Dressing like Benjamin Franklin
hasn't helped my prose.

I'm a big fan of goal setting. When it's done with focus, even the act of defining what is important to you (and understanding why) significantly increases your chances of achieving it.

A simplified version of the process (let's call it coaching on the go) runs like this:
- What do you want to achieve?
- Is it a priority for you?
- What will you gain from it?
- Is the goal within your control?
- What are the barriers to achieving it?
- How do you plan to overcome them?

What do you want?
What's stopping you?
What needs to happen?

In practice, however, we often select what we consider to be goals, when we're not actually holding all the cards. And yet...and yet having that goal can make us mindful of opportunities (and encourage us to seek them out) so that it becomes more likely.

One of my goals this year was to have another magazine column, especially after the Toronto magazine I wrote for last year folded.
What I could control was:
- What I wrote about, how I wrote and when I wrote.
- How often I looked for opportunities and where.
- My actual pitch once I'd identified an opportunity.

Needless to say, it's a bit of a lucky dip. Even so, when the pieces do fall into place, half the reason is that you're fully prepared.

My column, The Better Life - a bit like The Good Life, but with the Internet, appears in Hampshire based Discover magazines from this month. It's a humorous look at green living from the perspective of a bumbling townie. I've been in training for many years. I also contribute to The Life List, which features tongue-in-cheek advice for the good folk of Hampshire.

Two things probably sealed the deal, when I spoke with the editor (apart from arranging time to discuss her requirements over the phone):
1. Having a proposal and sample piece ready and waiting.
2. Being able to meet her requirements and deadlines.

The creative side is lovely, what with being able to write about things that interest me and in a style that suits my personality. But let's not forget the other side of the professional coin - time management, working to a brief and a timescale, being clear about rights, editing, managing the money side of things, and not resting on my laurels.

Which reminds me - I must update my résumé.  

Ways in which...

Photo by kind permission of V Sunkmanitu (see link below)

Ways in which I've made a tit* out of myself as a writer (in no particular order).

1. Waiting one year, three months and 16 days to get a reply from a publisher. Mercifully, not an exclusive submission, but why, why, why did I bother?

2. Using the phrase, 'Yours ethically,' to a client (who freaked a little and went elsewhere).

3. Making a flippant comment to an agent after waiting an extra week to hear about a writing competition, only to hear that the reason my email had been delayed was that I'd been shortlisted. I didn't win, which arguably is karma.

4. Not asking, up front, what the rate was per word, and then having to listen to a load of pony about what a great opportunity it will be for me in the long-term. That is, once I'd learned to go without food.

5. Writing at a rate per word where, ordinarily, outside the writing world, you'd be searching the job ads during your teabreak.

6. Taking FOREVER to take the plunge and self-publish my own novel. I mean, seriously, what IS the worst that could happen? Nobody buys and reads it? Shit, that's the situation if it isn't published. I lose a little money on it? Big deal - as long as I learn something. To be filed under 'don't be a wuss'. 

7. Letting two payment deadlines go by before issuing a client with a take down notice. (If I just love them even more, maybe they'll change...).

8. Agreeing to exclusive electronic rights for two years, which is the approximate lifepsan of a mosquito fish. Just in case you were wondering.

9. While attending a writing course in London, after work, the tutor snootily asked me to define my work for the benefit of him and the class. I explained that the essence of the novel (see, I can do snooty, too) was that the plot mattered more than the individual characters. 
"Ah, he nodded sagely, you've obviously read a great deal of Chekhov." 
"No," I replied, "but I've watched all his appearances in Star Trek." Phasers on pun.

10. Admitting all the above in a blog post.

* Photograph provided by Wolf Photography and Villayat Sunkmanitu.

Don't be shy - share your creative confessions in the comments box.

Do Mind Me

Time to move forward.

There is a tendency among writers to play down achievements and to not shout too loudly about what we're doing. 

"What? This old best-selling novel? Oh, it's just something I put together and was lucky enough to find an agent foolhardy enough to take it on."

Cue deflecting laughter. Maybe it's a British thing. Wherever it originates from, it's both counter-intuitive (because it works against your primary objective as a writer, which is, ultimately, to gain as many readers as possible) and unproductive (because it dilutes motivation and perpetuates an insidious form of self-talk that's prevalent among aspiring writers). 

Not me though; I'm done with that. I may occasionally bad-mouth some of my work - who doesn't have favourites after all? - but I see nothing valuable in perpetuating the myth that writing comes easy and needn't be taken seriously.

So, in lieu of all of that 'don't mind me' crap, here's what I've been up to lately:

My magical fantasy, Covenant, has been edited down to 119,000 words and is being formatted for a Sept / Oct launch. It's been a real journey of discovery, both in terms of self-publication and of how to navigate through the Lightning Source project. Once the paperback is out (currently looking at a £9.99 retail price), I'll get cracking on the ebook version. I've good things about Kindle Select, but I haven't made my mind up yet.

My thriller, Standpoint, is being resubmitted to a UK indie publisher. It was recently shortlisted in a representation competition run by the Madeleine Milburn literary agency.

I'm editing my comedy drama, Scars and Stripes, having received feedback about the way the chapters are structured (and why previous structure undermined some of the drama). I hope to have the edit completed by the end of January 2013, so that I can look at agent and publishers.

My first children's ebook, Superhero Club, will be launched by Musa Publishing in early November. This book is a departure for me, as the protagonist is a 12 year-old girl who finds friendship and self-acceptance in the unlikeliest of places. It was one of those stories that arrived fully-formed, so I'll be interested to see if it finds a niche. Musa previously published The Silent Hills.

Short story Perfect Circle won second prize in a future fiction competition. I'll post a link to the author interview once it's been completed and made available.

MAN UP!  a satirical little book is on submission to a UK publisher.

A new column starts in Discover magazine this month. Entitled The Better Life, it looks at green living through a humorous lens.

I got a great interview from radio and theatre dramatist Oliver Emanuel, which you can read over at the Strictly Writing blog.

And finally, I recently participated in a project looking at the therapeutic benefits of writing. My interview, from what I can recall, focused on grief, making sense of experiences, creating emotional connects between writers and readers, breaking down barriers, self-censorship and how writers receive and interpret feedback.

So, that's my story. What have you been up to? What's your good news story?

Comfort reading

Ask any fervent reader and they'll tell you that they have a treasured few books they read over and over again. Know you're going to be stuck on a train or a coach? Want to fill a few minutes with the familiar delights of a well-loved tale? Or maybe you like to check in with a long-standing paper friend, just to see if you're still as close as you remember?

Books - like music, scents and photographs - have the power to magically reconnect us with the past. When you choose your reading matter with discernment, every book you read seeps into your DNA. Sometimes it's an author's entire works, rather than a single book, but the same principle applies.

Richard Bach's The Gift of Wings is one such book for me. Just holding the battered cover transports me 25+ years through time. I'm on the Staten Island ferry, heading for Manhattan, and wondering how to spin my disaster of an American Dream into a more positive adventure.

I can see my 1986 self now, a bagel in one hand and Gift of Wings in the other, breathing in the salt-sea air as I devour R Bach's collection of old articles, especially the ones that speak of limitless possibility and the freedom to shape my own destiny. I glance up, periodically, watching as Manhattan looms ever larger, and the water glistens like a molten, silvery sheet. And I whisper to the stern sky, "This is the moment I have chosen." Ah, bless.

I rarely read the pieces in order - I have my favourites there too. Over the years, those preferences change, and sometimes so does my attitude towards the book's contents. I guard against the internal 'tsk-tsk', where the jaded, cynical side of my nature swamps the bright-eyed optimist to mutter despondently, 'Yes, well, it's fine for you to think like that, but look at the life you've been able to lead.'

I know differently, of course. I only have to look at my own, meandering path to recognise that choices are made every day and consequences pop up around us like daisies. I started reading Richard Bach's books in 1983, long before Gift of Wings joined my travelling bag for $3.95 from some un-named bookstore (but probably Weiser's).

I know too that all writers write a version of themselves - a 'who I wish to be and be seen as'. But then, don't we all?

My comfort reading also includes:

Illusions - Richard Bach
Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
Wuthering Heights - Charlotte Bronte
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
Secrets of Dr Taverner - Dion Fortune.

So what's on your list?