How to Get Your Poetry Published, the Traditional Way

When I had been writing poetry for a few years, had a decent sized bank of poems built up and felt ready to share it with the world, I turned to the internet to find out how one went about being published.

Google was not kind to me.

What my limited research told me was that my dream of being a published poet was just that – a dream. That there was very little point in trying, as only people who were already famous stood a chance of getting published. And even then, it was a small chance. “No one reads poetry,” said one reply.

Well, that was that then. Or so I thought. I accepted my findings and, although I kept writing poems, I gave up on the hope of seeing them in print.

It didn’t occur to me that the research might be wrong. That I, in myself, was proof that it was. I mean, I must have known that at least people read poetry, because I was one of them.

But the people of the internet seemed convincing and I took them to be experts. Before I joined Women Aloud NI, I didn’t know any other writers. I didn’t have their experience to compare with what I’d been (wrongly) told.

You might ask why I was misled in such a way, and I think there are a few reasons for that. Partly, it was because what I was told wasn’t entirely wrong. Like any good lie, there was an element of truth to it. Matched with other’s anecdotal evidence and my own insecurities, it seemed like a closed case.

So, what’s the truth? You can get published – it is possible – but it’s also difficult.

To make it just a little easier, I’m going to outline how it’s (usually) done. Continue reading

Writer Confessions

I never read much as a child. In fact, as a very young kid, I remember having problems physically reading out loud – trying it would make my breathing go all weird. Maybe it was an anxiety thing, similar to a stammer, I don’t know, but I’d have to stop after each word – each and every single word – and gulp down a breath before I could try the next. That was when I was first learning to read and, as you can probably guess, wasn’t a positive experience.

Around that time, I remember being at a meeting between my teacher and my mother. They were discussing problems I was having with learning to write – my handwriting being unreadable, spelling being way off, and a bunch of my letters muddled, backwards, or in the wrong order.

As an adult looking back at that memory, I shake my head and wonder how on earth it didn’t ring alarm bells signalling something was wrong. But, well, either the alarms didn’t go off or no one was listening.

I was almost twenty when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Huzzah! Suddenly, everything made sense, even if it was a bit late to save my university career.

In the intervening years between my early school experiences and my later ones, I fell in love with books. Or, at least, the idea of books.

I had started collecting books that seemed really interesting and made a list of books I wanted to write but, while I was writing a little (mostly emo poetry and short stuff that should never and will never see the light of day), I was intimidated by anything over three pages and didn’t actually try and read any of the books I acquired.

Actually, I was so clueless about which books were age appropriate and what might suit me that the ones I did have – picked out of a box at a jumble sale based completely on the covers and how cheap they were – really only worked as pretty things to look at and collect. I’d bought huge, dense tomes that most adults would struggle with and had no idea what genres I liked or even what a genre really was.

It’s not the beginning you would expect from someone who now writes professionally and reads roughly fifty books a year, right?

Life has a weird way of sorting things out.

So, I got there. Eventually. I obviously learned to read and developed writing skills and ways to work around my dyslexia. I fell in love with books properly, finally figuring out what I liked and what I didn’t and why.

But, here’s the thing – my big secret: I still get intimidated by books, sometimes. Mostly novels.

Hand me a big, chunky book – even one by an author I know or based on a premise I’m interested in – and I’ll hesitate.

Some of the books I consume are on audio. Some are children’s books, or YA – which, by the way, there is zero shame in. I read them for the ideas and the way they’re expressed, not because there’s anything dumb about reading things pitched at way below your age group. A good book is a good book. Period.

But anyway, I read short books of all sorts and a lot of fanfiction. That’s my comfort zone.

Yes, I read novels too. Of course I do. I write novels, for goodness sake.

That doesn’t change the fact that the hesitation exists as I prepare to take a step outside my comfort zone. I tell myself it’s silly and think back to all the novels I’ve physically read so far, but a small, childish part of myself asks if I still remember how or if I’ll struggle with the words.

Why am I admitting to all this? I guess maybe to get it off my chest, but also to try and open a discussion. We shouldn’t be afraid of admitting to our pasts or current weaknesses.

Also, I really, really want to emphasize one point to parents, teachers, and caregivers of children everywhere: encourage your kids to love books. Their lives will be better for it and they’ll thank you in the long run. Don’t give up on them if they have problems. Please, dear god, do not assume they’re dumb and it’s beyond them.

Anyone else reading this who wants to write but feels like they’re not educated enough or don’t have the skills: take heart, there’s still time. Skills can be learnt at any age.

I offer my experience as proof.

Eras and Spoons: A Life Update

As the saying goes, you only have so many hours in the day; and for each of those hours, each of us only has so much energy. There’s a wonderful metaphor used by people with chronic illnesses that equates the limited energy they have in the day to a lack of spoons. It sounds a bit wacky at first, but it makes a lot of sense when you get into it and really resonates with people for a reason. (Read the full explanation here.)

It’s easier to think of things like energy in terms of something physical you can see and count and comprehend. The article linked above theorizes that healthy people don’t have to think about their spoons or try and conserve them because they have an infinite amount. I’m not so sure on that count, but the rest certainly stands true in my experience.

I imagine a regular person (that is, someone without a chronic condition) to have one-hundred spoons per day – one-hundred being a round number for simplicity. It’s more spoons than most days require, with some left over at the end to waste on frivolity or throw away without needing to worry about them.

Relating this to my personal life: my husband – who I care for and who has a few chronic conditions that prevent him from working – has fifteen spoons on an average day; twenty on rare, extremely good day; ten on a bad day, and five on his very worst days. On the five-spoon days, all he can do is sleep, just about managing to eat the food I put in front of him at periodic intervals.

My own chronic condition is less severe and I usually end up with about forty to fifty spoons – much less than your average guy on the street but considerably more than my husband.

Bearing all that in mind, sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for wanting a child. I’ve sat worrying, some nights, that people who know of our situation will judge us as being reckless or whatever to try for a family when we both have poor health. Sometimes I feel the need to justify our decision, but I won’t.

I am considering my spoons as I plan for the future, though.

All being well, I’ll (with a little help) get pregnant next year. If that works out, we’ll need to move house to somewhere with an extra bedroom and a hallway in which to park a buggy.

Before that, I’d really like to learn how to drive as I think it would make our lives easier. In the super longterm, I want to finally get my degree so, before all of the other stuff I’ve just listed, I’m planning to go back to college and get another A.level in preparation. That’ll take a year, starting in September.

Considering I’m turning thirty in spring 2019, I have a lot on my plate.

How am I managing my spoons in order to clear that plate? Well, I’ve had to let some things go to make room. (Have I killed this metaphor to death yet?)

After a year in the role, I am no longer Project Support Officer for Women Aloud NI. I’ve also decided to stop teaching social media skills on a freelance basis.

I’d already cut back on client work and stopped operating under a separate business name, bringing everything back under the umbrella of ‘Ellie Rose McKee: Freelance Writer’, but I really feel it’s time now to stop it entirely. It never really worked out the way I wanted and mostly ended up costing me a lot of spoons without earning me very much money.

So it’s the end of a few eras. I’m gonna do the student thing, and hopefully the momma thing. And, in the meantime, I’m gonna continue to care for my husband and write me some more books.

Honestly? It’s all I’ve ever wanted.

As always, this blog will continue to document the highs and lows of how the reality will (or won’t) match up with the dream. Keep ya posted!

Weight and Waiting – Health Update

When I set my resolutions for this year in December last year, I said I wanted to eat “a bit more healthily. I’m not intending to go on a diet, exactly, but I do want to take better care of my body.”

Well, there was a reason for that.

In November last year, I discovered that a lump I’d had for years was suddenly bigger. I went the GP and she told me I had a cyst. No problem, she’d put me on a waiting list to get it drained and/or removed.

So I went into 2018 knowing that I was facing minor surgery. I’d also had a conversation with my husband just after his birthday in the middle of December in which we decided it was the right time to pursue fertility treatment.

I have PCOS and, as such, don’t seem to be able to conceive naturally. Again, I went to my doctor about this and again I ended up on a waiting list.

Between waiting for surgery and wanting to be pregnant, I aimed to be fitter. That seemed fairly straightforward.

Then I got one or two weeks into January and my cyst was massive and incredibly painful. I went back to the GP and got antibiotics. When they didn’t work and the cyst continued to grow and generally be unbearable, I went to A&E.

The doctor at the hospital gave the cyst a poke and a prod (which, I’m not gonna lie, had me in tears). He then told me I had a different kind of cyst to what my GP diagnosed. I was sent away with more antibiotics and told to come back on Monday.

Over the weekend, the cyst burst which sounds awful but was actually a big relief. The pressure on it was like nothing I’d experienced before.

Back at hospital, I saw a different doctor who told me I’d been misdiagnosed again and my cyst was neither the type my GP said it was nor what the other hospital doctor thought, so the referral I was waiting on was with the wrong department – apparently it was a General Surgery issue, not Gynaecology. I was given more antibiotics and sent away again.

Two weeks later, I was back at my GP because the cyst was infected again. Solution: more antibiotics. A double dose.

The cyst got worse and I went back to A&E again; going over the whole story. The triage people got someone from General Surgery to come look at me and she said she was “almost certain” it wasn’t a GS issue and should definitely be with gynae.

I was sent away with – get this – more antibiotics. It was February by this point. I’d been in pain for a month and still had heard nothing about my referral. I didn’t even know if it was with the right department anymore. The surgeon said she would talk to gynae and call me the next day to settle the issue.

She never called.

February became March and March became April, my cyst waxing and waning the entire time.

Finally, I got an appointment with General Surgery. The doctor there told me:

  1. what I had might not be a cyst
  2. it was definitely not a gynae issue
  3. antibiotics would do me no good.

Well, that was spiffy.

The plan was that I’d get called for investigative surgery, then corrective surgery, then a different kind of corrective surgery if the first didn’t solve the problem. Apparently it could take a year, in all.

The surgeon recommended I lose weight in the meantime as it would reduce my risk of complications.

I just got home from this appointment when I got a call from the fertility clinic. There had been a cancellation.

I took the appointment and travelled back to the hospital the next day for a series of tests after which I was told to come back in six months, five stone lighter. If I didn’t lose the weight, they wouldn’t be able to treat me.

The first of May, I rejoined Slimming World (having done it once before and previously lost four stone which I’d managed to put all back on).

I’ve been plugging away at that for a full month and have lost eight pounds so far in total. Also in that time I’ve had a preoperative assessment and received another referral letter, this time for urology.

I asked my GP why urology want to see me and she didn’t know. It’s apparently not in my notes. Hospital referrals are stored on a different system.

So June is starting with me going to see what that’s about. And continuing to wait for a surgery date. And waiting. And waiting…

Hopefully all of the cyst stuff gets resolved in under a year, because nothing can really be done about the fertility side of things until it is and treatment for that can apparently take a year itself.

Truly, I am learning what it means to be patient.

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.