When An Acceptance Is An Aargh?

Do you ever open an email from an editor informing you that your submission has been accepted and scream ‘Aaargh’? Well, that’s what I did a few hours ago.

I have to confess that I had done a simultaneous submission on said story and another market had accepted it just last night. What a waste of acceptances! I would have been honoured to see my story in either of the ezines. Of course, I told the second editor that it had been accepted elsewhere. A nice problem? Noooo. Very embarrassing. My daughter the journalist tells me that simultaneous submissions are the big no-no in her line of business and, indeed, this used to be the situation when I started writing, but the lines are blurred now. I do see the argument though.

Still on the subject of subbing, I’ve spent a large part of this week on story I wrote some time ago, editing it and generally getting up to scratch. I’m sure most of us have many mediocre stories on our computers which require time and a lot of multi-faceted thinking to render them ‘acceptable’. This job, which I put down on my bullet list for Monday (with a possible overflow on to Tuesday), eventually extended to Thursday morning, the deadline for the competition I was targeting being Thursday evening. I kept thinking I’ve nearly finished, but every time I looked at it ‘for the final time’ I found more that needed to be improved. I’d put it away for a few hours, get on with ordinary life, and within a few minutes realise that something else won’t do at all. No wonder I find editing so stressful, particularly with a looming deadline.

Then there’s the After Submission Let Down. By this time your brain has let go and other possible improvements and downright errors loom before you. Whoever says they find the creative process relaxing?

I can’t complain, though. I’ve had two (three?) acceptances for short stories this week. My acceptances tend to come altogether, the rejections too.

One Rejection and a Survey

This week I’ve been sprucing up another short story submission and thinking about a survey for an article I am going to write for Together (the trade magazine for Christian publishers and booksellers).

Passion flower, nothing to do with this post, but very attractive.

Sadly, the short story bounced back with a rapid but polite ‘not for us’ – told you the acceptances and rejections always came together – but the editor did make a few suggestions as to other destinations I might try with my story. Very kind of her. Most rejecting editors wouldn’t bother. I will certainly submit to her again.

I also heard that Suffolk Libraries have added to my collection of short stories on Overdrive at https://suffolklibraries.overdrive.com/media/5101650 . (I’m afraid you have to have to be a member of Suffolk Libraries and to have an Overdrive ticket to borrow however.)

Now, regarding this survey, this is where you come in, pretty please. I have undertaken to write about whether and how our reading habits have changed during the pandemic. Maybe you have read ‘La Peste’ by Albert Camus? I understand it’s a most depressing book. Or maybe you’ve indulged in pure escapism? (I know which end I’d be closest to.) Would you be prepared to complete a 10-question Survey Monkey questionnaire, with multiple choice and some open questions – about your reading during 2020? If you could spare the time, please email me, on rosemaryjohnson890@gmail.com.

Meanwhile the clocks went on yesterday and more time for reading, and writing. I am no longer managing the competitions for the Association of Christian Writers but my colleague, Bobbie Ann Cole, would be delighted to receive your entry for the ACW Novel Competition, which will close next weekend. The judges are Faye Sampson and Tony Collins, both authors themselves, and the entry fees are just £8 for non ACW members and £5 for ACW members). Give it go!

Computers and How I (We) Cannot Get Away From Them

Last weekend, I wrote in pain. If I mention since then that I’ve suffered a little less pain, I suspect I will bring it on again in spades, so… I’m saying nothing at all.

As I was finding out seven days ago, it is not possible to eschew the computer altogether, so I have developed a routine.

  • Morning, write, using computer.
  • Afternoon, do something else. Probably go for a walk and/or do some cooking.
  • Evening, read. Future plan: to do some hand-writing, rough drafts of new stories, to be transcribed later.

You’re probably thinking that this woman is not writing much at all. My answer is that the composer Schubert composed music in the morning, caroused (and caught syphilis) in the afternoon and went to the theatre in the evening. Schubert’s output was prodigious. In fact, I’m getting a lot more done than I was during the spring and early summer when I was all over the place.

I now need to plan how I’m going to use my mornings very carefully. I’ve started using the internet-famous Bullet Journal, which consists of daily/weekly, monthly and future lists of tasks and other commitments, thoughts and inspirations. One of the big things for me is that it’s done through what we have come to call ‘analogue’, that is, not on computer. You write everything down by hand in a notebook. Remember that? All those smudgy rubber marks and squashed up letters at the end of the line? We are so used to writing something then editing immediately, aren’t we? But try the Bullet Journal. It’s liberating.

I am still looking through short stories on my computer and tidying them up for submission. I sent a few off yesterday. Everything crossed. When I look at stories from years ago, often I shudder and squirm, but just occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised. I once wrote a story, based on a childhood experience, about a little girl being spooked by a burnt out building. I haven’t made proper use of it. Here we go!

Working Writer, Aspiring or Hobby Writer?

Insecure Writers Support Group logoIt’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group day, the first Wednesday of the month (yes, really, even though October seems to have been with us forever). IWSG is a blog hop. We IWSG bloggers all post on the same day, about our insecurity as writers and (possibly) on the optional question. Today’s question is about what the term ‘working writer’ means to us. Do we think of ourselves as ‘working writers’, or ‘aspiring writers’, or ‘hobbyists’?

I would define these terms like this:
Working Writer – He/she earns money from writing, more than the odd £100 in competition prizes (although probably not enough to live on), has probably published a book or writes regularly in the press. Regards writing as a career, prioritises it over everything. Would live in a garret if necessary.
Aspiring Writer – He/she aspires to be a Working Writer. May have earned a little but not much. He/she may have a book published, articles or short stories. Probably ‘aspiring’ because he has chosen other priorities in life, such as earning a living, and tried to do writing as well. Definitely would not do garret thing.
Hobbyist – He/she writes what he/she wants to write, when he/she wants to write it, to please himself/herself. Not particularly bothered whether published or not. Garret out of the question.

Me? I’m ‘aspiring’. I have had a few stories and articles in ezines and print magazines and I very much want to see The Novel published. However, other things keep getting in the way! I have short stories on my computer which need tidying up. I edited, and subbed, one this morning, actually, and doing this has increased my confidence. I also have commitments to write articles to write. But I’m limited, because of neck and head pain, as to how much time I can spend on the computer – see last post. I have to accept that I have to move slowly towards my goal. However, I still aspire very much.

Looking forward to everyone else’s post on this topic.

Is anyone else struggling with this new WordPress format? It seems that every time something is updated, we, the poor punters, are able to do less and less.

The Pain of Writing

Some weeks ago I wrote about about the RSI pain in my shoulders and the headaches which drag me down for several hours every morning. They are the main reason I haven’t written a blog post here for some time. Writing hurts.

What my headaches feel like.

I was delighted to have a story, The Witch, published in CafeLit on 23 September, a historical piece, set during the Cold War, my favourite period. The idea came from our Serbian tour guide while we were visiting Eastern Europe; reflecting on Communist leaders, she spat out, “Tito was a gentleman. Elena Caecescu was a witch.” A few months later, with Halloween approaching, our writing group was tasked to write about ‘witches’.

But that was then and this is now. Having used computers intensively for 25 years, I cannot now get my laptop into a comfortable position: on my lap, on a laptop raiser, on a desk, on a desk with the raiser. Whatever I do, after a very short time, I feel the strain in my shoulders and neck, which, if I ignore it, results in worse and worse headaches next morning.

My GP, and the neurologist, swear I have migraines, but I’m sure I don’t. They insist on treating me with drugs for migraines, which don’t work in the slightest. My neck and shoulders are very stiff – classic RSI – and, from what I’ve read, it’s common for the muscles and tendons in the head and scalp to tighten and cause pain. I’ve tried physiotherapy, osteopathy, hot wheat bags (heated in microwave), Pilates classes and therapeutic massage. The massages are heavenly but I still get the headaches. A site I’ve just seen recommends Yoga positions – it’s worth a try.

Last Thursday, I was in so much pain that I resolved not to touch my computer at all, for the foreseeable future. I would write by hand, I thought, and perhaps use Speech Recognition to input the handwritten stories on to the computer. How I would sub them, I had no idea. But next day there were other things I needed to do on computer, for church, for work, emails and texts from friends. It’s no use. Our lives are being lived on computer.

Meanhile I continu to explore my computer setup. So far, it’s proving expensive: new computer chair, laptop raiser, separate monitor (which several people recommended but for which I haven’t yet managed to find the right leads). Meanwhile, right now, I’m cheating, by writing this post on my iPad on my lap – looking down at the screen, the big no-no. I’d better sign off.

My Dream Beta Reader

First Wednesday of the month is Insecure Writers Support Group day.

Insecure Writers Support Group logo
Insecure Writers’ Support Group

This time our optional question is If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?  I’m choosing Alexander McCall Smith, him of First Ladies Detective Agency fame.  According to Wikipedia, he has written 122 fiction books, including 42 stories for children, plus 13 academic texts.  Phew!  And again, phew!  I’d better get going…

Last week I had a blog post on disposable masks published in What Can YOU Do Earth, which I really enjoyed doing, but since then I’ve had rejections for stories I’d spent a long time editing and, all in all, I’m not having the chance to just get on with it.  Summer holidays bring interruptions, visits and visitors, and summer jobs like clearing out the attic, where I found typescripts of three novels I’d written decades ago, including one I’d forgotten about entirely.   Over the last few days I have put together the Association of Christian Writers eNews and our PCC (church) agenda, which is fine, but I want to write books.  How does McCall Smith manage to publish so many?  I’ve also been reading a book about the composer Schubert, who died at the age of 31, leaving over 1500 musical works, and apparently he composed in the mornings only, then caroused and visited the theatre for the rest of the day.

So why did I choose McCall Smith, apart from his prodigious output?  Whereas much contemporary fiction demands high drama, catastrophes and crises, McCall Smith has a wonderful way of writing about almost nothing.  Mma Ramotswe potters about her office, drinking tea with her assistant Mma Makutsi.  Isabel Dalhousie ambles around Edinburgh, buying art, contemplating philosophical articles and popping into her niece’s delicatessen.   McCall Smith creates this wonderful world, in which I long to be a part.  How can I improve what I write to draw my reader into my story world?  This is one reason why I crave him as my beta reader.

McCall Smith’s style appears to be very light and easy-going, trivial some people might say – but all the time his characters are tackling knotty points of philosophy, sometimes with homely illustrations taken from everyday life.  In days gone by, I used to find writing easy.  Words would drip off my pen/computer, but, when I looked at those novels in the attic, I saw deadpan prose.  Nowadays I attempt to put more into my words, and it’s hard, yet McCall Smith makes it look so easy.  They say that prose that looks natural has usually been edited and edited to get it that way, but McCall Smith, with his enormous catalogue, must have the knack of getting it right first time.

So, onwards and upwards.  With the holiday season over, I’m hoping for more writing time.  Hey-ho.

No Cash in the Attic, Just A Lot of Memories

There used to be a BBC1 television programme called Cash in the Attic.  The idea was that the presenters helped members of the public clear out their houses in the hope of finding valuable antiques.  Well, Dear Reader, I’m afraid that all we’ve found so far is Monopoly money, and a whole lot of Monopoly counters and cards, but unfortunately the board, bent almost double by junk thrown on top of it, was beyond repair.

De-cluttering is good.  Books about de-cluttering abound, including Home Freed: The Theology of Decluttering, by my good friend, Jane Brocklehurst.  You can’t carry on your life – let alone write – amidst junk and dirt, even if you do push it up and out of the way, but letting go is difficult.  Sorting through dusty papers, school exercise books and folders, crisp and dirty with age, I was taken back another era, before computers and internet, of old friendships and old enthusiasms.  I read an account, written in a school exercise book, of a school trip to Boulogne, on which I accompanied my daughter during her last week of primary school, and in a school magazine a report of a school football match, by my son at more or less the same age, which began with the observation that the opposing team, as they got off the bus, looked verrry big.  Yes, my lad, grab my attention with your first few words – good writing technique.

My daughter, like me, is a doodler.  I’d forgotten how the covers of her school folders and exercise books used to be submerged in scrawled text, press cuttings and little drawings, especially concerning Tim Henman, the tennis player, and a rock band called Symposium (which I suspect you haven’t heard of), plus comments about her friends and teachers.  My son was and is a football fan, a lifelong Arsenal supporter, so we have found stacks and stacks of the schoolboy soccer magazines Shoot and Match, with several covers featuring a very young David Beckham and even younger Michael Owen.  Put them on eBay, he suggests.  Well, that’s a thought. 

And then there was my stuff, reams and reams of teacher training notes, most of it reflecting practice which is now considered out of date… and a few things I wish I’d remembered while I was teaching twenty years later.  By the way, my husband is sorting out his own stuff, mostly CDs, VHS videos and sheet music.  He has been very good about throwing out concert programmes and music magazines.

But what should we do with all this ‘stuff’?  Not keep it up in the attic, gathering dust, for my daughter and grandchildren to clear out after we’ve died.  These things are memory-joggers.  It’s holding on to the memory that’s important and writing it down, in a notebook possibly, taking a few photos.  I’ll be glad of these notes if I ever get around to writing my novel set during the 1990s, and, if I don’t, somebody else might be able to use this material.

The Form Finds the Story

Insecure Writers Support Group logo
Insecure Writers’ Support Group

Have you ever started writing a short story and found yourself wanting to continue after it’s supposedly finished? Have you commenced what you supposed to be a novel only to have the plot and characters resolve themselves in a few thousand words? I’m told that other writers believe themselves to be composing prose but instead poetry flows on to their page like a river.

My only picture of a river. Geese as an added extra.
I can tell you for certain, Dear Reader, no poetry is ever going to jump off my keyboard but a funny thing happened earlier in the year. At the beginning of lockdown, I tried the Curtis Brown Weekly Workouts and in the first one – I didn’t get much further – I wrote a few hundred words about a girl escaping a cult. Later I developed that into a short story and submitted it to an online ezine , but, afterwards, the story wouldn’t let me go. Now I’m following the girl into the what she calls ‘the sinful world’, into care and about to change out of our distinctive cult uniform.

I never planned to write this story at all, certainly not in as anything as big as a novel. Whereas I know that writing fiction is hard work, the characters and plot lines are coming along by themselves. Meanwhile I haven’t heard back about the short story submission. I sort of hope it bombs.

You’re right. It’s the first Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day. Our optional question was about writing forms and starting out with one and ending up writing a different one. So, I’m looking forward to what the other IWSG members say on this subject.

Still Writing 200 Words Every Day… On Most Days

Last time I posted I was full of enthusiasm for the idea of writing 200 words every day.  Well, by and large, I’ve done it.  Not every day, I have to admit, but on some days I’ve written more – 400 or more.  However, as Philip Davies (who gave the advice about writing 200 words) also said at the same Zoom Association of Christian Writers event on 11 July, be gentle with yourself.  Last week I’ve been away, staying at my daughter’s house in Sussex, so there’s been packing and unpacking, spending time with daughter and family, and endless washing and ironing, and now it’s ten to ten in the evening.  I’ve also set myself a rule not to use the computer after the evening meal because of headaches I get, but… hey… here I am.  So far I’ve already written over a hundred words of this post – with my cat standing on my knee between me and the computer – her usual position.

The writing I’m doing is work towards a novel (or novella) which has developed out of a short story, about a girl escaping from a cult.  Progress is slow – obviously.  I’ve also received my feedback from my editor on The Novel, the Solidarity period in Poland one, for which I’m hoping to find a publisher.  My editor’s been professional and helpful, giving me much food for thought concerning characters and plot, and practical feedback about formatting.  So, as well as clearing out the attic (after 30 years), I will have to start processing her input as soon as I can, and get The Novel back on the submission track.  Don’t you sometimes regret submitting to the ‘best fit’ publisher first time around?  Don’t you wish you could re-submit after editing and general improvement?

289 words.  There!



Writing Every Day. Yes, You Can.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that you should ‘write a little every day’. Yeah, right, I hear you reply, Dear Reader. That’s what I’ve thought, until last Saturday when I heard Philip Davies say write just 200 words per day. Yes, I can do that, I think. Any writing. Not necessarily writing on the WIP. I mentioned that, in between the morning and afternoon session, that I had written the Intercessions for online church… and that counted. Be kind to yourself, says Philip.

Philip Davies is author of the YA Destiny trilogy. He was speaking on the subject ‘Time to Write’ at a remote Association of Christian Writers writers’ day. Although it’s not the same as a real writers’ day when we all meet face-to-face in a church hall, drink tea and coffee as we chat, there are advantages to writers days on Zoom. Some ACW members who attended on Zoom hadn’t been able to attend ‘real’ meetings for many years, because they lived too far away and couldn’t afford transport and accommodation, or because of disability. but Zoom is what we have.

I was actually the Zoom host (for a mere 48 people) and the technical bits were a distraction at times. Isn’t it amazing how quickly we have learned to do quite complicated things on Zoom – spotlights, breakout rooms, recording without displaying people’s faces (against GDPR)?

Philip was actually the first person I met face-to-face from the Association of Christian Writers, as he was one of the Committee members who interviewed me, in Wetherspoons in Marylebone, for the Competitions Manager role – which I’ve now passed on to author Bobbie Ann Cole. Without wishing to embarrass him, I would say he is the most modest writer I’ve ever met. He has formed a creative writing group in a local school and he visits schools as a local author. He wasn’t telling us how to write (phew!).

Writing still hurts, but we’re not going to talk about that again. I set up my laptop on a desk and bought an office chair, but I’m still getting the headaches. Must stop typing before it gets too late, as this is one of the things which upsets my head.