This is a strange blog post to be writing. It was supposed to be the announcement of the release of my new book, Black Spot. I’ve been talking about it here for years now, from conception to writing to shortlisting in the 2016 Text Prize to its planned publication. I’d originally planned to release it in February 2018 but life and a hectic new job kept delaying it. It was eventually ready by the end of May 2018 (apart from the cover, which would be ready a few weeks later). And then came something that threw a spanner in the works.
In 2016, I entered the then unpublished manuscript of my young adult novel Black Spot in the Text Prize competition for young adult and children’s writing. I wasn’t holding my breath about winning because I’m not the holding-my-breath kind of person. And when I received a blanket email from the Text Prize people thanking everybody for their entries and saying that the shortlisted authors would be contacted individually, I assumed I wasn’t one of them because I hadn’t heard anything.
A couple of days later, my phone rang. I didn’t recognise the number. I thought it might be about a job I’d applied for. Instead it was a woman named Ally, who told me she worked at Text Publishing. She was calling to let me know that Black Spot had been shortlisted for the Text Prize. And to invite me to the announcement of the winner in just under two weeks’ time.
If it sounds like I was very calm during that phone call, I wasn’t. I was stunned. I was overwhelmed. But I was happy. This was an achievement. This was amazing. This was bliss.
Full disclosure time: in 2016, this book was shortlisted for the Text Prize for Unpublished Children’s and Young Adult Writing along with a book I’d written and three by other writers. Clearly, my book and those three others didn’t win and this one did. I was always going to read Beautiful Mess because 1) it won a writing prize and that’s a pretty great endorsement, 2) I wanted to know what Claire Christian had done better than me and use it as a learning process, and 3) I’m a little masochistic (but mostly the first two). I’m very pleased to report that it’s an amazing book because 1) it justifies that it won the Text Prize and 2) I get to write a glowing book review and avoid looking like a sore loser.
Knowing that this blog post would be published just before New Year’s, I thought to myself, I should write a New Year’s themed blog post (just like the Christmas-themed blog post that was published last week just before Christmas). I’ve written about new year’s writing resolutions before, setting four goals at the start of 2016 (that I pretended weren’t goals to relieve a little bit of the pressure on myself) and writing at the end of 2016 about how successful I’d been (about 50/50 – I achieved some of them, failed entirely at others and achieved things during the year that I’d never even thought about when I was setting those goals).
I wasn’t sure I wanted to set goals again. Setting goals and then failing is demoralising. And I always fail at goals, especially ones that have definitive and relatively short deadlines. More often than not, I accomplish them but long after any arbitrary time frames I’ve set. That sums me up really. I’m easygoing. I’m laidback. I’m not ambitious. I’m happy to succeed over years rather than months and pressure to do it sooner doesn’t make it happen. In fact, it makes it less likely to happen.
So then I asked myself, Should I be setting New Year’s writing resolutions? Should I be setting goals at all?
It’s been a whole year since I made four New Year’s writing resolutions. Given my previous lack of success in making plans and sticking to them when it comes to writing, I gave no guarantees about achieving any of them but because New Year’s Eve is right around the corner again, I thought I should review them and see if I managed to tick any of them off the list.
Resolution #1: Publish Black Spot
Straight off the bat, a big fat no. I didn’t publish Black Spot. I said at the time I made this resolution that I was just waiting for a couple of rejections from publishers before going ahead and self-publishing. Of course, that was before Black Spot was shortlisted for the 2016 Text Prize for Writing for Children and Young Adults. Although I didn’t win, I did get a lot of great feedback, did another rewrite and sent it off to a few more publishers. So I’m still waiting for a few more rejections. One way or another, Black Spot will be published in 2017. (I won’t call that a resolution, just an inevitability. There aren’t any more reasons to keep putting it off.) But as with everything when it comes to publishing, it’s just taking a little longer than I thought it would.
After I wrote a blog post on the value of keeping a writing journal, I decided to keep one while I undertook a month of intensive novel writing. In addition to the 30,000 plus words I wrote for my novel, I also wrote 10,000 plus words for the writing journal. Although I posted the journal in its entirety on my blog during October (and although I think it’s a pretty interesting read, especially considering what happened to me in the final days of the month I was keeping it), I thought I would take pity on those readers who don’t have the time to read it all and distil a few things I learned along the way.
I previously wrote about not winning writing competitions after submitting my unpublished novel, Black Spot, to the Hardie Grant Egmont Ampersand Project in 2015, being contacted by one of the judges who seemed interested but ultimately failing to go any further than that. The three reasons I gave not to be too dejected were:
*There are a lot of people submitting to writing competitions, so it’s not small fish in a big pond, it’s a lot of fish in a small pond.
*A lot of competitions have very specific requirements, your writing might not quite fit the criteria and trying to force a square peg into a round hole is a futile exercise.
*There are so many differences of opinion on pieces of writing that getting all the judges of one writing competition to agree is a bit like getting cats to walk in formation. Or it might simply be that it isn’t your year (just ask Kimberley Starr who entered the Text Prize in 2013 with no joy and won it in 2015 with a reworked version of the same piece).
Here are a few more things that might make you feel a little better.