Who started this year with a gleeful commitment to a resolution or a word? Not me. Instead, as I enter into the world of my fourth manuscript, I have decided to put aside the notion of a clean slate or new commitments, and I’m looking back at my previous work.

I’ve decided to go through my past manuscripts and my thinking behind them, and I’ve found work I love, areas that could do with boost… and really… I’ve looked at what I consider my biggest fail.  

You see I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of listening to maaaaany episodes of Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast and out of all the great interviews she’s done from Marian Keyes (my fav!) to Gillian Anderson and Geri Halliwell the one stand out for me is actually Elizabeth’s own phrase that she shares: “…learning how to fail in life actually means learning how to succeed better”. I love it.

So, I’ve looked back at my commitment to fiction writing since around 2018 and one big fail stands out so much that I didn’t even have to spend all that long thinking about it…

I failed with my writing when I decided to write in a style that wasn’t me.

How I started

You see I stared out on this fiction writing journey with a glee for ‘happy’ stories. I loved the upbeat style of ‘women’s fiction’, chick lit, rom-coms, family dramas etc… I loved stories that had a great female lead character or cast of characters, that played with modern storytelling, yet dealt with a serious issue underneath, and ultimately finished in a highly satisfying (usually happy) way. They were the books I loved and that was the writing style I wanted to emulate. After all, I wanted — and still do want — my writing to be more than a flash in the pan. I want it to be my career, so I figured I better write what I love.

I finished not one, but two manuscripts (over a couple of years) and sent them out with great hopes. The went… nowhere. No one picked them up and many publishers and established authors told me that no one was interested in that style of commercial storytelling. Such manuscripts weren’t being acquired and they certainly weren’t going on to be sold as books, apparently. Dark was where it was at.

What I did next and where I went wrong

With the long-term picture in mind and a hunger to crack through the gates of a publisher, I switched genres. Maybe, I thought, I could write something else, after all I read a variety of genres so why couldn’t I write like that too?

I went dark. I went to psychological thriller school (an online course) and studied lessons in playing with readers’ minds (mwahaha *evil laugh* that kind of thing) and read more thriller books than you could poke a knife at.

And then… I struggled to write SO much.

I had a great idea and I could see it playing out in my head like a movie. I really could. So I didn’t think it would be that hard.

Yet when it came time to sitting down every day and writing it out I was bored. I pushed myself. I chastised myself when I didn’t reach my word count. I blamed my abilities and doubted I was worthy of ever actually being an author.

I kept going and worked on it… and in the meantime while I was struggling with it, the pandemic happened and what do you know? The market wanted happy stories and I had nothing new to pitch!!

Seeing that shift made me think that I should go back and lighten up the story. So, I did. I rewrote it and tried to give it more of a family drama flavour and I think it kind of worked.

But boy did that project burn me out and put me off fiction writing for a while. It also made me realise how quickly the publishing industry can turn and that I need to write what I like, because there will be a market for every genre… eventually.

Moving on to the 2024 project

Now with the start of a new year and the kids going back to school, I have that chance to start a new story again and you can bet I am ONLY writing in the way I like.

I’m picking a fiction genre that feels good to me. I’ve got a cracking new idea and a whole suite of female characters that I can’t wait to play with.

And I’m always going to remember to write what I like.

JR x