Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Hello! I've been terrible at keeping up this blog, but I'm reluctant to abandon it because it has helped me through so much over the past 4 years. If you enjoy reading my musings, please check out Resurfacing and Rewriting. It's a mental health blog and everyone should think about their mental health and how to manage it — regardless of whether they have experienced mental illness or not.

I'm trying to figure out how to start making a living from writing and writing-related freelance work, like editing and proofreading. A major problem is my confidence in approaching people: I have few "contacts" and my anxiety means I'm terrible at networking, even online. It's frustrating, because I have confidence in my skills and my ability to do a good job, but I don't get many opportunities to demonstrate this because of my lack of confidence in networking.

I'm trying to work on short stories at the moment, because there are a few themed submission deadlines coming up that I really want to meet. It's not going very well... I suppose the trick is to keep scribbling and hope something emerges from the dross!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Power Month: The Review

My main goal for Power Month was to hit my 70,000 CampNaNoWriMo target and I'm delighted to say I did it! I now have a rough novel draft, which I intend to get rewriting after a breather for a few weeks. I spent most of the month thinking I wouldn't hit my target — I was writing 7,000 words a day for most of the final week — so this challenge was a reminder that I'm capable of achieving my goals when I set my mind to it. Instead of giving up or lowering my target, I kept going.

My other major goal was to write the next Scatterbrain Guide ready to release on 1st August... But that didn't happen. I had a very difficult couple of weeks near the beginning of the month, which threw me off course. Deciding to put the project on hold was disappointing, but necessary. Lesson learned: adjusting your goals when situations change is essential.

One of my lesser goals was to get writing some short stories. I thought I had neglected this goal, but I did actually do some freewriting and have come up with at least 2 solid ideas for stories. I think I forgot about this because it's in my writing journal and I therefore tend to think of it as "unofficial" writing. However, just because it's unofficial doesn't mean it's not essential — CampNaNoWriMo has reminded me of the importance of flexing our writing muscles most days, if not every day. Failing to complete "official" drafts (i.e. typed up and printed ready for making rewriting notes) is not the same as failing to do any writing. Lesson learned: give yourself credit for all of the writing you do, not just what has been completed.

Another of my lesser goals was to figure out how to make a living from writing and writing-related activities (such as proofreading and editing). I haven't done a lot of this, but I have gained some great ideas and encouragement from some of the people I've spoken to. If anyone has any tips or advice, please comment or email me!

I also intended to keep my blog Resurfacing and Rewriting going. It's been neglected for the past week, thanks to my prioritising CampNaNoWriMo, but I otherwise kept to my Mon-Wed-Fri posting schedule. I will get back on track this week. I love the blog, but it's hard work and it's always tricky in the early days, when it feels like nobody is reading your posts. I'm going to keep going, of course, because it's part of my mission to help break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and even discussions of mental health.

On the whole, I'm content with what I have achieved during Power Month, especially considering I hit a slump for almost half of it! August will be less rigid, but I hope to continue to progress towards my goals. Final lesson: pushing yourself can be motivating even when it doesn't work out — and achieves more than not aiming high.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Resurgence of POWER MONTH!

I'm feeling more energetic after my slump. I have written 40,000 words of my 70,000 CampNaNoWriMo target (though I might have cheated a little by including 6,000 words I wrote in the couple of weeks before... It was less demotivating than lowering my target!) and I'm more determined than ever to hit the target. The whole point of tackling my CampNaNoWriMo project is to  silence my inner critic by writing so much that I don't have time to pay attention to it. In theory, anyway! I can start critiquing my work after I hit the target and/or have a completed first draft of my novel.

I'm putting my next Scatterbrain Guide on hold. My novel is my priority and if I forced myself to write the Guide and publish it at the beginning of August, I doubt the quality would be up to my usual standard. I'd rather take a few extra weeks than charge people for a substandard ebook. It was a difficult but necessary decision to make. I'm disappointed, but when I launched Power Month I didn't expect to spend two weeks feeling like crap and neglecting my goals.

Power Month has been difficult, but I feel like it's pushing me forward towards my long-term goals. Here are some lessons I have learnt (so far) from Power Month:

1. You can't control hayfever, humidity headaches and feeling generally crap.
2. Stressing about the above will just make things worse.
3. You can adjust your goal (or how you measure it). It doesn't mean you have failed; it means you have reassessed the situation and are taking appropriate action to ensure you are as productive as you can be.
4. Worrying about not meeting your goals is a colossal waste of time. As is worrying about the amount of time you spend worrying.
5. You can work around feeling crap/worrying and still hit your targets.
6. Focusing on churning out a lot of words makes you less inclined to obsess over the quality of your writing.
7. Regardless of whether I hit my CampNaNoWriMo target, it feels pretty good to have written 40,000 words!

My new blog Resurfacing and Rewriting is going well, which I'm especially pleased about because it's a project very close to my heart: a positive blog about mental health and recovery from mental illness. Please check it out — there is plenty to explore regardless of whether you have mental health problems or not, including book recommendations. I like to think it's helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness and encouraging everyone to discuss mental health more openly.

Power Month is proving to be different from what I expected, but I have gleaned a lot of positives from the changes to my plan. It's difficult to assess while I'm still in the throes of Power Month, but I think it has been a success.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Recharging the Power

So... Power Month hasn't been going as well as I had anticipated. The slump was getting me down last week, so I decided to take some time off and recharge. I did nothing I didn't feel like doing, writing-wise. My novel lay untouched. I came to the end of my stash of ready-drafted blog posts for Resurfacing and Rewriting and write Friday's post off the top of my head: I think it turned out all right. I did a little freewriting, but that was it.

Today, I returned to my goals and I'm determined to achieve every single one. I will have to average over 3000 words a day to reach my CampNaNoWriMo target of 70,000 words but it's doable. My motivation has kickstarted itself again and I have faced the fact that if I quit or neglect my goals, I will regret it more than trying and failing to reach them.

The whole point of Power Month is that I wouldn't have time to psychoanalyse my every action. I didn't want to obsess over why I tend to procrastinate, especially when the goals are important to me (although I suspect I know the answer). So I am diving back into action and shall refuse to think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. Or, rather, I will try not to overthink everything...

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

POWER MONTH Hits a Slump

I declared July Power Month in my last post and the first few days went pretty well: I worked on my novel, blogged and felt positive about the month ahead. Then the weekend hit... Hay fever and headaches caused by humidity are partly to blame, but my motivation has sunk and I'm wasting time worrying instead of taking action.

My tactic for the whole month is to power through, but I will especially have to apply that to my novel today. I'm aiming to write 70,000 words during CampNaNoWriMo, so my daily target is 2,500 words — I've built in some wiggle room, but I didn't intend to fall behind in the first week! Doubts are creeping in: will the novel turn out okay? Am I an idiot to waste time writing it? Will everyone hate it? Should I just give up writing altogether? I know I've got to grit my teeth and write through the doubts, but it's bloody difficult.

Because the novel is proving such a struggle, I'm also neglecting my other projects. I've done a little preliminary work (brainstorming ideas and freewriting) but nothing major. I'm no closer to figuring out how to earn a living from writing. My next Scatterbrain Guide is just a bunch of scribbles. I haven't drafted a stash of blog posts. I've done very little work on short stories. Just writing about my failures makes me feel lazy and useless.

I hope this slump is a temporary setback. I had such high hopes for Power Month and never expected to fall at the first hurdle.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


July is a big month for me. The Scatterbrain's Guide to Improving Your Life with Kaizen  launches today. 
I have written about kaizen a lot on this blog and I think it's a philosophy which suits most people. The concept is that you make small, continuous changes. Simple, right? Of course, it's trickier in practice than in theory and this new Scatterbrain Guide provides strategies which can help you make dramatic improvements with minimal effort.

I'm also starting CampNaNoWriMo today! I aim to write 70,000 words of my current novel in July, hopefully ending up with a complete draft. I actually wrote 20,000 or 30,000 words of the novel in question at the beginning last year, but it didn't work. Its reincarnation is told from a different point of view and the plot has been streamlined. I think CampNaNoWriMo will give me the kickstart I need, because having a big goal leaves little time to worry and obsess over how bad the novel is and how I'm a terrible writer. I struggle with letting go when writing first drafts. Once it's written, I can turn my critical eye to it and set about improving the draft.

More generally, I want to develop a clear strategy for my freelance writing (and related services) career. Being a more prolific short story writer will be an essential part of the strategy, but I would like to earn a living through working with words so that I can come off ESA and won't have to deal with the pressures and stigma of receiving benefits. I believe that would help my mental health and being self-employed means I can work around my mental illness and don't have the stress of being disciplined for having too much time off work, which led to me resigning from my last job. Wish me luck!

In addition, I am plugging away at my mental health blog Resurfacing and Rewriting, which I hope will support, encourage and inspire other people with mental health problems — though many of the posts are relevant to everyone. So far, I have had one comment which wasn't spam! Having said that, I have had a lot of encouragement via Twitter (my handle is @HayleyNJones if you would like to follow me), which has taken over Instagram as my preferred method of procrastination. The project is very important to me and I view it as part of my life's purpose because I want to help break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.

So July is POWER MONTH and I plan to power through, giving my current projects a big kickstart/leap forward. I'm quite excited! Although a lot has changed for me so far this year, I haven't progressed as much as I intended. For the first time in forever, I feel like I have control of my life and I want to move forward — as fast as I can.

Monday, 22 June 2015

On Persevering

Over the weekend, I came across two blog posts which really resonated with me: Keep writing stories, and keep sending them out by Jennifer R Donohue and How to Avoid Writing Burnout by Anne Leigh Parrish. Both posts acknowledge the frustration of rejection while emphasising how important it is to keep on submitting work. They highlight the need to separate your emotions from the submission process and treat writing as any other business. However, this is easier said than done...

I think part of the problem is that the processes involved in writing and submitting are all but invisible. Even when we read about someone having received dozens of rejections, this is usually in the context of discussing an overwhelming success story, like the Harry Potter books. We frame the example as an exception because the success of the finished book(s) is exceptional. There is only one JK Rowling! Statistics are a little more useful, but they fail to distinguish between different situations. We read that the average earnings for writers is X amount, but we have little idea of what is involved in earning the average amount — or how it can be surpassed.

It's always going to be hard to differentiate between writers — or even types of writers — because there are so many different reasons for writing and approaches to a writing career. Some writers have lucrative day jobs and don't need to consider short term earnings potential from writing; some writers rely on writing as their sole income and may be unable to work in a "normal" job. Some people write as a hobby and only submit stories occasionally; others are very prolific and submit dozens of stories, articles and pitches every week. I know where I fit in terms of the type of writer I want to be, but I have no idea how many people are living my dream of earning a living from writing — let alone how they go about achieving it.

How do you keep your faith in either a specific story or yourself as a writer? I keep writing because I have to — it's an urge that cannot otherwise be satiated — and I try to submit work whenever I can because I know it's the only way I stand a chance of being successful. After a particular story has been rejected a few times, I lose faith. I can't find the confidence to keep submitting it, because I assume it must be terrible. Even if all the rejections are vague/general/form rejections. Even if I got a positive rejection encouraging me to resubmit to the publication in future. I can't imagine resubmitting to a publication after 10 years of nothing but rejections: I'd assume long before that I simply wasn't good enough for that publication or that my writing style didn't fit.

Yet if someone else were saying all of this, I would reassure them that good writers get rejected all the time. I would point out that good stories get rejected because they don't fit a particular publication — or even a particular issue of that publication. I would tell them to keep persevering. To keep submitting even the stories that had been rejected several times.

I know my emotions get too caught up in my writing. Rejections in general don't bother me — in fact, I have been surprised by some very complimentary rejections — but a couple of weeks ago I got a very harsh rejection and it took the wind out of my sails. The ridiculous thing is, one story I submitted was written for my MA dissertation and I got positive feedback from both the markers, who are brilliant writers themselves — yet the rejection saying the same story (actually, an improved version of it) was utter crap (I paraphrase) has had a greater effect than the praise of two professional writers, one of whom has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize! I'm not saying the story is brilliant, but I thought it was good enough. I didn't expect such harsh criticism and receiving it has left me shaken. I doubt I will submit the story anywhere else.

My biggest challenge is dealing with the unpredictability of writing and submitting. My first acceptance was for a story I wrote pretty quickly over a few days, whereas stories I spent weeks crafting have accumulated rejection after rejection. Whenever I feel like I'm on a roll and submit regularly, I'm fine with rejections — until an unusually harsh one floors me. I can churn out drafts for weeks in a row and then face an existential crisis when I struggle with a certain story. I think the problem is that these unexpected blips seem to confirm my worst fears: that I am a terrible writer and everyone else knows. That I will never be anything but a terrible writer. That I should give up writing.

I try to detach my emotions from the business side of writing, but some blips are the literary equivalent of the school bullying zoning in on the aspect of yourself that you view as your biggest weakness. You believe them. You crumble.

I suppose I persevere because I need to write and submitting is a necessary evil in the process of achieving my goals. I just wish I was better at keeping my emotional responses to rejection in check and keeping faith in myself and my writing. How can I keep confident?

The only "solution" I can think of is to consider the numbers game: assuming my work is competent (which I doubt when my confidence is low), the more I submit the more acceptances I will get. The more competitions I enter, the higher my chances of winning (or, more realistically, getting shortlisted for) one of them. The more stories I write, the more good ones I will produce. In theory.

The numbers game theory circles back to the invisibility of the submission process. Do the writers with the most acceptances submit a lot more work than everyone else? Or are they literary geniuses who write perfect stories and submit them to the perfect outlet? Are competitions won by people who enter a lot of competitions? Or by wunderkinds who write perfect stories so that they can win a prestigious competition and launch a lucrative literary career? I suspect hard graft is behind most writers' success, but it's difficult to appreciate this when the only hard graft we observe is our own.