Achievement Unlocked: Defeat Procrastination!

I have spent all of February and the first 2 days of March not sending in my submission for the Dundee International Book Prize. I finally broke the spell of procrastination today. Huzzah!

It’s been a month long Boss fight against a Boss that keeps levelling up (Think Sephiroth at the end of Final Fantasy VII).

The first form was Fear of Success. I beat that one with the knowledge that failure in a competition like this is virtually certain. There will be many entries and only one winner. The judges are looking for literary fiction which I can’t define much less write.

Then came Fear of Failure. I bargained with that one. I pointed out that entering the competition would mean I wouldn’t be able to submit the novel to any agents or publishers until the end of March so this would be the only failure I’d have to deal with and since this failure was virtually certain it was also mostly meaningless.

The final form was Fear of Screwing Up. If you send your novel in the wrong format or have too many words in your synopsis or fill in the entry form wrong then your novel is immediately disqualified and you can only enter once. For a smart person I have an embarrassingly long history of miss-reading, miss-remembering and miss-understanding apparently simple instructions. This was a tricky fight. I must have read the instructions a dozen times today alone. In the end I was only able to send it in by pretending that I was only doing it so I could close the tab on chrome with the competition rules.

So it’s done. Go me! I am victorious and mighty. But only because I had help with the synopsis (thanks to Bob, Cat, Lindz and Niles). Only because my husband kept bugging me to send the submission in. Only because my various writing friends help me to stay enthusiastic about the whole writing thing (which is impressive as I was born with a malformed enthusiasm gland).

This is a reminder of something I’ve heard Adam Savage (the ex Mythbuster) talk about. In order to be creative you need at least one person who believes in you. He talked about how even when he was a teenager rejecting boring regular work in favour of building weird stuff his mother believed in him. He said that person doesn’t have to understand you or the things that you’re doing they just have to believe that it is good or has the potential to be good.

I don’t know that it’s absolutely necessary for every creative person but I know when I had no cheering section I accomplished nothing. I know that when my mother bugs me to print out the novel so she can read it she’s doing it because she believes. I know that when my husband bugs me to finish stuff he believes. I know that when my beta reader pestered me for the next part of the book she believed.

Another thing I know is that I can pay it forward. When I bug my friends to write stuff, or take photographs, or do art I’m taking my place in their cheering section. Whenever I like, or plus one, or favourite or re-blog their stuff I am saying “I believe in you”.

If you’re reading this and you aspire to be creative then this is your reminder to defeat your own Bosses and make stuff. This is your reminder to be there for other creators. This is your reminder to cheer for others as you would have them cheer for you.

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Update

I’m still deep in the process of trying to get an agent so there’s not a lot to update. I’m not even doing the slightly interesting bit of trying to get an agent. I’m doing the incredibly boring bit where I read lots of failed query letters in an effort to find out what a successful one might look like so I can write one.

I’m also writing a new story. This one started out as a short story but it seems to be turning into a novella. The story was inspired but a promising, but ultimately annoying and unsatisfying, episode of one of my favourite TV programs. It’s interesting to watch the way the tiny germ of an idea is growing into something that’s much wider and deeper.

I’m sure none of that is interesting to anyone else however I do have a plan to talk about.

I plan to soon re-launch the website of the fictional Government agency known as Department Y. The website will be a repository for short fiction based around the Department. There will be in-character blogs from some of the characters from the novels I’ve been writing. There will be gossip. There will be links to other conspiratorial/supernatural/fantastical fictional websites.  And there will be slightly alternative takes on both historical and current events.

I have no idea how long this re-launch will take. I have some more horrible crap going on in my real life so it’s entirely possible I’ll have some sort of break down and nothing will get done at all. Wish me luck.

Falling down the rabbit hole

If you’re a reader at all you’ll know the feeling. It’s when a story sucks you in. It’s when the world of the story seems more vibrant and convincing than the world around you. It’s when you need to know everything about the characters. It’s when you’re desperate to find out what happens next.

And it’s really weird when it happens when you’re re-reading your own work.

It’s happened to me twice this week and it frustrating as hell because they were both unfinished. I have two half-completed first drafts from the same year that I decided to take a look at.

The first one was unfinished because I got three chapters in and realised I had no idea what the rest of the plot was. I still don’t know. I know it’s out there somewhere and I’m determined to find it but I can’t finish this story yet.

The second story was unfinished because I was exhausted from the effort of trying to find the rest of the plot for the first one. I will finish this one. I’ve written over 8,000 words of it in the last three days. It is just possible that I might be slightly addicted to this story.

Of course none of this means that either story is any good. I wrote them so of course they’re both perfectly attuned to my personal pleasure buttons. But just right now I don’t really care if they’re good. I just want to know where they’re going.

A Question For My Readers

I know a quite a few of you write. Have you ever had the experience of falling down the rabbit hole of your own story? Have you been so lost in it that you couldn’t stop writing? Have you ever found an old notebook with half a story in it? Have you ever hurled one of your own notebooks across the room screaming, “BUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT GODDAMMIT!”?

Tell me in the comments.

It is done!

As I write it’s gone two in the morning* and I’ve just sent off a full manuscript to the agent that requested it.

It feels very strange. It’s half anti-climax and half waiting for the other shoe to drop. Well, not quite half. Somewhere in there there’s about 1% of raw excitement that’s fueling the other two feelings.

I hate feeling excited. I don’t trust it. So many times my excitement has only ended up in disappointment. I taught myself not to have expectations for future events beyond preparing for the worst. For years that was good enough to get by on. Then, in 2009, things started to go so badly that I couldn’t prepare for the worst anymore. My definition of ‘the worst’ kept changing. There was no point in preparing for it because there was nothing to be done about it.

I know that I should be pleased. I set out to do a thing and I have done the thing. I just can’t shake the feeling that I haven’t really done it.

Of course it might have something to do with the fact that I can now spend time on all those chores I’ve been putting off. Praise Be! I can finally clean the kitchen. And the bathroom. And the bedrooms. And the living room. And catch up with the laundry. And tackle all those garden jobs I’ve been putting off. Yay! This isn’t sarcasm.** Its just what Scottish people sound like when we’re excited.

 

*I’ve scheduled the post to go out in a few hours when normal people are awake.

**I lied. It’s totally sarcasm

Surprising Competence

As things stand I have two days to finish the current draft of the novel. I have one tricky paragraph that needs a re-write and some font issues. If I get those finished quickly enough I might add some terrible ‘Dad’ jokes to one character’s dialogue. And that’s it. It’s finished really. I’m just fiddling.

I’m not used to such competence. I don’t expect it of myself. I tend not to expect competence from anyone. I’m always surprised when things go according to plan. Perhaps this is because so few things in my life have ever gone according to plan.

But now that I think about it I’m not as useless as I expect myself to be. Most of my uselessness is caused by poor health and disability. I call myself useless because I can’t do enough in a day but that’s like calling someone with a spinal injury useless because they can’t run. When given a task that’s within my capability and enough time to do it in I manage just fine. It’s just that I can’t work at full pace on a novel while keeping the house clean and growing my own food.

Which is kind of a problem. I’m going to be cleaning for weeks. Months maybe. And I’ve spend more than I should on food. Which means I haven’t saved anything for the electricity bill. This is worrying. It tends to suggest that the dream of supporting myself by my writing might not be getting any closer.

Progress Report.

Work continues on my novel. I have finished the phase one re-writes and part one of phase two. I  am now about half way through part 2 of phase 2.

Phase 1 was rewriting end of the novel because I’d made some choices that were funny but were the sort of funny that would bug the living daylights out of me if I was reading it. Phase 2 is a combination of re-writes to fix a change in continuity and polishing the language so that there’s a consistent quality all the way through.

I would be much further along but I was so upset by the EU referendum result that I spent two days playing Plague Inc. I dealt with my anxiety, fear and disappointment by repeatedly destroying humanity with a series of pathogens all called Brexit.

If you’re feeling really down about something I heartily recommend Plague Inc (the mobile game) or Plague Inc Evolved (for the PC). Name your plague after the source of your woe and rejoice in in-game messages like “Humanity has been wiped out by Depression” or “The cure for Trump is 50% complete” or “Brexit has spread to France”

It wasn’t writer’s block.

I was right about my problem not being writer’s block but I was wrong about the way to deal with it. It turned out that the way out was through. The problem that I was having (and I can’t believe it took me so long to realise this) was that I was killing a character and I didn’t want to.

I don’t hold with killing a character just to motivate the others, or to prove that you can, or because you’re bored with them, or because George RR Martin does it so that must be what real writers do. But sometimes you do have to kill one of them so that the survival of the others has meaning.

I’ve been working on a scene that’s part of an extended chase. My guys are being pursued by monstrous foes as they hurl themselves headlong in the direction of the Antagonist. It’s a scene of high peril. If I don’t kill off at least one of them then it will rob the scene of that peril. Their ultimate success will have no meaning. It will seem cheapened. By killing one of them I tell the reader that I’m willing to kill any of them and that makes the risk real.

None of which changes the fact that it sucks for the poor guy or girl who has to die. They’ve done nothing to deserve it. If they were a weak or stupid they would have died far earlier in the chase. I’ve given them the best send off that I can. I’ve made them matter. I’ve made them interesting. Their death is going to hurt the readers just as it hurts the rest of the characters. They will be mourned and memorialized. This loss will mentally scar characters that aren’t even in this book.

I do not have writer’s block.

Because writer’s block is not an actual thing.

However I am finding the re-writes on Singularity unusually difficult. It could be down to a lot of things. I could just be tired. I’ve had a week of running round like the proverbial blue arsed fly and maybe I need to rest. It could be editing fatigue. Perhaps I’ve just spent too much time staring at the same book and it no longer makes sense. It could be that I’m worried or stressed. My attempts to improve the family finances and organisation were going well but we’ve hit a difficult patch.

But this will not do. I am a writer and a writer writes.  Yes I know I’m writing right now. Shut up. What I mean is that I need to be moving forward with this novel even if I’m tired, even if it feels like it’s written in Flemish, even if I’m stressed or worried. There will always be reasons not to write. The world is full of them. I could find a million excuses to just let it go.

I do have to come up with a new plan though because just staring at the same scene till I hate it enough to fix it or like it enough to finish it isn’t working right now. I need to sneak up on it. I need to be an editing ninja. I need to leap out at it from the shadows, or drop from the ceiling, or sneak into the novel at night and move the furniture round without the characters noticing.

It’s fortunate that I know a couple of ninjas. I shall have to ask for their advice.

The good news and the bad news.

I’ve written several times about a pitch event that I applied for and how I was only doing it to get used to rejection because I was sure that they didn’t want me. Only things didn’t go according to plan. The deadline was extended after I submitted my work and that meant I had to wait much, much longer for my rejection.

In the end I got so sick of waiting that I contacted them. I told them that since I’m disabled (true) I have to plan my travel in advance (true) and I was running out of time to do that (also true) and could they please let me know if they wanted me to pitch. They got back to me the next day to tell me that I’m pitching my novel at 12:50 pm on Wednesday 8th June.

Shit. I was totally not expecting that. Now I actually have to write a pitch. Now I actually have to speak to people face-to-face. I have to sell my novel and myself. I also have to get myself to Inverness on a tight budget.

It might seem strange, given my obvious self esteem issues, but I’m actually pretty good at speaking to people. I’m just shitty at selling myself or anything I’ve made. I’ve worked in sales and if you have a product I believe in I can absolutely sell it for you. I’ve represented organisations I love and I’ve done it well. But when it comes to speaking up on my own behalf I really suck.

It doesn’t help that I’ve spent so much time staring at the novel in question that it’s ceased to have any meaning. I couldn’t tell you for sure if it’s in English never mind if it’s well written.

Wish me luck?

Deadlines

I’ve been talking a lot about some work I’ve submitted.  It’s for a pitch event which I wont name in case they object to what I’m about to say.

There was a deadline for submissions.  If you wanted to be considered for the short list then you needed to get everything in before the 1st of April. It was a tight deadline but I made it, unfortunately it meant putting in a query letter and a synopsis that I wasn’t 100% happy with but that’s deadlines for you.

Today I found out that they moved the deadline back by a whole month. So my hurried submission will be going up against people who missed the deadline and thus had a whole extra month to prepare.

I’m trying to look on the bright side.  Maybe the extension means that there haven’t been many submissions which might mean more chance that I’ll make the short list? Maybe the fact that I actually hit the deadline will count in my favour? But maybe the standards of submissions (including my own) were so low that none of them were good enough. Or maybe, as I’ve touched upon before, the real problem was that they wanted author photographs and none of us were pretty enough?