Thursday, February 4, 2016

Some brain twirlings on being a mid-career writer

Chuck Wendig recently blogged about mid-career writing. Tis an interesting read (although the faint-hearted should avert their eyes cos there are swears and sexy bits) and it got me to thinking. Cos I guess that's where I am at now. Mid career that is. I'm certainly no longer a beginner and I hope, hope, hope I am not at the end (at least not an end that isn't prescribed by me). So anyways, humour me, and let's say I'm a mid career writer.

Mid-career - you jumped in, you've done a few lengths and touched the end of the pool each time, and you are still swimming.

Mid-career means you have been published. How doesn't matter if your books have been bought and reviewed positively by people who don't know you, and some folk outside your family and your writing circle know your name.

At mid-career point, theoretically, you probably know a fair bit about the craft of writing. About rules of grammar, and the way words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters are ordered. You have a handle on plot and character development and understand why it's important your character has an arc as well as your plot having one. You know what voice, tone and style are. And the difference between 'show' and 'tell' and why that difference matters. You are probably still in two minds (or maybe three) about how many adverbs are too many. And if you are me you have given up caring about the correct use of commas and how many times you've used the word 'just' knowing that an editor won't hold it against you for too long after you've bought them that second cocktail.

But you don't have all the answers. You've realised there is always more to learn, and envelopes that can still be expanded and pushed. It's a journey with a destination you are never likely to reach, but that's not a bad thing. It is harder to find writing courses that are pitched for mid-career folk. You know the fundamentals and you've developed your own habits and style which are individualised to you. If you have been published several times or more you are doing enough right and it isn't always easy to pinpoint what you now need to add to your writing repertoire. I try and reach towards more ambitious projects, grander ideas that force me to try new things. And I am always reading which still remains one of the best schools of writing. And I keep working on my books.

Chuck talks about checking your direction, and making career plans. He acknowledges the difficulties of making plans in an industry where the individual (author) has so little control. But I agree it's smart to check what your desires are and to write and act accordingly. And these things need to be updated on the regular because you will continue to discover things about the industry and you will probably continue to evolve as a writer. Whether your goals are seriously ambitious and your plans structured and aggressive, or you decide you are going to see where fate takes you and you keep things simple, what you choose to do will affect your outcomes. Just remember, choosing to do nothing is also a plan. Whatever else you do, keep working on your books.

There are potential perks to being a mid-career author. It's not all a big mystery anymore (although at times you still wish it was more like a fairy-tale) and you know other writers and some industry professionals. You are a card-carrying member of your tribe and this feels like a warm hug. You are familiar with the process and have found a few shortcuts, even if the process is ultimately still sometimes difficult. It's a bit like running a hurdles race. You are pretty good at getting over the hurdles now after considerable practice, but sometimes your shoe catches and you eat asphalt. Sadly reaching this point has also not necessarily provided you with any security or certainty. While YOU have changed, the publishing industry, at its heart, remains fundamentally the same. The majority of mid-careerists still get rejected and don't get automatic invitations to schools, festivals and other events. But now you know not to take it personally. Keep working on your books.

I like what Wendig says about marketing and promotion. Who you are and how you behave in the real world and on social media will, in the long run, have an impact that goes beyond any structured promotion. And the final word on whether people continue to buy your books is their content. Keep writing and work hard on making it something you are proud of. That is the thing you do have control over.

Some mantra for the mid-careerist:

Things will probably stay the same more than they change
It's not just you, they are like that with everyone
You know more than you think you do
Keep working on your books

Monday, January 11, 2016

Our literary underpinnings

I came back from our trip to Europe and the UK last September filled with a difficult kind of jealousy that time will not remedy. I love the country of my birth in so many ways, but I cannot help craving, especially deep down in my creative soul, the long rich past that is so visible everywhere you go over there. The tumultuous centuries old histories, the long slow burning cultural evolution that is revered and celebrated in public galleries, theatres, monuments and artworks. The roads, footpaths, parks and buildings sing with the voices of all those who have passed over, under, by and through them. Our country is so young by comparison and we are in many respects still finding our way.

When I read this article that compares the children's literature of the US with that of the UK, concluding that the British tell better children's stories because their story telling culture is rooted in fairy tales and make believe, I began to wonder what this might say about the underpinnings of our children's literature here in New Zealand.

I grew up on children's stories from both the US and UK, reading Tolkien and Cooper, Garner, Lewis and Aiken, but also Le Guin and Ingalls Wilder, EB White, Alcott and nearby neighbour L.M. Montgomery, as did many of my peers. Here in New Zealand we have a rich Maori mythology to draw on, but our history is ultimately too youthful and still dominated by the pragmatic. It's that number-eight wire, can-do attitude. In my childhood I had little in the way of local literature to read and so, of course, much of my literary diet was imported from countries that saw the world very differently from what I was able to observe out my window. But that sounds about right for an emerging nation looking to Europe and the UK, as well as to the Pacific, Asia and the New World.

On what do I now base my own writing for children? Do I lean toward the fantastic and enchanted, or the realistic derring-do? Or do I fall somewhere in between or find new and unique ground? I recently sent some samples of my work to some US agents and realised when looking over what I'd sent, that my word choice and phrasing leant towards the British. I'd used the phrase 'let him have it' when talking about an episode of bullying, which on reflection seems very English to me. And there were other examples of a UK kind of sensibility in my writing. I like magic and fairy tales, mythology and fantasy, swords and pixie dust and the supernatural. But there is plenty of realism in my writing and contemporary issues informing my work too. Yet I can't forget that our contemporary issues have a particularly New Zealand spin on them.

Many of my stories are a blend of the real and the magic. New Zealand's most famous children's author, Margaret Mahy, made a highly regarded art of writing magic-realism but I don't think I'm trying to emulate her. I think this is just the result of those widely varying outside influences. I love incorporating fairy tale elements and qualities in my shorter stories and picture books. Yet, like many New Zealand Children's writers, some of my novels tend towards the realistic, whether contemporary or historical. Our fantasy often harks back toward the European or British, with vague settings that don't really feel local and mystical elements that draw on a range of cultures. Although of course there are exceptions where fantasy sits seamlessly inside a NZ setting and at times incorporates Maori mythology.

I guess the best question might be, does it really matter? The writer of the article believed the British wrote better children's stories but perhaps that depends what you are searching for in your reading experience. As a young reader I found much to like in both kinds of stories, and I guess the different kinds of stories met different needs. There is a place for both in a young person's reading diet.

As much as I love and yearn for the cultural and historical heritage of Europe and the UK, I have grown up here. And perhaps both of those things belong in my writing. Even the longing

Monday, December 21, 2015

Just keep swimming...

So I'm hanging in there with the whole twitter thing at the moment, although I've not had much success with twitter pitching. In some respects I am sticking with it because I am a little in love with hashtags. If facebook posts can lack nuance, twitter makes up for this in spades with the hashtag concept. And the 140 character limit is excellent mental gymnastics and enormous fun to experiment with. The 'how to say more with less' lesson is almost better than sudoku. Twitter is craft and craftiness all in one, and a chance to meet a whole new tribe of people from around the globe.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, three boxes of books, submitted for the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (please let there be an acronym), arrived this past week. All sorts of goodness lay therein and I have already been making myself acquainted with the contents and started reading, digesting, and judging.

And I have finally signed off on the content for the next picture book, Fuzzy Doodle, checked out the cover art (HB and PB - be still my beating heart), and received print run info. Every step closer generates another little frisson of excitement and I cannot wait to show you how it looks. It has all taken a bit longer than expected cos reasons so I probably won't be able to give you a peek till 2016. Soz about this.

I also got my first school booking for 2016 which was a bit of a buzz. Next year is slowly taking shape and it's a pretty cool shape so far.

And because it's the end of the year here is a handy dandy list for you to take away and digest

re School Visits and Talks
1) Be someone who is good to work with. It is a pretty awesome compliment to get invited back somewhere because they enjoyed working with you/ having you in their school the first time. Schools and expectations do vary widely, so I have learned to be adaptable
2) Add value - for me it's about thinking what creative writing skill(s) I can demonstrate to the age group in the time available. Sometimes it's revealing a cool aspect about books/reading they might not have considered before. I ALWAYS try and send my audience away with more than they arrived with
3) Value your own expertise, the time you put in to preparation, and the day or so it takes to recover afterwards. Talking and interacting and thinking on my feet with a large group of strangers often gives me a serious people hangover. I've come to respect this and give myself space, when possible, between engagements.
4) Be yourself. Seriously! Being yourself is exhausting enough - being someone else is just insane. And don't try to use whatever schtick someone else uses as part of their talk. Find the things that work in with your own set of skills. But don't be a schtick-free zone either. Over the years I have assembled a set of strategies, a range of talks with exercises that cover different aspects of creative writing, set examples to illustrate my points, and some jokiness. I am always looking at ways to enhance what I already have and ways of identifying what works best with which crowd. I try to use 20 minute chunks where possible to reflect the average attention span...
5) Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't go well. I don't always get it right. Sometimes I misread the crowd or I'm the last session at the end of a long day, or my audience is different to what I expected or it's widely ranging mixed age groups which means it's near impossible to cater to everyone in the group. I can feel the flatness when things aren't working and sometimes I'm able to effect a change that works. Don't give up. Sometimes the audience is quiet and unresponsive and the organiser will turn around at the end of the session and say 'I've never seen them so animated,'  You don't know what their normal is. And sometimes the understanding and digestion of your material is invisible to you. If you have come in with the aim of adding value, chances are high that you have.
6) Take care of yourself. Not too much self-flagellation, and treating yourself to a bit of a reward afterwards is always good. I usually save the wine and the chocolate till I get home though ;)

re Hanging in there
Like the object in your rear view mirror, the realities of the publishing world are often nothing like you anticipated. This becomes interesting when you try to shoe horn all the plans you made based on your expectations, into the real unfolding of events. And like the price of a house for sale, no one really wants to give you a specifics on what your time, skills and efforts are worth least you use this information against them at a later date. Clarity on the subject is like the elusive word on the tip of your tongue. Add to all this the seesawing fortunes of books over the last 7 years, the 2008 financial slump, the rise of e-books, and the retrenchment of various publishers and general undervaluing of arts and culture in this fair country and no one would blame you for feeling a bit glum about it all. So how do you keep body and soul together in the face of all of this?

1) Find your tribe and become a part of it. When 'nothing' is happening for you, your tribal membership will remind you who you are and why you do this. You will appreciate that the difficulties of the industry are not yours alone but are shared by us all. You will have access to information and understanding, knowledge, advice and camaraderie. That is the good oil right there.

2) Be a whale shark and keep going, cos otherwise there will be no fresh water over your gills and you will die. Seriously, you either keep going or you don't. Opportunities lurk in the weirdest places and like to jump out and yell surprise when you are least expecting it. If you stop, then those opportunities will never get their chance. If you would like to keep being a writer, then keep being a writer. Sometimes it will seem like there is no prize for keeping going. Those are the times when you batten down the hatches, wear down the gilt on any previous prizes, provide your own rewards for hanging in there and eat into those carefully stored reserves of hope you laid down in the good times. Make sure you put aside some hope when you have that excess of it.

3) Investigate other people's art - read, go to art galleries, movies, binge watch a well written/crafted tv series. Or try your hand at a different discipline or learn a new skill. Wine making and cooking with chocolate are excellent choices here. You should always keep your creative soul well-stocked, but sometimes it's extra nice to have a good wallow. And exploring something you haven't tried before is especially good in dark times, cos that shiny fresh newness of something completely different can rub off.

4)  Don't fall into the trap of thinking you have to change what you do, or the way you do it because you must have been doing it wrong if nothing is happening. If you feel it's wrong, then change by all means. Or if you have always wanted to branch out or try different styles or genre then this can be the perfect time to do it. But if you feel that what you write and the way you write it says what you want to say, stick with it. When things go awry or just don't go at all, staying true to yourself is more important than ever.

5) Be ambitious - keep pushing at the forward edge of your work. Explore more, dare more, experiment more. Cos, man that stuff can be so exciting, energising and motivating. And chances are you might push through to something brilliant

re A New Year

1) Avoid the same old, same old - plan for something creatively fun, like going to a new show, exhibition, or festival. Or organise a writer's weekend away, or book in for a class or workshop.

2) Give yourself a deadline on one work. Be realistic, plan towards it, and then achieve it. Reward yourself when you make your deadline. Make a plan for what you will do with the finished work (and I mean an edited polished finished work, not the first draft), whether it is entering it in a competition, submitting it to an agent or publisher or getting it professionally edited, booktracking it or making it available yourself as an e-book or printed version.

3) Try entering or applying for something. Whether your application or entry is successful or not, entering and applying is a good thing to practice and a great skill to have under your belt.

And in late breaking news, the publisher has said I can share a pic from teh new book so here is a sneak peek from Fuzzy Doodle with artwork by the most illustrious Donovan Bixley.

Monday, December 7, 2015

When writer's block is real...

Over the years I have several times declared my belief that I don't believe in writer's block. Partly, secretly, this was kind of a defense mechanism - if I don't believe it to be true, it won't be. And partly writer's block seemed to be just another name for being stuck - my idea isn't working, I can't get a good idea I like, this part of the story isn't working, I've taken a wrong turn in the story and I'm not sure where I got lost, this part of the story is flaccid, boring, cliched. The cure was time away and maybe a freshening or restocking of thinking by going to movies, spending time with friends and family, reading other peoples books, looking at art and nature and so on. Things would fall back in to place and I would move on. Not so much a writer's block as a writer's hiccup, or stall. And this is how I viewed it and talked about it.

It wasn't just me. There have been plenty of other writers, famous (Neil Gaiman) and not famous, who have agreed with this view. There are blog posts and articles to be found all over the internet that discuss writer's block in exactly these terms. Don't worry, they say. It's not real. You are just stuck. It will pass.

I was wrong.

Unfortunately writer's block is real. I don't think it's terribly common. But if you ever experience this you have my complete and utter sympathy. Generally I think people who go through it or have it, don't talk about it. It is pretty frightening. When you are in the middle of it, the fear that you may never come out the other side is unspeakable. Giving voice to that is an admission no writer really wants to make. And sympathy can't fix it. I have only ever seen one blog post on this by Nicola Morgan some years back. It made for difficult reading. And now I've felt it for myself. And I am only mentioning it because I seem to be on the other side of it and I can look back on it with something almost (but not quite) approaching objectivity. And I think if you have felt it, are feeling it, you might want to know that you are not alone. And that it is possible to get beyond it.

So what is it? Writer's block isn't a stall or a hiccup. It's not being stuck, or frustrated with where things are at. It's not struggling to find the right words or ideas. It's a big fat creative nothing. A complete absence of creativity. If you are like me, you feel that being a writer is who you are, not what you do. And in being a writer, in being unable to imagine life without the impulse to write, to be 'blocked' is a form of paralysis. A functioning part of you ceases to work at all, and no amount of desire or effort or will can fix it. You might feel like your writing ability is gone. And that it may not come back.

Why does it happen? I don't know. But I'd say things like frustration, disappointment, and grief can contribute. Maybe. Or stress. And doubt. Or hay-fever. Or the shit state of the world. Or being in a month with the letter e in it. I don't think it's necessarily depression because it was isolated to my writing. I could laugh about plenty of other things and enjoy hanging out with family and friends. I could get out of bed in the morning and manage everything else like usual. This is not to say that depression isn't a factor for some people. Or maybe it's just a really weird specific kind. For whatever reason, your creativity is switched right off. And if you have not experienced this, it is hard to imagine. Which is why in the past I pooh-poohed the idea. But I get it now. And I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But I do believe it is possible to get through it.

So how did I get through it? No idea. I honestly thought my writing days were over. It was unpleasant (understatement) and I wondered what I would 'do' instead. I didn't talk to writer friends about it because they were still writing and I couldn't do that. When you have no idea how you got there, there are no easy solutions. I tried to be kind to myself. I treated and indulged myself - reading, going to movies and doing some binge watching of some favourite tv series. I tried to not think about the long term consequences of being uncreative. I tried hard not to be anxious about it, and to relax. I tried to be hopeful. I hung out with the people I love. And then one day I wrote something. I'm still sluggish. My creativity is like a deer that I don't want to startle or scare away, so I am hanging back and not making any sudden movements. How long will it last? How long is a piece of string? And I don't think there are any guarantees. But I think, while it feels like your creativity has disappeared or died, it is still there inside you, locked away. And whatever unknowable magic has allowed us access before, is capable of doing it again. I choose to always remain hopeful.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Beans have been spilled...

Sorry I haven't posted for a while. I have been sitting on some news and was waiting for my opportunity to spill the beans. As I mentioned last time, I am between published books, and with that in mind I decided to put my hat in the ring when the call came recently for judges for the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for 2016. I have always been interested in trying out for this. And having just completed the Diploma in Children's Literature, and with this window of opportunity of having no eligible books of my own (which may or may not come around again), I thought this might be my best chance to take on such a role. I applied.

I have known the outcome of my application for several weeks, and today it was finally announced I AM A JUDGE for the 2016 Awards. Suffice it to say I am very excited and I'm looking forward to discussing the submitted books with the other judges. There will be lots of reading involved as you can imagine, and then lots of secrecy as I meet up with my co-conspirators to make shortlists and winner decisions. I have strong secret squirrel game so I am READY! You can read all about it below.


picFiona Mackie, Kathy Aloniu and Melinda Szymanik have been appointed as judges of the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
The judging team will deliberate over an expected 150 entries in five categories: Picture Book, Illustration, Junior Fiction, Non-fiction and Young Adult Fiction. They will select five finalists, then a winner in each category.
Te Rangi Rangi Tangohau, Lawren Matrix, and Mereana Taungapeau have been appointed as judges for Te Kura Pounamu – the award that recognises and celebrates books written or translated into te reo Māori.
The supreme winner, drawn from the winners of the six categories, will be declared the 2016 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year.
Between them the judges have huge experience of reading, enjoying and working with books for children and young adults.
“The New Zealand Book Awards Trust is delighted to have such excellent judges for the 2016 awards,” says its chair Nicola Legat. “These judges stand out as having remarkable experience and expertise across many aspects of children’s literature.”
The finalist authors in the awards will embark upon a nationwide author tour, in the week prior to the awards being announced at a ceremony to be held in Wellington in August.
The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is sponsored by Creative New Zealand, Hell Pizza, Book Tokens Ltd and Copyright Licensing Limited New Zealand (CLLNZ). They are also supported by the Fernyhough Education Foundation and Nielsen Bookdata. The awards are administered for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust by the New Zealand Book Council.
For further information please contact:
Nicola Legat
New Zealand Book Awards Trust
ph: 021 958 887
Judges Background Information – Additional information
Convenor of judges Fiona Mackie has 30 years’ experience across the education and libraries sectors, having worked as a teacher, a reference librarian, the Social Sciences Selector and the New Schools Advisor while at the National Library. She is a Past President of SLANZA — the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa — and is currently the teacher-librarian at Pinehurst College in Auckland.
Riki-Lee Saua (Ngāpuhi, Te Roroa, Tainui) is the Te Kura Pounamu Award Coordinator. Riki-Lee has worked in a number of Māori-specific roles at Auckland Libraries and Massey University Library. Currently she is a Subject Librarian at Manukau Institute of Technology in Otara, Auckland and is also a member of Te Rōpū Whakahau, the professional association for Māori who work in libraries, archives and information services.
Kathy Aloniu’s love of children’s literature comes from a rewarding 14 years spent as Manager of Children’s Services at the Invercargill Public Library. Kathy is currently City Team Leader at Dunedin Public Libraries and is an associate of the Libraries and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA). In 2012 Kathy was part of the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards judging panel.
Melinda Szymanik is a highly regarded writer of children’s fiction. Her books include Jack the VikingThe Were-Nana and A Winter’s Day in 1939. Recipient of the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer’s Residency in 2014, Melinda recently completed a Diploma in Children’s Literature from the University of Canterbury.
Te Rangi Rangi Tangohau (Te Aitanga ā Hauiti, Te Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāi Tuhoe) is Principal Librarian Children’s Services at HB Williams Memorial Library, Gisborne. Te Rangi Rangi continues to ‘raise reading levels’ for kura kaupapa Māori children participating in the Kiki Taumata programme. The programme is conducted in te reo Māori and supported by senior students.
Lawren Matrix (Ngāi Tuhoe, Ngāti Koura) is the Children’s Librarian at Te Matariki Clendon library in Auckland. Lawren is responsible for the provision of Māori-specific programming, story-time visits and other programmes designed for children and youth on behalf of Auckland Libraries. Lawren has strong connections with Māori and Pasifika community groups in the Clendon and the wider Auckland area.
Mereana Taungapeau (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai) is Heritage Programme Adviser, Māori, at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Mereana is involved in a number of outreach programmes responsible for connecting Māori children, youth and adults to library collections. Mereana has wide experience of delivering library outreach programmes for local kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Excuse me while I do the limbo...

This year is a year without a book. I have a small project which will be out in print next month and I have been writing, mostly on the novel which I began while at the Pah Homestead, but this has been a fallow year. Sitting on the sideline watching the book world move forward without me. Excuse me while I do the limbo.

After the hurly burly of the last few years this feels strange. But I am no stranger to strange. Much of the first half of the year was spent at the Pah Homestead. Several months ago my focus was on preparation for our big overseas trip and then we embarked on the trip itself, which was awesome and monumental, both literally and figuratively. And then we returned and the remainder of the year fell into a kind of limbo with few fixed dates. The most excellent NZ Book Week (in the last week of October) and the wonderful and full of warm fuzzies NZ Bookshop day (on Halloween!!) was a most welcome departure from this. Huge thanks to the NZSA for rescuing this incredibly important event, and to the two bookshops (Time Out Bookstore in Mt Eden and the Dorothy Butler Children's Bookshop in Ponsonby) who invited me along on the 31st to share in their celebrations. It was a day of mutual love and respect between booksellers, writers and illustrators, and readers, and every one felt very wanted by the end of the day. I have everything crossed and knotted that this becomes an annual arrangement.

But the rest of the time... well ... I'm mostly still in limbo. It feels like being in one of those flotation chambers where you have no choice but to be introspective. I've been navel gazing and reading posts and articles on the social media platforms I'm signed up to which can be a very dangerous occupation. And trying to fathom twitter which is a deep well of weirdness. Whether Essena O'Neill's reasons for quitting social media were honest or not she's right about sites like facebook, twitter and tumblr being a heavily filtered version of reality. Even if photos and comments are raw and genuine, folk still curate their images and words carefully to show the side of themselves they are willing to reveal. And people have agendas. Twitter, while it still feels like learning a foreign language, is a perfect example of an agenda driven medium. All sorts of strangers have started following me and I know it's not because of my phenomenal wit and stunning beauty (ahem - cough) as clearly neither of these are on display on the platform (cough, cough). For some, it's because they hope to sell me something at some point, whether it's their services or their books. I am allergic to direct selling, preferring to find my books by way of good writing and discovering an author is really cool and has interesting things to say, which seems to be a novel way of doing things these days. And I always (where possible) try and buy my required services locally. And yet twitter  is so interesting. Social media has multiple means of luring you in and turning you into an internet zombie ... anyways, as always, I have digressed.  

So, while I wander the labyrinth of social media like a modern day  Ulysses without a ball of string wondering whether I mind being lost or not, 2016 looms... looking mostly like a blank canvas. The thought of a new year is always a mixture of dread and giddy anticipation. So many possibilities, so much free time.

I do have a picture book scheduled for release next June. Yay!! Fuzzy Doodle. Illustrated by the marvelous Donovan Bixley and published by Scholastic. I don't have any pics to share yet and I am feeling a little coy about revealing any part of the story. Soz. But soon folks ... soon you can have a wee peek...

So, one key event for 2016, and the rest has still been feeling like a yawning chasm of nothing. An emptiness...

I booked a few things to give myself the illusion of busy and/ or important. Tickets for my SO and I to see The Tempest at the Pop Up Globe Theatre in March. And a follow up specialist's appointment in October. Woohoo! But after the schedules of the last few years things were still looking a leedle bit barren. Don't worry, my SO said, things will crop up. That's pretty much always been my philosophy too. Stay connected and involved. Keep writing - cos that's what I like to do. And have faith that things will arrive to pepper the calendar with busy and/or important. And fun!

And you know what? It's already started happening...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stewing in a soup of fear of failure

I joined twitter. If you notice my sentences getting shorter you'll know why. It was all part of the plot to be able to pitch some of my manuscripts to publishers and agents. This opportunity was offered at the Tinderbox conference and it seemed like a relatively easy way to gain the attention of some key players. I'd been thinking about jumping in to the twitterverse anyways and here was some very good motivation. So I jumped.

The astrophysical imagery is apt as Twitter does indeed seem like another planet after hanging around on facebook and blogger for so long. The pace, the brevity, the style and shape of conversations, are like nothing else I know. I guess it's probably good for my brain as I learn a whole new approach to social interaction.

But I digress. I joined twitter partly to satisfy my curiosity, partly cos of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), and partly to be able to pitch. And the pitching was easy. Tweet the correct hashtag with a brief tagline for your story and publishers and agents could search the hashtag and check it out. For Tinderbox it was #TBPitMad. If they favourite your tweet you could then query them with the story, referencing the pitching opportunity. And the thing is people that the Tinderbox pitch session was only one of many springing up regularly on twitter (my latest go was with #PBPitch - you can go and search these hashtags to get an idea of how it works). And these are generally international opportunities (although the agents and publishers may not always appreciate that fact?). And in the end most of the publishers and agents are open to general querying even if you don't get favourited. Realistically I don't know what the success rate is like and I suspect it's no greater than other more traditional channels of querying but it's very motivating. I have emailed off a rash of queries in the last few weeks with several different projects. Exciting stuff...

But also, as I know all too well, subsequently terrifying. Weirdly for a published author, I am a very private person when it comes to my writing. I don't share it widely before I send it off to publishers. It seems waaayyy easier to have my work judged by strangers then it is by fellow authors, other friends and relatives. I get my story to a stage that I feel happy with on my ownsome and then I start submitting. Then it's the moment of stark unavoidable truth. Sometimes I show other folk after I've submitted. I am weird that way. By then it's too late.

As an author, if you are following the path of traditional publication, whenever possible you should have some work out there, submitted. If one of your goals is traditional publication, submissions are just a day-to-day part of your job description. Thought being a writer meant you devoted all of your spare waking moments to your craft?? Ha ha. Think again. An appreciable part of your daily grind will be researching who to send your work to, how to send it, polishing queries, worrying about the strength of your query, trying to summarise your work in one or two pithy compelling sentences, wondering if your word length will put them off, trying to locate the name of the editor, sometimes wondering if that's a woman's name or a man's. Sometimes that is all so overwhelming that you think I just can't even... and then you go on facebook for a while. And so the twitter pitch seems inordinately manageable in comparison. Too easy in fact.

I went a little crazy...

It sucks you in and makes you excited about the process and before you know it you've wrangled your query and the synopsis and the biography and cut and pasted some text into the body of an email and pressed send. And then the slow dawning realisation that I am staring down the barrel of  all their responses.The waiting. The wondering. The post posting analysis. Sure, I like my analysis to arrive after it's too late to act (see above). And it leaves me drenched in that heady emotional mix of hope and terror. Like stewing in a soup of fear of failure. The thing they never tell you about pigeons coming home to roost is how much pigeon poop there is. How thick should I be growing my skin? How much loin girding will be required? My mum always asks me if I have anything out on submission. Well mum, at the moment I do. I'll let you know how I get on...