If you don’t follow me as a Patron on Patreon (very easy, sign up now) you won’t know that right now, I’m in the middle of the first of four projects for 2021. That means that this week (and quite possibly for a significant portion of the weekend) I’m putting down the first draft of a 60 verse poetry narrative. The longest I’ve managed successfully thus far was 40, and that seemed to go down incredibly well. So, it’s time to put my creative skills to the test.
It’s also become something of an exercise in reassessment in the last couple of days: everything was beautifully planned and sensibly telegraphed, but when I sat down to write the characters had other ideas, and as a result we are in the land of unexpected diversion from the planned narrative. I take this as a good sign, that this means there’s enough depth to the story to allow me to let these voices point the direction to take and me to follow. There’s also some poems already that I am insanely proud of…
This also gives me the opportunity to look at what’s been previously produced in the last six months as a benchmark, and it’s apparent that this style is a definite evolution down the road from where I began. Finding my poetic ‘voice’ has been hugely complex during a pandemic, but undoubtedly this is evolution over the last twelve months. The next task is to see if any of that previous work can now be effectively recycled for other submissions, and I’m pretty sure at least one ‘collection’ can be resubmitted elsewhere.
These are exciting times I find myself within, and enthusiasm and energy with which to write, which has not existed for some time. A lot of that can be put down to being physically more active too, and the morning run I had today has undoubtedly made everything else that much easier to attain… let’s hope this is momentum on both fronts that can be sustained, and then capitalised upon.
Okay then, December is really not that far away. Next week is all about CHAPBOOK PROMOTION and so, therefore, it seems fair to explain what’s going on when the NaNoWriMo dust settles. Oh, for the record, here’s where we are:
Needless to say, 80k will probably be my end of month total. I am insanely pleased with a project that continues to write itself. I’ve also got a second idea that might get worked on over Christmas. However, for December, I am going to be taking a month off from my normal Patreon plans, in order to build up a decent store of content for the first half of 2021. If you’re a patron, I’ll be covering what this means via blogging on the site next week.
There will be traditional favourites: my .GIFmas Advent Calendar, some festive poetry and quite a bit of photography. However, the writing is going to take a break. There’s been no holiday this year, for obvious reasons. Therefore, it’s high time I took some time off for myself and maybe stopped stressing so much about the spectre of Content [TM]. More importantly, I’m doing REDJanuary again next year and that will take a phenomenal amount of mental and physical energy.
Watch this space for the launch of the Chapbook next week 😀
I spent the weekend doing exactly what it was I said I’d do: no actual work, and certainly no blogging. A day of rest on Saturday meant Sunday was the most productive day I’ve had probably since early May. Looking back on the past, and what can be salvaged from it has uncovered a couple of utter gems, two of which I’ll submit tomorrow to the most prestigious contest going for poetry right now. I confidently predict neither will win, but I’ll feel wonderful about what’s been presented.
The last few times this particular contest has been prepared for it’s been… well, it’s felt like a Herculean trial. More importantly, so much need and desire to win was subconsciously wrapped up in the production process that, at the end, there was little joy in the work. I intend to go back and pull out those pieces and repurpose them in a group this week, if anything can be salvaged from them at all. That’s also a revelation from recent times: it’s okay to throw things away.
Not everything can be saved.
The reality of watching the revolving door of successful people come in and out of my Twitter feed used to be quite difficult. Now there is a sanguine acceptance that not everybody is the same as me, and not everyone is getting as much out of the platform as I am. That’s the big takeaway over the last few months: you can see the people who have bloomed, and who’ll have ’emerging during lockdown in 2020 as a driving force in [insert profession here] on social media’ inserted into their bios when the time comes.
For me, I suppose, it’s all still falling into place. There’s an optimism in both body and brain now which, I realise, has not existed since my teens. I never really grew up properly, that’s the key to all of this, that process is taking place for a second time and honestly, truthfully, I’m quite happy to ignore the fact that many notably traumatic experiences have been quietly thrown in a skip where established detritus is already burning furiously.
I am so very grateful to my husband and kids for putting up with all this shit for so long.
With my objective hat on, so much of that time wasn’t nearly as bad as history now recalls, the key is to separate the bad experiences from the good and then make sure only the bad ones are torched. It helps having photographic memories of those to use as a means of re-establishing reality: so many things never got photographed, for exactly that reason. There are also some pictures where I know, full well, I was acting to camera.
Managing expectations is an important part of any creative’s output: what can people expect from your work? What will become your signature styles and approaches? For me, the virtual world is so deeply ingrained into everything that to try and separate it from what I am has become impossible. Therefore, I’m going to stop trying, and focus instead on how my life is being changed and altered by its influence, so much for the better.
Knowing where you came from is essential in charting a path to any new destination.
It is the best feeling in the world to obtain an unprompted compliment. Having had a couple in the last few weeks, I can tell you from personal experience to have someone care enough to come to you directly with feedback turns bad days into great ones. However, you have to be a realist. I’ve had my first piece of genuine negative feedback this week too, and if you’re not careful those kind of comments can put you back months.
Getting the balance right really matters. I know there are authors who don’t take kindly to being told what’s wrong with their work: it’s the equivalent of abusing someone because their Victoria Sponge is not decorated in the way other sponges should be. There is no right way to write, that’s the point. Sure, if you want a Booker Prize your icing and filling are gonna matter more, and probably need to look and taste a certain way. There’s clearly rules to follow.
However, for the rest of us, achievement is just ending up with a decent tasting cake.
Of course, none of this really matters if you get lucky enough to make a passable cake that someone of note really ends up taking a liking to. Most of us will bake a couple of cracking desserts in our lifetimes, but only the very lucky are emulated or considered as must-try formulas. I keep looking at the number of people who have rewritten Jane Austen for instance and wonder just how much money can you scrape from the romantic mismatch genre. The answer, of course, is rather a lot.
It also makes me laugh at how much original work I have churned out in the last year, most of which hasn’t been seen by anybody but me. In that regard, I am probably doing myself few favours by keeping the writing flowing. Maybe I should be going back to those pieces with more consideration and thought: can I build new recipes using these failed attempts? Quite possibly I can, and maybe the combination of seemingly disparate textures and flavours might produce a revelation.
At least I know now why I’m hungry all the time 😀
The next step in my journey is realigning myself with my work. There’s a lot written, sitting around me or on my hard drives, that needs to be considered in light of the events of the last couple of months. Now it is time to see what can be repurposed, what is disposed of, and crucially what can be done to minimise the amount of stress that submissions cause going forward. I think it is time to start preparing myself for self-publication.
It occurs to me that I need to keep better records of failure. I’ve mentioned before that in my early days of flinging poetry at submission targets, there was the Big Book of Failure, which served a useful purpose. It gave physical form to the terror: how much work had to be done, how much was subsequently rejected in my pursuit of the elusive win. It was approximately eighteen months of thrashing about before I got lucky in November 2018.
After that, the lesson was learnt: keeping a list of the rejections only became useful when recycling them. I got tired of looking at work after it would be rejected and believing that if it was rewritten or further polished, somehow it would be successful. What I was producing was good enough, just not what was being asked for. It’s why Places of Poetry was so important, I realise looking back on last year. Writing without the need for validation was a game-changer.
To have a poem published from that set of work is pretty much a dream come true as a result, because for the first time it wasn’t about the winning. That was the bonus that keeps on giving: I made the contest, set the goals, found myself talking about my joy on national radio and it was me that made all that happen with my own effort and output. It’s only now beginning to become clear that this was the fundamental shift in attitude I needed to move forward as a writer.
If that hadn’t happened last year, poetry would probably have been given up completely, career moved in a completely different direction. Between then and now I’ve been hospitalised, there’s been a major personal health scare and now we’re in a pandemic. None of this was on the plan, but we’ve coped with it all, with some confidence. The one thing that never really got dealt with was the consequences last year of counselling. The last two months has seen that issue finally pulled into focus.
The last submission piece completed today has been one of the most uncomfortable things I have ever written. It combines intensely personal parts of my history with the true, visceral terror of living through the last six months with a mind at times very close to total breakdown. It was built from pieces in a significant collection that showed that, if pushed, I could produce work to someone else’s brief which would be good enough to be shortlisted.
That collection is now split into three: the sunniest group of 22 poems also got sent away to somewhere else, final eight poems that remain will now sit for a while and breathe, before being repurposed for a major contest in September. I’m done with submissions for this month, a mere five days in, because the lesson has been learnt, finally. Validation only works if you believe it. I don’t need other people to tell me how capable I am any more, just need to feel confident in my own ability, and have never felt as confident as I do now.
Ironically, I’m already expecting rejection this week from work submitted before all this chaos began. I won’t take this as a setback either, because looking at that work, a copy of which is sitting to my right, I can already see where it could be improved. Some submissions aren’t about winning in the first place, but building confidence to take part in other, more important events. It’s the miles in your legs, to use a cycling metaphor: muscles never build strength or condition if you don’t exercise daily.
Poetry is, in many ways, just like exercise, and it is not surprising that I see many poets as keen runners or athletes. Understanding how words work in a brain and then condition them with strength and repetition makes an awful lot of sense. Finding your voice will never happen if you’re too frightened to speak out loud, or make mistakes. It is a balance within you, and between you and the Universe, in a constant and often frustrating state of flux.
This month, I’ve decided to get the cosmic angst out of the way early 😀
I’ll be taking a break from the blog here, starting today. I expect this to last until such times as I can finally get everything in my life into some kind of order. It’s been a fairly brutal couple of months, and this place has been somewhere that has really not been getting the kind of love that I feel is required. However, there’s a real difference now between life now and life three months ago, and that’s Patron, where people are paying me to make content.
I fully intend to be back here for August 3rd. By then the work/life imbalance I have to fix will hopefully be more manageable. I’m going to organise a bunch of goals to achieve by that time, which will finally include filling in missing content to my satisfaction, and streamlining my output here to more accurately reflect what matters, and not what I think needs to be done. It transpires that there’s a significant gulf currently between those two places.
If you subscribe to my monthly newsletter, I’ll be using July’s to outline what is going to change, and then August’s to officially move back into production. In the meantime, I have a pile of laundry the size of Everest to sort, and some penance to serve for my family. It makes sense stop now, and not keep carrying on until the work/life balance can be organised better, because this may work on one side of the equation but isn’t currently on the other.
I will therefore see you again on Monday, August 3rd, all things willing.
The last seven days have been hugely significant for my personal development: on Friday I finally completed the first draft of a project that wasn’t initially part of my ‘Experimental’ work but has grown from the need to be able to produce to deadlines. It has been created for a very specific submission window, pushing brain into a different working mindset. However, that won’t be why it will be remembered, celebrated and ultimately published regardless of submission success.
Occasionally, it is necessary to go back to the past in order to continue an unimpeded journey through the present. On the weekend when history was remembered in this country for very different reasons, I was able to finally leave some of my regrets where they belong. Moving on will be slow, painful work but with this line on the ground, I can mark realistic progress away. Having these benchmarks is incredibly important for me in exercise, even more so as an indicator of personal progress.
This new work therefore is hugely important for therapy.
I hope to have some content on YouTube for Wednesday, but this will be largely dependent on getting the backlog here organized. The first two Drabbles will be with you later today (right now it is graphics holding me back, not words) and on days like this I wish all there was to worry about was writing and not all the other elements needed to make a website work to my liking. However, these are the challenges, self set, and which will all be eventually overcome.
My progress as a writer, increasingly, is measured by notional progress in organization. This is undoubtedly a huge step forward in those terms, quite apart from the quality of work I have managed to produce since Lockdown. To expand as a person is not just about success, or validation. It is vital I am honest to my own integrity, that how I act and conduct myself on wider stages is done with respect for the beliefs of others.
These are interesting and educational times for us all.