Less donkey, more blossom

This past week has been chock full of deadlines. Early on Tuesday morning I found myself proof-reading my daughter's dissertation on the rights of children. It was about to go to print, and then on a mad dash on the train to London to be handed in. I remained in the after-shock of panic and despair, scribbling madly to submit to three deadlines of my own, albeit self-imposed, but none the less important landmarks in the otherwise vast wilderness of writing. 

Whether you choose a more official, guided route along the creative journey, or a more self-directed path - the importance of working to deadlines is equally essential and unavoidable. Having started my writing life with short stories, I immersed myself in a fairly constant cycle of writing and submitting, writing and submitting. This was through a process of flash-writing, and editing little (if at all). You could say this was a stubborn, donkey kind of approach.

While it may well have been a case of throwing enough sticks at a bucket, this method did eventually pay off with a couple of wins, and publication in a handful of anthologies. However, it's not so much the writing to be published (which is a dead-end way to go about things) but more the sense of verification that comes from someone saying, yeah - we liked your story (even though, like me, you're constantly thinking, crikey - really?).

But deadlines can also be dangerous. I have found myself of late, falling in to the trap of sliding towards their closing doors. This is very bad indeed. When I do this, I'm writing for the sake of the deadline. I am not writing for the sake of the story.

If I've learned anything, it's that a story needs to be allowed to breathe. You hear all the time from agents: put your finished draft in a drawer, forget about it for a while. Not only that, before you've even begun to write your story, something needs to happen. Your story seeds must be allowed to germinate, to blossom. It's imperative that they grow healthily in the right direction, and not crooked and lanky in a burst of too much feed and light.

Example in point - I've been re-writing the opening of a story for the last year (my critique group have been thrilled by this ...). Stubbornly stuck. When all of a sudden last week, while I was writing something completely different, the voice of my protagonist decided to talk. He said: this is how I sound. This is who I am. Whoa. I was so overwhelmed by this, I actually cried (it could've simply been from the relief).

I know I will continue to scribble frantically to deadlines, but I have also pulled back a little, grown less impatient. If a story ain't ready, it ain't ready.

One big fat deadline to get your stories in to bloom for, is the Undiscovered Voices 2016 Prize:

SCBWI Announces Plans for Fifth Undiscovered Voices Anthology 

Writers and Illustrators invited to a free launch event at Foyles on 14th May 

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) British Isles will once again help fresh, new voices in children's literature find agents and publishers through its Undiscovered Voices project.

The Undiscovered Voices anthology will include twelve fiction extracts – from early readers up through young adult novels – and twelve black-and-white illustrations. The anthology will be published in February 2016 and sent free of charge to editors, art directors and agents whose focus is children's literature. The book is produced with the financial support of Working Partners Ltd, a London-based company that creates series fiction.

Submissions will be accepted between 1st July and 16th August 2015 via an online submissions process. There is no submission fee, but only unagented and unpublished members of SCBWI living in the UK and Europe (writing in the English language) are eligible.  

From the four previous anthologies, Undiscovered Voices featured authors and illustrators have received publishing contracts for more than 120 books. The authors have been nominated for and won an amazing array of literary prizes, including the Carnegie Medal, Waterstone's Children's Book Prize, Branford Boase Award, Blue Peter Award, the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award, and more than 30 regional awards.

The Undiscovered Voices team will launch the project with an event at Foyles on Charing Cross Road on 14th May 2015 at 6:30 p.m. At the event, several of the judges will offer invaluable advice for writers and illustrators who plan to submit to the anthology. Request your free ticket by visiting the Foyles event web site at www.foyles.co.uk/events.

The following judges will select the stories and illustrations to be included in the anthology: 

Jon Appleton, Hodder
Ali Ardington, Stripes Publishing
Ed Burns, Advocate Art Agency
Barry Cunningham, Chicken House
Sheri Gee, Folio Society
Jodie Hodges, United Agents
Rachel Mann, Simon and Schuster
Polly Nolan, The Greenhouse Literary Agency
Anna Power, Johnson & Alcock
Kate Shaw, The Viney Agency
Will Steele, Random House
Caroline Walsh, David Higham Associates

Don't forget to check out all the inspiration from last week's W&P:

Monday's report from Colleen, about the second SCBWI Europolitan conference in Amsterdam. You'll be wanting to go to the next one in Belgium.

Tuesday's new Blog Break feature. Each month, Nick will be honing in on a blog writer, and how they go about it. He kicks off with the inspirational blogger, Candy Gourlay.

Wednesday's report from Non Pratt, on the launch of Industry Insiders (previously known as the London Professional Series)

Thursday's Event News, Sheila Averbuch interviews Elizabeth Wein, in the run-up to her workshop on word-building in Edinburgh on the 9th May. Network News Marion Brown reports on the first gathering of SCBWI Cumbria's meeting in Kendal.

Friday brought us this month's featured illustrator, Melany Pietersen.

Nancy Saunders is the new Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders


  1. Love the image of a story growing lanky in too much light & force fed. But the drive to work, work, work is hard to escape. Like all things, there's a balance, I suppose.

    1. Thank you, Rowena - yep, there's no way around the hard graft. I guess, as you say, it's finding that happy balance between driving forwards and being patient if a story (or a character) isn't ready to talk!


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