Sunday, November 01, 2009

Guest post: Cally Taylor

Today I am delighted to host a leg of Cally Taylor's blog tour. Here is her inspirational guest post:

Day 17 of the Virtual Blog Tour for my novel “Heaven Can Wait” and I thought I’d write a guest post for Cathy about writing, reward and motivation.

In an ideal writing world the words flow effortlessly whenever we sit down at our computer/notepad, we’re never short of ideas, everything we write gets glowing feedback/published and our self-confidence grows and grows until our internal writing world is one big, happy bubble we never want to leave.

You can see the problem with that description can’t you?

The word ‘ideal’.

If you’re a writer the chances are you devoured books as a child. In fact, you’ve probably read, and enjoyed, books your whole life. A good writer makes it look easy, it makes us (and the rest of the world) think “I could do that!” Only the reality is very, very different.

I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t, or isn’t, struggling with their self-confidence. My debut novel has just been published and I’m still wracked with self-doubt and insecurities about my writing ability. Will people buy my book? Will they like it? Will they publish horrible, scathing reviews on Amazon? But what if people do like it and they’re disappointed by my second book?

So if getting your novel published isn’t a magical salve for writerly insecurities how on earth do you cope when you’re just starting out? This is what I did...

Back in November 2005 I took part in a ‘flashathon’ for BBC Children in Need. We were sponsored to write a piece of flash fiction every hour for a maximum of twenty-four hours (I think I managed about 16 hours, with a nap after the first eight hours!). After the competition finished all the flashes were critiqued by the group and the ‘top 50’ were passed on to Leaf Books for judging. Leaf Books had very kindly agreed to publish a book of eighteen flashes and donate the proceeds to charity. I was over the moon when one of my efforts was forwarded to them but I was up against some stiff competition, my fiction had previously been rejected by lots of publications, and didn’t think I stood a chance of getting into the final book. I was gobsmacked when I found out that “Tom Brown’s Spaceship” had been selected – it was going in!

I was so delighted that something I’d written had been published I called my closest friends and invited them round for a champagne celebration in December. My friends all bought a copy of the book (all proceeds to charity) and asked me to sign them! I felt like a superstar! To me the tiny little yellow book I held in my hands was huge! I didn’t care that I didn’t receive a penny for that story – I was thrilled that I’d written something an editor thought was good enough to make it into print. Maybe, just maybe, it meant I wasn’t a terrible writer.

I went out and bought myself a clear plastic folder and put a copy of the book in it. The folder was huge and the book rattled around but that was okay, it gave me something to aim for – I’d fill the folder with more published stories.

A month later Aesthetica magazine contacted me to let me know that they’d accepted my flash “Odd Socks”. There was no payment but when the magazine was published and I was sent a complimentary that went in the folder too.

I continued to write, I continued to receive rejections, I continued to receive stinging critiques of my stories that made me wonder whether or not I was good enough to be a writer, but I kept that folder close at hand. Two pieces of flash fiction published, I couldn’t be that bad. Maybe, I wondered, if I could get my work published, I could get paid for it too.

In February 2006 I was! It was a piece of flash fiction again – and I won £30 in a small online competition. I held that cheque in my hands for a long time. I couldn’t believe someone had actually paid me for something that, essentially, I’d made up! It would have been easy to chuck the cheque in the bank for it to be instantly gobbled up by some bill or other that needed paying. But I didn’t do that – in my eyes being paid for a piece of writing was a pretty damned momentous occasion in my writing career and I wanted to buy something I could hold in my hands, something that I could look at and think, my writing bought that.

I went on ebay and bought this silver bracelet. I still wear it. And I still remember.

I also kept the email I’d been sent, informing me that I’d won the competition. I put that in the folder too. I continued to push myself. I’d been published in print and I’d been paid for my writing but everything I’d had success with was flash fiction. Could I do the same with short stories? I started entering them into competitions. Lot and lots of rejections followed and I didn’t even make the long list. In April 2006 I almost fell off my chair when I received a phone call from the Bank Street Writers competition to say that my story “Under the Waves” had won. £100! I couldn’t believe it. I continued to set myself goals – to get a story published on X ezine, to have a story published in Y magazine, to place in Z competition. Some of my goals I hit, some I didn’t, some I knew I’d never hit (like placing in the Bridport Prize!) but I kept on trying. My folder full of published stories got fatter and fatter and I had to buy a second one, but I still kept them close at hand to reassure me during inevitable dips in self-confidence.

When I sat down to write “Heaven Can Wait” I felt daunted. Most of my stories were about 2,000 words long – how the hell was I going to manage 80-100,000? I’d have to reward myself somehow. I plucked a figure for my first draft – 90,000 words – out of the air and decided to reward myself with a paperweight for every third of the novel that I managed to write. It sounds silly now – buying myself a paperweight for 30,000 words – but I’d attempted a novel twice before and hadn’t finished either of them. I needed all the motivation I could get!

The first third of the novel came and went, then the second, then the third. Finally my novel was finished and the three paperweights, lined up in the window with the sun glinting off them, was a daily reminder of what I’d achieved. I had no idea, back then, if my novel would ever get published but I was damned proud of myself for doing what so many people talk about but don’t do, actually finishing a novel.

When I got my book deal I rewarded myself again. I’m not married and don’t have a lovely sparkly ring on my finger to signify that special moment in my life so why not buy myself something pretty to represent a different kind of special moment? I went back on ebay and bought a white gold ring, studded with teeny, tiny diamonds. I wear it on the third finger of my right hand.

Why does she keep buying herself things, you might be asking. Isn’t seeing her novel on the shelves reward enough? God yes! But I got my book deal a year ago and a big part of me didn’t believe it was real. I thought it might be snatched away from me at any second. The ring couldn’t be!

So what now? How do I deal with writerly wobbles now I’ve had a novel published? Mostly I do what I’ve always done – grit my teeth and write my way through them – but I’m still collecting things to make me feel better on ‘I can’t do this’ days. I’ve got an email folder where I keep ‘good news’ – emails from my agent, my publisher, feedback from people who’ve read my novel, and I’ve got a copy of all the magazines that have reviewed my novel or featured an interview with me.

Set yourself goals and reward and motivate yourself but more than anything else, keep believing, keep dreaming and keep writing. If you’re a writer you’ve got no choice.

Cally Taylor is the author of “Heaven Can Wait”, a supernatural romantic-comedy about a woman who dies the night before her wedding, refuses to go to heaven and returns to earth to try and return to earth so she can be reunited with her fiancĂ© Dan.


Jenny Beattie said...

Thanks Cally and Cathy for a really interesting post. We all need tips for coping with the doubts.

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Great post. Love the idea of buying a special piece of jewellery to remember writing milestones. Wish I'd done that - unfortuantely, I have spent all my writing income on bills and I deeply regret it. :-(

Beth said...

What a lovely post Cally (and thanks Cathy for hosting it!).

How on earth do you keep coming up with interesting entries? I am in awe! :)

Terry Elkins said...

This was a great piece, I have been having a problem lately with a lack of self confidence in my writing, and when I read stories such as this I see just how normal these feelings are for writers.

Thanks for letting me know that I'm not alone.

Terry (whyguy)

Marcie Steele said...

Cally, I really enjoyed that post. You know how long I've been trying to get published so it spurs me on to read things like that. (and all your paperweights are the same colour as your HCW book cover...)

I know what I am going to buy if I ever make it, it's from Tiffanys. I just need that elusive deal now.

Well done x

Thanks Cathy for hosting it x

HelenMWalters said...

Brilliant interview, and just what I needed on a fairly down, 'why do I bother?' day.

Lexi said...

What an encouraging post. You are so full of sparky ideas I can't decide whether you are more an inspiration or a reproach to the rest of us.

Congratulations, and may the paperweights and the jewellery mount up :o)

Karen said...

Really inspiring post - it's really important to set little goals, but I hadn't thought of rewarding myself. Maybe I will now!

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks for the tips and great interview.

I wish I could keep thinking of things to write about for entries in to comps, etc.

Colette McCormick said...

Thanks for hosting cathy and thanks Cally for the honesty. personally I'm a great believer in rewarding yourself for something well done.

Kath McGurl said...

Great post! I've urged people before to buy something special with first writing earnings, but I love the idea of continuing to reward yourself for each milestone. Love the silver bracelet especially!

Sue said...

Thanks for a great - and truly inspirational - post

Cathy said...

Huge thanks to Cally for such a fantastic guest post and I'm glad you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

Cheryl said...

Another inspiring post and great idea about the paper weights. I wish I had done something like that. Well I did reward myself with a lot of wine and chocolate :S

Helen P said...

So inspiring, Cally! I do this too with my non-fiction pieces. I've bought a pair of boots, a wardrobe, and best of all a ring (with diamonds!) for an anniversary - among other things. I've also kept a rather large cheque from a client that BOUNCED just to remind myself that it's not all plain sailing!

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful to read this and to feel I have something in common with a published author. Cally has some fabulous ideas, great advice and I have really enjoyed reading about her work.

I read Heaven Can Wait the other weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it.

CJ xx

Unknown said...

Cally thank you for such an inspiring an enlightening post. It is good to know that my feelings of self-doubt and burn-out are not a unique experience.

Although I am 56k words into my novel, I intend to capitalize on your reward idea. I think it will be a catalyst to completing my book.

Congrats on your success