All posts by Natalie

Back-up Plan

I’ve seen a few TV shows about chasing dreams, but like any good story, we’re always following the person who makes it. The thing that has always struck me with this sort of movie/documentary/reality TV show is that there is always something said along the lines of ‘do what you love and you will succeed’.

The past few years has taught me that this is not always true. Implicit in the statement (or those like it) is that if you don’t succeed it’s because you haven’t been trying hard enough. And the fact is you can always try harder. What is never addressed is how many people do succeed despite having done very little. The luck factor is ignored.

Then I watched a different documentary, one that followed the lives of a group of individuals just to see where they ended up. It started with no real idea of where (or when) it would finish. One of the people it followed wanted to be a writer, and despite years of dedication, he has still not made it. Now I’m not saying he will never make it, but his effort has made my piddly 15 years seem very short.

I know it is a very negative thing to say; to suggest that despite the belief and effort it is still possible to fail, but I think we do need to sing the praises of the back-up plan. I once heard a successful singer (who found success at the ripe old age of 16) say that you should never have a back-up plan. It puts the message out to the universe that you don’t want to succeed.

What total rubbish. I have friends who have lived by this, but because they have to make money while waiting to be discovered they have taken jobs in service stations, bottle shops and cafes. No slight to them, but let’s face it, if you are in a café you can’t do any more writing than when you are in an office.

Also, too many people have succeeded who also have successful careers in other things. I think what is more likely is that because you get worn out or tied from the day job, you might be less likely to make the most of the opportunities to chase your dream. It gets to be easier to come home and watch TV with a glass of wine than to come home and enter that competition.

So yes, have a back-up plan, but just remember to keep your eye on the real prize. And if you choose the right back-up plan it may even give you the financial backing to take the time off and really chase that dream when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes along. At least that’s the thought that’s keeping me going now.

Trilogy Trap

Over the past month I’ve been reading the 9th book in a trilogy of trilogies. The last three in the series were all over 800 pages long. This was quite a commitment. Perhaps that was why I abandoned my 100-page rule, where if I’m not enjoying a book by page 100, I put it down.

I loved the first series, liked the second series, and then loved the first book of the final series. But then I hit what can only be described as filler books. In all honesty there was only a book’s worth of stuff to happen, and a 400-page book at that. But this author was wed to the trilogy mentality, and there were two more books to go to meet that, so two more were written. As a result there were several verrrrrryyyyy long ship voyages, long hikes, lots of reflection, and lots of meaningless arguments that didn’t contribute much at all.

It made me quite sad that I found myself getting sick of characters I had loved for over 10 years (yes, that’s how long it took me to read the series). The end left me a bit flat because it was tied up a bit too neatly, and showed me too much of the happily-ever-after without any reflection on the sacrifices the main character had made to get the happily-ever-after. I was still hurting over those sacrifices, but the character was so busy getting on with being happy that he didn’t seem to lament them.

It has taught me such a valuable lesson; never fall into the trilogy trap. Yes, trilogies are nice, but if the books can’t stand alone – at least in so much as having a beginning, middle and end – then they shouldn’t be written. And if the middle book is just about reflecting on the first book and anticipating the last book, then it has no purpose.

I have written/planned a trilogy, but I believe the books tell three different stories. If I find that this isn’t the case once they are all finished, then I promise I won’t force them onto the world. They can come out as a duology, or even two stand-alone novels set in the same world. There is nothing wrong with that.

 

 

Back!

I will confess, it was a lovely month off. I got to do a lot of socialising, family stuff, weekend getaways and lazing around. But that’s all I seemed to do. And if I’m honest, I could easily have fit the blog in around all those things.

What I noticed was that I felt no compunction at all to get to the computer. So, I didn’t just have a month off my blog, I had a month off writing. While I know I’ve said many times that I’d done no writing in the week, I did put out some flash fiction and edited stuff which I just didn’t count. This month I literally didn’t write any words of fiction.

And what was also strange is that I posted on social media less, not more. I took photos that I thought I should put up, but didn’t. I mentally composed ‘funny’ (IMO) tweets, and then never wrote them down.

It’s made me realise that this blog isn’t about getting followers or connecting with the big wide world; twitter, Instagram etc. do that now. This blog is about accountability, and clearly I need that in spades. Let’s see if anything else gets written this week.

Blog Break

Yes, I know I’ve taken a few of these recently, but this time I’m going to have a think about what I want to get out of this blog. When I started it (nearly 10 years ago) there was no such thing as Twitter or Instagram. I’m not even sure if Facebook was out yet, and if it was, it was still something you only shared with friends.

In 2010 when I was blogging I was also regularly reading other people’s blogs. Not so much now. With all the different feeds of information these days, I struggle to keep up with the blogs I used to follow. There is only so much time in the day.

Likewise, I used to enjoy a bit of discourse with strangers; commenting on each other’s blogs and referencing the posts we had enjoyed. I now do all that with Twitter and the only regular contact I have on the blog is with spammers. I must confess some of their comments are amusing and I would love to turn them into a story, but that’s not enough to keep me going.

So I’m going to take June off and consider if I want to attempt a JulNoWriMo to kick-start me back into the world of fiction.

I will be back, but it may only be briefly to say my goodbyes, or it might be haphazard, only when I have something to say. In the meantime you can find me on:

Twitter @nataliejepotts
Instagram @nataliejepotts

Please say hello if you do find me there.

Self-Assessment

One of the big reasons why it is good to be a part of a don’t-pull-any-punches writers group is that they can tell you when you are off the mark. I find it very hard to assess my writing in terms of what is good and bad. In the past, the members of my writers group have had no trouble making that distinction.

Sure, they may sometimes get it wrong, ideas of good and bad are very subjective after all, but they can save you a lot of time identifying what’s not working, and can usually give you some hints about how to fix it. I think I need that help at the moment.

I have a piece of flash fiction that keeps coming back to me in record time. It’s short, punchy and complete – so is the sort of thing that normally gets accepted the first or second time I send it out. This one just came back to me in two days. So clearly there is something very wrong with it.

I’m not part of a group at the moment, and I feel that loss most months. I think it might be time to try and track a new group down. Wish me luck!

Overcoming Inertia

A while ago I talked about how I was going to start doing something different to try and get my writing career off the ground. One of those things was doing more courses and networking events. Well, I’ve started, and it’s proving valuable in a number of ways.

Firstly, I feel like I’m doing something, which is hugely beneficial from a mental health point of view. In recent months I’ve felt like my writing was going nowhere. I started to wonder what was the point in writing if no-one was ever going to read what I wrote. Going out and doing something different helps me to feel like I’m championing my novels to a wider audience and that they stand a greater chance of being seen.

Secondly, I’m getting a better idea of what everyone else is writing. I thought the whole world was writing Young Adult Spec Fic novels, but in the two events I’ve been to recently it seems like memoir is by far the biggest genre for the great unpublished. That gives me hope, because it feels like the opposition numbers have been culled.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, I’m learning stuff! I think investing in yourself is never wasted dollars, and so far both events have given me information that I didn’t have before. It is also interesting to see how quickly the publishing landscape is changing, so it is important to keep my finger on the pulse.

I haven’t got any more courses booked yet, but you can bet I’m going to be looking at the program with a lot more interest now.

Publication!

Antipodean SF is celebrating its 250th issue, which represents 21 years of publishing. This is an amazing achievement in the small press world, and is a great testament to the passion of Ion ‘Nuke’ Newcombe for speculative fiction from the Antipodes.

My very first publication was in Antipodean SF, and I remember being so excited when I got that first ever acceptance. My story required a lot more editorial work than my work these days, and I will never forget how grateful I was for Ion taking the time to work with me on this.

The story I have in this edition of the ‘zine, Ti Amo, was one of several robot stories inspired by watching too many SBS documentaries late last year. I lamented the end of relationships when I considered a future where you could custom-order a partner with the personality, appearance and disposition you wanted.

Then I remembered that people are far from perfect and rarely know what we really want. Ti Amo is my glimpse into that future.

I hope you enjoy it, but I must warn you that it is a little bit saucy – so perhaps MA 15+ readers only.

High Expectations

This week I realised that I’ve been setting my expectations a little too high. I was berating myself over it being a ‘non-writing’ week again and feeling a bit down. The thing is though, I did write. An idea for a flash fiction story came to me earlier in the week, and after thinking about it endlessly on the bus, I finally wrote it on Saturday.

And this I considered a non-writing week.

I think part of my problem is that I have so many things that I need to do each week as part of my job that I feel like I need to make similar inroads into my writing goals. The truth is, if I wasn’t getting paid to be there, I wouldn’t be as diligent in getting to work on time and dedicating my whole day to it. I’d probably end up playing too many games of FreeCell at work as well.

So, until my writing is paying the bills, I need to go a little softer on my expectations. I know some people would argue that I’m not going to get my writing to pay the bills if I don’t spend more time on it, but I worry that my mental health will suffer if I try to do two full time jobs. Not to mention my relationships, family, and cleanliness!

Enough Slush

When I started ‘seriously’ pursuing my writing career the advice from all the authors around me was that you needed to prove yourself with short story publications, then that would fast-track your novels to the top of the slush pile. I know that was a long time ago, but now that I’m about to hit my 40th short story publication I don’t think the short publications are helping at all. My stories seem to sit endlessly in the slush waiting for their turn like everyone else’s.

This was highlighted when I recently queried a novel that had been with a publisher for over 7 months. From their response it was obvious that they didn’t even know they had the story. Due to a change in staff, no-one was reading it. Even today I don’t know if they found it, and I don’t know if they are reading it now. What I do know is for the 7 months it was lost in the abyss of slush I was not sending it out to anyone else. This was the same novel a previous publisher had held onto for over a year before they ‘regretfully’ rejected it.

Obviously, these days short story publications are not the way to rise to the top of the slush pile. Awards and social media success probably count for more than publications, but I’m sure (like every other job) networking is what matters most. I guess if I am ‘serious’ about getting published I need to give this a go. It’s going to be hard to do that in Adelaide, but for my sanity alone, I need to try something else in an attempt to get out of the slush pile.