Losing My Mojo

By Amber Mart, aged 5

By Amber Martin aged 5

I have spent the last few months trying my hand at writing a children’s book, to enter into the Chicken House competition in October. I tried to start last year, but didn’t get past an idea and an opening. This year I managed to complete the first draft (including writing 30,000 words in two weeks).

Unfortunately my idea stinks.

I began to feel it during drafting, and it was confirmed as I started editing. Chicken House are looking for a fresh new voice and, in the words of the editor I lined up to help me, my writing is, “flat, almost formal, and not successful for Middle Grade fiction.” Apparently the tone is more Enid Blyton than J K Rowling. Much of that is because my fantasy world is dismal and boring, my baddies two-dimensional and my protagonists predictable.

It’s all very obvious. Just because I love reading kids books, from great picture stories all the way to young adult, doesn’t mean I have what it takes to write them. I could learn, of course.

The editor suggested I perhaps didn’t have the work ethic to draft and draft until I had the story I wanted. Maybe that’s true. It isn’t that I’m afraid of hard work, but I have to confess that extensive editing leaves me demotivated and exhausted. The more I work at something the more stilted it feels and the harder it is to remain objective. Eventually everything stinks, or everything is bland or derivative.

It happened to my paintings. The abstract my daughter did this weekend might be a bit whacky but it’s much more vibrant and original than mine these days. They used to be like that. But then I overworked them, trying to make them into something that wasn’t me, and they became so bland and boring I didn’t want to paint anymore. But I couldn’t recapture that unselfconscious freshness.

I feel the same with my writing. I used to write multi-pov stories that had a bit of whacky freshness, but I trained myself to write strict limited POV with accurate grammar and not too many similes. All the things that kill children’s stories. And now I can’t write anything else.

Working Hard

Working Hard

What’s the answer? Hubbie asked me, as I sobbed yesterday that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, whether it is really what I want to do. I had to pause. What I want is a creative job that fits in with the school-run and might eventually make money. I hoped it was paintings – it wasn’t. I tried web design and marketing services to small businesses, but didn’t have the enthusiasm or skills.

Is writing one more fancy and unrealistic dream to avoid getting a real job? I’ve stuck at it much longer than the other ideas (though it’s made less profit) and have published half a million words. I’ve even sold 200-300 books (although not a single copy of Class Act!) But it’s not earth-shattering and certainly not a career.

Parenting is such a thankless, soul-destroying pass time (for me) that I need to feel good at something, to feel successful. Something to offset the endless criticism and contrariness of a three and a five year old. Part of that includes making money and getting positive feedback. Feeling like I’m actually good at something I enjoy.

To be honest I probably need an agent, a publishing deal. But if my writing is flat, formal, clichéd, I’ll never get one. And if I ‘m not prepared to tear a manuscript apart to its bones and rebuild it, am I just another delusional wannabe?

Don’t answer that.