Sunday, 17 November 2019

The Ups and Downs of Writing Life

I'm feeling grateful this week. It's welcome when a few positives start to balance the difficulties. October is usually my month, but by the end of it was getting decidedly hard to face yet more problems and rejections. 

My very new poem 'A Bird You Must Not Miss' has been published https://www.abridged.one/abridged-0-58-kassandra/ The whole issue looks amazing. The image by Meryl McMaster paired with my poem is just so spot on. Thanks so much, Abridged. 

I've also had a guest blog spot on The Wild Word, https://thewildword.com/guest-column-gerry-stewart/ My post looks at the struggle to balance parenthood with raising children, the sacrifices and the unexpected benefits. The Wild Word has other blog's, but also poetry, flash fiction and other creative writing from around the world. It's a fascinating place to explore, thanks to Kusi and the rest of the staff for this opportunity.

I've had a pamphlet and my Finnish collection both rejected this weekend. It's frustrating because I've just missed a deadline to submit to another publisher. I'm never sure what to do about simultaneous submissions when publishers hold on to collections for consideration sometimes up to a year. Missed opportunities, delays.


The rejections keep coming, difficulties pop up when you're least expecting them, but I'm trying to keep focused on the occasional acceptance or bit of good news. I wait for the days when the rain stops, so I can rake the carpet of leaves that still covers the lawn. I remind myself that I have a pamphlet coming out next year. I'm getting more teaching jobs, adding a new school this week. I try to make things to look forward to, I'm planning a short holiday with some friends. I keep on writing poems whenever I can. Forward momentum. 


And on the pamphlet, I've been looking at artwork for my cover. I have no firm ideas, I have feelings and themes, but staring at Pixabay isn't getting me anywhere. I've also contacted a photographer about getting my author photo done. Ahh, too real. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

An Adventure Begins

I got my wish, even in the midst of a bumpy week with accident, injury, horrible language tests and difficult classes I've managed to get back into the swing of writing, by sticking to a rough routine. Not daily, but when I sit down something comes out. I'm not keeping up with my course's daily prompts, but I have managed most of them. 

We've turned our Halloween pumpkin into a bird feeder and the kids, cats and I are loving it. We've even had a woodpecker come to visit among the normal songbirds. It was cold and snowy for the first part of the week, just a dusting, too much for my liking. Now it's rainy, silver drops hanging off the rowan berries. More my idea of autumn. I'm glad to have a few mornings to scribble at my kitchen table and watch the birds with the cat trying to sleep on my computer. 

My publisher (how great is it to say that!!) Hedgehog Poetry Press sent out my Author's Pack this week to prepare for the publication of my chapbook. So now I'm equal measures terrified and excited to begin work. So much to do, finalising the collection, writing my blurbs and biography, even finding a photographer to take an author photo. We're looking at a summer publication date and I hope to get to the UK to do some readings, so that all needs to be sorted as well. I'm not even sure where to start, but will start whittling down the jobs one by one. 

And we're off.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Creeping into Winter

I have to admit that without the structure of a daily prompt I'm struggling to keep up any momentum with my writing. Even on days I have no outside work, I can't focus. I've been sending out submissions, but new poems haven't been happening and I've barely looked at the ones that need finalising.

I've started a new online daily prompt course this month, but so far the prompts haven't been able to kick me from this doldrum. I'm taking notes and trying to form ideas, but they just don't have any momentum or inspiration behind them. 

It doesn't help that the weather has turned here. The beautiful colours of autumn have been replaced by wet, brown mud and dark skies. We had a couple days of bright frost, but that just reminds me of what is coming. After ten years I still dread the coming cold darkness. It makes everything difficult. I'm at that stage of just wanting to wrap up in wool and hibernate for the next 4 months. So that's what I'm doing tonight, sketching notes on the couch with my cats and a blanket, chocolate and red wine, the rain blashing against the windows. 

I do believe that writing a poem draft a day is an exercise that you have to keep up or it does become a struggle to get back into the rhythm. I sit down currently and my writing feels stiff and lethargic, but I'm continuing to push myself, writing in small silences like this. Hopefully it will loosen up soon.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Pondering Literary Magazine Submissions

I'm not sure where this week went or what I've actually accomplished, so might list it here to get this started as I've come to my blog with a huge blank. I only worked one day, but I secured teaching work for several sessions dotted over the next few weeks, even added a new school to my list. I got my computer back which seems like a huge deal, so I had to spend time sorting that, transferring files, finding things I couldn't do when it was away. 

Writing-wise, I finished a poem I was trying to write for the Book of Kells writing and art competition, the deadline is 30/10. This makes me wonder if I should have links to calls for submissions, etc on this blog, but that requires a lot of research, so probably won't happen. I did enjoy researching the Book of Kells and its art and got a poem out of it, so that was a bit of fun work. 

I also submitted a bunch of poems to magazines I've been trying to get in for donkeys' years, as they say in Scotland. Solid UK magazines like Envoi, Acumen, Agenda that I've been sending poems to since the late 90s. It's frustrating, but I always maintain there's hope that someday I will write a poem or two they like. But I have to admit, I do submit to them much less often than I did in the early days, partially because that sense of hope is small, but also because there are so many more magazines to submit to now. I've gotten over my fear of internet magazines and submit to them as much as I do print journals though I do like print publication more, holding an issue in my hands, over seeing it on a screen. 

I'd be interested to see what the rise of internet publishing opportunities has done to the subscription and submission rates of these long-standing print magazines. There are a few that still refuse to take electronic submissions, only posted ones, which frankly because of the costs of posting from Finland I can no longer submit to even though I'd like to be published by them. 

That will have dropped their submission rates a bit, I'm sure, but from having worked for a literary magazine, reading submissions, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I constantly get rejection letters saying 'we received over 500 submission for this issue, but could only accept 50 authors'. Weeding that down through charging for electronic submissions as one magazine I used to submit to started doing or by accepting only posted submissions will mean it's only the die-hards, who have money to spare, who love the magazine and still hold them in high regard in this faster paced modern publishing culture or those who know they have a good chance to be published through previous publications or connections will still submit. Am I a cynic? Probably, but I'm probably not far wrong. 

This year I've submitted to over twice as many magazines than previous years and this has mostly to do with the increase in online journals. They often have a higher accept rate, due to publishing more often for less money and often have a quicker turn around time. 

I don't know how much being published in online magazines is helping me, but it's all I can do in my current position. Some days I'm not sure if any of this is worth it, some days I feel I can conquer the world with just the right break. Most days I just keep ploughing on. 

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Sodden Catch-Up

I'm not sure where the week has gone. I have managed to get some writing done, but with my computer in the shop and learning to use my son's with Google Docs instead of Word which is so, so slow and having the kids around half the week, I've not done as much as I would have liked. But I've written a few poems, submitted to a few mags, had three poems accepted by a magazine and an anthology. So a good week from that perspective.

It's rained most of the week, so even with the beautiful colours going on just now, it hasn't been a get outdoors type of week, though we've picked a lot of apples, have been eating lots of apple crumble and I got most of my garden jobs done. I spent some time sorting and cleaning out the kids' stuff, their over-flowing baskets, drawers and boxes and I painted a few things that have needed it for months or years. 

None of which really have much to do with writing, but it was a week for gathering and tidying, doing the little jobs that I don't have time for while working and doing the rounds of hobbies and appointments. For sitting still and writing, for reading curled on the couch. So hopefully I can go into next week with a slightly clearer mind and a bit more energy for the long, dark slog to the winter holidays. 

I had a poem published on the Caithness Broch Project's website. They had a call for artists to submit work on brochs for an upcoming exhibition. The call wasn't clear exactly what they were looking for, but I had just written a poem based around the double defensive wall of a broch, so I submitted it. As I mentioned previously, this 'don't ask, don't get' type of submission has gotten me residencies before, so I thought I'd risk assuming that a writer is an artist too. 

They sent a receipt for my submission, but didn't mention the call was for an art auction to raise money for the project. You can't really auction a poem, especially when it's just print on white, but the organiser offered to put the poem up on the website anyway which is really nice. So please go and check out their auction, maybe bid on something. There's about seven days left. The ones I'd like are all out of my price range already, but my previous bid counts towards what they earned, so I feel a bit better. I might still put in a last minute bid, just the same. 

One more day to enjoy the autumn holiday, hopefully it'll stop raining tomorrow. 

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Half-Term Wallow

I'm still struggling with the transition to working while being a writer, but I've had a good week of work and some small chunks of time to write. I've also had a weird twist that may make things even more interesting, but I'm holding judgement until I see what the results are.

Autumn is in full swing in Finland. I do like that we have four distinct seasons here, even if three of them are very, very short. I've always considered autumn my new year, Samhain, my birthday, the desire to get things done before I want to hibernate through winter, so I'm in a contemplative, taking stock mood. It's also our half-term holiday this next week, so it's my time to catch up on things that have been sliding while I'm settling into a new routine.

I was out this morning picking up windfall apples. I still need to get the kids into the last tree to pick the hanging ones. I'll spend this week ignoring my phone as I'm not waiting on work calls, cleaning up the garden, cooking the apples, putting away the trampoline and summer furniture, sleeping and writing as much as I can.

This weekend I've tried to catch up on some of the prompts I didn't finish in my last course. This morning I stared out the window and wrote a poem based on what I saw, one of the prompts I regularly suggest to my students. I'm mulling over a prompt on conkers I've had in my head for the past two weeks, lots of images but nothing to tie them together yet. And I'm sure there's a poem stuck to the burr that came back inside with me today. 

I will wallow in autumn, in autumn writing full of spice and warmth, damp and earthy. 

See you on the other side. 

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Paid or Unpaid, Can it Even Be a Question?

I mentioned last week I gave up on an opportunity to take an unpaid internship but decided to write an unpaid blog post instead. I thought I'd look more into unpaid work and how I balance my decisions.

After years off for raising kids, I've had to go back to work. Not that I haven't been working in the time before this. Putting aside the years of caring for my four kids, coping with my son's special needs and all the extra appointments and stresses connected with that and the one editing client I've kept on, I've been a writer. I've been writing two novels, finishing two poetry collections and working on building a publishing record as a poet.

I've maybe been paid twenty-five euros in the past five years from a magazine that accepted a poem. I've won one award, but have yet to see the prize or any profit from it. Untold hours of writing, editing, compiling, researching and sending out submissions, writing up applications for grants and competitions. And I have nothing financially to show for it. 

Outside of hobbies, I can't imagine many things where we would accept that, except for the creative arts. Bands are often expected to do gigs for free to gain exposure, editors often go unpaid at small journals, writers and musicians do unpaid events to punt their books or albums.There has to be true devotion to one's art if you want to follow this route.

So when I was thinking of how I was going to go back to work, being a writer was pretty far down my list of possible careers. While I will always write and will continue to try and get my work published, I cannot support myself much less my children with this sort of writer job. 

Most writers need day jobs. The UK's Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society surveyed 50,000 writers last year to discover on average a writer will earn around £10,000 a year from their writing. This was overshadowed by the fact that their average mean household earning was nearer £80,000. This means that writers either take on another non-writing job, or they have a second individual in the house who earns the difference from a non-writing career. 

So I've had to consider other paths. The Content Writer internship seemed a possibility, but balancing six months of unpaid work, writing at least 3 articles a week, while trying to earn money now didn't seem realistic, especially when research into the company seemed to show that moving into paid roles within their framework was unlikely and it wasn't a job I was particularly interested in. So I chose the part-time job as a substitute teacher that, while currently not a reliable cash-flow, had the most potential with some future training to becoming a solid job. I am also taking on editing clients, though there are a lot of English editors in Finland looking for the same

But I still want to be a writer and will need to put in unpaid work towards my goal, in terms of writing time, but I also want to increase my exposure. I probably will not be published much here in Finland, so I need to have a presence online to find a publisher in the UK. So writing a one-off unpaid blog article connected to writing seemed a sensible choice. And I'll continue to look at some other blog-type work, some maybe that will even pay

As much as I like this casual format of blogs, it's not the type of writing I really enjoy. I want to be a poet, maybe a novelist, but that goal becomes more difficult when I have to do 'real work'. I've maybe written two draft poems this week because the flu season has started and I'm getting more subbing workI'm scribbling in the staff room on my breaks, but it's hard to focus as it's a chatty, busy place and I haven't found a routine there yet. As a substitute, I don't have a routine. I rarely know what I'm doing each day until I'm thrown in the deep end. 

This is my current normal. I really enjoyed the daily prompts and writing time, but I can't maintain that anymore. I've had two days off this week and they've been filled with doctor's appointments because flu season and catching up with admin and other things-to-do. I can't spend all my hours doing unpaid writing work, I will have to cherry pick what I do with my time, write when I can.

It's a shame how much writers are expected to do for free, but it is a trickle down affect. Small arts events, literary magazines and small publishers struggle to get funding, so cannot pay the writers who work for them a decent rate, if they can pay at all. Bigger publishers, large arts festivals, universities with creative writing departments have more money, but get it by using big name writers, so the pool of writers earning more than average money from writing is quite small and the competition for the small paying jobs and publishing spots is fierce. It's a depressing circle and rules out really ever making proper money as a writer without having a safety net of other income.

I, of course, don't write to make money, but it would be nice to be able to work and earn in my chosen field. If I want to continue, I will have to take on unpaid work, spend time on keeping up a presence as well as writing. I will keep on writing.