Writer Resting… Not!

Well, Dear Reader, over the last ten days, I haven’t written a word.

‘A writer must write something every day,’ I hear you reply, wagging your finger.

Maybe, maybe.  But, DR, I didn’t have time.  Honestly.

‘A proper writer would make the time,’ you add… No, sorry, you say. You never use any other words for dialogue, do you?

But let’s get back to the main issue, which is about when I’m supposed to ‘make the time’.  I have to do the day job – twenty three hours of teaching per week.  And, DR, before you say that’s not very much, just try it, and don’t forget to include all  the pastoral stuff (ringing absent students and talking to their mummies), waste-of-time staff meetings and ‘mandatory’ staff development about filling in more and more online forms.  You may wonder when I get a moment to prepare classes and do marking – so do I.

‘It’s that rewrite of that Christian story which is worrying you, isn’t it?’

Well, actually, yes.  I really haven’t got a proper handle on it yet.  I keep jotting down notes, but I have been too busy to even think about it right now.  This is how I’ve spent the last ten days:

  • The weekend before last, we visited pregnant daughter who will give birth the week after next.  Do I regret the time I spent with her?  Emphatically, no.
  • Tuesday of last week, son returned from prolonged ‘working and travelling’ bout, taking in Germany, Spain and Turkey.  He was with us from Tuesday to Saturday.  Do I regret the evenings I spent talking to him.  If I’d have taken myself off to write on Wednesday and Thursday (when husband was out), he wouldn’t have objected, but I wouldn’t have had that precious time with him… before he went off to London to work (where he is now) and then on to Ecuador in two weeks time.
  • On Friday evening, I cleaned my house…  I know what you’re going to say, DR.  I used to read Cosmopolitan when I was younger.  I should sit around in the dirt and write beautiful prose.  Quentin Crisp reckoned the dust didn’t get any worse after four years, but, in case you didn’t realise, he was a man.  Men don’t worry about such things.  I actually like my house to be clean.  Then after finishing the cleaning, we all went out to the local tandoori – our weekly treat, which I wouldn’t miss for anything.
  • On Saturday morning I marked students’ work.  On Saturday afternoon I marked students’ work too.  Did I regret having to do that?  Yes, A LOT.
  • This morning, I went to church.  Husband suggested I should skip it, but that’s not the right way to go about things.

This lunchtime and afternoon, I was so tired I could hardly think.  I feel a bit better now, but tomorrow another week starts.  So, DR, you see how it is.  Jeff Goins, in one of his posts, said (I paraphrase) that writers, rather than hiding themselves away, should take part in life, as otherwise they have nothing to write about.  I have no alternative, but I see his point.  For me, this is not a good time for writing, and I believe that I should stop beating myself up about it.

Meanwhile, here’s a howler from one of my students, writing about ‘factors affecting web performance’.  When other people in my hose are on the computer, I can’t get on to the internet.  He can water my tomato plants any time!

And, finally, we have a lot of problems at college with students refusing to be parted from their mobile phones.  It’s even affected my cat, as you can see:

Cat On Mobile
Cat On Mobile

Sweet Success… At Last

‘Visiting My Penfriend’ is, right now… this minute… at this moment in time… published on CafeLit.  As its title starts with a V, it is, alas, a long way down the menu, but it’s there, Dear Reader, it’s there.  The story has always been one of my favourites, seeing as it features the main character in the novel I’ve been trying to write for years.  One of the lovable quirks of CafeLit is that each story is assigned a hot drink (the ‘cafe’ bit of CafeLit, you see).  Without too much away, I awarded ‘Visiting My Penfriend’ the drink ‘Tea in a Glass with a Slice of Lemon.’

Up until today, it had not been a very good week.  Two days ago, I was wondering if I ever write again, whether I would ever have the time to write and, even if I did – by some miracle – manage to find the time, where would the energy come from?   Writing emotion into a story when you’re feeling totally drained is, believe me, well nigh impossible.  The problem, Dear Reader (if you’re still there), is the day job: teaching – with those noisy and demanding creatures called students, now that term has started.   Tuesday evening, I spent worrying about having to write two HE (degree level) assignments, Wednesday evening – until midnight – actually writing it and Thursday recovering from writing it.  I need to work to live, unfortunately, seeing as my lifetime earnings from writing total approximately £50.  One day I will retire.  I just hope I won’t be too burnt out to write by the time I do.

Having a success, even for a story of less than a thousand words, makes me feel like a writer again.

Tea with lemon
Tea with lemon

Coping With Rejection

Having your work rejected is an uncomfortably large part of a writer’s life.   It is said that you have to have a thick skin to cope with it, that you should be able to brush it off.  This writer always finds it difficult, but, having had two rejections today, I’m getting a lot of practice at the moment.

Those of us who teach are frequently told by educationalists that ‘rejection’ is regarded as a terrible trauma, capable of scarring a young person for life, and yet we writers put ourselves through this over and over again.  Of course, I understand that writing is part of the real world and not college, but having a story or poem, in which you’ve invested time, skill, effort and emotional energy, rejected by an editor is distressing.   Just telling me to (wo)man up is not going to help me.

So what can I do?  Any suggestions?

I shouldn’t, of course, write an insulting email back to the rejecting editor, nor should I post on Facebook that she is a cow.  Telling my nearest and dearest how upset I am and why is not going to help me, as non-writers don’t generally understand how it all works and some N and D tend to increase one’s upset-ness by becoming overly-indignant on my behalf.  Having a general whinge to N and D about Something Else They Have Done is very tempting…   Drinking lots of vodka and eating too much chocolate will give temporary relief only.

On a serious note, some editors give reasons for rejecting and some will give detailed feedback, if you pay for it.  Writers with strong nerves who don’t win comps force themselves to read the winning entries.  Warning! This can cause acute heartburn!   Of course, eventually I will pick up the story again, weigh up all responses, look a few more markets, and sub again, but in the mean time I need a bit of a confidence boost.   This is how:


  • Make a cup of tea and drink it – see above.
  • Do something else.
  • Write something else
  • Read something.
  • Talk to someone about something else.
  • Stroke my cat.
  • Buy pot plants or flowers – see below.
  • Write my blog.

Any other ideas?


More About Working Out Where to Sub

This subject continues to bother me.

As I wrote last week, I find it difficult to assess whether or not to sub to a particular publication just by reading stories in previous issues. All too often, I have worked through several very different stories in one issue and come to no conclusion.  In their blurb on Duotrope,  many editors use words like ‘eclectic’, or indicate, in so many words, that they know what they like but can’t put it in words, and it seems that this is exactly the way it is.  Only a few mags, like the Jersey Devil Press, expand, in candid detail, on what they are looking for.

Over the weekend, I listed all the points I should consider, with a view to analysing published stories:

Published story name
Published story author
Magazine title
Year of publication
Word length
Tense (past or present)
Gender of mc
Point of view (first, second or third person)
Major characters (number)
Minor characters (number)
Age of mc
Age of second most important character
Age of third most important character
Period (for historical only)
Percentage dialogue
Swears (yes/no)
Explicit (sex, violence or both)
Language style
Date record entered
Other comments.

For those of you who like techie stuff, I included all the items above as fields on a new table, ‘mag-analysis’, on my pre-existing ‘subbing‘ database (see ‘Writers and Computers’ page on this blog) using Access 2010.  ‘Magazine_title‘ was the foreign key with a many:1 relationship to the (pre-existing) magazine table.  To make data entry easier, I created a form ‘frm_mag_analysis’ based upon magazine_title table.

I then read four stories from a particular ezine to which I was considering subbing a piece based upon the Bible story of Daniel in the lions’ den, completing the form, ‘frm_mag_analysis’, as I went along.  I have to confess that I didn’t get the mix right first time round and I needed to keep adding fields.   Did it help me to understand what sort of stuff this ezine took?  Yes, Dear Reader, it did… but not in the way I expected.  Certainly, I worked through a few points of detail.  Did they mind swears?  Did they accept 1st and 3rd person pov?  But, more importantly,  simply by picking out the pieces of data for my form, I noticed other things which I would not have spotted in passive reading.  Several stories had pov shifts – if I had been editor, that would have been a no-no.  And adverbs – everybody else’s no-no.

I didn’t find a story so like mine that I could say, with assurance, ‘Oh yes, I’ll certainly gain a hit here’ – but then you never do!  Ultimately, though, a decision had to be made.  Sub or not to sub?  Dear Reader, I subbed.  It still felt like a stab in the dark, but less so.   They can only say No, can’t they?