Friday, 26 April 2013

Feedback Blues

This week I had some feedback on a story I was really happy with. I'm feeling discouraged generally at the moment, with stresses at home and at work, which are leaving me stretched a bit thin. So I only gave the feedback two cursory reads - one to get the gist and one to try to glean some information.

All it really did was make me feel sick with disappointment - there were positives, but there was plenty of advice, too, and in my current frame of mind, my attention skidded across the praise and only snagged on the bits that said, "You really are never going to be any better than mediocre, you waste of space, and have no talent worth mentioning."

Oh dear. Some weeks I really ought to just stay in bed. I was genuinely surprised by how negative I felt about receiving feedback, and how 'rejected' I felt ...but I know that this is fleeting. And next week I'll know how I've done in the Cornerstones competition...though I think I already know.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Warning: Flashback included!

Last year I had the opportunity to write a column for the local newspaper. There were no financial rewards, only the chance to build a 'platform' and get in some precious practice. However, the governors at the school I teach at were wary of me doing this, so I had to turn it down.

You might think, as I did, that I was shutting a door on my ambition to write, but the process has given me some confidence. Now I know of a local parenting magazine which is about to launch, and I gritted my teeth and made contact, offering to write an article or two. The remuneration will be the same as the local rag, but I think I can stay anonymous and I'm already working on article one. Fingers crossed it will be acceptable. Would love to see my pseudonym in print.....if I can think of one!

Schoolgirl error

I sent the castle story today. At the last moment, I recognised one of its problems, but had no time to fix it. (A sign of a lazy writer, undeserving of any success!)

The story is about things that happen to my main character. Although her character develops, and she learns from her experience (as much as is possible in 1600 words) she doesn't fix the problem herself. I think I've set that up well enough...but I'm not sure.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Where's my sparkle?

I'm having a crisis of confidence in my writing. I'm wondering if I'm as deluded as those people who audition for the X-factor when they have voices like a gearbox crunching. Perhaps I have nothing to offer; no basic skills that can be honed to perfection; no originality.

It's the originality that's bothering me most. It doesn't help that I've read some superb novels lately, which have either been told with a striking voice or had plots that have hooked and amazed me. I have neither a distinctive voice, nor do I have any surprises up my sleeve.

I've nearly completed my fourth story for my year of stories. I've entered a competition a month so far (and a few extra) and am beginning to doubt that any will find success. This fourth story is set in a castle, and I've thoroughly enjoyed writing it. (Some of the other stories have been hard work. Some genres or lengths are outside my comfort zone).

As I read through it tonight, though, I couldn't help swooping outside myself and looking at it in a moment of objectivity (not entirely welcome objectivity). And it seemed predictable. I imagined the judge(s) with their sheafs of wonderful stories - some that were poorly presented, or badly written, some that were predictable as mine, and some that made them gasp, or laugh. And I can see that my work isn't standing out from the crowd. Maybe I am just too dull, personally, with my madding whirl of children and domesticity and career to produce anything with the sparkle and charge that I want to.

Perhaps you can buy sparkle on eBay. Will have to look into it. Meanwhile...I'l keep plodding on.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Writing Fodder

The life of a writer can, apparently, be one of solitude, if not loneliness. Add motherhood into the mix, and solitude is a distant memory, but life can become something of a trudge up a mountain.

 I remember Steve dragging me up Cadair Idris - my first ever mountain climb - before we were married, when we were still worried about offending one another. At first it was pleasant, then it became hard work, and by half way I was obsessed with wondering how much further the tantalising summit was. Then Steve nudged me and told me to stop looking at my feet. The view was so awesome I daren't describe it in case I fall into cliches. And the funny thing is, when you're looking at a view like that, you stop noticing what your feet are up to, or thinking about the summit. We sat and ate sandwiches just below the trig point. I've climbed it a couple of times since then, and it's one of my favourite mountains (and each time I climb it, it's easier).

I try to remember this sometimes, when part of me is ready to cry with frustration that I can't write as often as I'd like because of my family (or the laundry mountain they produce); or when reaching bedtime unscathed seems like a task Hercules might've baulked at. Then it's time to stop and look at the view. I'm writing such a lot more these days, and my focus is better. My family are beautiful, healthy and delightful. It simply isn't worth stressing over the little things.

Today we went to Bolsover Castle, partly to celebrate my approaching birthday. It's the setting for a short story I'm writing, too, so I took many, many photos and scribbled in my notepad. Being away from the keyboard was worthwhile. I will try to post another day on stereotypes and cliches, but there is nothing to replace standing in a place and trying to unpick the smells, sounds and feel of the place.

While I was busy admiring the view, and ignoring my feet, I saw several people who inspired me to write notes on characters. I had a few ideas for articles (although I doubt I'll ever get round to them...).  I even had  an idea for another story.

Getting away from the keyboard is such an inspirational thing to do. Going out and enjoying friends or family - guilt-free! - can provide valuable writing fodder. It turns out that in writing as well as mountain-climbing, taking time to enjoy the view can make the journey easier. Now to get back to the keyboard while I'm fired up...

Teachers' Favourite Books

Here is a list of teachers' top 100 books.  I'm not quite sure what I make of it - it does seem quite predictable in parts, and not necessarily reflective of much of the fabulous writing around now.  Sometimes children need to read some real page-turners - even if they're a bit trashy - to infect them with the love of reading so that they can come to access the classics in their own time.

Maybe I'm just touchy because a few of those listed in the top twenty were ones I didn't particularly like...and it makes me wonder what I'm missing! Like the Emperor admiring his latest outfit, it's tempting to join in with the general adoration of works like The Great Gatsby, but it did nothing for me. Wuthering Heights left me cold. I'm very (very) fond of Jane Eyre in its place, but I don't revisit it as often as Gone With the Wind, nor do I wallow in it with pleasure as I do Birdsong. Perhaps it's just all a matter of taste...what do you think? (And, am I missing something with The Great Gatsby??)

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Publishing on

Like this blog post, I've not been entirely focused on writing lately. The week off that I promised myself has happened, although my happy little image of myself laughing with the children, decorating the front room and generally cavorting through meadows full of flowers wasn't a hundred percent accurate. To be fair, hindsight is usually much more precise than prediction, though, isn't it?

I have sanded some skirting boards. I have taken the children on a particularly horrific bike ride to the park. (Horrific not because of any accident, but because of the world-class whinging that accompanied it - the children's whinging, that is, not mine). I have braved IKEA on a bank holiday Monday. I have nibbled at an Easter egg, and wolfed a Creme Egg or two (and refused to look in the mirror).

There is a joy in taking a deliberate week off writing. I have been reading, and flicking through writing magazines, and my fingers are itching to be back on the keyboard. My mind will, I am sure, be more fertile for the break, and I feel like a better mother than I would have if I had tried to squeeze writing time into the hectic fortnight off.

We still have my birthday to celebrate (we're going to Bolsover Castle, the setting for the short story which is due next month, so I will be making the most of that!) and a sponsored walk, swimming lessons and visiting friends, relatives and babies, so I can't see myself getting much more writing done next week, beyond  planning and watching the world.

But tonight I have done something impressive: finally, I have published my Grandad's autobiography. He wrote it for me, and it took me ages to type it up. Since then I have added footnotes, scanned photos to include, and scoured the internet for extra information to go in the footnotes. It was meant to be a Christmas gift for my sisters and parents three years ago, then two years ago, then last year....and tonight I went onto and published it. Copies will soon be diving through my letter box. (Will I be able to hang onto them till next Christmas, or will I give them away now?) I'm so excited about crossing this off my to-do list. I'm so glad that I've finally done what I wanted for Grandad. It's not perfectly formatted, and the cover option were quite limited, I found - though adequate for this project - but it was surprisingly simple to do. I'm  technologically challenged at the best of times, and I didn't get frustrated or fed up once (although I got a little confused by the adding of ftp to the mix, which in the end I didn't use). (I don't know what ftp is. Something to help files upload quicker, apparently. Fairly Tricky Programme, maybe?)

If self-publishing is your thing, Lulu is definitely worth looking at, though if you want the finished product to look the part, I'm sure it's worth getting some professional formatting and designing help, too. Well, that's one thing achieved this week, anyway! Now for those IKEA cupboards...