Or, the other headline I was going to use for this month’s column is the current Rightmove TV advert catchphrase; ‘no perfect time, just the right time’. Because something I asked for has come to fruition, the timing isn’t perfect, but it could be the right time.
I floated the idea of writing a blog for a client back in August and re-pitched a feature to a fashion magazine; both have come back to me to follow up. I’d forgotten about the offer to write a regular blog, and I hadn’t heard from the fashion magazine editor for a couple of weeks, and I’ll admit I was relieved. Both responses, positive, came back in the same week, and I had a bit of an “oh sh*t” moment.
I’d asked a fellow writer for some advice on blog writing, so I sort of knew what I was doing. Responding to the client, detailing the service in black and white though felt a little fake, almost dangerous. Who was I to outline a service I hadn’t delivered? How long do I give myself to complete a blog? Am I charging enough or short-changing myself? The feelings I felt when I first posted on The Dots, way back in May came flooding back, fear, excitement and nervousness. The ‘what have I just done?’ moment.
And it’s merely the imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head again, but I have to start somewhere, don’t I? For many creative people, the beginning of a new career or side hustle feels organic, a bit messy like learning to walk as a child. Occasionally you make it across the floor, sometimes you fall after a step, but you get back up again and take tentative steps, like an octopus gingerly feeling with a tentacle. All the while quieting the voices in your head that say you can’t deliver, or they’ll find you out.
Ok, I’ll admit, I’ve Octopi on my brain as I watched ‘My Octopus Teacher’ on Netflix recently. If you have the time, do watch it; it’s the most beautiful story of a human’s connection with an octopus and the natural world. The octopus learns to trust a human, and I must trust in my abilities and skills. I invited the unknown in, and it’s up to me deal with it and commit.
After saying I was taking a step back in my last column, it may seem like I’m not now. I’d come to terms with the decision I made as it’s the right thing to do at the moment; however, the blog or this feature could be the start of more long time work, and when I have more free time or eventually go part-time, I want to have them in my back pocket.
And the part-time option might come true. Now, for anyone who’s holding down a ‘bill paying’ job but really wants to work on their passion, having a yearly development conversation with a manager can be a difficult conversation, especially when you have an ulterior motive. I had just this type of chat, and with significant changes coming down the line for our team, I took the brave step and asked to go part-time. As the words left my mouth, I closed my eyes, almost waiting for a bomb to hit, unsure of what the response was going to be, because I’m a bit of a pessimist, when I should be more of a glass half full person because I’d nothing to worry about! My manager asked me if she could share my request with the management team to include in their thinking regards the structural changes, and I said yes. I’m hopeful!
Truthfully, I don’t think I can face applying for an external role either. I’m in a permanent position after being a contractor for many years and am comfortable, just a little bored. Boredom generally signalled a new contract for me. The thought of ‘pimping’ myself out now as I used to doesn’t appeal, especially within the current job market.
That’s not to say I haven’t been looking; I’ve signed up to some job boards and scroll through them daily. Nothing had jumped out at me until recently; then I applied to a part-time role at a publishing house, although I didn’t get through to the interview stage. If I can get what I want where I am, it’ll be so much easier. I just need to sit tight. Who knows what’s around the corner, fingers crossed, a much better year, because let’s face it 2020 has been such a crappy year for obvious reasons.
If the part-time thing does come off in 2021, it’s going to stick a rocket up my backside, that’s for sure!
Favorite Sound: Birds chirping outside my window early in the morning, the clickety-clack sound of the keyboard.
Being an artist to me means writing is my therapeutic outlet. Writing is the bedrock of good mental health for me. It works as an outlet, I spiel my woes, projecting them onto fictitious characters. I filter my experiences into stories, it’s an entanglement of reality shifting into fiction. Somehow laying out my troubles like this, takes me out of the equation and I can see more clearly. It also helps push me into the cold waters out of my comfort zone; it forced me to believe in my skills further. Something therapy does itself is exposing you to the scary world bit by bit.
I didn’t think of myself as a genuine writer right away. It wasn’t as soon my hand could form magical words, going to uni for my degree, when I worked for work experience for a leading multimedia agency, or even when my byline was published in print. It was the time I stepped into the Guildford Spectrum, like every other weekend during the autumn/winter season for a hockey game. The ice rink welcomed me swifter than my friends could with its choppy breeze to the face, and my throat was tugging me the whole time. For months, my friend said my writing was going places. I didn’t think much of a destination at the time, my writing was a timid attempt at trying to crack open a look at the bigger world, the industry was daunting, but it was something I enjoyed. But she was clawing at my potential and had bigger dreams for me, the ones I prayed for but was too afraid to see come true. The hockey game was a mess for the first period, though it needn’t have mattered, as my mind was claiming elsewhere the whole time. I thought: why would I want to change my writing into something daunting? It was the only antidote to my anxiety, and it held my hand supportively through my depression, so why would I shift the scene to make it the antagonist of the story? It was a new reality I had found myself in where anxiety was king, and my comfort was in peril. My friend swung herself around where she was seated in front of me, “let’s go,” stars painted her eyes bright as the lights overhead. How could I say no?
Michelle Obama had once said: “Don’t ever make decisions based on fear. Make decisions based on hope and possibility.” If I had backed down then, my writing wouldn’t make progress, and then it wouldn’t have been therapy to me, it would have claimed to be the very device that stunted my growth. It felt like the longest lung dragging walk to the other side of the rink to meet the guy in charge of my future. He was a sweet man, but anyone that held a wisp of your dreams in their grasp marked a little intimidation.
He asked me why I wanted to do this, “it wasn’t because she pulled you into it?” thumbing my friend, he joked. I would be lying if I hadn’t said it was a dream come true if I had got to write about hockey and that I did. I was Bambi skirting on ice as I clambered to my first interview with a player well over 6ft. My hands clammy and my voice jittered as I spoke, but it was then, when I finally said it to myself: “well you did it now, you’re a bonafide journalist.” and believed it.
After this, I called my writing exposure therapy. It yanked me out of my comfort zone, struck a jabbing finger to my chest and went off about exposing my deepest thoughts and fears. Face them and bleed. It’s not necessarily the reason why I write, but the cathartic sense is a welcoming side effect.
My route towards fiction writing began with a rocky start. I was never really good with English, so it was a surprise that when I was thirteen, I had a sudden urge to write my first horror short story, and in the same winks of summer, I branched out further and wrote my first novel-length romance prose. Maybe just a little nudge to how I have become an avid horror and romance writer now. After that, I knew what I wanted to do.
When it came down to earning a living, I became an English tutor. I teach kids about the average age of eight, the wonders of writing. The majority wanted none of it. They were hesitant to tap into their imaginations, but this was the most exciting part of my job, it was to persuade them otherwise, that writing and art, in general, is freeing, it’s therapeutic, it’s an outlet for a lot of people. I remember when I said those words: “you can write just about anything.” How their sullen faces immediately lit up and to my humour, came up with the most whacky descriptions to write. Though, that’s what writing is all about. You word vomit what’s been rattling in your brain and sort out all the mess later. That’s the beauty of it, that writing is about accepting imperfections.
My days usually wrap around my writing schedule, I had just spent a full month of July doing Camp NaNoWriMo writing a draft of my novel. Other moments include writing for writing contests. I do occasionally wonder what really got me into writing fiction seriously. I believe it was when I started reading Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles when I hit gold. I wanted to romanticize words as she did. My interest in journalism piqued thanks to fashion, over the years, my interests have changed, but all the same, I wanted the same journalism outlet.
I say if a person has a passion for something, a strong one, that filters everything else out of your mind, heart and lifts your soul, don’t lose faith in yourself now, go for it.
Favourite sound: The scrape of pencil on paper and the hush of heavy rain.
Being an artist means to me that everyday is a poem. I was in the gift shop of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, with around a month to go until the end of the decade and no idea what I was going to do with it. I had returned to the city I had grown to love (triumphantly or otherwise) to graduate from the Master’s course I had dedicated the last year of my life to. After only two months of being thrown back to my parent’s house in London, when I had almost gotten over missing the city I had grown in and was just starting to reacquaint myself with the city I had grown up in, I was back. Back with all the wonderful friends and classmates seemingly from every corner of the globe and back in the city where I had first felt truly solo. I had come back to the dream just long enough to remember everything I missed and the vast and scary nothing I had planned. On my final day in the city, after spending the morning absorbing the splendour of the artistic achievements of others, I found myself (as I often do) in the gift shop staring wistfully at a display of hardback, foiled notebooks each adorned with a great artistic masterpiece. I had always written and felt sure that I always would but had never really felt confident enough to declare (or even whisper to myself) that I was a writer. I had often kept a notebook for my writing but took a fairly haphazard approach up until this point. I would mostly open them to a random page each time a notion came to me and would never reference any specific events. Those more organisationally inclined are probably screaming, I know. Seeing this pristine notebook of perfect pocket size, an idea came to me. Or more like a kind of strange self-oath, really. I decided that for the year 2020, I would write a page in one of these tempting notebooks for every day of the year. A page or something, of anything and of everything that entered my mind that annum. I brought the beautiful notebook you see below and waited in slightly fearful anticipation until January 1st to start my adventure. On the first page under Contact I wrote: “Every day is a poem” and set out to make it true. Now, five months later, I am out of pages (I spent way too long agonising over a second volume) and I have the opportunity to reflect on everything I have learnt so far from the practice.
Part of the process involves accepting that not every day will be a heart-wrenching, raw, resonating poem or a Sophocles-eat-your-heart-out philosophical realisation about the world. Some days will be purely reactionary feelings that fade as soon as you release them onto the page (these are still interesting to look back on). Some days will just be about how incredibly bored you are or how you feel completely dry of absolutely any creative thoughts. When lockdown began, I was sure that with little outside stimuli I would have nothing to say. It seemed impossible to me that anything could live in this vacuum I had found myself in. But, surprisingly, the well just got deeper (and stranger). Being inside meant that I had access to my notebook almost 24/7 and could suck up all those little ideas that previously would have been carried away by all the distractions of the outside world. I had also failed to notice that lockdown itself was a once in a generation stimulus in of itself.
I also discovered that page size dictates the length of your piece sort of like a timer. (Although it is important to know when the thought deserves two or even more pages) Aiming to fill at least one page per thought forces you to expand the idea past the first sentence while giving you a manageable endpoint. When you write every day with no specific purpose or project, all sense of decorum, consistent tone, style or message goes out the window. It breaks down a few of the constricting rules you decided long ago were essential (or were told by overzealous English teachers). One day I would sound like I was spinning an Arthurian yarn or corresponding with a relative in a period drama, the next would be a choppy, angry rant, the next a song soothing myself like an odd lullaby. (Some days I swear would not look out of place scratched onto the walls of an asylum. See: When I shut my eyes my veins are packed with purple broccoli and my eyelids smell like pears. I promise I am not writing to you from a padded room.) Some pages are so particular to our time that I barely need to check the date to know when they were written. For example: I am trapped in this pastel checked cage of soft, impenetrable fabric. I am only efficiency now. Only good time management for an unclear goal.
The practice also led to some interesting insights into the process of writing itself. For example, on day I wrote: I think, to write, to be inspired, you must, without directly looking at the thing itself, consume all you can by kicking up a storm, a personal tornado of dust with yourself at the centre and hope you breathe some or all of it in the right way and mix it with yourself and all the things you did not mean to kick up and all the things you did not want to consume and hope you can spit out sounds and shapes recognisable to someone and hope you can spit it on paper for posterity.
Capturing and expanding almost every thought that would normally go ungrown can also create some interesting ideas on key concepts in life. Having the excuse of the practice gives you a reason to waste time in a daydream you may normally dismiss and the act of committing it to paper allows you to develop it in private. For instance, one day I thought: Certain deaths bookmark life with an insufficient stone slab. This led me to think of what it means for death to be a bookmark and I concluded that It’s weight bends life towards it on both sides and distorts that pages and the words on them away from their original meanings. I thought on this throughout the day and then added that Some bookmarks are graceful ribbons always attached to the book and so always expected to be used when you finally pause for breath and they let go. Others fall from the sky and force the book closed for a while with their weight and finality.
Looking back on what you have written (with a little distance is best) is also an interesting part of the process. Once you are no longer in the moment you are writing from, the words have an element of foreignness to them and you generally gain a new perspective on the thought you expressed. (Or occasionally you wonder what on earth you were talking about. See: Sometimes I wish I could pour a small number of pencil leads in my eyes, to hear that coppery tingle in its true form. I have no idea.)
At the start of the practise, I was worried that I would write nothing else. I had this fallacy in my mind that (and I think I may not be alone in this) my creativity for the day was finite. In truth, I found how much I wrote was directly proportional to how much I allowed myself to write, what amount of time I dedicated to it and how much I committed. (I ended up collecting together the pages I felt fit a theme such as isolation, the body and writing which you can check out here: https://dlohere.wordpress.com/)The idea I worried would stress me out or make writing feel like a chore, that seemed so daunting on January 1st has become an outlet, a crude form of therapy, a treadmill for my creative muscles and a bright, in-your-face sign telling me that the well will not run dry and that whatever happens you are and always will be a writer. Making every day a poem is a process that I believe can benefit anyone- creative or otherwise- and that can teach you a great deal about how you see the world. That is my challenge to you, dear reader, to go forth and let me know what you discover.
I remember the first time when I sent one of my short stories to a magazine. The excitement was mixed with anxiety. What if they don’t publish my work? Does it mean that I’m a bad writer? Does it mean that I should abandon my dreams of ever publishing anything and look for something else, choose a different path? My grandma always wanted me to become a doctor so maybe that’s what I should do? After a rather long internal monologue I clicked submit. Immediately after I closed my laptop and continued watching videos on my phone.
Then the day when I received an answer to my submission finally came. I got rejected. The story didn’t quite fit the magazine, they were looking for something else entirely. I didn’t understand. I have put so much work into this piece, the thought of it not being good enough to be published was very disappointing. I kept on reading. They said they liked my story, however, even though it was a well written piece it didn’t give the reader the feel they were looking for for the issue. A part of me wanted to stop reading the email – what’s the point in reading it if it’s a simple no from the editing team? Let me tell you!
Every rejection is an opportunity to further improve your work. If a publication says they won’t include your work in their next issue there is always a reason behind it and usually they will tell you why it’s not the best fit for their publication. Rejection is not the end of the world, it’s a suggestion on how to improve and perhaps what to do next time to get that publication! It’s always fairly disappointing when our work gets rejected but hey, do you know how many times Stephen King got rejection letter before he got published? Exactly! It’s not a sign that you are bad at what you’re doing, it’s a sign you still have a room for improvement or that you simply didn’t read the submission guidelines careful enough and your work doesn’t fit the theme of the issue.
What are my tips? Easy:
Always read the guidelines very carefully – they tell you what size/font to use, what genres they accept and what else you need to include in your submission.
Don’t beg to be published – let your work speak for itself.
Never send unfinished work or first drafts – take some time and put effort into the piece you want to get published. It does pay off.
Don’t get discouraged, rejection is nothing else but an invitation to try again.
Keep on trying till you succeed – I have received multiple rejection emails and then one sunny day I got an email from Vice inviting me to write for them! Whatever you do – never give up.
Observe publications you like, read what they publish, see what they are all about and only then submit your work. If you don’t know a publication, how can you be sure what you send is the right material for them?
Keep on creating!
I hope I helped you a bit and made you realize that rejections are only part of creation. Keep on creating! – Monyca