From the Other Side


So I missed out on last week’s #IWSG first Wednesday of the month post, but I’m posting it now and that’s just going to have to be okay. I might be kicked out of the group, but I still think it’s a great idea. (If you aren’t familiar, it’s the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I’d like to be a confident writer, but everyone’s got insecurities. It’s great to go on a little blog tour and read about others who are in similar boats and encourage one another).

Pack your bags! We’re going on a guilt trip! (Actually, the lovely Flushing Ferry in Falmouth)

As any unagented writer can attest, querying brings insecurities out of the woodwork. Just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. Yesterday I began a month-long work placement at a book publisher in Edinburgh, and it was a fantastic first day. It was awesome to be on the other side, and as this particular publisher receives submissions for fiction and non-fiction across the spectrum as they’re opening their gates to a variety of genres, I got to wade into a submissions pile for my first time ever.

Boy, was it eye-opening.

I felt incredibly guilty writing NO on any of the submissions I read. I longed to just sit there and correct grammar and spelling, suggest structure changes, word replacements, etc. and return them to the authors to encourage them to make some tweaks. Unfortunately, that’s not part of the job. I wish it was!

Out of the 12 I read, I think there were 2 I wanted to see more of. The pacing, voice, ideas, and character fell together with excellent writing. That was it. They weren’t in my favourite genre or about immensely likeable characters (well, one wasn’t; it had a Silence of the Lambs feel to it about a lorry-driving serial killer), but they were just well-written and hooked me right away.

Then there was a mixture of Nos and Maybes. The Maybes didn’t grab me, but they seemed to be well-written; perhaps just slow to ignite. If I’d had more than 3 chapters to read, maybe I’d fall in love, but likely not. But not a definite no as they had promise.

The Nos reminded me of one of my insecurities. Querying is painful, and I realise, different than writing directly to a publisher, which I have not done. I’d prefer to be agented, to find someone willing to work with me. Knowing what it’s like to work hard on your dream and then send it off to a complete stranger, one who might likely be an intern like me who scribbles notes on the page and then sticks it in one of three piles, it made me very sympathetic. That’s the harsh reality.

It also simply emphasised how you really need to shape up those first three chapters (well, the whole thing, really, but…) to zing the person who’ll be reading it, whether it’s an agent, a slushpile-reading intern, or a publishing assistant. It needs to smack them in the face and go, “You can relate to this, or you find this idea exciting, or this character interesting.”

I think that might be one of the three things that does it. Either you relate to the situation or emotions, you’re drawn to a character, or the idea itself (or the way it’s presented) is intriguing. Preferably all three, but if you get one of those right, I’m likely to read on.

It’s not rocket science, the notion of what gets you past the slushpile, I think (this is all speculation; obviously I’m no expert having had ONE measly day so far). It’s just finding the way to hit at least one of those three targets.

Anyhow, yesterday’s experience made me a little less insecure, like I can approach my work with even more dedication now, knowing how it looks from the other side. The stories that did hook me had one thing in common (besides good grammar and spelling): they had excellent pacing. It made me see what I’m up against, the range of talent and ideas and execution from blah to fantastic. And somehow this has encouraged me, though you’d think it would just as easily discourage me. I’m glad it didn’t 🙂

Have you had an experience that helps you understand your writing insecurities, or at least gives you perspective on them?




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The waiting game

I’ve not posted in awhile but with this month being another #Writemotivation goal month, I’ll be fixing that! And if you’re a writer and not familiar with K.T. Hanna’s #Writemotivation group, please check it out! 🙂 It’s the friendliest group of writers I’ve met, and am so grateful for their welcoming zombie stripper t-rexes waving pom poms and bearing cookies. Or something like that.

We had a 4-day weekend last weekend so I was all excited for that and basically got nothing done for the week before, or this past week (sad, I know). Other stuff has kept me busy, too, though. I finally landed a work experience placement with a publisher, after the one I was asked to interview for was cancelled AFTER I booked £160 train tickets for (which Royal Mail has now lost, and Virgin Trains refuses to refund me despite proof that I sent the tickets to them and therefore didn’t take the journey, but don’t get me started on Virgin. I will definitely never, ever, ever use their services again. Appalling customer service. And am pretty darn glad they lost the bid for the West Coast franchise!!! But I digress…). I’m excited for the placement I was offered at another publisher in Edinburgh, and will begin that the second week of October for 4 weeks. As we’re planning to buy a house and settle in Scotland, this might help open some doors for meeting people and getting the experience I’ll need to land a job up there. But it also means being away from my husband for awhile, and since we just got married in May, I’m not thrilled about this. But after 2 years of trying to find work down here, you can bet I’m taking this opportunity when I can.

Our weekend was a blast. We played beach volleyball on Saturday, and Sunday hiked along the Brecon Beacon ridges around Pen-y-Fan and had beautiful weather.

I’m throwin’ up all kinds of photos to make up for not posting for awhile. People like photos, right? 😀

Then we got a train into Paddington early Monday morning and spent 2 very full days on one of my favourite activities: traipsing around London. I love to traipse, especially there. The museums are endlessly fascinating, even when I’ve visited them 10 times already. I always see new things, and now that I’m dabbling in historical fiction (to a degree ;)), it’s even more interesting to see some of the artefacts from the time period I’m writing about.

I feel a bit like this guy right now, waiting for my passport & visa.

I had my 4th or 5th visit to the British Museum, and the above is one of the Lewis Chessmen, a chess set dug up on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. These chaps are made of walrus ivory and whales’ teeth and date back to 1150 AD. Not among the oldest items in the collection by a long shot, but fascinating nonetheless.

Then, the major event of the weekend was seeing Les Miserables in the West End for my third time. The first time was on my 30th birthday, second time was just this past May when my sisters visited from the U.S. and got us front row seats (nothing could beat that!) and this time was courtesy of a friend’s wedding gift, so we had 7th row and it was, once again, the most moving show I’ve ever seen. I cry pretty easily normally, but this show pushes me over the edge. I’ve been a musical fanatic since I was a kid. Phantom was my long-standing favourite, replaced by RENT. I still love both, but nothing beats Les Mis for me now.

And it always makes me giggle when Marius sings, “Hey Eponine, what’s up today?” Anyone else? *crickets*

Best show ever! Even when Gavroche’s ammo bag doesn’t quite make it up to the top of the barricade…

I made the mistake of wearing some crap shoes, though. It was ironic. My first ever day in the UK was spent walking around London, and I bought a pair of sparkly flats from Faith on Oxford Street because they were more comfortable than what I had on, and plus I just wanted to buy shoes from Oxford Street (because, c’mon, who travels to London and doesn’t buy shoes?). And now, 5 years later, I wore those same shoes both days on our trip to London, and my feet were *screaming*. So I bought a new pair of shoes on Oxford Street to replace the sparkly flats and save my toe from needing blister-related amputation. Someday, I’ll learn!

I never tire of London’s sights, and the crowds are good exercise for my elbows.

Despite having a wonderful fun-filled time away, next week was meant to be my belated birthday trip to Paris so I’m a wee bit down. I’ve not been to Paris yet, (Euro Disney doesn’t count!) and my husband booked us a 4-day trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise I’d need to apply for my new visa so soon because we weren’t aware of the immigration law changes that came into effect 9 July until just beforehand. I’d originally planned to apply for my new visa in September. The UK Border Agency is hideously backlogged–they say, due to the Olympics and to cutting staff–and some people are waiting over 9 months to have their passports back and their visa decisions. This means no travel. These people (including myself) are effectively stuck here, future uncertain, unable to travel or visit family, until the UKBA pulls our applications out of the towering pile and decide to process them. There is no way to communicate with them as their website says you may call after 6 MONTHS, but those in online forums who’ve reported calling the day after their 6-month mark have been told, simply, “You have to wait. We have no information.”

All this for £561. That’s $890. As others have pointed out, you can track a pizza ordered from Domino’s for a tenner, but for nearly $900, you are given no information whatsoever about the process, and have to just let go of all thought of your future, because it’s utterly out of your control. No proof of who you are, why you’re here, whether you can work or not. It’s shocking, disheartening, and borderline inhumane, in my opinion, but that’s how they do things.

So next week, it’s likely my husband is taking our trip to Paris alone. At least one of us can make use of the nonrefundable trip. To say I’m frustrated is putting it lightly, but obviously God’s got other plans. Who am I to argue? This has all been a tremendous lesson in letting go for my control-freak nature. In a week’s time when it’s come and gone, I’ll let you know how I’ve fared.

Apologies as I like my blog posts to be a bit more focused than this, but it’s representative of how scattered I’ve felt since the waiting game of visa, moving, jobs, and settling down began. I have to keep telling myself (as does my husband) that this is life – life always has “the next thing” you’re waiting for, or working towards, and there will always be something you can try to worry into being the way you want it. I just want so badly to learn to get my head down, do the work today’s given me, and make the most of whatever enjoyment I can get right now. Stressing about the future’s never done me any good before, but as any other control freak can tell you, it’s really hard to break the life-long pattern of thinking, If I’m worrying about it, that means I’m doing something.”

I believe that’s completely untrue. So why do I find it so hard to shut that voice down?

In any case, thanks for reading, and I hope anything you’re progressing towards and waiting for is teaching you to make the most of today in the mean time!

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