2

Not Pictured

Unsuccessful

Recently, a friend asked me if I won all the awards I ever entered.

“I wish!” I replied, and then, when I had stopped laughing and then crying and then laughing again, I added: “You should see my submission spreadsheet.”

For reasons unknown, my friend wasn’t that eager to see my submission spreadsheet. But if he had seen it, he may have noticed the long streaks of grey in the STATUS column.

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‘Wow,’ he might have then said. ‘You would never have guessed that from Instagram.’

And he would have been right.

Pictured: me, receiving a short story award, smiling so much that my cheekbones are on the verge of crushing my eyeballs.

Not pictured: me, sitting in front of my computer, my chest slowly collapsing in on itself, because I only have a fifteen minute window to write and the words Simply. Won’t. Come and NOBODY WILL EVER PUBLISH ME ANYWAY.

Pictured: me, wearing the same smile described above but dialled up to 11, about to walk into a fancy hotel to receive a major prize.

Not pictured: me, obsessively checking my email on my phone for an email that will never come.

Pictured: me, signing my first book contract as my partner opens a fancy bottle of champagne in the background.

Not pictured: me, receiving another ‘Dear Valued Writer’ rejection email and then drinking a bottle of Passion Pop with a curly straw.

So for all you onlookers and struggling writers out there, remember this: behind every win is a spreadsheet’s worth of rejection. Behind every smile are buckets of spent tears. Behind every published word are a hundred thousand unpublished words.

Unless, of course, you’re like that writer I once saw on a panel whose first book was written on a whim, shortlisted for the only thing she entered it into and published by the first publisher who read it. But even then that writer must have bad hair days, right? RIGHT??

Pictured: me, having a bad hair day AND receiving a short story award.

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You can find out more about my ‘yay times’ at my grown-up author platform or on Instagram,

 

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1

Small Acts Of Encouragement

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Some time in late August 2018, I bought a water bottle. Almost anyone who has spoken to me in the last five months can tell you how much I love that water bottle. I talk about it frequently and with unbridled joy. I even bought every member of my household one, although none of them quite share my enthusiasm.

‘It’s just a water bottle,’ they say. ‘Calm down’.

‘But what a water bottle,’ I reply.

Then one day, while gleefully availing myself of the free WiFi on the bus to the airport, I decided to send a note of appreciation to the manufacturers of my water bottle. But when I went to their website, I discovered that their online feedback form was designed to receive complaints.

Surely, I thought to myself, I can’t be the first person to have ever sent them a note of appreciation. But by their rather dazed response a few days later, it seemed I might have been.

This got me thinking about how most people only speak up to complain. They don’t take the time to give appreciation for an ergonomic grip or easy-to-clean lid. They wouldn’t think to let the shopkeeper know that the window display made their heart swell or to thank the bus driver for waiting patiently for that elderly woman struggling to catch the bus. There is so much good and beauty and kindness in the world that goes unacknowledged.

Which brings me ever-so-self-consciously to the topic of my writing. (*ahem*).

In 2018, I put my work ‘out there’ 37 times, mostly award submissions and residency applications, with a light smattering of agent and publisher queries. Out of those 37 times, I had two definite ‘wins’ (You can read about those wins at imbineeme.com/news and even see a photo where I’m smiling so much it looks like my face has imploded). I also had one short-listing, one long-listing and an honourable mention.

Otherwise, I experienced a whole lot of rejection.

Mostly, I’m okay with this. I know these awards and residency programs are not like modern day pass-the-parcel where everybody is apparently a winner. And I know they must follow the Highlander model: there can only be one. But I also know this means there are plenty of writers whose stories or manuscripts were totes awesome sauce (and most likely don’t include the term ‘totes awesome sauce’) that weren’t awarded the prize or shortlisted and who received the same rejection email as everyone else without ever knowing how close they got or how much their words might have resonated with one of the readers during the judging process.

Luckily for me, I experienced two exceptions to this norm in 2018. The judges for one mentorship/residency program took the time and care to let me know I’d made the top 10% of a very large submission pool. And a judge from another prize contacted me via the prize’s organisers to let me know they loved my submission and to encourage me to keep going.

So to all the literary awards organisers and judges out there: the wording of that rejection email matters. Long lists matter. And although it’s not always practical or possible, occasionally reaching out from behind that veil (you all wear veils, right?) can make a huge, huge difference.

And look, while I’m at it, to all the readers out there: when you truly love a book or a story or an article, please consider reaching out to the writer in some way to let them know. Don’t be creepy about it and try and be their new best friend and offer to weave a brooch from a lock of their hair. Just let them know their words mattered.

Writing is such a lonely and difficult pursuit, we all need small acts of encouragement to keep going.

And, for the record, I will keep going (*she says, as she takes an enthusiastic swig from her beloved water bottle*).

 

1

Ampersand

Almost two years ago, I made a bold proposal to my dear writerly friend Emilie Collyer: if we both got publishing contracts within the next year, we should get matching tattoos.

Next to the microwave in the office of the small arts organisation we both worked for, we shook hands. A pact was made.

Over the weeks that followed, we wondered aloud what kind of tattoo we might get. It should be something symbolic, we said. Something writerly.  I casually mentioned that I had always liked the ‘&’ symbol. Emilie mused how ‘&’ denoted the word ‘and’ but also had its own word (‘ampersand’). Those layers of meaning felt pretty damn writerly. We also liked how open-ended the ampersand was. It said: ‘Sure, we’ve had a book published but there’s more to come, bitches!’. It said: ‘And… and… and…’.

Of course, I should note here that, much like a bride planning a wedding before she’s even found herself a fiancé(e), we were a little ahead of ourselves. There was still the small matter of getting our manuscripts published… Pfft! Mere tish tosh! The power of ampersand compelled us! In fact, at the very moment we stood next to that microwave and shook hands, the full manuscript for my first book was with half a dozen major publishers. Surely, it was just a matter of time! I mean, ampersand!

As the weeks and months passed, however, two of those major publishers passed on my manuscript and the others eventually fell into the kind of long silence where no words are spoken but the meaning is very, very clear. My manuscript and I had entered a World of No

Meanwhile, Emilie had entered an even darker place. Only a few weeks after we made our pact, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her focus quickly shifted from her writing to her health, and her trajectory was no longer towards triumphant publication, but instead towards surgery, chemo and radiotherapy.  In the middle of her treatment, Emilie confided that she wasn’t sure she would ever return to writing. I supported her, of course, but secretly, I despaired for her and it led me to a very important realisation. All this time I had been thinking a writer who wasn’t published wasn’t really a proper writer. But the truth was that a writer who didn’t write was a person living half a life.

Thankfully, Emilie came back to writing. Slowly at first, and then with great force. She wrote an article about her cancer treatment and then started working on a novel and then a play and then another play and… and… and… Last month, I saw her wonderful play Contest at the Northcote Town Hall. She is now working towards getting a new play up next year and has an idea for another novel.

As for me, I stopped fretting about whether or not I was going to get published and finished a second manuscript and embarked on a third. I started writing short stories.

And… and… and… 

You see, the true meaning of ampersand was not about getting published. It was about making a commitment to writing, and to ourselves as writers.

With this in mind and heart, last Friday Emilie and I went together to Vic Market Tattoo in North Melbourne and let a man called Pablo indelibly mark us.

Because we are ampersand. Ampersand is us. We are writers. And we will always write.

Also, #fuckcancer.

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Your words are like a strong white light

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The Dark Side of the Loom. Photo credit: Aldo Cavini Benedetti

Sometimes, when you read something you have written, the words dance for you on the page. You are dazzled by their beauty and their music and you feel quietly pleased. You are a wordsmith!  A sculptor of sentences! A god!

And then other times, when you read those very same words, they are lifeless and tuneless. Misshapen and clumsy.  Ill-formed. You feel embarrassed by them and for yourself. You wonder why you even bothered.

But don’t worry.

Your words are like a strong white light and, every time they are read, they enter a prism and emerge as one of a million different colours — for you and for every other reader, whether a friend, an editor, a publisher or a stranger.

Your words are like a strong white light.

Remember this and keep writing.


This post is for Emilie. 

4

A List Of My Own

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This unfinished blanket was also not listed in 2017.

It’s that time of year when people like to make lists. Lists of things to do, things to buy and things make. Lists of best books, movies and albums. Lists of must-see TV and must-have gadgets and must-avoid foods. Lists of lists.

Throughout the year, there have been other kinds of lists. Lists for unpublished manuscripts and emerging writers. Longlists and shortlists, commended lists and winners lists. I tried to get on some of those lists, maybe six or seven of them, but didn’t make a single one. I know, from previous experience, that being on a list feels really, really good. Unless it’s a hit list, of course. That probably feels rubbish.

But listen: I feel incredibly proud of the writing I’ve done in 2017. In between the cracks of my busy life, I’ve managed to revise one manuscript from second draft to fifth draft, as well as write a first draft of a whole other novel. I’ve continued to back my own writing by submitting it for awards and prizes and sending it to publishers. And even while I was weathering the not-very-highs and really-quite-lows of being an unpublished novelist, I managed to still feel joy every time I sat down to write.

And that, I believe, is truly list-worthy.

This year, on Friday 22 December, I am going to announce my own list. It will be a list of writers who didn’t get listed in 2017 but who kept writing anyway. My name will be on it. If you want your name – or someone else’s name – to be on it, too, please email me – imbi.neeme@gmail.com 

 

 

 

2

My manuscript is a little boat

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My manuscript is a little boat.

I built it myself by hand, using all my skills and some stuff I looked up on the internet.

My manuscript is a little boat.

I keep gently pushing it out to sea but it keeps coming back to me.

Sometimes, it’s because I need to fix things on it. The sail is torn, the rudder isn’t ruddering, or the crew’s names are all too similar and nobody can tell them apart.

Sometimes, it just comes back to me because it wasn’t heading in the right direction or I didn’t push it hard enough.

Sometimes, I’m annoyed to see it return.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You! Again!”

Sometimes, I’m sad to see it and I crawl up inside its little cabin and have a really good cry.

Sometimes, I’m philosophical.
“Oh well. I guess that sea was choppier than it looked, eh?”

And sometimes I’m quite happy to see it.
“Oh! I remember you! ” I say,  and then I take some time to admire the bits of it that I built well, ignoring the shoddy bits that I fudged and the crew with the indistinguishable names.

My manuscript is a little boat that I’ll keep pushing back out to sea until one day, its sails will catch the right wind to take it where it needs to go.

Either that, or I’ll just accept that I need to scrap the whole thing and repurpose the good bits for another little boat I’m building.

After all, I’m a builder of little boats and not a sailor.

 

 

4

Crochet-as-metaphor-for-novel-writing

I’m going to come out and say what you’ve all been thinking: there are not enough blog posts out there labouring this whole ‘crochet-as-metaphor-for-novel-writing‘ thing. Certainly not on this ‘crochet-as-metaphor-for-novel-writing‘ blog, which has lain fallow for almost a year. Oh the shame of it all.

So here is an update on where I am with my novel writing, as represented by some of my crochet projects. You know, because crochet-as-metaphor, etc, etc.

MANUSCRIPT #1: THE HIDDEN DRAWER
Two strangers exchange messages about their unhappy married lives in the suburbs via a hidden drawer in a cafe table, unaware that there is someone else reading them.

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This manuscript is like the Forever Blanket. It took me forever and to you, the casual observer, it looks finished. But then, you get up close and you see shit like this:

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And then someone, maybe me, tells you how I have to keep emergency yarn in my bedside table drawer so that I can fix it in the all the places it keeps unravelling and how I sometimes have to do this as I’m trying to go to bed, and you realise how stupidly flawed the whole thing is.

Maybe ‘The Hidden Drawer’, like the Forever Blanket, will never be finished-finished but maybe that’s okay because I learnt so much in the making of it.

Maybe.

But I’ll keep trying to fix it, because I’m stubborn like that. Also, I love it.

MANUSCRIPT #2: OUT OF WATER
A woman finds a wedding ring at the beach and shares it on Facebook in the hope of finding its owner. But as she uncovers a secret relationship, the tragic death of a child and the bizarre end of a man in a home-made fish suit, she realises the ring isn’t the quite the gift she thought it would be.

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This manuscript, which I had just started at the time of my last blog post, is now in its third draft and was recently sent out into the world in four different directions. Like this baby blanket, it still needs tidying up. Also, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s big enough.

But for the moment, I’m not going to do anything else on it. Certainly, with the blanket, I won’t finish it off until the baby it’s been made for has been safely delivered into this world. And with the manuscript, I’ll just wait and see where and when it lands before I open that particular Scrivener file again.

MANUSCRIPT #3: EACH OTHER (working title)
A car overturns on a remote West Australian road. Nobody is badly hurt, but the impact is felt by the two sisters involved for decades afterwards.

FullSizeRenderThis manuscript is like this new blanket project: a small, random selection of messy-looking squares that I’ve half-heartedly started stitching together, in the full knowledge that I’ve only completed 10% of the squares I’ll ultimately need to do before I can even begin to call it a blanket.

MANUSCRIPT #4: [Title completely unknown]
Something about postcards. 

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This manuscript is very much like this future crochet project, where very little is known about it except that I think I might like to use this orange yarn from Morris & Sons.