If you want to be a writer, accept you will fail before you succeed

success and failure

The thing about looking at successful writers, or successful people in any field, is they rarely make the headlines or show up on your radar until they’ve made it. This makes them hard to relate to or compare yourself against.

Accepting failure before it happens doesn’t mean giving up or being pessimistic. You can prepare yourself for the silent audience, bad review or unsold book if you accept that at some point it will happen. Think of it as a lesson learnt and something to tick off your list.

The people you look up to, even the ones who aren’t famous but seem to have carved out a market for themselves and are making a success out of doing what they love; they rarely share posts or images of their failures.

I’ve read a few success stories where people just seem to have stumbled into becoming a popular Instagram poet, landing a publishing deal or whatever else. These are either the few exceptions, or they’re not telling you about the time they spent in obscurity and all the rejections they received before that. It gives everyone else an unrealistic image of what success looks like. “Overnight success” usually takes years to achieve.

I’m nowhere near being a successful anything, although I’ve had a few small successes and close calls; such as having a few books accepted by published, almost carving out a full-time career as a copywriter, an almost promising self-published book and a few shorter pieces accepted for paid publication. So, I’m going to share some of my failures and disappointments, to show you that all (or most) of us have them.

 

Getting published

I had two books accepted for publications in a relatively short space of time. The first went horribly wrong. I was amongst the many authors who never received their royalties before the publisher shut down. The second publisher had better intentions, but is close to shutting its doors as I write this.

 

Making a living from writing

After trying to make a living for my books, I became a freelance copywriter. It wasn’t ideal, having to write to a set of criteria on subjects I wouldn’t have chosen myself, but I adapted to it. I was given a paid ghostwriter trial for a fiction book and some other freelance writing, and things were starting to build up. Then there was a pandemic and much of my work dried up. Of course the virus is extremely serious and has taken many lives, so I’m glad to be alive, but it doesn’t change the disappointment I felt at getting so close to the dream of making a full-time living as a writer, even if it wasn’t the type of writing I ideally wanted to do.

 

Self-publishing

My years of self-publishing and my two failed publishers taught me a lot, so I used that knowledge to publish and promote my recent novel Ghost of Me. I had pre-orders and reviews (from advance reader copies) before the release date and it all looked promising. Sales dried up quickly when the virus spread and so my book was (understandably) forgotten as people had more important things to think about.

 

Other failures

Where do I start? There have been so many. These include bad reviews, (some deserved and others from internet trolls and bullies) reading out work to an unresponsive audience (the poems were too subtle for them and they preferred something more direct – it happens, so move on) and trying to build up awareness of my books by running giveaways online. I’ve run a few competitions with few or no entrants. It can be a real awakening when you realise you can’t even give away copies of your own book.

 

Why do I keep going?

After re-reading that last part I’m asking myself the same question, but I’ve had some successes, however small. I had two publishers who thought my books were worth publishing. Okay, so one of them stole the royalties, but they must have thought they could get enough money from it to be worth their time and effort.

I’ve also had several pieces of writing published (and paid for) even before I started copywriting. I’ve also had some great feedback from the copywriting projects I’ve worked on. Last year, the magazine I created (which I’m sadly putting together the last issue for) was given a place performing poetry at The Festival of Manchester. I could probably mention a few more successes, but this blog post isn’t for me to brag. My point is you keep going by remembering the successes. They may happen less than the failures, but they also mean more when they do happen.

 

Finding Creativity During Lockdown

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I’m not going to claim it’s easy being creative during lockdown. There are the distractions of constant updates coming through on social media and through my phone; more deaths, more government negligence … the list goes on.

However, it helps to look back at what you have done during this time and that is what I’m doing here. At the start of lockdown, I was panicking over losing at least 80% of my paid work, not been eligible for any benefits or grants and generally worrying about my basic survival. Those are big enough distractions, even without the pandemic and lockdown going on in the background.

This morning I found out the audio book version of my novel “Not Human” had gone online. To be fair, I didn’t do much work on this during lockdown. Most of the work was done before and it was a case of waiting for the files to be approved and to be sent to the online retailers. I’m still counting it as an achievement though, especially as it’s my first audiobook.

While I was waiting for this to be approved, I began working with a talented narrator from Canada to adapt my “Ghost of Me” book. I’m now working with her on the changes for that and hopefully, it should be available to buy within the next few months.

Once I accepted that panicking about financial matters wouldn’t improve them, I went back to an unfinished project and completed it, as part of a challenge set by a Facebook Group I’m in. The project was a choose your own adventure book about a writer who does everything wrong. It pokes fun at things that some writers do wrong and at the publishing and book promotion process in general. Working to complete it by a set date, gave me something to focus on and I enjoyed putting it together and creating the images to go with it.

As I usually do NaPoWriMo in April, I decided not to change that this year. Predictably, over half of the poems were about lockdown either directly or indirectly. I applied to a project, pitching the idea of a chapbook of lockdown related poems. While they haven’t sent me a rejection yet, I plan to self-publish the book later this month if they turn me down. I hope it will help others and they will be able to relate to at least some of it.

So, during lockdown I’ve brought out an audiobook, have another of the way and have short booklets coming out. It’s not so bad when I think of it that way. I’m not suggesting anyone starts and/or completes several projects during lockdown, but having at least one project to focus on might help. Even spending half an hour a day on something can quickly build up over time and before you know it, you’ll have a finished piece of work, or at least the solid start of something. It’s not easy, but trying to create something is much better than getting stressed about things you have no control over. I’ve started using a mindfulness app and listening to Forrest sounds on Spotify. Find whatever helps you feel less stressed and overwhelmed by everything.

 

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Please see the links below (which will be added as they become available) if any of my books I’ve mentioned interest you.

Thanks.

Not Human – Audible link

(Also available on Amazon and iTunes)

 

You can get a free digital copy of How to Write Wrong: A Choose Your own Adventure Story, from Booksprout in exchange for a honest review. You can be also pre-order a copy on Kindle for just 79p.

Always Darkest Before Dawn: A Collection of Poems from Lockdown can be pre-ordered on Kindle for just 80p

Writing and publishing “Ghost of Me”

ghost promo pic

It started with an abandoned novel

It was maybe 7 or 8 years ago when I began writing a novel in which the main character finds her own dead body in the morgue and realises she’s a ghost and someone killed her. A handful of chapters into it, life took over and even after I studied some creative writing modules as part of my BA degree, I forgot about the novel while I worked on other projects instead.

I found it years later while looking at old files on a memory stick, around the time I was starting my Creative Writing MA. I rewrote and edited what I had so far and used part of it during my first year, towards my assignments. The plan was to continue writing it and to submit the rest as part of my assignments for the second year. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I changed my mind, although I continued to write the novel and completed it before my course finished.

How did I get my ideas?

I can’t recall where the idea of a ghost solving her own murder came from, but as I continued writing, I liked the concept of getting to see what happens after you die and how people may not react in the way you hoped they would. It helped me to develop the characters in a different way to any of the other books I’ve written. I learned that imperfect characters can be better to read about, rather than unrealistic characters who do everything right all the time.

The protagonist, Sarah has been slightly self-absorbed for most of her life, thinking her fiancé (Paul) is the love of her life. After she’s murdered and becomes a ghost, she discovers that’s not true. The real Paul doesn’t match up to her imagined version of him. In fact, quite a few characters are hiding something, which adds to the intrigue of who the killer might be. Her behaviour is young for her age in some ways, because she hasn’t had much life experience.

Sarah isn’t a bad person; she tries to do the right thing and bring her killer to justice. It’s not just about revenge, even though that’s part of it. She genuinely wants to stop more women from being killed. She also wishes more people would mourn her death, not because she wants them to suffer, but because she wants her life to have made enough of an impact for people to miss her when she’s gone. I’m sure most people want that on some level. Nobody wants to be forgotten.

My first reviews of the book

I put more work in the writing and promoting of this book than many of my other books. So, I was so happy (and relieved) when I got my first review.

“This is a rare find. A great paranormal thriller. Spine-tingling and goosebumps throughout the book. Fast paced and action packed storyline. Keeps you from putting this book down.”

Then it was followed up by a second review.

This book has an original storyline with Sarah trying to solve her own murder. This story is well written and intriguing, with murder, ghosts, suspense, and twists and turns.”

It’s only £2.28 on Kindle (or the equivalent in your currency, if you’re not in the UK) so you’ve got nothing to lose? (Except for £2.28)

Book Trailer

If you’d like to find out more, about the book, here’s the book trailer, which I had a lot of fun putting together.

Online Dating has Become More Socially Acceptable

man using laptop on table against white background

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There was a time when many people perceived online dating as something to be ashamed of. Despite meeting my last long-term partner on a dating website, it was something I rarely told people about. My then partner seemed so adamant that we make up a story about how we met. So, the embarrassment then rubbed off onto me and made me more determined not to admit to using a website to find someone.

Fortunately, more and more people now meet their significant other this way and are more comfortable talking about it. Where once, someone might lie about where they were going and who with, today they can be more open with friends and family. This is great for so many reasons, including safety.

Back before I met my current partner (also through online dating) it helped that I felt comfortable telling family I was meeting someone I had been talking to on a dating website. If I could tell them where I was going, that made it safer for if something went wrong and helped me to feel more relaxed for the whole process. I think this is a worry for many people, about who they are meeting. Reported news when dates gone wrong always exacerbates this. The same can be said about dating someone you meet in a bar or anywhere else though. In fact, if you’re careful you might avoid ever meeting some of the more unsuitable people face-to-face.

So, what are the benefits of meeting someone online?

Using how I met my current partner as an example; I was looking for a long-term relationship. So was he. This where it’s important to be honest, rather than saying what you think people want to hear. The site gave us the option to put this on our profiles.

We also shared common interests. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk about what you enjoy doing, in your profile. Empty profiles give nothing for the person reading it to go on. Most people, particularly those who are looking for something more long-term, will move on, assuming you hope to sell yourself with just a photo rather than your personality, which only suggests a short-term attraction.

We exchanged messages before meeting up, which helped us to learn about each other, obviously enough to want to meet.

More and more people are using local websites such as Isle Of Man Dating Site (or those local to wherever they live) to find someone nearby who they may not have met otherwise.

Meeting someone on a night out is more random and less likely to result in finding someone with the same interests, outlook on life etc.

Meeting online give you a glimpse of what someone is like before deciding whether to send a message and also makes rejection much easier when (inevitably) some people don’t reply.

For me, after years of being single, online dating helped me to meet the right person who fitted in with my life while I fitted in with his.

I doubt I would have accomplished so much of what I wanted to do, if I had dated someone who didn’t share the same ambitions, or at least understand them.

Why the Arts are Important: A Guest Post by Anthony Briscoe

The following is a guest post by Anthony Briscoe, in response to this article (about the decline of arts subjects in schools)

https://news.sky.com/story/arts-decline-in-schools-short-sighted-and-morally-wrong-says-arts-council-england-head-11836265


 

arts

I find it a boring trope that the arts are not important to a child’s education. I think that is fundamentally false. For example, I have dyslexia, something I have found in common with several people in the arts (and other professions). Dyslexia isn’t just not being able to read or write; like many things, it is a spectrum. It mainly affects the way the brain understands sequences and how an individual’s brain decodes those into action (cognitively or physically, hence its often close association with dyspraxia).

I find spelling difficult at times and written communication can be sometimes also be a difficulty (depending on its structure and rules, such as an essay as opposed to a poem). Of course, I’ve gotten better with age and practise, but as a child it was a huge hurdle. I found it a struggle to understand why I couldn’t do what others could do properly. I was getting told off for not spelling correctly or my writing being a little squiffy. Not only did it affect my confidence, but it also became a frustration. Why couldn’t I do what others seemed to find so simple? I remember how that felt.

I started becoming a bit despondent in class. Information didn’t seem to sink in, I couldn’t exactly write notes or anything, and still struggle a bit today. However, I was introduced to art lessons and school plays, craft etc, then things just clicked. Suddenly, I understood. The creative process helped my brain take in information and with support from my parents and school, I managed to use creativity and the arts to help bridge the gaps in my learning. I still use the techniques I used then, today. Often, I draw when listening to a lot of information, as it helps me take it all in and I can remember what I was hearing at the time, by looking at the picture. The arts have given me so much; confidence in myself, determination and made want to learn and do more with my education and life (it fills several sections of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; physiological, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation). My experience is not special, there are millions of people out there and children currently in education who, if the current decimation of the arts continues, won’t be as lucky as me. They will be denied the opportunity to be shown a different paradigm of learning, understanding or expression of frustration.

The outcome of the arts isn’t always quantifiable, in the way the education system seems so geared towards these days. It teaches more than what can be graded (the hidden curriculum).

Thanks to the arts and obviously the support I received from the places of education I attended (and of course my parents) I doubt I’d be anything like I am now, or happy.

To take more and more funding away, I fear will lead to some children being left behind, unable to express themselves in a system they may not feel they fit in and a further condensation of education to fit a quantifiable structure, often linked to capital.

 

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About the Author

Anthony Briscoe is a performance poet and freelance artist from Blackpool, currently living in Manchester. His Poetry ranges from political-social commentary, space, advertisements replacing love and even clowns. Anthony likes to mix the serious and the silly to discuss meaningful issues through an absurdist lens, using his background in theatrics to add an energetic, engaging and entertaining performance to all his material.

You can find him on Facebook.

www.facebook.com/anthony.briscoe.58

My scribbles from a Peterloo writing workshop

I attended a Peterloo writing workshop at the weekend. I’m sharing my scribbles here, because I doubt I can send them anywhere.

 

The first activity was to pair up with another writer and find out five facts about them. Then we had to write a paragraph about that person, using those facts.

 

The five facts were:

Lives in Leeds

In his mid-forties

Speaks Spanish

Likes poetry

Would like to visit Egypt

 

I wrote:

He lived in Leeds for a long time, before he finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of moving to Egypt, where he lost his return ticket and thought “to hell with it” and stayed there.

As he likes poetry, he started a night where he read poetry in Spanish. Nobody understood a word he said, but they liked the sound of his words and paid lots of money to listen to him.

Now in his forties, he has been able to retire with all the money he earned from this.

 

For the second activity, we had to write about finding an item belonging to that person, if a similar event to Peterloo happened today.

 

A Place Without Shoes

Among the deserted phones, bottles and keys

Black, except for the read

The letter N, obscured on the trainer

I called out for its owner

As if that would cause him to appear

But this wasn’t a fairy-tale

More like a horror story

He wouldn’t get far without his shoes

But I feared he no longer needed shoes

 

For the last exercise, we to write something based on what might happen twelve months after the event.

 

Death by Trainer

They arrived in droves from Egypt

Where he was much loved

And from Spain

Where his poetry touched lives

Each one waving a trainer

As a symbol of the one they lost

Nobody was sure whether the first or the hundredth

Was the one to hit its mark

But the prime minister’s cause of death

Was record as death by trainer

After they were all hurtled through the air

In perfect synchronicity

 

A warning to anyone looking for work

Sorry to anyone who is reading part of this for the second time, but I felt it was important to share and add an update.

After applying for a job through Indeed, I was invited to a job interview and told a company name and street, which matched a genuine company, then given a completely different address for the interview. Google showed it as a residential address.

I didn’t show up for the interview, finding this unnerving. I doubted it was even the company it stated to be. Within six minutes of the interview time I received a text message asking if I was on my way. It seemed odd that they wouldn’t call, unless they weren’t who they were claiming to be. Maybe my writer’s brain was over-reacting a little when it imagined a person or people lying in wait; plastic sheets laid out on the floor (like in Dexter). It is worrying all the same though, whatever their motives were.

I contacted Indeed. They looked into it and confirmed it was suspicious. The same day I received this reply, the company (or whoever they are) was allowed to post another job ad. This tells me the guy who emailed me from Indeed was just trying to appease me by saying what he thought I wanted to hear,

It concerns me that (as someone pointed out) people seem to think websites like Indeed run checks before allowing adverts onto the website.

It’s not about people being stupid. They might just trust that Indeed (and others) are doing what they are expected to do.

Next time the job-seeker might not be so lucky.

So, if you are looking for work and are offered an interview, check everything out beforehand and if anything at all seems off, trust yourself rather than any job website.

Writing about Zombies

zombie promo

I’d watched The Walking Dead since the beginning, and before that I lapped up any TV show or film about zombies. It only occurred to me to write about zombies during Christmas one year. My sister’s birthday was the following March and I thought I’d write it as part of her present. That didn’t leave me long though. So, with only three months to write and edit, it became the novella After the Zombies. The original had so many mistakes due to the self-imposed time limit. I’ve re-edited it since.

When I had more time, I created a novel which followed on from the novella, but could be read as a standalone book. Now a few years on, I’ve re-released Not Human, with extra content which was previously a follow-on novella.

The thing I like about zombie stories, whether on the page or screen, is the characters. It’s not as much about the zombies. Of course they play a part, but I like exploring how people react.

In The Walking Dead, the show wouldn’t be the same if the only threats were slow staggering zombies. Each series usually has at least one human baddie.

I’ve tried to do that in my books too. In After the Zombies, the main enemy is the government who want to cover up a zombie outbreak in Manchester. Not Human has more threats though. Along with the government, Grace and her friends run into some unpleasant characters.

I also wanted to do something a bit different, though everything has probably been done before, but hopefully my combination of different things varies from other writers, not to mention its in my voice and not theirs. In the books, there are human/zombie hybrids (explaining the title Not Human) and a scene involving a zombie baby, but I don’t want to give too much away over that one.

The way I finished the book, ties up certain character’s storylines, with the possibility to write at least one further book. Although, I have no plans to do that, unless I feel it’s wanted.

Creating LGBT Characters Without Writing Erotica

(I originally posted this article on Medium.)

lgbt article pic

When I set out to write my YA novel (First Charge) I had two reasons for wanting to create my fifteen-year-old main character as a lesbian. I wanted to make it clear there was no chance of her becoming romantically involved with the secondary character, Theo. Their relationship resembles that of a brother and sister.

The other reason was, I haven’t come across many positive LGBT role models in books. The books I’ve seen — or in some cases subjected myself to read — all insist on having explicit sex scenes in them. Yet books about straight characters aren’t always like this. So why do authors seem to do this? I’m sure some books are out there to prove me wrong, but I’ve struggled to find them. I’m happy for people to tell me about them in the comments section.

People’s eyes light up when I say I’ve written a book about a lesbian mermaid and they seem disappointed when they find out it’s not what they think. I’ve been asked how Meredith knows she’s a lesbian if she doesn’t hook up with girls — that’s the polite version of the question. The simple answer is, because she’s attracted to girls.

Anyway, my character is fifteen in the first book, so this was never going to be erotica. She’s unsure about her destiny to save the world. Part of her enjoys being different (and her mermaid ancestry) but another part of her wishes she could live a normal life. The thing I wanted to do when writing Meredith was for her to feel confident about her sexuality; although relationships aren’t a priority for her and she’s conflicted in other parts of her life instead.

Without giving too much away, she does meet someone, but I didn’t write any explicit scenes. Even with the character of Theo, who sleeps around with a lot of women, I hinted rather than showing this. The reason for even including that was to demonstrate how he separates himself from people and doesn’t show his true self. He’s a shapeshifter descendant with the ability to change appearance.

I may have overdone it on the violence instead, but when you’re fighting people from an evil organisation who want to let half the population die, there will be some bloodshed. It’s essential to the story. The plot can cope without unnecessary X-rated scenes though.


 

Amanda Steel is the author of First Charge.

A list of links to buy the book can be found HERE