I’m not a planner. I feel stifled if I have plot to fulfill, instead I usually start with a title and the very last line. I sit with my pen poised and let the words flow. I go back and add chapters where needed, go forward to write a killer line, backwards to add a bit of foreshadowing. And the whole thing comes together. It’s a long process. Where other authors can have a book written within a year, mine take a little longer. In some cases they take… ahem, years and years.
My current novel is supposed to be a mashup of a character/plot that’s been on the back-burner since the early 2000s, and the story I wrote for last year’s NaNoWriMo, with some other stuff that I’ve started and abandoned within a couple of weeks.
Except, I have a main character that is both named and nameless, in past and present tense, first and third person. She lives in London, a nameless city, on the coast. She’s always an artist and has just won an art award, or won it years ago. Her current exhibition is both on display and cancelled. She has a lodger but is lodging, and a sister who is in varying degrees of existence.
I’m staring at these pages, completely overwhelmed – in some cases, reading the same scene written in different ways, with different outcomes. I have two folders that have an abundance of Post-It notes to remind me where I think that scene might fit, or not fit, or needs to fit.
And I don’t know what do to… Apart from go back to basics and write a plan. Or give up altogether and bake a cake.
Tips, advice and hugs all appreciated right now 🙂
My last post, My rules for writing, was quite popular, so I got cocky and started thinking maybe I could actually help writers.
Here are a few tips about how to submit your work, because this seems to cause either agony or resentment, as your darlings are repeatedly rejected. These tips will work just as well for online and print journals, small press publishers and agents.
(Note: some of these tips might sound harsh, but they come with love as – as I shared in the last post – many, many, many years of experience)
- Just as with editing, you need to distance yourself from your manuscript when you’re submitting, because your first-choice agent/journal is not obliged to accept your work. You have become a salesperson, they are your customer. If they don’t want it, you can’t force them, and it isn’t personal. How many times have you said ‘no thank you’ to a cold-caller offering double glazing? When you submit, you are the cold-caller.
- Follow the individual guidelines of each market – word counts, ms layout, and extra requirements might all be mentioned specifically.
- Be professional. Check the name of the editor/agent, and begin your email ‘Dear…’ or if that feels too fusty, perhaps Good Morning… or Good Afternoon. Never Hi, or Hey or skip that part altogether. Your first approach should be formal; once you have a relationship (or even a second/third email) you can relax a little.
- End your email similarly with Regards, Kind Regards or Faithfully/Sincerely if you wish. Bonus points to anyone knows the correct context to use Faithfully and Sincerely!
- First names are fine, I think, these days. But Mr/Mrs/Miss are traditional and formal. And using first names avoids the need to know whether your female recipient is married or not!
- I like to have a list of markets for the same book/story, so that if I get a rejection I can send it out again straight away.
- If the reply is a rejection, do not enter into correspondence with the editor. I know most people wouldn’t do this, but there have been instances, and those instances somehow find their way into the public domain for everyone to see. Worst case scenario, you may find yourself blacklisted by all editors or agents if your conduct is very poor.
- Try not to weep and wail and throw away every scrap of writing that you’ve ever done. This is one person’s view of that one story on that one day you sent it. If it had reached them the day before or the day afterwards – or if their dog hadn’t died, or their car hadn’t broken down – the outcome may have been different.
- Although, some chocolate/wine/coffee is allowed.
- Don’t give up. It might be tempting to self-publish at the first sign of rejection, but before you do, ask yourself if that’s what you really want. If it is, awesome, go for it. If you have a yearning to follow in the footsteps of J.K. Rowling, keeping trying. After all, J.K did!
Can you add any other tips that have worked for you?
A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon Zadie Smith’s Rules for Writers, and, coupled with a conversation I had on Twitter last night, I thought I’d give my own list a go.
For those of you still new to me, here are my credentials: I’ve been seriously writing for publication since I was about fifteen (which is 27 years and pre-internet!), have received at least 300 rejections, had two major writing breaks, and suffer writers block every time I finish a project.
I’ve also had 12 short stories published in small press journals; 19 short stories long-listed, short-listed and placed 3rd, 2nd or 1st in competitions; and three books published by small/indie publishers and one book self-published.
- Don’t aspire be the next [insert best-selling author in your genre], be the first you. By the time you’ve read that author’s latest book, and been inspired to write something similar, the industry has moved on to the next big thing. Don’t you want to lead rather than follow?
- Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. Most books go through at least several drafts before they are published. Mine go through many
- Don’t be afraid of rejection. I wrote a post about that…
- Read, a lot – in your genre, outside of your genre, non-fiction
- Don’t force yourself to write if you don’t feel like it. I’ve read a lot of advice that says you should write every day, but it doesn’t work for me, so I don’t do it
- In fact, ignore any advice you don’t think will work for you
- Know the rules of good grammar, and then break them, if it works in your story
- Know the rules of submission etiquette and stick to them. Agents and editors have a preference, for their ease, on how they want to be approached. Don’t give them a reason to reject you before they’ve even read your manuscript. Janet Reid has a lot of advice. Personally, I learnt from Writing Magazine.
- Take regular breaks, preferably outside. You don’t want to look pasty in your promotional material
- Don’t give up if things don’t go exactly to plan. Think of plans more as a guideline.
Bonus tip: Enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy writing, if it causes you misery or heartache or depression more than it brings you joy, consider whether it’s really the path you want to take.
What would you add to this list?