Friday, 18 October 2013

The circle of writing

I got home last night to find a fab new review of Short Stories and How to Write Them, from Sally Zigmond. The review's on Amazon, and she's also put a lovely endorsement of the book on her blog. I went to bed last night with the biggest ever grin on my face. This review really means a lot - because she may not realise it, but Sally and I go wayyyyyyy back...

In the summer of 2003 I had just begun writing. I'd started a novel, and then an idea for a short story pinged into my head. Actually these days I would recognise that the idea was not a story - more a monologue - but I was new and inexperienced and excited, so I sat down and wrote it. It was from the point of view of a woman with advanced Motor Neuron Disease. She could no longer move, and lived out fantasies in her head. A family friend was dying of MND at the time, and I had her in mind as I wrote the story. When I'd completed it, I liked what I'd written and wondered, in the naive way of new writers, whether anyone would want to publish it.

I thought that the well-known women's magazines were probably not the best place to send my first ever story, and that I should start with a smaller market. So I searched online for women's short story magazines, and came across Quality Women's Fiction (QWF), then edited and owned by Jo Derrick. They paid £10 for a story, and I thought that seemed reasonable for my first ever offering, so I emailed it to them. Sally Zigmond was the submissions editor at the time.

I had a quick response from her, pointing out that if I'd bothered to read the submission guidelines I would see that they only took printed, mailed submissions.

Well, that was news to me. Submission guidelines? What were they? Did all magazines have them? Who'd have thought it!

So I went back to the website, found the guidelines, printed and posted the story along with a covering letter, and waited a month for the response.

When it came, it was a rejection, but Sally had taken the trouble to write half a page of feedback. I no longer have that email, sadly (owing a computer crash) but I remember that in amongst the criticism, Sally praised my writing style. She also pointed out that it wasn't really a story - there was no resolution - and she included suggestions on how to make it better.

Even in my dreadful naivety I realised that it was probably not the norm to get this amount of constructive feedback, and I treasured it. I rewrote the story, using some of Sally's suggestions, then resubmitted it to her. Still a rejection, but again, a lovely helpful email, and this whole experience gave me confidence that it was worth me continuing to write, and also taught me that I had a whole lot to learn.

I don't think I ever submitted to QWF again - I bought and read a few issues and as I progressed with writing, I realised my style was more suited to the women's magazines. But I never forgot Sally Zigmond's name, or the boost she'd given me right at the start of my writing career.

Fast forward a few years to 2007. By then I was beginning to have some success with the womags, and I decided to set up this blog. I had two aims:
1.  To put magazine submission guidelines in one, easy to find, place
2.  To try to pass on some of what I'd learned to other new writers

And fast forward again to 2013. I still regularly read Sally's blog, The Elephant in the Writing Room, and over the years have learned a lot from Sally. (I loved her novel Hope Against Hope and can't wait for her to publish another one.) I'm also facebook friends with Jo Derrick who now publishes The Yellow Room magazine.

So you can see why Sally's review of my book meant so much. It feels like we've come full circle.

How did you get into writing? Who or what gave you early encouragement? I'd love to hear your stories - if you've got a good one please consider writing a guest post for this blog!


Patsy said...

It's so odd to think of you, the person so many of us have turned to when we wanted to check submission guidelines, not knowing what they were!

An early win in a small local competition really encouraged me. That's probably part of the reason most of my blog posts now include links to free to enter competitions.

Samantha Tonge said...

Those words of encouragement mean so much, don't they, womag? I started writing novels first, and i still have and treasure one of my first ever rejection letter. It was the first personal one i'd ever received and very short but contained the very important words: 'You write well'. That validation pushed me forwards to keep writing.

Edith said...

What a wonderful inspirational and encouraging story about how it all began. :)

Julie Coffin said...

In 1978 I applied to join an Adult Education Swimming class. It was full and the only class available was Writing for Pleasure. I joined and since then have had over 500 woman's magazine short stories and 28 novellas published, but I still can't swim.

ados said...

This is the site I open when I want to check submission guidelines, I also can hardly imagine you not knowing about them. Thank goodness you do now! Many thanks for the time you put in to the up keep of the site and good luck with the book.

Maria said...

Strange how things work out like that...almost as if there is a plan going on that we don't know about at the time.

Great story, very inspiring to read. :-)

Vikki T said...

What a lovely story :)


Cara Cooper said...

Hi Womag, that is a lovely story. I do hope loads of editors read it because it is an endorsement (even if still a rejection) by an editor who takes the time to provide just a little positive criticism which can mean the difference between carrying on and giving up. I'd be more than happy to do a blogpost if you were interested about going from one short story in Loving magazine, to my 7th pocket novel for PF/MW and my first serial with PF.

womagwriter said...

Cara, yes please, I'd love a guest blog from you!

I blush now when I think of that first submission. In fact I'd nearly written the story a few times before but then felt too embarrassed to let you all know I'd been so gauche!

Sam, yes, those three little words 'you write well' are so key. I think we probably all need to hear them from time to time.

Lydia said...

I sold the first 3 stories I ever submitted to PF and then sold nothing for a whole year! But throughout that time I cherished the encouraging words of rejection given by wonderful Shirley Blair who wasn't then PF Fiction Ed and in the meantime won a Writing Magazine Short Story Comp - the certificate for which still hangs on my writing desk wall. It made me feel like a "real" writer and that meant so much! Happy to oblige with a guest blog if you think anyone would be remotely interested in my journey! x

womagwriter said...

Yes please Lydia!

No hurry, but whenever you're ready, email it to me using the address on the contact page above. I'll look forward to it!