From the Other Side


So I missed out on last week’s #IWSG first Wednesday of the month post, but I’m posting it now and that’s just going to have to be okay. I might be kicked out of the group, but I still think it’s a great idea. (If you aren’t familiar, it’s the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I’d like to be a confident writer, but everyone’s got insecurities. It’s great to go on a little blog tour and read about others who are in similar boats and encourage one another).

Pack your bags! We’re going on a guilt trip! (Actually, the lovely Flushing Ferry in Falmouth)

As any unagented writer can attest, querying brings insecurities out of the woodwork. Just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. Yesterday I began a month-long work placement at a book publisher in Edinburgh, and it was a fantastic first day. It was awesome to be on the other side, and as this particular publisher receives submissions for fiction and non-fiction across the spectrum as they’re opening their gates to a variety of genres, I got to wade into a submissions pile for my first time ever.

Boy, was it eye-opening.

I felt incredibly guilty writing NO on any of the submissions I read. I longed to just sit there and correct grammar and spelling, suggest structure changes, word replacements, etc. and return them to the authors to encourage them to make some tweaks. Unfortunately, that’s not part of the job. I wish it was!

Out of the 12 I read, I think there were 2 I wanted to see more of. The pacing, voice, ideas, and character fell together with excellent writing. That was it. They weren’t in my favourite genre or about immensely likeable characters (well, one wasn’t; it had a Silence of the Lambs feel to it about a lorry-driving serial killer), but they were just well-written and hooked me right away.

Then there was a mixture of Nos and Maybes. The Maybes didn’t grab me, but they seemed to be well-written; perhaps just slow to ignite. If I’d had more than 3 chapters to read, maybe I’d fall in love, but likely not. But not a definite no as they had promise.

The Nos reminded me of one of my insecurities. Querying is painful, and I realise, different than writing directly to a publisher, which I have not done. I’d prefer to be agented, to find someone willing to work with me. Knowing what it’s like to work hard on your dream and then send it off to a complete stranger, one who might likely be an intern like me who scribbles notes on the page and then sticks it in one of three piles, it made me very sympathetic. That’s the harsh reality.

It also simply emphasised how you really need to shape up those first three chapters (well, the whole thing, really, but…) to zing the person who’ll be reading it, whether it’s an agent, a slushpile-reading intern, or a publishing assistant. It needs to smack them in the face and go, “You can relate to this, or you find this idea exciting, or this character interesting.”

I think that might be one of the three things that does it. Either you relate to the situation or emotions, you’re drawn to a character, or the idea itself (or the way it’s presented) is intriguing. Preferably all three, but if you get one of those right, I’m likely to read on.

It’s not rocket science, the notion of what gets you past the slushpile, I think (this is all speculation; obviously I’m no expert having had ONE measly day so far). It’s just finding the way to hit at least one of those three targets.

Anyhow, yesterday’s experience made me a little less insecure, like I can approach my work with even more dedication now, knowing how it looks from the other side. The stories that did hook me had one thing in common (besides good grammar and spelling): they had excellent pacing. It made me see what I’m up against, the range of talent and ideas and execution from blah to fantastic. And somehow this has encouraged me, though you’d think it would just as easily discourage me. I’m glad it didn’t ūüôā

Have you had an experience that helps you understand your writing insecurities, or at least gives you perspective on them?




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It was a dark & stormy outlook…

Last night I went to bed proclaiming on Twitter how today was going to “totally rock”. It very well might be rocking, underneath the things I can see and hear, and maybe I won’t find out about that rocking until tomorrow, or the next day, or next month.

Because on the outside, today looks like one big giant slap in the face, and a reminder of all the impacts that preceded it.

This was taken around midday. Not today. Today’s actually sunny and warm and beautiful, despite the news. But it feels like this looks.

Some of you may know that I’ve been job hunting for a long time. I worked for about a decade before returning to university, and worked full- and part-time jobs around and during university, and volunteered. I graduated with a 1st class film BA, one of 3 on my year. Granted, I was a mature student and 31 by then, but I was really proud of my achievement given my stop-start cycle of university in the US. (My problem had been never being able to decide on which course to follow, because I was interested in so much; therefore, I ended up wavering and putting it on hold to take time off. Only a true miracle allowed me to financially return to university, and to do it in the UK, but that’s a story for another day!).

Despite London work experience in the film industry, and a work experience placement I scored at the BBC, as well as temp work in publishing, I have been applying for and looking at jobs nearly every day since early 2010. I’m still not on a career path.

My writing has totally FLOURISHED, though, with the amount of time spent honing my craft, learning from others, and writing going through the roof. I’m so grateful, in a way, for my delayed transition to a career because it’s given me time to do what I’ve wanted to do all my life.

And the unrealistic, stubborn side of me believes writing COULD become my career, as I can’t think of anything that would make me more content. But right now, I need to earn money, and I’d like to do it in a role that some of my education and work experiences would lend themselves to, in publishing, the arts, etc. You’d think employers would be keen to hire a more mature grad, but one of the many troubles seems to be they’re unwilling to consider us older folks because they assume we’ll require a heftier salary than a 22-year-old.

Today’s news was that an internship at a prestigious academic publisher in Scotland (where we plan to relocate to) has been cancelled. I was invited for an interview – my first interview in MONTHS – right before my birthday. The day after, I bought ¬£155 last-minute train tickets to Scotland, and then the interview was postponed. I was told it would definitely be rescheduled, after Wednesday. 2+ weeks went by, my train tickets sent back to Virgin for a refund lost by Royal Mail, so I’m out ¬£155, and I’d heard nothing about the rescheduled interview. (Don’t get me started on Virgin Trains or Royal Mail. Suffice it to say, “the customer is always right” is NOT a British sentiment.)

So I called and called. No answer. I emailed and found out the lady who was meant to interview me went on holiday for a month, and finally another woman emailed me back to say the internship was no longer running. How would I have found this out? Why didn’t they tell me before? Why is this all somewhat fishy?

Truth is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how I react. Immediately, I called my husband and began sobbing…not just because this seemed like the opportunity –¬†in the right city, the right industry, at an organisation I respect – that I’d been waiting for, but because this is the last disappointment in a long, frustrating, difficult time in my life. I’m terrified that being 34 means I won’t be employable as a “recent graduate”. After calming down, I have to say that maybe this simply wasn’t the right opportunity after all. Something better could come along.

And while it’s trite to say that,¬†I’d rather think and hope it then let bitterness take root. It has in the past, and it’s never done me any good. Has it for you? Some may call bitterness or disappointment “being realistic”. But if more and more studies show that worrying, negativity, and anger causes all kinds of physical maladies, then I would much rather choose the former. It is difficult – I had that initial cry and I’m certainly not jumping for joy right now (in fact, a friend on Twitter told me something good could be right around the corner, and my reply was, “Something good¬†is; I’ve got a bottle of cab in the kitchen”). I’m just going to try to call this what it is: another turn in the road. I’m thankful God is in control, not me, because even if I had control I think it’s pretty clear I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Trying to change your outlook when you’ve had it all your life is incredibly hard, as any 10-step-program follower can probably tell you. I fall prey to disappointment and usually let it point out all my flaws, what I could’ve done better, etc., because that’s what perfectionists do. But this time, I’m calling myself out on it. The positive from all this is that I was¬†offered the interview in the first place. I rewrote my CV from scratch, got feedback on my cover letter, and bam, first thing I really wanted, I was called to interview for. So rather than holding onto my disappointment that the role doesn’t exist anymore, I need to, as Eric Idle so helpfully reminded me during the Olympics Closing Ceremony, always look on the bright side of life.

(For the record, the Spice Girls, Eric, and the Who were my favourite bits of the evening. ūüôā

Whatever you’re going through right now, in your long wait for good news, I challenge you to try to approach it differently than you always have in the past. Because if your way didn’t make you happier in the past, maybe it’s time for a change.

“A man is not hurt so much by what happens, as by his opinion of what happens.”
-Michel de Montaigne

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Summer of ’12 wouldn’t make a catchy song title.

Neither would this weather go down in anyone’s good books, but it will have to do.

The UK had the wettest June on record, to go along with the coldest whatever on record and the wettest some-other-month (April?) on record. This year has been awful for weather in the UK, apart from the glorious week during my wedding which was 80+ degrees and stunning. All this has made it very hard to make decisions because–as I firmly believe–one needs to be in a good frame of mind (but not¬†too good) for sound decision-making. In this case, where to live and what jobs to apply for.

Right now, my visa application (4th one) is sitting with the UKBA, as is my passport, so I’m unable to travel out of the country at the time when I most want to go back to my hometown in the U.S. and visit my family and enjoy the summer they’re getting, and this:

Red House Lake, Allegany State Park, New York

I will continuously rave about Allegany being my favourite place in North America and post endless photos I’ve taken there (apologies). {g}

I’ve been living in the UK for over 5 years now, and I have to say the summers have become less and less pleasant each year, which makes waiting for this visa more difficult.

Back to the job thing (this is a rambling post, can’t you tell?). There comes a point when you just want to settle down, if, like me, you’ve moved from apartment to house to apartment for years on end. I’ve moved 30 times now on last count, and I’m very eager (now that we’re married, as well) to buy a house, put nails in the wall and carpeting down that no one else has ever touched.

Unfortunately, as eager as we are to do this, a few more decisions need to be made. I’ve been job hunting since graduating in 2010, and it’s been a long, frustrating slog. Part of me just wants to write full-time (a very big part of me) but the practical side (aka my husband) says I need to start a pension and get a career under my feet before an agent sweeps me away and my best-sellers are flinging their way to Kindles everywhere. I’ve been looking for jobs in publishing, marketing, film, etc. where my writing/editing/admin/computer abilities will be best used, and have had to set aside some of my “dream jobs” (researcher for film, film editor), apart from writing (which is my heart’s truest dream, I would say, and always has been). These types of jobs don’t seem practical unless we relocate to London, which we’re not.

So I’m at that point where major decisions need to be made, but I’m finding it really hard when the sun isn’t showing its face for more than 10 minutes a day. How about you – are you affected by weather at all, whether good or bad? Do you feel like your emotions, decision-making, or motivation is impeded by external things or do you have a means of disregarding such things?

And the most ironic thing of all this is, despite this weather dragging us down and making it hard to decide whether to try to relocate – given that a relocation will put our house-buying further in the future, but might be better for us long-term – I want to move back up to Scotland. Where the winters are longer and the summers are nearly non-existant.

Why? Because I took it as a good omen that our wedding day was on the nicest, warmest day Scotland’s seen in about 500 years ūüėČ

Done rambling, off to do some writing. Hope you all had a fabulous 4th of July yesterday!

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A trouble shared is a trouble halved.

There's a light in the distance! Okay, really, I just wanted to use this shot because it's pretty. But it is relevant, in an ultra-cheesy way.

I know the saying is “A¬†problem shared…” and I know too that sometimes this isn’t the case. Sometimes sharing your problem just upsets the other party and now instead of just yourself, you’ve also got the problem of a worried-sick mother, or a partner who feels helpless, or a friend who nervously changes the subject, and so on.

But in the case of the peace that comes from knowing others understand and sympathise, it goes a long way towards propelling you through the trouble. A cloud can hang over a situation in our lives for months, or even years. We may have a long way yet to go to get through it. But each time someone genuinely reflects on the subject, or shares their similar experiences, it can be just that little nudge you need to get you through another week, or another day, or even another hour. These nudges along the way, whatever their stature, are fuel for the journey.

After¬†commenting on some tweets from the¬†Guardian Careers’ Twitter¬†account, I was invited to¬†share my experiences¬†of being an unemployed mature graduate with a 1st class degree. Of being both “over-qualified” and “under-qualified”, according to employers.

The Guardian’s careers articles, Q&As, and series of guest posts are comforting and enlightening, and I highly recommend taking a look around their archives. Job hunting and its related soul searching can be a very solitary, lonely experience. Even if you have supportive loved ones around you, unless they’re in the same boat, it’s not always easy to relate. The self doubt, the what-ifs, the state of looking backwards so often you need a rear view mirror attached to your head. I often feel cut off¬†from the rest of the world in this matter. So it’s refreshing to read about others’ experiences, some reflecting my own, some with different outcomes, but all insightful.

All of my friends save two are in stable jobs, some in very healthy career paths, so there are few people with whom I feel at ease discussing this topic. The truth is, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there unemployed, and thousands of mature graduates who’ve either been in my shoes, or are in them now. And really, I know I can talk to my friends about this topic, but my self-consciousness keeps me from dumping it all on them when there’s little they can say to make it better. It can be awkward to shine the light on the lopsidedness in friends’ situations, and I never want to make anyone uncomfortable. So it was with great relief I read the comments on my post today.

Simply put, there are some amazing, lovely, empathetic, intelligent, eloquent people out there who are either in a similar situation, or know a loved one who is or has been, or can simply just see the state of the job market and feel for those of us struggling to find a place in it. To all those lovely people, a massive hug and thanks. I want to add you all to my Twitter and Facebook and read your blogs and encourage you that while we may be in a rotten time for chasing dreams and wondering if there’s any value in doing so, I believe persistence is key. Don’t give up.

Knowing that we’ve had to work a lot harder to get somewhere we want to be, in the end–even if it takes years–we’ll appreciate it infinitely more than those who slid easily into jobs pre-2008. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I feel like whenever this recession starts to ease up, we’ll be able to put a big, fat bullet point on our CVs that reads¬†DETERMINED and COMMITTED, skills honed not on the job but while seeking one. And determination on the job is much easier when you know there’s a paycheck coming, so those of us able to keep that determination alive in the mean time aren’t¬†wasting time.

Thank you for reading! Your time and thoughts are valued!

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Job hunting. Right now it’s the worst time in recent memory for it with the state of the economy, budget cuts, overabundance of graduates and ridiculous competition. I’m not here to complain about it because it is what it is, and I’m beginning to realise that as much as a steady income will be greatly appreciated, and as psychologically frustrating as it can be when you know you’ve got a great degree, valuable experience and a desire to work hard and still can’t seem to get a break, things happen for a reason and I’ve got to make the most of the opportunities in front of me.

It might sound strange to claim to have an opportunity in the midst of unemployment, but it’s there, and it’s been the time to write, learn more about the craft and get inspired. I’m trying to do more of this every day I can before I do land a job. What I’m also hoping to learn through this stage though is how to respect and view myself, regardless of what other people say, or don’t say. No matter whether other people accept me or don’t even have time to read what I send them.

Perfectionism isn’t a positive. Maybe some people use the word to mean striving for the best and not settling for anything less, but even that is unrealistic, unachievable, and unhealthy. I’ve struggled with perfectionism since I was a kid but I always thought the term inferred that a perfectionist “does things perfectly”, so I never considered it described me. I don’t think I do anything¬†perfectly. I do some things well, but I’m not one to blow my own horn. Far from it. But I have been a perfectionist in certain situations. Perfectionism is when you beat yourself up for not reaching your mental idea of perfection. The Free Dictionary says it’s “a personality trait manifested by the rejection of personal achievements falling short of perfection, often leading to distress and self-condemnation”.

So it’s definitely not cool.

I struggled with it during university. Because I was a mature student, I wanted this time around to do things right, get the best grades I could, get as involved as I could. It paid off: I got a 1st class degree and I learned and enjoyed so much. But the perfectionism saw me sleeping about 4 hours a night sometimes, trying way¬†too hard to please some people, and expecting way too much of myself. Example: I got upset at certain lessons when I felt like I should already know what was being taught simply because I was older than most other students. It’s not healthy.

I thought about all this today when I saw a job post that listed perfectionism as part of the person specification.

Am I applying for that job? I have the experience and it sounds like an interesting industry. But no way am I applying. I can already imagine what that position would look like. They’re not asking that I try my best, be diligent and give it 100%. I’ve had jobs in the past where it was expected I’d only do everything perfectly, and a spotlight came on every time I didn’t. I didn’t wait this long for a job to get one where I’m condemned before I begin. I know I’m a hard worker, because I don’t like letting people down, and I like how it feels to know I’ve contributed something worthwhile and beneficial to others. In that respect, I’m completely happy to no longer be a perfectionist, nor take a job that requires I be one.

Celebrating perfectionism is not a good thing. Doing my best and then calling it a day and going on to the next thing – that’s what I’m trying to learn right now. Accepting that if I try my best and then let go and not worry about what’s out of my control, that’s what I want. I want that more than a job, and that’s difficult to say out loud, but if I get to 90 I’ll be glad to say that I finally conquered worrying about the what-ifs, and that whole time period of job hunting will be a blip on the radar compared to the memory of when I learned to be okay with my best. Besides, my best is pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

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