not need to be of the heart-rate-increasing variety. Some fears do not spark your adrenalin or send your skin clammy. In fact some fear does not show itself at all. Why, because it is so ingrained that you know you will never let yourself face it, so your body does not get worried.
One that falls into this category is the fear of failure. Different people are afraid of failing at different things. For writers there are lots of failures we worry about. The story won’t come out on the page as perfectly as it looks in our heads, so we don’t write it. People won’t like the story when we finish writing it, so we don’t show it to anyone. Publishers will tell us that we have no skill and we should quit now, so we don’t submit our story. Academically we know these things probably won’t be issues, but it doesn’t stop the fear from getting in.
A lot of self-help gurus preach that you should do one thing a day that scares you. I think this is actually really good advice. It trains you to a) look for fears and be aware of them, and b) know that you can survive facing them. It is very easy for us to let our sub-conscious mind go about making our decisions so we don’t even know what we are afraid of, keeping us in a little, secure, safety-bubble.
But that won’t help you to become the best that you can be. Facing your fears is how you grow. That is how you learn what you are capable of, and it gets you to stretch beyond the familiar to the possible.
I think my fears have been holding back my submissions this year. I’ve subbed only two things, and one of those got accepted. Not a bad hit rate, but it is a terrible submission rate. So with what is left of the last two months of this year I’m going to face that fear. Let’s see what is possible.
Writing is such a slow process that you can’t help but want to speed things up a bit sometimes. Earlier in my writing career I made the mistake of sending out my stories too soon. After bleeding over them to get them finished, the moment I typed ‘the end’ I was so flushed with relief and excitement that I wanted to send them out straight away. Which is what I did, over and over again.
I have a soft spot for my first novel Paragon, but when I finished it the closest I got to editing it was converting some of the hand written pages into Word files. Then I systematically sent it off to some of the biggest publishing houses in Australia. They all said no.
Eventually I realised something might be wrong with the magnum opus, so I thought an edit might be necessary. I was shocked at the number of typos, incorrect words and even transposed names that were in the manuscript. And I had sent this out!?!
After the first edit I sent it off again, and amazingly got some interest from the last remaining big publishing house that I had not already burned with my typo-laden manuscript. After some time, and a breathtakingly close call, they passed on it and Paragon went to the bottom drawer.
Since then I have learned all sorts of things about point of view slips, excess gerunds and exposition that I have now corrected in the story (thank you writers groups). But I cannot send this to any of the major publishing houses now. They said no to Paragon and generally, unless they invite you to resubmit, there is no second chance.
If Paragon had been in the shape it is in now when I first sent it off, instead of being my learning novel, it might have been my debut novel. I was trying to sprint to the end too soon.
So the lesson I have learned, rather painfully, over more than ten years, is that writing is not a sprint, it is a marathon. You have to be prepared to pace yourself and give things time, and you can only make it to the finish line if you take all the steps to get there.
I often think I have the best friends and family in the world, and last night confirmed it. A group of my nearest and dearest surprised me with a birthday celebration that had been months in the making. And I genuinely had no idea until I walked through the door.
So I want to say thank you so much to my family for conniving on so many levels, and setting up such an elaborate sting. I’m sorry for the couple of spanners I inadvertently threw in the works as I changed plans over the last few weeks, but from what people were saying, that just added a bit of adventure to the conspiracy.
Thank you to my friends, some of whom travelled a long way to be there last night, and those who couldn’t make it sent beautiful and funny birthday wishes that made me realise I am just so ridiculously lucky.
Finally, thank you to the god of post-30s hangovers who seems to randomly apportion head-splitters and stomach turners based on some mysterious alignment of the stars rather than volumes of booze drunk, because despite the multiple champagnes I put away last night, I was not made to suffer this morning.
For the last three months I’ve been working on my YA comic fantasy to try and pull it into shape for the Strange Chemistry call for un-agented submissions. I got my first 10,000 words looking pretty tidy (a big thanks goes to my writers group), and this was all I needed to submit. It is the rest of the novel that has been giving me grief.
For starters it wants to be too long. I keep going to write a chapter to get them closer to the climax, and suddenly the characters go off and weave another tangled web. They give me enough hints for me to see what they are planning, and I like it, but I can’t fit it all in and still keep it under 100,000 words.
This is leading to the other problem of not having finished the first draft. In theory, if the Strange Chemistry people like the story they could then ask to see the whole manuscript. That might be in six months time, but it could happen the day after I submit the first 10,000 words. As it stands now I’ve only written the first half, and I’m getting less and less confident that it is actually as much as a half!
So after much anxiety, and trying to force my characters in directions they didn’t want to go, I’m throwing up my hands in defeat. This novel will not be going in for the Strange Chemistry submission this year. The last thing I would want to do is submit a great first four chapters and then submit a sub-standard first draft when they asked to see more, assuming I could even submit a completed draft at all.
I don’t know if it is age or experience that has taught me that it is better to wait for a year and do something properly rather than rush into certain defeat, or maybe I am just so attached to this story that I want to give it the best chance it can have at being published. Either way it isn’t going to be ready for the October 31st deadline, and I’m okay with that.
Over a year ago I sent a story in to a magazine and quickly made it through the slush reader rounds to get to the editors. The story was not picked up. They held it for a month longer than they said they would in the hopes that it would fit with one of the themes of the magazine, but alas, it did not quite match with what they published in that quarter.
So when I got my rejection I actually got a note from one of the editors who said that it was very well written and the fact it had got ‘this far’ was an indication of the quality of the story. The editor explained that the only reason they were rejecting it was because they did not like to hold onto stories for more than 3 months.
I put that story through two writers groups who offered small tweaks, but for the most part kept it as it was. The small changes suggested did add to the story, and I thought it was definitely a more polished and tight package as a result.
I sought, and was granted, permission to resubmit the story. Having previously been told ‘it is with regret that I let this story go’ by the editor of the magazine, I wasn’t expecting much grief from the slush readers, so imagine my surprise when I was knocked out in the first round just a few days after I submitted the story.
From all the feedback I have got on this story I know it is succinct, humorous and entertaining, but even in my writers groups (in both instances) there was one person who just didn’t like it. They couldn’t exactly say why, but they “just didn’t like it.”
I guess my allocated slush reader was one such person. It shows you, particularly in the world of slush, that just one opinion can make the difference between getting picked up and getting rejected. When it is just one person who sees your story, it is just one opinion that comes into play, so we need to remember that.
I won’t take this rejection to heart because I know that a lot of other people have enjoyed this story. Just as easily, one day in the future, a different opinion may see this story being published.
I need to keep this in mind for all my rejections!
I am a huge believer in goals. Every New Year I set my annual goals, and then based on those I set some smaller goals, and then every week I have a list of 20 goals that I wish to achieve. They can be as simple as paying a bill or as significant as submitting a novel.
In September I was part of WriMoFoFo which is all about setting a goal and trying to achieve it in four weeks. There were a lot of us who started the WriMoFoFo journey, but what surprised me was the number of people who dropped off. It made me wonder about people’s relationship with their goals.
Given I have a list of twenty things to achieve every week, I’m quite used to not achieving all my goals, and I’m okay with that. I could count on one hand how many times this year I have been able to cross off all twenty items in a week. I don’t think the point of goals is to make you feel guilty if you don’t achieve them, but rather to get you focused on trying to achieve them.
If I have a goal roll over on my list over four weeks (and yes, if I don’t achieve them they do roll over to the next week) I realise it is too big for one week and on some level I must be finding it overwhelming so I’m not doing it. My response is to break it down into a smaller goal.
Earlier this year, when I was struggling to write anything, I changed my goal to just turning on my computer. I had to turn my computer on four times a week. Yes, some days I just turned the computer on, checked my email and then turned it off again, but some of those days I wrote. The next week I made my writing targets.
Goals should not be set in stone, big goals may not change; I will always want my novel published by an established publishing house, but the sub-goals I use to get there are constantly evolving, and I think that is how it needs to be. Don’t let you goals overwhelm you, let them speak to you, let them guide you about what is enough to expect of yourself, and what is too much in one go.
The most important thing of all about goals is that they should be achievable, so if you aren’t making your goals, break them down. Every journey starts with a first step, don’t make that step too far to take, or you will forever stay standing where you are.
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