Sunday, 3 May 2020

How NOT to be a writer

It has been a long time since my last post.  Seven years, to be exact.  Much has changed in my life since the previous post, such as a stable teaching job and home ownership with associating interests like cooking.  One thing has not changed: I'm still no closer to achieving my dream to be a published author.

The progress over the silent years can be summarised through a series of snippets from letters of introduction that I write for new school groups each year:

September 2014: "I was busy writing a new story in the summer, and managed to reach 19,000 words. That might sound like a lot but it’s barely a quarter of the novel!"

September 2015: "This summer, I managed to write about 18,000 words of a children’s fantasy novel, taking it to about 37,000 words."

September 2016: "This summer, I managed to write about 24,000 words of a children’s fantasy novel, taking it to about 61,000 words."

September 2017: "This summer, I managed to write about 28,000 words of a children’s fantasy novel, taking it to about 89,000 words."

At this point, I should note, I am starting to worry about the length, as shown in a follow-up clause: "...but it's only about three-quarters complete!"

September 2018: "This summer, I managed to write 37,000 words, in order to complete a children’s fantasy novel that I’ve been working on for five years. The entire book is a bit too long right now (126,000 words), which is longer than the third Harry Potter book, so now I need to edit it to make it shorter!"

September 2019: "This summer, I have been editing one of my books, because I need to make it shorter before I send it to publishers. It’s a fantasy story called Spirit Bound and the first draft was longer than the third Harry Potter book. So far, I’ve edited the first fifth of the novel and have cut 4,500 words, so there’s still a lot of work to do!

This final letter doesn't truly reflect the level of despair I felt at the beginning of that summer when I realised, on reading the entire novel, how much significant structural work needed to be done in order to make the book more akin to its "true" conception.  A decision was made in 2014 to introduce an antagonist, which resurrected this novel and allowed me to keep working on it to the end of the completed draft.  In that sense, it was a good decision.  But even as I wrote it, I knew the antagonist came across as superficial and would need to be removed.  The bloating of the word count simply solidified this conviction (for those of you not familiar with the YA market, the upper word count for first time writers is 90K).

It was incredibly demoralising to reach the end of the summer holidays in 2019 and to know that I was only a fifth of the way.  To know that it was likely to take me, if I continued at that rate, another four years before I had a draft I might feel happy to present for micro-editing.

I tried to commit more time to my novel.  In the autumn term, I determined to free up at least one day a week to my writing.  I succeeded, to a certain extent, and managed to rewrite another 20,000 words.  However, as the spring term arrived, the precarious balancing act started to tip.  I dedicated too much time to writing in the Christmas holiday and, as a result, struggled to keep on top of the neglected planning for the spring term.  I abandoned the Sunday of writing but even this didn't free up enough time to feel 'on top' of things again.  I began to grow sick, from stress and insomnia.

Then something strange happened.


In a matter of weeks, as death tolls around the world began to creep up, the UK government took the decision to close schools and ask teachers to work remotely.  Overnight, my work load more than halved.  To explain, you should understand how the work can be divided into three main areas: planning lessons, delivering lessons and marking work.  With delivery gone and marking (sadly) dramatically reduced (as few students were submitting work for feedback), I could actually finish the school day at the normal time, rather than working into the evening and all weekend on planning, which for me, has always taken almost as long as delivery.

Suddenly, I could rewrite about 1000 words a day.  By the end of that first week of lockdown, the rewrite had reached 51,000 words.  I believed the final count would be somewhere between 90-100,000, and so, unlike most people, who anxiously watched the news wondering when the lockdown might ease, I watched for the opposite reason, knowing that if it could just last for about seven weeks, I would have enough time to finish the rewrite.

The associated guilt, I should add, was huge (and still is), to know that I was benefiting from something so terrible, which was (and still is) causing so much loss and grief to so many people, whereas I was feeling more well than I had for this entire year, simply because I could breathe.

This brings us to the present moment.  We are now at the end of the sixth week of the lockdown and I have completed the novel rewrite at 101,000 words.  It is still too long, but I feel the new version fixes the structural problems of the first draft.  I also believe there is room to cut 10% when the prose is sharpened, which will hopefully take it to nearer the upper YA limit.

Steven King wrote in his memoir about how he abandoned his teaching career because it was incompatible with his writing needs.  I can understand this.

All I ever need is time.  The last six weeks (in spite of the guilt) have been idyllic: long periods of creative energy punctuated with walks into the countryside (around our surprisingly rural home).

Moving into the next phase might be more manageable, even when the lockdown does ease.  Editing is a less intensive process, and easier to compartmentalise.  As the restrictions start to lift, I might be able to manage to dedicate an hour a day to the editing process (which involves renewing my membership at the online writing circle Critique Circle).

One day I will resolve this tension between earning money and writing.  For now, this is definitely not how to be a writer.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Tales from Stocksbridge

Hello, hello, hello!

It has been a long while since I updated this blog, which as usual, means that I haven't done much writing.

I have been doing something rather exciting, however, in the last couple of months: leading a short story writing competition at school, and then sorting out the publication of all the stories in an ebook!

This is what the finished product looks like:

How exciting!

You can now download the ebook from Amazon, by just clicking: HERE!

Please do download it! It's a great ebook, which really shows off the budding talents of young writers at Stocksbridge High School (and hidden talents of staff and parents!). And I suppose it's the first school ebook of its kind, which is really rather exciting. :D I am a pioneer of sorts, hehe.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Another Year

Any silence on this blog is a clear indication of how little writing I have done in that time, and I cringe to see that I last updated the blog in April 2013... but I have started again a bit lately. I'm rewriting Zack to take it into a completely new direction, because the last version didn't really work. It's around 12,000 words at the moment...

Though I haven't been writing much, I have been reading a lot. I'm currently reading a book called My Name is Mina, which seems to have been written to be used in a classroom. It's a bit polemical but it's full of creative writing ideas and would make a brilliant scheme of work for Y7 or Y8. I might have to develop it to teach next year when I go back to the PGCE... I still need to get to the end, of course, but I'm really liking it so far.

On that vein, I was looking into David Almond and I stumbled across this video. I haven't listened to it all, but a couple of minutes in, there is a wonderful quote from the man, which I have to repeat here:

“People say to writers: when did you start writing? But the question should be, for people who aren't writers: when did you stop writing?”
(David Almond)

He's making a point that all children have to write when they are at school. I may have huge gaps in my productivity, but I could never 'stop' writing! Perhaps the education system fails if it puts children off writing. So, if you are not a writer, when did you stop and why?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Easter Update

It's been a stressful sort of holiday, for one reason or another...

It started off pretty well, with a trip to Buckingham and beyond (!) to see a friend who has moved down there to work *sob*. My boyfriend and I turned it into a mini-road trip and we visited Thorpe Park, Warwick Castle (really recommend!), Legoland. In that order. No, you're right, the order doesn't make sense for travelling. But we had our reasons... Then, when I returned up North, I made the most delightful chocolatey goodies with another friend.

Unfortunately, I came down with tonsillitis in the second week of the holiday! It's been pretty rough. I could handle the sore, pus-infected, swollen tonsils but the constant headache and fever were awful. It was hard to do very much for several days, which was frustrating, since there was (as always) a lot to get done. Fortunately, I still had some of the mindless tasks left, so I was doing filing for most of my illness.

I'm still not fully recovered, but I'm feeling a lot better. I can almost swallow properly now!

Another stress has been the threat of moving internet providers. It still hasn't quite happened but THE BOX is in the living room (it has the new wireless router in it). Dad is saving money. He doesn't realise that our current company has been hosting my website for free for the last five years and that my hit count has been oh so steadily creeping up. That's why I've been so frustrated.

Fortunately, a kind benefactor offered to give me some of his webspace, which is ever so generous. Ordinarily, it seems that you have to pay per month! I've had to buy a domain, but now the site is fully transferred over: Please click and help me establish it, the poor thing.

Because I've acted in time, I've put some redirects from my old site to the new site. I'm hoping this will help the new site to establish itself... It's not going to be anywhere near as popular, but maybe just maybe if I'm lucky I won't have to go RIGHT back to one hit a day. Maybe.

Ah well. That's my life at the moment. I'm back to school on Monday, which I am looking forward to. I have various new ideas to try out with my classes. I'm doing Creative Writing with Y7, which should be a nice scheme of work. Which reminds me of my own writing. For some reason Shadow Lords is in my mind at the moment: it wants me to redraft it again. Or to write the prequel. o_O Not sure I have time for either of those things...unless I resurrect my Paragraph-a-Day on Critique Circle.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Free afternoon

I should probably make a start on some lesson planning, but I feel I've deserved a break, since I've just come back from another job rejection. Getting a job is so hard...

I thought my mini-lesson today went quite well, and thought I'd at least get through to the interview stage. But it was another lunchtime elimination. If I can take anything good from it, at least they said that no one 'failed' in their teaching...just that some people were better than others. Thinking back, I can think of areas where there needs to be improvement. At the time, the rejection did surprise me -- I was just so happy until that point, because I delivered well today in a number of areas that have previously been lacking.

I do feel that I'm making progress now, more than ever before. My mentor at my new placement school is simply fantastic; I just can't get over how wonderful she is. So I need to keep the progression going and I suppose I'll have to just keep applying. I'm lucky that I can, at least, get invited to job interviews: some people can't even get that far.

So I thought I'd just update the blog a bit about where things are. I'm so determined to be a really amazing teacher... A bit gutted because I would have just loved to have worked at that school so much, but oh well. I suppose I'll find somewhere else...eventually.

Until the next blue moon...

Sunday, 29 January 2012

On Writing

Welcome to the New Year, almost at the end of the first month. Hmm.

Anyway, here's a good quote from an anime film called Whispers of the Heart:

"It’s a special kind of rock called a geode. When you first become an artist, you’re like that rock. You’re in a raw, unnatural state, with hidden gems inside. You need to dig down deep and find the emeralds tucked away inside you. And that’s just the beginning. Once you’ve found your gems, you have to polish them. It takes a lot of hard work."

I may share that in class at some point. Hehe.

It's a good film to watch, too. :D

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Reflections on the last seven weeks…

What other job would let you walk into work, dressed in a silly green top hat and scarf, to spend a chunk of time pretending to be Scrooge? Where else would your feeble attempts at drama be met with a round of applause from impressed eleven-year-olds?

In what other job could you read silly stories like Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale as part of its requirements? What other job requires you to be on top of all the latest children’s fiction, in order to be able to sincerely recommend it?

Where else would you always be the most powerful person in the room, the one who decides upon every activity that takes place in the room? Elsewhere, how often would people turn to you, with an implicit trust that you will have their answer? In what other job could your mind be opened in a brand new way, by a single insightful comment?

Where else can you teach a word like “inferior” and then read twenty-four essays a week later that include it (often with the right spelling and almost always in the right context)?

In what other job can you care so much about a group of people and be determined to do your all to help them achieve their very best? Where else would you receive an “aww” or a round of applause when you explain that you won’t be there after the holidays?

How often does a job have perks like a free performance, where a bunch of youths display their musical talents? Choirs, solo singers, brass bands, pianists and more. In what other job could you watch a free production of Grease, where an all-star amateur cast of adults put themselves on display for the amusement of others? Or where, if you felt brave enough (which I didn’t), you could join them?

The last seven weeks have been exhausting. I’ve never had a moment to myself. Stress has kept me awake many nights. There have been times when I’ve cried. And cried. And cried.

But I wouldn’t want to do anything else.