Angela Readman’s stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, Inkspill, and The National Flash Fiction Day Competition, and have been in winners anthologies for the Asham and The Bristol Short Story Prize.
Her poetry has won the Mslexia Poetry Competition, the Charles Causey Poetry Prize and the Essex Poetry Prize. Her first short story collection Don’t Try This at Home was published in May 2015 by And Other Stories. It is longlisted for the Frank O’ Connor Award, and won The Saboteur Awards for Best Short Story Collection 2015 as well as receiving a Rubery Book Award for short fiction.
Before all of this, she considered quitting approximately 700 times so I think she is well-placed to offer all of us writers on how to keep going.
How to Keep Being a Writer
I often see lists about writing and ways to improve work, but one of the hardest things about writing can be to continue doing it. How do we keep at it? Maintaining hope can be one of the most difficult things we do. Here are my tips on how to keep going.
1. Recognize the Buzz
Writers live with the myth of tortured artists, but we rarely talks about the buzz. That writing high feeling we get when we’re into it. We feel amazing having written, the way someone who runs has an endorphin rush. Remember the feeling, acknowledge it, go to your desk and write for the rush.
2. Finish Stuff
The sad thing is writing high wears off when we return to edit. There isn’t really an editing high. Its work we have to force ourselves to do (sometimes when it would be fun to just write something different.) That drawer full of unfinished work won’t make us feel like a writer. Finishing stuff helps.
3. Look for Things to Make You Keep Going
Writing can be a slow journey. It can take years to find an agent and get a book. This is when some of us lose faith. (Its fifteen years since I did my MA, five since I started submitting stories, and my book’s just been published.) Create small goals on the way to give you faith- submit to journals and competitions. These small bits of recognition keep us going.
4. Take Rejections as Lessons
Regarding rejections, it happens. Learn from it. It doesn’t always mean we suck, a rejection is many things. Often it is simply that our work doesn’t fit the agenda of the magazine. Read, look for where it suits. Look at the work again. Give it an edit. Read it again every time you submit.
5. Establish a Rejection Policy
There are some rejections that make us sad. That scene in Throw Momma from the Train where Billy Crystal sticks tape on his nose? We all do that, in some form. We have all said, ‘I quit! There are halibut who write better than me.’ Create a rejection policy- a simple rule about rejection. In my case, I allow myself to sulk no more than a day or so, then I MUST submit something. (If we’re busy editing there’s no time to cry.)
6. Give Yourself Rewards, Especially if No One Else Does
There are hours we work without pay, months, years. There’s self doubt. Too often we beat ourselves up for what we don’t achieve, but forget to reward ourselves for what we do. No wonder writers get fed up! Find a reward. Buy something small, improve your writing space. The first time I won a story competition I bought a picture for above my desk so I can look up at something I achieved. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, it is taking a moment to acknowledge you did OK that counts.
7. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT Compare Yourself to Other People
Comparing ourselves to other writers is depressing. Try not to. Every writer meets someone who mentions JK Rowling when we admit we write- ignore these people. Think of writing like music, some artists are on The X-Factor, some play in indie bands. Our influences aren’t all the same, different people dance to us. Remind yourself this every time someone mentions JK Rowling.
8. Learn to say no. NO. NO. NO.
Be a bitch, you’ll have to learn to appear a bit selfish sometimes. Live with it. That book won’t be finished without us protecting our writing time. Fiercely. People may attempt to lure us away, ‘It’s just an hour…a weekend….a few weeks…will you do me a favour?..’ They wouldn’t do this with any other job (‘Oh, you’re at work? Can I pop in for a cup of tea? ‘ Create a schedule, stick to it when possible. Recognise your writing saboteurs, and keep them at bay.
9. Try Something Different
Now and then, we are a unsure what to do next, where to submit, what to finish, whether to bother. When we get like this it can be a good idea to do something different. If you’re a story writer, write poems, if you’re a novelist try flash fiction. Let yourself do something you haven’t done. Writers are focused, with deadlines and goals, we have to be this way, but doing something for fun can take the pressure off. Write something you’re not sure you can. When I’m fed up with poetry, I write a story, or flash fiction. If I’m not sure where to submit prose, I write poems. It helps. It also provides work to submit to boost your confidence and get you through writing longer stuff.
10. When all else Fails, Fake It
If you still lack hope, fake it. Create lists of small things you’d like to do, work to finish, places to submit, and continue to slowly work through it. Even if you think this is pointless, try it anyway. Eventually you’ll get acceptances, and, hopefully, build just enough belief to keep writing until the day a book with your name on the cover arrives.