Do I like writing enough to be a real writer?

A few days ago, I noticed a post on Twitter. It was about imposter syndrome as a writer. It explained that for them the syndrome was not originating from the belief they weren’t good enough at writing, but rather that they’re not obsessed enough with writing to be legit.

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I could relate completely to this. Social media is dangerous for making us believe “real writers” spend all their time writing or reading, visiting literary events, and talking about books. It can make you feel like if you’re not reading and writing (and talking about the reading and writing) consistently, then maybe you don’t want to be a writer enough. Maybe you don’t deserve to be a successful writer.

In fact, I’m slightly envious of authors who wrote and published before social media existed. Wouldn’t it be nice to just be able to read and write, without having to worry about what our image is online?

I’ve rather a negative opinion of social media for personal use in general. I’ve been limiting my use of it over the past 12 months and deactivated my Facebook account for much of last year. For me, there’s no question of its negative impact on mental health. To know what everyone whom I went to school with fifteen years ago is up to now and, whether I mean to or not, compare myself against their achievements is something I feel is unhealthy.

Yet it’s harder to completely distance yourself from social media from an aspiring author perspective. It has become the norm now within the industry to have an online presence, and to not have that could put you at a disadvantage. Social media is a place where people can find you as a writer, a place to market books and stories. I use Twitter mainly to follow other authors, publishers, and lit agents, in the hope of hearing about submission opportunities.

Yet I do sometimes worry I’m not tweeting enough about the third book I’ve read that week, or about the 3000 words I’ve written that day. I worry that I’m not doing these things at all, let alone shouting about them. I compare myself to that other aspiring author who’s tweeting every other hour about something they’ve just read, or a story they’ve just finished writing. And that brings me back to my original question: do I like writing enough to be a real writer?

And the answer is yes! I know I am committed to my writing. I know it’s what I want to do. I know I’m committed to getting feedback, improving my writing, and pushing forwards whenever I can. We shouldn’t need to tell social media about how much we’re writing to be considered legit. It’s also important to remember social media doesn’t necessarily relate to the real world, and those shouting loudest online aren’t always the ones getting the most writing done.

I’ve always believed to be able to write the best stories, you need to get out there and experience real life (admittedly a little harder right now due to lockdown!). Doing non-writing related things can spark fresh ideas and can help you to meet interesting people, which could influence interesting fictional characters! It’s fine that writing is just one aspect of your life, and not what you think and breathe every minute of every day.

If you’re suffering from imposter’s syndrome, just know it’s completely normal to feel to feel that way from time to time. And also know, there is no normal way to be a writer.

Goodbye 2020

I considered not writing a 2020 roundup style post, even though it’s something I’ve done every year since I started this blog. It somehow felt wrong to look back at writing goals and reflect on what went well (and what didn’t go so well) when for so many this year has been such a struggle.

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Even writing a paragraph, or finding time and/ or headspace for any kind of creativity this year should feel like an achievement. And if you’ve taken the whole year off from writing, that shouldn’t be considered a failure to meet a goal.

I wrote a post towards the beginning of the pandemic called ‘Is it OK to not be writing?’. I’ll answer my own question: yes, it’s OK. Please ignore all the social media posts about how lockdown has carved out the perfect time to write a novel or complete another creative project you’ve had on the backburner for years. For some, that may be true, but for many, lockdown has been the complete opposite. Social media is really good at making us feel really bad… It’s completely fine if lockdown hasn’t felt like a creative opportunity for you.

I’m not going to look back at what goals I set myself at the end of 2019. They feel somewhat irrelevant now. 2020 was so unexpected, that any opportunities that were thrown my way were things I could never have predicted or planned for. Who knew lockdown lit would become a genre? Or that ‘lockdown’ itself would enter our lexicon? I could never have predicted my most successful short story would have been one about loneliness and hope set during the pandemic. Or that I’d find comfort in writing short stories about the everyday, set in such an unusual time.

I met with my team at UCLAN just before Christmas (virtually, of course. How many people had heard of Zoom pre-2020?). It was amazing to hear positive feedback on my novel, Lost in Galderwood. It gave me a slight glimmer that maybe my book is viable. Maybe it’s not a complete disaster and something I should chuck in the bin.

It’s also great to have an idea of what the next few months are going to look like: Zoom meetings with feedback, rewrites, and editing. It’s the first time in my “writing career” I’ve got a semi-clear route ahead of me (well until Spring, at least), and it’s a lovely thing to have.

Yet I’m not going to over-plan 2021. And I’m not going to goal set. 2020 has taught me that our best laid plans can all go wrong, and we’re much better off taking each day as it comes. Beyond working with UCLAN on editing Lost in Galderwood, I have no idea what 2021 will hold for my writing. It could be another year of short stories, or another novel, or a sequel to Lost in Galderwood. Or maybe the editing will take up all my time, and I won’t write anything new at all. It’s kind of exciting to just go with the flow…

With only 2 days left of 2020, all that remains to say is Happy New Year! Let us hope that 2021 is a different year, and a better year than 2020.

UCLAN Publishing and my novel

I’ve been quiet regarding my novel recently, and it’s because I received an exciting piece of news back in September but didn’t want to jinx it by sharing too soon.

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But today I’m delighted I can confidently announce I’m going to be working with UCLAN Publishing for the next academic year. Lost in Galderwood, my middle-grade time travel novel has been selected for an unusual opportunity.

UCLAN Publishing are based at the University of Central Lancashire and involve students from the associated Masters in Publishing course at every stage of their publishing process. Lost in Galderwood has been selected to be worked on by students from the MA Publishing course. The students will advise on rewrites, and work on every aspect of the publishing process from design to editorial to complete a print-ready document.

Although this is not an offer of publication, it is a fantastic opportunity to get detailed feedback on my work, have my manuscript edited, and learn more about the commercial publishing process. And although I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, all manuscripts get reviewed by UCLAN Publishing when the student’s projects are completed, and some are considered for publication.

It’s funny how these things can happen when you least expect it! The last time I blogged about my novel, I was talking about having one final go at rewriting it before “giving-up” and starting on a new project. It was only days later I received the email from UCLAN Publishing informing me my novel was being considered for this project.

The problem was, I already had ideas for the rewrite in my head by that point, and I didn’t want to see a less than perfect version of my manuscript be put forward for consideration. I had a very frantic few weeks spending every evening and weekend rewriting my entire manuscript, so that I could get it to UCLAN before their November acquisition meeting.

Whatever happens, and whether Lost in Galderwood goes on to be published or not, this feels like a massive step in the right direction. After what has been a strange year, it’s fantastic to have an opportunity associated with my writing, and something exciting to work towards.

I can’t wait to get started!

Reading as a writer – my favourite reads of 2020 so far

There are two pieces of advice I hear repeatedly: to be a better writer you must write more, and you must read more.

As England enters its second lockdown of the year, it’s fair to say 2020 has been a strange and stressful year. For me, this has been reflected in my writing habits. I’ve posted before about how, during the first lockdown, I initially struggled to concentrate on writing. Later on during the lockdown I preferred to focus on writing short stories, rather than big novel-length commitments.

However, one thing that has been consistent throughout is my joy of reading books.

As you will see from the below selections, I’ve read a range of books this year, everything from children’s fiction to non-fiction. I think it’s important to read a diverse range of books and experience different styles of writing. It can help you to identify what works best in your own writing too.

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Lockdown Book Recommendations

Here are some of my favourites. Hopefully, they’ll give you some ideas if you’re looking for a lockdown number two read!

1. The Foundling, by Stacey Halls

Released this year (2020) The Foundling by Stacey Halls is historical fiction set in 1754, London.

“Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to collect a daughter she’s never known… but, her daughter has already been claimed, by her…”

I love Stacey Halls as a historical fiction author, as I find her books really plot driven, fast moving, and accessible. Although this is fiction, there are some many fascinating facts about this era of history woven in.

My enjoyment of reading historical fiction encouraged me to make my first attempt at writing historical fiction. My short story, Florrie Moore is Innocent, was recently shortlisted in Writers’ Forum Magazine fiction writing competition.

2. This Lovely City, by Louise Hare

Another historical fiction read, This Lovely City is set in post-war London. It tells the story of jazz musician Lawrie Matthews who arrived in London from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush.

“Playing in Soho’s jazz clubs by night and pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home… until one morning, while crossing a misty common, he makes a terrible discovery…”

3. The Boy at the Back of the Class, by Onjali Q. Rauf

This is a children’s book, offering a child’s perspective on the Syrian refugee crisis.

“There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy Ahmet is sitting in it.”

This is a wonderfully heart-warming story that really made me smile. I’ve been trying to read more middle-grade fiction this year (as it’s the age group my novel is aimed at), but this a great book for adults to read too.

4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

I am also trying to read more classics. This is honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read. Du Maurier not only writes beautiful descriptions, but also writes a plot driven, gripping story here. Highly recommend!

5. The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn

Non-fiction life writing. Raynor learns her husband, Moth, has a terminal illness. In a short space of time they also lose their business and family home, making them homeless. This is the true story of her and her husband’s decision to walk the south west coastal path together. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, emotional, and inspiring. It’s also left me wanting to walk the south west coastal path too!

I’ve read a lot of great books this year – but I think these have been my favourite!

Do you have any great lockdown number two book suggestions?

“Florrie Moore is Innocent” – Short story shortlisted by Writers’ Forum Magazine competition

Today I heard my short story Florrie Moore is Innocent has been shortlisted by Writers’ Forum Magazine.

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This exciting news has come at the perfect time, as I’ve recently been feeling disheartened my collection of “lockdown shorts” have been struggling to find homes.

Although being shortlisted does not mean the story will be published (only if it wins one of the top three places), this is still a massive confidence boost. It reminds me of a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago about how important it is to celebrate all successes, however large or small.

Florrie Moore is Innocent is set in Victorian Bristol and was partly inspired by the BBC programme A House Through Time. I love reading historical fiction, but this was my attempt at writing historical fiction for an adult audience. I’m therefore thrilled the story has been shortlisted, and in a reputable magazine at that.

Should I use archaic language when writing historical fiction? You can find my earlier blog post on this topic here.

This weekend, I’ll be back to cramming in novel rewrites (more on that soon). But for tonight, atleast, I’m going to be putting my feet up and delighting in my shortlist success.