What I’ve been writing during lockdown

I wrote a blog post towards the beginning of lockdown about how I was struggling to write. My mind just felt too busy to be able to focus on a big writing project or mapping out a new novel.

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But then I got thinking. Why not write about lockdown? Short stories based on real everyday life. Stories that record memories and reflections of this unique and slightly surreal time.

For some reason, I’ve been finding it much ‘easier’ to write short stories now. These capture emotions, the focus being on the characters, rather than huge action scenes or shocking drama. I’m finding these stories are coming more naturally to me, and I’m now working on my fourth since lockdown began. For me, who usually struggles to finish anything, that is quite a lot of fresh, new content in a relatively short space of time.

I’ve been enjoying having multiple stories out for consideration simultaneously. It feels good to have not all my eggs in one basket and makes me feel much more optimistic about getting work accepted.

I’ve also noticed lots of calls for submissions for short fiction set during this time – so I haven’t been struggling to find places to send stories to!

In fact, the first lockdown story I wrote, ‘A dog called Rupert’ is due to be published in a brand new, Somerset based magazine tomorrow! More details on that to follow 😊

I’m not sure why it’s the stories which feature dogs that always seem to do the best, but it does seem to be part of the winning formula!

I still have dreams of becoming a novelist and hope to get back to the bigger projects soon. But for now, I’m enjoying the instant satisfaction and the freedom that writing shorts brings.

What are you writing in lockdown? Have you found the change to normal routine a writing help or hindrance? As always, get in touch.

 

 

Is it OK to not be writing?

As we enter another three weeks of lockdown in the UK, I can’t help but notice a lot of posts on social media about how people are using the extra time at home to boost their creative output. But is anyone else struggling to be creative right now? And specifically, is it OK to not be writing?

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This is the first blog post I’ve written for a while, and the title of it somehow feels contradictory to my usual content. Normally, I want to encourage people to write more, so why am I suddenly asking is it OK to not be writing?

Well, more than anything, I want other writers to know they’re not alone if they’re struggling to use this lockdown time ‘productively’. Whatever you’re up to right now, whether that’s going to work as one of our essential workers, or working from home like me; finding yourself a sudden and unexpected teacher, furloughed, or self-employed and wondering what will happen next…

I don’t know about you, but my head feels so FULL. It’s leaving little space to think up exciting plots or concentrate on editing. And that’s OK.

We need to be kind to ourselves. If we want to watch TV, or take a long bath, or cook some tasty food, or sit in the garden in the evenings instead of writing, that’s OK.

Don’t beat yourself up for taking a break.

Don’t compare yourself to that author whose getting a few thousand words down a day, or the author who managed to bash out an entire novel in the space of a month.

Let them do their thing, while you do yours. Everyone is different.

Do small things that feel manageable and bring you joy.

For me, that’s making sure I make the most of my one daily exercise outing and get some sunshine. I also try to write in my diary every day.

Yesterday, I was inspired to write a short story in response to a magazine that was calling for submissions to do with finding hope during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Find what works for you and what inspires you – even if it’s nothing to do with writing!

How are you finding writing during this time?

 

 

The stages of receiving feedback

This month my short story ‘The Lake’s Lost’ has been critiqued in Writing Magazine’s Under the Microscope. 

Happy New Year! Despite being housebound with some nasty flu-like bug for the first few days of 2020, I’m feeling strangely optimistic about this year and the twenties as a decade in general. I’ve also started feeling more positive about my writing. This is in part due to two things:

  • I’ve finished the re-write of my novel and have began researching agents to initially send it off to. Now just for the somewhat gruelling task of rewriting the synopsis…
  • My face popped up in Writing Magazine this month, in their ‘Under the Microscope’ section. Any version of putting your name out there is better than not putting your name out there, right? And this rather public critique is what today’s blog post is about.

‘The Lake’s Lost’ is a short story I wrote whilst living in Canada in 2017 (yikes I can’t believe that’s 3 years ago now). It’s one of those stories I’ve had a few attempts at sending out with no luck, so it’s been put on the back burner for a while. I’ve always had the niggling feeling that the opening to the story (no doubt in addition to other sections) isn’t working as well as it should be. Despite that, I’ve still not completely given up on this story as I feel it has potential and is based on one of my favourite experiences whilst in Canada.

That’s why when I saw the opportunity to send the opening 300 words of a short story in to Under the Microscope at Writing Magazine, I thought it could be a good opportunity to get a professional critique and learn where I’m going wrong.

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Under the Microscope – The Lake’s Lost – Writing Magazine

The Stages of Receiving Critique

I’ve previously written about how important it is to receive feedback on your work.It is an almost crucial step towards making you a better writer. However just because it’s important, it doesn’t always mean it’s an easy process. I’ve highlighted the four stages I experience when receiving a critique below and hope to explain them in relation to my Under the Microscope critique.

  1. The Emotional Response
  2. The Taking a Step Back
  3. The Analysis
  4. The Rewrite

Stage 1: The Emotional Response

We’re only human after all. If you’ve spent hours working on a piece of writing, only for someone to come along with a blunt red pen and tell you everything that’s wrong with it, you won’t be alone in feeling an emotional response. You may experience anger or frustration, or you may feel disheartened about your writing.

I particularly struggle when I receive critiques that make criticisms about my story, which I feel is based on the ‘critiquer’ not fully understanding the context. This causes me to just into my defence mode, and shout at the screen (or magazine) – “you just don’t understand!”

For example, I remember feeling annoyed at a critique before which stated my inclusion of the term ‘The High Street’ was incorrect. They explained ‘the’ was ungrammatical. However, in the UK High Street is a common term used for a row of shops in a town centre and is not necessarily a street name.

So, what was my emotional response to my Under the Microscope critique? It’s easy when receiving feedback to jump on the negative points and ignore the usually overall positive message.

A Lake’s Lost is based on a real-life location in Canada called Moose Lake in Jasper Provincial Park. Most of the description in the story is inspired by my own experiences of seeing moose at that lake in autumn, when the water was still frozen in parts yet the ground around the lake muddy.

I was therefore somewhat confused (incoming emotional response) when the critique stated points such as “A moose in an inherently amusing animal so it’s best to avoid unnecessary humour” and “moose-related assonance that could provoke an inadvertent smirk”.

Instantly, I felt like penning a letter titled ‘What do you have against moose?’ but then I stopped myself (and decided to write this blog instead). It’s never a good idea to respond to a critique whilst you are still in the emotional stage.

What can we learn from this? Both the above examples show we need to carefully think about who our reader is and whether they will understand the context of the story. What market are you writing for? Will they understand that moose are common in Canada or that it’s not unusual to find patches of ice in the remote parts of the provincial parks? Never assume the reader will have had the same experiences as you.

Stage 2: The Taking a Step Back

Stop looking at your critique. For an hour, a day, a week… however long it takes for you to get over the emotional response stage. Make a cup of tea, go for a walk, work on a new project… There aren’t any rules.

In my next blog post I will discuss the next two stages of receiving a critique: the analysis and the rewrite.

The full critique is available in this month’s edition of Writing Magazine (Feb 2020).

 

 

 

Diary of an Aspiring Author: 2019 Roundup

This year seems to have been a year of starting and stopping. I began the year wanting to progress with short stories and write a second novel. Yet mid-year, after receiving feedback on my first novel, I decided to put my other projects on hold and re-write that first novel instead.

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I guess that’s the nice thing about being an aspiring author. You still have the absolute freedom to write what feels good, free from scary deadlines and mounting pressure.

The target I set myself at the beginning of 2019 was very broad: be my own competition. This basically meant committing to taking my writing seriously and trying to progress beyond what I accomplished the previous year.

In some ways, my progress this year has been disappointing. I’ve achieved a grand total of 0 publications. That is less than 2018.

But it isn’t as simple as that, or so I hope. Despite my disappointing publication count, I have been writing, and I have been pleased with the writing I have completed.

So, what have I been up to in 2019?

  • Back at the beginning of the year, I received my first review for a short story I published in December 2018. It was really encouraging that someone had taken the time to write a letter to a magazine, saying how much they enjoyed my story.
  • I’ve completed a few more short stories – I just haven’t focused on ‘getting them out there’ yet.
  • I got feedback on my first novel – and am becoming better at the process of asking for and receiving feedback (and taking it on board).
  • In fact, one of my short stories is being rather publicly critiqued in February 2020s issue of ‘Writing Magazine’. (Yikes!)
  • I’m still writing blog posts, and the number of views is slowly creeping up.
  • I’ve “finished” the revised draft of my first novel, ‘Lost in Galderwood’.

Last week, I printed my manuscript, ready for final edits and proofreading. It’s so nice to have a hardcopy to read. I find it much easier to spot those pesky typos when reading something on paper, rather than looking at a computer screen.

Once that’s all done, I need to write the dreaded synopsis, ready to send out to agents in the new year.

It feels like the right time to start thinking about 2020, and to set my targets for next year. I want to keep being my own competition, but I want to be braver and more daring, to put my writing out there more and just give things a go, without worrying so much about whether I am good enough.

A few general goals are:

  • Get my novel sent out to agents.
  • Keep writing
  • Keep submitting.

What are your goals for the new year?

Is your perfectionism hindering your progress?

I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. That was until I took one of those personality ‘what kind of inner critique are you?’ quiz things and scored highest on the perfectionism trait.

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I think perfectionism can affect all writers to a degree. Are you the kind of writer who doesn’t let others read your work until you are happy it is ‘right’?

It wasn’t until I realised I was a perfectionist and started talking though what this meant for my writing the truth really hit me; maybe my perfectionism has been hindering my progress.

Let me ask you some questions. Some of these you may relate to, others not at all:

  • Do you allow others to read your work when it is still in the early stages?
  • Do you avoid putting yourself in situations where you might fail?
  • Do you set high expectations for yourself? And criticise yourself when you don’t achieve them?
  • Do you compare yourself to other writers, and convince yourself you’re not as good as them?
  • Do you avoid submitting your work to competitions/ magazines etc, believing your writing isn’t good enough so there’s no point.
  • Do you become easily disheartened when something isn’t going the way you planned?

The above questions tie in self-belief, confidence and imposter syndrome – but an underlying feature is also this perfectionism trait.

Are you waiting for your writing to be so perfect, that you never even give it a chance?

If the answer is yes, then what can we do about it?

Grab opportunities – what’s the worst that can happen?

If you don’t win that competition, so what? You’ve nothing to lose and may even get valuable feedback.

Over the next year, I’m going to try and turn the volume down on my perfectionism. The fact is, things are never going to be perfect – and if we wait for things to be perfect, we could watch great opportunities pass us by!

I’m not saying never edit your writing again or submit first drafts to Editors without a second glance. But don’t be afraid to send out the earlier stages of your work for feedback – or submit that short story that’s been lurking in your drawer out to a competition. See what happens; it might surprise you!

It’s very freeing to loosen the reigns on perfectionism. And on that note, I’m off to submit one of my flash pieces that was recently rejected to another magazine.

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