Slowly but Surely

“Slowly but surely.”

For the past nine years this has been my default response to the question: “So, Guy, how’s the writing going?”

“It’s fine. I’m getting there, slowly but surely.”

My friends and family usually laugh before waiting, expectantly, for a “proper” response. But my response has always, and will always be, the same.

“Seriously guys, I’m getting there. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”

I don’t think my friends and family ever took me seriously. Wanting to be a writer is a common dream now after all, especially around university campuses, so I can’t blame them for thinking I was like every other wannabe raconteur. I’m sure they have all been waiting for the day when my response would inevitably change to: “Actually, guys, you know what? The writing’s been going badly for a while now and in all honesty, I’m probably just kidding myself. I think it’s about time I followed everyone’s advice and gave it up. I need to focus on my ‘career’ after all.”

But that day never came, because, let’s face it, being realistic has never really been my strong point.

You see, most people who don’t want to write think that people who do want to write simply sit down in front of a laptop and begin, almost whimsically, to type out the perfect story  – preferably one that came to them whilst sipping macchiatos at the local café. They believe that once the great coffee God has slipped his/her imagination pill into your caramel swirls the words simple vomit out of you until perfection is achieved. They believe that if that novel isn’t perfect once that final full stop punctures the screen then you are simply not worthy of the title of writer and must give up the momentary muse immediately before crippling alcoholism sets in.

But they couldn’t be more wrong. Seriously, that’s not how writing works – for the majority of us at least.

On Saturday (27th February – I think) I received a phone call from an agent – one that I have been working with for quite some time.  During this phone call I was told that my writing was in fact good enough (who knew?) and said agent would very much like to place her name next to mine and represent me from here on out. I was over the moon! Genuinely, words cannot express the sheer delight that fizzed through me. Because, you see, contrary to popular belief, I had not just hammered out a perfect first draft and sent it off (if only!). I’d pretty much re-written the novel from scratch with the agent acting as a mentor, and then redrafted over and over, polishing it to an ever greater shine with no real clue as to whether the agent would take me on or not. But she did! And guess what? This wasn’t even my first novel! It was my fifth! I’ll give you a moment to let that soak in. Five novels. Not one, or two, or even four, but five novels! That phone call was the result of nine years hard work, and I was chuffed to bits.

I realised I wanted to write books for a living when I was eighteen years old. I have been writing near enough every day since then (I am now twenty-seven), and despite the doubts, despite the rejections, I kept going. You see (again, contrary to popular belief) writing takes time – good writing, at least. Like an apprentice sculptor you might have that vision of perfection in your head, but it takes years of working on your craft before you can even begin to carve something that looks vaguely similar, and even then you’ll always be far from perfection (something I now believe doesn’t, and should not, exist).

But why would any self-respecting human do that? Why would anyone spend so much time on something only to get nothing back?

Well, I suppose there are many reasons.

The first being my obsession with already super-successful writers. When I find a writer I like, it’s not enough for me to simply buy their books. I need to know them. I need to know their journey – the pilgrimage that has lead them to this pinnacle of human achievement that I admire so vehemently. Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, John Wyndham, etc, etc. I needed to know their life stories – I needed to know their secrets.

And you know what?

I found them.

And by them, I mean it.

That’s right. It. Singular.

I found that thing that all the great writers possess that everyone else does not. I found the Holy Grail of knowledge that would ultimately lead me to that phone call – that great, life changing phone call. And it was this:

Stubborn determination.

No, seriously, it’s that simple.

Don’t give up.

But that can’t be it! I thought. That – that’s insane! It can’t be that easy!

And it isn’t – not really. Stubborn determination is not easy. You have to suffer. A lot. And I don’t mean to sound depressive or like writing was a chore, because that is not it at all. I write because I have to. My head is a bucket and it needs emptying on a regular basis. If I don’t tip the words out, I get cranky. It’s not good. The writing isn’t the problem, it’s getting your writing noticed. For that, you need to take those hits. You need to receive those rejection letters, you need to feel that disappointment . . . and keep moving forward. You need to sit in front of a page of writing and hate it . . . but then keep moving forward. You need to send your book to agents and get “No” after “No” after “No” . . . but then keep moving forward.

Not everyone will go through this. I’m sure there are those really annoying people for whom a caramel macchiato is enough, but for me I needed that determination. I needed it like a plant needs rain. Without it I would have withered and died at my desk. Thankfully, I learned this lesson early. I was taught it by the best.

Book one, for me, was the hardest. It was my greatest achievement and my greatest disappointment all rolled into one. I was naïve. I was young. But I kept moving forward. Book two was still hard, but the edges had been rounded off. After rejection, Ikept moving forward. When it came to book three I sent it off expecting rejection, but it was still sprinkled with hope. It was the same with book four! And by the time I reached book five, nine years of none stop writing had filled my noggin! Nine years of rejection and iron-clad determination coated everything I did. By book five, I had made a plethora of mistakes – mistakes that would have made most wannabe writers throw in the towel and yell: “ENOUGH!”

But by book five, I had it. That stubborn determination. That refusal to give up. That belief that if I simply kept pushing forward I too could have what my hero’s had. I too could get that elusive publishing deal.

I imagined myself a runner in a great race. In it, every human who wanted to be a writer was running alongside me and the finish line was a publishing deal. And we were running. Sweating, bleeding, crying, we were running, and all around me people were dropping out. All around me there were people who had had enough, and one by one they were pulling over to breath. But still I knew, the more people that pulled out, the greater my chances of being the last one standing. And that’s all that matters. So I ran. I ran and I ran, over and over, getting fitter, faster. Still, all around me people were dropping, but that stubborn refusal kept me going. I had the idea that if I could only keep running, eventually everyone else will quit and I will be the last man standing. Then I’d be guaranteed the deal!

I have lived my life by that race. Every time I felt like quitting, I told myself: “No! If you quit, someone behind will overtake. Keep moving forward.”

And now I have an agent. The biggest hurdle so far has been conquered. But even bigger hurdles await. Will the book that secured my agent be published? Well, the figure that seems to be sliding through the publishing community is 50%. That’s half of all agent-submitted manuscripts accepted by publishers. Those odds are the best I’ve ever had. They’re not perfect, but they’re still pretty darn good. I have as much chance of being rejected as I have of being accepted.

But guess what?

A rejection doesn’t matter! If the publishers say no, then I will write another. I am writing another! And I will keep writing books until the publishers have no choice but to say yes. Even then, when they do say yes, a new battle will begin. I’ll go on school visits, talk in libraries, take part in book festivals. I’ll even have reviews! Good and bad. But no matter what the world throws my way, I will forever keep moving forward.

When I told my friends I had an agent, they were chuffed. They congratulated me and praised me and made my ego swell like a party balloon. But when they asked what would happen next – when I’d be published – my response was the same as ever:

“I have a long way to go yet, but I’m getting there. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”

“But you have an agent now! That’s got to make it easier!”

“Maybe,” I replied. “Maybe not. But as I said, I’ll get there eventually, slowly but surely.”

The publishing industry is in no rush. It is the race track, and we, the writers, must decide: is it better to be a hare, or a tortoise? Sure, we feel like hares. We want to rush towards that publishing deal. We feel ready. We think our books are perfect and genius and the world needs to see them! But we all know that it is better to be a tortoise. Why?

Because they get there in the end – slowly but surely.

So if anyone out there wants to be a writer, remember: be the tortoise. Work, write, edit, submit, reject and repeat. Work, write, edit, submit, reject, repeat. If you follow this system, you too will get there.

Slowly but surely.

Just keep moving forward.

I.M.

The Reason I Write, and Who I Write For

Why do I write? Who am I writing for?

These are two of the most important questions any aspiring writer/artist must ask themselves. And, I believe, you cannot be truly successful, or know fully who or what you are, until you have answered them both honestly. Why are you doing it, and who are you doing it for? In this blog post I shall give my answers to both of these questions. Your own answers may very well be different (I would hope they are, should we all be the same).

Why Do I Write?

I believe it is possible to put every person who calls themselves a writer into one of two categories. There are those who write because they like the idea of being a writer. They see the likes of JK Rowling and George R R Martin, scooping up tens, if not hundreds of millions of pounds/dollars for their work and think: I can do that. How hard can it be? They think, and yes, most even go as far as creating a synopsis, either on paper or just in their heads (usually just in their heads). These people then gloat to their peers about how they are going to be the next big thing. They talk about how well they will do, how unique their ideas are, how no one has ever done anything like them before and the world will bow down and collectively drops their slackened jaws in sheer awe at the magnificence of their work. They are, for want of a better word, deluded. These people talk more about their writing then they do actually writing. On Twitter, they tweet famous writers and then brag to their friends about re-tweets, they go to writers talks or creative writing classes and act like they know it all, and, because most people do not know any different, they believe them, further ensnaring said writer in their own delusion. And through it all – through all the dreaming and bragging – they fail to see that these writers whom they hold in such high esteem (Rowling, Gaiman, King, Martin etc) did not write their novels because they hoped to be stupidly rich and famous and successful. They wrote them because they were, in fact, members of the second category of people. The true category.

Members of this category write not because they desire fame and fortune, but because they have to write. These people, myself included, write because it is a part of them. I write stories because when I walk or have a few brief moments of solitude, my brain goes to other places. For some reason, when I think, I do not think about bills to pay, the mortgage, work, my friends, my life. I think instead about other worlds, and deals with the devil, and castles in the imagination. I do not think. I imagine. This is a blessing, and, at times, a curse (excuse the dramatic cliché). When I imagine, I build stories, and if I do not get those stories out of my head and onto paper I grow anxious, fidgety, and on occasions, depressed. If I do not write I feel clogged. These stories, these voices in my mind, they beg to be told, and if I do not tell them those characters begin taking pickaxes to my memories and start dislodging my every day thoughts. The less I write, the less I remember. It is as simple as that. It is like these voices – these stories – that appear in my head are the voices of real people, somewhere in the world. Perhaps when people pray, those prayers are not heard by God, but by writers? It certainly feels that way sometimes, that if I don’t tell their stories I am somehow doing them a disservice.

So that is why I write. I write, because I have to. I believe that if you ask any successful writer/artist/actor/singer why they do what they do, they will tell you the same. This also comes hand in hand with success. To be a good writer, you must practise. I am still practising. I always will be, I think. But those writers who write because they want to will fall short in the end, because they lack the stamina, the will to put in all those novels. They lack the patience to persevere through the mountains of rejections, the bad books, the crap short stories, the mind-numbingly dull poetry, and so they give up. However, we writers who write because we have to, will always put in those hours. We will write novel, after novel, after novel, not because we are seeking fame and fortune, but because we must. And through those years of solitary story-telling our craft improves. With every story – with every 100,000 words – we get better, and in the end, after five years, ten years, fifteen, twenty, we arrive at a standard that is good enough to be shared. 

Who Do I Write For?

This is harder to answer than the first question, because since deciding that I wanted to take this journey, that I would attempt to turn these voices into a career, my target audience has changed, time and time again. At first I wrote for myself. As I said before, I wrote because I had to. I needed to. But now that I am being mentored and working on a book with an industry professional, I can no longer think purely for myself. I have to consider: who else will read this? Children, is the answer, but it is not the full answer.

My novel, The Miracle of Harrow Falls, is an upper-middle grade novel. For those who don’t know, that is for children aged 9-12. I teach that age range. I know it well. I know it very well. This gives me an advantage. If you were to look at the children’s book market at the moment, you will see it dominated by the likes of David Walliams, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Jeremy Strong. These contain the usual – the expected. There is a story, not too complex, light, humorous, and a whole load of toilet humour. I have nothing against this. This sells. It is big business, and children lap it up. But not all children. Being a teacher I see the darker side of children’s lives. I see children who are neglected, abused, bullied, at school and at home. I see children struggle to cope as their parents divorce, get ill . . . even die.

These children are not interested in fart jokes. 

At first, before I became a teacher, I would have said: “No! These funny books are good. They cheer them up! They take them out of their misery and make them smile.” But I am a teacher. A child came back after the last half term and informed me that her mother has lung cancer. She was confused, devastated. I can tell you, no amount of toilet humour was going to put a smile on her face. She didn’t need to smile. She needed to understand. She was in a dark place, and she needed to talk to other people who were also in dark places so she could figure out how they escaped back into the light. These children are after escape. They are desperate for it, and from what I see, they are seeking it in YA fiction. Children as young as nine read dark, disturbing YA novels, most of which contain content (Sex, drugs, violence) that they should not be exposed to. And yet they still read them. They read because they are in a dark place, and only characters also in dark places can help.

Who do I write for? I write for them. I write for the children who are going through things that no child should go through. I take characters and I put them through hell, not because I want to be dark and edgy, but because I want to show that no matter how deep you go, there is always a light at the end. I am not interested in books about underpants or smelly tramps or toilet-roll billionaires. That limits my market, and I will not get rich writing the books I do, but I’m not in this to get rich. I’m in this to show those who are so down they fear they may never get up, that it’s okay, that they’re not alone, and that if they fight -and I mean really fight- they have a chance at happiness once again.

So there it is. The reason I write, and who I write for.

If you are a writer, what are your answers? What are your reasons?

I.M.

A New Chapter

Hello all!

I created this blog a couple of years ago, with no clear idea of what it was going to be or where I wanted to take it. Well, now I do. I suppose I should explain . . .

 So, last year I accidentally sold my sister’s soul to the devil. Now before you freak out, you’ve got to understand, she totally deserved it.

Last year in August, when the summer holidays were in full swing, I was out walking in the Mausoleum Woods in the Lincolnshire Wolds when I thought up those words. I don’t know exactly where they came from. I didn’t know who was saying them, why they were saying them, or even if they were true, but for the remaining two hours I spent walking, and then the next half an hour driving home, they were all I thought about. When I did finally get a chance to sit down, alone, at my laptop, I typed them out and found that there were other sentences lurking beyond. I spent the next two months linking those sentences, following that trail of imaginative crumbs, and ended up with a book. I called it, The Miracle of Harrow FallsAnd I was proud of it. I mean really proud of it.

Yes, okay, I’ll admit, there were holes in it (gaping caverns, in fact) and character’s were sometimes doing things they probably shouldn’t have been doing, and saying things they should very well have kept to themselves! It was rough. By heck it was rough, but it was there. A book. A brand new, finished, diamond in a great big pile of rough.

I spent the next few months polishing that diamond, chiselling away the pointy edges and smoothing over all the bits that hurt when you read them. By March of this year (2015) I was ready to send it off. To agents. Literary folk. The gatekeepers to the kingdom longed after by so many dreamers. I have written four novels since beginning this quest nine years ago, and each was better than the last. This showed in the quality of rejection I received after wrapping them warm and sending them out into the world. My first novel, which I completed while at University, was bad. Hence, not even a letter of “sorry not for me” came after it. Just . . . nothing. And I deserved it. I knew nothing of the world and naively thought myself a master (ha, how fickle we are). Next, when I was 22, I tried again. At 23 I sent off my next novel. This was also bad. Not as bad as the first, but still bad. Deep down I knew it. But I received letters back. They still said no, but they were letters. Someone had taken the time to respond. It was progress.

Around this time I read a quote by Neil Gaiman saying: “All writers have one million bad words inside of them. In order to get to the good stuff, you must first extinguish those million words.” Or something to that effect. So, between the ages of 23 and 25, I wrote every day (near enough) and tried my best to extinguish those million words. In that time I wrote 3 books. None of these will ever see the light of day. They were mine. I called them, The Dark Ones. But then, at 25, I had an idea. I knew this was not going to be another Dark One. This was going to be something else. Something real. It was called The Witching Circle. I loved it. It wasn’t perfect (at this point I accepted that I’d never see any of my works as perfect) but it was good. I sent it off, again, for the first time in a long time, and again it got rejected. But these rejections were different. The agents didn’t send copy-and-paste replies, or ignore me completely. They were personal. Complementary. They said things like “You can clearly write well, but it’s not for us” and “I don’t think I can sell this, but this is a subjective business . . .” etc etc etc.

When I received the final rejection (rejection 7 I believe) I went for a walk to clear my head. On that walk I imagined those words, wrote The Miracle of Harrow Falls  and sent it off.

Two days ago I got a reply from an agent. This said she liked my book and wanted to discuss it further. I was at work at the time, just about to log off my computer and start marking my books (I’m a teacher now, believe it or not!), and when I read them, my legs gave way. I slumped into my chair, re-read the email half a dozen times, and then called Helen. I said: “I’ve done it. Someone hasn’t said no.” They hadn’t said yes either, but they hadn’t said no. THAT was new. That had never happened before.

I have since spoken to said agent over the phone and await a Skype call over the weekend. Still, they haven’t said that they want to rep me, but they are taking the time out of their lives to help me with my book. When I look back, I see a pattern. Book one: no reply. Book two: standard rejection. Book three: personalised rejection (and a few complements). Book four: A one to one discussion.

I am not deluded. I know that this may amount to nothing, but I have hope. I have determination. I have the guts to push forward. I have the courage to pursue my dream, beyond the ends of the Earth if I must.

This blog will chronicle my journey. The names will be hidden. Including my own.

I am the Imagination Man, and this is my journey.

The Man Behind the Imagination . . . a Tribute

My journey as a writer had a somewhat misguided beginning. I decided to take the writer’s journey when I was just 15 years old and obsessed with a certain horror writer named Stephen King. As far as my immensely naive self was concerned I was to become the next Stephen King and send the rest of the world cowering behind their bed sheets . . . and I gave it a shot, a serious shot, too.

Writing lesson one: Be the first of you, not the next of another.

I was a pale imitation of Stephen King and that was obvious in my writing. The stories had imagination, but the writing was terrible – there, I said it, and so should you. Recognising that you are not all you could be, or that you are heading in the wrong direction is key to taking yet greater steps along the pathway to success. This is not to be confused with experimentation, because that is key also, but trying to copy another writer will get you no further than fan fiction. It took a university lecturer to point this problem out to me, and the manner with which he did this changed my life forever. (My writing life, at least).

Writing lesson two: Read EVERYTHING!

My university lecturer told me to go away in the summer holidays and look up a man called RAY BRADBURY. Who the hell is that? I thought, having never heard of him before. Luckily I was good at following advice, and I did what I was told.

I purchased a copy of The Golden Apples of the Sun, an anthology of short stories by Mr Ray Bradbury, and I consumed the lot in under a week. I was amazed. His stories were written decades earlier yet were more relevant now than they’d ever been. The imagination behind them, the fantasy and sci-fi blend that he pulled off so well, the poetic nature of his writing that just flowed from the page stunned me beyond belief. I had found my muse. When ever I read one of his stories my own imagination kick-started into life. His words were the fuel for my thoughts, and I was unstoppable. The first stories I ever had published were born from my Bradbury Buzz!

That is not all, however. Not only was Ray Bradbury a terrific writer, he was an inspirational speaker too. The interview with Ray Bradbury below gave me the get up and go to write my story A View Through a Window (Story 2 on my homepage) and that also went on to be published.

He talks of writing everyday and reading everyday. During his interview above he sets a challenge to all budding writers. Read a short story a day, for every day of your life. Unrealistic, you say? Well, yeah, okay, I kind of agree. I managed to go for 3 month doing just that but I lacked the discipline to keep going. That isn’t to say that I didn’t learn a lot. Filling your mind with so many words and stories is invaluable, and I challenge you to try it and tell me you aren’t the better writer for it.

Anyway, I’ve talked enough. What I wanted to say was Thank You. Thank You Ray Bradbury, God rest your soul, for you have inspired me and made me the writer I’ve become today.

Maybe one day my novel will sell and I will be able to spread his message further, but until then this will have to do.

If you want to be a writer of fiction, whether short stories or novels, watch the interview below and read Ray Bradbury’s anthologies. You’ll thank me for it once, then thank him for a lifetime.

If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.

Ray Bradbury

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