This time last year, I entered my first RWA short story competition. Although my entry didn’t place, I managed to step out of my comfort zone. That story, along with one other, would later go on to become ‘First Christmas’, my first foray into the world of sweet paranormal romance. Even though I had fun writing both those stories, when my book was published in November, I felt happy to go ‘home’.
And where is that, exactly?
They say ‘home is where the heart is’, and for me that place is a spooky old mansion, full of dark shadows and forbidden secrets. My home, my real home, is among the darkness. Like many journeys we take, we sometimes need to spread our wings, but we always return to our roots.
In her book ‘Dear Writer, You Need to Quit’ (which I recommend for all you writers out there), Becca Syme says that we need to quit focusing on our weaknesses. Instead, we should focus on our strengths. Once we know what they are, development is the next step.
I recently finished reading Stephen King’s ‘Full Dark, No Stars’, and one of the things he had to say in the afterword resonated with me. ‘When it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside his own heart’.
Yes, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic, but the dark side is my comfort zone. I have always been drawn to the horrors of what human beings are capable of, as well as the supernatural. I have come to accept it and learned to embrace it.
As we head into 2021, my path leads me into the shadows. I hope you’ll join me.
Where is your natural ‘home’ as a writer? Do you plan on writing in a different genre this year? Have you experimented with other genres, only to return where you’re the most comfortable?
Normally, I don’t write anything with a particular theme in mind, but this one has a bit of history behind it. And let’s face it, 2020 has been a pretty crappy year.
Before Christmas, 2019, as part of the Romance Writers of Australia, the aspiring group held a competition. We were given prompts in which to write a 1,500-word short story, which was to be judged and awarded prizes. My short story did not get a prize and I didn’t have a problem with it, as I was stepping out of my comfort zone. I was, however, encouraged by the judge’s feedback: –
‘Such a beautiful, evocative story. An emotion-filled tale that would appeal to many readers who like historical novels too.’
After this, I decided with some hesitation, to enter my first RWA ‘Sweet Treats’ competition. There are three judges to this competition and ‘the third judge’ is well known for being not only the deciding factor, but brutal. I called them ‘the hanging judge’ and the feedback I received was indeed harsh. As a result, I can honestly say that: –
It took me a few months before I could look at my story again, as well as read the feedback with a critical eye, and
I won’t be entering any RWA competitions in a hurry. 😉
I, therefore, chose to focus on the positive feedback from the other two judges, which basically said that it showed promise.
‘Plot and characterisation great! The reader wants the MC to be happy after so much sorrow, and that matters. Tightening up the story will let these lovely characters shine.’
Like my first story, I believed in this one too. I didn’t wish to be put off by one judge’s opinion. I wanted readers to decide.
If I worked on it and did a bit of tweaking, I could put them both into a book and publish it in time for Christmas. The end result is First Christmas.
These stories are a bit different to what I usually write, but 2020 hasn’t been the best of years, and I wanted to write something with a bit of hope. Both short stories have a paranormal bent but are romantic in nature.
I’m working on having First Christmas released in November, so watch this space. 😊
Have you received negative feedback in a writing competition? Do you write with particular themes in mind? Given the current COVID-19 situation, have you written something different than usual this year?
Sometimes, when I peruse social media, I encounter people who call themselves ‘aspiring’ writers. I have never referred to myself as an ‘aspiring’ writer. If you write, you simply are a writer.
But I get it though because it was only in recent years that I called myself a writer. I’m finally admitting to myself and to others that I write. It’s taken a long time to own up to it. It was just that I was too insecure to admit it. After years of being mocked or derided for creating stories (yeah, let’s not go there), I quickly learned to keep quiet about it and keep it all to myself. It was safer that way, ensuring that my dreams and my stories remained intact.
Perhaps, what these fellow writers really mean when they say ‘aspiring’ is calling themselves author. Now, that, I can understand. Sometimes, I feel I don’t wish to call myself an author until I have a published novel, as I guess it sounds more ‘authentic’ that way. Maybe it’s a matter of whatever term we feel comfortable with. And that’s what really matters. 😉
* * * * *
Speaking of being comfortable, I was recently thrown out of my comfort zone in a very unexpected way. This was such a surreal moment I couldn’t believe it happened!
Jonathan befriends the new boy in class, but Jonathan has something sinister in mind.
A young boy tests his skills to continue his father’s legacy; a young woman goes to great lengths after a betrayal; a woman confronts her stalker. These stories, along with those of obsession and revenge, explore the dark side of human nature.
‘Quirky tales that will stay with you after you’ve closed the book.’
– Amazon review.
* * * * *
When did you call yourself a writer or are you still struggling to call yourself that? Do you prefer to call yourself an author or you don’t think either term really matters?
After the release of my first short story The Ghost at Willow Creek, I wrote a post about the influence behind it. It had started life in the form of my first bush poem, which I had entered into a competition. I felt compelled and was encouraged, to turn it into a story.
Here, then, is an excerpt of the poem: –
A Mother’s Love
Magpies sang their mournful song as she stood and waved goodbye,
The blistering sun bore down upon her back amongst a clear blue sky.
She did not smile, or yell, or weep as she saw him ride away,
For she knew he would return to do it all again one day.
She watched him disappear into the distance, this stoic drover’s wife,
‘Alone; always alone!’ she cursed this God-forsaken life.
‘If only I were a man with freedom where to roam,
I would sooner go back to England, than call this country home’.
And so, she walked back towards the homestead with its walls of wood and stone;
A haven full of spiders with holes for vermin free to roam.
The furniture covered in dust; the floorboards of red soil,
No amount of cleaning could save her of its toil.
She stopped when she entered the cleanest room of all,
Her eyes took in every item ‘til she saw the picture upon the wall.
Her husband’s face in miniature, full of boyhood charms,
She felt her heart race once again of holding his dead body in her arms.
Today is release day of my short story collection Legacy and Other Short Stories!
Jonathan befriends the new boy in class, but Jonathan has something sinister in mind.
A young boy tests his skills to continue his father’s legacy; a young woman goes to great lengths after a betrayal; a woman confronts her stalker. These stories, along with those of obsession, revenge, and teenage tragedy, explore the dark side of human nature.
Some years ago, despite not being a big fan of poetry, I tried my hand at writing a few; even going so far as to get a couple of them published in a small publication. I even wrote a bush poem. This bush poem would ultimately go on to become my first published short story, The Ghost at Willow Creek.
Some years ago, while visiting relations on their property, I encountered an old grave of a six-year-old boy. Apparently, he had drowned in a nearby creek during a flood. This child was no relation of ours, but my cousins had planned on doing up the grave and taking care of it. Straight away all sorts of questions came into my head. The writer within me thought of the many hardships encountered by our pioneering women and no sooner had I returned home, but I was jotting down ideas.
The loss of a child had attracted me, for having two children of my own (neither one of them easy births), I became empathetic to the parents of this unknown child, especially the mother. The history and the landscape drew me in, and as it would always seem, my fascination with death and the afterlife. I have always had an interest in graves and cemeteries, often finding inspiration amongst them.
As luck would have it, a writing competition soon came up and I thought of writing a bush poem inspired by this piece of history. Before entering, I had even sought the advice of a local poet. After reading my piece, she had suggested that the poem could become a short story. In the back of my mind, I had to agree with this idea because I felt there was more to this story than what could be relayed in a bush poem. In that respect, I was grateful that my poem ultimately, was unsuccessful.
As I wrote The Ghost at Willow Creek, it was not only the death of a young child that got to me, but the effects such a tragic loss would have upon the parents and their marriage. Being a wife and mother, I was following the old writing advice of ‘write what you know’.
The Ghost at Willow Creek is ultimately a story of love, loss and things that go bump in the night. A story my husband labelled my best yet, so I’m pretty happy with that! 😉
Have you ever turned a poem into a story? Do you experiment with different writing styles? Where do you get some of your writing inspiration from?
For the past few months, I have been submitting short stories to competitions. I have been doing this on and off over a number of years and despite the continual knock backs, I have been successful once. Perhaps this is why I continue to persevere; after all, when it comes to writing, we do have to be in this for the long haul. However, there also comes a time when we have to admit when something isn’t working and need to consider our alternatives.
It was very timely, therefore that I read a couple of posts by Kristen Lamb Pay the Writer 2 – Out Hustle the Hustlers and Writing Exposure – Gamble or Grift? that got me thinking. The rules of publishing these days have changed. Many writers like myself are of the old belief that if we write and get exposure we are helping to build our CV. This will eventually lead to work coming our way. These days, however, the old rules no longer apply and that older way of thinking can be a bit hard to shake off.
The reality is that by sending my work out to competitions, I’m still waiting for that ‘validation’ for the gatekeepers to accept me. Because I allow my fear and insecurity to hold me back, I need someone to tell me whether I’m good enough for this game and each rejection adds to those insecurities. At the same time, though, those knock backs are a good way to help develop that thick skin. We keep holding on for that win. But the competition is fierce and the win may never come.
One of my beta readers suggested I compile my short stories and self-publish. I’ve been thinking of doing exactly that for some time, but it is fear that is preventing me from doing so. I know that I have now reached a point in my writing where self-publishing is the road I will be travelling. It’s a long road and to begin with it’s going to be pretty rough. In the end though, I do believe that the journey will be worth it. So, who’s with me?
Does fear and insecurity hold you back? Will you be going down the path of self-publishing? If you’re self-published, has it turned out better than you expected? Have you won any writing competitions? Have you become more selective when it comes to your writing?
Last week I finally completed the first draft of my first novella (yay)! I’m still short of my intended word count, but I’ll leave that for later when the ‘real’ writing starts – that is, the dreaded edits and re-writes. 😉
In order to help with the plot for your novella, it’s handy to get some research done before you start. Even if you have some idea of facts for your novella, when you stew over your plot you may find you require a bit more information. You don’t want to leave a hole in your plot while you are writing, as this only prevents you from moving forward (note to self). By having some research up your sleeve before you start writing frees you up from having to do a lot of it when you’ve finished.
2. Do Up an Outline
Like short stories, in a novella, you need to concentrate on one plot with a limited cast of characters. I tend to sit on the fence a bit when it comes to being a plotter or a pantster. I usually do up rough outlines for my ‘novel’ ideas, whereas for short stories, there is no planning involved; I have an idea and run with it. In the case of writing a novella, I found that doing a rough outline helps. It allowed me to help focus on the relationship between the two main characters (in this case a husband and wife) and how they came to be in the situation the novella finds them in. Breaking the plot outline down into each scene also helps build tension and conflict.
3. Know How it Will End
As I was converting my bush poem into a novella, I already had my story’s ending. I found this quite helpful in telling the story, because from there I could work backwards by asking myself the ‘why’ questions, resulting in digging deeper into my characters personalities and their relationship with each other as well as helping with the plot. Because I knew the ending, this was one of the first scenes I actually wrote. This helped with the setting, giving me a better picture of what time of year the events took place and setting up the mood for the rest of the novella. Writing the last sentence also gave me an unexpected idea that could possibly be worked into the novella.
4. Don’t Think about Word Count
You need to make sure that both your characters and your plot are strong enough to last anywhere between 20,000 – 40,000 words. I’m used to writing short stories (the longest short story I have written so far is about 2,500 words), so stretching for a longer word limit appeared somewhat daunting. I was reaching a point where I became more focused on the word count than the actual story itself. My husband, being the helpful accountability buddy that he is, mentioned that the story itself should dictate how long it will be. It was at that point in time when I told myself to worry about that later in the re-writing/editing phase.
5. Go Where the Story Takes You
I know this flies in the face of what I mentioned before about doing an outline, but bear with me. There are occasions when stories can go off in a completely different direction than what we had originally planned. Sometimes characters can take a life of their own; you want a particular character to go one way, when they decide they want to go another. Like a determined child, no matter how much you try to rein them in, things don’t always work out the way you want it to. That’s when you need to give up and just go with it – you may find that the character knows better than you do. The same can also be said if a novella takes you along the path to an entirely different genre. Experiment, but above all, have fun!
Have you written a novella and what did you learn from the experience? Are you a plotter or a pantster? Do you worry about word count when you’re writing? Have you found your plot and/or characters take you on a completely different direction than what you had planned?
For years, writers had been lead to believe that the best thing for them to do was write novels. For writers like myself, who were used to writing short, this usually posed as quite a daunting task (still does). Thankfully, with the introduction of self-publishing, writing short could become a relief for those who enjoy writing in the short form.
As a subscriber to Anne R Allen’s blog, I can be thankful that I am one of those writers that have always enjoyed writing short. Anne has written a number of blog posts regarding short stories and I recommend you read them if you haven’t already done so.
For me, writing longer projects has always seemed daunting. A few years back I had some writing assessed. Being fairly new to a complete stranger reading my work, I felt the need to apologise for my writing. I felt it wasn’t enough; that there wasn’t enough description. The reader, however, didn’t have a problem with it, believing that sometimes ‘less is more’. That’s when I began to write even tighter. Years later, this would prove a valuable skill when I undertook University studies. I became used to keeping what needed to be said in as few words as possible. Writing short is a matter of getting your message across quickly and is good practice for that all important ‘hook’ at the very beginning.
Writing short can take some time to master and can be a great starting point for new writers. I’ve found that blogging can be a great help in keeping your writing ‘on topic’ with each blog post. Writing short pieces, short stories, even personal essays are a great way to build up your publishing credits and prepare you for longer projects.
Anne told me that my writing is ‘just right for today’s market’, so if you also struggle with the longer form and like to keep things short, don’t be put off by it; instead, embrace that skill. In today’s market, you’ll be rewarded for it.
Do you enjoy writing in the short form? Do you struggle writing longer pieces or shorter pieces? As a beginner, have you ever felt the need to apologise for your writing?