I started off the year with an experiment: to write whatever the muse dictated. I anticipated I might experience some difficulties, namely not being able to complete anything, but I was also feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation at inspiring the muse. I’m at the halfway point of the year and it’s time to evaluate how it all worked.
The good-I wrote more than I ever have in my life. I experimented with genres, built up my confidence and have a bushel of new ideas and directions to move forward with.
The bad-I have quite a few works in progress. I thought that by spreading myself in different directions I might not be able to finish things, however as I now have two books that have crappy first drafts of 50,000 words it’s going to be easier to complete them.
The ugly-I burnt out. My ambition far exceeded my energy levels. In the first half of the year I was completing 3 subjects and working part time. These two alone would be equivalent to a full time job. Add to that a 4 week teaching round and a lot of writing commitments and by June I was battling the usual wear and tear of fatigue, constant viruses and throat ulcers. On top of that I had a lot of unexpected things that life threw at me and my emotional and physical resilience was well and truly tested.
So what have I learnt:
1. As a writer you need to diversify. It is a matter of survival to have a few projects on the go. This buffers you from rejection and the frustrations involved with the glacial pace of the publishing industry.
2. Diversifying is well and good, but you need to set realistic goals. This is something that I have very much struggled with. I need to narrow my focus down to 2 things at a time only. This will give me the opportunity to jump from one thing to another when I’ve run the course of inspiration, however it will also allow me to actually finish things.
3. Sometimes to be strong means to let go. I find it very hard to let go of a goal when I have set it. There have been quite a few occasions this year where I have been writing things to a competition deadline and entering it with minutes to spare. I still have a wall of ‘potentials’ and I need to take some of these down.
4. Set priorities and stick to them. To that end I am prioritising my books and letting go of some of the short story competitions I have on my wish list. I can’t do everything and this burnout has made me realise this.
To be a writer is to engage in a constant process of learning about yourself. This period of productivity has scared me because of the fatigue I’ve experienced. There was a point where the thought of writing actually made me feel ill.
However it has also made me feel amazed at what I’m capable. I feel like I haven’t been living to my potential and now I am determined to ensure my writing has priority, regardless of what’s going on in my life. Even if it’s 500 words a day or a week, I need to make sure there are no more stops and starts as life throws its curve balls.
Today I have a guest post from my husband Fikret Pajalic with some advice for other emerging writers.
I have been writing for the past three years and recently I finally started having consistent success with my stories being published. Needless to say that before this success I almost stopped writing and questioned myself and my stories on a daily basis. I was sure there was some major flaw to my storytelling. This was, to say the least, very perplexing to me as I workshop and obtain critiques on a number of different levels.
With a wife who is an author and editor, and having belonged until recently to a writing group where all of my stories were critiqued by a number of fellow writers, my stories undertake a rigorous editing process. After this I normally leave the story for a couple of months and then read it again with 'fresh' eyes before sending it out into the world.
My stories have been awarded prizes as well as published in literary journals. In a relatively short period of less than six months I have had 8 publication credits, with two of stories being published in international journals, so I think my technique is starting to work.
I call my technique "The Revolving door technique" and it is a variation of my wife’s approach that she calls "spaghetti on the wall". If you throw a handful of cooked spaghetti on the wall some are bound to stick. Meaning, if you send a bunch of submissions some will be accepted for publication.
I am a fervent follower of this approach but as I said I also practice my own technique which is that as soon as I get a knockback from a magazine, journal, publisher or competition I send that same story to someone else. In fact I have a spreadsheet where I follow all my submissions and I have a plan about what to do with each story in case it is unsuccessful. Hence, the name revolving door. For me it’s worked, so far.
The point is that you just have to keep putting your work out there. The benefits are that if your writing is good, sooner or later you will find a home for your story and with every knockback you're developing the much needed writer’s thick skin.
To put some things in perspective my stories will be published in six journals this year and have placed in two competitions, and this is after seventy submissions. Which means I already received nearly sixty knockbacks (some stories are still 'alive' as I write this).
Fikret Pajalic won third prize in the Banjo Patterson short story competition, was highly commended in the 2013 Ada Cambridge Short Story Competition, was published in Regime journal and has short stories in upcoming issues of Etchings, Aker, Verge Annual, New Zealand journal JAAM, and British literary magazine Structo.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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