When I first set out to write fiction, I just wrote a story.
I didn’t think about it; just found a story in my head, typed it up, sent it off. It won second prize in a competition. I thought that was nice, and wondered if another story might do well — it did, first prize. A third placed third. £800 all in, and a 100% acceptance rate.
Bloody hell, I thought, this is easy.
I wrote a book. I submitted it by email to the first agent I found who would accept email submissions, and made a mistake in the first line. Numpty.
It was rejected, obviously — very nicely, but rejected. I corrected the mistake, did my research (WAYB), and submitted a hard copy to the agent I really wanted — they accepted it.
So far so good.
Then my book didn’t sell, I barely won any more short fiction prizes, and I stopped writing.
OK, the book did the rounds and would possibly have been published if my edits hadn’t been terminally interrupted by a pregnancy and some fairly mind-bending health issues. But I don’t think this was the reason that my short story hit rate dropped through a hole in the ground. It was my writing.
While my 100% hit rate was lovely, I figured I couldn’t know it all, so I went online looking for advice. What I found was a maelstrom — some fabulous advice from worthy authors and inspired readers, some deeply cynical, banal bollocks by commercial writers hoping for a fast buck, and a vast amount of chat. Vast.
I worked my way through most of it, and got nowhere but miserable. Then I worked my way through it all again, doing the opposite, and ended up hating the whole process.
I stopped writing, let the stories build up in my head until the creative constipation gave me a headache, and then let rip in a steaming rant that I submitted, unedited, to Bridport. It was shortlisted.
Thing is about fiction, I reckon, you can obey the rules (third person, past tense — and beware the word “then”!) or break them (a mixture of first, second and third person, present tense, in a microfiction, hah! — FIRST PERSON). But there’s no joy in the rules, and no success via the rules.
It’s taken me ages to realise what I knew at the beginning: it’s all about the story. Assuming you check your spelling and grammar prior to submission, if you have a good story, it will do well. If you don’t, it won’t.
It’s a new year, and a new start, so in a desperate bid to create more minutes in the day, I’ve ditched the pen name, the ‘experimental fiction’, and all the rules that, by now, I either know or I don’t.
I don’t know if I ‘can’ do this fiction thing, but I’m going to try.