I mentioned in my slog blog (I don’t know why I call it that) of 5th May, that I would continue to tell you about my competition successes and failures.
Seeing as there were more failures than there were successes, I’ll start with those.
Someone once said to me, if you want to get published, it will help if you have a strong internet presence. At the time I argued, surely if our writing is good enough and we have strong material, it wouldn’t really matter to a publisher or potential agent whether we are active on the internet or not.
She proved me wrong…Damn!
I have a new stance now. I believe we must do everything we possibly can to get recognized in the publishing profession and being active on the internet is one of them.
I remember entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2010. I was kicked out at the first hurdle, as I was this year too, but when I joined the related forum, full of wannabes like me, I met some great people.
I entered the Brit Writer’s Awards last year. I got long listed and that’s as far as I went. However, I linked up with some guys of the same ilk and suddenly a facebook group was formed that continues to this day, discussing pending competitions and individual achievements. So, if you want to talk about successes and enduring the competitive road, go meet the guys.
I’ll let you know how I fare with the Brits this year, but don’t hold your breath. It’s anyone’s game.
The list goes on with regards to competitions, but I want to mention http://www.firstwriter.com/ where I get a lot of my information. They send regular updates to members email addresses for pending competitions as long as you pay a small subscription. I find First Writer invaluable as it also lists publishers and agents as well as other helpful information.
With regards to my particular successes, I highly recommend the following, because they allowed me a win or at least a runner up and some even published me in their anthology. And that is a big high.
I’ve been on this internet voyage for a few years now.
No! It wasn’t around the same time as the rest of you.
Some bright spark told me (just when P.C’s became considered as something handy to have) to hold off buying one because they change so frequently, the one I bring home will be out of date before I take it out of the box.
So, adhering to that particular techno expert’s advice, I didn’t buy one.
I went to my friend’s house one day. “Do you know anything about that internet thing?” I said.
She tilted her head towards a big square box in the corner (I think it had a doily on the top).
“We’ve got a personal computer,” she said with an announcement-tone to her voice. “I’ll show you.”
There we were, four of us, clustered around her new purchase whilst she explained the process of internet searches. We were all ooh-ing and ahh-ing and I remember thinking I’ll never get the hang of that (I still haven’t)
As I was saying…I’ve been on this internet voyage for a few years now…
And as I explored writing forum territories, I often heard the strangest remarks.
“Don’t worry about reviewing the grammar. My editor will do that.”
What editor? I pondered (I may have said that out-loud).
“The one I’ll have when I get the offer to publish my book.”
“But you’re not going to get an offer until you edit it.”
“Grrrhh! JUST LEAVE IT ALOOOONE.” The words screamed back at me.
Someone else…”My agent says I needn’t worry about that.”
“It’s a friend of mine. She’s going to represent me when I finish writing my book.”
“Grrrhh! JUST LEAVE IT ALOOOONE.”
Last year I was invited to the Frome festival as a ‘writer-in-residence’. The idea was for the participant to sit in a shop or a café window and write a story based on a topic given to them on the day.
There I was, in a lovely café on a cobbled street, with my laptop in front of me, typing away in earnest, whilst tourists came past and scrutinised me. They even took pictures!
On the window was a poster with ‘Wendy Reakes, writer-in residence’ plastered all over it.
My cheeks burned pink as I felt them all watching me through the glass. Not just because I looked like a shop dummy, but because their impressed little faces assumed I was a proper writer. One even came in to shake my hand.
I have often raised this issue slash question…
At what point can we call ourselves writers without kidding ourselves and the rest of the world?
In the past the response has mostly been…”I am a writer. My agent says so.”
That must be right then. If your agent says so!
Whispering to myself… “What agent?”
“Grrrhh! JUST LEAVE IT ALOOOONE,” they’d scream once more.
So…after that little bit of self-indulgence I offered in my blog yesterday, here we are back to normal.
It occurred to me when I first started this on a regular basis, how do I could keep up the momentum of writing about writing in a positive way, when truth be told, I, like others, have highs and lows; more commonly known as moods.
No one, I pondered, wants to hear me moan about the events in my life, so isn’t it my responsibility to be as up-beat as I possibly can, so that people continue to visit me and leave with a little bit of knowledge of what it’s like for someone/anyone on that ever-elusive road to publication?
‘However’, I say with a shrill-like tone. How do I leave my true emotions on the back burner, whist I pen ever-so-enlightening tales for my readers, when the core of my work is based on truth; open and straight-up?
‘To hell with it,’ I muttered to myself in the wee hours of this morning. I feel like deliberating, expanding and elaborating the thoughts that sieve through my grey matter on an hourly basis.
What I enjoyed about writing yesterdays blog, is that I was able to take my pen and scribe with gentle strokes, words of meaning and verse that, with a little bit of luck, painted a picture of how I see my life path; past, present and future.
That’s what I love about writing; the illustrations, the descriptions of a single thought. Painting words on white paper and arranging them in a way that makes them sing.
Now I am compelled to mention to the beginners out there. Always read your work back and say it aloud. Speak as if you are humming, so that the words flow in tune with imaginary music.
Only then, when the prose flows freely like notes on a sheet of music, can you release it as done.
I am here in this place, right now. I have travelled a jagged road with forks and prongs, bumps and bruises, highs and lows and I see that road behind me as one that began unchartered; one I stumbled along; tripping and falling.
I traveled that road not knowing where or when I would arrive. Blinded; I could not see and silent; my voice was held in a moment of five decades.
Here I am now.
I see a road in front of me, straight and wide. I am careering along whilst the wind lashes my face making my cheeks glow pink and my hair stream behind me like waves in a storm.
I am happy and yet I am still traveling; not yet arrived, but knowing exactly where I want to be.
Here I am now and I contemplate my writing passion.
Five decades are behind me; five decades are lost. Yet I have no regret because wasn’t that the plot?
And now as I coast on newly laid tarmac, going to a place I cannot see, my enthusiasm and my passion is unwavering, because wasn’t that what life taught me?
I have met many people on the internet. Many of them are stereotype characters who would feel comfortable featuring in a diversity of genres; drama, comedy, horror or even pure gore. I know this because I’m one of them.
If you’re reading, don’t fret. I mention no names.
I have to talk about this because it’s all part of the process of our road to publication; the people we meet in this fabulously strange cyber universe that is the internet.
It began for me when I joined several writing forums.
I’d never done it before (chatted to a community of peers on-line). So entering the unknown and feeling way out of my comfort zone, I approached the whole thing with a blatant wit.
My wit was, and still is, often, strangely, misunderstood (it's the way I tell 'em). So it never surprised me when i joined some groups and introduced myself like a sledgehammer breaking down a door, that I was met with some caution.
Many avoided talking to me, some just dabbled and most found me pretty uninteresting. Then someone brave came along and with no issues resting on their un-slumped shoulders, we, more often than not, became instant buddies (or ‘friends’) as they say in internet speak.
I joined one site that only had a few members, and even now, years later, the people I met there still hold a special place in my in-box. We often pass each other along the way, in other locations, sometimes when we are least expecting it. It a warm feeling of belonging and acceptance, in a place populated by millions. (Or is that billions?)
The funniest experience I had was a science forum in America. I joined because I needed some questions answered for research.
It was like talking to beings from another dimension. We spoke different languages and as the lack of understanding from both parties continued over days and days, I ended up having to leave; so great was the stress of wondering what planet they were from. I mean no derision. I fear they thought I was of alien species too…‘Planet imagine’ versus ‘planet don’t-see-it-so-don’t-believe-it’…
I write this with affection, even though I left with hot scorching heels, because, live and live; we are all different.And they were just scientist after all. Bless em!
Another site told me they don’t tolerate sarcasm. Oops! See ya!
Another would allow no confrontations. At all! If someone said something and everyone else disagreed, that said person (me) was encouraged to shut up and roll over. I never was one for doing as I was told, so I had to leave that one too. Pronto!
Another had so many agreeable people telling each other their work was wonderful, it was like being on the set of the Stepford wives.
Another had trolls (or sock puppets as they like to call them) running naughtily across its pages.The trolls were so great in their numbers, I was often left wondering whether I’d just answered a perfectly sensible question or I’d just been had. I still pop in there occasionally, if I want a bit of crazy banter with a woolen mit.
The common denominator here of course is moi…so I bear no grudge nor hold any remorse for my absence from any of these sites and others, but my advice (for those who want it or even for those who don’t want it)…
Tread carefully the internet social path. Use it to your advantage whilst not forgetting your dignity and your honour. Hold your beliefs true and cast your opinion openly, without reserve or worrying about who will de-friend you. Most of all, never swear. Truly bad form!
Ultimately, the friends you nurture will stand the test of time. And when you are sitting, looking at a blank screen, unable to write; they will be there to hear your pain. They will hold your hand, stroke your brow and put their arms around your shoulders, until the time comes for when you can open that word file and delve once more into your creative writing world.
Forgo foes, forge friendships (just made that up) xx
It wasn’t as if I wasn’t inspired. I am always inspired! It’s not that I had other things I preferred to do. As if! And it wasn’t that I failed to type that first line to get me fired up for the rest.
'No!' I proclaim, shaking my head.
I am (always have been), someone who must achieve. Simple!
Writing (that thing they call a profession which most of don’t get paid for) is all about achievement. The ‘A word’ must touch most of us at some point and all of us must appreciate it as a terrific high.
For example, “I wrote some flash fiction today. It was only 100 words but I had a great sense of achievement!” or “I finished my novel yesterday. I feel so good.” or “My book’s coming out next week…”
Yeah, writing is all about the highs and when you’re a manic high achiever like me, the worst thing that can happen is nothing. And nothing is happening now…As we speak.
So that’s why I’ve just spent the whole week making lego buildings.
I was there, like this person deranged, building and building, until my dining room table was awash with colored bricks. I became so insane, I even told my kids to try not to break any of them. We could build a whole city,” I said, excitedly.
That’s when they gave me a patronizing glance, grabbed the remote and turned the tele on.
Nevertheless, and with my kids lack of enthusiasm put to one side, and after I had built my city (however small), I found myself being able to write again.
Now, while I’m waiting for that break into publishing; an agent to call or even some news of a competition short list...and if I need a big strong dose of ‘A’, I can, without any regard for blocks of the writers variety, get the lego out and build skyscrapers; red, white and blue.
I once wrote; 'My life is the craziest thing that has ever happened to me'.
The craziness began when I was young, and it carried on while I was young, giving me experiences of life way too early. Then as I aged, I thought I’d seen it all, until life ‘part 2’ came along and gave me much more to contemplate in a world corrupt and oh-so angry.
I am 49 now (my kids tell their mates I’m 50. I tell them they've got it wrong and that mummy would never lie about something like that).
At 49, I have experiences in my oh-so short life that other writers of my generation (under fifties) could only dream of. Not that they’d swap with me for one minute. They’d just like to have the knowledge I have, the same experiences set on strong shoulders burdened with life’s grenade-esque gems.
I was a child-carer in the seventies; the protector and arm-extension of my beloved disabled mother. Those were the days when the state never knew about what was going on in the home. There was no recompense for children who missed school regularly; it was very hush-hush, best-not-to-talk-about-these-things type of scenario.
I remember when I came home one day, just at the point when I was due to leave school and venture into the big wide world.
Our head teacher was sitting alongside my mother sipping tea from best china. They watched me with solemn looks on their faces as I walked into the room, bedraggled, hair askew and un-elasticated socks falling to my ankles.
The teacher spoke. “You never mentioned you cared for your mother, Wendy.”
“Yeah, so!” I murmured, with an attitude that would kick-arse any street urchin now.
“We’d like to offer some leniency with regards to your exam results,” he said. “We think we may be able to up your grades in view of your responsibilities in the home.”
I remember thinking; 'you don’t know half of it'.
And as he tried delving deep into those sceptical big brown eyes of mine, he saw no way in. There was no trust there. Nothing for him to explore or take as his own. Instead, I declined his offer and ‘preferred,’ as I so eloquently declared, to take the consequences like a man.
And so I did. I came away from school with the minimum of qualifications and decided I was still going to have a brilliant career. Academic ability be damned!
I am writing this because I have had messages from some youngsters who want to write, yet they feel they lack the start in life that others have had.
My message to them…
Ditch the text-speak. Learn how to spell by doing crosswords. Read a lot and follow the grammar. And as you travel through your path of life, open your eyes and broaden your mind, by watching everything and forgetting nothing.
After I won my first short story competition, I got the bug.
I googled ‘writing competitions’ and it gave me a list of the crème de la crème of writing awards, available to minions like me. It was a veritable feast of avenues in which to satisfy my yearning for winning web publications. My goal; to see my name in lights once more, or even twice or thrice…
I chose a site that looked as if they would be kind to a beginner like me. You know, one that wouldn’t look at my story and bounce it back with a little note saying, ‘you have got to be kidding!’
It was called Writers Billboard and this was the site that gave me the confidence to explore writing further. I won the title for three consecutive months and I have never forgotten that feeling of pride as I looked at my name at the top of their page of winners.
When I entered the fourth time, I knew I was pushing my luck. As predicted they sent me a little note, ‘not this month, Wendy.’ it was then I decided to venture further afield with the memory of the guys at Writers Billboard in my ‘grateful to people’ box.
I wrote day and night, churning out short stories and some long ones. I kept winning competitions or at least getting runner-up and my confidence was shining like a beacon. Until the day came when I lost, (didn’t win) and I lost again, and again…
I couldn't understand it. How could my writing be getting worse as I progressed? Have they finally realized I’m a fraud and that I actually haven’t got a clue how to put together a readable bit of prose?
Or is it because I am going for the big guns?
Yes, that was it! I was playing for cash prizes and prestige and the stakes were higher: The Bridport Prize, The Bristol Short Story Award, Biscuit Publishing…and that was just the B’s.
I woke up one morning and decided I needed to up my game. I wrote four shorts in one week and entered them with supreme confidence.
I got a shortlist prize of £10 in Writers Village quarterly contest and I was once more heartened and highly motivated. The ever fabulously eloquent John Yeoman at WV even sent me a certificate. My first! That was such a special moment.
Until I started losing again!
Talk about a roller-coaster ride. It was every cliché in the book and I took it like a sniveling ninny.
That’s when I decided to begin talking to peers, making cyber-friends. That’s when I learnt about the real world of writing.
I am semi-retired. The only job I have is cook, bottle washer, cleaner, laundress, chauffeur, official reader of child’s fiction, carer, homework consultant, school network liaison office, dresser, shopper, shoe cleaner, sandwich maker, bookkeeper, telephone answering service, entertainer, host to other people’s kids, brownies and cubs follower, football supporter, tennis supporter, cricket…etc and wife.
So, without much else to fill my day, I have plenty of time to write.
You on the other hand; adoring spectators of my blog(all two of you), get paid for doing a specified job. Therefore, you must attend the institution of your choice to perform a task within an average working day (9til5), five days a week, in most cases.
Then, if you are in ownership of sprogs, as I am, you get to perform the part-time jobs I do, in addition to that nasty thing you call work.
So when do we write? At what point of the day do we disregard our life and sit and indulge ourselves in our writing?
I asked myself this question, when I realized I couldn’t keep writing a daily blog without my screenwriting or research for my new novel suffering.
I was in a quandary. Do I keep ignoring the kids until they beg me to feed them? Do I keep watching the dust until I can see a fly’s footprints in it? Do I keep stepping over the traffic of toys running down the corridor to my office until I can no longer see the thread of the carpet?
Yes, yes and yes!
As long as we want to write, then we must keep writing.
Here’s how to do it…
Get up in the middle of the night when everyone’s asleep. Don’t get dressed until you have to pick the kids up from school. Take them to a play area, where you can insert a pair of earplugs and use your laptop. Order take-outs, shop on-line, take the phone off the hook, send a text to your husband (or wife), so you don’t have to use precious time talking to them, and generally be as selfish as you possibly can (without any dangerous consequences), so that you can lose yourself in a perfect world of prose, where nothing else matters.
Someone once told me, whatever you do, never ask your friends to read your work. They’ll tell you it’s brilliant and all of them will wonder why on earth you’re not on the top shelf alongside Dan Brown.
‘What’s wrong with that,’ I said. ‘Problem?’
‘Splutter, splutter, gasp,’ they replied. ‘Don’t you want the truth?’
‘Hell no! Who needs that?’
So here’s my point, for what it’s worth.
I’ve had reviews off people, who have put me into the doldrums, beneath the floorboards, at the lowest level of the basement. What I need (underlined in bold) is someone to tell me what a great writer I am. Sod the critics. Give me my mates any day.
I remember Karen (she knows who she is). I gave her the M.S of my autobiography. ‘Fabulous,’ she said. ‘Loved every minute!’
Sure winner then, I pondered, as I hung up the phone.
And then there was Pauline (she knows who she is too). ‘I love your stuff,’ she said. ‘Send me more. Love love love…!!!’
Who needs the critics when you’ve got such sensible, well-read friends? I thought.
Okay, so here’s the deal.
Ask your friends to read your work when you need a big dose of ego boosting back-patting and get a pro when you need harsh reality served up on an ice cold platter.
If you want to get ahead in the ever-so competitive publishing field, take the criticism on the chin, edit your work and up your game.