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Must Be Nice.

Yesterday at a social gathering, a few people near me were discussing their similar careers and companies. After several minutes of this, one of them — someone I don’t know well but see a few times a month — turned to me and said, “Well, what do you do?”

I have grown to hate this question, and that’s really sad, because I love what I do with every fibre of my being. But experience has taught me that 75% of the time, the response to my answer is not something I’m good at dealing with.

I told this person I’m a part-time freelance writer/editor, and write novels from home, his response was the perennial favourite,

“It must be nice.”

In case you’re thinking he said this in a wistful manner, let me gently nudge you more toward sarcastic with a hint of judgment and a dash of superiority, as he looked around at the other two he’d been chatting with.

It must be nice? What must be nice? That I don’t work a 9-5 job with a respectable paycheck, therefore I live on some kind of perma-holiday?

What I wish people who don’t write or create art knew about those that do is its often thankless. We do it because there’s an overpowering desire in our heart — not for money, or prestige, and certainly not fame — and if we didn’t siphon things out of this well inside us on a regular basis, we would go stark raving mad. Or as my friend and critique partner Megan Peterson recently put it, it would poison our whole being.

“It must be nice” infers we sit around in our jim-jams watching Netflix and letting the laundry pile up around our heads while we’re chugging back beers and covered in biscuit crumbs.

Let me be the billionth writer to say, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

On top of this, his comment was, in a word, degrading. But I suppose if I stepped back from the situation I could say the question reflects on him more than it does on me, or any of us who choose to pursue something that garners very little acclaim or money or, in most circles, respect. For reasons like this — as if we twiddle our thumbs and play Candy Crush (I don’t even know what that is) all day.

Not as if I work my butt off, taking online classes, studying craft books or published novels daily, working with critique partners through their own manuscripts, researching, enrolling in bootcamps and shelling out bucks to get professional feedback as often as means allow.

Not as if I get my heart ripped out after putting it on the page and then having to light it on fire and start over again on a regular basis.

Not as if I get next to no recognition for pursuing this dream that I love and believe will matter someday, and maybe inspire one other person to dream and write and create worlds that they love as well.

It makes me wonder, what’s harder? Working in a field that will always need employees, is guaranteed a nice paycheque, holidays, and a retirement plan? Or putting your heart and soul into a misshapen lump — one that you hammer out day after day, with no one overseeing your work or making sure you’re DOING the work (or making sure you’re taking breaks for your physical and mental health), with no accolades, no guaranteed paycheque, no water-cooler socialisation, very little respect, endless assumptions and suspicions about how you spend your time and your “REAL” motivation, cyclical self-doubt, the desire to change one little word or one entire character from the moment you wake up until you finally fall asleep at night (usually quite late) — all with the hope that one day that lump will become a shining work of art that you’re proud of, grateful to have been able to construct, and hopeful will inspire others, whether through the imagination, the entertainment, or simply the craft used to cobble it all together. Hopeful that the work will someday make it all up to the family and friends who were your moral support from day one.

The answer? I don’t think one is harder than the other. I think people are best suited to one or the other. I’ve been on the 9-5 desk job side of things, with the decent, reliable paycheque and the retirement options and the healthcare package. I know that that is bloody hard work, and most times, work that you don’t actually care about but need to do in order to live.

On the flip-side, another person at this gathering who I know even less well and see maybe twice a year not only remembered that I’m a writer, but asked me how it was going, and encouraged me with supportive comments about my current (positive) set of circumstances. I wanted to hug her. These sorts of responses are few and far between, but I’m beginning to learn not to expect them. And again, that’s sad. But that’s life. What matters is I believe in what I’m doing. I am confident in what I do. I just wish I could come up with a better response in the midst of conversation to people who say, “It must be nice.”

. . . But then, that’s why I’m a writer. Because I can’t come up with this stuff on the spur of the moment as the words are falling from someone else’s lips. They form in my head and are put down on a screen, and edited, and critiqued, and polished, and torn apart, and edited again, instead of coming out of my mouth and lingering on the air, unable to be taken back or fixed.

If that’s my choice, I’ll take it.

And I suppose the best response to this comment is it’s more than nice (and since I’m a writer, I don’t use words like “nice”, right? *grin*). I am grateful to be able to spend the majority of my time doing a job that I LOVE, and will never grow tired of. A job that challenges me every day, and when I face a hint of sarcasm or judgement, it only works to remind me that despite what anyone else thinks, I’m not going to give up.

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No Day But Today

I’m nearing the end of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s making me think a lot. I found the book in a very odd way – after our trip to Disney World in June, my husband randomly found a photo via Google of a couple going down Splash Mountain (our favourite ride) posing with a Jenga game. It’s a great photo. The woman in the photo ran 30candles.net, a “30 before 30” list, and one of the items was taking a ridiculous Splash Mountain photo (I know what I’m stealing for my “Before I’m 40” list ;).

ANYHOW, on her page she mentioned Rubin’s book, and I loved the whole idea – the list, the book, and the project. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all book, but it’s got some fantastic ideas and how they played out in Rubin’s life.

The first thing on my list of notes taken from her book is this:

Nothing is insurmountable if you do what ought to be done, little by little.

No news flash there – it’s a summation of Dale Carnegie and a thousand others’ mantras, but as I say, it’s the first thing in Rubin’s book that put my pen to notebook. I’m learning this slowly over the last few years. The other week when the Scotsman and I climbed Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glencoe, it reminded me that the first time we climbed it, I was new to hillwalking. I was nervous, especially during the scrambling bit. But I kept telling myself, “This is like writing. One step at a time. Just do what’s right under my feet, and that’ll take me to the next bit. One step at a time.” And I was amazed, and so proud, when we finished. I’m not an unfit person but this was a big deal for me, mentally as much as physically, being afraid of heights, falling, and all the rest.

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It’s a sentiment shared widely in the writing community, particularly among those of us un-agented and unpublished, with good reason. Little by little, a word becomes a page, becomes a chapter, becomes a book. Then you start over… edit, revise, cut. But it is that simple. One word at a time. I have to remind myself of this – and maybe others are the same – because I’m one who gets all too easily overwhelmed in life. One step at a time.

“No Day But Today” is one of my favourite songs (from the musical RENT). I used it as the song my bridesmaids walked down the aisle to last year, before I entered the room (I walked to my favourite piece of music of all time, “Glasgow Love Theme” by Craig Armstrong), because I think the message is universal. There’s only now and here, and I can happily say that finally in my life, I’ve gotten to the place where I’m grateful for every day and try to get the most out of every moment I possibly can, because I’ll miss it when it’s gone – especially the smaller moments. I might only get one chapter edited today, or I might not get any done if another moment takes over. But the important part that this book has brought to mind is that any mountain can be overcome if you take one step at a time, and today is your best time to do that.

#Writemotivation Update

I’m actually on track! Hard to believe, I know…

1. Finish WIP revisions. Finished this last week. Now currently Cutting All The Words (flabby, weak, soft words, as highlighted by John Skipp on the LitReactor course I did in August).
2. Send to CPs. Sent full MS to one CP, another friend has read the first three chapters, and I think a third CP to read the entire thing would be brilliant.
3. Get back to routine! Doing this 🙂
4. WF x5. Done!

I hope you’re having a great September and accomplishing little by little whatever you want to do 🙂

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Severn Estuary, Portishead. Enjoying my last few runs in this neighbourhood.
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June & July #WriteMotivation Updates

Hello!

Due to our mid-month trip to Western NY to visit family, and a week-long jaunt down to Disney World in Orlando (my first time, husband’s third. Ironic given he’s not from the U.S…), my goals were not *quite* reached for June. That’s okay! That’s what July is for! Right?

My husband began changing lyrics for just about every song to include my name. This one started it all a few years ago, and has become my theme song somehow...
My husband began changing lyrics for just about every song to include my name. This one started it all a few years ago, and has become my theme song somehow…

For June, my only Write Motivation goal was to finish revising my first paper draft of my WIP. I didn’t quite get there, but I hope to by the end of next week.

For July, my goals are:

1. Finish paper revision of WIP. I think I can get this done by the end of next week.
2. Read-through of revision changes. Hoping this only takes me a day. 
3. Send to 2 betas/CPs.
4. Beta reading for J & A. Working on this currently.
5. SOMEBODY new version x 5. This clearly needs refreshing as my last batch hasn’t been too successful, despite having much professional advice heaped upon me, and following said advice. It seems unless women’s fiction has paranormal elements, is straight-up pop-culture-laden chick lit, or has lots of sex, it doesn’t seem to be selling. At least, according to Publisher’s Marketplace. Anyone know different, feel free to get in touch 😉
6. Draft WIP synopsis. This will probably get pushed to August, but we’ll see.

And that’s it! I will be making the blog rounds soon and have already left a few comments and Tweets, but I am very behind! My apologies! 

Hop on over to K.T. Hanna’s blog to help her celebrate her Blog-iversary with the very generous prizes she’s offering! And stay tuned for my Western NY/Disney holiday recap, and an upcoming post on the things I miss most (as evidenced by this last trip to the States) about the U.S. Thanks for visiting and enjoy the fabulous weather if you’re in the UK! (and by fabulous, I do mean above 65 and not raining!).

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“So, any luck in the job department?” or how failure is making me see what matters most.

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Under the Golden Gate, March 2013

This month isn’t turning out quite how I hoped. When does it ever?

I planned on a 3-week online course on women’s fiction, but unfortunately this was cancelled the day it was meant to begin (the day after I booked it), so I had to re-think my use of this month’s writing time.

This weekend I’m attending the Psychologies Writing Weekend put on by Writers & Artists at Bloomsbury in London. I’m really excited as it’s my first foray into writers’ conferences (though I do wish I had a buddy going with me!). I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and getting a chance to do some workshops. I’m also attending a live webinar with literary agent Kate McKean entitled “How to Submit Your Book To Agents.” It’s on May 2nd if you want to join me! 

All that to say, most of my time has been devoted to writing. I can’t lie. I graduated in June 2010, and I’ve been endlessly applying for jobs, interviewing, and trying to network since then. A few contracts here, an internship there, but it is has been, without a doubt, the biggest anticlimax of my life.

Why? Well, when you return to university as a mature student — in a foreign country, to boot — you’ve by that time built pretty high expectations and demands of yourself. You’ve missed chances and been unable to focus on one thing in the past, so when this amazing opportunity comes around to make something of yourself, you want perfection. I’ve said it before on here. I worked my butt off to do the best I could on that degree, and some might’ve suggested I put too much pressure on myself, for things that, in the grand scheme of things, haven’t mattered so much. But I did it to prove to myself I could, and whether you scoff at a Film BA or not, getting that 1st is the thing I’m most proud of.

I didn’t expect to meet my future husband before my course even began, let alone that he would be someone who already had his act together (certainly not been my previous experience!). My plan of moving to London and living in a cardboard box until I got a proper job in film died an early death, for a variety of reasons, mostly practical.

If only my path were this clear.
If only my path were this clear.

I’ve had interviews at some fantastic companies and organisations, and been told countless times, “You were this close!” and “It was between you and one other person.” The number of times the door has been shut, slammed, or locked right in my face is just unbelievable, especially for someone who never interviewed for a job she wasn’t offered in the past. All this time I thought a degree would be the key, along with the work I put into it and work experience, etc.

Nope. God has had other plans. I can’t say I understand them, but life throws you surprises and you have to accept them, no matter how unbelievable. And when I say I’ve been applying everywhere, I mean everywhere. Jobs I’m totally overqualified for that I’ve dumbed down my CV for, jobs that I’m underqualified for that I’ve aimed for anyhow, jobs I’m perfect for either in an industry I care about or not, and still, every door has been closed.

Do I know why? Nope. My name? My nationality? My age? The economy? All these things? Or just that God has another plan?

I read a devotional email today that said in all our struggles and fears, it’s vital we yield to God. When I’m weak, He is strong. I’ve prayed many times, Your will be done. Whatever it is You want me to do, and to want, I want it. Show me how.

But I’ll pray it again today, and every day. I want to do what God wants me to do, just so I’m finally at that place in my life where I’m confident in my path. I felt confident at uni, but that had a countdown that expired on the day I graduated. It was a shadow of the real thing.

Writing has been the one thing that’s been consistent in my life since I was young. I’ve always had stories flowing out of my head onto the screen, and the more I learn about writing and publishing, the more I write and read and talk with others about it, the more I feel confident that if nothing else in all this struggle, God’s given me this passion, bigger than any other one. I can’t ignore that, and if people look at me and say, “Why doesn’t she have a job yet? What’s wrong with her? Is she just irresponsible and lazy? She must not really want it, I have to remind myself that their opinions and judgements aren’t relevant. I have to stop worrying about that.

My closest friends know how hard and frustrating this time has been, but they also encourage me to use the time not spent applying for jobs on writing. To those friends, thank you for believing in me, and not making me worry you think I’m lazy, or ridiculous, or irresponsible.

Words cannot express how exasperating, how humiliating, and how confidence-destroying these last few years have been. But if they’ve taught me anything — once I look past the self-doubt — it’s that the thing we have passion for, the thing we don’t feel we’re wasting time doing, whether it pays into a pension or not, it nurtures the spirit to do it. So I will keep writing, learning, networking and reading because it’s the one arena in which I feel I truly belong.

This is a mighty long post, and if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for hanging in. It felt like time for reflection again on what’s been going on. I leave you with some snippets from JK Rowling’s Harvard Speech, which is one of the best things I’ve ever read:

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Lacock Abbey, filming location for Harry Potter, June 2006

Why yes, I am wearing an I Love Sirius Black t-shirt.

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Thankful

Westonbirt Arboretum, November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a warm, cosy, family- and food-filled Thanksgiving Day! I wish I was back home with my family in WNY helping and celebrating, but instead I’ll be cookin’ a bird next week for my husband and friend coming to visit from Plymouth. As in, Plymouth, England. Which I just realised is sort of fitting given the first Thanksgiving was in Plymouth, Massachusetts, if I remember correctly from elementary school lessons. So, thanks to Lauri for bringing a bit of tradition to our Thanksgiving 😉

In honour of the day and the simple message of counting your blessings and giving thanks for what you have, here is one of my favourite quotes:

Being happy doesn’t mean everything’s perfect. It means you’ve decided to see beyond the imperfections.
– Helen Keller

I think that speaks for itself.

I have so much to be thankful for – my husband, our memorable wedding day this past May, my family back in the U.S., my friends both there and here, good health, a roof over our heads, and so much more. It’s easy to focus on what I don’t have, but that’s the story of mankind, really; we’re always focused on what’s missing rather than what’s present.

I have been job-hunting, trying to get my foot into a career since graduation 2.5 years ago. At my age, as I’m often reminded, this is not a great situation. It’s frustrating mentally, and also frustrating our plans and goals of settling down. As wearying as these things are though, I’m trying to learn to choose to be thankful. Every morning (well, okay, most mornings) I jot down at least 3 things in a journal that I’m thankful for; 3 positives. Some days the best I can come up with (and most days if this is true, it’s on the list) is that the sun is shining. In the UK, that’s cause for breaking out the champers.

I’ve also been learning this year to just focus on today. I believe God meets our needs daily. The example for prayer includes the phrase Give us this day our daily bread. It doesn’t say Give us what we’ll need for the next year in advance so we can feel safe and secure. The reason? I think it’s so we learn to trust Something bigger than ourselves. We have to trust that tomorrow will take care of itself, but for today, we will have our current needs met. Even if this means what we think we need, we really don’t. Not yet.

I find this hard because I’m a planner, and a bit OCD. I make 10 lists before going on a trip, check the kitchen about 5 times before leaving to make sure everything’s off, check that the door is locked multiple times. I struggle with it a bit. I’m the same way with future plans. It’s wise to make arrangements for what’s to come so when it comes you’re not left scrambling, but I think in many cases, there’s only so much planning you can really do until the need arrives. So I have to let go of needing to know how things will be on the 8th of February four years from now, and just focus on today.

I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving, and have a lot to be thankful for!

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On another brief note, my #Writemotivation updates have been scattered this month but I think that’s expected, given NaNo. My update is a positive one, though:

1) 50k on WIP (which will bring the word count to ~70k): I’ve written 34,306 NaNo words bringing my WIP first draft to a grand total of 76,476. Yay!

2) MS#1 x3. Done.

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Best of luck, you NaNoWriMo and WriteMotivation writers! And enjoy your holiday, Americans! 🙂

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