Tag Archives: confidence

All change

At the start of the summer, I thought I knew where my writing life was going. I was certain in fact: I had discovered Mslexia’s brilliant guide to Indie Presses, and I had resolved to find a home for my writing through one of those.

And then…

I picked up the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook Guide to Getting Published, and my resolve weakened. The approach it advocated was much more traditional. It didn’t reject independent publishers entirely, but it cautioned against them as a way of launching a career.

My personal jury is still out on the pros and cons of the various routes into getting my words in print, but I was forced to acknowledge that there was a third book, waiting on my hard-drive in its unpolished state, that might still hold the key to the prized arrival on the literary scene that resided in the enclave of the bigwigs in the publishing world.

So I read it.

And I really enjoyed what I read.

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From what I could see at first glance, there were none of the obvious roadblocks that my first two novels contained within their pages: the question over cultural integrity in my young adult novel exploring my experiences as a teacher; the doubts over a generic home for my slightly obscure hybrid between psychoactive thriller and mental-health steeped realism. In fact this third novel reflects much more of where I’m at now, of my life by the sea with its echoes of the city. The characters are ones which resonate with my own experience rather than one I’ve observed, and though the path they choose is unconventional it is not unbelievable.

So I decided to give it a chance.

Having read through my words in print – a much more satisfying print, incidentally, having tried to approximate an actual novel in the way I presented the words on the page rather than just the standard sheets of A4 – I returned to Scrivener to tweak the narrative to one that rang true.

And then today I sent it to my agent.

Who knows whether her optimism will match mine, but right now I’m feeling pretty positive about our prospects.

This change of heart has been made all the more possible by a change in my circumstances that I’m just starting to get my head around. Leigh has finished his medical school training, and launched into his career as a junior doctor. This might have spelled the end of any time to myself, but we decided as a family that the next phase of his training would be better carried out part time.

So suddenly I have two whole days a week when he is taking the lead in parenting. Two whole days a week where I can focus on my council and freelance work, and on my writing.

It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have a three year old to entertain at the same time.

Now, having submitted that first draft, I am looking forwards. I haven’t yet written a synopsis of novel number three, so that is top of the list. And then there’s a short story competition which perfectly resonates with my love of outdoor swimming, and a children’s novel competition that I am going to bite the bullet and submit my first manuscript to.

I’m feeling pretty positive about it all, despite the fact that my agenda has undergone such a major u-turn. It’s a writer’s prerogative, right? To follow the thing that feels true?

It’s hard to know for now how that might change again in the future, but finally I have the time to really work out the best way forward for me – and for my writing.

 

Writing Bubble

And relax… (sort of)

On Thursday evening, I wrote until my brain could take no more and went to bed frustrated.

On Friday morning, I got up in time to shower and feed and dress Arthur and I before we had to leave the house just after half past eight, managing to squeeze a couple more hundred words in between it all: but still it wasn’t enough.

Once Arthur had been safely delivered to his gymnastics class, I sat myself down with my laptop. I was surrounded by screaming kids and chatting mums, and had just under an hour to bring my story to its conclusion. And with seconds to spare before I wrapped Arthur up in a cuddle and we continued with our day, this happened:

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Having set myself a somewhat cursory target of 90,000 words, and broken it down way less rigidly than with my first two novels, I was a little intrigued to discover that as I approached that magic number the story did appear to naturally be coming to a close. I had been all prepared, after the two ‘deadline extensions’ I already given myself, to move the goalposts yet again even after that progress bar had turned its satisfying deep green. But, as it turned out, only 784 additional words were needed before I could safely say that the first draft was done.

It’s a good feeling, coming to the end of a first draft. Even now that I understand just how much work goes on after that point – way more, actually, in terms of both hours and mental exertion – it still feels good to get all of the raw material out of my head and onto (virtual) paper.

And so, to an extent, I can now relax. Except, of course, I can’t.

Along with all of the other endless jobs on my to-do list, I have set myself a bit of an epic mission for this summer. It’s the mission that, if I’m successful, will take me beyond the realm of ‘someone who writes’ into the heady heights of ‘professional writer’.

It is the mission to get published.

I’m keeping an open mind at the moment about how that will happen and with whose help, but it really is time I started to take things to the next level. I haven’t had the confidence before now to really push it, and even now I’m quaking in my boots a little.

But I’ve written three whole books.

And whilst they all still need a bit more work, I have reached a point where I don’t think I can justify turning my attention to another before the ones I’ve written are given a real opportunity to shine.

So there won’t be much relaxing here. There will be lots of research, and investigation, and soul-searching, and letter-writing, and self-promotion. But hopefully by the end of it, once this latest first draft has sat for a while and is ready for me to turn my attention to it once again, I will have a much clearer idea of where it’s all going.

That’s the plan, anyway…

 

Writing Bubble

Peaks and troughs

After a positive start, I’ve been feeling a little less optimistic this week about the beginnings of this new novel. It’s not that I’m not enjoying the writing – I really am once I get into the flow. But between me struggling to get myself going in the mornings and Arthur deciding that maybe 7.30am is a bit late to start the day after all it’s been trickier and trickier to concentrate.

Instead of the 1500-ish words I’ve been aiming for, I’ve been managing about 800. And there’s been one morning again when I just couldn’t face getting up to write at all, partly because that target suddenly seemed just so completely out of my reach.

The business of target setting is a funny one, and one that (for me) is so important to get right. I am fully aware that there is an awful lot more to this novel-writing business than just getting the words out. But if you’re not even getting the words out then the likelihood of ever writing a novel is, well, slim at best. And I find that the words are much likely to be forthcoming if I have a sensible, achievable target to aim for each and every day that I sit down to write. It can’t be too low, because otherwise this first draft would drag on forever: I’ll lose momentum and consistency and probably never get it finished at all. But it can’t be too high either because otherwise (as I’ve proven to myself this week) I’ll get all defeatist about it and begin, little by little, to give up.

I had to have a serious chat with myself this morning to avoid the situation spiralling out of control. And in doing so I decided I should probably cut myself some slack.

There was no way I was going to be able to magic any more time out of the ether – not in the immediate future anyway. And with the way I’m working with this particular novel – feeling my way through it rather than sticking to a rigidly worked out plan – there was little chance that I was going to manage to squeeze many more words out of my mornings. The only solution was to aim to write less – to put back my self-imposed deadline just a little.

This means my daily word count target is just a little less daunting, and hopefully therefore will be able to do it’s job as a motivational tool rather than scaring me off. It worked this morning: in fact so much so that I wrote more than I was aiming for, building up a buffer for days when things don’t go quite as well.

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My new deadline has the added advantage of coinciding with an extended weekend trip we are taking to Florida to celebrate the wedding of one of my bestest friends: I’m hoping that in itself will be enough to motivate myself not to push things back any further.

We shall see…

But however things unfold, I think an important part of keeping going when the going gets tough is knowing when to keep on pushing forward and when to ease off a little, to allow yourself to ride the waves and find solace in the troughs as much as you revel in the peaks.

I think I’ve got the balance right now – and if not, well, I guess I’ll just need to keep tweaking until I do.

 

Writing Bubble

On the edge

I am so nearly ready to take the plunge into this first draft.

I’m teetering on the edge at the moment, peering tentatively into the deep, pulling gently on the multiple strands of the safety harness I’ve constructed with my plan just to test their firmness and wondering whether it’s safe to dive in.

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My plot and characters are so much stronger now than they were a week ago. Every time I sit down to add to my notes I find new links, new dimensions to shore things up just that little bit further.

I’ve made a decision, I think, about how I’m going to approach the writing of this story (if not the telling): a chronological approach is making more and more sense. Even though I envisage the final structure to be considerably less linear, I think I need to let the characters grow as organically as possible. I don’t have reams and reams of notes about them, only pointers – and as their futures will inevitably depend on their pasts it seems logical that I should start somewhere near the beginning.

Even as I write that though I’m having doubts… There are some moments later in my characters’ lives that are so vivid to me, maybe by writing those I will get a clearer idea of the journey that brought them there?

Hmmm… Not quite ready yet, it seems.

Then there are the questions: the little white index cards that are rapidly getting filled up with things I feel I need to know. At least half of the story takes place in the seven years around the year of my birth. I have a bank of research and cultural references that I’ve built up from my own and others’ experiences, but I’ve found myself doubting this week whether I’ve got enough to draw on.

It’s in those moments that I’ve stepped back from the edge and retreated into something that will enrich my sense of the time I need to immerse myself in – movies and music, mainly. Only snapshots of course but something still that will anchor my prose when I finally dare to jump.

It’s a familiar sensation, this excitement and anticipation. But each time it’s new, too – a bit like how I imagine it might feel to have another child.

I’ve been here before, I know I can do this. As much as I can plan and research it will never be quite enough to fully prepare me for what’s ahead – and besides, its the new things I will discover that will make the journey most worthwhile.

I just need to work out where to start writing.

Or maybe I just need to start writing.

Maybe I just need to write.

And there it is again, that little piece of advice I keep finding myself coming back to:

Just write.

 

Writing Bubble

Letting go

Yesterday I got to the end of my manuscript for the third time this draft. I’ve been trying to be systematic about it, giving myself plenty of opportunities to pick things up that need work: the first time I went through looking at my agent’s notes, then with those of my most recent beta reader, then back through again interrogating every single word trying to make sure the ones I’ve picked say exactly what I want them to.

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I know that I’m coming up to the point where I will have to let it go, to send it back off into the ether with everything crossed that it might this time contain the magic it needs to take it to the next stage. But I can’t, not yet. And I’m not sure how I’m going to know when it’s ready.

I’m feeling pretty positive about all the changes I’ve made. Overall it’s ended up 89 words longer than it was before, but given that I’ve written loads more in – bringing conversations to life, taking the reader a little deeper into my protagonist’s mind – that’s meant a lot of cutting too. The opening has changed, bringing in a darker tone from the beginning – one which I think I’ve managed to weave through the novel as a whole, making it much more in keeping with the story I’m trying to tell.

And I think I know what that is now. I’m much clearer on what’s going on than I was, anyway. But I’m still having trouble with my elevator pitch – fumbling around for a concise explanation whenever anyone asks me what the book’s about. I need to work on that.

But whether I can do any more work on the story itself I’m not so sure…

The fact that this is draft number four is not helping my resolve. I thought it was ready last time I sent it in, but it so wasn’t. That took me months to realise. And whilst I’ve sorted out the problems that held it back then – I hope – who knows whether there are new ones that are evading me?

I do still have time on my side. I’d set myself the deadline of the end of November to get this draft completed and sent off, so I still have twelve days. I might just let it rest for a little bit, mull it over in my head, dip back in every now and then to make sure it really is the best that it can be.

It’s almost tempting not to go past this stage – there’s a warm fuzzy feeling that comes with finishing a novel (even for the fourth time), and right now I like what I’ve written. I know that once I send it out into the world again there will inevitably be things I’ve missed, and I’m quite enjoying the blissful ignorance that comes from it just sitting on my hard drive.

But novels are meant to be read, right? And not just by the person who wrote them…

So if you catch me procrastinating for too much longer then I might need a little push – it might just be time to let it go.

 

Writing Bubble

 

Back in the saddle

This week, I am actually editing – and it feels good!

It’s been a summer of ups and downs for the novel, with an awful lot of thinking and talking but close to no doing, and it’s a bit of a relief to discover that my writing brain still seems to function. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s in top top condition  – a fresh eye is proving a tremendous asset to what is now the fourth edit and I might just be making progress.

There was a moment at the weekend, though, when I thought the horse might have thrown me off for good…

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Scrolling through my instagram feed, as you do on a lazy Sunday morning, I was stopped in my tracks by an image of my novel waiting to be read. Of course it wasn’t actually my novel – that would have involved mine being finished and, you know, published – but the title was the very one I’d chosen as I first worked on my manuscript, and the cover design did little to allay my concerns.

A few minutes of googling later and my worst fears were realised – someone had written my novel! And had it published! And sold loads of copies!

I emailed my agent, ready to accept her verdict that there was simply no point in continuing now that someone else had got there first. I’d done my research when I first began to work on the idea, and part of what excited me about it was there was nothing out there that even touched on the concept I’d come up with. But then that was two years ago – and a lot can happen in two years.

It turns out that I might have been over-reacting. Whilst the germ of the idea is the same, the direction this other novelist has taken it in is quite different. Crucially, it is in a different genre to the one I am hoping mine will inhabit – and interestingly reading it has shown into sharp relief the elements of my novel that jar in the genre it aspires to.

So I am beginning this fourth edit with renewed focus – not just where the over-arching direction of the novel is concerned, but also in my scrutiny of the words I’m using to bring my characters to life.

And with that in mind it’s time to get back on with today’s instalment…

 

Muddled Manuscript

Who am I?

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When I started this blog, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Not just with the blog itself, though that was definitely uncharted territory, but more generally too: over the previous couple of years everything I thought I knew about my life had changed. I liked where I was, most days, but I couldn’t help being curious about where I was headed.

The name of my little corner of the internet, ‘Sophie is…’, was the beginning of a sentence that I hoped I might be able to complete some time soon. With actions at first, and then, as time went on, with a label – something to replace the title of ‘teacher’ which I had worn with pride for the preceding decade.

There were obvious contenders – ‘a mum’ being the strongest one. I remember having a conversation with one of my oldest friends a few weeks after I’d entered the weird and wonderful world of blogging. Like me, she had recently celebrated the first birthday of her first child. Like me, she was struggling to come to terms with putting to one side the career she had worked so hard for. And also like me any regret or guilt she felt at that was still superseded by a strong sense of relief at being allowed, if she so chose, to be ‘just’ a mum.

We spoke about the power of that little qualifier, how hard it was for us – and for society – to accept that nurturing a child was a worthwhile use of our time. We discussed how there were days when being a mum felt more than we were capable of, even with all the time in the world, and others when we longed to be filling our time with something that reflected more of who we used to be, not just this new person we had become.

I think about this a lot, still.

I have not yet been able to relinquish my son to nursery or any other form of regular childcare. I worry that we would both miss too much. But at the same time I have not been able to entirely throw myself into being a mum.

I have needed something more.

And so, as well as ‘a mum’, Sophie is… ‘a writer’, ‘a school governor’, ‘a local councillor’, ‘an education consultant’. All of these things are exciting and fulfilling, and take an increasing amount of my time. Only the last is guaranteed to bring in any income, though I’m still holding out for those novels finding a publisher.

I know I am incredibly lucky to have the choices that I do.

But now I worry that I am spreading myself too thin. I still have not found a satisfying way to complete the unfinished sentence that began this blog.

And the blogging itself is confusing me recently – not the act of doing it, but what it’s all for. I found myself in a heated discussion about this a few weeks ago with someone who shall remain anonymous but whose opinion means an awful lot. The nature of the argument is too complicated and personal to go into here but it left me feeling a bit empty, a bit pointless.

Except I love this blog. I love how it jumps from one topic to another, piquing the interest of a wide range of people even though it never lures them in as deeply as it might if my writing was more focused. I know I don’t play by the rules, I know my target audience isn’t clearly enough defined to attract advertisers, I know that I’m not interested in making the blog in itself a commercial enterprise. I know I could channel my efforts much more effectively if I picked an area and stuck to it, but I don’t want to – not yet at least. And that is where this blog, still, is a mirror of my life.

It hasn’t yet decided where its priorities lie, it’s enjoying making the most of all the new opportunities that are presented to it, being able to say ‘yes’ to all the ones that look like they might be interesting or fun.

It’s hard, though, going from an existence where you think you have it all figured out into one where you’re not even sure what your goals are any more, let alone how to reach them. It’s particularly hard for a validation-seeking, confidence-lacking, perfectionist like me.

But I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.

And so I think I’m going to have to put to one side this desire to figure out who I am and what I’m doing with my life. It may be hard to get my head round, but I think I’m going to have to accept that, for now, Sophie just is.

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