Entering online short story competitions is how I first dared to put my work out into the world. These past few years I’ve entered fewer, focusing instead on writing novels. But having recently parted from my agent, finished a novel, and lurking in lockdown lethargy, I’ve found myself searching out short story and flash fiction competitions once more. There’s a kind of comfort in it, a way of reminding myself that I can still write, that I will have more ideas.
This kind of sums up writing life. However far along the publishing path you get, at some point you invariably loop back to a place you were before – older, wiser, and hopefully a better writer.
This is a blog I wrote back in August for the #WriteMentor Spark Programme. Another of Stuart White’s wonderful inclusive and encouraging iniatives, Spark is a good affordable way to get help with your writing and engage with the children’s writing and publishing community.
How to keep writing when you have mental ill health – 6 practical tips
Alongside therapy, medication, and exercise, many people find writing can help to manage their mental health.
But there’s a catch: How do you write when depression means just getting out of bed is too hard? Or OCD has you stuck in a loop of some tedious behaviour? Or anxiety tells you that you’re not good enough, you’ll never be a writer, and sends your brain spiralling?
Having lived with chronic anxiety since childhood, plus depression and OCD on the side, in my experience life is always better when I’m writing. Any kind is good – non-fiction, journaling, memoir, poetry, therapeutic – but for me, fiction works best. Here, I offer some practical tips to help you keep writing on difficult days.
Sunday morning run on the cycle track through woods.
May is a month that weeps green. Cow parsley and nettles reach my shoulders in places along the path. The smell of wild garlic shouts life, joy, hope, and mingles with the sleazy scent of hawthorn flowers.
This is a path I run often, through all the seasons, and I love it.
The very first short story I had published was born here, about eight years ago. Little Red Running Hood. I entered an online competition run by the wonderful Inktears. The story was commended, and published on their website. I look at the story now with a critical eye, of course. Certainly, I didn’t understand the concept of killing darlings back then. 😁
It’s back! #WriteMentor – the highly successful mentoring progamme for YA and children’s writers. And I’m delighted to be a mentor again this year.
Why I Mentor
I’ll tell you the truth. This time last year I was pretty low about my own writing. My novel had been out on submission with publishers for a (long) while and things were not looking promising. I struggled to write, had repetitive strain injury from refreshing my emails, and spent far more time than was good for me on twitter.
I’m now offering mentoring, editing and reading services for writers of Middle Grade, Teen and YA fiction, and short storiesof all kinds.
I believe in giving kind and constructive feedback, and my aim is to help writers on to the next step of their journey. If you’d like to know about my qualifications and experience please take a look here.
Services include a Submission Package, Full Report, Procrastinator’s Package, Beta Reading, and the Teen Reader Report. Further details can be found here.
Please take a look and get in touch if you’d like any further information.
Manuscription Magazine is out in the world, showcasing art and writing by people under the age of eighteen. The purpose of the magazine is to give young creatives an opportunity to be mentored and published. Do take a look:
I’m sure there are a few writers lurking around the WriteMentor hashtag not asking questions even though they might want to, and wondering if they have the nerve to apply to the programme. It’s scary to share your writing, and I avoided doing it myself for a really long time. But it is so worth being brave, being bold, and doing it.
The #WriteMentors are a genuine bunch who want to help their fellow writers. I haven’t met any of them in real life but we are connected by our passion for writing, and there is a wonderful supportive feel about the whole group.
This week has been frenetic on twitter. I’ve had my first Q and A sessions. It’s been fun, but I do find it pretty hard coming up with answers on the spot. We introverts need time to think before we respond! Also, I like to redraft fifteen times before I show anyone my words, even tweets … and I’ve just noticed a typo in one of them.
Anyway, I thought it might be helpful to have some more considered information about my writing and my critiquing experience.
Here’s a bit about whatI write:
I write about the things that scare me. I am fascinated by voice – that’s the character’s voice (narrative voice) rather than authorial voice, and so I sometimes have multiple narrators. I also write speculative fiction – basically sci-fi that’s closer to real world than fantasy.
I write stories for younger teenagers and children, too, usually contemporary realism with a bit of humour, and the odd fantastical element.
I write in first person, third person and sometimes (probably more than I should) in second person. I usually write in present tense, but not always.
You can read an extract from my YA MS and a humorous teen short story on the ‘read’ menu to give you an idea of some of my writing.
What have I beta read, critiqued and edited?
Here are some examples of the types of manuscripts I have been privileged to read and give feedback on:
Middle Grade: fantasy adventure, third person, past tense; magical middle grade third person, past tense; magical middle grade, first person, past tense; contemporary issue-led middle, first person, present; historical detective; dual contemporary/historical narrative; adventure; funny 7-9, first person; fairy, third person; funny, first person, past tense.
Teen: funny detective, first person, present; LGBTQIA romance/humour, first person; adventure, third person.
YA: Historical UK set; Historical Europe set; contemporary detective, first person, present; Sci-Fi, first person; contemporary with magical elements; dark contemporary with multiple narrators; fantasy with dual narrator; LGBTQIA contemporary.
A bit about genre
Genre was coming up a lot in the Q and A. I read and love all sorts of books with the possible exception of horror, but I do understand that some readers and writers have a real passion for a particular genre (usually fantasy and/or sci-fi). I know that these superfans read fantasy in a different way to me – some of them are my closest friends! So if you want that kind of intense, genre-specific reader, one of the other mentors who specifically state that preference might be better for you. BUT, whatever the genre, your story still needs a plot, characters, voice, pace and so on and these are all things I am used to working with.
There are 27 mentors now on #WriteMentor! So, take a look and see if any of them sound like writers who could help with your work. You can choose three to apply to. The closing date for applications is 11th may 2018.
So, I’m a mentor for #WriteMentor and I wanted to explain why I signed up, my approach and the sort of ‘mentee’ I hope to support.
See that kitten? That’s me, hiding in a book. Although I’m not as furry, or as cute. But I did hide in books as a child. Painfully shy, an ‘extreme introvert’, books were a way to escape myself. And even now as an adult, when the world gets too much, or even when everything is just fine, reading is where I go. I love to read, and that is one of the reasons I like being a mentor. I want to read your words.
When I started writing seriously over a decade ago, I had this image in my head of the writer as a tortured soul alone in their garret. And I went with that for a few years, writing in isolation, afraid to show my words to anyone.
You can read about my journey out of the garret here if you like. But to cut a very long story short, which is kind of what this is all about, I discovered the wonder of working with other writers – sharing stories, giving and receiving feedback, and positive, constructive criticism.
I found my writing family while studying for an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. But I appreciate that such an opportunity is not available to everyone. So, I would like to support a writer who may be nervous about sending their story out into the world, or who hasn’t yet found their writing community, or someone who struggles with the whole ‘putting yourself out there’ part of the journey to becoming a published author.
While I always try to offer critique in a kind, constructive manner, I will be honest with you if I think something isn’t working or needs improving. I’m also a detail person, and have a bit of a reputation for spotting typos and continuity issues.
An empathetic character and a strong narrative voice are far more important to me than genre. I like books that make me think and have some beauty in them. I read all sorts of stories but in particular I like:
In YA: Contemporary realism, the grittier the better; feminist speculative fiction; issue-led books, particularly mental health; historical. In MG: contemporary; magical; adventure; historical.
If this sounds like the kind of mentoring you’d like, please put me down as one of your choices on the mentee application. If not, take a look at all the other wonderful mentors available.
Delighted to say I am now a writing mentor for #WriteMentor, a programme for unagented Middle Grade and YA writers. We offer the opportunity to develop a manuscript with an agented or published author. There are various options available from a query package to developmental edits on the full manuscript.
Each mentor has something different to offer, in terms of input and style. We aim to encompass a wide range of genres, styles and diversity, and encourage mentees from anywhere in the world to apply, although all work should be submitted in English. There will be an agent showcase at the end of the process in September.