Monday, 20 July 2015

Coping With Criticism

Hi everyone.

So Wimbledon has finished but I still have the Ashes and the Tour de France to distract me from writing so all is not lost. And it's a bit cooler (sorry if you love the summer!) although horribly humid at times. But then it is the middle of July so I suppose that's understandable.

It's been a bit of a tricky time for me on the writing front since my last post and not just for the afore mentioned reasons. I heard back from the agent who had asked to see all the sample copy relating to my proposed non-fiction book Dear Elsie, based on letters I inherited from my grandmother and which has a strong link to Downton Abbey. She asked to see the rest of the book which would have been great except that I haven't written it yet. My understanding is that with non-fiction books (unlike novels) you don't write the whole book until you get a contract with a publisher so it was a bit of a surprise.

Anyway, I plucked up courage to ring her again to explain the situation which was not a problem apparently and she was clearly interested in the material. However, what did appear to be a problem was my sample copy which she absolutely slated. It felt like the equivalent of someone taking a huge red pen and writing negative comments all over it. There wasn't one positive remark in her critique and although I agreed with some of her analysis and tried very hard not to be defensive, it was a painful experience.

Of course, it's not the first time I've had my writing "mauled" by an editor or agent and if I manage to keep going, it probably won't be the last. However, for some reason I found this particular experience much harder to take than any other. This was possibly because of the rather personal nature of the book, possibly because there is a lot more riding on it than ever before and possibly because my expectations for the project are much higher than perhaps they should be, especially as the first agent I sent it to said he thought it would be a bestseller.

Anyway, whatever the reason, it had the unfortunate effect of really knocking my confidence not just in the material but in all my writing, and even my crafting, as well. Although I immediately talked about what had happened to as many people as possible and picked up some useful advice (the optician was particularly helpful!) it was almost ten days before I was able to look at the material again. By then I had recovered a bit and was able to pick out the parts of the agent's critique which I felt were worth taking on board. Most importantly though, having re-read the material as objectively as I could, I was relieved to discover that despite everything the agent had said, I felt very strongly indeed that I should stick to my guns and that give or take a degree of rewriting, I need to stand by the material.

The whole experience has been an interesting if very challenging one and has reminded me that so much of writing is not really about the writing at all. It's about self-belief, confidence, perseverance, coping with criticism, getting back on the horse and keeping your eye on the bigger picture.

In the words of that well-known writer Adele, "sometimes it lasts...but sometimes it hurts instead."

Back in a couple of weeks, all being well.

Digitally created by Melissa Lawrence 2015

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Heat Is On

Hi everyone.

Well, that was a heatwave and a half! Hopefully by now it is on its way out (apologies if you are a sun worshipper) and temperatures will be more conducive to working. Mind you, I can't just blame the heat for a bit of a dip in productivity this week. It probably has as much to do with a certain tennis tournament which is now in full swing, no pun intended.

I did manage to take the damp towel off my forehead and put down my Pimm's for a few minutes this week, to continue the ongoing quest to find an agent to represent my proposed non-fiction book My Dear Elsie. As I've mentioned before, this is the book based on a collection of letters I inherited from my grandmother and which has a very strong link to Downton Abbey.

The agent I approached this week actually invites phone calls for non-fiction book queries, which in itself is pretty amazing, not to mention extremely helpful. As I've said to anyone who will listen, it's easier to get to speak to the Pope than it is to an agent. Anyway, the agent in question has asked to see all my sample copy (the first one to do so) which is an encouraging sign and I await her response with interest.

The other thing I'm pleased about this week is that I've made a decision to go back to writing fiction, something I haven't done for about two years now. Although I have a number of unpublished children's novels which I could work on again, plus one or two ideas for new ones, I thought it would be more sensible to wait until I (hopefully) have acquired an agent who might be helpful in looking at where I am at with my children's books. So it is back to writing short stories again, probably for the women's magazine market as I'm keen to try and boost my tally of published short stories to at least double figures.

I decided that a good starting point was to sort out my rather hefty folder of unpublished short stories, which turned out to be quite an interesting exercise and also meant I could put off actually having to write one for a bit longer. I always think that a good test of how well-written something is comes from re-reading it after a very long period of time. If it feels like someone else has written it, if it makes you laugh (or cry) and if you don't guess your own ending, then that can be a sign that it still has merit. I found one or two stories which fitted into this category and a large number that didn't, as well as a few which I feel could be rewritten as flash fiction.

I also came across a sheet of hints and tips on writing women's magazine fiction which are quite useful and I thought I'd share some of them with you here.

1. Keep sentence structure simple. Avoid using colons and semi-colons.

2. Language needs to be simple and straightforward. Sentences should be short and punchy.

3. Always contract everything possible ie I'd, you'll, she's etc.

4. Don't try to be too literary or too highbrow. (Save that for the small press magazines.)

5. Your lead character should be female and strong, not too wimpy.

6. Tell the story from one character's viewpoint only.

These are pretty basic suggestions but useful if, like me, you are thinking of returning to or trying out the highly competitive world of women's magazine fiction. For more detailed do's and don'ts, plus useful market analysis on where to send your work, I can highly recommend

Stay cool, if you can!

Reading In The Canoe
by Anderson C Sanders Anderson