After a tough year, great news

As far as running a blog goes, 2020 did not go according to plan.  In 2019 I wrote two pieces every month and had every intention to achieve the same on my differently focussed blog for the following year. As I wrote in my first 2020 post, I planned to enter a writing competition every month.  The competitions had to take me into unfamiliar writing arenas.  I aimed to write a piece about my writing process and, depending on the outcomes, post the submitted pieces on my blog.  Up to July, it was going well.  Enthusiasm was high and I had done OK in the competitions – a win and a couple of commendations.  And then… we all know what happened then.  Lockdown.

Lockdown coincided with a family funeral, selling my house and moving 300 miles away.  Throw in our house purchase falling through leaving us homeless and I had a perfect storm of ‘stressful situation’.  Fortunately, homelessness was seen off by belongings going into storage and my partner and I moving into a caravan on a lovely peaceful site while we looked for a new house to buy.  We had a bit of an extended summer holiday and it was lovely.  Then the government decreed that the site had to close.  We were fortunate to be able to find a fully furnished rental which allowed pets but again… ‘stress’ doesn’t cover how challenging the period was.  For the record, a word of advice: don’t sell a house in a pandemic or try to move 300 miles in a lockdown.

Thanks to Georgy Rudakov Via Unsplash for the image

I stopped writing.  From the end of June 2020 until mid-January 2021 I did not write as much as a shopping list.  It wasn’t apathy, fugue or procrastination.  With hindsight I think it was process-related – I simply got out of my ‘groove’ which included elements of physical space (my lost office and only having my laptop to work on) and different measurements of time in a lockdown.

What kickstarted me back into a groove was the astounding news from Pen to Print that I am one of their ten Book Challenge Competition winners.  Way back at the beginning of 2020 I submitted a synopsis and first chapter of a novel.  Submissions are filtered down to ten winners and I was one of the ten.  The winners all get mentoring support to get the book to publication. The prize is worth £5k. Next year, the ten completed books will also go into a final competition and the ultimate winner will be chosen.

I am beyond thrilled to win such a valuable prize which is packed with opportunity.  Pen to Print has a great deal of book industry respect and support and I am so lucky to be joining their stable of writers.  I have already (virtually) ‘met’ my fellow writers and the mentor team and am at last writing again – with a curious wonder that I ever left something I love so much. 

For those unfamiliar with Pen to Print do check out their website at https://pentoprint.org/  They run amazing competitions and fabulous courses. 

I will not, mostly, be entering competitions in 2021 but I will be focussed on completing my novel. So, I am changing the name of the blog to reflect the different writing focus this year. I will continue to blog about my process as the year goes on.

PS Am delighted to have had a poem, ‘FUG’ (about lockdown) accepted for the annual on-line Febulous (sic) February blog. I have recorded a reading of the poem which is to be played on Medway Pride Radio sometime in February. I will add a link when I get it.

February Competition Entry: Learning from the process of writing a short story

My February competition entry was a short story to the Writers and Artists competition Which this year is being judged by award-winning writer Kerry Hudson (@ThatKerryHudson).  There were few requirements other than it needed to be up to 2000 words.  In some ways, I cheated a bit for this submission.  It was, as required, previously unpublished but it was not a new work.  My submission was a story written a few months ago after an unusual idea came to me ‘out of the blue’.  It is a story I enjoyed writing, and I think it has some merit, but it is quirky enough not to have a ready home.  Despite coming in quite a way under the maximum word count, it felt to me that it might be a good fit with this competition.  As I discuss in my first post in this blog series, I will post the story whatever the outcome once the judging has concluded.

As also planned, I began this post with the intention that it be a ‘writers process’ post about how one goes about writing a short story. I am never short of ideas for stories. I am never short of characters – almost all of my story ideas begin with characters I ‘see’ in my head. I ‘hear’ how they speak and the phrases they use long before I have any idea how their dialogue will fit into a story. I quite often have ideas for beginnings and journeys from the beginnings, but I am less confident about creating a satisfying story arc ending/conclusion. It won’t surprise any writer that I have countless unfinished, first drafts which have dissolved into nothingness in my ‘bits and pieces’ folder. They are not so much WIP’s as ‘works which deserve better’!

#writingchat on Twitter – check it out!

Like many other writers I read voraciously and through this have hopefully understood a little of what makes short stories work and why some do not grab interest.  I am also well-read about writing theory.  I planned today to write about the process of applying theory to create a good quality short story.  However, yesterday (12 Feb 2020) on twitter, there was a lovely #writingchat hosted by Carol Bevitt (@Carol Bevitt) with lots of really useful contributions from so many writers and aspiring writers.  One very well-published writer, Patsy Collins (@PatsyCollins) suggested in particular that writers interested in publishing for women’s magazines take a look at her blog at womanwriter.blogspot.com which features writing guidelines for magazines across the globe.  A useful resource.  Another writer Stephen Allsop (@StephenAllsop1) posted a link to an article on BookRiot  ‘How Long is a Short Story’ by Annika Barranti Klein (@noirbettie) which I certainly found helpful. There are so many useful and accessible tips about writing short stories – and how not to – the twitter thread #writingchat is well worth a read.  It nips down dry theory into actionable pointers, generously given. 

Although I sadly missed being able to participate in the #writingchat a review of the thread today shows that it touched upon almost all of the points I try to address when I edit and restructure a short story. Specifically:-

  • Size matters! Is the story up to 5k words? Flash? Or micro fiction?
  • Short stories must be well told.
  • They must have a structure which keeps readers wanting to know what is going to happen. The structure should have highs, lows, hiccups along the way and resolution. Enable your reader to invest themselves in the story – to care about what happens (whatever genre).
  • Do not waffle and/or explain, or set up the story – just tell it. And then edit until it is crisp and all superfluous words, threads or exposition have been removed (yes, even your darlings – if clever turns of phrases, characters, place names etc. do not add to the story arc, remove them).

I should note here that none of these helpful points are in my head when I write my first draft and I wish I could be more disciplined about this. I get carried away by the story ideas and getting them down on paper.

I have committed to submitting one writing competition entry a month for the year, and I am guessing this will not be my last short story submission.  I am committed to creating an entirely new story for my next entry and so must wait until I find the right free-to-enter comp (if anyone knows of any, please do let me know).  I am aiming to choose something outside my writing experience – horror, fantasy, YA or romance, for example.  Writing outside my (usual) genre(s) is a little bit scary but also quite exciting.  I do get such a buzz from writing something completely new.  Wish me luck!