Writing Update – May 2018

I’ve been fairly quiet on social media recently, partly because I needed to recharge my batteries in that respect (it was all getting a bit much, you know?), but also: I’ve been really concentrating on my writing.

On that count, I have some updates:

The two pieces of flash fiction I said had been accepted in my March update have now both come out – one micro piece in issue two of the Bangor Literary Journal, and a brand new short story in issue nine of Corncrake Magazine.

I finished and won CampNaNoWriMo, writing 20,000 words during the month of April.

But, most importantly, I have finished my novel!!! (Yes, those extra exclamation marks are necessary. Didn’t you hear what I said?) I don’t mean I’ve finished the first draft – oh, no. We’re way past that! – I’ve sent the whole thing out to my beta readers and finished a round of edits.

I had a meeting with a writing mentor on Friday who looked over my pitch and first 10,000 words and she was so positive about it, encouraging me to not delay in sending it out.

So, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

My novel will be in the inbox of an agent come morning!

On Finding the Words

Words are kind of my thing, at least the ones written down. I often struggle to verbalize in person what I can be quite eloquent about behind a computer screen.

So. I said (very briefly) in my previous post that there are some big things I want to talk about. I’m still not quite ready to do that fully, yet, but I’m getting there.

There’s an issue of knowing where to start. I’ve decided to start here, taking this post as my first step.

I’ve started counselling again recently, to talk about things I’ve spent years not saying. Little by little, I’m finding the words – and the courage – to tell my “#MeToo” story.

Err… stories. Plural.

Tonight I had a breakthrough, admitting out loud what happened. This is the clearest my head has felt in a while. And this is so important!

The critical voice in the back of my mind is saying, ‘Why are you bothering to write a blog post about things you want to say, without actually saying them?’

Well, because I need to.

Breaking the silence is never easy. But it’s so. goddamn. IMPORTANT!

And this is just one layer of one thing going on in my life, behind the scenes. Please bear with me.

Favourite Quotes

Last week, my friend Valerie did a ‘quote challenge’ on her blog and tagged me in it. You’re supposed to share three quotes over three days, but I’ve decided to just share a selection of my favourites here in a single post instead. Just something fun as I ruminate on the bigger, more serious things I want to blog about in the future (it’s been a hard week; lots of think-y thoughts. But more on that later!).

I actually have a notebook dedicated to quotes & song lyrics I love. I like to collect them up to read back; why not share them?

Here’s one: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” (Often attributed to Dr Seuss) – I needed to reread this one, today, even if I am a firm advocate of crying if/when you need to. Maybe it should be, ‘cry because it’s over, but smile too, because it happened.’

Yes, I think I like that more. Inside my quote book – right inside the front cover – I have one that says, “What’s the use of a good quote if you can’t change it?” I don’t know who wrote that. It could well have been me.

What else?

“You are always a little bit wrong,” – Hank Green.

Sadly, sadly true.

I lot of great quotes come from the Green brothers. It was John who said, “Truth resists simplicity,” which is another sadly true fact. (Ah, but if life were easy!)

John Green was also the person to say, “Maybe our favourite quotes say more about us than the stories and people we’re quoting.”

And isn’t that brilliant? Quotes about quotes are terribly meta, and I’m here for it!

Time for a little Oscar Wilde! He said, “Women are made to be loved, not understood,” which I like, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t try for the latter.

It was Brad Meltzer who said, “There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood and understanding someone else,” which is 100% true and 50% of the reason I love my husband (the other 50% is his sense of humour and fantastic beach body).

Genius, apparently (according to EB White, at any rate) is “more often found in a cracked pot than a whole one.” Which I guess is the reason my husband loves me. I’m an excellent crackpot, firmly following the advice of Abraham Lincoln (“Whatever you are, be a good one.”).

And speaking of love. “Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own,” – Robert Heinlein.

But let’s go back to John Green for a moment, because he shared this and it needs repeating and repeating and being written on walls and tattooed on backsides: “You are helpful and you are loved and you are forgiven and you are not alone.”

take a deep breath, then go back and read that again.

Now leave, I’m done here and returning to my writing. As Frank Zappa said, “So many books, so little time!”

On Almost Giving Up

Two days before the end of NaNoWriMo in November, I had ten thousand words still to write. So I thought to myself, I’m probably not going to be able to do it, I might as well not bother trying.

I probably don’t need to tell you that that’s a terrible attitude. I knew it myself even as I thought it, but that didn’t make giving up any less tempting.

So I went to a few friends and asked them for a pep talk. They waved their virtual pompoms, I wrote the ten thousand words, and the rest is history. I have another NaNoWriMo win under my belt, and that win had me riding high on good feels for good while.

Way back at the start of 2017, I wrote a blog post that stemmed from a lot of frustration with myself. I put on too much pressure, and I buckle, and I don’t finish a lot of projects (not compared to the number I start, anyway). But that’s only half the story, because you know what else I do? I get up and I try again.

Today has been a crappy day. The course I was supposed to start teaching tonight was cancelled for lack of people signed up. I turned down client work, because I wasn’t up to it. I cancelled an event; deleted my Patreon. Then I had a nap, and I started writing again.

I’m currently behind on my CampNaNo word count, but I’m still going. Tomorrow is a new day.

Reading and Writing Update – March 2018

What I’ve Been Reading

As of right this minute, I have read eleven books this year so far – three audiobooks, three poetry collections, two non-fiction books, a novel, a short story collection, and a novel-length piece of fan fiction – though I’m hoping to make it twelve this evening.

11 books off my goal of 52 is 21%, which means I’m exactly on track.

You can follow my reading challenge on Goodreads here.

What I’ve Been Writing

After a very slow start to the year, which I promise to stop going on about from here on out, I’m finally getting back in gear.

I wrote just over 5,000 words in January, almost 6,000 in February, and I’ve written roughly 3,000 so far this month but, again, I’m hoping to finish another piece tonight. Mostly, I’ve been editing. A lot. Which brings me on to my next topic.

Works Accepted & Published

In January I had a small, jokey piece of flash fiction posted on the Belfast Writers’ Group website – we decided that’s something we’re going to do periodically, now.

In March I had a poem published in the inaugural issue of the Bangor Literary Journal, AND I’ve recently heard that a flash fiction piece by myself will be included in Issue Two as part of a feature on Women Aloud NI members. That’s due out in April, as is a different literary journal that is publishing a flash fiction piece of mine – not sure if I can publically announce the details of that one, yet, but keep your eyes peeled on Twitter and Facebook.

Things Just Passed

I’ve just finished my first term at Crescent Arts Centre as a tutor and my last there as a student.

International Women’s Day is over for another year, but it was fantastic to be part of a brilliant set of events both on the day itself and the following weekend. There’s a video of my reading at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin here.

The past two days, I’ve have had Kindle editions of my books all on offer for free and was delighted to find that I topped a few of Amazon’s charts in doing so – see photo, below.

Things Still to Come

Camp NaNoWriMo is happening in April, and I’m all signed up. My target is set to 20,000 words which will see my novel finished. Hall-e-lu-jah! It can’t come soon enough. But, that said, I have one important thing before that – my birthday, which is on Friday *does happy dance* 

Finally, a new term is starting at Crescent Arts Centre soon – after Easter – and I’m all set to teach again. My class will be running on Friday evenings, and I’ll be trying out an all-day workshop as well. More details on that here.

Did I mention things had been busy?

Inconveniently Ill

I feel a bit all over the place. There’s a lot of cool and exciting things going on for me at the minute, as well as in the long term, and that’s obviously great, but I’ve also found myself in this headspace where I can’t fully appreciate it. Maybe I’ve come into a new season of depression, maybe I’m burnt out again, or – I was considering this option earlier – maybe I’m feeling stressed about this busy month because I know how stressful such times have been in the past and I’m really only feeling it because I expected to feel it, in a placebo kind of way.

I don’t know.

What I can tell you is that I’m exhausted, and a bit nauseated; I have a clouded mind that can’t quite seem to settle, and the physical health issue from the start of the year that I mentioned previously still ongoing.

When I said in my new year’s resolutions that I wanted to deal with my health in 2018, I didn’t mean this.

But I’m not here to bitch and moan. What I want to highlight it what it’s like being in this weird state where I’m both happy and sad. For those who haven’t experienced mental health issues, it might sound a bit ridiculous. That’s because it is. But it’s also 100% a thing that can actually happen.

On the one hand, I had a brilliant few days with Women Aloud NI that I’ll probably remember for years to come. But, on the other hand, while I was having those great, positive experiences, I was really struggling.

When I get exhausted like this, my emotions go haywire. I find myself forcing myself not to cry at, well, nothing. There is no logical reason for me to be upset. That only makes how I feel all the more annoying.

I wrote a tweet along these lines a little while ago, but one of the things people don’t really talk about in terms of illness is just how damn inconvenient it is. It’s unpredictable, and can’t be planned around. That’s a headache in itself.

I care for my husband, which is fine when I’m on top of my game, but when I’m sick, everything falls apart just that little bit.

I don’t want to sit here and complain about my life. Really, I, don’t. I just want to sleep, for like a month, and then get on with it again. That’s where I’m at right now.

Birdsong (a Poem)

This time last year, after our main events for International Women’s Day, the Women Aloud NI crew went cross-border the following Saturday to do a day-long event there too.

Tomorrow, we’re going to do it all again.

So I thought I would share the poem I wrote for the event – I began it as I waited for the bus that would take me to the train that would take me to Dublin last year, and I finished it just now.

At the time, someone suggested we wear pin badges of birds so we could identify each other, seeing as most of us had only ever met online to that point, but I’m happy to report there’s no need for such an identifier this year, as we’re all familiar faces now.

Birdsong

Bright as shining pins,
we paraded through the Dublin streets;
Pins working double time
to keep up with the rest of the flock.

Then, at the roost, we gathered;
more of us – a murmuration.
Silence fell, we opened our beaks,
and sang.

March Events

I’ve said elsewhere that March is set to be a busy month for me. It got off to a slower start than intended, with my first lot of appointments called off or postponed because of the storm at the weekend, but things are back in full swing now. Here’s the up to date list of what’s happening:

This Thursday (the 8th of March) is International Women’s Day and, as such, Women Aloud NI are gathering again across the country for a series of readings. There are two in Belfast, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. I’ll be reading at the evening event – 7 to 9pm – at Easons bookstore, Donegall Place. It’s a free event, and you don’t need to be a woman to attend.

Then, on Saturday, the Women Aloud crew are heading to Dublin, where we’ll be engaging in a readathon at the Irish Writers’ Centre alongside writers from the south. Because there will be so many of us, it unfortunately has to be a closed event – no other people will be able to fit in the building! But, afterwards (at 3.30pm), we’ll be gathering in Parnell Square where there will be a public mass reading (as in, we will all read en masse). It’s really a sight to behold.

Later in the month, on March 22nd, there’s a poetry showcase in at Waterstones Belfast followed by an open-mic session where anyone can come and read. I’m one of the eight poets being showcased (the rest are in the image, above). Kick off is at 6.30pm.

I hope to see you there!

What I Wrote in 2017

It took me some time, but I now have a typed record of everything I wrote last year, and I can tell you it all totals one-hundred-and-forty-six-thousand (146,000) words (rounded figure). That equates to a decent sized novel.

For context and comparison, it’s quite a bit more than Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and a bit less than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which are 107,253 and 168,923 words, respectively – source for that info. here).

On average, it’s 400 words per day, which is just shy of the 500 words per day that Ernest Hemingway wrote during his life (source).

So, this blog post can be summarized by me saying I’m basically the Ernest Hemingway of Harry Potter. Except, you know, nothing like that at all.

A lot of the words I wrote were towards my novel, but most of them were scattered across a lot of other projects, including 42 blog posts, 80 poems, 20 pieces of flash fiction, a hefty amount of fan fiction (as always), and non-fiction (reports and memoir).

All of the blog posts made it into the world (most of them here on this very website), the fan fiction was all published, and some of the flash fiction got shared online, too, while most of the poems form the second micropoetry collection I’m working on.

I had a poem published in print as part of an Arlen House anthology, had two-and-a-half short stories published in anthologies by Belfast Writers’ Group, a poem published on the website of the Imagine Festival, a short story in an anthology by A New Ulster, and another one published by ANU in their regular journal. (Full list of publishing credits for all years here).

I’d say that’s pretty good output for a year that threw me more than a few curve balls. We’ll have to wait and see how the rest of 2018 pans out for comparison.

The Fear

I have wanted to be an author for a very long time and have been working on novel drafts since 2009/2010. That’s nine years ago, give or take, which seems crazy to me.

Undoubtedly, a lot has happened in that time, not least of which, I have improved my writing and related skills.

I’ve said before that the novel I’m working on at the minute (that I started at the beginning of 2017, I think) just feels right to me. I really think this is the one that could see me getting an agent and publisher. I’m also so close to finishing it; on the pinnacle of sending it off for submission. My beta readers have given me nothing but positive feedback (and I’m not even bribing them, promise!).

And here’s the thing: I am scared to go that last mile.

For all I’ve dreamed about coming to this point and talked almost incessantly about nothing else for months of my life at a time – and for all of the hugely terrifying, genuinely important things going on in the world for other people (like, you know, terrorism and Brexit) – I am currently gripped by the sudden realization that this is real. Or it could be.

I’ve built this up in my head and heart for so long, I… I’m not scared I’ll fail, I don’t think. I’m not sure what it is that’s behind the fear, I just know that it’s here and it’s making me hesitate.

Maybe I’m worried I’ll actually succeed – get an agent and publisher – and that it won’t live up to my expectations, which aren’t even that inflated, realistically. I’ve done my research. I’m under no illusions that I’ll become a rich and famous. And yet… there’s something.

For the very fact that I can’t pin down that ‘something’, it’s clear to me that this fear is not especially logical. I feel foolish about that, particularly given the fact that it’s like the first world-iest of all first world non-problems and there’s the aforementioned terrorism going on in other people’s lives. I have nothing to say for myself on that account other than, really, this is a big deal for me and I felt the need to acknowledge it before it ate me alive.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy here. Just airing my thoughts and feelings. (And why do I feel the need to justify sharing my own feelings on my own website? Well, I don’t. Note to Self: Your guilt complex is showing.)

Anyway – acknowledgement now done, I plan to ignore the fear, and I’m setting myself a deadline to get my sh*t together, which I’ve decided will be April, during Camp NaNoWriMo.

It would probably be even sooner than that, but I have a lot to wrap up in March with the end of the current term at the Crescent Arts Centre, my birthday, and a bunch of events I’m taking part in. But I will get there. I will!