Oh writers, what have we done?

If you’ve been feeling, like I have, that you’ve failed to achieve all you hoped to this year, it’s worth looking back, just for a moment. Adding up all you’ve written, all you’ve applied for, all the work you’ve done towards achieving your goals. Maybe you’ve placed or been shortlisted in a competition, or had work published. Maybe you’ve written something that makes your heart race, something you know is good. Our milestones are so easily forgotten, as we constantly shift the goalposts.

Just now, I tallied up what I’ve written this year. Before looking, I would have guessed 3 or 4 stories. It feels like I’ve struggled to write, with more paid work, my kids needing time, a health issue, and life’s up and downs. I’ve been frustrated lately, thinking how little I’ve progressed.

And yet … I’ve actually completed 8 stories in the past 11 months. I’ve applied for writing fellowships. I’ve sent work to several journals, and entered a number of competitions. I’ve received lots of form rejections, a few lovely personal rejections, a highly commended in the Newcastle Short Story Award. I recently had work accepted for an anthology I’m really excited about. I finished a full manuscript. And I did 3 readings—2 for Amanda O’Callaghan’s book launches of This Taste for Silence (an absolute must-read), and one for Anna Krien’s Brisbane launch of Act of Grace (another wonderful book). None of this is astounding, but it’s decent. I’ve done plenty in 2019.

You’ve probably done way more than you realise, too, if you check. It’s so easy to forget our accomplishments and stew on disappointments.

And if you’re still unhappy with your ‘progress’, remember we’re all living with different demands. Some work longer hours, some have very small children, or lots of children! Some of us are carers. Some of us struggle with mental health issues, chronic illness or disability. We’re all doing our best, given our circumstance. And for that, we deserve to feel proud as 2019 comes to a close.

Congratulations to you — for everything you’ve written, for all you’ve endured, and for anything that has brought you joy.

 

 

 

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catching your (writing) breath

I wrote this a few days ago, then saw an article on the same topic. In any case, these are my thoughts on taking a holiday from writing.

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We’ve all heard the advice write every dayA number of authors say this is the key to success.

I understand this makes sense in certain situations—when on a deadline, when needing to get an idea on the page, or when words are flowing and you don’t dare stop or even want to stop. But as a hard-and-fast rule? I’m not so sure.

Two or three times a year, I stop writing. I stop for a week, a few weeks, occasionally longer. This time out starts because my ideas grow stale, or because I lose faith in my writing. Sometimes it’s linked to an event in my personal life, or follows a painful writing rejection. Other times I just feel overwhelmed.

Whatever the cause, I try not to fight it (A few years ago, I’d fight desperately, trying to bludgeon stories into life. This resulted in truly terrible work). Sometimes life feels like a race, and it’s hard to step away, but I believe writing vacations are important. Sometimes, the best option is to rest and renew.

Things that have helped (for me) during time off from writing:

Walking.
Watching a movie.
Seeing a friend.
Discovering a new place—a forest, a cafe, an art gallery.
Reading.

I’m still learning to take a break, and to know that it will renew creativity.

As of today, I haven’t written for a week (not counting blog posts 🙂). Already my brain is sending inspiration—Look at this! How about that? I’m looking forward to writing again.

What about you—do you take writing breaks? If not, how do you care for your writing mojo?

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like pigeons they fly

Attention short story writers! Got a story that needs to be set free?

A story you abandoned when it was messy and unfinished, that still has potential? One you could revise & turn into something whole?

A piece that’s been rejected once or twice, one you liked but never sent out again because those ‘no thanks’ emails made you lose faith?

Or, best of all, a brand new polished story you love? One that pinches your heart, makes you smirk or just fills you with joy?

Well, good! Because here are some places you can send those babies:

AUSTRALIAN HOMES

Competitions:

Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, theme of travel (can be interpreted creatively), stories to 3000 words, due November 17.** deadline has been extended – now due December 2**

Alan Marshall Short Story Award, stories to 2500 words, due December 12.

Hal Porter Short Story Competition, stories to 2500 words, due December 13.

Literary journals or anthologies:

Thrill Me anthology. stories that thrill (don’t have to be ‘thrillers’), free submission, flash fiction welcome, to 3000 words and chosen blind, due Oct 31.

Griffith Review, ‘Getting on’ theme, free submission, due November 1.

Overland, no current deadline.

INTERNATIONAL HOMES

Competitions:

Commonwealth Short Story Prize, *free to enter*, for writers from anywhere in the  Commonwealth, stories 2000 to 5000 words, due November 1

Fish Short Story Prize, stories to 5000 words, due November 30.

Masters Review Fall Fiction Contest, stories to 6000 words, emerging writers only, due November 30.

Hamlin Garland Award, stories to 7000 words, due December 10.

Literary journals and anthologies:

Banshee Lit, for flash fiction to 1000 words, stories 1500-5000 words, due by Oct 31

Granta is open Oct 13 to Nov 13, submissions any length but 3000 – 6000 words preferred.

Clarkesworld, no deadline. For sci-fi and fantasy (no horror), 1000 – 22,000 words.

The Fiction Desk accepts submissions of general short fiction or ghost stories 1000 – 20,000 words, due January 31.

The New Yorker, no deadline, free submissions.

Good luck! x

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Obsessions

It occurred to me the other day that my writing is fuelled by obsessions.

I read about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD, and was fascinated by the stories revealed in Pompeii digs. How plaster casts made by filling up holes in the solidified volcanic debris show a man protecting his pregnant wife, the folds in her robes still distinct. The discovery this year of several skeletons huddled together in the central room of a newly excavated house in Pompeii, possibly a family hoping to escape the pyroclastic flow. After reading extensively, I wrote a story about a man with the same fascination.

Last year I watched a documentary about a Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community in Utah, where each man had more than one wife, and I became obsessed with finding out more. How did these families work? What did the wives really think about this?  I read multiple articles and interviews, researched a specific community and used Google Earth to ‘roam’ around that town. I read more about FLDS beliefs. Then I wrote a story about a second wife getting ready to meet the third wife.

It seems to me that curiosity is so important in any writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, fantasy or realism. What happened? What might have happened, in such a place or time? Who is that person, and how would they act? And if we develop brief preoccupations in the process, I think these are good—powering our writing and imbuing it with the bright sharpness of our excitement.

Current obsession—caving. Tight squeezes, some underwater.

 

 

 

 

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sending words into the world

If writers want to be published, we have to submit work. And yet sending out work is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. I’ve been submitting work for six years (writing for longer), and I still find it hard to do. Sometimes I’m tempted to avoid it. After all (I tell myself )—statistically, rejection is the most likely result.

I recently submitted something I’ve spent a lot of time on, and sending it triggered all the usual crazy, mixed feelings. I thought I’d try to order my thoughts, in case this helps another writer.

Reflections on submitting:

  1. It must be done. If we want to share our writing with others, there’s no escaping this. Yet submitting can be terrifying. We have to steel ourselves and send our work anyway. (We may not want to send our very first efforts. But if a writer has been creating work for more than a year, and wants to be published, it’s probably time to start submitting!)
  2. Timing is everything. Too early and our work is clumsy, full of holes, rough around the edges. Too late and we may fall behind, not make deadlines, or put off submitting forever. How to tell if it’s too early or too late? No one seems to know! We make our best guess and then send.
  3. It’s normal to feel strange emotions after sending. I often feel uneasy. Sometimes I feel hopeful (tempered with common sense—this submission may not be successful, but the next one may be). You may feel a whole range of other emotions. (To avoid feeling overwhelming regret, my advice is to avoid looking at your submitted piece or manuscript after sending. Whenever I do this, I find something I hate!)
  4. Multiple submissions make sense (if allowed). Some journals hang on to work for months, even years. I once had a story with a US literary journal for 14 months, and I’ve heard tales of much longer waits. If the journal or competition allows simultaneous submissions, it’s worth improving the odds by submitting to at least one other market (in my opinion).
  5. Destinations are important. Except in the case of a freaky genius, it’s probably best to send the first submitted poem to a smaller magazine, rather than the Paris Review. There’s no point sending a sci-fi/Western story to a snooty literary magazine that doesn’t publish genre fiction. And it may be unwise to send a literary novel manuscript to an agent who specialises in fantasy and YA. Choosing where we send our words improves the chance of being chosen.

I’m sure there are other aspects to submitting I haven’t considered. After all, I write short fiction only.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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news and weather

 

I haven’t posted for awhile. It’s not that I haven’t written posts. In fact I’ve written two in the last few weeks, but when I finished each of them, I realised that I couldn’t press publish.  Though I wrote each piece with care, I knew the people I’d referred to might recognise themselves, if they somehow stumbled here. They might feel misrepresented, or resent being discussed.

So I’ve said nothing at all. The safer option.

What can I say?

I can say that I am so grateful for my writing group and my other writing buddies, both in real life and online. They share their knowledge, make me laugh and are writing cheerleaders. Often they keep me going when I’d otherwise lose faith. They are phenomenal. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those people, so thank you.

I can say that I’ve finally reached the goal word count for my short story manuscript. (Now the editing begins!)

And I can say that here in Brisbane it is fine and cold and glorious. Perfect writing weather.

Wishing you all a very happy writing week!

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the week in which I got a big head (twice) but then got over myself

The week just gone was a busy one. My friend Amanda O’Callaghan (below) had her wonderful short story collection This Taste for Silence (UQP) released into the world, with not one but two book launches. Both events were packed, the first at Avid Reader and the second at a function centre with over a hundred people attending. The book is stunning, and is already receiving much acclaim.

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I was fortunate enough to be asked to read at both launches, along with another lovely friend, Karen Hollands. This meant I was reading my work in public for the second and third times — exciting and nerve-wracking stuff.

A friend today asked me if I enjoyed it and I suppose I did — in the same way I like rollercoasters. I was scared, for sure, and yet the feeling of having a big room of people listening to your words was surreal in a wonderful way. After all, that’s one of the reasons many of us write — to have our words reach and touch others. Seeing all those people gazing my way, not scratching their heads or dozing or staring off elsewhere but in fact looking riveted — it was quite the high.

I even had several strangers tell me how much they enjoyed the reading, ask where they could read more of my work, or how to buy my book (um, yes, slight problem there).

Fiona at Avid (reading)

And so what did I do after each of these highs? I came home to all the usual household chores, wanting to flop on the couch with a cup of tea. I talked to my family. And I figured out a way to annoy them a great deal.

“Famous people don’t stack the dishwasher,” I said. They looked at me. I smiled. Someone else stacked the dishwasher.

“Also, famous people don’t get their own cups of tea.”

My husband sighed, heaved himself to his feet, muttering, but nevertheless made tea.

I explained to my beloved ones that my famousness was a one-night thing, that I wouldn’t be wielding it on other days. To their credit, they took my diva act in their stride. My husband may have even smirked in a tolerant way (which will only encourage me for next time).

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