About robjtriggs

Currently based in Oxfordshire but with links to Belfast, Bradford and Norwich, I'm a writer of speculative fiction and a dreamer of dreams. Including that one which starts out nice and then turns on you like a twisty-turny thing

On the cusp

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So far I have sent out two* submissions for Oneiromancer and I have had two rejections. At least I’m consistent.

This is not a big deal. Agents – I’ve not gone direct to publishers yet – receive hundreds of unsolicited submissions each week and take on maybe three new clients a year. Even if they love your writing the stars still have to align for them to offer to take you on.

What makes things different this time is that I feel uniquely close to actually breaking through. Rejection one: ‘I admire your writing’. Rejection two: ‘Better than a lot of submissions’. I feel like I am on the cusp; on the cusp of what I am not exactly sure, but something.

I have felt like this before. Night Shift received a lot of full-manuscript requests and ultimately got nowhere. I started this blog because I felt like my writing career was about to take off. Three years later and I’ve barely moved.

Not true, of course. I’ve moved huge distances. It’s just that these distances are very difficult to see from the outside.

Back to rejections. It’s interesting to look at the reasons I was, ultimately, rejected:

  • Submission One: ‘I don’t know the Urban Fantasy market.’

Even genre specialists do not know all aspects of every sub-genre. Agency is about having relationships with editors and publishers; having contacts and avenues in a specific field. If they don’t have that then they won’t be the best representative for your work.

  • Submission Two: ‘…Don’t currently have room on my list’.

Agenting takes a huge amount of time and effort: first the editing, the licking of the work into publishable shape. Then the hawking of the work around editors, representatives and publishers’ readers. Finally the negotiations, the financial play, the business side of the industry. All this takes time and there’s a limited amount of that for each author. Of course their lists get full. Even agents are allowed a day off every so often.

Of course it could be that these compliments are just sweet words; a sop to their conscience and my ego. They could be lies. But you always hear that agents don’t have time for slushpile critiques and anything they say should be taken at face value. So I choose to be complimented. I choose to believe that I am close.

This doesn’t actually help me at all. I’m still unpublished and unagented. But the world at the moment looks bright and positive. It is an inspiration to push on; to get another batch of submissions out there. And, when they’re on the way, to write more. That’s the way to get better. Maybe a stroke of luck is what it’ll take, but you have to be in a position to take advantage of your fortune.

I am on the cusp. It’s down to me to make the most of any opportunities that come my way.

*Three now. Three rejections. That is fine

More ‘No’

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Always have two more targets to apply to. Then, whenever you receive a rejection, send them out. Soon the whole process will snowball and you’ll almost enjoy the sensation of rejection as it’ll be springboard to doing and promoting.

I got my first rejection for Oneiromancer last week and that’s fine. I owed this particular agent first refusal; and, as I waited, I was constrained from really pushing myself. Not literally; I didn’t have an exclusivity clause or anything. But it’s always easier to wait than to act, and it’s not like I had nothing else on my mind.

Now the formal notification has arrived: she doesn’t want me. The note contained nice words (she admires my writing) and I know the business: nothing personal, just a cold hard calculation of what’s best for us both. Of course I’m disappointed but I respect her, her opinions and her reasons.

Sometimes a rejection is gutting, a kick in the knackers, a painful reminder of your own limitations. But sometimes it’s a cutting of a cord, the freedom to walk another road, be it with a different agency or self-publishing – or the chance to write something entirely new.

Rejection isn’t a sign of failure; it’s not a comment on your writing or your potential. It’s an opening of doors. It’s the chance to grow. So don’t be afraid. The hurt is only temporary, and hiding from the world won’t get you anywhere.

Take any lessons you may have learnt, down your gin then sober up and step on. Rejection is never nice, but it’s hardly the end of the world, or of your career. Keep going and you’ll get there in the end – even if the destination isn’t the one you’d originally envisioned.

Poem #3

Asylum 2

Waiting

So here I wait for you to come and forget
What you did, where you left me
Darling. While I give you what you needed
My white jacket blisters under interrogation

Each day they come, they come again
I give myself but I can’t give you
And they don’t know I dream: I dream of the day
You return

With fire riding at your back
We’ll see who burns best
Me? I just wait
For you, or for my love to bring that sweet chemical blend

That tastes too much like cheap tea; and for the appropriate adult
To handle the cutting
And the sticking
And the rolls of double-sided tape

For this art is close-mouthed
And still: and still I am nothing
Apart or by your side, your prop or your propeller
Don’t you miss me yet?

Or am I out of mind?
Well then
I will wait. I have time

This will be my final gift to you
When once again that smile is forced upon my face
(Don’t need make-up anymore)
And say, my darling, always say
Welcome home

On Inspiration

traincrash

Ideas can strike you in the funniest ways, in the oddest places. A week ago I was lamenting my lack of brain-power: today I feel reinvigorated. And it’s all because, with nothing else on, I found myself watching a documentary on the Mountain Railways of India.

The railways are fascinating in themselves, but they’re nothing to do with this story. What struck me was the pride with which the staff looked after their engines; the delight they took from turning out a clean machine and making them run to time.

For years now I’ve been turning an idea around in my mind: a story set in Fenland, an adventure about a chase through eel-ridden waterways and thick vegetation. It’s been parked in a crevice of my mind: now I feel I have a new element to go with it. The pride and kinship of a boat-crew; the ties and rivalries that must exist between captains like that of the train crews in Tamil Nadu.

This is what writing is, for me. It’s about taking ideas from the strangest places, reworking them, tempering them and melding them together. I still don’t know what this story is really about. I still don’t have characters other than a vague sense, a shape, of what is needed. But I feel like I’ve found an edge-piece and it’s slipped neatly into place next to a corner, and a little more of the way forward has been illuminated.

It’s like baking bread; you find the recipe and then you work the dough. When it’s proved you can’t separate out the ingredients but they’re all in there; and where you found them no longer matters.

All that matters now is the taste of the whole, and the satisfaction of a full belly.

Fishing for mojo

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For the first time in over a decade I am struggling to write. Even this blog feels like it’s being ripped out of the deepest agonies of the soul and the words don’t want to come.

It’s not just the Major Life Event. It’s also because I’m between projects; I finished my latest draft of my latest novel just before Christmas, and don’t know what I’m working on next. My attempts at a new novel have stalled, and whilst I have plenty of ideas circling manically around my mind, I can’t seem to latch onto anything. If I were in the middle of something I could snatch half-hours to add odd words and I wouldn’t feel quite so much like I was failing.

This is a torment. I love writing, love creation, and right now I don’t seem able to grasp hold of anything. I know it’s just a phase, a passing moment of enforced downtime. But that fear is constantly buzzing in my ears: what if I’m burnt out? What if I’ve lost the spark? Major Life Event notwithstanding, this is the ideal time to write: I’ve time at home; the MLE’s at her sleepiest; the wife is taking frequent naps. It’s not going to get any easier than this. This is prime writing time. Why aren’t you using it?

I am my own worst enemy.

Intellectually I know that this will pass. Things will get clearer. I will carve out a new routine. But emotionally all is doom and despair. I have no writing career from which I can take a year out. I don’t want to let down my social media followers (which is massively ridiculous; I’m hardly that egocentric. But I don’t want to lose any momentum I may have gained. Which may also be ridiculous, but still).

I need to take a proper break and let my spiralling mind settle. Things will get better. I just need to go fishing for mojo and then I’ll be feasting on productivity again.

With apologies for the random, half-formed images and metaphors.

Rewiring

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Baby Lyra is home. The sleepless nights have begun. And I find myself facing a new challenge: how to abandon all old patterns of production and learn to write afresh.

I’ve written before about the value of routine, and habit, to creativity. I’ve waxed at length about how I’ve trained myself to sit at my desk at this particular time and crack on, to get down to it; to shape my brain to operate with the parameters of work and wakefulness. The more you do it, the more you expect to focus at a certain time, the easier it is to pick up and run.

Now I have to retrain myself to take opportunities as they present themselves; in those blissful snatched moments when Lyra is asleep but I’m not. I have to forget the years of mental discipline and work out how to be ad hoc, to be ad lib, to take my splintered moments and make the most of them. Because every second spent thinking of a project is a second you move further forwards. I’ve been advocating a way of working for years. Now I have to forget all that and start again.

I hate not working. To put it another way, I enjoy idleness so much that I fear not working. I now have the perfect excuse to sleep in, to prevaricate, to put everything else first. I have to say to myself that will not do that – whilst at the same time not being so hard on myself as to not give myself the much-needed leisure and relaxation time that everyone needs.

I’m sorry if this post is seeming rambly and unfocused: if it does then at least it’s an accurate representation of my mental state. The important thing for me is to write something.

Maybe next time I’ll be able to write something good.

Lyra

By the time you read this my carefree childhood days will be a thing of the past. Adulthood will have taken a good, hard look at me, scowled and kicked sand in my face before leading me off into the great sunset that is Responsibility. Because of this:

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Lyra Sibella Keynton Triggs. Despite appearances, she is not The Pope. Yet.

You can’t say the hints weren’t there: all the talk of ‘taking six months off work’; of ‘becoming an adult’; of my life changing. Something’s been a-brewing but I’ve not wanted to talk about it directly – partly for fear of jinxation, partly because I’ve maybe possibly been in denial, but mostly because that’s not what this blog’s about.

They say that everyone’s allowed one parenthood post. They can have one opportunity to gush; one chance to say how their kid is the best – better, even, than all the other ‘best’ kids out there. Well this isn’t it. This blog’s to talk about writing. Thing is…

Thing is, how can you talk about writing when you don’t know what shape your life will take for the next year?

Lifestyle affects writing. It’s obvious and it’s true. You can’t sleepwalk your way through a novel: you can’t (yet) download your thoughts directly onto paper or video your dreams. You need time, you need a certain degree of consciousness, you need routine, focus and direction. A wee bub challenges all these things.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible to write a novel with a small child in proximity. I’ve read a good handful of interviews where the starting point for the novelist was the sleeptime of the child. I had a Twitter exchange with Aliette de Bodard where we jokingly mooted writing an article on the problem/opportunity of writing with a smallrus in tow.

I know nothing of this yet. That it will affect me and my writing is not in doubt: the question is whether it will prove boon or bust.

In the short-term all I ask is that you be gentle with me. I don’t know what’s going to change. Maybe this blog will become more erratic. Please understand that I’m not abandoning you, that I’m still out here, across the cyberverse, doing my damnedest to produce wonderful words and wilful witticisms.

But Lyra comes first. And the wife. And sleep. After that – well, after that we’ll have to see.