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Monday, 19 October 2009

The Pressure Is On

I feel under pressure. My stories must now be as good or better than the last one accepted. Otherwise the editor of the magazine who has kindly believed in my writing ability may lose faith! That's how I view it. I don't wish to disappoint someone who has shown such faith in me.

Every story is now cross-examined by my very critical self. It is still my normal self doing the first few drafts, writing happily and from the heart. Then the other half becomes nervous and picks away at them.

When they are sent off, it is with trepidation. I try not to have any hope for them at all. I believe they will be rejected and then, if a lovely email or letter arrives asking to purchase the story, I am insanely happy and completely surprised.

So, don't go thinking it is hard to have received no acceptances at all yet. You are in a good position, because you have everything to play for and nothing to live up to. As long as you persevere, you will get there and that's when it gets hard!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Published!

Today I saw one of my stories in a magazine. I checked some new weeklies in Tesco, flicking to the index just to see if I was there yet, having sold a few stories in recent months. And there I was!

I have to say it was a great surprise and I'm feeling all pleased and motivated to write even more. I've got a lot to live up to now. The pressure is on. Can I repeat this success? I hope so and it makes me more determined than I was before.

So off to work on a new story now without delay!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Mistakes

It has occurred to me that the plots of short stories often rely on mistakes. The main character usually has a conflict, which is resolved by the end, sometimes satisfactorily, sometimes not. Sometimes everything is neatly tied and sometimes there are loose ends to give the reader food for thought.

However, these conflicts are often simple misunderstandings, crossed wires, mistakes made by the MC. For example, I have just finished reading a good story in which the MC, a married woman, feels attracted to a married colleague. She makes the error of believing that he feels the same. Carried away, she makes her feelings known to him - another mistake - and is gently but firmly rebuffed. Later she realises her major error was to believe she was genuinely attracted to him. She observes him closely when enough time has passed for her blunder to be less embarrassing. She sees that he is ordinary, mortal, dull even. Her passion was the stuff of a romantic novel or piece of music. Her husband and family are her real love.

This story worked because of the conflict - should she make a play for him or not? But it worked particularly well because of the series of mistakes. I think we like reading about mistakes. They reflect humanity starkly and we can justify ourselves. Aren't we always making mistakes? The awful reality that she cannot hide her awkward error from the man and has to live with the shame strikes a chord with us all. We have all done or said something embarrassing. We share her blushes and feel better about our own.

Allow characters to be foolish. We are all foolish. But how we deal with that idiocy can be inspiring and make an excellent tale.


Friday, 9 October 2009

On Top Of The Spreadsheets

I have devoted a day to sorting out my spreadsheet, which shows all my submissions, with dates, destinations and so on. It includes the dates when competition winners are announced and I noticed this morning that several of those dates had arrived. And I'd heard nothing!

It was disappointing to check through all those entries which clearly haven't made it and colour the boxes red, which denotes 'rejection'. It was a sea of red by the time I'd finished. A River Of Blood! However, I began to shrug off the misery and revel in the prospect of remarketing all these stories that I'd half-forgotten. Some had real possibilities elsewhere. For many, it had been only their first trip out. So there were further opportunities for all of these rejected favourites. I was surprised by how much I still believed in them.

This week, I have also been invited to proof-read a successful story for an anthology, in readiness for publication in the near future. That particular story had had its fair share of rejection too, before achieving this welcome final destination. I am proud of it.

If you retain this pride in your stories and are prepared to keep dusting them down, then they will make it in the end. I have let one or two fester for a bit, having sent them out four times each, but even they will resurface once the right market presents itself.

However, it is only because I have taken a lot of time with my spreadsheet, keeping it up-to-date and tidy, that I can monitor all my stories, especially now there are so many. A system is vital, otherwise you will forget what you have written, where you have sent it, when it winged its way back, when it was accepted, when to expect competition feedback etc. You could even include details such as word-count. I started doing that, but kept forgetting to update it whenever I tweaked a story.

However you do it, on a computer, on paper, a card-index file or on the back of an envelope, make sure you keep on top of it and make it work for you.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Warm

I have just read a story which won a competition twelve years ago. It is technically imperfect. There are some grammatical flaws and some odd syntax. However, this story proves that it is the fiction that matters.

It was so gripping, so warm and led me in so fast that the occasional lapse of punctuation ceased to bother me. I wanted to be right there in the house with the main character. In fact, I was the main character for a while. She had been so well-written that she came to life on the page. It was like a hand reaching out of the paper and pulling me in.

As is often the case, it was a simple tale and very little happened. The setting and characterisation were both so strong that the action, the simple giving and receiving of a gift, didn't have to be thrilling or earth-shattering.

These stories which exude warmth are special. So many, including mine, are filled with angst and misery. Often the element of humour is missing, yet it is so good to find yourself laughing out loud at a piece of fiction. It is rather an unexpected feeling when you come across a story that you read with a smile on your face. I must write more humorous tales!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Pushing Hard

Today I pushed and pushed myself to keep writing, even though I was tired and could think of easier things to do. I really enjoyed it once I'd realised that I was actually going to make myself do it. It's a lot nicer than having a separate boss driving you on.

I was so pleased with myself and praised me more than any other boss would have done. I had a very self-satisfied smile on my face throughout the day and hope I shall have many more days like this. It is easier once you've passed the moment where you think you can't possibly continue.

It was good productive work too. Somehow my brain went into a creative overdrive and the ideas were bursting out. Perhaps all the pushing liberates a flow that doesn't get tapped at other times.

So, if you're tired and thinking up excuses not to write, push hard. Chain yourself mentally to the chair and don't stop until you absolutely have to because of other commitments.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Get A Grip!

I was very excited by an acceptance for a story that I had sent out three times. At last it was going to be published and I was excited and delighted. It kept me writing well for the rest of that day. I write best when I'm happy about something.

Then in the late evening I was emailed two rejections at once. I came plummeting down to earth. The next morning, instead of still feeling elated about the sale, I felt gloomy about the other two. It was a glass-half-empty morning.

Then I got a grip. I dusted down the two rejects and tweaked them for a new market. I sent them both off and did some editing. Then, despite the cloud still hovering above my head, I started a new story. Then, as the cloud thinned a little, I chased a story up. Hated doing this, but kept the query polite and brief. The result was a kind reply promising to look into it, followed by a prompt email telling me it was being slow because it was on a shortlist!

The cloud vanished instantly and the day remained very bright indeed. However, I think it wasn't just the good news about the shortlist that helped, although that had a massive amount to do with it, it was the fact that I kept on working, pushing, trying, progressing with my writing. I didn't wallow. Well, not for long.

So the advice is simple - get a grip!