Monthly Recap: December 2015

I’m writing this month’s recap from Birmingham, UK. It’s cold and windy outside – very different to the Christmas weather I’m used to. But it’s great, more Christmassy really – especially when the fires are going and you’re decorating two Christmas trees in a week with a mug of mulled wine in hand… But I digress.

As this month’s recap is obviously the last of the year, I thought I’d do things a little differently. Instead of the usual run-down, I thought I’d go through the things I’ve learnt this year, because it really has been one massive year of learning experiences… So without further adieu…

  1. Just when you think you can’t wait any longer, you do. If you’ve been reading my monthly recaps, you’ll probably have a decent understanding of how slow the publishing industry moves in most cases. Just when you think you’re about to get your big break, you end up waiting even longer. The good news is that you’ll get there eventually.
  2. Close calls mean you’re getting there, not failing. From what I hear, my experience with the publishing industry has been an unusual one. Despite how long it’s taken for me to get where I am, I’ve always had encouraging feedback throughout the submissions process. This year however, I had what I call ‘close calls’ – contract offers, and near-contract offers which at the time just seemed to taunt me – my dream was so close! What I realise now is that these close calls were preparing me for when the real deal came along. They were giving me vital experience I needed to get myself in the best position possible.
  3. ‘Success’ won’t always look and feel how you thought it would. Getting my first contract offer was amazing, but it also didn’t quite feel how I expected. I thought I would be crying with joy, jumping all over the nearest person and cracking the bubbly whether it was chilled or not, but I didn’t. A strange, practical-Helen seemed to take hold. She wanted to question what was right for the book, and for me as a first time author, she asked about the limitations and if the distribution channel was right. This Helen was a bit of a party-killer, but if all goes well, it’ll mean that when that book is placed in my hands for the first time, the moment will be unparalleled.
  4. You’ll get confused about various versions of your book. At this point, I have so many different versions of Red Hands on my computer, and having worked on it for such a long time, I’m often unable to remember what scenes I’ve deleted or added. I’ve also forgotten my ‘elevator pitch’ and have found myself saying “Democratic Republic of Congo” instead of just “Africa” wayyyy too many times recently. Something to work on before the book comes out…
  5. People won’t understand how hard you work. I suppose this can be said of any job really, but it’s something I’ve really felt this year. I’ve had moments where I’ve been working part time, freelancing, managing writers and editors, getting a book to print, negotiating a contract, writing a new book and trying to stay on top of emails and everyday life all at once. Us writers work damn hard, don’t let anyone tell you differently.
  6. Little wins can sometimes feel as amazing as big wins. Probably the moment that felt like the biggest win for me was when a publisher called me for the first time. They weren’t offering me a deal or anything concrete, they just wanted to chat about my book, and find out more about me. I got off the phone and cried happy tears. I hadn’t been promised anything, but someone taking that amount of interest in my work, and me as an author was a really big moment for me. I promptly took myself out for a ricotta tart.
  7. It’s important to celebrate the little wins. Whether it’s with a ricotta tart, a bottle of wine, a night in with a good book, or whatever takes your fancy – celebrating the little wins will make the writer’s journey much more of an adventure. As I mentioned earlier – we work hard, so we deserve to celebrate our success, whatever shape or form it comes in.
  8. Be inspired by other people’s creativity and success. This is such a wonderful lesson to learn, because we’re all surrounded by beautiful, creative people. This year, I learnt so much from what my friends were doing with their art and businesses – Tara Bennett of Provider, Melanie Doncas of Whim Magazine, Fay Robson of Full Fat Fay and Miss Cosy, Kyra Bandte, Claire Bradshaw and Bernadette Mung with their respective blogs and creative writing, author Kate Liston-Mills (The Waterfowl Are Drunk!), author Jenny Bravo (These Are The Moments), Atieh Mohamadi’s insanely inspiring style, Kathryn McLeod’s shortlist for The University of Sydney’s Alumni Awards, Naomi Van Groll landing a job at a massive publishing house, Benjamin Stevenson landing his dream publishing job and putting his manuscript out there, Chloe Higgins pulling off yet another incredible Wollongong Writers’ Festival, and so many other inspiring people… many who I quietly admire from afar. It’s you guys who show us that not only is the world is full of talent, but that inspiration can be just a text, a coffee, a wine or a phone call away.
  9. Writer friends will save your sanity. The life and career of a writer is filled with immense highs and lows. No one will empathise with you more than another writer. They’ll feel every rejection with you, and tell their mums about your success. Whether you’ve known them for years, or you only talk to them online – it doesn’t matter. Writer friends will get you through this wild and wonderful craft. Just trust me on this one.
  10. Routine is everything. This year has been the most productive of my life, and I think that’s largely down to routine. With a routine, I could write 10,000 words a week, on top of everything else I was doing. With a routine, I was happy, motivated and proud of what I was doing. I know everyone is different, but I definitely learnt that I thrive with a routine.
  11. Stop feeling guilty. This is something I’m still trying to perfect, and when you work for yourself it’s something you’re always going to struggle with. Every time I sat down to watch some trash TV, I’d have a voice in my head telling me off for not being in front of my computer. It was so bad that I’d always have my computer in my lap, with my emails constantly refreshing just so I felt like I wasn’t bludging. From experience, when I’m working for myself, I work so much harder and so many more hours than when I’m in a 9-5 job. It’s so much harder to switch off, and I suffer immensely from guilt. As I said, I haven’t quite mastered this yet, but hopefully by acknowledging that it’s something I need to work on… I’ll get there in the end.
  12. Stop reading what you think you should be reading, and read what you love. Perhaps this is just something that comes hand-in-hand with a creative writing degree, but for years I’ve had this ‘literary snob’ embedded in me. I’d read classics, ‘literary fiction’ and prize-winning books, and turn my nose up at commercial and genre fiction. And while I do love lit fic, etc. I’ve recently rediscovered my love of YA fantasy. It’s fast-paced, it’s addictive, it’s what made me fall in love with books initially – that feeling of being unable to wait until you get home to get back to that book, or missing your stop on the train because you were so absorbed in a story. Life’s too short to be forcing yourself to read stuffy fiction, read what you love, and read it often.
  13. Don’t worry about what kind of writer you’re going to be. In a similar vein, I was concerned about being a ‘serious’ author. I wanted to be taken seriously, I didn’t want to be labelled a ‘women’s writer’ or ‘commercial fiction’ – I was going to write serious and meaningful books. And I did – Red Hands is serious and meaningful, but it was also incredible hard to write because it’s subject matter is so intense and heavy. So for my next book, I thought I’d try my hand at writing what I love reading – YA fantasy. This decision allowed me to essentially write a first draft in a month. Why restrict yourself? Write in every genre if you want to, you only have one life to write what you love. 
  14. Take a deep breath. Yep. That’s a real lesson. A lot of advice, opinions and negativity are going to come your way as a writer. You need learn to take a deep breath, consider whose advice you want to take on board and whose you want to ignore.

It’s been a year of trial and error, as well as learning a lot about myself as a writer, and so I could probably go on and on about the things I’ve learnt this year… But I won’t!

If you’re keen on reading about the specific achievements of Writer’s Edit, click here for the year-in-review article.

But before I go, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the people who have really supported me this year: Dave Hickman, Kyra Bandte, Benjamin Stevenson, Tara Bennett and all my other amazing friends, including you – thank you for following this blog!

As for what’s to come in 2016, I can’t really go into detail yet – but there’s heaps of exciting new things to look forward to.

Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

– Helen

Note Image Credit: A Daily Something.

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