Saturday, 31 March 2012

Competition and the all important question of 'why?'

It's a simple question really isn't it?

It's one that I've neglected a fair bit writing Blackbrooke. In my quest to create something mysterious and creepy, as well as focusing on the relationship between my characters, I'd neglected this all important question.

My last edit of the book was to cut things out. The agent who gave me the feedback was right - I was overly descriptive on the movements and mannerisms of my characters, resulting in it reading like more of a screenplay than a book. It was like I didn't trust the reader to imagine it for themselves. Well, I've relinquished this control now and cut most of the 'stage direction'.

It reduced my page numbers by about 20, which I thought made all of the difference when the book stood at 334 pages. Too long for a teenagers novel, I'd thought.

However, once I'd finished, something made me go through it one more time. And it was that very question of 'Why?'

When you're writing something straight from your imagination, you're living it. You're so entrenched in the story that you fill in the gaps yourself, assuming the reader will reach the same conclusion.

So, I found Blackbrooke in a strange place - I didn't trust reader enough to let them imagine whether or not my heroine scratched her nose or bit her lip as she spoke, but I left them to build the history of the town I'd created and the people in it.

Dos went to see The Hunger Games at the cinema this week whereas I've spent the last few days devouring the book. I found it remarkable whereas Dos curled his lip at the film, saying there were too many things unanswered. So, he asked all of the questions the film refused to answer and I filled in the blanks for him.

It got me thinking about Blackbrooke and the fact that I don't want people to read it and come away with a whole bunch of unanswered questions. My third edit is completely ruining the 'cutting down' of edit number two as the page number has increased by ten and I'm still going.

It's time consuming, but quite fun to go into the things that matter in a bit more detail. It's helping to shape my heroine a little more as well and make her more likeable to me, whereas before I found her aloof yet a bit pathetic at times (yes, even I couldn't figure out someone I'd created myself!) but now I can see her filling out and gaining some much-needed colour.

It's not just her, its all of them. The town of Blackbrooke too. I can really feel a sparkle of magic from it and I'm really excited to get it back out there, under the noses of agents.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm now reading the The Hunger Games trilogy which was something I've been avoiding for a really long time. I was scared to read something, aimed at the same audience as Blackbrooke, in fear of it being just that bit too bloody amazing and rendering my writing skills completely useless.

You see, I'm not a competitive person, not in the least. In fact, quite the opposite - if I found myself suddenly placed in a race against others (or, fittingly, in the Hunger Games themselves), I wouldn't fight. I'd cower away and let someone else win while watching from the sidelines. I've always been this way, even from my school days where I'd try and opt out of netball and rounders so I could just watch instead.

If someone tells me that I'm down to the final two in an interview process, my first reaction is to hold my hands up and say 'let them have it', and I remember a team building exercise in a previous job where I failed miserably and came last by absolute miles because I had to pretend in my own head that I was doing it alone in order to get through it. By the time I'd rejoined my team on that particular occasion, they were halfway through lunch and eyeing me as though I was mental. Or just a complete loser.

I'm not a shy girl, but competition renders me useless and uncomfortable. I can't even join in with a computer game where I have to play against someone, unless I completely zone out. You'll find me in an arcade at an amusement park, slipping a pound into House of the Dead, closing one eye and taking aim with my gun. Just me against the zombies. I always do pretty well, levelling up, managing to take down dozens of the things, that is until someone comes and stands at my side. As soon as they pick up the gun and place the money in the machine to play alongside me, my gun goes down and I let them kill me. I'll shrug hopelessly and smile, while I return to my usual place of cheering the other person on.

It's most odd.

Anyway, the Hunger Games is a similar story. I didn't want to read because I thought that I'd wilt that little bit more after every turn of the page. Almost as though, Suzanne Collins was reaching out from the paper and waving her finger at me.

"Give it up, Emma. This is the sort of stuff you're up against." 

It was that thinking that would lead to me slamming the book back down in the shop and stalking out, red-faced. But I decided enough was enough. With a defeatist attitude, I don't stand a chance of getting published and even if I did, how would I react when I saw my book on the shelves with all of the others? Cry and run away? Or would I (and I can actually see myself doing this...) just buy every single copy of my own book just so it didn't have to sit next to all of the others with their fancier covers and more intelligent plots?

It's silly.

I gave up on the idea of acting and singing when I was a teenager, despite loving it, because I couldn't compete against others and wound myself up to the point of sickness.

I refuse to let the same thing happen again with writing. I'm stronger than that and the first thing I need to do is embrace the competition.

I read The Hunger Games and rushed out to buy the others from the trilogy straight away and I'm kicking myself for not doing this sooner. Between reading the Hunger Games, I've gotten stuck into my Point Horror books and also bought some other teen horror books by different writers. I'm having a ball. I thought it would make me feel inadequate but instead, it's just inspiring me to be a better writer. Reading is like exercising the writing muscles. You don't examine the words too closely (especially if the story sweeps you along) but its opening your mind and making you better at what you do.

I'm not preaching to anyone here but myself.

When I was buying a stack of books yesterday, the lady who served me pointed at one and asked if I'd read the other books by that author. I had to admit I hadn't (even though I desperately wanted to sound well versed and lie) and she smiled and said: "Well, they're really good, I recommend them. She's an amazing writer."

I left the shop with my new purchases and got a tiny rush of excitement that maybe, just maybe, someone will be saying those words about me one day.



Sunday, 18 March 2012

Two steps forward, none back

I keep moving forward.

That's really good isn't it? I'm ploughing on forward with Blackbrooke II (despite not having the first one published of course) and, with almost 40,000 words under my belt, it's really coming along. In my very biased opinion, I think it's a strong sequel and I really see the series as a trilogy - all planned out in my head.

There's just one problem.

I've got some major re-write work to do on the first one. Also, anyone remember a little book I wrote called Driving Exile? Yep? Well, that needs a re-write as well. The only thing is, I'm struggling to go back and revisit what I've already written.

How do I put it? It's just

My imagination is working overtime getting the new ideas out and I just can't seem to engage the brain to do the important stuff and sort out my existing material. And the thing is, the existing material IS more important because that's the stuff I need to send off to agents.

If I was to list everything I need to do in order of priority, editing and rewriting Blackbrooke and Driving Exile would be at the top. But what am I spending my time doing instead? Oh yes, I'm reading Point Horror books and writing the sequel to an unpublished and incomplete book.

Work doesn't help. I get so bogged down with the day job (I'm one of those people who can't NOT put 100% effort into everything I do - more of a curse than a blessing in this case) so I come away from it exhausted and usually stressed. I'll constantly check my emails through the evening and then spend time worried about going back the next day in case I've forgotten to do something or I get into trouble for something else. It doesn't leave a lot of room for my writing - the one thing I actually want to do.

So when I get in and I actually do want to write, I'll do the fun part and write new material rather than revisiting the old stuff.

It's also a pride thing. I hate going back and amending. I'm always so hard on myself and just feel like such a failure when I read back through what I've written. I physically wince at some sentences that don't sound intelligent or witty enough.

I even read back through my blog posts to check for mistakes and can't help but think that people reading it are muttering, "Jesus, no wonder this girl isn't published - she's crap" or "Bloody hell, if this girl calls herself a writer then I might try it. I'm better than her".

Basically editing my work is mentally draining and I come away feeling crap about myself. That, coupled with constantly feeling like a failure in my day job, makes it really tough.

I know I need to just suck it up and do it though, otherwise my biggest fear of just having a bunch of word documents sat on my computer will be realised. I haven't sent any new manuscripts off for a while because I have this editing work to do (that, as well as having to shell out for new printer cartridges) so right now, I'm not progressing at all.

Is this what they call a crisis of confidence? Urgh, feels like it.

I'm going to take myself off to the park for a wander and read the works of some published authors for a little while until I muster up enough back-bone to go back and amend my work.

Note to self: Do get a grip.



Saturday, 10 March 2012

Triple whammy

Ah, the Rule of Three.

This week has been a perfect example of this in my world with the following occurring:

Moving house
Turning 27
Book rejection


Spending my birthday scrubbing and painting my old flat with Uno isn't going to go in the history books as the best birthday ever (however, I fear it'll be one that I won't forget in a hurry). It was all for the greater good though as I'm now saw in my cosy new flat in the suburbs of Liverpool typing while I rock out to Planet Rock.

I've been ferrying my things to the new flat all week before I finally handed the keys back yesterday. On Tuesday evening, after throwing all manner of articles in the back of my car, I decided to stop and check my emails. And there it was.

The first Blackbrooke rejection.

As far as rejections go, it was the best yet. Someone had actually read it and taken the time to give me some constructive criticism. It's still a tough pill to swallow and the first reaction for me is to bawl my eyes out. Not because I'm a big baby (well, not entirely...) just because, when I do anything in life, I put my heart and soul into it and it hits me right in the chest if I feel like I've failed.

I've not had the time to write in the last couple of days and I suppose that's been a good thing because a rejection can jolt you. It's like the rejection acts as an earthquake and once it stops, you spend a bit of time, arms outstretched to the side, learning how to balance again. You can't help but wonder whether you're just not very good at this. Is it just another faddy hobby? Will I have a few more rejections and decide I'm not a writer anymore and turn my hand to something else? I damn well hope not.

For those writers who've received constructive criticism, you'll understand the slight dilemma I face. I want to soak in the advice like a sponge and take to the manuscript and perform some major cosmetic surgery. However, what's actual advice that needs to be acted on and how much comes down to their personal preference? Do other writers ignore these comments and stick to their guns? There's something slightly foolish about that in my mind as this is an outsider who's in the industry, offering her thoughts. Surely it would be silly to disregard them, but where do you draw the line? If I keep doing that (providing Blackbrooke gets to the 'feedback' stage again), then will I be left with a Frankensteins monster of a book - full of random writing styles and potentially a completely different plot? It's a tough one.

For all of my procrastinating, and after spending the last couple of days licking my wounds, I truly am so grateful to receive something worthwhile back from an agent for the first time. And this is the first agent I've sent Blackbrooke to so I can't beat myself up too much.

All of my friends who are aware of Blackbrooke weren't concerned with it, politely reminding me that's the way it goes. There will be more rejections along the way and I'm not even into double figures yet (counting Driving Exile) so I must plough on.

Sometimes the impossibility of it all overwhelms me. It's like painting a picture or creating a song - all down to timing.

A funny thing happened to Uno this week whereby she was in the car with her two sisters and a song came on that she really liked so she turned up the volume, to which her little sister piped up, "Are you kidding me? When I played you this song a few weeks ago, you said you hated it!" Uno denied this ever happened but on reflection, she did remember her sister playing the song, it was just that, at that particular time and place, she didn't really listen to it.

I think this an example of how it works when I send off my manuscript. If I manage to catch an agent at the right place, at the right time, when they're in the right mood, then they may love it. If I don't, then its a standard rejection.

Right place at the right time.

It all just seems so impossible sometimes and so beyond my reach. It's totally out of my control, I just have to make sure that I'm always part of the race. You have to be in it to win it, as they say. If I gave up  now, I'd always be wondering whether Blackbrooke or Driving Exile would hit the right person and the right time.

So, onwards I go in my quest to get published.



Ps. I'm now the proud owner of a WH Smith Blue Fox typewriter, courtesy of Uno after spotting it at one of the car boot sales we did recently to flog some stuff from my flat. Check it out, I'm now officially a crazy writer.