Always There

The plan, at the start of this year, was to own something saleable to self-produce by the end of the year. It was initially the intention to only do this digitally: that should hopefully still take place in the next couple of weeks but my first serious foray into publication will be with a physical collection. I’ve spent the last six weeks or so putting finishing touches to a proof and obtaining prices from local printers. A final amendment to my original cover design has been double-checked, plus a biography added to the back. On the 19th I’ll send everything to the people chosen to handle this task and wait for a proof…

If all goes well, by the middle of November, there’ll be a debut pamphlet to purchase.

Part of me hoped this particular collection might be picked up by a major publisher but nobody seems to consider a 53-year-old mother of two’s mental health journey as particularly saleable. I can completely understand why that would be the case, and why to favour supporting authors who have a proven track record of selling poetry makes far more sense financially. I’m not an idiot. These are difficult times for everybody. It’s why the decision was made to dip into savings in order to fund this, and to know well in advance not simply the viability of the product, but EXACTLY how many copies need to be sold to break even.

This project then becomes maths plus ability, and allows me to make what I want and not to compromise on what is, at times, very personal content. There’s a number up on the wall, a pricing scheme which is acceptable for what is produced, plus a marketing campaign of my own design which will reveal the best of what I can offer as a mental health poet. This will culminate in producing a complete reading of all the poems for Time to Talk Day in February, where I’ll explain the details of this journey from childhood to the present day.

Normally, I’d be obsessed with NaNoWriMo at this point… and I am, after a fashion. The idea is all ready to roll, I’ve already started writing, but next week is not going to be some adverts and building a webpage so that I can start taking pre-orders. I reckon that’s a good couple of days work, and as I intend to take a day off on Friday (*cough* BIRTHDAY *cough*) So, once that’s done, you’ll be getting alternate posts on both of these, and I really can’t complain that there’s not sufficient excitement in my life.

Well, I could, but it would be a complete lie.

Somersault

It occurs to me that constantly having to keep yourself accountable is a lot harder work than it first appears, especially when people are paying to help you progress. It is easy to see how so many people in the arts industry burn out so quickly: it is a treadmill, and it never stops. Therefore, training yourself to be able to get on and off whilst the thing is still moving is the skill I’m now very glad to have grasped.

Over the last week, a lot of plans have been put in place, yet again, and others have had their objectives subtly realigned. By the end of October we should have the self-published pamphlet ready to roll, but this is going to depend on pricing from printers, which I can’t finalise until the contents of said pamphlet are complete… finishing matters more than anything else. Then, once my graphic design skills have been tested…

Needless to say, if I’m not in the right mindset, this is all an awful lot harder.

There’ll be more news on this project on the 15th 😀

Change

Most things right now are pretty well-organised, so when I got to FINALLY being in a position to record audio for my own poetry, the process went remarkably well. What was immediately apparent however is that the presentation systems themselves require some thought, and that’s where we are now: how everything looks together, and finding a logo and strap line that can now take the website and my content to it’s next logical evolution.

I know some authors get physically uncomfortable when considered as a ‘brand’ and you can see these people from quite some distance away. Looking like you’re throwing it together as you go along is a skill that would, quite quickly, drive me into the ground with exhaustion. You must be a certain type of artist to succeed with that, and I’m just not. I demand far more order, focus and thought along the way, and so a new logo was born to show an increasing acknowledgement of these truths.

I will no doubt thank YouTube later for making me extract the digit.

I’m in the final production process for a number of videos that will be shown during World Mental Health Day, which I produced in my capacity as a Time to Change Champion. I am very proud of them, and they’ve made me realise what is possible if I set some quite rigid restrictions on how stuff is done. It’s also taught me a great deal about my own resilience as a creator, and that maybe this is a viable means of doing work going forward.

However, I’ve never really been comfortable reading anything to camera, which is why that’s not going to continue in public. I’ll be making audio-only videos going forward for public consumption, if you want to see my face you’ll need to subscribe to Patreon. I have a cunning plan, however, and the first part of it will go live on Thursday, alongside some specially-written poetry for National Poetry Day. I am really pleased with all my work this year.

We have come a very long way in the last twelve months 😀

Love’s Great Adventure

Following on from Tuesday’s reminder of things past, today is very much about what is to come. The Places of Poetry anthology launches on National Poetry Day, which is a week from now. I’ve got a couple of things ready to roll, and hope to have my first proper video complete by then. After that there’s the virtual launch with a bunch of people far better qualified at doing this stuff than I am. There will be lots of notes taken.

It’s what then happens next that now occupies my mind.

I’ve spent the last few days preparing what needs to be done. Now it’s just a matter of making my way through it, then organising myself appropriately. There’re calenders to print and possible new things to enter/submit to, and after that some time an effort should be given to make a new biography and headshot for the web page. As I picked up my inclusion to the anthology on spec, there is always the opportunity this will bring in interest.

Next week, we’ll start talking about my next potential project.

Just a Little

This week’s been a bit unexpectedly brutal. You’ll be seeing this on a Saturday but it’s sitting in Thursday’s blog spot, for reasons that are all over social media. I assume that people read here and follow me, and therefore do my best not to repeat the same stuff. Therefore, if you wanna go catch up, this blog is not for you. Here is where it is admitted, to the room, there is a new poetry collection in progress. I dunno where it will go, or whether it will even see the light of day.

The key here is that it is demanding to be written.

So, why is there a picture of a tasty chocolate bar here? This simple confection has been the subject of a very vocal, extremely entertaining family ‘dispute’ for a couple of weeks now. It was the first time, in some time, I’d felt comfortable enough to really contribute to anything frivolous. Amazingly, the Penguin became a metaphor: you can be yourself, even if there are consequences. It is okay to be different, if you can accommodate other people whilst doing so.

Then, a publication I enjoy launched their pamphlet contest and I found myself thinking of reasons why I couldn’t enter. I’d be never good enough for them, there are other things in contest, you don’t need to do anything else… and there were reasons piling up to not try something new. My brain was already placing obstacles in my way, to produce something of the standard required.

I’m not going to be that person any more.

The rules, therefore, are simple: no miring myself in chaos. No stressing about it. Write when you feel like it, don’t get lost in the work. If it makes you overly emotional, walk away. The task here is a realistic interpretation of where you exist as a human being. If all that can be achieved, I’m doing pretty well. So far, I’m halfway through. Once this is written, I’ll probably do some more. Undoubtedly, as I do, a Penguin will be involved.

Being kind to myself is part of the new rule set.

Idioteque

Monday seems a long time ago, it has to be said. The weather has not helped in making things easier: my optimal operating temperature is somewhere in the low 70’s (about 19-20 degrees Centigrade) and frankly, anything above that my lungs are not best pleased. Therefore, large portions of this week have been physically a challenge negotiating… but I have. It’s helped to shove all my exercise in early: this morning I managed a new dead lift personal best.

It’s a totally inspiring means to begin a day. It also puts into perspective, if it really needed to be highlighted, that all the work that was done in lockdown to keep fit and maintain my equilibrium has now produced not simply progress, but real potential for new opportunity. This journey is no longer about doing enough, after all. I want to exceed expectations, and start really turning back my body clock using exercise. The same is true with the writing. When I practice every day, things get better.

It is time to look at the results thus far, to find means to work past those expectations too.

Today, we’ve begun the process of introducing two new strands of content to Patreon for September. It’ll all be finished by the end of August, plus this weekend a ton of new things will (quietly) appear on the website here. The architecture is already in place, I just need to do some technical wizardry to make it happen, between a couple of bike rides and quite possibly some more writing.

There’s a lot more too, some mental health projects in progress that I can’t talk about yet (including some art) plus everything that we’ve previously discussed. There will be some fairly serious organization on that front starting next week, but once we have the Patreon LANzine ticked off for the month, everything becomes significantly less stressful to complete. Final pass on that will be Monday morning.

Keep an eye on the website this weekend, and watch the magic emerge before your eyes…

Unputdownable

This week, I have indulged myself in long-form narrative, and it has been smashing.

This writing project was originally NaNo, dumped in frustration because of a plot hole it was simply too hard for me to negotiate. The reason for that was very much tied up in trauma, it transpires, and I realised some inescapable truths coming out of the latest round of submissions: everything I’ve done with this project was to make deadlines or to assuage a desire within me that was never properly explored or explained. It’s no surprise therefore that this week, returning to it has become a revelation.

The Spotify soundtrack has really helped too, and after six years of mucking about, it looks as if starting tomorrow it will have a new direction. It becomes my vanity project, in effect, alternative to all the other stuff which now, like it or not, have become part of a work remit. That’s totally right and proper too, because without summat to look forward to or indulge in, everything else gets boring quite quickly.

Plus, let’s be fair, I’ve had enough of poetry for the time being.

However, it’s not been forgotten about, far from it. I announced today in Patreon that the cover above will be my first ‘proper’ pamphlet: Reboot 2 $hell is a project I’ve been working on, back and forth, for a couple of years, and is so niche that I realise now the only sure-fire means of doing it justice is to publish it myself. As yet, I’m not totally sure what form that will take, but can do nothing with the collection until I’ve created a layout.

So, there will be this secondary project running alongside the fiction for a couple of weeks, until I can create summat I’m happy with. There’ll be updates on progress, but I have ideas for some things that will personalise the project sufficiently. Needless to say now it’s been announced via Patron, I am obliged to make the imagined into summat real and tangible. That’s always a good motivator. This time however, there’s potential for making some cash along the way.

Let’s see if we can get a project like this off the ground without too much fuss.

Little Things

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.

Another Way to Die

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 😀

Ballroom Blitz

Oh look, we’re back… when I say that it makes it sound like everything is organised and finished, when the reality is that an awful lot of is sitting, waiting to be fixed. In Good News [TM] we have timescales now, and realistic levels of expectation. Welcome to the New Normal, and there’s quite a lot of stuff to catch up on so let’s get started.

This month, and in fact going forward long term, we’ll be sticking Instagram and website content into a combined output. It makes more sense to not keep trying to be lots of different things across multiple platforms, and to focus effort on content over variety. Therefore, if you follow my Instagram, you’ll see me using that this month as a means to deal with the COVID stuff, how I make ART as a CREATIVE, and some other bits too. It also becomes the way I’ll tell you how my efforts to become FAMOUS are going, or not, as the case may be.

On that front, we made it to a shortlist proper for the first time last month with some poetry. We’ll keep plugging away at that side of things in tandem with self-publication, which is going to happen before Christmas. That work begins in September, and I’m already looking forward to the output, of which there is much to choose from. Picking the best work is the easy bit: it gets harder when you’re the graphic designer and the production co-ordinator to boot. No matter, the work will be done.

The biggest single piece of news however is I’m working with the local Arts collective as part of their New Artists Network. That’s never going to stop being funny: at 53 I’m still less than two years into a professional endeavour, as you’re considered successful after publication. My first piece debuted in November 2018, my next piece appears in hardback, in October for World Poetry Day. So, technically I could call myself established from that point, but if you know me well that’s never happening. This doesn’t stop even if I do hit the target, multiple times.

I don’t ever see a true end to this period of creativity in my life.