There are plenty of places to find competitions. Give it a Google, I can assure you that you will find plenty of writing competitions to sift through, it really is a great way to procrastinate and loose a few hours.

Magazine Writing Competitions

I have focused in on two places for my writing competition fix.

The first is Writing Magazine. When I decided that I was going to take this whole writing malarkey seriously, along with buying plenty of new pens and notepads, I signed up for Writing Magazine. I have it sent directly to my door every month and skip straight to the competition pages. They seem to have at least five competitions in every issue.

Not that I enter all the competitions. I am happy to admit to my limitations, when it comes to writing poetry I leave that to those who actually have a poetic bone in their body.

As a subscriber, I get to enter those competitions that are only open to subscribers. I don’t think I’m really aiming to win, I just want a chance to practice my writing.

I’ve been published!

My favourite competition that I have entered so far is with The Write Practice. I can’t remember how I came across this website but I’m really glad that I did. Not only do they hold writing competitions but you can apply to get feedback from the judges even if you don’t win.

Even better than that is that everyone who enters, has the option to have their work published. Of course I said yes!

As this was one of the first competitions that I had entered, I figured it would be great to get feedback from someone who knows what they’re talking about. When you’re writing a novel, and don’t have anyone to let you know if what you’re writing is any good, it can be good to get some guidance on what you’re producing as a writer.

Of course, the moment I clicked that I would like feedback I regretted it. What if they very kindly but firmly advised me not to give up the day job? Writing is my day job!

Peer Review

The competition has two deadlines.

  • Polished first draft. This is about a week before the final deadline. You must enter your story to be workshopped alongside the other entrants.
    • Once you have entered your story into the workshop, other entrants can see it and comment on it. This is great for getting feedback before you submit your final draft.
  • The final draft. Once you’ve handed this one, it’s out of your hands.
    • I have entered two competitions on this site now (still waiting to hear back about the second one). Both times I immediately regretted clicking submit. I doubt I’ll ever get over that feeling!

The number of entries ran well into the hundreds, for the competition and I had to wait quite a while to hear anything, whilst they sifted through all the entries.

Positive and Constructive Feedback

I didn’t win. I didn’t expect to on my first attempt but I did get my feedback and it was all positive. I could have fainted with relief. There were two judge’s feedback;

  • I managed to distinguish between each character’s voice well
  • The premise was an interesting and engaging one
  • But it felt more like the beginning of a story rather than a self-contained short story.
    • I certainly agreed with them on this point. I know I have trouble with restrictions on the word count. I am grateful for stories with short word counts, they really help to focus the mind on what is important and what can be deleted.

Eek, I’ve done it.  I have finally started writing my novel. It may have taken some time and a lot of faffing about with the planning stage but I can really show people proof of the existence of my own novel. Not that I plan on showing anyone just yet!

 

Getting Started

What I have struggled with in the past is knowing where to start. I have a million ideas for stories, they’re all half finished in my head, and scattered across various post-it notes and ‘Ideas’ folders on my computer, but none of them have made it into a novel format before.

So this time I decided to tackle it like I used to do, when I was planning a term’s worth of lessons as a teacher.

Now on my computer, in my documents area you will find;

  • A new folder with my novel’s working title.
  • Inside that folder is a folder containing any research I have undertaken.
  • A folder for my planning boards. See the main picture to check out one of my planning boards.
  • So far I have written the prologue and just started on chapter one. For now I am going to write each chapter in individual documents so I can keep track of them and get to them in one click.

 

Planning boards

I am a visual learner. The chances of me remembering something just by being told it are far lower than if I see that piece of information for myself.

I am also a kinaesthetic learner, which means I like to be hands-on with the subject matter to really feel like I am absorbing it.

This is why I use a whiteboard and pen to write out my ideas. I’m also much quicker at writing with a pen than a keyboard which means my hand can just about keep up with my brain. Something I have struggled with when trying to type my ideas.

So far I have used my white board to plan out the prologue and chapter one. I have also used it to mind map my intended audience and the overview of what my novel is about. I then take a photo of all of these boards to keep as reference for later.

Having all of these things working together, to keep me on top of where I am with my novel, has really pushed and excited me to get going. Breaking it all down into much more manageable chunks means I don’t feel overwhelmed at the thought of starting any more. I am so excited to get writing every day and it’s an awesome feeling.

Writing my own novel can be great but at the moment it doesn’t pay anything. That’s why I choose to also do freelance writing work. It is a great way to earn money, with the amount usually depending on the size of the job you go for. It has also been brilliant for my own writing as I have taken on writing tasks I would never have considered going near in my own writing.

My freelance website of choice is Upwork. I started using it last June and found work quickly. Looking back at my first job, I marvel at how insane it was. The client wanted two 10,000 word e-books written in three days. This was my first job and I was eager to please so I did it. I can’t really go into detail about how I managed to get it done, in such a short space of time, because it is all a blur. I was paid $70 (Upwork pays in US dollars) for both pieces, if you work out what that breaks down to as an hourly rate, please don’t tell me! This was the first time that I had ever been paid for my writing and it felt amazing.

The best way to be successful on a site like Upwork is to take it as seriously as a CV. When you sign up you will be asked to create a profile. This will consist of;

  • Employment history
  • Educational background
  • Level of expertise in your chosen field.

One thing to remember about these freelancing sites is that you are competing for jobs with people from around the world. You need to come across as professional and serious about your work, or you will be looked over for someone who has put the effort in.

Be Specific With Your Search

When looking for jobs think about what kind of work you’re really looking for. I had just come back from two years of travelling when I first started looking, so I focused on travel writing, which is how I wound up writing a 10,000 word e-book on great places to live and work around the world.

At the moment, my interests lean more towards lifestyle subjects such as fashion, fitness, home, travel and pets, so I have been searching for jobs like these.

Tips for writing a proposal.

Upwork gives you a certain number of proposals a month and you will use up a couple of these every time you apply for a job.

Most jobs on Upwork will give an outline of what the job entails. If you’re interested you can then apply for the job.

Remember how I said that there are people from all over the world applying for the same job? Well this means that your potential new client is receiving hundreds of replies to their job post.

How to stand out;

  • Make sure you read the whole of the job. One client asked that I start my proposal with the word ‘potato’ so he could be sure that I had read the whole of the job listing.

 

  • Always tailor your response to the job. Sure, you can have some key information about yourself that you paste into your proposal but make sure you reference some detail of the job listing to show you have taken the time to read it.

 

  • Have work ready to attach to your proposal as examples. Even if you are just starting out, you will need to have at least one piece you can show. When I first started out and was asked for examples of my writing I attached a short story I had entered into a competition. The client is just looking for confirmation that you can do what they need you to do.

 

Take your time looking through the jobs. There are so many fun and varied jobs to be had. I have written about travel, guides for getting in contact with editors, chick-lit short stories, and questioned whether certain South Korean tv stars have had plastic surgery.

It can be a lot of fun and open up a whole new side to your skill base.

The weather outside is dull, grey and rainy. If my mood could have a physical embodiment, that would be it. What has put me in this upbeat mood I hear you ask. Well that would be a late night ticking off from the husband. The worst thing about it, is that it was totally justified, not that knowing that makes me feel any less crap.

So after a day of getting very little done, I knew that I would struggle to have much to tell my husband when he got home from work. As per usual I tried to pad out and embellish what I had actually achieved and when that didn’t work I tried to distract him. I asked him about his day, suggested we go for a walk, ask him what he fancied for dinner. All the classic diversion topics were used.

Well today they didn’t work and that’s why, as we were getting ready for bed he confronted me about it. Confronted is probably too strong a word, he was just looking for an honest account of what I’d actually achieved today and wondered where my writing was really heading. Both completely fair questions.

I think the reason I’m now feeling so low, is that he was fair and not accusatory. Maybe if he had shouted at me or got angry I could have shouted back, but instead I sat and listened, growing more mortified by the minute that what he was saying was true. I’m not getting enough done, I’ve stopped applying for freelance writing jobs, my novel doesn’t appear to be getting anywhere. Yes, I have finally got my website up and running but he questioned whether I could be getting more blog posts written than one every couple of days. The answer is a resounding yes.

He told me that I needed to set goals for myself. Real, tangible goals that would yield actual results that I could point to as progress with my writing. Again he isn’t wrong. This isn’t the first time that we’ve had this conversation, which made it all the more mortifying. However, this is the first time that he’s given me a deadline. I have until the end of the year to show that I am fully committed to writing or I have to go out and get a full-time job.

So here I am, aiming to get focused for what feels like the millionth time. This time though, I’m not doing it just for myself, I’m doing it for my ever patient husband who believes in me no matter what.

Here are my short and long-term goals;

  • Find an editor to work with me on my novel (end of next week)
  • Pitch my article idea to lifestyle websites (end of this week)
  • Apply for at least 5 freelance writing jobs per week (ongoing)
  • Pitch my idea for a series of articles to women’s’ lifestyle magazines (mid-August)

I’ve been looking for online motivation and found a couple of Facebook groups I hope will inspire me and give me the kick I need.

In the past, when I haven’t liked the situation I’ve been in I’ve tended to run away from it. A good and perhaps extreme example of this would be when I quit teaching after only a year and went to Australia. That isn’t really viable for everyday life so I’ve been thinking of ways to overcome situations without running off to the other side of the world.

Having struggled to get going with my writing for a couple of months now, due to various distractions; moving, renovating the new place, a holiday to Malta and the most distressing of all, our lovely dog Dewi becoming ill and passing away. My time has not seemed my own, and I am someone who struggles to just fit writing in. If I block off a chunk of time to get it done and I miss that time, I can’t ever seem to get my head in the zone and make it happen.

This has been frustrating the life out of me and I found myself getting in a real rut. I sit at home staring at these same four walls day in, day out and struggle to get anything done. That’s when an unexpected opportunity presented itself and I took it. As I mentioned in my previous post, my husband had to go to Conwy to show some people how to use the website he had built for them. He asked if I wanted to go with him as I had never seen Conwy before, I initially jumped at the chance and even decided that we should turn it into a whole weekend away.

As is the case with me, I was super excited at the prospect of getting to go somewhere I had never been before, but as the date got closer I started trying to think of ways to get out of it. For some reason, I just wanted to stay at home. Staring at those same four walls was preferable to me; it was familiar and a lot less effort than having to find somewhere in a strange town to write.

In the end, this way of thinking annoyed me so much that I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and packed my bag. Choosing to look back on this weekend and reminisce about all the cool new places I got to check out (Conwy is amazing by the way.), instead of cursing myself for wasting another weekend by sitting on my backside watching Netflix and eating crap.

Conwy was great for my writing, I got my first blog piece out of it, I thought up back stories for the protagonists in my novel and I even started on an article I’m hoping to get published.

Getting out of my comfort zone helped to shake things up, wake my brain up and help me switch the tv off and concentrate on the blank page in front of me.

I know I’m not going to get to go away every weekend to write, so I’ve been thinking of ways I can shake things up at home.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to challenge myself to find somewhere new to write every day.

  • Coffee shops. Aberystwyth has like a thousand coffee shops, so I can try out a different one each day. Coffee shops are amazing for people watching.
  • The Beach. We live across the road from the beach. As it’s summer it’s going to be packed with families but I’m sure I can find a little spot in amongst them all and soak up the atmosphere.
  • The Library. Seeing as I’m in Britain, I can’t imagine the weather is going to be good enough for me to hit the beach every day, so I may decamp up to the library for those days when I really need to concentrate.

Every time I find myself trying to come up with an excuse not to go out I’m going to ask myself how much work have I actually gotten done sitting at home?

I’m pretty sure I already know the answer and that getting outside has got to be worth a shot, to help get the creative juices flowing.

 

 

Right, the husband is off training some people on how to use the awesome new website he’s built them, which leaves me two hours to kill in Conwy. I’ve found a ridiculously cute and cosy coffee shop called L’s Coffee and Bookshop, got myself a green tea (not even close to being my favourite drink, but I fear always picking the hot chocolate option every time I go to a café to write, will screw up my waistline), and found a squidgy sofa. Obviously getting straight down to writing was first up on my list of things to do but this somehow made way to the new exercise chart I’ve just made myself to chart my progress as I aim to conquer my nemesis, Cadair Idris in September.

 

I have actually walked up Cadair Idris before but it didn’t go well and left me with more than a few mental scars, which saw me boldly declare that I would never walk up it ever again. But I don’t really like this whole living in fear crap and have decided to attempt it again. I’ve given myself eight weeks to do it, which means the date the 16th September is going to be lurking menacingly at the back of my mind for the next two months.

I do think, like walking up Cadair Idris, one of the reasons I procrastinate when it comes to getting my writing is done is good old-fashioned fear. As someone who would prefer to remain in the background, the idea that I am drawn to writing baffles me. Not only do I have to push to get my writing noticed but I’m also opening myself and my work up to being criticised. Seriously who would do that to themselves voluntarily?

I have come up with a plan to make this walk go better than last time. The first time I didn’t prepare at all. I figured it wouldn’t be too bad and regretted that mindset within about the first five minutes as I realised I did not have the right tools; strong legs, and lungs that weren’t close to bursting.

This time will be different. I’m going to hit the gym, do cardio like swimming and running to help my lungs, and work on my leg and core strength to give me the power to keep going when my brain tells me to stop.

This always makes perfect sense when it comes to matters of our physical improvements but I’m the idea that I would need to apply this to my writing came slower to me. Of course it makes sense that I would need to do the same thing for my writing; create a plan, build up my stamina for keeping going, especially when my brain is begging me to stop and put Gilmore Girls on.

The first step is admitting that I need to improve my approach to writing, the next step is creating an action plan. Something that I will cover in my next blog piece so stay tuned.

So here’s hoping that the determination I have for getting up and down that mountain in one piece, seeps over into my writing and I can start to overcome one of the obstacles I face when trying to get my writing done.