Wednesday, 1 July 2015

July is POWER MONTH!

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.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Staying Motivated

Staying motivated might be easier than getting motivated in the first place, but that doesn't mean it takes no effort at all. Complacency can kick in during a period of high motivation — you assume the motivation will last and go easy on yourself if you miss a deadline or two. When you feel inspired, it's hard to imagine returning to your previous state; just as it's difficult to imagine feeling inspired when your motivation has deserted you. However, when you are riding high on a tide of motivation, it's the perfect time to implement some strategies to ensure your motivation lasts as long as possible. Here are the strategies which work well for me:

1. Step up your challenges. As I explained in a post on momentum, it's easier to get excited about new opportunities when things are already in full flow. Changing up a gear or two can keep you inspired and productive. Keep your goals realistic, but make them big: aim to enter more writing competitions, set an ambitious deadline for completing your novel draft, self-publish some short stories, etc.

2. Plan your future. When you have decided on some short term challenges, start thinking about long term ones. Again, ensure it's possible to achieve your goals, but go big. Schedule future challenges in your planner or calendar. Commit to your plans and chase your dreams.

3. Develop contingency plans. Preparing for difficult times is not tempting fate: it's common sense. What will you do if things go wrong and your motivation goes out of the window? Which goals are your top priorities? Which can you delay? Think about where you can get support — friends, online forums, books or whatever — when your confidence slips.

4. Keep taking action. Watch out for complacency and avoid procrastinating. Most of us know our personal go-to excuses, so bear them in mind and view them as red flags. Whenever you find yourself thinking "there's no hurry — the competition deadline is over a week away" or "it makes no difference whether I do this or not" (insert your favourite excuse), treat it as a reminder to redouble your efforts. If you skip one deadline, take special care to meet the next. If you move some tasks from one to-do list to the next, make sure you do them first.

5. Have fun! Feeling motivated is enjoyable. It makes you fall in love with your work — and often your life — all over again. Relish the thrill you get from completing a task or meeting a deadline. Enjoy searching for new challenges and opportunities. When you're having fun, you're more likely to continue doing the things which result in your high level of motivation.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Short Story Ebook Out Now!

Product DetailsBuy on Amazon UK  Buy on Amazon.com

Nobody warned me that self-publishing could be addictive... A couple of people suggested I self-publish some of my short stories, in addition to the Scatterbrain Guides I am publishing through Kindle Direct. I hadn't considered doing so, because I've always preferred to go down more traditional routes when it comes to my fiction. However, these three stories work well together and since I don't have the time at the moment to publish a full collection, a mini ebook seemed a good way of testing the water and seeing whether people are interested in my short stories.

Here's a description from my website:
3 Lurm Valley Tales Three loosely linked short stories set in a fictionalised East Devon. Strong as a Winch Cable is the diary of a stressed out teenager who falls in love with a mermaid. Identity Theft is presented as letters from a middle-aged woman who fears a doppelgänger is taking over her life, to a prisoner on Death Row. Over The Edge is comprised of a lawyer’s notes and interview transcripts as an investigation is made into how a rave may or may not have stirred an ancient, malevolent spirit. Somewhat unconventional in format and subject, this ebook offers a taster of Hayley N Jones’s short fiction.

It's part of my new attitude to life: instead of worrying about whether something will work, try it and see! After all, most people have several failures under their belt and the alternative is to remain too scared to do anything, to put yourself on the line and your writing online. I have spent too many years being scared. It's time to get out there. My new motto: if you're not failing enough, you're not trying hard enough!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Slogging it Out

I'm working on my next Scatterbrain Guide at the moment. Well, it's open on the laptop screen in front of me. It has taken me about 45 minutes to write a single paragraph. The cat has tried to contribute by walking over the keyboard, but I didn't think ,llllllllllllllllllmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm contributed anything to my chapter on building healthy habits. My dog is quiet at the moment, thanks to a rawhide chew, but the writing just isn't flowing.

I think this is one of the most frustrating aspects of writing: sometimes it flows fast and strong, while at other times you have to slog it out to get a trickle. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for my being stuck today — apart from generally not being a morning person and getting disorientated by my alarm not going off, which meant I got up an hour later than usual, and my thinking it was Thursday when I woke up. I suppose that's a net gain of 23 hours, in a way, but it doesn't help my state of mind!

My other focal point for this week is a short story. That's not going well, either. I have most of the elements in place, but I'm struggling to express them in the right way. In the past, I would have gotten discouraged and given up. Nowadays, I get on with the long, hard slog because at least it produces some work and you never know when that trickle will become a torrent...

Thursday, 4 June 2015

When You Have Momentum, Go With It!

You may have gathered that I've been rather busy lately and you probably assumed that I'm not looking for more projects to tackle. You're half right — I wasn't looking for another project, but when one found me... I have signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo!

I have done NaNoWriMo in the past, which takes place during November each year, but this is my first Camp. It's taking place throughout July and my personal target is to finish the current draft of my WIP, a psychological thriller novel. I estimate that this will involve adding at least 70,000 words to the several thousand I already have. The novel has a complicated history: it started life with a different point of view, narration and less focused plot. I abandoned it for about a year because it wasn't working and I couldn't work out how to fix it, then the answer came when I was trying to start a different novel. I'm more confident about the reincarnation of the novel, but think Camp NaNoWriMo will give me the motivation needed to actually finish a draft.

I have some momentum back in my life now, which hasn't been the case for a long time. Perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on myself, but I believe it's vital for me to go with the momentum and strive to achieve my goals. The alternative is bemoaning lost opportunities and wondering if I would have been successful had I thrown myself into my plans 100% — I'd rather fail by not living up to my expectations than by being too scared to take action.

Momentum is an important element of Kaizen, which is the subject of the next Scatterbrain Guide I'm working on. Small changes accumulate and beget more changes. Often, bigger changes arise from making the tiniest of tweaks. The power of momentum is due to a few things:

1. Making the initial change is the most difficult step; subsequent changes take less effort.
2. Getting results from the initial changes boosts your confidence and encourages you to make more and bigger changes.
3. The initial changes often produce more opportunities or make you aware of more opportunities.

You get used to the insecurity of trying new things and start to enjoy the excitement. You realise that you have the ability to change your life.

If you build up any momentum in your life, go with it — search for opportunities, make extra tweaks, plan bigger changes. Going along with momentum is easy; once it stops, those changes become much harder to implement.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Launches!

Today is a big day for me: my first ebook, The Scatterbrain's Guide to Getting (and Staying) Organised, is published on Amazon UK  and Amazon.com and I have started my new blog, Resurfacing and Rewriting.I always find it strange when something I have been working on is revealed to the world, because the work has already been done. The feedback I get (or lack of it!) will influence my work in future, of course, but in the meantime there is nothing I can do.

I veer between feeling anxious about how my work will be received and feeling eerily calm as I tell myself it's out of my control. I try to use the anxiety to fuel the next pieces of work, to push myself to do better, but I also have to try to maintain a balance so that I don't get too intimidated by the thought of how future pieces of work will be received. Being anxious can help you thrive under pressure, but if you get too anxious it stifles and paralyses you.

Hence I will try to enjoy today and not worry too much about whether anyone will read my work, or if they will like my work. I will celebrate the fact that I have put my work and myself "out there" in the world. I will keep reminding myself that, in a small way, this is part of my dream. So I will launch and keep launching and urge you to do the same!