The last time I had read short stories, was probably a decade ago at university, and I found it very refreshing to slowly open my mind to them again. Truth is, short stories are beautiful bursts of craftsmanship. They pack a “pow” and they remind the reader of the magic of the English language
Hi fellow writers,
I have had an incredibly creative week, how about you? After years and years of not being able to find my creative spirit, something happened this past week, and I could not stop writing or thinking about writing. I started off by reading recently published short stories in The New Yorker, and bam! – my creative beast awoke (ha!). The last time I had read short stories, was probably a decade ago at university, and I found it very refreshing to slowly open my mind to them again. Truth is, short stories are beautiful bursts of craftsmanship. They pack a “pow” and they remind the reader of the magic of the English language. What I love most, is that there are very little rules in short stories (if you read my last blog, you’d see that I have a bit of an “issue” with rules when it comes to writing).
I have easily read about 50 short stories this week and wrote my very first short story (which I’ve submitted to the Writer’s Digest short story competition). I’ve tapped into inspiration from favorites such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, but I must say that the one short story that has stuck with me, has been J.M. Coetzee’s The Dog (which I read on The New Yorker). It was super short, but had such a beautiful, strong twist, that it has been haunting me for a number of days now.
I’d love to hear about your favorite short stories and how you stay inspired – leave a comment below or send me an email about your favorites!
Since stepping out of the journalism industry a year ago, I have had a lot of time to reflect and collect the remains of myself, left by the wayside. The greatest hurdle, oddly enough, has however been to force myself to write and read books.
Hi fellow writers,
Wait. What? That’s a weird headline, isn’t it? I absolutely agree, it makes no sense. Since stepping out of the journalism industry a year ago, I have had a lot of time to reflect and collect the remains of myself, left by the wayside. The greatest hurdle, oddly enough, has however been to force myself to write and read books.
Journalism. Aaah you sing in your mind as you raise your nose to smell the fresh-printed stack of morning-delivery-newspapers. You give yourself a massive pat on the back after posting a quick blog of breaking news to the company website. A layer of importance and accomplishment added to your already very healthy ego, for being the first to inform the general public of developing current events. But see, you’ve been groomed and you’ve been contained; plomped into a small cardboard box – one easy enough to arrange next to the other cardboard boxes, and easy enough to get rid of, at the economy’s whim. You have been guided towards the most boring and factual sentences you will ever encounter. You have come such a long way since starting as an intern, now you get praised for your accuracy and conciseness and ability to come across as someone who really does not like people. Welcome, to journalism.
My earliest memories of the shaping of my identity, involves writing. I used to write poems on napkins under restaurant tables as a kid, chose books and pens over toys and was never quite able to express my deepest feelings without the help of a piece of paper. Words were a world to me, a place with no rules. A paradise where words of hope held epic sword fights with the depressive words of fear. In this world however, it was also okay for the bad guy to win sometimes – because it was considered art and something to be admired in silence.
With another drop of a newspaper on my desk, with circles made around sections of articles, instructions as to what I should deem to be important news, I decided that I did not like to read anymore. With not reading, came a half-decade marathon writing drought. I had lost the thing most precious to me, in pursuing what I thought I wanted most. Yes, I was working with words all day long – and that’s what I kept telling myself whenever I felt my fingers hovering in uncertainty above the keyboard before having to write anything. There were just too many rules. Rules I respected and lived by and would have died for. But they broke my creativity and imagination for a very long time, and boy, has it been a hell of a journey to reclaim.
I often find myself writing and suddenly, being greeted by one of those instilled rules. It used to be an awkward side-hop, not knowing how to pass or avoid, but I have learned that I can just wave. I can wave and remember. Not wrapped in bitterness or hate, but in appreciation of where I came from. I needed those rules to do the best job I could. Today however, I say screw the rules – writing and reading is all that matters – and there is no right or wrong way.
Throughout this process, I have read so many blogs and listened to various podcasts on how publishing works for first-timers. They were incredibly helpful and served as guidelines in an unknown world. Some of the most basic questions I had when starting out, were however contained in various different publications.
Hi fello writers,
So you’ve written a manuscript or you’re thinking about writing one – kudos to you! It’s probably one of the most courageous journeys you’ll ever find yourself on in this lifetime. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as making that final edit to your work and knowing that a story which never existed on paper, has now been recorded.
So, what tools do you need to begin?
I’d say a laptop, a cool notepad where you can save all your secret thoughts, coffee and some good music. Also, get yourself a good friend to help read through your various drafts. In my case, it was my sister – a curious soul, who asked so many questions, which were ultimately gaps in the plot. So be sure to ask someone who will immerse themselves in your story and who will want to understand how all the gears turn in the story.
It took me exactly 11 months to write and complete my nonfiction manuscript. It was a hefty research project and I swore at myself several times for choosing to write a book on this specific topic. But it was a story that had to be told. I did not choose it – it chose me. In hindsight, I would definitely recommend anyone to write a work of fiction, purely because you’ll be able to allow your imaginative, creative mind to wander.
Throughout this process, I have read so many blogs and listened to various podcasts on how publishing works for first-timers. They were incredibly helpful and served as guidelines in an unknown world. Some of the most basic questions I had when starting out, were however contained in various different publications. Such as the sweet spot for word count, spacing and pages. My manuscript is about 83 000 words and stands at approximately 240 pages. Literary agents/publishers seem to love the 80 000 word count area. Anything under that and over 90 000 – and you’ll have a bit of a tougher time selling your work. Don’t ask me why – my gut tells me that that is a book that is comfortable to read in terms of sizing and digesting of information. Write your manuscript in double-spacing, Times New Roman, 12pt. Also, that’s what most of the agents have declared to be the easiest to read.
Something I can definitely recommend once you’re gearing up to create your shortlist of potential literary agents that you’ll be querying, is www.querytracker.net. This website is like the holy grail for anyone stressing and wondering about where they will ever gain access to agents’ information. If you sign up for the premium option of $25 a year, you’ll be able to view reports on how the agents respond to queries. This has helped me greatly in setting up my query list, as I’m able to see which agents are serious about my genre. My favorite though, is being able to view user comments on the different agents and how it went with their queries to specific agents. This has proven to be magical, in that it prepares you for the type of rejection you can expect to receive from agents.
Another website with great tips and advice on how to construct query letters or proposals, can be found at www.janefriedman.com. Her advice is presented in easy bullet-pointed lists, which makes it really easy to understand and apply to query documents. She also offers a service to assist you in drawing up your query letter – the document that will ultimately sell your book.
My favorite podcast throughout this process, which has filled my thoughts of despair and frustration, has been The Write Now podcast. Sarah Werner provides writers from all walks of life with helpful advice on various topics related to writers. The episodes are not too long and not too short – which I found to be perfect for listening to during a workout. You can find The Write Now podcast at www.sarahwerner.com or you can find it on the podcast app on your phone.
These have been some of the sources that have been helpful during my writing process. I would love to hear what you have found to be helpful while navigating through the unknown literary world!
Hi fellow writers, I started to send off my queries to literary agents about two weeks ago now. While it has been an incredibly exciting process, it’s also been quite depressing at times. A few days in, I received about five rejections […]
Hi fellow writers,
I started to send off my queries to literary agents about two weeks ago now. While it has been an incredibly exciting process, it’s also been quite depressing at times. A few days in, I received about five rejections and two proposal requests. It was here where I found myself standing between rejection and promise. “No worries”, I thought. Turns out there is still a bit of work that needs to be done from my side, as I have now seen about 20 rejections.
While my narrative nonfiction manuscript has been written and professionally edited in full – it just does not seem to be enough (can I cry now?). From what I have gathered, I need to explain how I’d market my book before any agent is willing to touch it. Sounds easy enough. I’m willing and able to help promote my book, whether it means spending full days on social media or endless travel. I still have close ties with the media industry and have an okay social media following from my journalism days. But again, the agents don’t think that that’s enough from my side. They want to know whether I’m in current publications or involved in lecturing on the topic of my manuscript. Ha – here’s the catch!
I have just spent the past year, locked inside a room, researching and writing this manuscript. That’s after quitting my job, to finally have the time to execute this project. Had I been researching, let’s say “the color black”, I’d have no trouble in delivering lectures or writing about my topic in publications. But as luck would have it, I decided to write about a controversial historical story. The book is about a group of guys who wanted to overthrow the South African government and attempted to assassinate late former president Nelson Mandela. While I was writing this book, I never once pictured myself becoming an “expert” on a group of right-wingers, nor do I understand why I should be.
That is the biggest wrench in the thinking process from my side at this stage. How does one lecture about such a topic or contribute to publications, before the book has been sold and published? I just want to share the story and this has proven to be my greatest frustration. If an agent is not willing to look at the manuscript – how will stories like these ever see the light of day? While I have great appreciation for the ruthless querying process, I do not necessarily agree with the quick dismissal of historically important stories.
Will this book’s future hang in the balance, because of me not doing enough to “sell” it? This is the part I’m struggling with. The book is written. The research has been done. Yet, I need to “sell” history, in a sense. And I’m struggling to understand how that should be done.
Right now, I’m licking my wounds and gearing up for round two of polishing query letters and proposals. I would love to hear from you and your query experiences!
I’ll post an update as soon as the current situation has changed (I’m smiling as I type this).
Hi fellow writers, I have just started to submit my query letters to literary agents this week, and whoah has it been a learning curve. After months of researching the query process, I still find myself learning new things and banging my […]
Hi fellow writers,
I have just started to submit my query letters to literary agents this week, and whoah has it been a learning curve. After months of researching the query process, I still find myself learning new things and banging my head against the table after noticing mistakes.
I have read over and over again that the query letter needs to be perfect. I have been revising it dozens of times and I’m still convinced that it will never be “just right”. Now, I’ve decided to adapt to my journalism background of faking-it-until-I-make-it.
Back to the manuscript that I have been working on for the past year: It’s the story of South Africa’s first high treason trial since 1994, when the country attained democracy. There were 23 accused men when the trial started, of which 14 of them are still behind bars. The group of right-wingers, functioning under the name Boeremag, had planned for months to launch a coup in the country. They also attempted to assassinate former president Nelson Mandela.
I covered the trial for three years, but found myself visiting the alleged mastermind behind bars for the past six years – which has been a wacky, insightful journey. Since there were so many accused in the trial, there has never been a concise record of how they wanted to topple the democratic government – until now. I have spent the last year ploughing through tens of thousands of papers from the court transcripts, to piece together the different versions and events as they played out in 2001/2002. Through being in court for so many years, I learned more about the inner dynamics of the trial, which was characterized by betrayal, frustration and families being torn apart.
The book is a narrative nonfiction work, with historical, political, cultural and journalistic influences. It’s an interesting perspective in the current global political landscape, where populism has become an emerging political narrative.
Karin Mitchell is the author of South Africa’s High Treason Club which was published in August 2019 by Mcfarland in North Carolina (USA). The book chronicles the “Boeremag” trial, where an initial 23 men stood accused of conspiring to overthrow the ANC […]
Karin Mitchell is the author of South Africa’s High Treason Club which was published in August 2019 by Mcfarland in North Carolina (USA). The book chronicles the “Boeremag” trial, where an initial 23 men stood accused of conspiring to overthrow the ANC government. It is the first full narrative covering the layered stories of the mammoth trial.
She has also just finished co-authoring a memoir of a rhino monitor’s tales in South Africa. The work is currently under submission review.