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Rules for Writers: Part Two by R.M. Clarke

Writing.ie | Resources | Developing Your Craft
RM Clarke

R.M. Clarke

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OK, you’ve finished your novel. Actually finished it. You’ve put it through the blender once or twice, that one friend and your cat have stopped replying to your increasingly plaintive bids for attention, and you’ve gone through the whole, this is awful – this is ok – this is great?! – no, wait this is awful rollercoaster many times over AND you still haven’t thrown it on a bonfire. For better or worse, however you’re feeling about yourself or the piece of work now in your possession, you have written a book.

Or maybe it’s a short story, or a poem. That’s good. Sometimes a story or poem takes as long as a book. You have short story writers redrafting one piece for more than a year, and authors writing best-selling books in six weeks. What, you want this to make sense? Go into accountancy. Numbers do not lie. But words -words! – the little sprites, are slippery messers, lying disguised and waiting to ambush, to do the exact opposite of what you’d intended. As I’ve been known to mention on occasion, there are no rules (and yes, I know what the title of this article series is).

So, what next? Because you’re insisting about it now, you’ve put the work in, and you will be a writer. The world of publishing – big, bad – mushrooms around you. Where to turn? A good place to start, even if it induces feelings of panic, or even terror, is to look at writing competitions. There are great ones for as yet unpublished novels, like the Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair, Date With an Agent, and Bath, that if the writing Gods smile on you and you end up getting placed in, can put you in rooms with all sorts of people it would be good to be in rooms with, like agents and publishers and other writers in varying states of mortal inadequacy and panic. Short story competitions at home and abroad are numerous, like Mslexia (for women writers), Sean O’Faoiláin and, again, Bath. Most Literary festivals, of which Ireland alone has a pretty few, usually run a short story and/or poetry competition as part of the festival junket. Places like where you are right now (writing.ie if you’d forgotten), Words Ireland, and A Dreaming Skin, blog of poet Angela T. Carr, round up most of what’s going on for the intrepid writer nicely. Signing up to Submittable helps you to keep an eye on a large number of upcoming competitions and journal deadlines, and gives you somewhere to point your compass towards in the wilderness. Handily, it can be organised according to genre, and whether or not an entry comes with a fee; something you can discuss with yourself the value of on your own personal time. There are rolling submissions available for Hennessy New Irish Writing, The Dublin Review, and Cypher, and further afield for the New York Times and The Paris Review (why not?), though what each journal accepts, and how they accept it, varies. Font is very important. You should know this by now – don’t you refuse to write even a single word until your new document is set to 12pt 1.5 spaced Georgia? It is also wise to pay attention to word count, format, genre, and style requested by each journal, and whether or not hard copies via post, or Word documents via email or Submittable are preferred, or you will end up wasting your own time and everyone else’s. I know that is kind of a habit of most writers, but best avoided if at all possible when in the process of submitting.

You will be rejected. A lot. It varies for a few, but most writers report a rejection rate of about 90% (if not more), even for some well-established writers. Every one of us is on our own peculiarly overgrown, winding path, and as necessary as having hope is to continue onward it must also be tempered with as little expectation as possible, for your own sanity. Cultivating the tricky balance between optimism and complete detachment, if only for brief moments, can go a long way to helping you stay balanced in the face of a lot of unwelcome blanket responses urging you to have better luck next time, elsewhere. Sometimes you will, very occasionally, receive a kindly worded personal rejection, and after a while you will come to cherish these like a flickering light on a black and deserted road.

What might be helpful at this stage is getting to know more of your own kind. If you simply can’t do the in-person writers group thing for reasons of character or circumstance, consider joining one of the many groups on Facebook in your country or area, if you can handle being on Facebook. Or even try dipping your toe in something like a weekend workshop; once it’s done you don’t ever have to do it again, if you don’t want to. There is jealousy and snarkiness in every collection of humans, but most writers are, despite their reputation, a warm and encouraging bunch to one another, possibly because they are so starved of it on a daily basis. Most will give you tips and point you in the right direction on where to go next, and be honest about how much they, too, are struggling. This will help to give you a wider perspective about your own situation, and help you realise that it’s not personal. The world isn’t turning its back on you, it’s doing that to almost everyone. And isn’t that an encouraging thought!

Acceptances will come. They will. It may take some time. It may take a whole lot more time than you would like, or even have. But they will come. They might even surprise you in how quickly they do – after all, you could be one of the lucky ones. And if you don’t try, how are you ever going to find out?

(c) R.M. Clarke

See here for Part One of this article. Part Three to follow.

About The Glass Door:

Then the leaves whispered, the branches creaked. Something was up above, watching. Hello? She could feel eyes upon her. She knew she was not alone anymore: Who’s there? Then a voice came back to her: You found me. After all this time.

The Glass Door is a haunting investigation into the deep, complex and often frightening labyrinth of the human mind, where three generations of Irish women learn to tread the difficult path of reconciling individual identity with social approval. It is a novel about absence and brokenness and longing, and a small and fractured family trying to figure things, and each other, out.

Set in the 1970s and 80s between the east coast of Ireland and London, Rosie’s story unfolds as she and her unwed mother Sandra chase her reluctant father across the sea, where he slips through their grasp and disappears, leaving emptiness in Rosie’s hand where a work-roughened palm should be. Mother and daughter are forced by failure and poverty to return home to the bitter embrace of Rosie’s grandmother, Marie, whose love for her daughter and granddaughter is poisoned by her desire for social acceptance. But the strange child Rosie grows increasingly stranger, especially at night, when her unpredictable behaviour becomes both frightening and dangerous. Sandra, coming under growing pressure, both from Marie and the society she lives in, must find a new man to take Rosie’s father’s place. But once she does things only get worse for her and Rosie. After years spent enduring years an increasingly disturbed home life, everything comes to a deadly climax.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

R.M. Clarke began her career as an actress in 2006, moving behind the scenes into voiceover and writing some years later. Her stories have been published in The Irish Times, Spontaneity, Losslit, The Open Pen Anthology and written for Dublin 2020. Her debut novel, The Glass Door, won the ‘Discovery’ award at the Dalkey Book Festival and The Irish Writers Centre Greenbean Novel Fair 2016. She is editor of and contributor to The Broken Spiral anthology in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, published in 2017 with the assistance of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature. She was part of the 2018 XBorders:Accord writing project in association with the Irish Writers Centre and Arts Council Northern Ireland. She holds a BA and the Gold Medal in English from Trinity College Dublin. She lives in Wicklow.

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