The value of perseverance in writing and creating: A personal account

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Recently I went from having no publishing offers to having to decide between two – I know, the irony! This is for a novel I wrote in two very different versions, and after deciding that the first one was best, going on to rewrite it many times.

My writing pathway to finding a publisher

My process over more than ten years included the following steps:

  • Redrafting my manuscript over again
  • Engaging editors for the first and part of the second-to-last major redrafts
  • Paying a mentor (a costly and negative experience)
  • Reading countless writing books and doing my best to apply the learning
  • Undertaking many writing-related courses in person and online, including on poetry, book publishing and creativity
  • Submitting my manuscript, garnering interest but being rejected many times
  • Nearly giving up a few times, before picking myself up off the floor and starting over
  • Taking on the feedback for two advanced drafts from my long-suffering writing group.

It’s often said that a writer’s first two novels are their learner books and that the third is publishable. Alternatively, people talk about writers needing to practice their craft for ten years before reaching a publishable standard. For me, redrafting the same story in various forms was how I progressed my craft. I didn’t want to let go of my story, focusing instead on improving it ad nauseam. And so ten years passed by…

Until finally, it paid off. (Although I’m well aware that having found a publisher, I haven’t achieved publishing success yet. But that’s a whole other journey.)

It was nothing! (Lies)

It would be easy to look back and say that it was worth it, or even that it was fun or easy. Ten years – nothing! But the truth is that like all writing, it was both wondrous and torturous, easy and impossible. For years there was rejection after rejection, no promise of publication (ever!) and no guarantee of any return for my hours of toil, the income I forewent or the money I spent on my book.

And yet writing and creating was and remains the only thing that makes me feel professionally fulfilled. I actually become restless and irritable if I don’t write creatively.

Key things I did to find a publisher

After I announced the two offers on a Facebook writing group, a couple of writing colleagues contacted me to ask how I found a publisher? Some had achieved agent interest, which after a time had waned.

While I’m no expert, I answered them because writers need the camaraderie of others to help pick them up when they’re feeling uncertain. These are the key things I told them. They’re simple and probably obvious, but nonetheless powerful, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves:

  • Always be open to improving your craft and never be complacent or arrogant – Too often authors become attached to their work. Get some distance and reevaulate after a break. Kill your darlings etc.
  • Believe in your story (or let it go and move on) – If you don’t, who else will? Believe in it to your core
  • Believe in your abilities – Again, if you don’t, no one else will. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn new things. Writing is an art, but it’s technical and involves a lot of craft
  • Find your publisher fit, only going where you’re wanted – Whether that’s a large publisher, an independent one, or a small one. What’s their speciality, do they love your kind of work and genre, what are their values? Alignment is key. Publishing is business but it’s also a relationship
  • Get philosophical (or zen, or something similar) – While I’d got to a point where I believed – paradoxically and blindly – that I’d find a publisher, I honestly didn’t care anymore. I knew in my gut that my story was good and that was enough, so I sent it out and let go. Me and my story were ready and, amazingly, the world responded
  • Above all, persevere! As Churchill said, never give in. When you’re ready, dust yourself off and continue. Logically, you must to get there, in the end.

Are you ready to be published?

‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ Maya Angelou

Stoke your creative fires

While all fiction and creative non-fiction requires strong characters with something to say, my next novel, a strained family saga, is especially character driven. I’m reading The Art of Character by David Corbett to extend and deepen my abilities, and (in theory), liberate my creativity. What are you doing to improve your work?

‘Life is like riding a bicycle.
To keep your balance you must keep moving.’
Albert Einstein

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How to write again after a break

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For whatever reason you’ve had a break from writing. Perhaps life happened, you had a holiday, you felt burnt out or were just sick of your own words. Writing breaks can be good as they can:

  • Re-energise and refresh your writing enthusiasm
  • Give you a new perspective 
  • Re-inspire you
  • Allow your subconscious to solve writing challenges
  • Make you miss and remember why you write
  • Heal or prevent burnout

But how do you get back into it? The page seems daunting. You re-read what you wrote before and you aren’t sure if you can write that well again (It was a fluke. Not!). Or perhaps you don’t like what you wrote and it hits you that there’s more rewriting to be done.

Here are some ways to get back into it:

  1. Do morning pages, even if only for a few days or a week. They really are the way back into creativity versus rote writing. I’ve written about them here.
  2. Just do it. Take a breath, sit down (or stand if you’re like me) and begin. It may not be as bad as you think.
  3. Write something, anything to get your juices flowing again. A journal, a short but rich descriptive piece about your cat or big toe, a room or people you’ve watched in the street. A few paragraphs will do.
  4. Copy a page from one of your favourite author’s books. This is always a good way to get our writing going no matter whether you’ve had a break, need inspiration or want to take your writing up a notch. It’s a good way to learn from others you aspire to.
  5. Don’t forget to read good writing. That’s always motivating.

Don’t forget to have fun. You write for a reason, because you want to, you need to. Remember and honour that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The value of morning pages for writers

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Recently I began doing morning pages again. Morning pages are Julie Cameron’s idea from her book The Artist’s Way on how to improve creativity. They involve doing three longhand pages of stream-of-consciousness writing (or even drawing) about anything top of mind each morning. Usually this takes me 20-30 minutes.

I read Cameron’s book years ago and tried them but didn’t find them particularly useful. Recently I saw her give a lecture and was reminded about them so I thought I’d try them for a few days.

Well, I’m a convert. I do them on most working days now and they’ve been quite remarkable. These are the things I’ve found they help me with:

  • Setting daily priorities.
  • This includes setting writing goals and not letting them disappear amid other life demands.
  • Coming up with ideas on how to overcome writing problems. Later, when I attack them on the page, they don’t seem nearly as daunting.
  • Venting and get things off your mind so you can focus better without such annoying distractions.
  • Other things that have been bothering me suddenly come up on the page, usually with a resolution. Afterwards I feel a sense of clarity and lightness.
  • They just make everything deeper, no matter how irritated I feel about doing them.

I find if I don’t do my morning pages, I’m less focused, my goals are less defined and I achieve less. My time fritters away and I end up feeling a diminished sense of achievement and even frustration compared to when I do them.

Maybe you don’t need them right now, but they’re a good thing to bear in mind should you find writing becomes more challenging. Happy writing.