editing

Popping my NaNoWriMo Cherry, Kind of…

University is a place of growth. I certainly have grown as a person, though not in height, unfortunately, and it’s only natural that my writing too would grow, in quality (I hope) and in length.

Primarily I’m a flash fiction writer. I know this, and embrace this, but I knew that I would never have as much time to explore different forms of writing and to develop myself as much as I do now, so I challenged myself to write longer prose and prose poetry. I can do this now, I think; the poetic lyricism yet striking nature of prose poetry and the length and power of short stories do not intimidate me.

It’s only natural that I attempt to acquire the skills necessary to tackle the behemoth of form: the novel. This year I’m studying a Researching and Planning an Extended Piece of Prose module and, though I could work on a collection of short stories, I really want to write a novel.

I want to learn how to take a character and an idea I could normally condense into 500, and sometimes much less, and expand and develop their world into a piece of fiction much longer than I have ever done before.

For some of you reading this you’ll be thinking ‘pffft, this is easy’, but when you’ve spent so long writing shorter pieces you get used to writing with such concision, leaving so much unwritten for the reader to feel for themselves, that you forget, or struggle, to write something beyond a few hundred words.

I know this will be a challenge for me and I believe NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) can help me achieve this. I’m vaguely aware of some type of website people use to interact with each other and discuss their novel, which I think is great, but it’s not for me. I have a lot of other studying to do, so Distraction does not need extra opportunities to hold me tight in its claws.

So I’m popping my NaNoWriMo cherry, kind of…because I started writing the first draft of my novel a few days before. Cheeky, I know, but as writers we all know that if it’s there in your head you need to get it down on paper, physical or virtual, before it disappears into the deepest shadows of our minds forever.

But here’s the good news: the first day I started writing my novel I wrote in excess of 3000 words! This may not sound a lot to most novel writers but for someone whose longest piece of fiction was roughly 2200 words I was numb with disbelief. Of course, first drafts are always nonsense, so maybe only 50 words may survive in some form, nevertheless it filled me with the feeling that maybe I can do this.

I plan to write a lot of the novel over November and, hopefully, December too, and want to write a minimum of 1000 words per day. Before NaNoWriMo I had around 4000 words, so 34,000 words after NaNoWriMo sounds grand to me: roughly halfway to the approximate word count I think it will be. So it’s more like National Half a Novel Writing Month for me!

Oh, and this definitely doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing flash fiction! I will always have a fondness for flash fiction and the things they can do that novels can’t.

To everyone reading this: whether you’re embarking on NaNoWriMo, developing on a WIP, redrafting a manuscript or anything at all, whatever your project is I wish you the best of luck!

The R-Word: How I’ve Turned Rejection Into My (Second) Best Friend

It’s inevitable; if you’re a writer and you submit writing to competitions or magazines you’re going to receive rejections. It’s one of the facts of life. Nobody likes to be rejected. Every “no” you receive makes you feel as if you’re not good enough, but here’s the thing, rejections can actually be your friend. I can hear you saying “What?!” now, but as I hope to explain in this article, rejections can make you a better, stronger writer.

Now everyone is different, another fact of life, so these are the 5 things I do when I get a rejection, and they work best for me. It’s how I’ve made rejection my second best friend. I say second because, obviously, my first best friend is an acceptance of publication. (Of course, I’m not talking about actual human beings).

I’m certainly no expert, but this list details what I personally do when I receive a rejection, and I find it helps me a lot and wish to share it with you all:

 

  1. Update my spreadsheet.
    In my previous article, which can be found HERE, I discussed how keeping a spreadsheet to track your publications can be great for motivation and generally knowing what you’ve sent where. Well I update my spreadsheet making note of the rejection but it also serves as a reminder of all the other pieces of writing I’ve had published and the ones I have still being considered for publication at the time – though this sometimes makes me think “ah, more rejections to look forward to” most of the time I think “look at all the potential acceptances still out there.”
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  3. Revisit my Writing
    Now it’s said that sending out a story, or any piece of writing, before it is ready is a mistake, which is true, however, there’s a factor of this statement that is never considered: we send out writing when we have revised it to a standard that we believe is ready for publication.

    Let me explain: when I submit a piece of writing to a magazine or publication I believe, at that moment of time, that the writing is ready to be read by an editor or judged in a competition. By the time I’ve received a rejection, it may have been several weeks, or even months. This is why you need to look at the piece of writing again; enough time has passed since you last reviewed the writing meaning you can read it objectively.

    For instance, a story I submitted a short story to a competition announced its longlist this week and I didn’t make the cut; this doesn’t mean my story was bad, it just means that there were other stories that were better – simple as that. But rather than send the piece of writing for consideration somewhere else straight away I choose to review it. This particular story was submitted when I thought it was ready in April, but now it’s nearly August, which means when I look at this story again I’m going to see things I didn’t see before.

    This means I can review, cut, add, change, develop, and edit my story in many ways. Perhaps I won’t need to, maybe I still like it the way it is, but the point is the time between submitting it and looking at it again is enough time for me to be able to see my writing in a different light. Simply looking at the writing again will make it better, even if I only change one thing.

    The main distinction between the original statement I disagreed with about sending your stories out before their ready is that only writing a piece then sending it straight away is a sure way to guarantee that your writing is not ready; you must give all writing time and space to breathe, and you must give yourself time to revisit the writing objectively in order to make it as strong as you can.

 

  1. Find somewhere else to send the writing.
    Though I said don’t find somewhere else to send the writing to straight away I didn’t mean this. You should definitely find somewhere else suitable to send the writing to, but you should first revisit it like I’ve previously said. I always ensure I have a list of opportunities waiting in the wing. The thing is there are lots of different publications and competitions out there, all with their own editors and judges looking for something in particular, all with their own tastes, and what doesn’t appeal to one editor or judge will probably appeal to another.

    I like to think of it like this: every opportunity I don’t pursue is an automatic rejection. I’m having horrible flashbacks of Dale Winton hosting the National Lottery’s “In It To Win It”, but you do – if you don’t submit your writing then you miss out on the potential that people will publish and read it. So get back out there!

 

  1. Don’t let rejection destroy your confidence.
    This is difficult and like I said everyone is different. Some people receive a rejection and pick themselves straight back up. Often I’m lucky enough to be in this category (but that’s because I’ve made rejection my second best buddy), but for other people this can really knock you back.

    The important thing is that the rejection of your writing is not a rejection of you as a person, though it feels like it because writing is personal; we write from our own experiences, our own dreams, we record the stories we want to share with the world, and when someone says “no” it feels like our experiences and the stories we want to tell are being invalidated.

    But this is not the case. Maybe it didn’t quite fit the publication. Maybe the writing needs a little more work. Perhaps you missed something (I once submitted a poem where the title was spelled wrong, probably why it was rejected). There’s always going to be a reason why the writing was rejected, but it is never about you as an individual.
    So, believe in yourself, and do steps 2 and 3.

    And remember all the times you have had writing accepted for publication; it beats all of the rejections, and if this hasn’t happened yet your time will come. It will. (I promise).

  2. Read
    Yes, we all know that reading is a great way to improve your writing. Reading is writing. In fact, it has been said so much that it’s almost in itself a cliché. But it’s true, and if you’re going to read anything, read what trumped your submission.

    For instance the competition I was referring to earlier publish an anthology of the prize-winning story and the shortlisted stories and this presents a great opportunity to read the stories that had done so well. By doing this I can learn what qualities these stories have that perhaps mine are lacking.

    Maybe you’ll read it and think I can’t learn anything from it, but I highly doubt it.

    This tip is also useful for publications and magazines for two reasons. Firstly, you can read the writing that was accepted giving you a clear indicator to the type of writing they like to publish. In fact, many publications advise you read what they’ve published before you submit your own writing. This increases your likelihood of an acceptance too; your story could be perfect, but if it doesn’t fit what the publication is looking for it won’t be published. The second reason why this is a good thing is that it supports the publication; after all without readers there’d be no publication to submit the writing to. So, you get a twofold benefit here: you can learn what qualities makes a competition winning piece of writing, or what fits best in a publication, which will develop your own techniques and abilities, and you support a publication that will rely on its readers to keep it going.

 

That’s it. This is what I do when I’m faced with a rejection, making it my second best friend. You take rejection and you learn from it. You become a better, stronger writer, and then you find a new opportunity to chase. I firmly believe that no matter how well someone writes, no matter how widely published or successful they are, they can always learn more.

I’m really interested to hear what you think about this list. Is there anything here that you don’t do and you’re going to do now? Or is there anything else you do that helps you deal with rejection? Let me know in the comments section!