Too Many ‘Me’s

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My Etsy Shop

When I started this blog, several years ago, (and I am so sorry, blog, for my recent neglect), I called it ‘Writer/Mummy’. I argued that my generation were increasingly the slash/slash generation, with several job titles and careers, and I was opting for Writer-slash-Mummy.

 

Fast-forward several years and, regardless of all the job titles that ‘Mummy’ incorporates (you know how it goes: cook / cleaner / confidant / taxi / ironing service / dog walker / general shit-scooper), there are now so many ‘me’s that I have lost myself in trying to find myself.

Currently I am trying to juggle personal assistant / etsy crafter / ebay seller / writer / runner / karate student as well as all the usual wife/mother/taxi driver/school-paperwork-handler duties.

And I am going slowly mad.

ImageOn top of that, I’m not actually doing any of the jobs particularly well. Instead I spend all my time playing a daft game called Farmville Tropic Escape, which also has me completing lots of chores and tasks. The difference is the instructions are clear and the rewards are clearer. I never have to wonder what on earth to cook.

I’ve deleted the darn thing twice.

But there is something addictive about knowing what you are supposed to be doing, accompanied by happy smiling faces and cute somersaulting dolphins.

MrsDeansDoll

Teacher Gift

With all my different ‘me’s I don’t have a scooby doo what I’m meant to be doing. Should I finish one of the far-too-many knitting projects I’ve started? That’s hard, because I’m used to knitting for individuals, and so am motivated to finish because it’s a gift for someone I know and love.

Now I’m knitting for profit, for a.n.other, and the finishing part (always my downfall) seems impossibly hard. Besides, if I don’t finish the items, and list them, I don’t have to come to terms with the bit I’m even worse at – the trying to get a sale part.

Ditto ebay selling. I had a couple of early successes, picking up new and nearly new stuff at charity shops and selling them on ebay to fund my own charity/ebay shopping obsession. But now I have a few items listed that haven’t sold, and it’s creating more loss than profit.

And as for the PA role. Well. That was a bit of an odd one. I applied to do a gentleman’s typing and ended up responsible for selling one of his properties. Not exactly in my comfort zone, and I’ve tried to quit once already, but he’s such a dear, with no one really looking out for him. So I’m persisting. Just.

MslexiaWriting? Well, mostly that’s dead in the water. Except I entered a novel in the Mslexia competition a couple of weeks ago, and the annual Times / Chicken House competition is looming again.

I haven’t missed a year yet. But to enter I really need to dig out an existing manuscript and really work on it until it’s at least half as good as the books I love to read.

There’s that motivation / finishing thing again. Aint gonna happen. But writer is the ‘me’ that’s lasted the longest, and I’m not ready to see it die.

The problem with all these ‘me’s is that I’m Jack of all Trades and definitely Master of None. My son had his birthday this week and, in previous years, I would have arranged a party, made a cake, remembered to buy a helium balloon, and made him feel special. He spent this birthday sobbing because the secondhand nerf gun I bought didn’t work, and instead of a party we’re going to the zoo with a voucher I got last Christmas.

My daughter seems to have hit teenage meltdown a few years early, and yelled at me the other day that I’m ‘Always too busy to listen to her’ despite me trying to get these school-hour jobs precisely so I can be there for them. But my head is so cluttered (and the house even more so) that I’m just a mess.

First Sale

My first and only etsy sale

If I’m honest, I want to do the things that earn me praise. I read a great article about Bliss, and how we lose the passion we had as a child (that gave Bliss) through schooling, switching it for the things that will get us noticed / praised / rewarded.

I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but there’s no doubt I do most of what I do so that someone, somewhere, one day, will pat me on the back and say, ‘well done’, rather than because my passion brings me joy.

Dangerous.

Anyway, I’ve been reading up this morning on the difference between complaining and venting. I’m definitely not complaining. I made this bed, however itchy the sheets and lumpy the pillow.

I’m not really even venting. Perhaps just using the blog as a way to clear my head, as it has always been. Chatting away to a tribe of people who I know understand. Ask any writer / artist / general creative person / parent whether they feel like they’re juggling a hundred different wants / needs / must-dos, and they’ll all say yes.

Really I already know the answer. Take on less. Concentrate more. Delete the app. Finish the knitting projects. Vacuum the lounge and stock the fridge. Look, easy. Right?

Well, at least I can put a tick against ‘write a blog post before you forget how’ even if this post is just a long boring whinge. One step at a time.

Breaking the Block

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Teacher

Blimey it’s been ages since I’ve written a blog post.

It’s not that I haven’t had things to say, or even occasionally five minutes alone to get my thoughts down. Well, actually, that bit’s not really true. There has been time this summer to knit and garden and read, but mostly only activities that don’t require much higher brain function.

But now the children have been back at school a whole week (and oh my goodness doesn’t a school week fly by compared to a holiday week?!) I’m just about starting to think straight.

The only problem is, when it’s been this long since I wrote a blog post, I have no idea what to say.

Shall I talk about the weather? (muggy and humid, oscillating between autumn at 7am to high summer by midday.)

My writing? (Just submitted an entry for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition again. Same novel as last time but revamped. But mostly I’m in a writing funk entitled ‘what’s the point?’)

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Knitted Cat

Birthdays? (My son’s is in September – with a Lego theme for his party this year – so invites and paper mache pinatas have been the order of the week. And I hit the big one starting with a 4 in a few weeks. We were going to go away, but now I’m thinking of sneaking off by myself for a spa day. Autumn is too busy for birthdays.)

Gardening? (I’ve shoveled more loads of sand and soil than I care to count this week, as we revamp the front garden and add a flower bed and a pond.)

Reading? (I’ve just finished the Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. Fast-paced, thought provoking.)

Knitting? Oh yes let’s talk about knitting.

I’ve had a creative summer. When I can’t write I must still create. It was Art in August two years ago and then loom bands and knitting.

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Zumba Doll

This year I’ve discovered Alan Dart knitting patterns. Oh my.

It all began with my son wanting a jester. Then my daughter wanted a cat. Then I decided to knit dolls for my son’s teachers. And a zumba doll for a good friend. And now I’m knitting a koala bear.

Creativity where you can see the progress and everyone thinks it’s cool and no one says ‘I’ve always wanted to do that’. No wait, they do say that. In that way knitting is like writing, and both is there for the taking if you’re prepared to put in the effort.

So anyway, that’s me.

Now I’ve got the boring update out of the way (in rather a hurry as I’ve just spotted it’s time to collect children) hopefully the next post will be a bit more interesting!

June Journals #22 ~ Write Relief

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Has Potential

I’ve always been prone to bizarre, convoluted, vivid, epic dreams. I don’t generally remember them, but since having children I often get woken up right in the middle of something Spielberg would be proud of, if he didn’t mind plot holes the size of the Mariana Trench and a story with zero logic.

Writing helps to alleviate the vivid dreams.

It’s as if I have this pot of words, ideas, images, characters, and if I can empty that pot during the day there is less available to furnish weird night-time sagas.

Since I stopped writing a few weeks ago, I’ve gone back to having blockbuster dreams.

I wake up exhausted, restless, out of sorts. The emotion of the dreams leaks out into the day, and the lack of sense, of cause and effect, leaves me feeling antsy. It’s hard to describe. It’s like an itch under the skin that I can’t find or scratch.

So today I got back to writing. Well, not writing, but authoring if you will.

It’s always been my intention to do something with Dragon Wraiths, (which incidentally, came to me in a dream!) The novel had such promise, but I rushed it, sent it out into the world prematurely, and have been too afraid to put it right.

The fears are many. Firstly, I’ll have to re-read what I’ve written. I make a point of never revisiting a book once it’s ‘out there’ in case I realise it’s rubbish. Secondly, as it came to me in a dream, I don’t really know how it ends, which means, thirdly, there is a lot of work to do to fix it. I mean a LOT of work.

I hadn’t even heard of ‘Save the Cat‘ four years ago. And, although I read a heap of stuff on structuring a YA romance and editing your novel, I didn’t have a plan (it was a proper Pantser novel) and absolutely no concept of beats or loglines.

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Original Cover

When Dragon Wraiths was long-listed for the Mslexia award it wasn’t even really finished. I had to send off a complete manuscript, and that’s what I did, but the last third at least was utter shite. I’m not surprised it didn’t make the short-list.

A couple of years ago I revisited the novel, to enter into the Chicken House competition. Cut that last third out like a gangrene-infected limb and pretty much put ‘To be continued…’ 🙂

But it didn’t even get long-listed, so I stuck it to the back of my mind under ‘Failures I’d like to forget’.

And yet…

I love that book. I love the characters, I love the first 80,000 words. Just because I didn’t finish the world building, or the story, or even really know how it all should end, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

So I spent the day going back to basics with my friend (!) Blake Snyder, author of ‘Save the Cat’. I worked on a logline and beats for book one, and then started playing around with where book two and three could go.

It’s a bit like limbering up at the bottom of Ben Nevis. The climb looks scary, storm clouds are rolling in, and I don’t know if I’ll make it even half way to the top. But I’m closer than when I was back on the couch dreaming.

And it felt good to be working again. Whenever I think I’m not cut out to be a writer, I take a break and realise that, whether I want it or not, I already bloomin am one.

 

A Bio, A Synopsis and The Danger of Distraction

Back at Nursery Today

Back at Nursery Today

My son went back to nursery today (hurrah!) and I was able to get back to work. Unfortunately a night of broken sleep has left me a little dazed and I’m finding it hard to concentrate. So, rather dangerously, I decided to do something different. I’ve just read Julie Duffy’s guest post on Charlotte Rains Dixon’s blog, about 15 Fixes for Your Worst Writer’s Block (worth a read!) I decided to combine ‘Work On A Different Part Of The Project’ and ‘Change Projects’. So today I’ve been working on the extra stuff I need to enter my WIP in the Independent’s children’s novel competition – the bio and synopsis – and I got out an old manuscript that I want to work on next.

It was a shock looking at the old manuscript and realising I started writing it in 2008, before my daughter was born. That’s five and a half years ago! Where did the time go? It’s also tough reading something that you remember as being quite good and realising your writing has come on some way since then. Which is of course fantastic – I’d hate to think my writing had got worse – but as I wrote the manuscript whilst also studying a Creative Writing degree course with the Open University, I kind of assumed it might be okay. Actually the writing might be – I didn’t get much chance to go into it – but the formatting and grammar are awful!

I spent the morning roughly reformatting it because I’ve programmed myself to write ready-to-publish documents, after doing Two-Hundred Steps Home last year, when everything had to be ready to publish at the end of each month. Formatting and layout, styles and chapter headings, all have to be to Smashwords standards (easy enough to convert to Kindle formatting). It did mean that I noticed things like how many bits of dialogue start with, “So…” Which is how I speak, but no longer how I write fiction. It’s nice to know I have grown a bit as a writer in half a decade.

I had to quickly put the manuscript away before it dragged me further in. It’s probably a blessing that it needs so much work: I’m not tempted to start that particular challenge when I have two big deadlines looming: finishing this children’s book by the end of next week, and getting Class Act out by the end of June.

So I wrote my Author Biography (see! I started another sentence with ‘so’!) It was rather gratifying. I was able to put:

Amanda Martin is a self-published author and blogger, with a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Her blog, Writermummy, has accumulated 550 posts in two years, and she has published four novels. Amanda’s women’s fiction novel Two-Hundred Steps Home was written in daily instalments and published in monthly volumes in 2013 as part of a challenge on her blog. A section of the novel has been selected to appear in a Cambridge University Press study book. Amanda’s Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, was long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel award in 2013. George and the Magic Arch is her first Middle Grade novel, although MG fiction is her favourite genre.

All of which should hopefully be true by the time I put in the competition entry, or at least by the time someone comes to read it! It’s nice to feel I’ve been doing something with my time at home these last five years.  I even managed to write a one-page synopsis which, although it will need tweaking, takes a weight off my mind. I hate writing synopses (if that’s the correct plural?)

Anyway, distraction time is over. As the children have been off sick this week I’m marginally behind on my 15,000 word target, although it’s still in sights. I definitely do better working to a target. I must remember that.

Feelin’ the Positive Vibe: 2013 365 Challenge #68

You can never beat the good ol fashioned cardboard box

You can never beat the good ol fashioned cardboard box

La Maison chez Martin had a more positive day today. We got some sleep (until daughter wet the bed for the first time at 4am but, hey, you can’t have everything). An old friend/colleague got in touch to say he might have some contract work for me (or hubbie if I get my way!) and we went out as a family. It was only to the supermarket and Costa but sometimes that’s enough. I even managed to walk the dog without getting lost in the fog, although I didn’t manage to make a start on my Claire post as we bumped into a friend of Kara’s – a crazy boxer-labrador cross called Beamish. He likes to collect 12 foot sticks and carry them home so Kara didn’t get to run with him that much but it was nice to have company.

I guess all the positive has to have an opposite and today it’s the writing. I didn’t really like my Claire instalment yesterday – I couldn’t seem to create the cave scene with any authenticity. It’s been a long time since I’ve visited a cave and I haven’t been to the Blue John Cavern at all. I relied totally on their website and good old Tripadvisor. I’m also at a complete dead-end for today. Claire has about a week before she picks up Sky for her Easter break and things get interesting again but I’m stuck with what to do in the meantime. There are only so many day trips and hostel descriptions you can do before it gets boring!

The bliss of sleep

The bliss of sleep

The other part of writing that wasn’t great today was picking up Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes for the first time in six months and realising it’s crap. I mean properly rubbish. I haven’t looked at it since writing and editing Dragon Wraiths in an intense seven-month period (for the Mslexia competition) and since writing 56,000 words of Two-Hundred Steps Home.

Of course it’s wonderful that the two projects in-between have obviously honed my craft but it makes me feel sick to think I sent out queries for Baby Blues and someone asked for a partial. Even if they take 8 weeks to get back I’m not going to be able to knock the rest of the manuscript into shape by then. Of course it’s unlikely they’ll ask to see any more but I do know the first fifty pages are better because they’ve had a lot more revision. I don’t know how much better as I’m scared to read them! 🙂

What I need to do, but somehow can’t manage to make happen, is join a critique group and/or locate a Beta reader in the business. It’s all very well having friends read – they’re great at spotting typos and continuity errors – but they don’t have the knowledge or desire to tell me the honest and brutal truth. I KNOW that good critique and beta readers are essential to a writer’s business, what I don’t know is how any writer ever brings themselves to give their unpolished work to someone. You’d think I would prefer it to sending my manuscript to a brutal agent but an agent is just going to ignore it or at worst send a pithy one-pager.They won’t tear apart a year’s work line by line without hope. You see I’ve had a mixed experience of critique and it’s left me doubtful.

I received one critique of the first chapter of Baby Blues (my first ever critique) and they didn’t find a single positive thing to say. I was ready to give up writing for good: not because I’m thin-skinned (although probably that’s true too) but because I figured they knew more than I did and I was just plain rubbish. Then I had a second critique on the same first chapter and received a nice balance of constructive criticism and positive praise on what was working well.

The question is: was the first critique right or the second? Am I a writer or a doomed-to-fail amateur. If two people can read the same chapter and have two completely different responses how can I find a beta reader or critique group to trust? And, more to the point, how on earth do I find time to do critiquing in return? Arrgghh so many questions. If I thought being a parent was tough, with too much conflicting advice and no clear path, then being a writer is just as hard. Actually I guess the two are pretty similar. Maybe I’ll write a blog about that! 😉

Anyway, enough rant. Time to go and search the brain-cells for that hidden inspiration…

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“Ruth? It’s Claire.”

“Claire? Why are you calling: Is everything okay?” Her sister’s voice rose in agitation. Claire buried herself deeper into the armchair, trying to ignore the heat in her cheeks and the defensive words bubbling up into her mouth. Besides, how could you defend the indefensible?

“I’m sorry. I’ve been a rubbish sister. I called to see how you are. I didn’t want to phone so soon after the operation, in case you’re resting, but I haven’t been able to get hold of Mum. I was worried.”

“Mum’s here with me and you know Dad; he never answers the phone if he’s by himself in case, God forbid, he might have to talk to one of us for more than a minute.” Ruth chuckled then coughed. The sound made Claire shiver.

“You are okay though?”

“You mean apart from having a hole drilled in my skull and some of my brain removed?”

Her voice was hard to read. Claire felt goosebumps rise along her arms and huddled deeper into her jumper. Maybe this was a bad idea. She sat without responding, unable to find anything adequate to say.

“Sorry, Claire, I shouldn’t joke. It’s driving Mum nuts. You know how she is. She thinks I’m being unduly frivolous. What can you do but laugh though?”

Claire thought privately that she’d probably be curled in a corner sobbing and hoped no one ever had cause to find out.

“You’re very brave. I’d be scared witless.” The words were out before Claire could censor them and she immediately regretted her lack of control. Ruth didn’t speak and Claire wondered if she was realising for the first time that she ought to be scared. Then her sister sighed; a low sound like a gust of wind on a deserted shore.

“Of course I’m scared. Terrified. And I’m not brave. I have to be strong for Sky. She doesn’t really understand. All she knows is that Mummy is poorly and had to have her hair shaved off and that Nana is looking after both of us. It will be harder for her when I have the chemo and I’m properly sick.”

Claire felt a lump in her throat and shook away the image of her sister with no hair. Somehow it brought home the reality of cancer more than any words had done. She tried to make her voice matter-of-fact when she spoke.

“That’s why I’m calling. How do you feel about Sky coming travelling with me for the school holidays? Give you a chance to have some peace and quiet in the house. Well as much as you can with Mum fussing round.”

“Travelling where? She doesn’t have a passport.”

Claire laughed. “The Fens can be a bit different but I don’t recall needing a passport to go there.”

“Oh. What’s in the Fens? Isn’t it just endless fields of flat nothingness?”

Claire had no idea. She hadn’t thought that far. A glance at the YHA map had shown the nearest hostels to be around the east coast and she’d figured that small children liked the seaside. There were only a handful of hostels so they’d have to stay a few days in each or travel a bit further afield. It seemed hostellers were more interested in the Peaks and Lakes than the Fens.

“It’s got sea and sand and space, what more do kids want?” Claire heard the doubt in her voice and hoped Ruth didn’t notice.

She did.

“Are you sure you’re going to cope with a small child for two weeks? Sky is quite… full-on you know. Besides, I’m not sure about her being away. She’s only little.”

“She stays with Mum and Dad doesn’t she?”

“That’s different. It’s just down the road and she’s used to them.”

“I am her Auntie.”

There was a pause and Claire smiled ruefully as she imagined the thoughts going through Ruth’s mind. I haven’t been much of an Auntie up until now. She decided to get the attack in before her sister did. “Look, I know I haven’t spent as much time with Sky as I should have done. See this as my chance to make it up to her.”

“Well. If you’re sure. Have you booked? It’ll be rammed. And the first weekend is a bank holiday: The whole world will be off work.”

Claire felt a hollowness form in her stomach. She hadn’t thought to book. So far she’d stayed in whichever hostel had space: the hostels had all been clustered together.

“I. Er. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” She pulled out her iPad and opened a new note.

Book hostels for me and Sky ASAP.

Otherwise we’ll have to stay with Mum and Dad for Easter. Claire remembered last Easter, when she had taken Michael to her parents’ house for the long weekend. It had been a disaster.

They’re going to remind me of that every minute. Bugger that.

“Leave it with me. It’ll be fine.” She repeated the words, as much for her own benefit as for Ruth’s. Then she said her goodbyes, hung up the phone and pulled out her YHA guide. She began dialling immediately and prayed for a miracle.

***

The Long Silence Explained

SylvesterIt occurred to me after I posted my essay on guilt yesterday that I forgot entirely to explain the long silence, despite putting that in my title. Making it a separate post possibly gives it too much weight, as if anything more than normal life has been going on in the last four weeks. It hasn’t. That said, there has been a convergence of events since the beginning of November, creating something like a maelstrom in my life. Some I’ve mentioned already – my husband being made redundant for example – but others happened amidst the whirlwind of NaNoWriMo and beyond.

NaNoWriMo in itself was a struggle this year. I learned a lot about myself as a writer and about the life of a Writer (with the capital letter firmly in place.) I didn’t start NaNo until several days into November because my brain was frozen after weeks of editing. Ideas don’t exactly spill out from my tired mind on the best of days but I had truly exhausted my imagination writing and editing Dragon Wraiths in nine months (ready for the Mslexia competition – more on that later). So in the end I opted to write up a story idea I had for NaNo back in 2010 (abandoned for something easier due to having a tiny baby to care for).

The idea excited me because it combined my favourite things – love stories and Georgette Heyer. The basic concept is a girl auditions to be an extra in a Georgette Heyer movie (based on the book Sylvester) but ends up being cast as the lead role despite having no acting experience. Various plots and dramas ensue and it ends with a love story.

But oh the writing was hard. I know next to nothing about making movies – not something that would normally daunt me, that’s what Google is for. But researching during NaNo is difficult as it breaks the flow. Then I realised I had no story arc, only character arcs, so I was writing into the dark. Again not something that normally bothers me, but this time (whether due to sleep deprivation, mental depletion or just a rubbish story idea) I drove into the dark to find only more dark.

nano_12_winner_detailI managed to limp over the 50k mark with two hours to go, but it was the greatest struggle and I was happy to abandon my half-written novel for Christmas Shopping on 1st December. Will I pick it up again? Hopefully one day. I began to understand my characters and get interested in the intrigue, but it is a draft that requires a complete rewrite so it’s likely to languish for a while. What did I learn? That maybe I’m not a Pantser writer after all. Perhaps, now and then, I need a better idea of where my story is going, other than that it will end with a happy ever after. I learned, too, about sitting down and just getting the words out. I had a week of no writing towards the end, leaving myself a 20k target for the last couple of days. I know I can write that much, but only when the ideas are flowing. This time I dragged myself along, like someone finishing a marathon long after the wall has been hit. And it was good. Good to know that I can write even when the ideas aren’t flowing, when the sleeping isn’t coming, and when I’m praying every day for my last novel to fly. Maybe I could make a career out of writing if I ever find an agent.

The cover I mocked-up for Dragon Wraiths to print a copy via Lulu

That brings me on to another event – Mslexia. My novel didn’t get shortlisted for the Children’s Novel competition but I did receive a very encouraging (group) response to suggest why. I was told that there were many strong novels written in the first person (like mine), many covering contemporary issues such as climate change (like mine), many with strong individual voices (hopefully like mine) and where there were two books covering the same topics only one was shortlisted. So maybe mine was just nearly good enough, rather than way off mark. Either way I believe in it, which is a first, and happily started sending query letters to agents the next day. The month before Christmas is probably not the time to be querying but I shall start again in the new year after reading through my newly acquired Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

artintheheartThe other things that have been happening are that I have had some paintings accepted into the gallery Art in the Heart, despite my view that they would think them insufficiently arty (see earlier post). It was fun getting all my paintings out of the loft and choosing four to be displayed in January, alongside my miniatures and cards. It was nervewracking too, trying to narrow twenty paintings down to four, and writing an Artist’s Statement that was both interesting and honest. I still have much to do – getting new business cards and flyers and promoting the gallery through social media, as indicated in my contract, – but it was great to temper the disappointment of the Mslexia competition with a success.

www.amanda-martin.co.uk

I might have to expand my website – Author/Artist/Photographer/Mummy isn’t covering it all any more!

Finally I had a job interview last week for a Marketing Manager (although really a Marketing Director) role. I had to pull together a presentation with a day’s notice, and despite tears and tantrums (mine and the kids) I managed it. I was rather relieved not to get the job as it turned out I would be managing 8 staff – I find it hard enough managing two pre-schoolers – but it was wonderful to put my heels on again and remind myself that I used to be good once. It’s funny how, in this slash-slash generation, you can forget the lives you lived before. Funny, too, that Artist and Marketing Manager should both come back as Writer and Mummy were under pressure.

PublishingLogo2cmSo, where next? I have decided I need to try harder to start my own business, to use those brain cells that have been long dormant. I rather-jokingly came up with 3AD Publishing when I prepared Pictures of Love for self-publishing, so that I would have a publisher’s logo on the spine.

My husband has started 3AD Solutions to promote some of his Product Management ideas. I think it might be time to combine forces.

The cover I designed for my sister's book

The cover I designed for my sister’s book

I have enjoyed preparing texts to self-publish (I did one for my sister and her husband for Christmas, as well as several of my own) and I loved designing the front covers. There must be a market out there for those services!

Whatever happens, Writer/Mummy will continue, even if she morphs into Artist/Writer/Photographer/Mummy/Marketer/Designer/Editor.

Phew.

Bring on 2013!

Always get a second opinion

I love a printed manuscript: it LOOKS like 7 months’ work

This week my Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, got long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. I would like to say I was thrilled when I received the email, but I’d be lying. It came only hours after I had typed up the last second-draft-edit amends and vowed to put the darn novel in the bin/cupboard/big pit in the garden because, seven months after starting it, I still had no idea what it was about.

Instead my overwhelming emotion was fear. How could I send my manuscript off, all 112,500 words of it, with my name on the front (though thankfully the competition is judged anonymously) when I KNEW it was a pile of crap? But I had come so far, invested 7 months of my life, not to say thousands of pounds of nursery fees, plus the competition entry fee. I wasn’t giving up.

So I called in the troops. Sent the novel to my mother and pleaded with her to read it and tell me the most awful plot-hole-disaster bits so I could focus on fixing them before sending the manuscript off a week later.

That was Thursday night. On Friday, when I took the kids over to see her as usual she had to tear herself away from reading the book. My book. Friday night she sent a copy over to my step-dad’s iPad and Saturday morning (early) I got a text to say he was so engrossed she couldn’t get a word out of him. That of course spurred my husband to start reading it again, the edited version this time. I have learned an important lesson about waiting to give out the edited version because he soon couldn’t put it down. (He sat in the car while I took the kids to an indoor play centre on Sunday on the excuse that he had a cold and it was too hot and noisy, when really he wanted to keep reading.)

By Sunday night everyone had finished it.

My step-dad (who isn’t an avid reader, but loved the Twilight series) said “Book 2 Please”.

“What about the plot holes?” I asked, perplexed.

“Well, apart from saying she’s never been camping in part 2 when part 1 pretty much opens with her camping on a hillside, we didn’t find any plot holes.”

“What about the ending? Doesn’t it all feel a bit forced?” It took weeks of agonizing to try to make sense of it all, with me cursing my Pantser habits all the while.

“Ending was great, it all made sense.”

I sat and stared, open mouthed.

So instead of spending this week desperately re-writing huge chunks of my novel I have been calmly tweaking the one or two weak scenes my husband highlighted. Today I printed out all 462 pages and posted it.

Dear manuscript, all my blessings go with you

Leaving me free to start NaNoWriMo tomorrow.

Of course, that’s a different ball game entirely. I was going to rework one of my romances for Nano this year, but now I’m thinking about starting a sequel to Dragon Wraiths. Who knows, unlikely as it seems to me, it might actually go somewhere.

 

What have I learned?

I’ve always been too scared to relinquish my work to a critique group for fear of being told to give up writing and go back to the day job. I know family members are biased, but my parents don’t give up their weekends lightly. If they read my book non-stop to the end it was because they wanted to. That must count for something. Maybe I need to have more faith in myself.

Writing is a solitary business and editing is worse because you don’t even really have your characters for company. It’s easy to forget what’s good about your novel. You get too close, you lose the ability to feel the suspense, to be swept up in the drama.

My advice? When you have torn your novel apart and rebuilt it from the ground up, and you still think it stinks, remember – ask for a fresh opinion. You might just be pleasantly surprised.