Amazing rejections

I’ve had some amazing rejections lately. You might think that would be slightly depressing – and you’d be right. It is. A little.

But I’ve received three rejections from two different genres of short story market and all three have given me personalised feedback and encouragement. It feels as though – just maybe – I might be nearly there. (I know – there is no ‘there’. Yet I continue to strive for it nonetheless.)

The first rejection regarded two stories that were shortlisted for an anthology. The second referred to two shorts – and had specific advice on where to rework. Re-writing with comments from a respected editor is like walking with the lights on! Makes a wonderful change from walking down a pitch dark highway. In high heels. In the rain.

Tonight, the third submission didn’t quite fit with the theme of the issue but generated some really positive comments. (Maybe I can save them for the book cover of collected stories?) The editor (who I’m now in love with) added that she’d be interested in reading my full length ms.

Deep breath. Don’t get your hopes up. There is no ‘there’. Etc.

How’s your creative work going? Are you ‘getting there’?

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Freedom to fail

My divorce is imminent. As I come closer to one kind of freedom the words race to be expelled.

I’m working on a number of short stories at the moment and feel very driven to get them finished. It’s wonderful to feel inspired and motivated but it’s also exhausting. Having children to take care of by myself, as well as commitments ranging from neurotic dogs to a range of freelance jobs, I’m finding it difficult to slow down. And that’s as frustrating sometimes as finding hard to rev up. I don’t want to be too scattered nor spread myself too thinly.

Last week I did a final edit of The Shape of Beauty and Robertson’s Dairy, two speculative fiction shorts I want to send to the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. The week before I redrafted Kinky Freedom, one of my favourite short stories ever. This week I’ve finished a first draft of another short. But I don’t want to rush these new stories out; usually if I let stories compost I can take them to another level after a few months.

One that’s giving me real trouble is The System because it’s so far from my usual genre. I’m really enjoying stretching myself this way but it’s like raising another teenager (for teenager read alien). Every few days I go back to it thinking I have it worked out, that I finally understand what it needs, only to be brought up short once again. Rework, refine. Repeat.

Meanwhile my YA ms patiently awaits polishing after its second draft two months ago. My adult fiction ms awaits feedback from its first beta-read, and I continue to wait until December when a second query will be up. Planning for my second adult novel has stalled to a grinding halt with a garden half designed and file cards and synopsis strewn about the house.

Then there’s Writing Australia’s Unpublished Manuscript Award to get sorted for, the blog I’m mounting, and putting my six year old to bed. See? Scattered.

If I had a husband I’m sure I wouldn’t have time for all this – but perhaps I wouldn’t feel so driven either. As my life stands at 40 I have my children and my writing. My writing is my gift to myself.

Learning about planning

I am approaching my fourth manuscript in a radically different way from my others. I’m not just planning – which I finally decided to do with the last one – I’m PLANNING. I’ve got file cards going on, I have a timeline and family trees and there’s no way I’m going to fill in the research after. Even writing that sounds ridiculous! Who would write about pre-war London and fill in the information about the architecture after?

Well, probably me at one time.

I don’t imagine planning is going to change my world, bring me Aaron Johnson or the elusive trillion-dollar book deal, but I’m not interested in the outcome so much as the process and how great it feels.

With Morning Drink I still find myself thinking about the characters while I’m off doing my right-brain stuff, and have a copious file of extra thoughts I feel compelled to add to the story. I hate feeling as though it is never going to be finished. Of course, even more than that I hate re-writing seven hundred times because I wrote myself into corners. From Not Planning.

So when I begin writing this next work I’m looking forward to having a very clear idea of my structure and not writing myself up trees and into relationships that make no sense or are physically or temporally impossible . I’m already itching to start drafting but I’m furiously denying myself until at least after Christmas. When I wave that metaphorical flag and allow myself to start running I’m going to be absolutely delighted to meet my characters and start making them breathe.

I hope they won’t mind that I have their whole lives mapped out for them. I also hope they behave – and do as they’re told…

How do you plan your writing? Do your characters stick to the script?

Writing Down the Bones: On Natalie Goldberg

Natalie is so much a part of me she even showed up in my manuscript At the Hour of the Morning Drink. When her voice begins to shine through in my writing it isn’t because I’m sitting with her books in my hand and typing up phrases, it’s because her words have done exactly what she said the words of my favourite writers should do; they have been absorbed into a deeper part of my consciousness.

Natalie has been my greatest teacher for many years – without her I might be typing this blog post but I’d have arrived via a quite different route.

Thanks to her I discovered how to trust everything I had been doing. I’d been on the right track all along! I’d been composting, working with my obsessions, going for the jugular. Practising my craft.

I knew it wasn’t a bad thing to write pages and pages of words. I knew in my belly that somehow I would figure out what to do with them. Now it was writing practise – I was doing the daily exercise that would one day make me a strong writer.

I knew I needed to be observant but Nat put down on the page concrete ways to do this. Sit in cafes and write about the dried blob of barbecue sauce on the menu, the dry grey décor, the little blond boy at the table opposite, whose sleeves are too short.

She nodded – yes, it’s okay to write what’s under the surface. The stuff that’s not nice.

My writing began to extend. Instead of just writing about LL (lost love) over and over, I wrote about my step-father, my brother, my best friend. I wrote about Deauville and Madeira and Cornwall and London. I began to see my passions in black and white – the themes that would separate me from other writers.

I could write about Nat for hours. How I’d like to play word games with her, sit in cafes and write and write, walk the warm evening streets of Taos with her. Share chocolate chip cookies.

So don’t be surprised when she shows up in my writing. She’s there along with my other loves as I strive to be more and more myself.

Who shows up in your writing and what do they say?

Why I Write

I write because I can’t stop myself.

I ‘began’ writing three times. Once at the age of thirteen in an old hardback notebook of my grandmother’s. The second time I was nineteen and wrote two-thirds of a play I had no idea what to do with. The third time was at twenty-four when I decided categorically I didn’t want to live alongside everyone else. I wanted to hide from a life that hurt too much.

Sixteen years later I’m about to have my first short story published. Life still visits me daily and I battle her and also embrace her. And  – as I have done since I was thirteen, and probably younger – I write to feel the pen in my hand, the paper beneath my wrist as I move it across the page. And in the years between I have slowly learned what to do with the words I’m compelled to put on paper because I can’t stop moving my hand.