Monday, 31 May 2010

Three Credits And A Debit

Well, it's been an up-and-down few days. On the plus side, I've written another 5000 words and am now up to 20K or one-fifth of the planned first draft. I do hate cranking out the words, though - I much prefer editing and re-structuring and polishing. But I can't have one without the other, so it's got to be done.

On the minus side, our new Government has pulled the funding from one of the longer-term work projects I'm doing. This is its second year and the project was supposed to run until the end of next March, but they've now said it has to finish by the end of June. It's a project which was set up as a pilot by the previous Government, in a handful of deprived areas around the country, to gather information about why some of the most disadvantaged families don't use free public services such as doctors, schools, libraries etc. I'm only involved in one area, but they've been doing some terrific work and gathering some really useful information; I think it's a great shame it's closing. I know there's a big deficit and many cuts have to be made, but you can't fix a deficit quickly, the project was due to finish next March anyway, and I think it's shortsighted to cut it sooner which effectively wastes the money that's already been spent on it because it won't have time to realise its full potential. The effect on me personally isn't that bad - I'm only losing promised work, and I expect something else will come along to fill the gap - but it's absolutely dreadful for all the people who are going to be out of work in a month's time instead of in 10 months' time.

On the plus side, I've caught up with the backlog of work on my OU accounting course, and am now in the week I'm supposed to be in. Which is just as well, because I start the maths course this week, so will be running the two together for the next couple of months. I'm doing OK on the accounting course - have only been reduced to tears once so far - although some of the language perplexes and confuses me. For example, when you receive money from a debtor you debit the bank to increase it and credit the debtors to decrease, but when you refund money to a debtor you credit the bank to decrease and debit the debtors to increase. After a few rounds of 'credit the debtors and debit the creditors' I start to feel as if I'm in some kind of nightmare Gilbert and Sullivan world.

And a third plus is that I've been invited to a friend's daughter's 18th birthday party this evening, and I'm off up north first thing tomorrow to spend a few days with my family. I'm really looking forward to having a few days off, starting any minute now. I'll be taking my laptop away with me, but I won't be online much and I'm only going to write if I feel like writing. A proper break! Hurrah!

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Della Galton: Critique And Speak

When I was going through my recent writing-related doldrums, I decided I needed to take some positive action. So, quaking in my boots at my own temerity, I approached the rather terrifying doyenne of womag writing, Della Galton, about her Critique and Speak service. To my surprise, she seemed happy to take me on, so I chose a story that I knew wasn't working very well, sent it off with a cheque, and waited for her response.

I wasn't sure what I'd signed up for. I knew I was going to get a critique, but given that no critique I've ever had of a book-length work has run to more than 8 pages, I figured a short paragraph was all I was likely to receive. And probably quite a stern paragraph, at that.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Two full pages of critique arrived, with headings covering every aspect of the story including its title. Della praised some aspects of my writing, and gently explained where she thought I might be able to make improvements. Each of her suggestions made perfect sense.

Then we had the 'speak' part. I was nervous all over again, but you know what? Della's not scary at all! She's really friendly, and kind, and helpful! It was fantastic to be able to ask her questions, and she is certainly an expert.

Della's input has given me a boost and increased my confidence. She's helped me work out that I need to take more time over my stories: my fortnightly short story group deadlines are great for helping me churn out first drafts, but the impulse to follow up with submissions sometimes gets in the way of me polishing stories enough. She also suggested that I need to create more multi-dimensional characters, raise the stakes for my characters, and use more scenes in my stories. She gave me some great tips about how to generate ideas in the first place, how to build on those ideas, and how to come up with endings that have real impact. Our chat was relaxed and unhurried: we discussed the market, writers' groups, novels and non-fiction, and dogs versus cats. I'm sure we'd have got onto shoes, food, holidays etc if we'd been on the phone much longer.

I may well use Della's service again in the future, with a different type of story. The people in my short story group give excellent critiques and I couldn't do without them, but I did find it useful to have an independent and more detailed view of one of my stories, and a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of my writing. So if any of you are feeling unconfident, or have a story that's not really working and you're not sure why, or just want a second (or twenty-second) opinion, I would highly recommend Della's Critique And Speak.

Monday, 24 May 2010

I Sold A Story!

I haven't had a sale since early autumn, so the email telling me The Weekly News wants to buy one of my stories was very welcome indeed. I know rejection is part of the writer's lot, but rejection after rejection after rejection, from editors and agents, can be tough at times. I'm a fairly confident person, determined to persevere, and I expect many more rejections than acceptances - but even so, at times over recent months I've felt really down and wondered what the world would lose if I gave up writing altogether. As it happens, the world would lose very, very little - but I would lose a lot, because really I love writing for its own sake, and can't stop doing it, even when quitting seems like a good idea. Remembering that is the key, I think - but a little external validation now and then is SUCH a help. So now I feel all happy, and pleased with myself, and cheerful.

My workload has calmed down, too, so life is sweet right now, especially as the sun is shining. Although apparently it's going to be much cooler tomorrow... when my new barbecue is due to be delivered... typical!!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Bit Pete Tong

This week didn't go according to plan, because I got two lurgies at once (good organisational skills, great time management!) and had to take to my bed for the best part of two whole days. Most unusual for me. Then of course I had a backlog of work, when I still wasn't really fit, so the writing had to go by the board. Apart from the 1000 words I managed on Monday morning, before I succumbed, and the short story I drafted last night. Not much output for a working week - but then again, not bad in the circumstances.

Also not bad in the circumstances is the contract I won this morning (hurrah!) and the other piece of work a long-standing and much-loved client has asked me to do, which isn't in the bag yet, but there's nobody else in the frame so it should go ahead unless they change their minds or develop budget difficulties or something (has been known to happen, but rare). As a self-employed person, it's always good to have a few months of job security ahead, even if it does mean less time for writing.

I've got a busy weekend ahead with friends and family, but will be back on my 1000 words a day next week, and will keep you up to date with my progress.

Monday, 17 May 2010

A Thing About Agents

Over the last few years of submitting my work to agents, I've made it my business to learn as much as I can about how they work. I read agents' blogs, listen carefully when I meet them at courses or events, and question other authors about their experiences with agents. Among other things, I know that not all agents will read unsolicited submissions; those that do will always give priority to their existing clients; and even when your work shows promise, if they don't want to take it on - whatever the reason - you are most likely to get a standard rejection letter. I also know that different agents have different submission requirements and that it's best to comply with whatever they ask for, even if you think your work would be better presented in a different way.

I'm fine with all of that. Agents are businesspeople and have every right to run their businesses in the way that works best for them. But there's one agent who has a policy that rankles. This agent accepts email submissions (hurrah) but states that if you haven't had a reply within eight weeks, you can take that as a rejection.

The more I think about this, the more it seems both lazy and discourteous. I regularly have to send out email rejections in the course of my own business. The wording is something like 'Thank you for the opportunity to tender for this interesting piece of work. Unfortunately we don't have the necessary capacity to undertake the project, but please do think of us again in the future. We wish you the very best of luck in finding a researcher to meet your needs.' It takes less than 10 seconds to copy, paste, and send.

I know that people who ask me to tender for work have often invested a lot of time and energy in finding the funds and preparing the brief. OK, sometimes the email is more of a lie than a truth, and if I was being honest, I'd say something like 'There is no way I'm tendering for your rat's nest of a project. The brief looks as if it was the result of an argument, you clearly have no idea what you actually want a researcher to do, it will end up being a nightmare project with tentacles that will take over my life, and what's more your budget is woefully small, so please go away.' Similarly I'm sure if agents were always honest, some of their rejections would say something like 'For goodness' sake stop writing immediately because you have no hope of ever getting published, and if you won't take my advice, at least stop sending submissions to this agency.' Others might be more positive. In fact, I know they are, because I've had kindly personalised responses from agents, both on this book and on previous ones.

But no response at all? Why? Surely even writers whose submissions are utterly dreadful deserve a few seconds of someone's time to send them two lines of acknowledgement of their effort, their hopes, their dreams.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Looky Looky Look!

At my word counter, that is - 1000 words/day this week, 15,000 total. Go me!

It's been a much saner week, on the whole. I did have two unexpected disputes to deal with, in different areas of my work, that I could have done without. I wasn't on the receiving end of either dispute, but in both I was in a position to help with conflict resolution, which meant I had to deploy tact. I don't really do tact, and I now know that it's particularly hard when I want to bang people's silly heads together.

The other thing that's been slightly taxing is that a number of my friends seem to be having horrible problems and are in need of support and TLC. I've got two relationship breakdowns (and in one, I'm friends with both people), two dying fathers, two major health problems, one imminent redundancy, and a family rift. There are probably others but those are the people I'm providing most support to right now. Odd how these things come in phases, isn't it?

On the plus side, it's Friday, and I have three girlfriends coming for dinner tonight, all of whom are happy right now. I've planned a fab menu: smoked salmon and cream cheese canapes (with extra-dry Prosecco to drink); mixed vegetable gratin (leek, butternut squash, cauliflower and spinach) with ricotta custard and Parmesan, and steamed new potatoes with fresh mint (and organic Shiraz); chocolate chunk lemon drizzle cake with creme fraiche (and Muscat de Beaumes de Venise). Ooh I'm so looking forward to it!

Then I have a quiet weekend ahead. I have a meeting tomorrow afternoon, and I need to go to the gym at some point, but the rest of the time will be spent writing and studying. I'm hoping to churn out another 5000 words of my book this weekend, 2500 per day; not sure whether I can, but it's worth a try. I also need to do one book submission and several short story submissions; critique six short stories for my short story group; and critique two chapters of a book for a friend. And I would like to make a start on my OU accounting course, as the course materials arrived on Wednesday - I'm trepidatious about this, but I know I'll feel better once I get going.

A weekend which is mostly devoted to writing and studying is my idea of a good weekend. What's your idea of a good weekend? Whatever it is, I hope you've got one coming up.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Ooh That Was A Lovely Weekend

So I went off to London last Thursday afternoon, as tired as I've been in a long time. I landed at Good Friend's house at around 5.30 and had a cup of tea with her before she had to go to a meeting. GF's Teenage Daughter was back from school, so I made some food while TD revised for her A levels, then we ate and gossiped together until GF came home.

On Friday GF had a couple of meetings during the day so I met another old friend for a gorgeous south Indian lunch and more gossiping. Then in the evening, to recover from the elections and their aftermath, GF, TD and I indulged ourselves in pizza and profiteroles. (TD made us laugh by warming her profiteroles in the microwave. They go soggy and sad. Not recommended.) GF and I made copious plans for Saturday, involving Oyster cards, art galleries and cafes, and went to bed feeling all anticipatory.

Only on Saturday we both overslept, and it was cold and rainy, and we went through the motions of getting up and dressed and breakfasted, and then we looked at each other and admitted we didn't really want to go out or, indeed, do anything. So GF popped to the shop for a newspaper, then came back and lit her fire, and we declared it an honorary Sunday - complete with afternoon naps and long-drawn-out roast dinner. It was very restful and just what I needed.

On Sunday morning I began writing this fortnight's short story, and I finished it on the train home in the afternoon. I haven't done any work on my WIP over the weekend, but you know what? I don't care, because I was so very tired that I needed to rest more than I needed to write.

Next week, however, will be a different story.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Prophetic? Moi?

Two book rejections this week, with a short story rejection thrown in, which makes me feel a little like Cassandra, the ancient Greek prophet who went around intoning 'Doom, Danger and Woe!' But still, in the spirit of keeping on keeping on, I've sent off two more submissions. And if I run out of agents, I'll submit my work to publishers. And today, I'll be boosting the word count on the WIP again. Yesterday I read through what I've written so far and decided it was a load of garbage, so it must be a proper first draft. Since then my characters have been taking on their own lives in my head again which, for me, is one of the fun parts.

The last chunk of manic paid work is almost over - just this morning to finish up a few odds and ends, then I'm off to London for a long weekend to hang out with friends, dear friends who get up late so I can write in the mornings (my best time) and I also have two train journeys which I often find good for writing. So I should be back to my 1000 words a day, most days, habit from now on.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Keeping On Keeping On

The thing about this writing business is, you have to know you're in it for the long haul. Yes, there are people who write a book in three months and sell it in three weeks, but they are very rare. Five agents have now had my submission for a month or more, and in one case over two months. I wasn't surprised not to hear from anyone in April, what with Easter, the London Book Fair, and that pesky volcano. But now I'm starting to watch my inbox again: I reckon I should hear something from someone this month, if only another of those nice rejections. Most of all, though, I know I need to keep on keeping on. And as my paid work recedes, towards the end of the week, I'm hoping to get back to churning out some more words for my current WIP.

This week, I read an inspirational tale about one writer's amazing tenacity. I'm hoping it won't take me quite so long - but his story has made me more determined than ever to keep going, not to give up, to persevere.