I was planning my next novel the other day (as you do). As many of you know, there are apparently two types of novel-writers, the pantsers and the planners.
I’m a planner.
I use the excellent ‘Save the Cat’ for story structure, mostly so I can use phrases like ‘break into Act 3.’ Ripping up little bits of paper for the required fifteen sections, I filled in what I could, hoping the blank sections would somehow become magically completed as I worked.
Number 12 is a story beat called ‘Dark Night of the Soul.’ By my calculations it occurs in Chapter 36 of 40.
When I looked over what I’d written, it said ‘main character realises she needs to be a fucking mum and get on with it,’ I realised this was exactly. It.
It’s now written on slip number 2: ‘Thematic Premise Stated.’
I am just settling back down to work. Chapter two of Novel number 4 – a woman sits in an office, trying to work on her PhD. Her phone rings: it’s her mother in law. Her phone rings again: this time it’s her friend.
The Spotify playlist I’m ignoring stops playing, my phone rings.
It’s Mr HB. Well, it’s Mr HB’s phone. My youngest had asked if he could ring, and Mr HB thought he wanted to say hello and ‘some other nice things.’
Fat chance. He had rung to tell me how bad his day had been.
Then Mr HB told me the oldest had been in trouble again. I listened as they lost screen for the afternoon and melted down.
Mr HB apologised. I went back to work. The woman got some work done. Her phone was silent: for now.
As a woman with mental health issues, and the parent of an enby kid, I’m often aware of other people’s male-cis-het-ableist privilege.
Today, however, I have the most privilege I’ve ever felt in my life.
- I am in an air bnb (financially secure enough for this, and multiple trips to Tesco for cashews and vegan chocolate)
- for two nights (not in a nine-five with four weeks of holiday a year)
- my children being looked after by their dad (co-parenting: surely the ultimate privilege?)
- writing (able to pursue this un-lucrative work for many years now)
- listening to music and podcasts (having decided I can afford Spotify: currently on free trial)
- and reading (only one was free from the library).
This is heaven.
This. An accident of birth, and race, cisgendered heterosexual marriage, and secure family that led me to this point.
Grateful for another thing that might not be considered classic gratitude material this week.
My notso successful writing career.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s going OK. I have crunched this year’s submission statistics, and not only are they a huge improvement on last year’s, they are above the average (which I believe is 1/7 acceptances: I had 1/4.2 this year!).
But despite this, I’m not working with multiple deadlines or receiving lots of requests for work. So when I wake up, like I did on Sunday, with a wee cold, I can stay in bed, drink Lucozade, and the edits and submissions can wait another day.
While I’m (not) on the subject, it’s OK to take sick leave when you are ill. My feelings on how this is perceived in UK workplaces would require more than 140 words for me to rant about!
Things I have written poems about,
an incomplete list:
My stretch marks
My grey hair
The incompatibility between birdwatching/cycling, and being a parent/creative
My nephew’s shoelaces
A bird I didn’t see
The village I live in
Batman’s Hot Pants
Art by Kirsty Whiten
Mental health recovery
Walking on a beach with Jesus
Washing up with Jesus
Being a jumped up little madam
Eavesdropping in a coffee shop and judging the people around me
An official council planning meeting
Michael Rosen (in the style of Michael Rosen)
Radio 4 (in the style of Hollie McNish)
Parenting (in the style of Helen Fielding)
Reading (in the style of Vicki Feaver)
Metaphor, via the vehicle of paper aeroplanes
What’s on your list?
Sitting in front of the computer trying to write the great British novel, or an entire spoken word set, or at least redraft that story I thought was good but ‘needs more work.’ I am so fortunate to be at home while the children are at school. I am so lucky to have the tools I need. I even tidied my work space this morning, shoved printed poems into the recycling. I wrote a To Do list.
I got nothing.
At 11ish, I give up and go for a cycle. I am so distracted by the amazing weather that I forget to put my helmet on. It’s like a pastoral symphony out there: butterflies and everything.
If you write, you’ll know how this story ends. I got home with two ideas for poems and wrote one in the garden’s sun.
For writers, a rate of one acceptance for every eight submissions is standard.
I had assumed that writing that was rejected was writing that wasn’t good enough, and I think sometimes that’s true.
But after a treasured, longed-for acceptance, I couldn’t help noticing that all further correspondence is about what an amazing writer I am. I’m not complaining about this – validation is wonderful.
But it’s a binary.
In or out.
Maybe it was 80% of the way there, maybe it was 40% appreciated, but all I can have is 100% or 0%. And this is before you add subjectivity or any sort of gender bias into the mix.
So I’m trying to be less swayed by both the ‘No, thank yous’, and the ‘Yes, pleases.’
My work is what it is.
I write: I let it fly.
Sometimes it lands, and sometimes it doesn’t.
I have never been patient.
I want it yesterday. I rush things and make silly mistakes in them.
I thought thirteen drafts would be enough. But it’s not.
I’ve been working on my second novel for two years now, and it’s not ready. I had the amazing opportunity to pitch it to a literary agent last weekend, and she told me exactly what was missing, what I still need to do.
Of course I would have loved to have been told that it was ready, and that I should start submitting! I’m OK though. It’s worth it. This novel is literally the best idea I’ve ever had for a book, if I’m going to get representation, I feel it’s my best chance.
And it is teaching me about writing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
You have to become patient.
‘I’m just emailing to see if you’d like to have an event at the Hub.’
This is a special feeling. I spend a lot of our time creating my own opportunities, submitting, asking to be included. Often, the answer is no answer. Often, the answer is ‘no thank you, please try again.’ Sometimes the answer is yes – an amazing feeling. But the question coming from someone else? This was a new one, a welcome addition to my writing experience.
So I am curating an event at Humbie Hub, with writer R L McKinney. It’s just over a month away, and I’m not as nervous as I am excited. We’ve planned such a great night, of stories, songs and STOVIES*. Please use the contact page if you’d like tickets. Or you can get them at the Hub!
*a traditional Scottish dish