Thursday, 5 November 2020

Preparing for Lockdown

Last lockdown I was pretty productive. I finished the edits and polishing of one manuscript and finished the first draft of another. Both projects were however crucially already started – the momentum already built up and concepts formed and plots planned. 

However the impending lockdown has me worried, about my writing productivity. I’m struggling to settle into which of half a dozen projects to work on. All of which are first draft stage. I must confess, new projects are always tricky to start. The indecision of which of a draw full of concepts to pick, and getting into the voice and building the creative excitement and momentum takes time. Once I’ve actually picked a project and started the words flow easily and quickly, but getting to that point is tricky especially in lockdown. 

Junk & laundry & spare room - usually it was messier than depicted
Usually at the beginning of a first draft I write a lot in coffee shops, where the ambiance and lack of distractions (think ironing pile) help me to focus. I also go out a lot to museums, or libraries or other towns to get a change of scenery to be surrounded by exterior stimulation and feed my brain and give my imagination a boost, none of which are possible in lockdown. in short I’m struggling to work from home without getting distracted or losing my focus.  

Writing in coffee shops.

So, my husband came up with a plan. You see he’s been working successfully from home since March, his key was making an area that was easy to work in. He arrange the shed into his office, making it suit his purpose, a clam environment with everything he need to work, without getting distracted or disturbed. He pointed out, he has a work space – and so do the children, as we reconfigured their rooms to have desks, noticeboards and even dusted off our old family PC and found an old laptop so the kids each had everything they needed to work from home. However I don’t.

Displaying my writery badge Collection.

I’ve been working on the family pc, in the spare room which was …

Part Spare room complete with bed. 

Part gym (health necessity but barely used - me bad). 

Part laundry room. 

Part Junk room 

Part office with filing cabinet and printer and the aforementioned family computer. 

The room was busy, but not in a good way – in a disorganised and chaotic way. So my husband suggested I make it into my writing place. That if I did then he believed I would find it easier to write there. 

Framing my writery pictures at last

So I set about reclaiming the room. First to go was the bed, (currently no one can stay anyway and it only get used a few time a year), then some of the gym equipment (that was only ever used for drying clothes.) Then I set about buying some second hand furniture which allowed me to bring all my writing stuff into one place, rather than it being spread across bookshelves and cupboard and boxes, in different rooms, the shed and attic. As so I’ve created what is definitely a calmer space and I hope will be a creative place too. 

Putting all my writery stuff in one place

Of course it doesn’t solve the issues of not being able to meet up in person with my critique group, or writer friends or attend socials, which also really helps reignite my imagination and enthusiasm. But I also tea-leafed a speaker from one of the kids room, so I can play coffee shop sounds, and will be meeting up with my critique group virtually.

So preparing for this coming lockdown has taught me something; that I always tend to compromise when it comes to my needs and my writing. And that sometimes, you just need to carve out a bit space for both.

Fingers crossed I manage to actually get a first draft of my new project done during NaNoWriMo!

A writery room of one's own

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Future of Fiction; where do we go from here?

Today on the school run my kids were talking, the topic they were discussing was posed my daughter when she asked this question…

“Do you think our grandchildren will ask about 2020, like we asked our great-grandad and great-nanny about the war?”

The discussion went on with my son countering with…

“But if they don’t find a vaccine and life doesn’t return to normal, then they’ll probably ask; what was life like before 2020?”

For me the forgotten silent chauffeur this was fascinating, so I just listened.

For context, my daughter has just started her A-Levels and is studying English Literature, and her current subject is dystopian novels, and she added this nugget of wisdom…

“If someone from the past was to get a glimpse into the future and looked at 2020 – seeing our technology, our weapons, our surveillance and what we’ve already experienced this year; the threat of nuclear war, the world burning, and a global pandemic. They’d think it was a dystopian world. We are literally living our ancestor’s visions of dystopia. We are living through a dystopian novel.

So what will dystopia look like in the future?

Here I think I should put a shout out to my daughters English literature teacher, who is working very hard to support all her students mental health as they study the now ‘scarily similar to reality’ dystopia novels.

It’s an interesting question, and one my children discussed at length. But it’s encapsulates the question that been on my mind…

“What is the future of fiction?”

I’m contemplating this question a lot, especially with regard to Teen and YA novels, as this is what I write. What is the new dystopia? What is indeed is the new fiction? When life is so dark, mirroring dystopian fiction, what do you write for teens and YA? How dark can you go that’s still age appropriate but still seems fantastical and well…fictional?

Or do we go the other way completely and go fluffy and feel-good? That may work for some readers but others do have a darker palate. I have heard on talks and read on blog articles that many agents are not wanting to take pandemic novels which means I have three novels that have pandemic elements (all written before 2020 that aren’t dystopian but have a plague or pandemic element) that are benched for the moment. One of which is a funny fluffy MG fairy tale- superhero mashup, but all the same the pandemic element means it’s gone into a draw.

So what is the future of fiction for teens and Young Adults? I don’t know what the answer. But what I do know is I’ll keep writing what I love, and keep submitting and hope that I get it right.

Monday, 14 September 2020

Am I getting worse? Or, is everyone else getting better? Or BOTH? A pre-published writer’s battle with self-confidence & imposter syndrome.

I love writing. I write most days, and when I’m not writing – I’m thinking about writing; mulling over stories in my mine – practising dialogue by talking to myself, observing life – soaking everything up as you never know what will one day be useful. 

Most of the time I’m an optimist – always thinking my writing is improving – celebrating every little achievement – and telling myself that if I keep going – keeping improving that with a bit of luck one day I’ll get published. But then occasionally my optimism is pushed aside by my darker pessimistic side. The one that tells me all is hopeless. That is highly competitive – and with my extra difficulties with dyslexia that I’ll never make it. 

Like many pre-published writers these bouts of lost-confidence and diminishing hope rears its head after competition long-lists have been announced – and I didn’t make the cut. What makes long-listing announcement bad for me is that when I was starting out – my hit rate was good. At one time I had made the long-list/short-list or won every competition I had submitted too. Now a few years later – after honing my craft with courses and writing academies, my hit rate has dwindled. So after every competition long-list I miss - my pessimistic size sizes control – and I spiral, asking myself questions… 

  • Am I getting worse?
  • Is everyone else getting better?
  •  Is my rougher first draft MS better than my polished ones?
  • Is my writing gone out of style?
  • Has my dyslexia gotten worse?
  • Is it yet another spectacular bad case of unfortunate timing?
  • That I’m an imposter – as one of the only members of the SCBWI Oxford Critique group I was in that is still activity writing and not be published or agented - that I’m not good enough to be here, 

In the past I’ve tried ignoring my pessimistic side – but it never works, instead it sits festering and feeding on my hope. So now I know I have to indulge it. Let it play its course. Lick my wounds, re-galvanise myself and carry on. 

At this point, my optimism bounces back in reassuring me that… 

  • I’m getting better
  • That more people are writing now – and getting support from MA’s, Manuscript appraisal schemes and writing academies.
  • That my dyslexia hasn’t got worse, it’s improving but there is just more competition out there.
  • That Time isn’t a thing I can control – and Time trips everybody up at one point or another.
  • As for imposter syndrome - I have to remind myself that many of my published friends having been writing far longer than me – and were writing much longer than I have been before landing a contract.
And so I pick myself up and carry on. After all I love writing and to quote someone far wiser than me...