Word Count 1: Regret as rocket fuel, writing women, and getting to the end of your barf draft

by Suw on May 17, 2022

Hi there,

Oh frabjous day! It’s my first full newsletter, hot off the presses and ready for you to enjoy!

Suw’s news: The mundane pain of rejection

One thing that unites everyone in the creative industries is rejection. You pour your heart into your writing and then some complete stranger turns round and says, “It’s not good enough”.

When I started sending out my novel to agents, I knew it would get rejected. The bottom has fallen out of the market for stories about a global pandemic. Rejections or ghosting was what I expected and it’s what I got. It was water off a duck’s back because I knew it was coming.

But last September, I started working on something different, a fantasy adventure about a middle-aged woman who finds herself suddenly cursed with immortality and saddled with a responsibility to save our planet from invading insectoid aliens. It’s a six part serial TV show and I’ve drafted all six episodes (although I confess that episode 3 is a hot, hot mess).

In March, I spotted that the BBC Studio’s Writers’ Academy had an open call for applicants for a 4 month in-person course. The deadline was just before Kevin and I were due to go down to Texas to visit family and slap bang in the middle of our house-packing frenzy, but I still managed to get an application in. Despite trying not to, I’ve been on tenterhooks over the last month or so. I couldn’t help imagining how life-changing being selected for this course would be.

But alas, alack, it is not to be. I’m going to confess, this rejection stings quite hard because I genuinely I thought I had chance. You know what they say: It’s the hope that kills you.

You know what else they say? You have to get straight back on that damn horse. So now I’m working on my show bible to see if that helps me sort out ep 3, and then, well, maybe I’ll turn it into a novel as well, so I’ve got two things to submit. Hope doesn’t beget action; action begets hope.

Read this and watch that: Regret as rocket fuel

Regret is a powerful force, as this excellent piece by Lindsay Crouse in the New York Times amply illustrates. Mariko Yugeta had always wanted to be an athlete, but she set aside her ambitions to raise a family and have a career. Now, at the age of 63, she “has quietly become the fastest woman in her age group ever to finish a marathon [and] is beating the times she chased as a promising amateur athlete in her 20s.”

The article mentions Dan Pink’s new book, The Power of Regret, and in looking for that online I found this short talk in which he runs through the four different types of regret:

  • foundation regrets, eg not saving or not studying,
  • boldness regrets, eg not asking someone out,
  • moral regrets, eg doing the wrong thing when you know it’s wrong,
  • connection regrets, eg not reaching out to an old friend.

There’s no doubt that turning 50 last year lit a bonfire of regret beneath me. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, but it is true that I have not been writing consistently and I’ve not been submitting. That has changed. And reading this article has made me even more determined to use my regret as rocket fuel.

But it has also made me think about my characters in a different way. What do they regret? How does that regret shape who they are, what decisions they make and how they behave? We all regret something, what matters is what we do with our regrets.

Writing women: Give your female characters STEM careers

I’ve spent much of the last 13 years running Ada Lovelace Day, the international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and it’s given me an amazing insight into the lives and works of women whom I would otherwise never have heard of.

It’s also made me wonder how I can incorporate what I’ve learnt about gender (in)equality to writing. Certainly it has changed how I think about the female characters in the centre of my novel and screenplay, how I portray them, and how that might affect my readers’ understanding of women’s capabilities. So this part of the newsletter is really about encouraging us all to think about our female characters and how we can broaden them out. Over time, I want to develop a playbook of tips that can be used by anyone to enrich their writing.

Let’s start with careers. Studies have shown that people overwhelmingly assume that “scientists” are men. An easy way to chip away at these gender stereotypes is to normalise the idea of women working in STEM. No matter what genre you’re writing in, your character has probably been to school, maybe university, and could well have a job. So, what does she do?

There are STEM jobs for people of all background and levels of educational attainment, from engineering apprenticeships and technician roles through to teachers and lecturers, policy makers, communicators and yes, obviously researchers and practitioners. I put together a few careers posters for ALD, so take a look and see what inspiration flows!

Tip-top tip: Getting to the end of your barf draft

The purpose of a first draft is merely to exist. Whether you call it the ‘barf draft’, ‘draft zero’, or you ‘crappy first draft’, the only thing it has to be is finished. Which means that if you get stuck, it doesn’t matter if you just skip along to the next scene because you can always come back and fix things later.

David Dalglish has a great trick for moving your draft forward through these sticky patches, and he calls it <get there>. It’s worth reading this entire Twitter thread, in which he explains how he uses this technique during the writing and subsequent editing processes, but the long and short of it is to put a summary of what you’re stuck on between your angle brackets, so that you can easily search for and fix it later. That way, you don’t lose momentum when you forget the colour of your character’s eyes or can’t figure out how to segue from one scene to another.

Obligatory cat photo
Grabbity showing her belly

Just look at that fluffy belly! Grabbity has incredibly soft fur, and moults like crazy, but she’s so worth it! (Click to enbiggen.)

Grabbity and Copurrnicus arrive from America on 26 May, and I cannot wait to get them home and settled, so that I can once again smoosh that tummy.

That’s it for now! If you’ve enjoyed my newsletter this week, please forward it to your friends and encourage them to subscribe too.

All the best,

Suw

 

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