Hyperventilating

As I write this* I just hit send on a query. I feel sick. It’s a mistake. You only get one chance to make a first impression and I must have done something wrong. I’ve definitely done something wrong. I always do something wrong. My heart is pounding and my breathing is messed up and I am having a full-on fight or flight response.

All I did was send a fucking email.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of any hope of getting an agent or getting published and just view each query sent as another box I can tick on my way to the inevitable 100% failure. It’s like a rite of passage. All writers go through it. This novel is doomed.

Which is a pity because it’s really good. I would refer you to my beta readers but we all know that I’m far harsher on my own work than they could ever be. It is legitimately far better than I thought it could be at any point in the creative process after the point at which I actually started typing.

Of course compared to the perfect citadel of prose that I visualised before I  started typing it’s a piece of shit but that’s probably unavoidable. The idea of a story is perfect but the idea is also an illusion. Until you pin it down and turn it into an actual thing the idea is nothing. I don’t regret killing my perfect idea.

I’m still regretting hitting send on that query but I’ll get over it. It’s the same thing really. In my head I could assemble the perfect query letter and synopsis and I could imagine them landing in the agent’s inbox announced by choirs of angels. The moment I hit send rejection becomes a possibility.

 

*I wrote this in the middle of the night. I’ll schedule it to go out at a more reasonable time.

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Change of plans

I have decided that maybe it’s time to give my completed novel a rest for a bit. Maybe it’s the wrong work to query? Maybe I was thinking too big, too long, or too crazy?

I’m going to concentrate on another story. As it stands it’s a complete first draft of a novella but I think it could be more. I think it could be a short novel. It’s smaller in scope than the novel I was querying though I think it will get a bit bigger as I expand it. Maybe it’s more what agents are looking for as a first novel? I know that the setting will be easier to pitch to Scottish publishers and easier for them to sell to readers.

Of course it’s probably displacement activity. It’s easier to write another novel than it is to query the finished one. The novel has to be finished before someone can reject it and, by extension, me. Writing is the bit that I know I’m good at. Well, think I’m good at. Most of the time.

It’s something a bit different for me. The narrator character is disabled. Writing stuff that’s too close to home is something I usually shy away from. It feels like cheating somehow. But I keep seeing agents and publishers asking for diverse storytelling and diverse characters. Maybe they actually mean it. And if they don’t I’ve got this other story I can whip out when they tell me that they can’t sell a locked room mystery set in Aberdeen where the central character is an unglamorous disabled woman.

Woo Hoo! Rejection.

So the “getting used to rejection project” which started back in May has finally come to fruition. The agent got back to me. He wanted my novel for a particular publisher that, as of two weeks ago, decided they were only looking for straight crime series novels and romance. He’s working full time for the publisher and can’t spare the time to represent me.

I have to say I am surprised by my own reaction. I’m really not particularly upset about it. I’m a little upset about having to write more fucking query letters. I’m a little upset about having to tell people who were rooting for me. I’m really not looking forward to telling my Mother because she will surely launch into another conspiracy theory about how he was only after my manuscript to steal my novel.

In a bizarre turn I’m slightly pissed off to have got the bad news so quickly. Could he not have waited for me to finish tidying the house? Now I have to use my precious spoons to chase up agents and write query letters rather than clean the house.

Well I say I’m not particularly upset but I went out this afternoon and bought (amongst other things) loads of ice cream and crisps and then came back and had to lie down for two hours but that’s probably unrelated.

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.

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.

News of the Pitch.

I’ve written several posts on the subject of the pitch. I submitted work to a competition of sorts. If they liked your submission you’d get the chance to pitch to publishers and agents at an event called Xponorth in Inverness.

I only did it because I wanted to get used to rejection. I did my absolute best with the submission but didn’t expect them to like my it because they asked for a headshot and I am a fat, potato-faced middle aged woman and my novel doesn’t fit into any established genre.

Much to my surprise they liked the submission and asked me to pitch. I assumed they must be short of applicants. I was wrong. In fact there were over 200 applications and only 25 people were invited to pitch. That was my first shock of the day.

I was pitching last, which turned out to be a good thing as I’ll explain later, so I had to sit through the other pitches getting increasingly stiff from sitting on a hard chair and worrying that we might run out of time before I got the chance to pitch.

Listening to the other pitches was fascinating. We were a fairly diverse bunch in terms of ages, accents, genders and novels. The youngest writer looked to be in his early 20s and the oldest two seemed to belong to the same generation as my mother (i.e. born during or just after WWII). There were several novels that I sincerely hope get published because I am desperate to read them. The pitching style varied very widely too. Some were formal, some were polished, some were nervous but enthusiastic, some were personal and one was so lyrical it was almost a poem.

During my preparation I’d timed my own pitch and knew that it was consistently 3 minutes 29 seconds. Since I had 5 minutes that meant that I had time to allow for stumbling over my words, dramatic pauses and for adding additional information based on the other pitches. That meant that with every pitch I heard my pitch got better. Fair compensation for the fact that by the time it was my turn my legs had gone numb and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to stand.

As I made my way to the podium I got my second shock. I pulled out my index cards with the pitch written on and then I looked up at the audience and started speaking and suddenly it was like I was flying. I was actually enjoying it. It felt good. Not only was I able to deliver the pitch easily but I could add the additional material that I’d come up with while listening to the other pitches.

So I finished my pitch and I got my third shock. People liked it. I mean I know I’m persuasive but I was not prepared for how much people liked it. The panel had actually read my submission. And they’d liked it. One of them was so taken by the first page of it that he asked if I had it with me so I could read it out.

Let me remind you that this was an exercise in getting used to rejection. I went all the way to Inverness at my own expense to get rejected and I failed. What I got was a request for the full manuscript to be delivered in August. My only hope of rejection is that either the rest of the novel doesn’t live up to the first 50 pages, which I’m going to do my level best to avoid, or it turns out to be too similar to one they’re already publishing.

Does this mean that I can succeed at something but only if I’m simultaneously failing at something else?

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?

New Plans.

I don’t usually do plans.  As someone once said “life is what happens while you were making other plans” and in my experience whenever I make a plan it seems to attract the attention of life to the best possible way to fuck with me.  However, that being said, sometimes you have to decide in advance what you’re going to do.

Plans

  1. I will attempt to finish the Work in Progress (the first Department novel currently called Singularity) before April
  2. In April I will do Camp NaNoWriMo
  3. Assuming I’ve finished the Work in Progress I will use Camp Nano to work on either the second Department novel or on the first in the Dune Sea series.
  4. Between now and April I will decide which thing to work on next.
  5. I will start work on an e-book of Department tales taken from the Department blog but with added new stuff.
  6. Before the end of the month I will write at least one blog post featuring an opinion.

Wish me luck.