(even if you aren’t sure you’ll ever get published)
Top tips for finding time and inspiration
I’ve read a few blogs on this subject, but they always seem to be from someone who has already published their book. That makes sense – their being published is what gives them the authority to speak – but they always refer to writing under pressure of deadlines or signing a contract with baby sick on it. They say things like ‘I got my publishing deal when I was pregnant and then wrote book two as I rocked the baby bouncer with one foot’… Ok pretty impressive… But you had the publishing deal! I’d be motivated too if I thought anyone else believed in me actually making this dream a reality.
The fact is, there’s an awful lot of us juggling kids and work and writing without any promise of success – now that’s a real challenge! (and I have no idea why people say ‘juggling’ that makes it sound like there’s some sort of order to it all. There isn’t. It’s chaos!).
I admit it’s a challenge that defeats me some days; one that brings with it guilt and questions about my priorities and leaves me wondering whether I’ll look back in ten years and be sad I wasted all those hours deluding myself that I could do this.
Some days I return from work (where I write all day), feed my 2 year old, bath him, greet my husband, read the little man a story, put him to bed, cook for us (my husband does share the chores but that doesn’t help me make my point so ignore that for now!), attempt adult conversation… and then start writing. And I haven’t mentioned the tantrums, the second toddler dinner I made as the first went to the dog by mistake, the washing, cleaning, bills and correspondence or the fact we’re all meant to be on social media constantly to promote our platforms in the hope that one day we can flog all our followers a copy (sorry followers!) – by then any teens I had following me will be too old to enjoy it so I’m confident I’m wasting my time but hey! Ooh badly structured tangent sentence alert – should probably rewrite. Nope. Too exhausted!
So yeah, it’s not easy and it’s not ideal. I mean we’d all love a week long writing retreat, or days holed up in sunlit attic writing room, but if I waited for that there’d never be a single word produced. And yet, somehow, I have 85,000 words of my first novel, 5,000 of my second, several children’s stories, a few prizewinning short stories and a pile of new ideas brewing, all since my little boy was born. It’s not because I’ve been especially organised or good, it’s more because writing is a bit of a compulsion and even when I think I probably should give up, I can’t. But I have developed a few strategies over the past couple of years and thought it may help to share them…
6 windows of time I exploit wherever possible:
- nap times – these are gold. Of course there are other jobs that need doing in this time like, housework or perhaps you have other children, but if you can manage a minimum of 20 minutes free it’s ideal writing time.
- 30 mins in the evening – either as my husband puts him to bed (which is so lovely as I can hear them giggling or discussing the bedtime story as I type) or just after I’ve done it (which is often the case as he travels a lot for work so I’m frequently a single parent – in case some of you are trying to do this alone, it is still possible).
- Plan a tv programme’s worth of writing -whatever the concentration span of your child, you’ll probably manage a minimum of 20 minutes and that’s a window of time you can work in, but you need to plan. Know what you want to achieve and as soon as they are settled – scram! (or get the laptop out and hope they don’t notice and want to ‘help’). No time for making tea or just folding the washing first. Sit down and write!
- Find a weekly activity for dad or grandparents to do with kid(s) – this pretty hit and miss in our house due to my travelling partner, but signing them up to Sunday swimming sessions definitely gained me a few clear hours about every other Sunday, so it was worth it!
- Get up early – I struggle with this one. I already have to get up at 6.30 to get my boy up and fed and ready for nursery and me all set for work, so anything much earlier is a lot like torture, but just occasionally the sacrifice is worth it.
- If you can’t sleep, get up and clear your head – this one works for me every time. I often can’t sleep for things buzzing around in my head, I just get up and write it all down (which can generate useful story or character material later) and then possibly take 20 minutes of writing time on the book as well. By the time I’m done I’m sleepy and my head is clear.
In the meantime, whilst you are actually doing the parenting stuff…
5 tips for inspiration
- use the notes section of your phone (or the voice recorder if your hands aren’t free, or a notebook if you prefer low tech) whenever inspiration strikes mid-nappy-change.
- Read your child stories and watch their favourite tv shows with them to get inspired with characters and settings and plot lines. No matter which audience you’re writing for there’s a wealth of ideas out there, plus it’s good positive parent time.
- Talk to them about your story- sometimes kids have the best ideas.
- Take them to inspiring places. It benefits you both, even if it means an hour of Prep before you go, a battle to get them into the car and a meltdown in the gift shop! If you can’t find a story in the Pitt Rivers museum or the local woods, for that matter, I’ll eat my… cliche.
- Be present – try to put the writing aside and actually play with them sometimes! Sometimes a rest is refreshing for the mind, and being childlike feeds your creative well.
Finding time to write is always tricky – so many of us have a regular job to go to, a family to take care of and friends that occasionally require attention (!) – but I don’t believe that anyone can genuinely claim not to be able to find twenty minutes in their day. Of course it’s true that no one who loves writing fiction would actually choose to produce a novel in 20 minute sections. It’s definitely not the most productive or easiest way to work, but it does get the job done if that’s the only choice you have.
Here’s a quick-look list of writerly tasks you can easily squeeze in between everything else that needs doing. Please feel to add more suggestions in the comments – I just wrote this in twenty minutes!
- draft a buzz blog
- Edit a blog
- Update/write your bio on your blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and/or Facebook
- Make a meme and share it (try free sites like memedad.com that are super easy to use)
- Draw and label one of your characters
- Map out a section of your story
- Research (actually having a twenty minute limit can be helpful and stop you going off on tangents)
- Review/edit a chapter
- Plot a short story
- Draft a cover letter (but never send it until it’s been redrafted, edited, subbed, etc etc – you’re after perfection here)
- Work on your synopsis
- Study an agent’s submission guidelines
- Submit to an agent – if you’re ready, why not? (must take my own advice some day!)
- Make notes for your book’s thank you page (it helps to dream positively and actively prepare for print!)
- Take the time to go through each of your Social Media platforms and like, respond, comment, share – anything that actively engages in a positive way with your followers
- Just write! Even if it’s just a few paragraphs (though it could be as much as 500words when you get into it!)
Who am I to say all this? Truth? No one really, but I genuinely hope it helps and in case you need me to justify myself here’s the bio: Melissa Kay is mum to a two year old, works as a copywriter, is a sometimes single parent (due to a travelling husband) and attempts to occasionally have fun and see friends. She’s written and been published (mostly in magazines and newspapers, but also some short stories) and her YA novel opening was shortlisted for the SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices 2016. She’s managed to write consistently since the birth of her son and returning to work.
To choose a career in words is not an easy option. I mean it’s not as though it’s a skill no one else has. We all have a vocabulary and can construct a sentence. In fact we each speak an average of 17,520 words every day to an average of 7.4 other individuals! Using words is not a skill that people value particularly, and they certainly don’t want to have to pay you for them!
But as my days have developed and this has become a full-time job – leaping from editing my book, writing a short story, coming up with PR angles for a client or working on my latest piece of journalism (ooh that reminds me, don’t forget to buy The Independent on Sunday the 21st!) – I have become increasingly sure that this is what I really love. I love words.
When I really write the words come almost through me, like I’m not really doing it. It’s a sort of letting go, or an immersing – a tea bag relaxing in warm water, releasing its flavour with no effort at all. And that is a magical feeling.
Of course it isn’t always like that. Often it’s a slog. Forcing yourself to face the page. Taming ideas to land softly, but sharply in the shape I wish to paint, gathering the shards of the world. But it turns out that writing is rather like using a pencil that, instead of getting worn down, is actually sharpened by use. The more I work with it, the more I feel the shapely shavings sliced neatly away to reveal the lean and pointed lead. You literally get to the point! In the end it becomes easier to write succinctly interesting sentences than flabby, stubby paragraphs.
But really it’s the words themselves I truly love, not necessarily the process of the writing.
I love the way they carry meanings in their history. Just yesterday I read that ‘Remorse, etymologically, is the action of being bitten again.’ The word carries the same root as the word ‘morsel’ with both French and Latin origins. How very igenius our language is.
I also love the way they can play with each other. I was listening to two teenagers not so long ago. The American child exclaimed ‘Sweet!’ in response to the chance of a swim, using the slang to express his pleasure at the prospect. The Tanzanian child responded ‘sawa’ (meaning ‘OK’). I had to smile – one says ‘sweet’ the other ‘sawa’ (pronounced sour) and the joke was just for me.
As a totally different example, I wrote the other day in my note book, in response to rejection of another article pitch (a significant part of the life of a writer is rejection and I am trying to toughen up!): ‘I must remember that they are called ‘slights’, because they are slight. I must not let them make me feel the same way.’ The layers of multiple meanings in words interact with each other, they are not there by mistake. Words have magic. Words have history. Words have power.
Words in a drawer are not contained. They seep out, float up, unbidden in your mind, attack the senses. They cannot just be put away or hidden. Once they are strung together into sentences they have combined to form the DNA of a living thing and that is part of the magic.
There is a theory that each word we learn carried with it the association of where you first heard it and every time you heard or used it from that moment. We build a personal history with that word and thus it carries meanings not only defined by a dictionary but defined also by our relationship with that word. If that is true of each and every word, what multitude of meanings might be hidden when you combine two words, or three ,or any of the average person’s 11,000 word vocabulary? It is mind blowing. And as a writer, trying to pin this down so everybody hears just what you wanted is a task that is both terrifying and thrilling, impossible and yet somehow worth attempting.
isn’t it wonderful that the combination of just a few words, even in the face of all that variation in possible meanings and interpretations, can still leave us with a feeling or image – like ‘The soft wing-beat of sadness’ or ‘the way that morning shadows stretch awake’.
Even as a child, at night when the world was dark and silent I would read in secret torchlight. Sounds were louder, shadows were shapes, and the air was full of dreams. How could I want to sleep? No, no. I wanted to imagine. I wanted to dissolve myself in other people’s words.
So here I am now, at my computer again on another sunny Monday morning, preparing to face my book again (the teenage readers have finished going through it and I am working on putting their suggested edits in place before facing the group of adult readers who have very kindly volunteered to help me get this right), preparing to write an article on Pemba, to pitch an editor about a local charity and write my grandmother a letter. But before I deal with each heap of words for each of those, first I’ll get this blog post live. An odd sort of post, I suppose, not quite in keeping with the usual tales, but it just happened to be what I felt like saying today! I hope you found a sentence or two you that sparked a thought or made you nod or smile or pause.
Have a great week.
Why is it we will make absolutely any excuse not to do what is good for us? When it comes to the gym I am amazing… at avoiding it. Too much work to do, aching from the last session, the friend I go with is away, it makes me tired so I find it hard to work once I get back, blah blah blah. We all know the avoidance tactics and sometimes I even get as far as wondering if this magical myth of being slim and feeling fit even feels as good as people say it does – I don’t remember, and anyway when I did have that feeling I was in my early 20s, of course I felt great! So what’s the point?!
This little illustration isn’t really all about the gym of course, it’s just that the gym makes an accessible metaphor to explain how hard it is to write sometimes. I think a lot of people who’ve thought about writing a book (and there are a lot of people) or doing anything creative will identify with thoughts such as:
• Let me do the housework/other jobs/phone that friend/have a shower/check my emails first so I have a clear head [oops the whole day’s gone!]
• What if I’m not good enough and people laugh at me for trying? [if you have the grace to be a beginning and the humility to learn people are actually surprisingly kind]
• What if it changes my life and I’m not ready [how can it change your life if it doesn’t exist – hmmm cart, horse?!]
• I’m too old, or I don’t have time, maybe when I retire [opposite excuses for the same inaction – somehow young and crazy or old and crazy it’s socially more acceptable to try something crazy, whilst we’re somewhere in the middle we really ought to be more sensible!]
• Perhaps it’s self indulgent, egotistical, ridiculous, _________ (fill in the blank!) [believe me if you wanted to do something to indulge and big up your ego, well it wouldn’t be this – receiving rejections, criticisms and other’s opinions is not for the feint hearted! As for ridiculous – why’s it ridiculous to do what you love?]
• What if I spend all that time and it never actually amounts to anything? [the truth is you’ll probably have enjoyed the time you gave it]
And the one that recently really got me was this:
Do you have any idea how old I will if I start to learn x or y now?
I’ve asked it many times as I wonder what on earth I’m doing trying to write a book, but this time someone [who had written a book] gave me the answer: As old as you will be if you don’t!
So here I am. I know the answers to all the stalling tactics… but I can still achieve nothing in a day in style!
Hang on. I say that, but in fact I’ve written over 70,000 words and completed my first draft of my book (thanks guys – yes I did do as I promised last month, no you can’t read it yet!), and so far this month I’ve written five commissioned articles. You’d think I’d be more positive about it all. More professional?
See the fact is at every stage I am a beginner – which is great, since I have the openness and the excitement of a beginner, but I also have the fear. Most people start a new career in their twenties and then don’t change that career for most of their lives. They might change jobs, even roles, but they don’t start completely from scratch. If they do they might take a course first, or they’ll be guided through the system by colleagues. Not really an option in my situation. So I’m poking about in the dark! There are positives, it means I earn my lessons in a whole new way, and when the positives come they feel great (for about five minutes, before I’ve discovered the next hurdle!).
The truth is I’ve recently realised that it’s not the Philosopher’s Stone that was interesting (I really am not a Potter fan), what’s worth noting is that philosophers have stones! Brave New World was brave because Huxley was brave. Artists, dancers, actors, sculptors, designers, writers – regardless, they are putting themselves out there ready to be shot down, in public, against the odds, against their own inner voice. No wonder they are recognised as inspiring. I always thought it was their work that was inspiring – well it is of course, but it is also the characters that have achieved the work. Not that I’m suggesting for a minute that I am amongst those! – only that perhaps this journey is shaping me.
It’s very tempting to write a FaceBook page presentation of it all – you know the smiling photos of the best parts of our lives – ‘look guys I’m writing for this magazine, this newspaper, I get to travel and write and take photos in beautiful places, I’ve written a book!’ It would be true. It’s not fake. But there is so much more to it. The Facebook photos are of the great moments and that simply doesn’t reflect the daily slog or the rejections or the days you just wake up in a crap mood and there’s no one around to change it for you, no one to make you sit at your desk anyway.
This blog has been a little bit like the Facebook world… funny tales of African madness and mayhem. Well, they are funny sometimes, and I hope I’ll get my sense of humour back so I can continue to cover some of that side of life, but also after almost eight years in Africa I have stopped finding it so funny, often it covers a symptom of something much more concerning – lack of education, lack of self-respect, corruption, poverty. It doesn’t need writing about particularly, everyone knows that stuff – just like someone who’s constantly moaning in the Facebook statuses becomes tedious very quickly. But to consistently tell only one side does get tiresome too.
The past two weeks I’ve been avoiding writing my blog because I didn’t think I had anything to say. Actually I think it was really that I didn’t have anything funny to say. It’s been three weeks of writing articles, and editing photos and re-working the book and I was starting to get tired. I’d meet my deadlines, do the ‘important stuff’ and then make excuses as to why I couldn’t do this or that job I’d set myself on the book.
And then I realised… it’s not that it was tiring doing the work, or that it was too hard, it was A/ that it was terrifying because people will be able to judge it, real people might read it and form an opinion and B/ because it’s such a bloody long journey and I have no idea where it ends, or if will ever even really begin and C/ because it’s good for me! As hard as it is sometimes, I do actually want to write. I zing with the magic of pairing two perfect words together, and feel complete when a perfect sentence is structured on my page. It’s good for me and therefore that bad angel on my shoulder says ‘why not put on the TV and eat some chocolate instead? No one will know. No one reads blogs anyway, too much text, too much like hard work.’
Then someone said to me this afternoon: ‘I’ve been looking at your blog, I really enjoyed it.’ Simple as that. I avoided the urge to get on my knees and weep thank yous, but it did make me think that perhaps I should be bothered to waffle at you once again. So… these are my thoughts for the week. I’ll find something a little lighter for next time!
Thanks again for reading. Stay motivated, keep learning, be creative, enjoy the journey.
I always thought writer’s block was a total myth. One of those arty excuses for floating about and being aimless whilst you wait for inspiration. A writer must have made that one up! I mean come on – I never have no ideas, plus I usually have something I have to be writing – an article for someone, or my blog, or a bit for the home study course I’m working through – so it’s not possible to have nothing to write. And if you’re writing something, then you’re not blocked, are you!
Well, it turns out that all that is true, but writer’s block is a far more subtle mess than the classic image of the writer at the keyboard of an old-fashioned type-writer ripping useless pages from the roller and crumpling them into balls which are scattered around a waste paper basket, or simply staring at a blank page. When writer’s block tiptoed into my life and stubbornly sat itself down, it wasn’t that I couldn’t write, it was that I couldn’t write the book. On the surface I was getting on with all the work that was coming in, but when it came to the one fiction (and thus creative) project I’m doing I couldn’t form a thought, let alone a sentence.
‘You’re not a writer, you’re a wannabe’ said the voices of doubt in my head, disguising themselves as realists and settling back to enjoy a good bitch.
‘Chances are a million to one – you’ll never get it published, what’s the point?’
‘People might hate it, then you’ll feel silly. Can you really face all those rejection letters or critiques?’
‘You haven’t got the motivation or the focus to manage to actually get through an entire book – maybe two thirds is enough. You gave it a go.’
‘You’ve set yourself a mountain here – what were you thinking, inventing an entire world in the future, with a wide range of characters, new technology, different problems? – You’ll never make it all coherent, never make it believable. Give up now before you embarrass yourself.’
They go on… and on.
Up until mid-way though last year I had them gagged and bound at the back of my head, but all it takes is one set free and that one releases all the others and they don’t give up.
For those of you who now think I’m a weird schitzophrenic with multiple personalities, well… I’ll admit I was starting to worry about myself! But, when you finally run out of excuses for why you can’t possibly write today, you realise that what you actually do want to do… is write! So I had to get myself back on the path to doing just that.
I have begun several activities that have helped me to do that (summarized below in case any one else is feeling stuck, skip this bit otherwise!).
1. Talking! – for those of you who know me you’ll laugh at that being top of my list. But it’s true that talking to family and friends who care just makes you feel better, but more than that I have been able to start to understand this whole experience and, even better, when I finally got to really tell one particular friend the story I was writing and speak about the ending it suddenly became sharp in my mind and writing it seemed far less daunting. (Huge thanks to Sue who gave so freely of her time and helped me do this – asking lots of good questions and prompting lots of great stuff).
2. I’m doing a daily home study course that forces you to understand what stops you and what gets you started again so that you manage your time and energy more positively. (It’s called The Artists’ Way in case you’re interested).
3. Living! It sound silly, but by paying attention to the moment you are in, by planning a mix of activities to enjoy and by taking joy in as much as you can, the light can be put back into the world. Tromping through the daily routine, head down and teeth gritted is not living!
4. Setting goals and deadlines.
5. Reading books and articles by writers, editors and publishers.
Anyway, the upshot is I am writing again and really trying to push through to get a finished first draft by the end of next month.
There I’ve said it.
Now that I’ve said it ‘in public’ it has become a real deadline. Please help me to meet it by adding your expectations of my completion of the manuscript to this blog! If I feel your pressure then I know it will help me do what I said I was going to do!
It is both exciting and terrifying to think of having a completed manuscript. I think I’ve been putting it off because that is the point where you have to really dive in. It’s time to show it to someone, to put yourself out there. Little me amongst all those experienced professionals – how ridiculous! But (if I can maintain this new frame of mind – and I have no idea if I can, it’s my first time through this whole process!) I have decided I’m going to try.
I had to laugh when I began, last week, to read a book written by an experienced fiction editor. She opened with a chapter on first time authors and the fact that they: A/ often get stuck around two thirds of the way through their novel…I’ve done that on both my books – the first time I gave up completely! B/ they always want reassurance from agents and editors and frequently write to ask if these exceptionally busy people will review their work and tell them if they are wasting their time or actually have something worth completing… I had just sent a very high level publishing friend of a friend an email basically to that effect. How embarrassing! I am clearly typical in every way – how pathetically needy of me! As the writer of this book very clearly states, ‘if you are a writer you will need to write’. Even if this man told me to give up now, don’t quit your day job (oops too late), never write another word… I couldn’t! I’d miss it too much. I’d be back to random acts of scribbling in my spare moments. I suddenly realised that this poor, very busy man (who I’ve been badgering for a response once a month for three months!) does not need to tell me to get on with it (or not!) – it’s down to me to finish it and polish it until it’s something I can be proud of.
My course has a whole chapter on the fact that is not arrogant to want to put yourself out there, in fact it is the ultimate level of humility. I know exactly what it means now, but I think perhaps I have been struggling with not wanting to seem too big for my boots – after all, who am I to write a book? I’ve been searching for validation or a great big ‘GO’ sign. But then there is that fantastic and very famous quote:
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’ Marianne Williamson
So, my mission is to try to shine. I might run out of power sometimes, but hopefully not as often as Tanesco (our TZ power company!), and this time when I do at least I’ll know some strategies for re-charging and I’ll know I’m not alone. Perhaps I really am an ‘artist’ after all – I’ve just survived my first Writer’s Block! (Or should that be writers’ block? – oh I don’t even know the lingo properly – maybe I shouldn’t… just kidding. Whatever. The lingo can wait until after I’m a published writer!)
Turns out I’m a butterfly writer and am working a dystopian fiction novel – who knew?! It seems there is a term for everything in this industry, and why not? We are supposedly wordsmiths so I guess it makes sense.
Butterfly writers leap from project to project, and style to style, always having to filter ideas because there are just too many of them! I never realized it was a ‘condition’ but now I’ve been diagnosed I’m developing coping mechanisms! One of these is to set monthly targets.
This month I am going to:
- Maintain positive relationships with editors from Destination, Travel News, Salt n Pepper and What’s Happening.
- Approach a minimum of 5 new UK-based magazines (I’m going for the big guns now!) with viable pitches for features
- Write another chunk of the book
- Blog every week
- Enter more writing competitions
Since I last wrote an update I have been on a serious rollercoaster of success and disaster, confidence and absolute despair at my total hopelessness as a writer. I never expected this journey to grill me the way it has, but the more I integrate myself into the world of writers the more I seem to hear this as a common story. Thank goodness that writers, by nature, share, is all I can say! – otherwise I might well think I was losing the plot (sorry, writer joke!) entirely.
So, in support of my mission to keep facing forwards, I won’t bore you with the low times. I’m sticking with the positive theme of last week’s ‘Good Stuff’ for this blog so let me start with the really great news: Over the past few weeks I’ve been part of an online writers’ community for people attempting to write novels. As part of the site there is an ongoing assessment of your work – in a nutshell writers can ‘publish’ the first 7,000 words of their novel and then you review other people’s work, giving them marks and feedback. For every review you do you get a point, for every point you get a review from another writer. The marks are collated and the books are ranked. There are hundreds of writers on the site, all competing to get into the top ten – once you get there you get a review by a really big publishing house (and of course you just might get noticed). Anyway, skipping to the important bit… I posted chapters from my second book ‘Creating 2054’ (which it seems is not actually sci-fi with a twist but actually slots neatly into a genre all of its own – dystopian fiction). At the time of writing I’M RANKED NUMBER 11!’ Sorry for SHOUTING I’m just so excited! Keeping fingers crossed for a few more good reviews and a leap into the top ten for later this month of course!
I’ve had my fair share of tough reviews and struggled to pick up ad continue but the lesson for this month is definitely that criticism makes you better. The negative words would follow me about for days, seared into the back of my eyeballs, but they forced to me to sort out the weaknesses and to find solutions and actually inspired a few major changes to the original format of the book (which I’m only half way through but it’s definitely getting there now!). And some of the positive ones have really touched me and served to keep me going.
At the end of this month I will finally get to here about the Bats Blood poetry competition, which a lot of you have supported me in (thank you!) so I’ll keep you posted on that. I’m also awaiting news from a couple of short story writing comps.
In the past few weeks I’ve written pieces about the Street Children’s World Cup; a writer called David Read who grew up with the Maasai and has had an amazing life (he’s 90 now and not quite as together as he was so it was quite a mission but great fun); a piece on the Mara Triangle; on Stonetown in Zanzibar; on the Western Corridor of the Serengeti; and on how to handle criticism! It’s all good and random – I’m keeping in Mwanza style! I think I can safely say I’ve escaped the old routine of school!
More TIA Tales next week.
In the mean time, a huge thank you to everyone who is supporting by reading this blog, by checking in to Melissa Kay on Facebook, following on Twitter, reading my articles or just generally listening to me! Here’s to the top ten and poems on wine bottles. Thanks guys.
I promised regular (but not too regular) updates on how the writing is going so this is the latest from me. At the bottom I’ve added details of the first of a series of competitions I’m going to run – I really want (and need, let’s be honest) you guys to be involved in my novels as they progress so these are may of reeling you in and rewarding your loyalty at the same time!
The big news for this month is that I got selected in a competition. It’s a very small online one but it’s a start! The site has chosen my short story to feature in the ‘Lit Café’ and if it’s voted one of the best it could be included in a printed anthology later which would be very cool. I’ll post the link on here once it goes live.
Meanwhile, thanks to you guys, my Bats Blood poem is still at the top of the leader board! Unfortunately the comp doesn’t actually announce winners until the end of May so there’s lots of time for the other entrants to catch up. That means I still need your ‘likes’ so, if you haven’t done it already, here’s the link again: http://batsblood.com/2012/01/gods-and-immortals/ (in case you’ve forgotten the competition is for a poem to feature on the front of the Bats Blood wine bottles).
Right, now onto the journalism side of things: I’m still working with several TZ based magazines but am very excited to have branched out to Destination and Travel News, both of which target the whole of East Africa (and they pay properly!). They are really professionally produced magazines and I’m very excited to have cracked open the doors of their offices. You should be able to view my pieces online over the next couple of months – I’ll put the links up as they’re published.
For Destination I did all the traditional freelancer approaches in order to get a foot in the door, it was hard work and I was chuffed to bits when I got the email to say they’d take the piece we’d discussed. I was especially pleased as I managed to pitch it as a two part series, rather than a one-off piece, which is not usually the way things work.
The Travel News breakthrough was far more unexpected though… I had agreed to join a friend of a friend for drinks. We were in Dar, it was baking hot and we’d been shopping all day and I was kinda thinking perhaps I could just sneak home instead, but I didn’t, I went. Rule no 1 for freelance writers – go to everything! I now consider that lesson learnt!
As we arrived it was quickly apparent that the entire table had had a fair bit to drink (empty red wine bottles and them downing tequila shots was a dead giveaway!). We were introduced and I joined the table and accepted a glass of wine. Conversation began to flow and we chatted about Kenya (where some of them were from and I used to live) and life in East Africa, and then they asked me what I did.
I hate this question. I haven’t mastered how to answer it yet. I always seem to start with “Well I was a teacher…” Of course they don’t care a jot who I was, so then I fumble about apologetically and add “and now I write. I’m a… writer.” Mmmm. Not entirely sure I qualify just yet, as I think I mentioned in my last piece, but still, I’ve got some stuff published. The next question is always “Oh yeah, like novels and stuff?” so I’m ready for this one. “Yes, I’m working on a couple of novels, but it’s the journalism that pays the bills.” I tell them who I write for (and of course I take the opportunity to push the blog!) and the guy next to me pipes up “oh my wife writes for Travel News, the editor’s an old friend. Let’s call him!” Before I can blink I am on the phone to the editor, apologizing for exploiting his friend and requesting a chance to prove myself.
I am so grateful I hardly know where to put myself when I return to the table. People all along this crazy path have been so kind and so encouraging. It does make me laugh though, that when you say you’re a writer people automatically assume you are a good writer! I love them all for that!
Anyway, we’re discussing what angle to go for first right now so hopefully I’ll get an official commission from Travel News very soon.
Oh, and a little bit of insider info – a new Mwanza based magazine, just for us Lake-side folk, is coming out soon so keep an eye out for that.
As for the novels, well I said I’d offer up more on those when I last wrote an update so here’s a little bit.
The first novel is just a few chapters from completion of the first draft (that, as I understand it, is by no means the same as it being complete and ready to go off to agents and publishers for queries but it’s still quite exciting). But I’m not going to focus on the details of the first novel – which is a sort of chick-lit, travel experience that is intended simply to entertain and raise a smile – this week. You can have more on that later. For this week I’m more interested in sharing my preparations for the second novel, which is absolutely entirely and completely different to the first in every way!
It’s still early days so I’m not giving you the whole plot or details of characters or anything, but in order for you to enter my competition you’ll need to know a bit. OK, so…
THE SURVIVAL SCRIPTURES:
I guess the premise is best described as Labyrinth meets 1984. It is aimed at the YA (Young Adults) market and falls into the genre of sci-fi, but not as you know it. No robots, no aliens, no mind reading. In order for you to enter the competition, detailed below, you’ll need a bit of background (sorry, you don’t get any plot info at this stage but this should give you a flavor!), so that’s what follows here…
The story is set in 2054 and preceded by a nuclear war in 2016, which causes the destruction of large parts of the earth and the death of many, and the Decade of Disease (2016-2026) where many more people lost their lives due to a series of terrible illnesses and a series of geographical disasters which resulted from the nuclear activity. The world’s population in 2054 in just a third of that of 2012. So is the Earth’s land mass, and only parts of what remains are habitable.
The resulting civilization is one that is exceptionally hard working, has some modern technology and inventions but must grow all its food in domed tents to avoid radiation and bad water and has limited resources. There are a number of crucial facts you must understand…
First, a Global Government has been introduced to bring the remaining population together.
Second, a Universal Religion has been created to avoid war again in the future.
Third, English has been made the universal language.
Fourth, Creativity is banned. It was abandoned, by and large, during the desperate years that followed the war anyway and is now actively monitored by The General and his team and carries a prison sentence. Why? Because it is dangerous. A/ it distract people from work and they need to focus on the Government Rejuvenation plan for Earth and B/ because people begin to think in different directions, invent new belief systems, think of alternative options etc and it could result in another war.
Of course during the story Creativity must be returned to humanity and there are any number of wild adventures that occur, but that’s not what I am asking you to focus on for now.
I would like to ask you to invent some of the things people might be using in this world in 2053. Bear in mind it must have a practical purpose – there would be no room for computer games, for example, in this world as no one has time for hobbies or fun. Consider what they need to survive and then give me the details.
What do I win?
In return for your entry, your invention could feature in the text I am working on. I will also promise an official mention in the acknowledgement section and, should the novel actually make it to becoming a printed and bound physical book (as opposed to an e-book) then I promise the winner a free signed copy!
The small print
You must be a follower of the blog in order to enter.
You may submit your idea via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), this blog or my facebook page.
You should include full contact details with your entry
You may include a drawing or diagram if you feel that helps your explanation
There is no word limit
You may enter as many times as you wish to
If you enter you automatically give me your permission for me to use your idea, or adapt it for use, within my novel.
So, that’s it. You have a month. Please, please send your ideas, no matter how wild, silly or complex – I really don’t mind and I absolutely promise nothing will be judged on spelling or quality of descriptive language – it’s all about the ideas. I can’t wait to see what you think up.