Monday, October 7, 2013

Happily hanging out in a parallel universe...

My first story was accepted for publication back in July 2002. A second was accepted in October of the same year and ended up coming out first in April 2003. Both were short stories. My first picture book was accepted 2004 and my first novel in 2006. I'd been writing for several years before that first acceptance and dabbling secretly for many years before that.

If I knew what lay ahead of me before the first 'yes' I don't think I would have believed it. Not because it is more than I could have imagined. Although at times it has been (and then there have been the other times when it has been downright depressing and way less than what I hoped for). Not because publishing and books are inexorably changed from when I started out - and they are, in ways few could have predicted. It is because this has turned out nothing like my expectations, and the more time passes the less sure I am of what will happen next.

Don't get me wrong - I like where I am at. I'm proud and excited by the way things are going most of the time. But if you'd asked me to predict where I'd be ten or 15 years down the track I don't think you would have been able to accuse me at any point of having ESP.

Which leads to a small problem I have when I think about what advice to give new writers.  Okay, all the basics are still true. The fundamental tenets of writing and editing are still the same. Characters, plots, settings and voice all function pretty much like they always have (okay maybe they have gone a bit post-postmodern). And the advice about joining organisations and writers groups is still true. Even the rules about submitting are still the same, although the range of alternatives to traditional submissions has widened. But at some point I seem to have hopped onto a parallel universe. One populated by that alien chameleon Benedict Cumberbatch. Where time runs differently, sometimes indifferently, and never uniformly. Where the things most likely to happen don't, but the most unexpected and often lovely things do. And the best piece of advice I can give you now was crystallised in my mind as I watched the weirdest sitcom on tv last night "Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23". It's not rocket science. And it's not new (and that programme is really very strange). Networking is how you make things happen. Sending your CV out, honing your letter of introduction and waiting at home for the phone to ring have their place. But more things are likely to happen if you get out there and shake hands, introduce yourself, get seen and take a chance. That doesn't mean you can push things. Results are usually best when they happen organically. As in, you plant that seed, water it and walk away and wait for the sun and time to make things grow. I've had eggs in baskets that haven't hatched and yet chicks have popped up in other places. I've tossed my hat in the ring and had it flung back at me, hitting me in the back of the head. But sometimes it gets returned with an invitation. Or with bells on.

I can't guarantee you results. No one can. But you have a greater chance of being in the right place at the right time if you go places where things happen. Fill in those stretches where the only thing that happens is your impatience, by making new connections, saying yes to things that drag you out of your comfort zone and where you don't even say anything but you see and are seen.And be open to things. Because I'm discovering the unexpected is a pretty great place to find yourself in.

Now that I've exhausted all my metaphors we are off to have a rest.

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