Wednesday, 31 December 2014

What happened to 2014?

It’s the end of another year. 
It’s true what they say – the older you get, the faster the years flash past. At least that means the winter won’t be around too long.
For the last twelve months I’ve heaved everything I can at the depression that’s kept me flattened and fearful for most of my life. The results have been patchy to say the least. I have come to the realisation that from now on it’s up to me. I’ve studied all I can, learned a lot of lessons but nothing will change until I put things into practice. For the first time since 2009 when I gave up chocolates and chocolate bars, I am making a whole list of resolutions.  I was able to give up chocolate, just like that 9although I still miss it!). Hopefully I can give up some of my other bad habits just as easily, simply by making a promise to myself. It’s worth a try.
I am also going to keep a record of the work I do – number of new stories written, number of stories subbed, comps entered, as well as a word count on the various books I have under way. Again, I hope that seeing it written down in black and white will give me that much needed nudge. If I don’t have anyone in my life to give me encouragement (my ex doesn’t read my stories) then I have to find a way to encourage myself. It’s that simple.
I have signed off the dating sites I was on as, mostly, it was a waste of time. I have also given up all volunteering for the foreseeable future. I want to see if being free to do as I want, when I want, will help me to achieve more.
Sales-wise, it was a good year, (47 sales) far better than 2013 when I only sold 20 stories, mainly to markets that paid £100 or less. Of course, that means that I need to write dozens of new stories if I want to repeat that feat. That’s why I don’t find time to write the books I want to write, or at least that’s the excuse I keep coming up with. In my heart I know that’s rubbish. When I’m motivated, the words flow so fast, I can hardly keep up. My imagination is back to full strength, thank goodness, so the ideas are flowing too. All I have to do is get the balance right between work and the rest of my life.
Highlights of 2014. Swanwick.  I chose not to run a course so it was even more fun than usual. I also got to meet Shirley Blair, of the People’s Friend.
Dirty Dancing at the Grand Theatre.
My ill-fated fling with a much younger man that taught me so many important lessons.
Getting my weight down to less than eleven stone.
ITALY. Having hesitated for so long, I managed to get away, abroad, on my own. It was A M A Z I N G and I plan to go again in 2015. Probably to Lake Como, or Florence.
Writing my first ever short  panto. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, but I did.
I will end with these thoughts. Remember to count your blessings. Try to live in the present. Be grateful for the things you have rather than longing for the things you don’t have.  
Have a wonderful, happy and healthy 2015.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Bah, humbug.

I find Christmas hard.
Everyone is talking about buying pressies, where they are spending the holidays,  and how many people they will be catering for. I try not to let it get me down but it doesn’t quite work. Each time I hear on eof those conversations, I am reminded of what I’m missing out on. That said, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just have to grin and bear it. I’m using jigsaws and baking to help me cope. I love baking, trying new recipes and so on. And of course, I love to eat the results. When I’ve posted this, I’ll be making a posh bread and butter pudding, wheat free of course.
I have invited my ex round for food, again. I wish I didn’t have to lean on him quite so much but there it is. Besides, he’s more than happy to eat my food. I’m a much better cook than he is (in case you’re wondering, he’d agree with that).
Although I’ve hardly written anything new, work on the novel(s) is progressing. I now know there are at least two books and the bare bones of what will happen in book one.  I also know the title and the overall focus of book two. I think there may well end up being a series of books as I know from previous experience (when I wrote articles about tropical fish), that once I start a project, more ideas will come into my head.  What I need to make sure of is that I have enough for Book One and that it can stand alone.
I still have some thing sot figure out before I can take off the brakes and get scribbling. Having to plan things out, even if just sketchily, is new to me. With a short story, I can simply see what happens but in a book, that’s not quite so easy as everything has to link up and make sense. For example, I can’t kill off a character in the first book if I find I need them later.
Over the past year, I have been letting go of various things - jobs, such as Secretary of Leeds Writers and tutoring for the Writers Bureau,  and membership of groups, such as LWC and the cryptic crossworders . I am now finishing off that process by stopping doing any voluntary work for at least a year.  I have very much enjoyed helping out on Friday afternoons at the local Good Neighbours Art group but in 2015, I want to take a year out, which means plenty of holidays, going to new groups and trying different events and activities. For that, I don’t want anything in my diary that I can’t get out of without letting people down. This has been a very hard decision to make. It leaves me feeling pretty much redundant with no role or purpose in life but something tells me I need to do this. Time will tell if it’s the right decision.
So what about Christmas? I have bought DVD sets and invited my ex to stay. There will be plenty of good food and drink. What more could anyone ask for?
I wish anybody reading this 9and everybody else for that matter) good luck, health and happiness in the coming New Year.  

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

At last - I'm ready to write more books

For quite a while (years), I’ve wanted to write longer pieces of fiction – serials and novels – but so far, only actually managed to complete one (it’s available on Amazon but I’m not asking you to buy it).   
That particular experience was so painful that it rather put me off having another go. Then, to complicate matters, I found that I was actually rather good at writing short stories and that I could make a living doing that. Ever since, I’ve found it hard to step off the short story writing treadmill. The reason was pure and simple. I make a living writing stories. If I take time out to write a book or a serial, they might not find homes and I would be out of pocket (writing is my main source of income and will be until I get my pension which, from the way the entitlement age keeps going up, may never happen).  
Last year I was ill with depression, and still struggling to come to terms with various personal problems. I sold 20 stories, mainly to poorer paying markets, which translated means  those that pay less  than £100 for a story.  This year I tried an experiment. What if I worked part time? Would less writing result in better quality? 
Amazingly it worked. To date, and I don’t’ expect to sell any more this year, I have sold 44 stories, the vast majority to the better paying markets which means my income tripled and my work load was more than halved, leaving me more time to enjoy life (currently I have four Christmas stories out in Take a Break mags (F Feast and the Winter special) as well as a longer story in Woman's Weekly Fiction Special.
I recently had a course of hypnotherapy, in what felt like a last ditch attempt to shift various blocks that were holding me back (if you’re near Leeds and want Daniel’s contact information, do get in touch). My last session was yesterday. Of course, it’s too soon to say; the proof being in the pudding as they say but I have finally figured out a way to do everything I want to do and still have time to spare.
I have made a timetable game. The board divides each day into 3 blocks, morning afternoon and evening, each around three hours long. Regular commitments have been blocked out. There are six counters - three marked S for stories, three marked B for book – which can be moved around the board. The idea is that when a block of work is achieved, that counter is turned over, revealing a black square. At the end of each week, a tally will be kept of how many counters were successfully turned over. This will be linked to some kind of reward system (not decided as yet), I might even discover that I have to introduce a penalty system.  The beauty is that it makes writing books look easy. If I wrote 500 words an hour, in one three hour block that comes to 1500 words, multiplied by three blocks for one week gives 4500 words. After just ten weeks, that’s 45000 words, which would mean that I’d have the first draft of a 90000 word novel in twenty weeks.  How easy is that? Of course, I’d then have to edit it and so on, but breaking it up into smaller steps makes it seem so much less daunting. 
The photo shows the rough trial version. If it goes well, I will produce something sturdier. 

I will post progress reports as I go along.
I just want to finish my wishing everyone a peaceful, happy and healthy Christmas, full of love and good cheer. I’ve neglected so many people in recent years, I can only apologise. I will try to do better in 2015 but if I fail again, please forgive me. I’m doing my best.  Remember, Christmas is a stime to get in touch with friends and family, people you’ve lost contact with or had a falling out with. Send them a card. Put your phone number inside. Build a bridge or two.
Happy holidays.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

To date or not to date. And why envy can be good.

Who knew how hard it would be to meet a man? It wasn’t like this when I was younger. It’s a though once they get to fifty, the men either disappear, hibernate, or get cold feet when it comes to actually meeting someone new.
It’s been a week of disappointments in the world of dating. I managed to meet one man but there was no spark. All he wanted to talk about was electrical equipment and finance! Two more men who I really wanted to meet, chickened out. One put me off, several times, finally asking if we could meet today then cancelling at the last minute. Annoyingly he hasn’t said why yet.
Another, who wanted to write letters before  meeting, eventually admitted that he had this frankly barmy idea that if he wrote letters and sent his phot to 20 women, at least one would fall in love with him before they actually met. I mean how daft is that? Then again, I suppose  it might work on some people. You do hear of women falling for prisoners, and plenty of people profess to be in love with celebrities, so maybe he has a point  All I know is that it wouldn’t work on somebody like me.
He called after my most recent letter saying how blown away he was by my achievements and talents (I sent him one of my books as a gift), and then said that the reason I might not be getting to meet any of the men who contacted me was because I’m too clever for them. As  I hadn’t actually told anyone else about my degree, books, etc, that didn’t wash. Then he treated me to a long, depressing ramble about how hard it is to find decent women, how much he hated the UK, and so on and so forth. I felt as though I was counselling him. Long  story short, he decided we wouldn’t get on if we met, despite the fact that we had plenty in common. After so much effort, he wouldn’t actually risk an hour of his life and so  another one bit the dust. No wonder so many women decide to give up on the whole relationship thing. It’s really hard to keep picking yourself up.
Various things came up in the hypnotherapy. The focus was on unhealthy as opposed to healthy emotions. For example, it’s fine to feel envious of a person if that motivates you to work harder, but not if you feel bitter or jealous. This is something I struggle with. I’m constantly comparing myself to other, more successful or more prolific writers. For example, I’ve just read on Facebook that Della Galton, who I adore, has written fifty thousand words of short stories during November while I have written about ten thousand. I feel terribly envious despite the fact that I COULD have done the same. I made the decision to only work part time a year ago, so that I could try other things and maybe have some fun so why do I still feel jealous? It’s like people who have amazing web sites, or get book deals. If I worked harder, I could do that too. It’s my choice. I need to let go of unhealthy envy, which, believe you me, is b****y hard to do.
At the moment, I’m still concentrating on stories with twist endings as that’s what Fiction Feast are short of right now (one and two pagers). I have three in progress which I should have finished by about Tuesday.
Right now, the sun is shining for the first time in days. The light is so good, I simply have to go and get some painting done. I AM part time you know.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Shrot story writing tip 9and other stuff)

I have decided to stop looking for a man. It’s too depressing. 
If he’s out there, we’ll find each other, somehow. It’s time to let fate step in and ditch the dating sites.  I’m ditching other things too.
I struggle when it comes to letting myself off the leash.  I have taken on duties and roles that I don’t enjoy, and gone to events hoping to meet somebody. From now on, if it isn’t fun,  interesting or potentially rewarding, it has to go.
Now whether I’ll manage stick to that, is another matter.  
November was meant to be novel writing month but that hasn’t happened (yet). 
I respond well to deadlines, IF they come from somebody else. For example, if an agent wanted to see a completed book, I’d get it written, or when I know a fiction editor needs one thousand worders, I can produce them. It’s giving myself deadlines that doesn’t seem to work. I know that’s weird but there you are.
Regarding short stories, it’s been a good year, even though I’ve been working part time so I will take a lesson from that and see if I can make more progress towards the goal of finding the right balance. Work hard, play hard sounds good to me.  I’m making room in  my life so that when an opportunity comes along I can take it. I feel bad about this. I feel bad about giving up voluntary work but I can come back to it later, once my l own life is in better shape.  In short, I need to learn to value myself and not have to rely on other people for validation.
As this blog is supposed to be about writing, I’ve decided to pass on a tip to anyone who wants to write a short story for a woman’s magazine. It goes like this. Ask yourself these  questions.
Does the story have a message or a theme? If so, what is it? If not, why not?  
Can I describe the plot in one sentence?
One of the biggest problems I see when people send me their work for feedback is lack of focus. Stories start in one place then ramble off in another direction. It’s important to remember that a short story is a snapshot, not an entire film, It’s all about focus, making the most from very little. And, for me at least, above all else, it’s about the characters. Once a reader starts to care what happens to them, you’re more than half way there.