Twenty Nineteen

A lot of writers spent 2019 trying to figure out what it makes sense to say  – what needs to be said, and what’s just noise. I thought about that stuff fair bit last year. At the same time, I found myself appointed co-manager of a wonderful, intensive project: the parenting of a 6 month old child. And then there was the matter of earning a living. For parts of the year, writing didn’t get much of a look-in.

What I wrote

Produced in 2019

Output in 2019 was low by my standards. That 1 manuscript is a bit of a fudge – what I really did was to pull together a substantially revised short story collection, and write half of a first draft of a novel. I’m rounding that effort up to 1 full-length work, & I will not be taking questions at this time.

More often than not, I felt anxious about how little I was writing. And, of course, that was counter-productive, because it made me feel stressed when I did find time to sit down at the keyboard.

On the other hand, 3 of the short stories that I wrote came sizzling out of my brain. They were a joy to transcribe, and after subsequent rounds of edits, I’m really satisfied with how they’ve turned out. So I take some comfort in the idea that the capacity is still there, even if quantity has declined.

Outcomes

Outcomes by month 2019

Up until the end of June (leaving aside a semi-bitter rant I penned for the Meanjin blog), I didn’t have a single acceptance to my name. It was beginning to look like 2019 would be an annus horribilus (which I believe is Latin for horrible anus) of a year. It was only from July that I got some momentum.

2019 Outcomes

Of 30 submissions last year, I received 7 acceptances. I am happy with that strike rate! I also got published by some journals I admire and love to read, like Griffith Review, Overland and Southerly (hash tag CareerGoals). Because of the speed with which publishing moves, most of the things I had published last year were based on acceptances received in 2018. Similarly, a few pieces that were accepted last year will likely see the light of day in the first half of 2020. You can bet I’ll be self-promoting the sh-it out of those when the time comes! 🙂

A shout-out to Westerly, who followed up a rejection that with some insightful feedback that I’ve used to improve one of my stories. Providing that kind of guidance is way above and beyond the call of duty for a resource-constrained, volunteer-dependent Australian lit journal. But when it occurs, it’s hugely appreciated.

In 2019, I earned about $1,200 from writing, made up of publication fees and workshop fees. This is down by about 2/3 from 2018, because it did not include any sweet, sweet grant money.

Year by year

This is the third time I’ve done a year-in-review post, which means I have 3 years of data points, and can make this:

3 Years

Speaks for itself, really – submissions and rejections (and hence writing admin workload) reduced in 2019, but acceptances have held up OK!

Reading

Last year I decided to keep a longer work and a short story collection on the go at all times. Highly, highly recommended as a way of reading. Highlights were Claire G Coleman’s Terra Nullius, Nic Low’s Arms Race, and Josephine Rowe’s Here Until August.

Individual stories that have stayed with me: Alex Cothren’s ‘Let’s Talk Trojan Bee‘ in the Spring 2019 issue of Meanjin; and Ben Walter’s ‘Atlantis Minor‘, also from Meanjin (Winter 2019).

Looking ahead

Someone on twitter – it might have been Justine Hyde? – wrote that this year they’d be concentrating on reading books by IRL friends and online/twitter buddies. And I think that’s a great idea! For me, that will include works by Patrick Allington (Rise and Shine), Wayne Marshall (Shirl), Elizabeth Tan (Smart Ovens for Lonely People), Rose Hartley (Maggie’s Going Nowhere) – I’m sure I am forgetting some people here.

In 2019 I felt my share of frustrated, ugly, self-centred, graspy-type thoughts about writing, and success or the lack of it. But for right now, I’m feeling less pressure to get publication results, land a book deal, etc etc. I want to write things that I enjoy, that are right at the edge of what I’m capable of making. The other stuff will either come to pass, or not.

B-Sides: Penned In

Here is another in my series of writing ‘B-Sides’ — you can find the first entry here.

This one started out as a challenge to myself: try and write a story perpetuating all of the mistakes that new writers make. So, if you think it’s poorly written… well, exactly.

 

Penned In

“Can you imagine‽” Marjorie exclaimed to the group of amateur writers, her tone conveying the interrobang. “She collects ten thousand Euros cash from the local branch in Perth, and then mails the whole lot to her hotel in Rome—regular surface mail!—so that she’ll have money to spend when she gets there.”

“And when she arrives, is the money waiting for her?”

“I haven’t decided yet. What would be better for the story?”

“She gets the money back.”

“She doesn’t get the money back.”

“Hold on,” said Victoria. “She doesn’t get the money back, and then, when all hope seems lost, she does get the money back.”

Marjorie clapped her hands together. “Yes! Perfect. That has tension baked in. People love money, so it’s upsetting to lose.” Everyone nodded sagely.

The five of them were in a room. Rectangular, as rooms so often tend to be. It had four white walls and a ceiling, also white. Three halogen bulbs, suspended from the ceiling at equal intervals, shone neutrally, casting everything in an even, white light. A large window was set into the wall on Marjorie’s left-hand side. Later on, one of the characters will look out this same window and have a realisation.

A whiteboard had been positioned in a manner that blocked access to the only doorway in or out. Upon the whiteboard, someone had scrawled: Ideas! in large looping script. To Gabriella, the newest member of the group, the word felt like a threat.

The only other feature of the room worthy of note was the rifle. As the group was setting up for the meeting, someone had barged in, hung it on a rack against the wall, and then left. No one was sure why the rifle was there, so they all resolved to ignore it.

It was David’s turn to talk about his work. David’s unkempt beard literally smothered his face. “I’m working on a new story,” he said, his voice sounding muffled. “The protagonist is an author who discovers—”

“Spare us,” interrupted Victoria, in a very rude manner. “Putting writers into one’s story is tedious.”

“It’s meta,” David protested grumpily.

“No it’s not. Or if it is, it’s meta-lazy.”

“What about Ryan O’Neill?”

“Who?” barked Victoria. Marjorie and Gabriella shrugged their shoulders.

“Writing about writers is very inside baseball,” declared Sue. Sue was Victoria’s lackey.

Marjorie said, “I despise Americanisms.” This brought the discussion to a halt, because of course everyone despised Americanisms, and everyone tried hard to think of an Australian equivalent for the idiom inside baseball, but no one could.

David leaned forward as if to continue with his story idea, but quicker than a New York minute, Victoria beat him to the punch. “Sue, what have you been working on?”

Sue had a debilitating, secret addiction to poker machines. She said, “My story is about a woman who lives in a cottage on the top of a cliff overlooking a beach. She is rather lonely. Sometimes the weather is pleasant, and she goes for a walk along the beach, and she collects sea shells. Sometimes the weather is rainy and cold. Even when it’s rainy and cold, this woman will walk along the beach until her clothes are wet and she starts to shiver, which I think says a lot about her character and her inner struggles.”

“What happens?” asked Gabriella.

“Pardon?”

“What happens to the woman in the story?”

Sue sniffed. “I just told you what happens.”

Gabriella laughed and looked around the room for support, but everyone else was inspecting the beige-coloured carpet. “Remember,” warned Marjorie, “that this is meant to be a safe, supportive environment. No attacks on other people’s work.”

“I wasn’t,” replied Gabriella. “I was just—”

Victoria shook her head, appalled at Gabriella’s insensitivity. “And what have you been working on?” As if to remind everyone of the import of this question, Victoria turned to regard the whiteboard. The intensity of her glare cast foreshadows across the room.

Now Gabriella felt uncomfortable. She was an administration officer at a local hospital. Her job was desperately boring, and so she’d joined the writers’ group in the hope of exploring her creative side. She was secretly attracted to David. The relentless fussing and negativity from the three older women was driving her insane.

In answer to Victoria’s question, Gabriella replied, “Nothing in particular. I suppose I’ve been wondering. Just generally wondering.”

Marjorie tutted. “You won’t produce anything unless you start with an idea. Something concrete and specific. Write down some thoughts. They don’t have to be perfect. We’ll help you, give you feedback. That’s what we’re here for.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything ready to be written down.”

“Well, have you heard any ideas today that have inspired you?”

Gabriella shook her head, embarrassed. “Nothing, I’m afraid. It’s just— …Real people aren’t like that. These characters you’ve been describing: they’re trite. Too one-dimensional.” She paused, her gaze travelling around the white, featureless room, and the nondescript faces of her fellow group members.

“Do you suppose…?” But none of them did, so Gabriella stood up and walked to the window. Outside, it was an implausibly beautiful day.

“(#25 of 365) Emptiness” by j-fin is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

MRP Guest Blog – Class Differences

Margaret River Press has kindly offered to host me as a guest blogger during May. You can read my first post, about class differences in Australia, here.

In other exciting news, my short story ‘Pigface’ is now available as part of the (excellently named) ‘Pigface and Other Stories’ anthology, published by Margaret River Press. You can learn more and buy a copy here. The collection is edited by Ryan O’Neill, and features the finalists of the 2018 MRP Short Story Competition. I’m thrilled that my story has found such good company!

Twenty Seventeen

I’ve been inspired by some excellent reflective posts by other writers recently, and I thought I’d look back at what I achieved last year from a writing perspective.

What I wrote

Produced in 2017

At the start of 2017 I had a couple of short stories ready for submission (as well as a novel manuscript). Over the course of the year I developed 8 more short stories to the point where I was comfortable submitting them. I wrote drafts of another 6 or 7 stories that are languishing in various unpolished states.

As the year went on, I found that the stories I was writing got shorter and shorter. Towards the end of the year, I was writing mostly flash fiction (under 1,000 words) inspired by competitions like the Digital Writers Festival Microfiction Challenge. This might have also coincided with a fairly busy period at my day job, leaving less brainspace for long fiction.

The fellowship/grant applications took ages, but one of them paid off, so that effort was worth it.

Submissions

Submissions by Type

In total I fired off 39 submissions last year, or not quite one per week. About half of those were submissions of short stories to Australian lit journals or short story competitions. The “other” category in the chart above represents international journals and reading events.

There is differing advice out there about whether it’s a good idea to enter writing competitions. Some say that the odds of winning a competition are much more remote than getting published in a journal, but I’m not sure I agree. The average quarterly Australian journal might only publish 16 stories in a whole year (4 stories per issue, 4 issues per year) so that still seems insanely competitive. My experience was that most journals and competitions tended to prohibit simultaneous submissions (ie submitting the same piece concurrently to two outlets), and took about as long to consider my work before notifying of rejection/acceptance (usually 2-3 months). This year, I don’t plan to change significantly the mix between journal submissions and competition entries. I might get more selective about which journals and comps I submit to.

Outcomes

Outcomes 2017

I received about 30 rejections. Not quite the 100 per year one is supposed to aim for, but it’s a start!

Of the rejections, most were form rejections with no specific feedback. Four were personal rejections that either contained really useful feedback, or confirmed that I’d just missed out on an acceptance and encouraged me to submit again. These ‘nice’ rejections really did feel almost as good as an acceptance.

Outcomes by month

You can see that the first half of the year was a hard slog. And then in July, I made 4 submissions, of which 2 were ultimately successful (representing a residency and a lit journal publication).

Last year I earned a grand total of $30 from my writing. My effective hourly rate… is not worth thinking about.

As of today I still have a couple of pending submissions. I’m happy to say that at least one of these should lead to a publication outcome during 2018.

Reading

I tried to read mostly Australian fiction last year. Books I read and loved included Goodwood by Holly Throsby, A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe, The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O’Neill and The Dead Aviatrix by Carmel Bird.

Looking back, looking ahead

At the time, the successes seemed few and far between. But I’m happy with what I achieved in 2017. I also had fun engaging with fellow writers, and got some really useful feedback from practitioners who I admire. I hope that I ended the year as a better writer.

While it would be nice if I could get a bit more traction in 2018, maybe a few more publication outcomes, I feel like I laid some groundwork that will stand me in good stead.

I’d love to hear how your year was, for reading or writing. Let me know in the comments!