As the year comes to an end there's often the tendency to reflect back upon the last twelve months (usually after several vodkas and wearing a ridiculous party hat whilst sobbing in the toilets on New Year's Eve), but as it's also been a year since I started my blog and decided to take my writing more seriously, I've decided to let myself wallow. For a bit. So, where to begin...
When I started my blog last November I had two pieces of flash-fiction published, and a story accepted for a forthcoming anthology. I now have twenty-two published pieces (including the ones previously mentioned); so while I may get impatient with the slow process of write-edit-send-reject/publish, and berate myself for my laziness, that isn't bad going, I tell myself. Then writerly perfection creeps. Most of those stories could have been better: some of them much, much better. I know that writers are rarely happy with their own work, and while I can chart my progress back through my work to some extent, which provides 'proof' that there is progress ('see how shit that bit is, hilarious!'), there is a niggling 'urgh, if only I'd sat on that for a while longer before sending it out!' regarding some of the pieces, at the back of my mind. Conversely though, I read through some of my older work, fully expecting to find fault, and instead I find myself enjoying them, and I notice that there's an ease and a lack of awareness to a lot of them (endless concerns about 'telling' versus 'showing', plot advancement, dialogue etc) that is absent now (for better or for worse, I'm not sure!).
The main change in my writing, however, is that while most of my previous work straddled a literary/genre line (and still does to some degree), and while I'm probably not going to start penning hard Sci-Fi, I am now actively targeting my work at 'genre' markets as that's where it feels more at home, and I am starting to define myself as a 'writer of weird things' whereas before 'author' was a catch-all that belied my lack of focus.
Also, concerning my publications, a big THANK YOU to anybody who took the time to comment on my stories where that option was available (or 'liked' them/ shared on FB, Twitter etc). It's nerve-wracking to have your writing at the mercy of the internet maniacs, but so far all the feedback has been just wonderful and I've filed it all away for those grey days when I'm feeling useless, and where those kind comments are akin to a sugary cup of tea, or a massive slice of cake, or a big hug from somebody in a furry bear/yak whatever that-over-there-is suit. I have been lax myself, and been a read-and-go type, and was a bit oblivious to 'netiquette' regarding these things, but it's made me see just how valuable a bit of bolstering can be, and how if I do enjoy a story, then I really should just let the writer know, so to all those who took the time to do so, again, sincere thanks.
In January this year I started a creative writing MA at MMU, and while I'm still getting mocked for pursuing a creative degree '(What yer doing that for?' etc), I've really enjoyed it so far, and it's encouraging to be around (extremely talented) people who are all aspiring authors, and who can empathise with the daily writerly woes ('oh, my pov is so wrong, I'm useless, I tell you, useless!'). It hasn't been an easy ride either (for a 'waster's'' degree); whether it's writing your own stuff for workshop; or giving detailed feedback on the work of your peers, or reading a book a week for three months ('actively' reading too, noticing all the techniques rather than cruising along with the story); or doing the creative exercises linked to whichever text is in question, or providing in-depth analyses for seminar. I can find themes and subtexts and all sorts of sociopolitical nuances within novels (due to my previous degree which DEMANDED I do so), but I really found it a challenge to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of the work instead (how the characters are drawn, how effects are achieved, how stories generate suspense/ elicit emotion etc) and it's really a case of seeing the ladybirds on the leaves rather than coolly standing back to assess the tree.
Around February I also started working for the excellent Shimmer Magazine as a slush reader, and I'm still happily slushing away and having fun with it all. I know I'll sound biased but I love the stories that the magazine publishes -all full of beautiful weirdness and longing and loss and dark lyricism- and I'm really glad to be a part of it; but being a first-reader has also been beneficial for my own writing as it's much easier to assess work which isn't your own, and when you see the same mistakes over and over again (mainly too much exposition, flat characterization, too many superfluous descriptions of the sky, grass, clouds etc), it's easier to notice when you're falling into similar traps, allowing you time to gnaw off your prose and delete before a slusher-sniper out there turns the rifle back on you.
So far (and back to the stats) I've read around 600 stories, rejected most of them, sent some of them to the editorial board for further discussion, of which only one actually got into print. The magazine does have a very specific style and tone and we do have to reject many wonderful stories just because they don't quite fit, but again, to bring it back to myself (writers are egotists, you know), seeing those odds, and seeing the quality of some of the work that we do have to let go, it certainly makes getting a rejection yourself all the more palatable when you see the process from the other side. Plus the nature of the rejections that we send –personal, rather than form ones- often garners responses from authors appreciative of the constructive criticism that we seek to provide, which makes me feel all warm and smiley and important, and like much less of a ruthless-dream-crushing-monster.
So, the plans for the new year, then: finish the YA novel and start looking for an agent. Finish the short stories that are three-quarters complete (the stagnating stage, it seems) in my pile, get on with the MA, and the reading, and the slushing, and see where I end up this time next year. So happy new year, all, see you on the other side :) x