Education and Moving Foward

Hey everyone! This is going to be a slightly odd topic, really, but as I’ve had to do a couple of group parents’ evenings at school for our three year old, something really struck me about the level of importance we put upon learning.

Learning is important. It’s imperative that our kids learn and grasp techniques and processes we use daily in order to get through adulthood. I’m with that.

At three years old, the biggest battle between the teacher and our kids is the ability to hold a pen correctly. Everything hinges on this – the entirety of work they need to show for this year depends on it. I understand that.

But.

I don’t think it’s life-or-death important. Not when it’s such young minds being screamed at almost daily over a concept they barely understand. Especially as it’s not actually obligatory for them to be educated for another 2 years.

So here’s a little thing about me I want to share: I do not hold a pen correctly. Present-tense, to-this-day. See the pic.

Image holding pen incorrectly

Why? I moved around a lot as a kid, I think by the time I was 8 I’d already been to 3 different schools. I never got the lesson on how to hold a pen “properly”. I was quiet and terrified of people due to specific, traumatic things that had happened to me growing up from a young age. I couldn’t even ask for help.

My new teacher swiftly realised my writing was terrible. I held the pen incorrectly, the words were all over the page, I had no control. What she did was hold up my work and ask the other children if this was acceptable (bear in mind this is my first-second week at this school, and I still struggled to make friends). Once the class had given the answer she wanted, she tore it all up and shouted at me to do it again.

Was it because I held the pen wrong? Was my arm at the wrong angle?

Who knows, really? I never found out.

Nothing was corrected, and I learned by watching my classmates and tried my best to imitate them. I was so terrified of having a torrent of fury thrown my way again over something I didn’t understand, that the only thing I could do was grip the pen as tightly as possible and ensure each individual letter came out tiny, and could be seen as “neat”.

So, in reality, I still don’t hold a pen correctly. It rests on the wrong finger. If that same teacher could see me write nowadays, I’m sure I’d see spittle and fragments of paper flying about the room within moments.. (Except this Elisabeth would give that teacher a piece of her mind!)

The point is a strange one. Nearly all of my English teachers did this to me – shout first, questions never.

The ONE teacher that encouraged me in this lesson was my favourite teacher of all time, Miss Sheridan. She was dyslexic, which perhaps made her more empathic to those who struggled. She made lessons fun… And, most importantly, while I was shy and still unable to talk much, she heard my writing.

She was the first teacher to comment on my writing as a good thing – not on the aesthetic side, but the content I had written. For the first time in my life, I was hearing someone tell me that I was good with words, that I had a unique way of writing and seeing things.

Out of all my teachers, Miss Sheridan was the one who gave me hope that I might not be as stupid and terrible as the other teachers led me to believe. That the words I write down could actually matter and bring a smile to someone’s face.

She was a woman who struggled in her own way with spelling and writing, and yet was the person who showed and taught me the biggest and most complex words I’d heard at the time… Because a weakness doesn’t mean you can’t do something, it just means you gotta find your own route to get there.

I became a writer in my heart the day that teacher praised me, and it was a nothing, really. I continue to write every single day because that teacher is in my thoughts, because she believed I was capable of it despite my weaknesses and fears.

Education is important, but it takes the right kind of teacher to know how to show you the way.

If you’re struggling over something you’re working on right now, it’s not for nothing and it’s an obstacle you can overcome. You just need to find the method that works best for you.

We all work at our own pace – I, for one, don’t care about being late to the party, or if people arrive later or earlier than I do.

We’re all going to the same place after all, right?

Love to all of you, and I wish you the best of luck with your writing journey – no matter what stage you’re chugging through.

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My Lesson In Querying

Hey, everyone!

As I’m gearing up ready to start querying, I thought I’d share my experiences of my first attempt two years ago. I had finished my story. I was proud and excited, dying to share it with the world… But in reality, it wasn’t ready.

Naturally, the rejections came pouring in – luckily, for my sanity, I only applied to about 6-8 literary agents.

Now, here’s what happened. ONE of those rejections was personalized.

The agent loved my query and pitch, but she didn’t “feel” the story and it wasn’t what she expected. That stung a little, but after reading back the chapters I sent her it didn’t take me long to see how right she was.

The truth is, I was impatient. The story’s skeletal structure was there, but there was also so much telling over showing, and it started in the wrong place – despite rewrites and many edits. Gosh, I sure can make work hard for myself.

I knew what was wrong … now to figure out how to fix it.

I also sent the first five pages of the manuscript to a literary consultant, who was offering a free critique period at the time, and the feedback was phenomenal. They showed me what I was doing right, and where I was going wrong. It was enough encouragement to help me rise above the rejects.

Querying is hard and terrifying, I don’t think there’s a calm way to go about it, but don’t let the rejections slow you down.

I took that agent’s comments, and I swore to myself I’d make the world feel my story.

I’m not going to say it went smoothly or perfectly, and I won’t lie and say there were no tears involved. Fierce determination can get you far – especially if it’s a project you’re in love with.

What I will also say here is how important it’s been for me to find CPs and Betas since then – something else I’d overlooked 2 years ago. I’ve learned so much just by talking to other writers – seriously, the writing community is amazingly helpful and encouraging.

I find it disheartening to see people give up on their stories after rejections. You wrote it, you put your all into it, please don’t lose faith in it – even if it means shelving it until you’ve worked up the strength to dive back in there to edit or query.

It’s difficult. You can only write and edit so much – we can’t aim for total perfection in our work, but we don’t want to slip because we are blinded by our love of it. Does your story read like you see it in your head?

That is the hardest thing to face, in my opinion.

As I said, after reading mine back, I saw the skeleton of the story – but the soul was still missing. I feel it so much better now, after so much work and thought has gone back into it – and the story has never felt more real to me.

I’m more proud of it today than I ever have been. It’s a shame that querying is just as terrifying as it was two years ago, but I’m going to do it again anyway – and so should you. If any of you doubt yourself as much as I do, let’s agree to pretend those doubts are flies and ignore them / flick them aside.

We’re authors.

We write.

We publish.

Let’s do this together.

Beginning The End

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (handle: @ewardharris) will know about my devastating findings last week. The end of my story (2 and a half chapters) was gone, disappeared – and no amount of digging was bringing it back. Tauntingly, even my notepads were void of this elusive ending, my notes cutting off at the same point as the revision before me, like a clever trick I’d played on myself.

I had to start it from scratch. (sob)

It’s been quite a game.

Endings bring about resolution, conclusions, which is why they’re endings. Even in series, the individual novels have their own resolution at the end.

I knew exactly what was going to happen, it’s been on the cards for a few months (years, for me) for the main cast, but that doesn’t make it an easy thing to accomplish. There are a lot of characters, each who are impacted in different ways by the climax of the story.

Each of their actions and responses have to be emotionally compatible with their individual wants and goals, and that can hinder the process in getting it rounded off swiftly and as realistically as possible. This might be a fantasy world, but emotion and desire are real.

I’m two chapters in now, with half to go. Maybe one more. The ending is still at it was, but I have found that it’s changed in many ways, for the better. I’m closer to my characters and every action is true to them, so I’m a lot more comfortable with the entire setting.

What started as something tragic for me has turned into a blessing, I don’t think I’d have gotten this “finish” as clearly if I was just editing it. You know how it can be, your eyes scan the same words over and over, and it can be difficult to tell what *needs* editing and what is just nitpicking.

I’ll finish off here with just a little reminder that even on our bleakest writing days, there is a silver lining.

Don’t let little human errors kill your desire to write, to own your story. Have a day or two if you need it, then jump back in there.

You’re the one who started this thing, and you’re the only one who can finish it. Have the courage to do so.

Stay positive, stay determined and, most of all, enjoy it.

Inspiration – Look or Wait?

Hey, guys! Another month is swinging into bloom, and I figured it was time to dip into my mental pool of all things strange and gift you with a piece of my brain juice.

Okay, maybe not the juice. I need that, probably, but you can enjoy the concept.

Inspiration seems to be a mythical creature that enjoys working in opposition to our needs. What I mean by that is; how often do you sit, willing and rearing to write, and suddenly everything goes eerily quiet?

Ok, so how often do you find yourself preoccupied or going to bed and suddenly your brain says “Hey! Look at all these cool ideas I’ve got!”

I don’t have time for that. I have my son, dogs, farm animals, house cleaning, fish, reptiles–AAHH. There’s no time in my day to sit and wait for my mind to get with the program. I have 45 minutes to sit and write, so that’s what’s going down! (Hmph!)

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, easier said than done… Or is it?

Our brains are trainable. We’ve been taught to work to routines and schedules, so why couldn’t we do that with something creative, too?

This is the interesting part. We’re all different, we have different needs to get into “the zone”.

Music or no music?

Outside or inside?

Notepad or computer?

I have my routine every afternoon; my son goes down for his nap, and that is my silent, uninterruptible time to get some work done… But sometimes it can work against me. I can get too comfortable, too tired, too energised — it’s during these moments, where the stage is set and I’m still struggling, that plan B comes into play.

I figure out my comfort zone. Why do I like it? Why does it make it easier?

Then I’ll throw myself into opposition, get out of the comfort – I trick my mind into thinking it’s “too preoccupied” to write and, funny creature it is, inspiration comes a-knocking.

Perhaps it’s just one of my quirks, but it sure works for me and maybe it can help some of you, as well.

How do you hunt the mythical creature of Inspiration?

Writing – Look Back & Push Forward

pexels-photo-747964I’ve got to say, I think January has been my best writing month for many, many months.

Admittedly, it’s been a bit of a tough year, so I’m proud of any work and progress that I’ve been able to achieve.

I re-wrote my novel last year, too. For the fifth (or is that sixth?) time (and the last, I hope!). In all honesty, though I’ve started other projects during this period too, this is the story that’s stuck with me since I was seventeen.

I have countless notebooks and piles of random pieces of paper from when I’ve needed to write something quickly on the move, along with the different variations of the manuscript itself. All of them show my growth as a writer, learning as I go.

It’s important for me to keep the old notes and original versions. During times of frustration with my current work, it’s really helpful to look back and see how far I’ve come. A gentle nudge to keep going.

What’s really helped me this month is this; I’ve been offering myself up a challenge (almost) every day, where I take a few good sentences and try and take them past that, my way. It’s not always easy, weirdly fun if your brain’s odd like mine, and it’s really helped my writing voice to blossom.

Overall, this last month I’ve found that looking back can give you the kick you need, and challenging your mind with almost-evil games can help to get you going.

A Writing Community

Around August of last year, I decided to have another go at Twitter. I found a whole community of other writers, pushing for the same things I was, struggling with similar struggles as we fight our own doubts or plotholes that seek to destroy us.

I needed to connect with other writers, but I hadn’t really realised that until I started. Truthfully, I’m not very good at speaking to people I don’t know, but I can appreciate good writing when I see it. If even a like or retweet from me can push their confidence and recognition, then I’m bound to do it.

The reason I’m writing this is because something so simple as having a community of other writers around me has pushed me to do even better. It shows in my current writing and edits how much something as a simple game on Twitter can help to improve so much.

I think sometimes we can become lethargic and sluggish with our WIPs, but having other writers rooting you on while you go is a tremendous help, as well as giving you the ability to encourage as well.

I’ve found inspiration and motivation, accomplishing in 1 month what had normally have taken me 3.

However you find your Writing Community, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, Forums and so on, know that it is going to help you grow, as well as give you a few like-minded friends. Enjoy!

Writing Around Conflicting Advice

Hi, everyone! It’s been a good while since my last post, between wrestling flus and colds and then preparing for Christmas around trying to finish my novel – phew! It’s been hard to keep on top of everything.

I wanted to share a few of my thoughts about something I’ve seen writers asking within writing groups, forums and the like. When buying books on writing, or following writing advice that top-selling authors share, there’s a lot of “But I’ve been doing this instead!” or “I’ve seen this other author I love doing the complete opposite!”

I think that’s fine. It’s ok. At the end of the day, our stories are unique and it’s important to know “the rules” before we break them, because of course we can break them. 

Don’t agonize over the finer details of writing, focus your attention on driving your plot and characters forward. Make their growth or downfall believable, be sure you have a solid conclusion / resolution.

The rest can be fixed, added to or trimmed as needed later, and even then keep your worries at bay.

Are you doing the opposite of what a famous author advises?

If it doesn’t add to the plot, does it enrichen the experience? If it doesn’t show your character’s personality, does it give you an insight to how others perceive them?

Breaking the rules is fine, just as long as you do it thoughtfully. We don’t have to have the same novel writing checklist to make a great story.
I hope I’ve managed to help in some small way at least, and I will start posting again after the New Year – maybe with some new ideas or short stories to post!

Until then, keep confident, enjoy your work and have a great end of year everybody.

Doubts and Fears in Writing

I find myself seeing a lot of posts about self-doubt and fear as a writer – fear that swings from “what if I never finish it?” to “what if I finish it and everyone hates it?”

Well, today I’m hoping that I will be able to help alleviate these fears – mostly because they’re baseless and only exist because of your roaring (awesome!) imaginations.

Firstly; the fears surrounding whether or not you will finish your work depends on you and you alone – yes, it helps if someone gives you a motivational kick up the butt, but what do you do when there’s no one around to do it? Kick yourself. This is your story idea. Does it give you excitement just thinking about where the plot could go? Do you understand and hate/love your characters?

Take your story and own it. Even if you write it poorly, write it anyway. Get the idea down so you can edit it to a fine shine later, so long as the important parts are essentially there – and quit worrying about overusing words, adverbs, etc etc. Again, you can and will be editing it later anyway. Get it written.

As for the fear of your story being rejected by the readers we are trying to impress? You can’t count on one bad review being a shared feeling with everyone who touches it.

We’ve all read stories. I’ve had friends give me books that I didn’t enjoy, books that may have been their favourites. It will happen every time, because we as humans are complicated and varied.

Love your story, be passionate about it, and the people it is right for will find it and hopefully love it as much as you do.

I guess, really, writing is all about how we perceive the world or emotions and how we’d like to see them portrayed, so instead of worrying about what others may think of it, all I will tell you is to enjoy every step of the world and people you create. If you loved writing it, it will show in your work and the people will love it just for feeling your passion alone.

So, what are you waiting for? Get back to work – a masterpiece cannot write itself!

What I Learned From A Writing Contest

I’d never entered a contest before – frankly,  I’d never gone public with any story I’ve written.

I learned of the contest through The Write Practice, and I’d watched a few of their contests pass me by in the past. This time I decided to give it a go. It was a Love + Fall (Autumn) theme, with a maximum word count of 1,500.

Needless to say, I felt a little out of my depth from the moment I signed up. I’d never written a short story before, not without it turning into a full-blown novel, but I felt it calling to me as a challenge. I’d never experimented properly with 1st person, and I certainly never write romances (fantasy/adventure lover, me!), but while I was in the throws of editing my novel before unleashing it to the world, I decided to take a break from my writing… by writing something completely different.

So…

What did I learn?

There’s so much I can list, but what I think is most important of all was the writing community itself. Workshopping and working together to give each other encouraging feedback and support, it was truly a great way to meet new people – from novice writers to experienced, all sharing our tales together and sharing whatever knowledge we had freely.

I don’t think this will be the last contest I enter. It was fun as hell (yes, I’m weird) working towards a deadline, and it really pumped up my motivation to get my novel completed.

Although it was a short story, and a far cry from what I’d normally write, the sense of accomplishment at having written, finished, and revised a story within 2 weeks has done the world of good for me – and I think for any writer who’s been working on the same project for a good while. It’s nice to have a break.

For those who might be interested, I’ll insert a link here to my short story which has been published on Short Fiction Break as a part of the competition. You’ll find all the other contest entries there too – and don’t forget to vote for your favourite!

Real Life In Fiction

It’s been a while between blog posts – computer troubles! But it hasn’t stopped me from doing what I love most, which is writing.

I’m constantly learning and trying to perfect my writing craft, and I’m the worst (best?) self-critic.

Do you ever find yourself reading your own material and, while a part of you feels that parental love towards it, you’re finding that some areas are falling flat? By all means love your novel or nonfiction masterpiece, but don’t hold back tearing parts to shreds when your gut tells you something’s off.

For me, my biggest issues were the dreaded “Show Don’t Tell”, and the emotions / relationships portrayed between my characters. I completed the draft and had a sound plot, but now is the most important part – I want my audience to feel what my characters are feeling. I want them to question alongside my protagonist who to trust. I want them to agonize over a decision that could have dire consequences. 

But how do I do that?

The secret… By delving into my memories, all the relationships, decisions, the feelings I’ve experienced.

What is happening to my protagonist? Have I been in a similar situation? How did or would I feel – truly? And I’m not just talking emotion here. 

If my character is feeling fear and doubt, that can show in many ways – and the great thing is that we as individuals can all react differently in the same scenario, but we feel emotion equally. When you’re scared, how do you feel physically? A few examples: Cold, trembles, your muscles tense like you’re braced to run for it. Emotionally? Fear has an uncanny way of stopping logical thought, panic grows alongside fear. What will you do, what will you do, what will you do!

We’ve all been scared. How did you fight the urge to get out of there? Did you manage it? Is there a scarier consequence if you don’t do this frightening thing? And how does that affect how you cope with the situation?

This is why I love writing. I’ve always been quiet and observant from a young age – mainly due to fear of my own – but I learned a lot about people, their quirks and how different people react in the same situation depending on their personalities. It fascinates and intrigues me, and people themselves offer a whole world of mystery.

A good way to practice this and bring your characters to life is to write small paragraphs about people (or your own characters) that you know very well. One-by-one, put them all in the same situation and I’ll wager that not one of those paragraphs will be the same.

Happy writing!