Thursday, 29 August 2013

The highs and lows of a writer's life

Being a freelance writer is a wonderful life - you are constantly learning new things, the variety of work is immense, the creative buzz is exhilarating, and submitting your work for publication provides a feel good factor all of its own. Then finally seeing your work in print.... it's all good.

However, many writers know that there is a downside that needs to be managed effectively too. Writing is often a lonely occupation, that can leave you feeling blue. Sitting alone all day, your mind is prone to wandering. And if you're feeling burdened by hurtful negative comments from other people, it can start to eat you up inside. Don't let them get you down. Seeking support from a writers' circle, photography club, or other group of like-minded individuals can help to keep you smiling, as well as all those positive editorial communications!

When I started freelance writing for a living two years ago, my dad came round to tell me I was going to fail. I was furious. I ignored him and did my best to break into the market because it's all I've ever wanted to do. I proved him wrong, and proved to myself that I could make a success of my dream - because frankly, when I started, I didn't know if it was going to succeed or not!

To give dad due credit, since then he's appeared in a couple of my articles and seems to be moderately enthusiastic about my writing career now.

Sometimes you just need to be thick skinned and get on with it. I'll admit to being about as thick skinned as a skeleton sometimes, but on this occasion I was hugely driven anyway, and frankly, his opinion was no great surprise.

On the other side of the coin, when you're working as a freelance writer, you may also feel bombarded by rejection letters! Don't let this demoralise you. Think of rejection letters as opportunities, not set-backs. If I get a rejection letter I'm pleased because it means the editor thinks enough of my pitch to make the effort to communicate with me about it. That's a great start! Perhaps next time, my idea will fit his or her editorial requirements better! :-)

As time passes, my hit rate is increasing, and I spend much more time writing than pitching. When I started writing for a living it was very definitely the other way around!

I wrote a couple of articles for Writer's Forum last year on the topics of dealing with negativity and rejection letters. Extracts appears in my forthcoming book, Freelance Writing on Health, Food and Gardens. The book covers how I broke into publishing with no contacts, little experience, and a shed load of determination... and how you can do the same. It should be out, hopefully, by the end of the year. Watch this space!

What challenges and criticisms have you faced and overcome in your writing career? Do tell on the comments box below!

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And finally, if you have the appetite for another blog on the topic of focusing on your dreams and overcoming obstacles, you might enjoy this blog by Kris Heap on Successify: http://successify.net/2013/08/28/avoiding-the-obstacles/

Monday, 19 August 2013

My first novel - a 20 year work in progress!

Last night I was working on my novel. It's a rewrite of a book I began 20 years ago, so the foundations are laid, which I find quite helpful. Some of the characters are reasonably well created in my head, and since returning to the project I've also firmed up the plot so that the whole thing is more true to life and has a clear ending. The project ran out of steam 20 years ago and had no ending!

I've had a helping hand in getting this novel out of the closet, dusted off, and brought back to life, from my writing tutor on a correspondence course that I started over 20 years ago. No. That's not a typo. I really did enrol over 20 years ago, became demoralised, and stopped submitting assignments in around 1995!

One of the perks of the course was that you could take as long as you wanted to complete it. Imagine the school's surprise when I got back in touch to resume my course in 2011!

I looked back at my early assignments submitted between 1990 and 1995. One of them attracted a 6 word critique from my tutor at the time: "That's just not how it's done," he said. That was it. Nothing constructive or helpful. Six words. It was depressing.

As you can imagine, I didn't learn much from the experience in those days. I had a huge ring binder full of rejection letters and a tutor who thought my work was so rubbish that he couldn't even be bothered to tell me why!

When I looked back at that folder in 2011, I fully understood why I gave up. It seemed hopeless and I needed guidance - essential guidance that I wasn't getting. I recycled those unhelpful comments, the rejection letters, and the failed assignments, and I started again!

As it turned out, in the intervening years, the course had improved leaps and bounds. I was given a new tutor and my last assignment received 13 pages of detailed feedback from a knowledgeable tutor whose skill at fiction is so much better than mine! He's helped me work on the storyline, and helped me to plan that crucial ending in style!

The course is such a different experience today. And guess what? My tutor thinks the story that I began 20 years ago has the potential to be made into a film. Now I'm not getting too carried away. I've got to juggle writing the novel with my journalism work and any other projects - a mind blowing task! And then I need to find a publisher which is no mean feat... this might take some time!

But the moral of the story, is if you're on a course like that, and you're not getting helpful feedback, perhaps changing your tutor would be beneficial? It worked for me.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Literary masters and quack doctors

I never gave much thought to my ancestry until recently when I dedicated time to it for an article I was working on. I delved into the past, engaging with my dad over the work he's done on our family tree. Now I knew we had some distant relationship to Lord Byron, but I didn't know the details. Finding out about it was an interesting process, if a little long-winded!

It transpires that my great, great grandfather was Henry James Byron, the actor and playwright, second cousin to Lord Byron, the famous Victorian poet. I am also related to Samuel Solomon – one of the most notorious, and successful, quack doctors of all time.

This second relationship was a complete revelation - he's an interesting character who sold Solomon's Cordial Balm of Gilead across the world in the 18th century. It supposedly contained magical secret ingredients, including pure gold.

Now because I'm into natural health, which my dad thinks is a load of baloney, I think he might hold the view that some of Samuel Solomon's charm has rubbed off on me. I however, prefer to think I take after the literary masters, the Byrons, and hope I can do them justice in my forward career!

Pics: Henry James Byron; Samuel Solomon.