A Risk-Taker? Me?

First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day. I forgot last month. How can I show my face again? I really wish there was some way in which I could align the text to the top of this WordPress block. It annoys me every time I start writing a blog post. Anybody any ideas?

I haven’t got much to report, except that I’m continuing to incorporate my editor’s edits into The Novel. It’s taking a long time and, as I’m realising, the slower you go, the more likely you are to pick up unforced errors.

In the meantime, I have relaunched my reading blog, Dear Reader, and reviewed The Victorians by A N Wilson. My previous post on Dear Reader was written in June 2018. As our question for this month of April is about risk-taking, I can tell you that I took a risk in this post by severely criticising an established author. Read it and you will see. I don’t think he’ll be publishing quotes from my review on his flyleaf.

Now, Insecure Writers, I need your support and advice, please: does anyone have any hints or advice for promoting a book/reading blog, please? Are there any book review blogging networks or blog-hops which I should get into? I know that some book bloggers attain mouth-watering high numbers of hits but mine wasn’t doing so in 2018 and I’ve no reason to believe it will now, unless I do something about it.

In general, I am not a risk taker. I’m a insecure writer, am I not? I normally write from first person pov because it works for me. I have however written one piece with an unreliable narrator, the Lorry Drivers’ Book Club, currently on FictionJunkies.

In the current climate, writers are not encouraged to take risks, in form or in content. As I rapidly discovered when I talked to other writers, there are things we just don’t do, darling – use adverbs, for instance, or anything other than ‘said’ or ‘says’ when writing dialogue. ‘Show don’t tell’. Every piece of fiction must have a story arc, following a defined trajectory. I am currently reading a book by an early twentieth century author who broke every one of these rules and I’m relishing it. I think I will take a few risks in my next piece with adverbs and ‘he shouted’ and ‘she exclaimed’ and a bit of telling.

Time to Write?

I don’t have any time to write, but, when I look at what I’m doing when I’m not writing, it seems that I don’t have any time to do those activities either. I suspect that I’m attempting to do too many different activities. Writing-life balance? I don’t have any. There’s also those procrastinating and time-wasting activities, like watching the family of ducks in our garden.

Writing-wise, I am still… still, still, still… editing… editing… editing The Novel, taking in my editor’s feedback. I was going to enter it for a competition last week but, last weekend, I decided against this as, when I looked at the market again, I didn’t like the look of it, even though it was recommended by Writing Magazine. It was as well I made this decision as I would never have finished the editing process in time and I felt better when I had removed the pressure off myself. Now, in my Bullet Journal I set myself the goal of ‘Making progress on Novel’ every day but I don’t enjoy editing. I’d much rather be writing new and fresh stuff.

Today I haven’t touched The Novel, because I’ve written a review of The Victorians by A N Wilson on my Dear Reader blog. This is first post on there for almost three years. I stopped posting because nobody was reading and now I’ve dissed a famous and well-regarded author, which makes me feel a little nervous.

And it’s Easter Day today. For forty days Husband and I were off alcohol but we did enjoy our glass of wine with our meal tonight. Happy Easter to you all… and cheers.

Keep on Blogging… And Editing

Must keep blogging weekly. Must not get into the habit of thinking one more week without posting doesn’t really matter. Even though this week’s been uneventful.

Over the latter part of last week, I was incorporating my editor’s edits into The Novel. It’s been a long time since I received her helpful feedback and I should have done this before now, but – in mitigation – I have been struggling with headaches, as you know, Dear Reader. I was getting along nicely with the editor’s edits during the latter part of January and February, but then I became involved in web development for the Association of Christian Writers website mega-time and work have started calling me in again.

It took quite an effort to re-open the novel file and the file on which I had set down what I needed to do. I was intending to do this all week. Then suddenly is was Thursday evening, I was cooking dinner and time was running out fast. So I took the laptop into the kitchen, set it up on the kitchen worktop and just looked at The Novel files for a few minutes, just to re-acquaint myself. The following afternoon, I was about to start work on it again and, although I was forestalled by a Major Computer Crisis, about which I ranted on Facebook, I was able to restart editing using the laptop again and I made quite a bit of progress. That quick orientation session on Thursday really helped.

Over the latter part of last week, I was incorporating my editor’s edits into The Novel. It’s been a long time since I received her helpful feedback and I should have done this before now, but – in mitigation – I have been struggling with headaches, as you know, Dear Reader. I was getting along nicely with the editor’s edits during the latter part of January and February, but then I became involved in web development for the Association of Christian Writers website mega-time and work started calling me in again. It took quite an effort to re-open the novel file and the file on which I had set down what I needed to do. I was intending to do this all week. Then suddenly is was Thursday evening, I was cooking dinner and time was running out fast. So I took the laptop into the kitchen, set it up on the kitchen worktop and just looked at The Novel files for a few minutes, just to re-acquaint myself. The following afternoon, I was about to start work on it again and, although I was forestalled by a Major Computer Crisis, about which I ranted on Facebook, I was able to restart editing using the laptop again and I made quite a bit of progress. That quick orientation session on Thursday really helped.

I’ve had to make time. I’ve been using spare half hours at work and other brief intervals which occur during the day, for example, before the online church service today, after the online service. A good writing friend advised me to do this two years ago and – hey, Janey – I’m doing it at last. One of my headache-avoiding rules is no computer after tea, but recently I have broken this rule. Here I am typing this after 9.30pm. The headaches are no worse and I am shifting stuff that needs to be done, not just The Novel but other matters as well. Once the Novel has hit the submitting road again, though, I will follow my rule again.

On Tuesday I posted on Facebook about my success with The Lorry Drivers’ Book Club on FictionJunkies and my article on reading during lockdown in Together. I’m a Brit and I grew up in the era when boasting was the biggest no-no, so I hesitated before doing this, but I’ve been overwhelmed by the congratulations and good wishes I’ve received. The next time I see someone else’s book or story posted on social media, I hope to be the first to say ‘well done’.

Over the last few Saturdays, I’ve been attending Association of Christian Writers events, variously, on self-publishing, historical fiction and children’s fiction. Self-publishing is something I’m toying with for a long time. I have had several historical short stories published and The Novel is historical fiction – or so I thought. How do you define historical fiction? The answer is that, although fifty years ago is the most frequent parameter, different organisations define it differently. The Novel, set during the Solidarity period in Poland in the 1980s, may be period fiction. I always learn something from ACW events, even when the subject is not something that is directly up my street. Even though I don’t write for children, one of the speakers at the writing for children event yesterday struck a chord with me when she spoke of the need to find ‘true north’ in plotlines. I won’t go into detail. Do I need to? I think the term speaks for itself.

So, onwards and upwards into next week. I need to have The Novel all in order and ready to enter a competition with a 31 March deadline.

A Little Progress

I know I haven’t been around much recently. Close readers of Write On will possibly recall that I was having a bad time with rejections, which is not good for confidence and makes for depressing blog posts. No change there, I’m afraid. However, two things I wrote before this bad spell, but which I knew would be slow coming, have finally arrived.

My article on reading during Lockdown is in the March edition of Together magazine. An enormous thank you to all who took part in my survey and provided me with my ammunition. Together is the magazine by Christian Resources Together, for Christian booksellers and publishers. It would infringe copyright for me to give a link to my report article here, but if you take Together – or if you are a member of Association of Christian Writers and have received your .PDF copy – it’s towards the back.

In addition, my story ‘The Lorry Drivers’ Book Club’ is now in Fiction Junkies. (Fiction Junkies is the successor to PennyShorts, which may ring some bells with some of you.) I am in august company: Helen Yendall (whose blog I follow), Christopher Fielden (who provides invaluable services to writers in the form of directories of ‘calls to submissions’ and competitions) and Catherine Edmunds (who I used to know from Writers’ Dock days). Members of Sudbury Writing Group may remember ‘Lorry Drivers’ Book Club’ as one of our monthly prompts before Lockdown. I wasn’t the only writer who wrote to it and I wonder if members of our group have had any luck with submissions written to this title.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing a lot of web development, mainly for Association of Christian Writers’ website, making curtains for my daughter and, in between, attempting to incorporate editor’s comments on The Novel. Although I entered a short story comp with Silver Apples yesterday, I haven’t been submitting many pieces recently. The acknowledgment I received from Silver Apples today more or less summed up how I’m feeling at the moment:

Thank you for entering our short story competition… We know how hard it can be to take another chance on a piece of work that has been turned down from somewhere else. Thank you for trusting us with it.

In addition, I’ve attended two Zoom events organised by the ACW, one on self-publishing and the second on writing historical fiction. Next week, I’ll be at a third, on writing for children. ACW has always held events, face-to-face events in venues, up until last year, but holding them on Zoom has made it so much easier for people to be join in these activities. I’m also attempting to do a bit more reading, widening my knowledge of the markets where I would like to submit. I don’t see the point of adopting a scattergun approach to submissions.

Talking of reading, I’m thinking of re-opening my reading blog, Dear Reader. Would you read it?

Friends in Blogosphere?

First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group. This month we are writing about special friendships made in blogosphere.

The three people who comment most often on my blog are friends from the Association of Christian Writers who I have met face-to-face. I believe they follow me because they know me the person – which is probably not what those who set this task want to hear. Another very loyal commenter on my posts is Alex Cavanaugh, our Ninja.

My friends from school, who I meet from time to time at school reunions, tell me they know what I’m doing because they read my blog, but they rarely comment. Of course, it works both ways. They have a window into my life and I in theirs, and the other bloggers I read. Sometimes I surprise people by what I happen to know.

Blogging is more than just a sharing of the happenings of the week. It can be a unique and intimate process, depending on how ‘confidential’ (the Jane Austen meaning) we bloggers choose to be. It is one of the few electronic things we do which does not reflect what previous generations used to do using pen and paper. You might have written letters but they would have been addressed to a specific person known to you, and at best read by two or three. In blogging, you put it out there and hope someone will pick it up. To be more frank than is probably good for me, my blog doesn’t attract an awful lot of traffic. I believe that many whose blogs do receive interest know more people in real life.

However, I have enjoyed getting to know a few other bloggers who I haven’t met face-to-face and probably never will. One of them has stopped writing and now sells art products online – what a valuable friend to have when you need to source a birthday or Christmas present! Another, a writer, has listened to my wails about not getting published, been very supportive in many ways, including putting me in contact with an editor. Others are book bloggers, whose taste coincides with mine, and are always good for a recommendation for what to read next.

But the question is supposed to be optional. The literary world seems to be heaping rejections upon my head and I’m struggling to get my head around edits to The Novel so that it looks more professional, not like something written by a newly (oops!). My name is Rosemary and I am an insecure writer.

What I Ought to Have Known a Long Time Ago

Another rejection this week. I’m trying to take it on the chin. I seem to remember that I had a spate of rejections this time last year as well. Strange or what? However, although all rejections hurt, the pain is not so great when the editor’s email is written in a pleasant tone and he says he would welcome further submissions from me. On reflection, I can see why that particular story bombed. In time, I will edit it and make it totally acceptable. Unmissable, even!

In the meantime I am biting another bullet and editing The Novel using feedback from my professional editor. Why haven’t I done this ages ago, you may ask? Well, using a computer at all has been very painful over the past few months; I know I’ve been boring you with all this for months, Dear Reader. And I’ve been doing short stories and articles. And… to be honest… I felt a little daunted at the idea of going back into characters and a setting which hadn’t been in my head for a little while. So… I opened the files.

Yes, they were all there. I hadn’t accidentally deleted them – always a fear – and the story came to me fresh, which was… er… refreshing. My editor, recommended by a reader of this blog, has provided some thoughtful feedback, some really helpful comments on characters and structure, what worked for her and what didn’t.

She also suggested formatting changes to make it more suitable for publication. Oh, I do love my two spaces after a full stop, my double quotes for speech and my occasional use of brackets, but, alas, these have had to be thrown out, metaphorically put into the black bin which we put out at the gate every two weeks.

My editor has also advised me on how to present song titles, book titles and album titles, something I was becoming very confused about as I was writing. (Italics for books and albums, single quotes for songs.) But how do you treat the title of a television programme? Be good to hear from someone on that! I’d also tied myself in knots over numbers and dates, putting them all in words, which looked clunky even while I was doing it. You don’t have to, I’ve discovered. Years can be in numbers eg 2021 and dates go into the format 31 January 2021 (dd mmm yyyy, to us nerds).

I should have known all this. Me, who used to teach word processing (among other things). Somewhere else on the internet I’ve read that Word is set up for business use, not for novels or short stories. I can see that so clearly now.

By the way, I’m on the More Than Writers blog today (Sunday, 31 January), posting on the subject of Christmas in lockdown. Do take a look. (That’s another thing: how do you present the title of a website – quotes or italics? Any advice, please?)

What stops us from finishing a book?

First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day. Alex Cavanaugh, IWSG Ninja, tells us that this is a time to reboot our lives, set some goals and make some plans for the New Year. I think we’re all finding this difficult right now; in the UK, we are starting our third lockdown and, although vaccine program presents a light at the end of the tunnel, things look bleak at the moment. I must admit that I wake up every morning feeling very demotivated and inclined to put off writing projects.

This month optional question concerns reading, which is interesting seeing as I have just placed an article about reading during the current unusual times in Together magazine (trade magazine for Christian publishers and distributors).

What might stop me finishing a book?

A gut feeling that it is “dull”. Maybe I have no sense of where the plot is going. Perhaps I cannot like or respect any of the characters on a personal level. Sometimes I can’t work up any sympathy even for mc.

Like most other people, I don’t tolerate gratuitous sex and violence. I didn’t get past the first chapter of ‘Banquo’s Son’ by T K Roxborogh because of the unspeakable violence of the initial pages. I can’t cope with plot lines which are unbearably sad, especially those involving small children, such as in ‘The Girl from Krakow’ by Alex Rosenberg. There is a balance to be struck between getting the reader involved emotionally and making him/her lose the will to live.

What frustrates me?

Authors with too much of an axe to grind – political, anti-religion – have me dropping their tomes on to the floor. I’m talking about blatant campaigning here; if they’re subtle and their case well-argued, they will carry me along with them.

Poor research is frustrating – no, infuriating. If you know something is wrong, you cannot pass over it. I’ve commented before on this blog about how lazy writers seems always to skip their research on the church (every priest called ‘Father’ in the Church of England) and on local government. (‘Town Clerks’ ceased to be called that in 1972.)

I become irritated where a writer shows himself/herself to be narrow-minded and his/her characters confined to stereotypes, such as ‘wicked rich landlords’ and people in the south (of England) being less friendly than those in the north. However, I’m currently reading ‘The Edwardians’ by J B Priestley, in which he explores prejudices and mindsets of that era; now that is very interesting indeed.

Bring on the New Year… As far as possible under COVID restrictions

Happy New Year, Dear Reader. My 2021 started well with my story, “Pizza is Love”, being published on CafeLit yesterday (Saturday, 2 January) and today (3 January). You will have to look quick because I believe that a new story is posted at about 4 pm every day CafeLit.(https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2021/01/pizza-is-love)

Everywhere in the writing social media, I see posts about New Year’s resolutions and writing targets. It’s good to have plans for the New Year, but everyday life does have a tendency to get in the way and stuff happens. Also, as Veronica Zundel pointed out on Facebook, a new year is not a fresh beginning, because old stuff spills over into it. My plan for this coming week was seriously to get down to my novel, making edits suggested by a professional editor. However, yesterday I received an email from my boss, sent to all invigilators working next week, confirming that the college would be open tomorrow (Monday, 4 January) and scheduled exams would take place. “But, Helen,” I replied to her, “you didn’t mean to send this to me because I don’t restart work until 11 January.” “Oh yes, you do, Rosemary. You’re on every day, ” she replied to me, attaching the timetable for this coming week. How had I missed her original missive? So… change of plan!

I’m also stymied by my headaches and pain in my neck, shoulder and back. I know I have written about this many times before on this blog and I don’t want to bore everybody but it is seriously holding me back in writing. I’m dictating this blog post and I’m trying to improve my dictating skills. Speech recognition on the iPad is significantly better than anything on Windows but I’m not much good at it. I must confess that there are places in the text above where I got very frustrated and started typing again but I have to pursue this skill if I want to continue writing at all. They used to be a history A-level course entitled “The Great Dictators”, meaning Hitler and Stalin, and I am going to have to become one with them.

Writing in The Silly Season

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Although we know there are twelve days of Christmas, we always feels like the main billing is over by Boxing Day. The days between 27 December and when we go back to work or school stretch out in emptiness before us, punctuated by frequent mince pies, leftover turkey (non-veggies) and visits to and from relatives we couldn’t fit in during Christmas proper. Of course, this year, with the largest proportion of us in the UK in Tier 4, we haven’t been able to do Christmas visits at all, so the blank Silly Season started almost before Christmas Day was finished.

It’s the point where everyone is gagging for a jolly good curry. Of course, I (being veggie) don’t eat turkey, but husband and I are becoming bored with bish-bash-bosh meals with accompanying potatoes and vegetables, so last night we made ourselves lamb roganjosh (him) and vegetable dhansak (me), with curried cauliflower and sag aloo.

We’ve been going for walks in the countryside. The River Stour has flooded its banks and today we have a light frost, mist and sunshine. Winter has its own sort of beauty.

The only way to cope with the Silly Season, many of us have found, is to get back to everyday life. (Not normality. That would be asking too much.) So, on Boxing Day morning, I got down – at last – to writing my article for Together (trade magazine for Christian booksellers and publishers) on reading during lockdown. Yes, Dear Reader, I actually managed to stop myself doing more and more research (which was becoming ever more involved and interesting, by the way), and actually wrote it. I haven’t sent it off yet. I’m about to do a final edit now.

Yesterday morning, I subbed a story, a reprint actually, which fitted the destination’s prompt, and – hurray, hurray, hurray – yesterday afternoon, it was accepted. Over the last few months, I have been looking over my back numbers and exploring copyrights to see what could be reused, passing over all the pieces which are exorable and embarrassing, of course. (Did I really write these?)

I composed my article on my iPad Pro, having observed over the last week or so, that I seemed to have fewer problems with my headaches/back/neck when using the keyboard on the iPad than on my laptop or desktop, but yesterday morning I was disabused of that one with one massive headache. I am now sitting in an armchair, using my Windows laptop, as I was in the summer. Hey-ho. What goes around, comes around. I seem to be allergic to computers, but one cannot live one’s life without computers.

If You Can’t Write, Sew

Well, here I am, typing on my new desktop, and – oh so cautiously, not wanting to jinx anything – I feel a bit better, although it’s been an up and down week. Suffering intense backache and shoulder-ache a few days ago, I limited my computer use to a bare minimum (about an hour a day) although I did use my iPad more than usual. I have had lighter morning headaches than normal, and the other aches and pains have ebbed too. I see a (new) masseuse on Tuesday.

Enough of that! My short story ‘Journey to Hell’ will appear on Fiction on the Web tomorrow (Monday, 7 December). Not my usual cheery, matter-of-fact style at all. Not sure what I feel about it. Sad to say, this is the only piece of mine in the offing at the moment. I’d better get writing some more!

Over the last few days I’ve been making cushion covers for our kitchen chairs. The actual covers we have at the moment are not so bad, but, despite my replacing the old ties with sturdy tape some years ago, they keep tearing off and laundry is difficult – a big issue when you have small grandchildren. You have to wash the whole cushion: it doesn’t spin in the washing machine and the foam rubber insert folds itself up into wedges which cannot be undone except by undoing the cushion stitching. So… my design is for a cushion cover with a pocket, which can be taken off the foam easily and washed in the normal way. So far, I’ve completed two.

One of the two new cushion covers.

Being ‘off computers’ substantially, I am doing a lot of reading. I finished two Fiction Desk anthologies (All These Little Worlds and Various Authors), which, apart from being thoroughly enjoyable, provided a valuable insight into what this particular market requires. The stories seemed literary to me and many of them did not conclude as I would have concluded a story, leaving a lot for the reader to wonder and conjecture. Many of the settings stayed with me, long after I thought I’d moved on. Now I’m reading The Island of Sheep, by John Buchan, adventure stuff, The Famous Five for grown ups, and a window into the mindsets of people in the 1930s. Unwittingly, I chose the last of Buchan’s books, where mc Richard Hannay is in his fifties, married with a child, and worrying about going soft. As an older person myself, I’m glad I did. Too many mcs are in their twenties and thirties (whereas, it seems to me) the biggest readers tend to be several decades ahead of them.

Right now, we are being inveigled – about to be subsumed – by Christmas. It is difficult to keep writing during during this festive season.