Meeting Expectations

You know, it never occurred to me when I was unpublished that being published in itself would constitute an enormous amount of pressure. Not in terms of keeping my career going – although I’m sure I’ll struggle with that at some point or another – or in terms of getting support from those close to me – I’ve been exceedingly lucky, there.

It’s meeting other people’s expectations of you.

When you’ve not been published, or people have never read your work, you’re okay. What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll read you and decide they don’t like what they see. Whoop-tee-doo, right?

Now I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to work with some remarkable writers and publishers, building the very beginnings of a reputation through my work (past and present), and allowing them to develop expectations of what I could or would do. The level of quality they could reasonable foresee.

Now let me clarify, first of all, that I’m not complaining. Having the faith and trust of people who are so much more accomplished, and so much more talented than I has been… Amazing.

But now I’ve set the bar, in their minds. A bar. Any bar at all. And I want my future work to reach that bar or exceed it, never fall below.

For me, there is no easy trick for dealing with the resultant stage fright; the only way out is through. Are you struggling? Do you have any special tips for dealing with a writer’s performance anxiety? Do share!

As for me, I’ll bite it back and get back to writing. It seems to be the only option.

 

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Hating your own work.

I’ll be honest; my process involves a lot of time spent hating what I’ve written. A lot. I convince myself that reading my own work will be like hearing my own voice (DO NOT WANT), and I spend ages wrestling myself into doing it anyway.

Isn’t it funny that I’ve spent nigh-on thirty years* knowing that’s just part of how I’m put together as a writer, and I’ve still not developed a better coping technique than, you know, oiling up and getting in that wrestling ring?

But when the hard work is done and my story is out there – midwifery, however traumatic, over with for the time being – it’s better. It’s better because hating it provides me with the impetus required to make it better.

Now, that might not be the case with you. It could be that you get from the first to the final draft without thinking this is the shittiest story ever to be written even once. It could be that, unlike me, you can keep up a constant positive stream of I am an amazing writer – something we all need at least some of the time to keep us motivated and confident enough to keep on moving forward.

But for me? For me, hating what I write is okay. It’s part of what I need to do to get my work honed to a point.

This blog post will hopefully serve to remind me, in the darker hours of re-writing, editing, and throwing my hands in the air whilst sighing and/or swearing explosively, that it’s okay.

You don’t always have to like what you’re producing. You can even loathe it with every fibre of your being. Just don’t give up. You’ll come out the other side sooner than you believe you will… And it will all be worth it.

 

* Yes, I know, I haven’t actually spent the entire thirty years of my life so far writing – it’s called artistic license, it’ll be fine.

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Happy birthday to me!

I’m 30 today. Actually, I’m still 29, by the skin of my teeth, as I write this. But when you read it, I’ll be 30.

A lot of people I know like to make a list of goals for their new age; I won’t. I made New Year’s resolutions not a month ago, so obviously those will still suit. But I do have some wishes.

I’ve had an interesting life, and I don’t always mean that in the positive way. There have been some dark days in the past (as there are in every life, when you come far enough) and there are undoubtedly dark days ahead (as, again, we all must expect and accept).

Over the past year, I’ve taken a lot of steps toward expanding my creative career, and I’ve enjoyed every single second of it (even the ones I hated). I’ve developed myself as a writer and I’ve grown into a routine that allows me to write what I want to. I’ve achieved some amazing things and worked with some fantastic people.

My life, as a writer, is so much fuller and more enjoyable. It’s become a huge part of my life; a change that’s perhaps best illustrated by the fact that today, I can comfortably call myself a writer. Only a year and a half ago, that simply wasn’t true.

So my wishes, in terms of my writing (because that is, after all, why you’re here), are for success. Not just for me, but also for the amazing writers I’ve discovered this year, who have become not only role models but also cherished friends.

Go to Amazon, and look for an author you haven’t heard of before. Take a gamble. Buy a book you don’t know about yet. Of course not every book is a nugget of gold, but you’ll get lucky more often than you might believe.

And I’m always willing to point you in the right direction… Just to get you started.

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Expectations.

Writing is scary. Right? And it’s scary to send your stories off and face possible rejection. But you know what else is scary?

This completely blindsided me, but… Having people who enjoyed your work is scary as hell. Because you’re sending them something new – the zombie story I’m currently working on for Open Casket Press, for example – and they already have a certain level they expect you to reach, because they enjoyed your previous work.

Now, I’m not sure there’s anything sillier to be afraid of, but there you go. I’d assumed the scariest thing would be trying to get a foot in the door, but it turns out that already having a foot in the door is way worse than trying to get it there. Or at least, that’s how I’m feeling right now (just wait till I’m trying to get my foot in the door somewhere again, I’ll go back to thinking that‘s way worse).

But being scared is no reason to stop. You kind of have to learn to ignore that little voice telling you you can’t do things… And push on regardless.

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Working with other writers.

I’m not massively experienced in working with other writers. When Richard (Salter) informed me that I’d be part of World’s Collider (which, months later, I’m still excited about), my only concern was that I’d be really bad at it – or maybe just hate it.

Yesterday, I spent some time talking to Steven Savile about my contribution to his forthcoming steampunk anthology, Empire of London (and yeah, I’ll still be excited about that a few months from now, too). Together, we gave a bit more shape to the pitch I sent in, and the story changed. He suggested a couple of things I really liked. And I realised something – I love it.

There’s a worry among many aspiring writers like myself, that working with someone removes your control and your ability to write as, and what, you want. But the truth of the matter is that when you find the right people (and in this I have been exceedingly lucky), you can take their contributions as a positive influence and understand that, as long as they’re improving the finished product, the collaboration is a positive one.

I’m working on a couple of things I’m doing without anyone else’s input, of course. I guess most writers always will be. But working together with other writers and with the overarching guidance of an anthology’s editor has been a really positive experience so far.

My friend, Dustin Poms (who is both an accomplished artist and an amazing writer), provides a similar sort of service. We kick ideas back and forth via email, and it makes a huge difference to developing the concept that’s already in your head. Sometimes I’ll say something silly, and he’ll ask if he can use that for a story in the future; sometimes the opposite happens. I think a lot of the time, the benefit is not having an active participant but having a suitable sounding board; someone equipped to absorb what you’re saying and bounce it back in a new light (because mixed metaphors are amazing).

So what I’m saying is, don’t shy away from collaborative projects. You can retain your individuality and so can your writing… But you stand to gain amazing new insights and ideas that will put an entirely new spin on your story’s development.

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The importance of networking.

I’ve always written, to some extent. Not always in English (I was raised in Dutch and actually learned French before I learned English), but always in some capacity or another. Even when I’m not physically writing, I’m thinking up crazy stories, usually scary or disturbing ones, and until I was about 16 I was worried that there was something wrong with me mentally because I had a constant, ongoing third-person narrative running in the background.

But 2011 showed me a very different side to writing, one many budding writers seem to be unaware of. Networking.

You already know (and if you don’t, you can read my earlier entries) that my participation in World’s Collider and subsequent publishing by Opencasket Press were down to a chance meeting on Facebook. Clearly, networking served me very well in that instance.

But you know how it all started? With voluntary work. I did some editing, proofreading and general all-round dogsbodying* for Hirst Books, which helped to make that connection and eventually developed into a paying, if sporadic, gig that led to my ability to make it as a freelance writer.

On another, but similar note: my short story, Shadows, which has been published in the anthology Horror Carnival, was a freebie. I basically gave it away… And built some goodwill in the process (as well as, obviously, adding another publication to my CV as a writer). What’s more; I had a publisher express interest in my zombie-novel-in-progress as a result.

It’s easy, as a writer, to get hung up on money and whatnot. Don’t underestimate the value of doing things for free… It may well end up being a career-building move.

* By far the best part of being a writer is making up new words whenever you need them.

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Happy New Year, everybody!

Early on in 2011, I turned to my husband. “Honey,” I said, “I’m going to be a professional writer.”

He looked up from the food he was preparing and looked at me. For a moment there was silence, while he thought over what I’d just said.

“Okay,” he replied calmly, “Let me know what you need.”

 

This is the end of 2011, and I am a professional writer. My wish for everyone this New Year’s Eve is that you may either find, or already have, someone who supports you so unconditionally and completely as to help you make your dreams come true.

Have a good one, everyone!

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