Making Use of Bad Experiences

Hangman GameA heartfelt thanks to all who responded to my last post about this blog.  Many of you wrote very fully and provided some really useful advice, not all of which I have had time to implement yet, as Beloved Daughter and grandchildren were staying last week.  I haven’t yet moved over to WordPress.org either.  But I am still working on it, all of it.

This week, I want to post about bad experiences, those that are so awful we don’t want to think about them.  I say that these are the things we should write about.

In November 2014, I wrote about stress once… and twice.   I rabbited on about trying to break into womag, but I didn’t because I was too wound up to write anything at all.  Some writers area galvanised by stress, anxiety and depression, but I have to be calm.  At that time, I was working full-time as an IT lecturer at a further education college.  The underlying reason for those posts, which I couldn’t bear to write about, even on my blog, was that I had received a unfair learning observation.  My lesson, in web design, to Level 3 (A level equivalent) students was by no means perfect but I certainly didn’t deserve to be told by my observer (A) that ‘You don’t show that you care’.   It was apparent, during the observation feedback meeting, that A did not understand the technical content of the lesson, and therefore assumed that ‘no learning had taken place’.  I needed to take two weeks off  as sick leave, because of stress.  When I eventually returned, early, because I was going off my head at home worrying, I had to endure a meeting with A’s line manager (B), who wanted me to have a thirty year old mentor.   Six months later, I left (officially ‘retired’ from) the FE college, and, after another six months, I started teaching part-time at an adult learning college.

Fast forward to last Friday, to me sitting down a mandatory staff development session at the adult learning college.  ‘Hello Rosemary,’ says a cheery voice.  ‘Are you teaching here?’  I looked up  to see A and B standing at the front, about to lead the session, all smug and smiley.  Oh, Dear Reader, it was as if the last two and half years had not happened, as if I was back at the FE college and being told that, after teaching for twenty years, I was the worst possible sort of teacher.  As I sat in that room, for six whole hours, I felt as if I was with two women who had seen me on the loo with my knickers around my ankles.   If that’s too graphic for you, I apologise, but I feel very naked and exposed writing about this.   Part of me feels I should abandon this post altogether.

Only now can I start to distill in my mind how I felt at that time, how my blood coursed through my veins like a raging river torrent, not a babbling brook, but water in flood, tumbling, fast and furious, over stones.  The water was muddy, having churned up everything underneath it, as the blood in my veins felt dirty, bilious with bitterness and anger.   I recall not being able to sit still, or stand still, gobbling my food, gulping down my words, not able to complete a sentence.   I was unable even to think through a complete thought or sentence.  Everything I did, at work, at home, I questioned.  Every drop of confidence drained from my soul.   But, like Gloria Gaynor, I survived.  Immediately after the feedback session with A, I went into my timetabled class of teenage boys and taught them Photoshop, even managing to forget – for a time.

No, I’m not going to write about FE teachers suffering bad learning observations.  (There would be a limited market for that.)  What I am doing is editing the novel I wrote for Nano, the first part of which concerns my mc being rejected for Cambridge.  She is very angry, and upset, and those terrible, terrible experiences back in 2014 are informing my writing.   Of course, these are my experiences, not hers’ and she is different (much younger), but tapping into these emotions has helped me write her grief.

…I’m still scared of publishing this.  I’ll find an image first.

Your Advice, Please (Yes, Really)

Bored smiley
Bored smiley. I’ve come to like smilies.

Am I boring you?

I am aware that this blog, and its companion book review site, Dear Reader, are not pressing enough people’s buttons, or, to put it another way, they are not pressing my like buttons.  I’m not saying this in a sorry-for-myself sort of way, but rather in the hope of constructive comment, please.

What I Might Be Doing Wrong

  • My posts are just plain boring.  (I’m not ruling this out.)  At the moment, I’m mostly writing the second draft of The Novel, and I’m aware that there’s not a lot to say on my writing front.
  • My writing style is not interesting.  A friend of mine suggested I improved the first line of my posts, perhaps by asking a question or the sort of statement or comment which makes readers really sit up.  I’ve tried to do this.
  • I myself am not well enough known to attract readers.  The received wisdom is that you raise your visibility through social media, but I’m doubting whether ‘they’ know what they’re talking about.  I wonder if it’s the other way round.  I like to follow the blogs of established writers, but I am not one – yet.
  • I’m not using categories and tags correctly.  It is said that the categories are the list of contents and the tags are the index.  However, this writing blog doesn’t seem to lend itself to categories.   I’m aware that I use fewer tags than most people, but over-tagging is one of the things bloggers are warned against.

What I Think I do Right:

  • I do include pictures.
  • I do try to keep the word count down to 500 words (apparently the optimum), even though I know a lot of bloggers write at much greater length.
  • I do include hyperlinks.

What I Know I’m Doing Wrong

I haven’t updated the pages, specifically the About page, on Write On for a very long time, but is that in itself enough to turn people off?

Technical Stuff

I am not using the sorts of titles and words which Google’s search engine picks up.  This is very likely, as WordPress.com doesn’t allow you in there.

Tomatoes, grown by me, some time ago.
Tomatoes, grown by me, some time ago.

I am going to move both blogs over to WordPress.org in a minute (or, rather, when I can pluck up the courage), so as to be able to use its SEO (Search Engine Opimisation) tools, so, within the next few days, these two blogs will have different urls (web addresses).  (I don’t know exactly how this works and I suppose I won’t until I do it.)

Now for the good bit, the Yippee moment.  (They say you should always end on an uplifting note.)  My short story ‘Tomatoes and Their Part in Brexit’ has been accepted by Alfie Dog Fiction and will be published on 28 May.   And yes, I will definitely remind you nearer the time.  You see, I do know something about promoting my writing.

Yet Another Review on Dear Reader Blog

There’s a new review on the Dear Reader blog – of  An Insubstantial Death by Hilary Creed.  Do take a look.

Another one, book-lovers.  Previously, before I created the Dear Reader blog, I was aware that all I was doing on Write On was writing book reviews.  Now I have my dedicated book review site, and there are some really good books on there.  What I don’t like, I don’t review.   Maybe those of you who are readers might like to follow Dear Reader.

Also, writers out there, I’m happy to review your book.

Rosemary’s Guide to Subbing

Dagger, possible murder weaponA proper post this time.  And, before I forget, the deadline for the  Association of Christian Writers/ Alfie Dog Fiction Crime Fiction Competition is fast approaching – Tuesday, 18 April.  1000 words, please.  More information on ACW website.

Do you remember the first time you ever submitted a story to a magazine or ezine?  What were your thoughts as you posted Cartoon writerthe envelope/clicked the send button on your email application/ clicked submit on the online submission form?  That your literary career began here?  That your work could never be good enough?  Or relief that you’d actually done it?  On Saturday, for the first time for a long time, I subbed a story, to Alfie Dog Fiction.   (My last successful submission (Burnt Down) was also to Alfie Dog Fiction btw.)  As I’ve been concentrating on The Novel, I’ve let the subbing slip (yes, I know, I know), so the process was fresh enough for me to stand back and survey what I was doing.  Below is Rosemary’s Guide to Subbing:

  • Research possible markets (print magazines and ezines).  You may find calls for submissions from some of these: (online) Duotrope (you have to pay) or  The (Submission) Grinder (free), Patsy Collins’ blog (free competitions) or Morgen Bailey – Creative Writing Guru.  And watch the classifieds in (printed) writing magazines, such as  Mslexia,  Writing and Writer’s Forum.   This takes time.  Ideally, you should browse markets in general and get an idea of what sort of writing is getting published, before you have a particular story to place.
  • Don’t dismiss the weird themes.  Nordic folk characters as vampires and set in Milton Keynes.  You don’t have a story like this tucked up your sleeve?  Write one, quickly.  The editor for this ezine will receive fewer submissions and you could be in with a chance.
  • Enter writing competitions.  Competition managers actually want to hear from you.
  • For each market, look at the submission guidelines first.  Is there some very good reason why you can’t submit?  Are submissions only open to writers under 25?  Do they only take poetry and you only write fiction?  Has the deadline passed?  (Many websites are very bad at taking down calls to submissions which have expired.)  For ezines, check the last update; if it’s over a year ago, move on.
  • If the market still looks suitable, read what’s on there already.   Don’t just read; ask yourself some questions.  Are stories reality-based,  fantasy or dystopian?  Upbeat or downbeat?  Literary, with lots of descriptions and navel-gazing, or written like two people talking to each other?  How much dialogue?  Any swear words?  Any explicit sex?  Are settings all in one country (usually the USA)? Are mcs of a particular type eg women, middle-class?  Most importantly:  who is the magazine/ezine’s audience?
  • Market still looking suitable?  Time to open the file containing your story… and to look at the submission guidelines again, this time, in intense detail.  Save a new version of your story, then edit it to fit the submission guidelines (document format, margins, line-spacing, whether to display your name or not)… to the letter.   Do this before you get distracted by editing.
  • Even if you think your story’s ok, read through it.  Reps and incongruities will suddenly hit like lamposts in the dark.  Edit again… and save.  If you find a portion of the story doesn’t work, don’t delete it;  cut it and paste it into a blank document, which you can then save.  (You might change your mind.)  When you think you’re almost ready, read your text aloud. Edit again.
  • Re-check the submission guidelines.  Does the editor/comp manager want you to send story as an email attachment or in the body of an email?  (Very important, as editors say they delete attachments as potential malware!)  For a comp, the very worst thing you can do is to include your name on your story document. 
  • For an email submission (most submissions nowadays), create a new email (on your own email application) and type the appropriate email address.  Some are written without @s, as in editor dot submissions at webzine dot co dot uk, which is meant to be helpful but is actually quite confusing. 
  • Are you required to include a cover sheet?  If so, what should be on it?  Check!
  • Write introductory blurb (if required), the shorter the better.  And anything else required by the editor/comp manager.
  • Write bio (if required).  Don’t keep reusing an old one, as there’s bound to be something that doesn’t quite fit.  ‘Rosemary has had stories published in the urban fiction magazine, Radgepacket’, although true, would not go down well with a Christian ezine.
  • For a competition asking for an entry fee, work out how you’re supposed to pay.  You may have to pay before you can enter.  Use PayPal if possible, as this seems easier all round and, if the website was dodgy (or no longer functioning), you would be protected.
  • For email submissions and online form submissions, check that you’ve actually attached story document (and cover sheet, if required).  Yes, I know.  We’re grown-ups, but we’ve all done it!
  • Now press the Send/Submit button.
  • Make a cup of tea.  Ah, that having written feeling!

There’s a Review on Dear Reader…

I have just reviewed K A Hitchins’ excellent book about an autistic girl, ‘The Girl at the End of the Road’ on my other blog, Dear Reader.  Please take a look.  Those of you who might have tried the Facebook or Twitter link this morning may have been disappointed, as the post managed to delete itself overnight.  Many apologies.  Fortunately, I managed to get it back, by clicking on revisions and copying and pasting pages of html.  Ho-hum.

Will write a proper post on this blog soon.  At the moment, I’m trying to write-write and build the church website, and do three part-time jobs, and do family stuff.

Why Do We Do What Our Parents Forbid Us to Do?

Yes, even when we’re quite grown up, have children and and grandchildren, and our parents have long been deceased.

1960s television
flickr

My parents weren’t great television-watchers.  There were numerous programmes I wasn’t allowed to watch, including The Man from UNCLE and Z Cars.  My grandparents watched television even less;  my grandmother would talk loudly, in a broad Leicester accent, meduck, through any programmes you attempted to watch in her presence.   Occasionally, however, even my parents went out and my grandparents babysat me.  “Oh, I always watch The Man From UNCLE,” I’d say breezily.  “We always watch Z-Cars.”  To be honest, I never figured out what was going on in The Man from UNCLE, only that my friends (who really were too young for such things) ALWAYS watched it and thought Illya Kuryakin was good looking.  I wasn’t much better understanding Z-Cars, to be honest, although my grandmother understood the plotline of one episode rather too well and queried, with my mother, what I was really permitted to view.  Now, my father was always sparring with my grandmother, so this was red rag to a bull.  Next week he had to check Z-Cars out for himself and he gave it the OK, so Z-Cars and Softly, Softly (which followed when Z-Cars proper reached its sell-by date) became part of our weekly schedule at home.

So, a few months ago, I bought a DVD of Z-Cars episodes… and left it on the shelf under our telly, while One and Only Husband and I finished off our Dr Finlay’s Casebook DVDs – except that we kept finding more and more Dr Finlay DVDs on the internet.  Dear Reader, we completed our last one on Frida – and OAOH now tells me he’s just bought another one.  Back in our home in Leicester, Dr Finlay was also taboo, but for another reason.  My mother was fed up to teeth with hearing about Scotland, where my father and his own mother had taken several holidays in Scotland, which they had enjoyed enormously, and discussed endlessly.   For OAOH, however, Dr Finlay had loaded emotional value because, each week, it was the last warm lacuna of home before his father drove him back to boarding school.   On seeing the first episode over a year ago, I was transfixed; Finlay, Cameron and Janet are such believable, distinct and sympathetically-drawn characters.  The plots (nearly) always make sense and, for their era, are quite gritty, concerning communicable diseases, illegally-imported and diseased dogs, abortion, over-bearing fathers, the setting is truly idyllic – and Finlay and Cameron drunk enough whisky to fill a Scottish Loch.

So, after Dr Finlay on Friday afternoon, we eventually broke into Z-Cars on Friday evening.  The episode we saw was the very first one, when the new crime patrol was being set up, following the death of a policeman, black-and-white (obviously) and poor quality (probably illegal!)  However,  I amazed myself by recognising Charlie Barlow, John Watt and Bert Lynch and remembering that, despite the setting really being Liverpool, the fictional location was somewhere called Newtown.  It was very atmospheric, especially the clothes (all women in skirts, some in headscarves and curlers) and the tiny house where one of the policemen lived, with a coalfire in a ceramic grate, which the wife kept tending with a dusty shovel and poker.  Very different from what’s on television now, I can still see that modern crime series learned a lot from Z-Cars:  the cameraderie and rivalries amongst the police, for instance, and the occasional lighthearted subplots.  However, some things pulled me up short:  the way one of the characters (the one in the tiny house) treated his wife like a skivvy; the smoking; Bert Lynch thumping a suspect, unprovoked, to get something out of his pocket; Barlow harranging Lynch for not arresting the (same) suspect, on the basis that the suspect had a criminal record (even though he hadn’t committed a new offence at the time Lynch was interviewing him).  And I still couldn’t work out the plot.  My husband had to explain it twice.

I enjoyed every minute of it.  But, Dear Reader, is it just the nostalgia I’m enjoying, or are these things really really good?