The Many Faces of Success

When I was a little girl, if anyone should ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always the same: A Writer.  The only slight deviation from this was ‘A Journalist’, but basically, I wanted to get paid for writing words of some sort.

It took a long time to realize some of that ambition.  I was in my forties by the time I actually got up the nerve to submit work, and the day I got an email saying a magazine would pay me for a feature I wrote was like a dream coming true.  I had always said I’d be happy to just see my writing published somewhere – anywhere – in my lifetime.

But it’s a fact of human nature that once you get over the rush of achieving one dream, another takes its place.  I didn’t just want one piece of writing published, I wanted more than that.  I wanted to make writing my job, my full-time career.

And that is where the dissatisfaction can start to set in.  Because if you look at the writers you admire, they often don’t just write.  Writing is their passion, what they may put down in the box marked ‘Occupation’.  But often, they teach, edit, wait tables, to make ends meet.  Because writing is so important in their lives, they are willing to work in other roles to still be able to feel that thrill of seeing their writing published.

I had a conversation with someone a while back, about being a “successful” writer.  It was interesting, because neither one of us had the same ideas about what “success” actually meant.

It’s obvious to say that a bestselling novelist is a success in their field.  But unlike many other types of work, there can be such a wide-ranging scope for writers that it’s hard to pin down.

Take my own writing life so far, for example: I’ve had a few features published in that online magazine now; academic-style essays on a couple of websites; several creative non-fiction pieces/essays; and too many small flash fictions to count.  I even came first in a flash fiction contest – the first time I entered it!

So, have I made it then?  Well, that depends.  If you could go back and ask that little girl sitting on her bed making magazines, she would likely say “Yes”.  It is more than she ever expected.  But the issue remains, like for most people who pursue any kind of art: paying the bills.  The truth is, there are so many literary magazines and websites out there that run with volunteers that they don’t have the funds to pay writers.  The promise of much talked about ‘exposure’ of your work is abundant.  But at some point, it’s nice to get paid for all that effort.

I have been lucky in that I have begun to get paid for some of my writing, but not all of it, and not vast amounts by any stretch.  I recently had my second piece of writing published on the fabulous online magazine Feminartsy.   I did a lot of research for this essay, which I enjoyed as it was a subject close to me: combining motherhood and writing.  (If you’re interested, it’s here: http://feminartsy.com/a-womb-of-ones-own-motherhood-and-the-female-writer/ ).

I worked with the brilliant editor at Feminartsy, who gave ideas of how to improve the piece, and I edited and polished it some more.  Last week, it was published, for a fee.  Yay!  Success!!

But I realised some time ago, that in order to allow my creativity to flow and not bite my fingernails down worrying about paying the bills, other paid work has to come into the picture.  Editing, yoga teaching, proof-reading, shop work…all these things make it possible for me to pursue my main goal, my ‘life’s work’ as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in Big Magic, her book on creativity.  Writing.  Seeing my work out there in the world.

Success may have many different faces; it can still be success.

Keep reading and writing!

Kate xx

 

 

 

 

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Writing, Motherhood, & Duvet Days

Hi all,

Well, it’s one of those autumn/fall mornings, where I woke up with a little bit of a sore throat, the sky turned grey after the beautiful October sunshine we’ve been getting here. Taking a draw on the coffee to up the caffeine and steel myself for getting out of bed, I reflected on my plans for the day: getting my youngest ready for school; attending to some volunteer duties I’d promised; promoting my essay, which went live this morning (see below!); a freelance project I need to work on…

Then, the familiar croak of my daughter’s ‘ill-voice’. Nothing scuppers a days plans so swiftly as your kids staying off school sick. So, tucking her back under the duvet, unscrewing the lid of the always-sticky paracetamol bottle, I went about squeezing my day’s work into the time I had.

Ironically, and in a totally unplanned way, I have just outlined the basis of today’s published essay. Having often been told it was ‘impossible’ to do any creative work with children around, but conversely finding that my experiences as a mother has influenced my writing in countless ways, I recently undertook a research project to read up on some of the women writers I admired at key points in my life, to see where they stood on the subject.

I found this research to be enriching to my own writing, and it encouraged me to write this essay about it http://feminartsy.com/a-womb-of-ones-own-motherhood-and-the-female-writer/

Working with the fabulous editor and creator of Feminartsy was a great experience, and I feel she helped me pull together all the strands of my argument.  I hope you enjoy reading – I’m proud of this one! : )

Happy reading and writing,

Kate  xx

 

 

Falling in Love Again

I’ve always had a love affair with books.

Books, reading, writing.  These three elements made up my childhood, saw me through adolescence, followed me into adulthood.

Obviously, to be a writer, you need to read.  And read.  And read some more.  It’s really the only way to stretch your vocabulary, to learn new ideas, to discover what works and what doesn’t.

But here’s the thing: between reading and researching articles, essays, and stories online for both feeding into my own work, and in my editorial roles, I recently went through a dry period in terms of getting any book-action.  I could feel my attention drifting when I attempted to read something longer than a short story.  Seemingly gone were the days of curling up with a long novel, trying to stay awake to finish another chapter, and another…

So as with my experiments this autumn into letting go of technology disrupting activities, I’ve begin to make dates with books again.  Proper, long-term, paper-based novels, for reading throughout the darker months.

And I’m loving it again.  Like the first flush of romance, I’m losing myself between the sheets of a wide variety of reading material.  And the knock-on effect has been my own writing.  As always, once I started reading more, I started writing more.  The ideas have been flowing, and I’m excited to get back to the page…

Kate xx

Speaking of which, here is a link to a book review I wrote recently for thebookbag, http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=The_Art_of_Failing:_Notes_from_the_Underdog_by_Anthony_McGowana

a great online resource for book lovers.

 

Distraction=Procrastination

“Distraction is a form of procrastination”.

I read this quote online this morning, posted by @TheMinimalists and found it interesting.  It’s something I’ve been grappling with for a while now; a consideration of the multitude of distractions surrounding us.  I spent much of the summer reading books by people like Cal Newport, reading around simplicity and focus and finding a deeper life away from the modern world’s distractions of smartphones and social media.

The truth is, places like Twitter offer a writer a place to share work, to get feedback, and to connect with other people who are engaging in the often frustrating and thankless task of putting words down in some kind of coherent order.

But then there’s the distraction.  And the enemy of getting anywhere at all: Procrastination.  Sometimes, intending to work on a writing idea, I’ve lost countless minutes to responding to a thread on Twitter, only to look up and see my time is up, or my focus has gone.

So this autumn, I committed to making some changes.  I took the app off the phone; I stopped receiving email notifications; I upped my security settings.  I tried to block out the online world and live more in the real one, to allow some breathing space.

Inevitably, I still log on, to share work or to read the work of others.  But I’m finding that I will only do that once I’ve checked in with myself first.  When I’ve walked and breathed.  When I’ve tasted my strong morning coffee and made conversation with real life people.

When I’ve sat at my desk and written something, anything, that might just count toward the work I really want to do.

Kate xx

Oh yes…I also had some work published over the past few days…here are the links, in case you might want to have a read : )

Fairy Tales

http://thresholds.chi.ac.uk/stitching-feminism-and-fairytale/

 

 

Proprioception

In the woods, a man’s glove, sitting on the branch of a sprouting tree.  Black with orange fingers curled like a hand about to pluck berries.

Where would it have come from?  Who would have walked through the woods and left behind a piece of themselves, like an offering?

As I often do, I make up my own story.  Maybe a man was taking a walk through the woods this morning and spotted some autumn leaves turning gold-brown.  Perhaps he couldn’t resist pulling off a glove, so he could feel the crisping leaf for himself.

When we see these tiny elements of nature, of beauty, something within us needs to reach out and touch it, to become a part of it.  I feel the same about the trees that surround me in the woods.  I can’t help reaching out and touching their trunks, rubbing their ancient, peeling flanks, hugging onto them tightly.

Maybe the gloved man was the same.  Maybe he couldn’t help but reach out and touch the leaves this morning.

I like to think so.  I like to think of him now, reaching work wearing only one glove.  Or tonight, reaching into his pocket for the invisible item, puzzling, thinking he’s dropped one somewhere.  Cursing, perhaps, at his loss.  Or shrugging: it’s only a glove, after all.

I discovered a new word recently: proprioception.  The sense we innately have of where our joints are, even when we can’t see them.  We can tell where our hands are when our eyes are closed, for example.

This weekend, we dropped our eldest daughter off for her first term at University.  I thought of this word as we left, as we walked away, back to our car.  A family of four, temporarily reduced to three.

It’s said that a tree’s appearance in the forest changes each time we look at it from a different angle.  The tree gradually metamorphoses as we take each step away from it.

As we stepped away from our darling girl, hurtled back down the motorway, further away from her, the proprioception that began when she was still a dream wrapped up tightly inside me eighteen years ago, meant I felt I’d left a part of me back there.

Like the man with his lost glove, I keep looking around me, feeling something is missing.

Forest Bathing

This morning, I got deliberately lost.  I allowed myself to wander off the beaten track and lose myself in the woods.  Phoneless.  Contactless.

How often these days do people allow themselves to get lost, in this age of sat nav and Smartphones?

I read a book recently about a Japanese practise known as Shinrin-Yoku.  It translates as ‘Forest Bathing’.  It’s the practise of wandering into the forest, noticing and bonding with nature, for the purposes of your own health.  It’s meant to be healing for both body and mind.

Both nature and technology can have a certain allure.  We can find ourselves drawn to, and mesmerised by, either.  Stepping away from the ‘Ping’ of Smartphone notifications and social media updates can allow us to reconnect with nature, allowing us to notice more.  To slow down.

Noticing is what we as writers need to do in order to put words on the page.

Reconnecting with nature can help us to find life more interesting.  To feel part of a whole again.  To maybe become a little bit more interesting (and interested) a person.

Taking the opportunity to notice more, to slow down, to step away from technology and go out and get lost: these things will, I think, feed into our writing and our lives,  making them richer and more meaningful.

Kate x

#ICYMI, I have a little piece of creative non-fiction flash in this lovely magazine: http://www.dnamag.co.uk/issues/issue-two/ called ‘Part-Time Vegetarianism’

 

 

 

Subtle Changes

Hi,

Anyone who writes will get the feeling I had this week.  That one where pieces of writing are going out into the world with your name on, and along with the lovely sensation you feel at an editor choosing your work to publish over the tons of submissions they must get in their inbox, you also feel a little bit anxious about the writing.

The pieces of writing this week were both Creative Non-Fiction – life writing, or memoir – whatever label you want to attach to this form of writing.  And I think that was the reason for the slight twinge of anxiety.  Because, by their very nature, these are going to be more personal to the writer.  It’s a form of writing I’m often drawn to, both when reading others’ work and writing my own, for the connections it opens up: that recognition you get when you realise other people have experiences similar to you.

The first piece was up at the awesome Sunlight Press and was a piece I wrote about the way parenthood and time rubs away at the surface of a marriage, requiring a couple to adapt and change.  If you’d like a read, it’s here: http://www.thesunlightpress.com/subtle-changes/

The second piece went up at a fairly new lit mag called DNA for their ‘Identity’ issue, and is a short piece about my youngest daughter, and the ways she often reminds me of my younger self.  Here’s the link: http://www.dnamag.co.uk/

I think, as you grow as a writer, you often have to be willing to let yourself leak out onto the page, even if it’s in your fictional characters.  And I think if you can do that, your writing feels that much more real, that much more honest.

Happy reading and writing,

Kate  xx