It’s true what they say – what a difference a day makes. Except, I’d change that to say, What a difference a year makes.
I’ve read a bunch of blogs reflecting on the last year: reflecting on what they’d learned; looking at whether predictions they’d made about themselves, friends, family, their aspirations, their jobs, the world in general had come true; whether they’d reached personal or work goals or both; if things were better, worse, middling than they were at the start of last year. All the sorts of things that people making resolutions look at, but also things that people who have a goal of some sort make for themselves – the reflections on that at the end a kind of scorecard to let them figure out if they’ve won some, lost some, come even.
Now I’m not usually the kind of gal who makes resolutions – for me, they never really stick and are usually about things we have no control over whatsoever (will win Tattslotto this year) or that aren’t going to happen because we won’t make the change that will count (I want to lose 10 kg – right after I finish this Ben&Jerry’s Triple-Caramel-Chunk.)
But many people have already written blogs about this, so I won’t go on about it any further here and besides, that’s not what this blog is about.
In reading these blogs of people reflecting (something I try not to do too much of, because I do have a bit of an anal personality and I will do the whole loss and gains thing, always concentrating far too much on the losses than the gains) it made me think about the last year and the changes that have happened in my life.
On the surface, nothing much has changed.
I’m happily married with two gorgeous boys, one of who has ADHD and a Sensory Integration Disorder. This means there is a lot always going on there to make certain he has what he needs to make sense of his world and move forward in it in a positive way. The downs often outweigh the ups, so there is a constant struggle to try to even this out and find the best course ahead. Of course, in all of this, his brother can get lost, so I need to make certain the younger one gets plenty of my focus too – so it can be quite a juggling act, especially given my husband has a pretty full on job and so it is often just me a lot of the time. Nothing changed there.
I still work at the YMCA as a swimming teacher and customer service officer with a little bit of admin thrown in – something I enjoy, is ideal with hours for my family and have done for ten years. Nothing changed there.
I have a very close supportive relationship with my family and have a lot to do with them – there’s always family catch ups and birthdays and celebrations which is lovely. Nothing changed there.
I am a member of 2 writing groups, which I love, because it gives me much needed time out a couple of times a month. I’ve also made some really lovely friends in these groups, not to mention friends from outside writing who also provide much needed sources of support and time out. Nothing changed there.
I am still a member of RWA and do volunteer work for them in being a contest manager and competition judge. No. hold up. A little change here. Actually, a big one really. I am now on the Committee as Competition Coordinator – so a lot more work, but learning a lot too and gaining some more great friends and experiences, so the extra time suck is okay. A bit of a change there.
I am still a writer spending any moment I can in writing and learning about writing (hence why my desk looks like this…
while trying to get published (sound of a car screeching.) No. Hold up right there.
And this is where that ‘What a difference a year makes’ thing comes into it – and where the reflection thing comes in, so hang in there. I am getting to my point in my own Billy Connelly kind of way.
This time last year I was at a workshop with my friend, Chris Bell at Penguin Australia, listening to Alli Watts and Anne Gracie and Fiona McIntosh talk about popular fiction, the publisher’s approach and the writer’s approach. Carol George was there too, letting people know about the new digital enterprise Penguin had started which she was running with Sarah Fairhall. This was very interesting to me because I’d pitched to Carol at the RWA conference the previous August and she had asked to speak to me during the day about my work (I was also scheduled to pitch something to her too). I thought she was just going to let me down gently with a face-to-face ‘no’ – which she did. But that wasn’t all she wanted.
She wanted to speak with me about my writing. They loved my writing style and would be very interested in publishing my work if only I had something with a stronger romantic thread. They liked all the plot and character work I’d done on the one I’d pitched to her and they’d had lots of discussions about it, but the relationship between my protagonists was not ‘grown’ on the page. We did not spend time with them as they fell in love, she said. Did I have anything like that I could pitch to her?
I put aside my disappointment and focused on the possibilities ahead of me as I’d been doing for years and pitched her the paranormal I had just finished, even though it wasn’t quite ready to be sent out yet. She was interested, very interested, as long as the relationship grew on the page (this made me think and alarms and bells went off in my head later to be followed by a big lightbulb moment that had me trashing a bunch of chapters and rewriting a large chunk – but that is a blog for another time.) Then she asked me if I wrote anything else.
Now, if I’d been the same writer I’d been even a year before, one who was less likely to grab at chances, I might have answered differently. But I’d made a rare resolution the year before – this year was going to be the year of competitions and building networks and trying to extend myself past what I was comfortable with, and given I hadn’t made that resolution until February, I was still in the ‘go get ‘em’ year.
And so I said, ‘I also have written romantic suspense’ even though as far as everyone had been telling me for years, romantic suspense was a hard sell (I’d experienced this myself over and over and so believed the sentiment wholeheartedly.) And this is where things changed for me.
Carol, who had been very interested in everything I’d had to say and encouraging and lovely, sat up, a big spark in her eye and said, ‘Romantic suspense? Really? We are very interested in romantic suspense. Do you have something you could pitch to me?’
For a moment my brain spun. I knew I did, but I hadn’t worked on any of them for at least 3 years, the last one, my favourite, having been dropped after too many times being told it wouldn’t sell because not only was it a romantic suspense, but the hero was a rock star. But, instead of saying, ‘no’, I grabbed a hold of my ‘go get ‘em’ self and pitched (probably the worst pitch I’ve ever done) that very novel.
And she liked it.
And, two months later, after I’d spent a month and a bit fixing it up and sending it in to them, I got ‘The Call’ – they wanted to publish Killing Me Softly (for my call story: http://www.leislleighton.com/?p=152
Since then, I’ve contracted another novel to them, (the paranormal I’d pitched at that same meeting – Dark Moon, due out in March this year) got myself an agent, (the lovely Alex Adsett) thrown myself into the world of social media, learned to deal with the ups and downs of reviews (much like contest results, mostly good with a few not so great – but you can’t please everyone!) and have endeavoured to blog more regularly with mixed success (there are only so many hours in my day and I do need to sleep.) There have been huge learning curves in regards to me learning about the publishing process – the first edits, second edits, copy edits and proof edits – how best (or better – I don’t claim to be any good at this yet, but I’m getting better) to approach the publicity thing – tour blogs, getting more reviews, give aways and any articles that you can drum up for yourself. I’ve learned from the amazing books and blogs of Kristen Lamb how to better structure my social media and how to build a platform by connecting with people on a personal level rather than trying to sell to them (a really useful and far more fun way of approaching this whole thing in my opinion.) I’ve met tonnes of new people and connected more effectively with ones I already know through all of this which has been fantastic. I’m still like a newborn though, whose brain can only take on so much at once but who will keep on learning and learning, because that’s what newborns do.
And that’s pretty much what I’ve got out of this year. So much the same, but so much different and all because I said ‘yes’ when I would normally have said ‘no’ because I was determined to do better at this writing thing I’m driven to do. And if I have a resolution from all of this reflecting on the past year, it’s that it’s the little things, those small changes you don’t see coming, that matter and that I will keep trying to do better. Not just because this is good for my writing, but because it’s good for myself, and my family. I will try to balance things as I’ve always done, but I will try to do it with more balance for myself, because one thing I’ve learned from this last year (among everything else that is!) – when I am happier with my own reflection, then everything else is better too. And I’m not talking about the outside appearance – something aging and time is always changing for both better and worse – but the person staring out of those greenish-grey eyes. The person who for so many years put everything else before her own desires and left them for last and decided a couple of years ago ‘no more’.
Some people might call that selfishness. I call it forward thinking. I mean – look what I did this last year! Who knows what I can do in the future? I don’t – but I sure as hell am interested in finding out.