Even a “NO” has value to a writer

Even a NO has valueIn the normal world, when you get a NO to a reasonable request, chances are, you simply didn’t ask the right question in the right way. Usually, you can just repeat the question in a different way to a different person and your chances of a yes become a maybe again. Not so easy for a writer!

Our “reasonable request” comes with baggage. We’re not just asking agents and publishers to put our work out there. We’re asking them to invest in us as human beings and artists. The work we send them has cost us time, money, family, friends, sunshine, and walks in the park. So when you get a NO, it runs deep. It has to. We care too much for it not to. And when that NO comes with zip-zero-nadda explanation, we, perhaps, feel justifiably mortified.

However… Take a step back. Think about the people you sent your novel to.

These are professionals. They don’t just say NO because they’re not in the mood to say YES. Every day, a professional agent and publisher is actively looking for the next bestseller. Every package they open, they have a silent wish that begs for this to be the one that makes their day or their year. They’re looking for magic. They’re looking for something that wakes up and slaps them in the face and demands to be read.

Think of the time and money they invest in untested authors. They might love the story, but will the market? They won’t know until they put it out there. It might fly, it might not. You might have invested your time, money, family, friends, sunshine, and walks in the park, but they’re investing their reputations and a lot more besides. So when they say NO, don’t take it personally.

Treat your book like a ball. My husband said that to me when I got my first rejection slip and practically fell into a coma.

Your book has to be something that can be kicked about. If you put it out there and it (or you) breaks after the first kick, then it won’t survive the game – nor will you.

Stand back, be objective. Pretend you’re the one investing in your book. Imagine it’s your reputation as an agent putting that book in front of publishers. Then ask yourself the hard questions and listen to the voice inside that knows the truth no matter how well you dress it up.

If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll remember the twinge in your gut that you ignored when you printed the “final version”. The twinge got a little dimmer when you ignored it and packaged up your three chapters, synopsis and cover letter along with a stamped and addressed envelope that you’re sure won’t come back. The twinge tried to make itself heard at the post office but by that time you really weren’t interested and posted it anyway. Deep inside, you knew there was something missing or wrong with the plot/character/ending/beginning/synopsis.

“Maybe they won’t notice,” you whisper to yourself.


These people are professionals! They read hundreds of first chapters every year. They know half-drafted nonsense when they see it, so take every NO as an opportunity to tune into your little voice and LISTEN!
What are you listening for?

“Oh bliss. Oh heaven. Perfect! Now… Send it in… Send it now…”

Absolutely. Now, maybe you’re ready.

Have a perfect writing day.

Short story, novel, article… Always have something in the market!

Always have something in the market!Even if it’s a 1000 word short story sent in to a local competition, always have something out in the market. Getting out there has side effects, so be warned:

  •  You will always be waking up with a “Wooohoooo what’s going to happen today” feeling.
  • You will get so used to rejection that it won’t bother you.
  • Even if one piece is rejected, you’ll have something else to send out.
  • You’ll be in the market and ready to fly.
  • You’ll build up a track record of published material – even if it’s in local magazines and newspapers. So what, published is published and people notice that.
  • You learn that the world doesn’t end just because your work wasn’t accepted.
  • You learn how to send stuff out and get it noticed.
  • You might actually start to have fun.
  • Heavens forbid, you might eventually get paid for something!

Your primary focus might be on your novel, but while you’re working that, write a few articles or short stories and put them out there.

Even if you don’t get paid, so what? Eventually you will. In the meantime, you’re building a catalogue of published material, your confidence, and the thickness of your skin.

The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll sell. The more you sell, the more confident you’ll become. The more confident you feel, the stronger your writing will become. By the time your first novel is ready, so will you be.

You’ll have the right attitude, mental state, and emotional resilience to stand up to the spike-collared-steel-booted-gun-toting market and say “Hello baby face. You really want to play?”

So don’t wait until your first novel is finished. The art of getting into the market needs as much practice as writing for it. So take 30 minutes a day to write a short story or an article and submit it. Submit something every week. Choose a dozen magazines (fiction and non-fiction), study the style, submit a proposal for an article, and get going. Get out there.

When you get a YES, study the letter or email you wrote, carefully read the story or article, and uncover what they liked. Then add that to your first novel.

Nothing is for nothing.

Even a NO has value, so get your work out there.

Happy Writing Today!

Don’t set deadlines!

Don't set deadlines

Now this will fly in the face of pretty much every self-proclaimed goal-setting guru you’ve ever given a penny of your honestly earned cash to. But when it comes to writing your first novel (and staying even remotely sane in the process), then do yourself a favor and don’t set deadlines.

Let me clarify…

I’m not saying all deadlines should be avoided. If you didn’t have them, you’d probably not do anything, so some deadlines are essential. For instance, commit to writing a certain number of words every day (or for a number of hours/minutes) – good or bad. Doesn’t matter. Just WRITE. By the time you go to sleep at night, you must have written your allotted number of words or for your allotted time. This has to happen every day – 7 days a week – 365 days a year – including Christmas! Why? Because if you don’t, the dark side takes over!

So what deadlines should you not set?

Don’t set any deadlines over which you have no control! You don’t own those deadlines. So any deadline that includes an agent, scout, or publisher is not yours to work to.

Things always take longer than you planned. You might want your first novel to be on the shelves by Christmas, but agents and publishers have their own agendas including telling you that your work isn’t even ready for submission, let alone publication.

To begin with, an agent might take the full three to four months to get back to you with a simple (no explanation attached) “No”.

“Crap,” you think. “My deadline!”

So you tweak it a bit and send it off to another agent with a new (personally imposed) deadline. You missed Christmas so now it’s a summer read. That agent keeps it for three to four months and again, you get a simple (no explanation attached) “No”.

Only two agents have seen your book and almost half the year is gone. So now you’re determined and you send it off to six agents at once. They all make you wait three months and all come back with a “Not for us, thanks”, except one.

Oh, Holy Grail.

This one says: “Almost. Go to Cornerstones Literary Consultancy for help.”



It’s perfect!

And it’s December – the end of the second year. You wanted to be on the shelves by now but all you’ve done is WAIT for an agent to get back to you. And what do you have to show for your patience? Nothing except a year where you haven’t written a word. Why haven’t you written a word? Because you didn’t want to start book two until you saw how book one was received.

On New Year’s Day you look at your goals for the previous year and feel you’ve wasted a year of your life. The buzz of “Maybe This Time”, “Maybe today I’ll get the call/email/letter from an excited agent who loves my work” has dripped from your body leaving you a sodden, disheartened globule of humanity on the floor.



Have a rolling writing program that looks a little like this:

ONE: Focus on your first novel and get it as finished as you can.

TWO: Send it to an expert to review (You might love your family and friends, but please don’t give them your novel unless they’re experts in the publishing field. They’re unlikely to tell you that what you’ve worked on for years is shite).

THREE: While it’s away, start a new project over which you have full control (non-fiction for Kindle publication, short stories for competitions). Chances are, your novel will be out for review for anything up to six weeks. Spend that time completing another project. You CAN write a dozen short stories or non-fiction book in six weeks. If you like, outline the next novel too.

FOUR: When book one is back, do the edits and send it off again – then keep working on your mini projects. Send the competition stories out. Publish your non-fiction on Kindle.

FIVE: No matter what response you get from the scouts, agents, or publishers, deal with it, send it out again, and keep working on stuff you can control. Keep writing. Write every day.

The trick? Always have something out there – either on the market or out for review – preferably both!

Doing this will keep your heart and feet in the business of writing instead of wasting months and years of your time hoping and waiting for a call. Keep submitting your work. Keep writing. You’ll get that call because you won’t give up.

Happy writing today!

Write your name

Write your name... See what happens!So, if you’ve tried everything and you still can’t find a word to write, start with your name and see what comes out. Remember, you’re writing for the bin so it doesn’t have to be polished genius…

When I first tried this, here’s exactly what came out (unedited, I might add):

“My name is Tina. But it wasn’t always. I used to be Jim Allen Mcguire. I used to be 6’2”, blonde and full of bollocks. Now I’m 6’2”, blonde and buxom. Trouble is. I’m also in Aberdeen’s only female prison and no bugger will believe I didn’t do it. Now you’re going to ask me what I’m supposed to have done to get here, and I’m going to have to tell you because pretty soon I’m going to find myself in a public shower and I’m going to go from Tina Tutu to “Crap, that’s a bloke…”

I didn’t finish the story, but it got me going and made me chuckle. So if you can’t think of even one thing to write, just write your name and let it go. See what happens.

When you write for the bin and start with something as simple as your name, a new crucial element is added to your arsenal… You start to relax and have a bit of fun.

Happy writing today

Write for the bin

Write for the bin!I can’t recall who said this but these words have been on my study wall for a year and their importance only recently sank in. I’m slow… What can l say?

Most of our greatest battles as writers are seeded by our dreams and imaginations. When we sit down to write, part of our mind is filled with character and plot, the rest is filled with our dreams, hopes, and ambitions for the book. So when we write our first draft, it’s like our audience is right there in front of us: watching, waiting, and judging every word. Instead of just writing, we stare at the page, then at an imaginary audience, then back at the page, then give up and go and make a cup of tea.

So don’t write for an audience. Don’t write for your kids or your family, and heavens forbid, don’t write for yourself. You are your worst critic. Write for the bin. Decide up front that anything you write, you will throw away. No one will read it. Ever. Free yourself up and make buddies with the bin.

Here’s what will happen…

You’ll start to write. The words might be rubbish, but so what. That’s the intention. Keep writing. When you’re done, you’ll have something on paper that amounts to a rough lump of clay on a wheel that might or might not have the potential to be a teapot.

Now you open the bin and start to throw it out. That’s what’s editing is for. Ditch it. Delete it. Trash it. By the time you’re done, very little of what you originally wrote will be left unscathed. The bin will be full, your mind will be clear, and you will have a teapot worthy of presenting to any audience you choose.

Start with only one thing in mind. Write for the bin. Get it out. You know you’re going to throw it away, so be repetitive, use as many adverbs and adjectives as you like. The bin will be grateful, your audience will not be subjected to your first draft, and you’ll be writing instead of moaning about not writing.

OK, so the bin it is… But where do you start?

What if you stare at the bin and even then, nothing comes.

I put this question to my husband: “Morris. What is your cure for writer’s block?”

Write your name”, he said.

Happy writing today! Even if it is just your name… Make it a great one!

Seriously? Fear is your excuse?

Fear is a lousy excuse not to write!Fear is all fine and useful if you’re using it to sharpen your senses and hone your survival skills. But the fear we experience as writers has nothing to do with battling the elements or making it through Christmas with the in-laws.

The fear we feel as writers is couched in personal insecurity and illusion.

It’s when our imagination, which should serve us so well, turns into the enemy at the gates. We have absolutely no evidence for what we fear. We just fear it will happen to us.

So let’s take a moment to look at the terrors that keep writers awake on dark and stormy nights:

People might not like our work
No kidding Batman. Give me the title of a single book that someone hasn’t trashed. Everything from the Bible to the Da Vinci Code has had its critics. Criticize is what we do as a species. That’s a fact. Like gravity. You scared of gravity? No? Then don’t be scared of some people not liking your book.

People might not like it because it really is crap
What if I write my novel and find I actually can’t write at all? – Ooh! The horror of admitting a personal limitation. This is actually a really great awareness to have. If you never have any doubts about the quality of your writing, then you will not strive to improve. Here’s the Catch 22 – for as long as you don’t write, you’ll never improve. Writing is one task that you have to do to get better at. Oh heavens above, this sounds so obvious. And when you say it to yourself, you know it’s obvious. But when you’re in the midst of writer’s block the obvious often seems coated in cryptic. So do this…. first, write for the bin, second, for a month or two, or however long you like, do nothing except write a personal journal or emails to friends. Now, when you do this, don’t just bash out words. Think about what you’re writing, edit it, craft it. Tell the story of your day; how you felt, what you did. Aim to transport your reader. Write from your heart as only you can. Instead of creating a basic journal entry, write it in third person and turn it into a bit of a tale. “Julie Pilonski (substitute your name) woke with the alarm clock lying dead on the floor beside her. Silence. Silence was nice. Silence and the sun streaming through her bedroom window? Shit! Late!…” Edit it. Work it until you like it. Once you’re happy with your journal tales, start creating emails to friends and family. Don’t just spit them out. Hone your craft whenever you write. When you’re happy, press send. Oh hell yes! Look at that. You’re published! If you worry about the quality of your writing, do something about it.

Even if it’s good it might never get published. Or if it does, it might not sell, and if it does sell, it might not sell enough for me to make a living out of it. Oh heavens save us. Bring out the prescription pills, razor blades, bulldozer and wooden box
Get a grip. My husband has a story he tells whenever I spout this nonsense. “Paddy and Mick”: Paddy needs a shovel to dig up his garden and he knows Mick has one. So on a fine sunny morning he sets off out his front door and down his garden path to ask Mick for a loan of his shovel. As Paddy reaches the road, however, he remembers the last time he asked Mick for something. Mick bitched and complained and generally made the whole experience a misery. Paddy shrugs the memory off and keeps walking. However, when he gets a mile down the road he remembers another time he asked Mick for the loan of some sugar and did Paddy hear the end of that? Hell no. By now, Paddy is getting a little tense. His fists balled into bundles, his back tightened to a rigid mass and a deep frown digging furrows on his head. He walks that little bit faster as he remembers yet another time he asked Mick for the loan of his tractor and the argument that followed. By now, Paddy has sweat dripping down his face, his gut is a turmoil of acid strong enough to dissolve a badger at fifty feet. He storms up to Mick’s door and bangs loudly. A minute later Mick swings the door open and beams at Paddy: “Well hello, Paddy. How are you doing?” Paddy glowers at Mick. “Shove your shovel up your arse!” he bellows, and stalks off. Point being: It’s easy to talk yourself out of what you want by assuming what might or might not happen.

I could work on something for a year and it might or might not go anywhere
Fine. True. This is a fickle business full of subjective opinions. However, if you start now, you’ll know the outcome in a year. If you hum and ha and mess about, it might be two or five or ten years before you know whether it’ll come to anything. So just get on with it!

Fear is just one of your demons playing silly buggers with your head.

Happy writing today.

It’s write or the demons. You choose.

It's write or the demons. Better to just write!There are a hundred really good reason why you should write every day if you’re going to be the writer you want to be. Breaking a big and complex job down into bits, for instance, is a nice one. 

The REAL reason to write every day though, when you take time to think about it, is to keep the demons out of your head.

I’m not talking Exorcist, Rite or Rosemary’s Baby style demons (although some of those might seem very real at four in the morning); it’s our own devils and demons that sneak in and fill the dark, damp corners of our minds spawning doubt and fear, uncertainty and insecurity.

When you “take a break” from writing, it might feel, for a while, like a relief. Then, almost unnoticed, thoughts and feelings begin to seep into the folds of your mind like vapor. At first, it’s not entirely unpleasant. But after a while, when you try to reach out and touch them, they disappear into the walls of your flesh and leave nothing but an inexplicable lethargy behind that only CSI re-runs seem to cure. So to avoid the feelings gnawing at your gut, you sit down, switch on your TV, and lose yourself in someone else’s fiction. Before you know it, a day or two days or a week has gone by, time has passed, and you’ve not written a word.

Then the demons get adventurous and plant thoughts in your mind about life: where you are, what you’ve done, how old you are, how much time you think you have, others who have published ahead of you who are younger and haven’t written for as long, about your day job and how much more you’d get done if you didn’t have to work.

You do all that mulling, and you still don’t write a word.

Then finally, once you’ve picked a few needless fights with people you love most and have endured a week or two or three of frustration, moodiness, and possibly indigestion, you think “Sod it, I’ll write this unforgiving world into my book.”

And you finally sit down and write.

Suddenly, the light fills the dark corners, the day job becomes the really cool place you go so you can pay your bills and put food on your table and holidays in your calendar and movies in your weekend. Your family become those beautiful people who have supported your dream even when you behaved like an idiot.

It’s like magic! The real deal!

So take some time to watch your writing moods.

Next time you feel like taking a break, don’t stop entirely. Do something every day towards your craft – even if it’s writing short stories, researching a new character, reading up on a new writing technique, studying a new genre. Doesn’t matter. Every day, do something towards your dream. If you feel the darkness descend, pick up your pen. Even if it’s 300 words, it doesn’t matter. Make the commitment and write those 300 words every day. 365 days of the year.

These are the basic writing rules:

ONE: Love the people you love.
TWO: Appreciate who pays your bills.~
THREE: Eat well, be fit.
FOUR: Write every day. Every day. Without fail.

Those doubts and shadows have no space in your mind. It’s all you. You get to choose how you feel and how you spend your writing time. If you really only have 30 minutes, then set a clock for 30 minutes and write. You’ll be surprised how much you get down. You don’t need hours every day. 30 minutes in the morning. 30 minutes at lunchtime. 30 minutes in the evening. 30 minutes before you go to bed. Depending on how often you skip back to edit as you write, you could clock up 2000 words every day.

2000 words a day = 60,000 a month = a young adult novel or a short novel for grown-ups.
If you’re writing a 120,000 word book for adults, 2000 words a day will give you a first draft in two months. That’s got to be worth four 30 minute writing slots every day. Hasn’t it?

You don’t even have to spread your words across your day. Get it all done in the morning and spend the rest of your day living, editing, appreciating and enjoying your job. That’s a full day. No time, space, or energy for deluded demons here.

Just Write!

What’s out your window?

InspirationJust getting into Twitter and I’m following a guy called Jonathan Gunson at BestSellerLabs.com. He’s got some interesting stuff on how to enjoy Twitter without getting tied in ribbons, bows and knots.

Anyway… In the email transactions between saying hello and downloading a course on Twitter for Authors, he added the following message on writing to the bottom of an email – from a writer friend of his:

“Sit quietly by a window and frame an idea… After a brief time, the pen moves, a word is written, and suddenly, you have the beginnings of something grand.”

So it’s 2014. A grand start to a wonderful year. Our ambitions and resolutions, as writers, invariably turn to what we’re going to deliver this year. What we’re going to finally finish. What we’re going to publish. But it’s so easy to get lost in the business of writing (websites, PR, social media…), that we can easily forget about the writing itself. Instead of looking out of a window and framing an idea, we’re busy looking at the repetitive detail that fills out lives.

So make only one resolution this year. WRITE. Just WRITE. It’s OK if the laundry piles up a little. Write this year and make it count.

Have a wonderful 2014.