editors, rejections, and becoming blog-savvy: the first four months of freelance writing

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Here’s a Q&A to update on how my writing plunge is going. (I prefer the word ‘plunge’ to ‘career’, because that’s how it feels. And I feel ‘career’ really needs to have stuff backing it up, like…oh, I don’t know…a salary perhaps?)

If you’ve landed on this site without knowing me, and couldn’t give tuppence about what I’m up to – well, you’re every bit as welcome. I hope you find something interesting or encouraging here.

When and how do you write?

Writing mainly happens when my youngest boys are in preschool – Monday all-day and Wednesday afternoons. (They also go Tuesday mornings, when I co-teach Suzuki early years classes.) I write some evenings as well.

Typically, I curl up on the sofa with my laptop, and type away. I’d write all day if I could, but realistically there are usually a few jobs which can’t be postponed till the evening. I might write for a couple of hours, then take a break from the screen to do something else, then write again for the afternoon.

I absolutely LOVE writing! I didn’t realise quite how much until I started spending a whole day doing it. Last Monday it was 2.50pm before I looked up and thought about lunch – given that my older kids need collecting at 3 o’clock, this didn’t give me a lot of time, and was a good lesson in self-care!

What are you actually doing?

There’s the stuff you can read, the ‘visible’ part of my work.

For example, I’ve been updating this blog more regularly (check out my post on being a feminist SAHM, or this on blending adopted and birth kids), writing for Home for Good (e.g. what the church needs to know about trauma and the inspiring story of a foster care leaver), promoting my friend’s wonderful bistro, starting a HuffPost blog, and gaining a monthly slot on the Association of Christian Writers (ACW) blog.

I also wrote a guest post for one of my favourite blogs (the largest Christian marriage blog in the world, no less!) on what to do when you and your partner disagree about how to parent your kids!

That’s quite a bit, put like that.

But there’s also lots of stuff you don’t see. Articles I write, edit and re-edit for hours – only to have them rejected. Emails back and forth between editors, publishers and illustrators. Online networking with other writers. Working on book projects which you won’t see until next year.

For the blog, I’ve been learning how to create better graphics. Joining affiliate programs to earn commission when readers buy books I recommend. Setting up a mailing list to communicate more reliably with readers. (I’d love you to sign up if you haven’t already!)

What are the challenges?

Until very recently, I found it extremely difficult to organise my different writing projects. At one point, I counted nine different places I was writing for – that’s quite a lot!

I didn’t know whether to prioritise the paid work, the book proposal (knowing that a response might take three months) or the guest post (knowing I might pick up new readers). Working for myself means I have no line manager to guide my workload.

Now, four months in, there are some very clear openings, and it’s these which are the recipients of my energy. The doors which have closed are projects I’m laying aside for the moment – not forever, as some of them may open in the future, but for now. It’s been painful, as some of it I would dearly love to do right away, but I need to trust God’s timing.

Anything else that’s been hard?

January’s optimism gave way to February’s despair. I received some rejections, was overawed at the writing ability of those around me, and started to doubt whether I could offer anything at all.

The quote at the top of this blog post sums it up perfectly, though – yes, I’m scared to death, but am clinging to a very strong sense from God that this is what I should be doing right now. That makes it a lot easier, and gives me peace when I start to doubt.

It has been refreshing to discover that even Jen Hatmaker, one of my favourite Christian writers, has had periods of self-doubt, looking around her at the work of other writers, and despairing of her own ability. I think Jen is one of the funniest, quirkiest, most passionate and radical writers around!

God’s been teaching me that I’m not supposed to be the next Jen Hatmaker or Michele Guinness. He has a role just for me, and I’m enjoying the journey of discovering what that is.

And what do you think it is?

At this stage, the doors which are opening are:

  • Home for Good – I’ve had seven pieces published here now, and feel like I’m really getting into the swing of it.
  • Books – I have a small publisher ready and willing to work with me on my children’s book (more later!), but I’m also exploring working with a larger publisher, which would give a larger budget for illustration.
  • I also have a different publisher keen to publish last year’s Random Advent devotional as a real-life book – hooray! It won’t be out till 2019, but the re-writing and editing needs doing this year.
  • Blog – I’m so grateful to you all for reading, and as long as you’re still enjoying it, I’ll keep writing! I’m looking into how I can build my subscriber list, monetise where possible (e.g. earning commission – at no cost to you of course, lovely readers!), and offer online courses or e-books, while maintaining the integrity of Desertmum and not becoming sales-y or annoying.

I know I say this all the time, but I am SO GRATEFUL to you all for reading, liking and sharing my blog. Your comments buoy me up when I’m feeling incapable of doing any of this – thank you!

Why adopt when you can have birth children?

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Image credit: Pixabay

It’s one of those questions that many of us might have in our heads, but never actually verbalise. After all, it sounds rude, doesn’t it? As if we’re questioning someone’s life choices – something we know never, ever to do in 21st-century Britain. (Do you catch a whiff of sarcasm?)

Well, here’s an answer. It’s my answer, and it may not be everyone’s, but here it is.

If you’d asked me in October 2011, when I was sat up in the night feeding our newborn, reading post after post on my friend’s adoption blog, I may have said something about God pulling on my heart strings in a way that He hadn’t previously. Surely the conversion of “I’d rather not adopt…unless we have to” into “I’m desperate to adopt – how much longer do we have to wait?” is answer enough.

You see, we were never making the decision between adoption and the usual route. We hadn’t had a serious discussion about whether to go for a third child or not – in our off-the-cuff comments to one another it was possible that I was keen and he was not, but I think now that God protected us from getting deep into these conversations, so that we might consider adoption on its own merits, and not as an alternative to having a birth child.

If you’d asked me in April 2015, when we attended an adoption preparation course, I’d have struggled to answer. Here we were, sat in a room full of those who couldn’t have children – heterosexual couples let down by the crueller side of nature, and homosexual couples who had limited options for having a family – knowing that, to the best of our knowledge, the equipment we possessed for bringing a new life into the world was still fully-operational. Why were we here?

It’s a question I blurted out to my social worker once the course was over. I wasn’t thinking of pulling out – more playing Devil’s Advocate, challenging this experienced professional to tell us, like some competitive reality TV show, why we should remain in the process.

Her answer was wise and insightful, and we’ve quoted it many times in conversation with others. It’s all about the child, she said. He needs to find the right family for him. The more families who enter the pool, the better the chances for the child.

And that was it. A complete reversal of the adoption process. She’d reminded us that we weren’t in this for us, as if we simply wanted to make our family more quirky, or gain new blog followers. We were in it for him or her or them – whoever God might have, ready and waiting, who needed our family.

Later, we were to call one of our boys “God has remembered”. (Not literally, of course, we’re not that quirky – but a name which means that. Being a public blog and all, I’m not about to share the actual name with you but if you enjoy that kind of thing then by all means look it up.) The point is that our boys were not forgotten. They were not forgotten when they were parted from birth family and they were not forgotten when they were being cared for by their foster family. God remembered them.

And, if you were to ask me now, April 2018, when our boys have been with us for well over two years, and the reality of our blended family has become normal and everyday – what would I say?

I would ask you what might have happened to our boys had we not entered the process. It’s highly likely that they would have gone to another family – they were young and cute enough to be a popular entry on the looked-after children register. This thought gives me huge relief on the one hand, to know that my boys would have been loved.

But that’s just it. They’re my boys, and the thought of them being in anyone’s family other than ours is so inconceivable that it actually just feels wrong. It shouldn’t matter whether you have birth children, step children, foster children or no children – if God (or your chosen deity) leads you down a path of adoption, go there without hesitation: you’ll discover rich treasures of love, belonging, identity and family that you never even knew existed.

Read more of my Adoption posts here. (Most recently – why did my son throw away his Mothers’ Day card?)

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Why my son tore up his Mothers’ Day card (and it’s not what you think)

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Image credit: Pixabay

As an organised, sentimental yet time-starved Mum, my approach to archiving all those special bits and pieces that your kids produce (and which you want to keep because, my gosh, some of it is truly awful), consists of throwing them all into named box files.

It works pretty well: each child has a file, and in it there is a fairly comprehensive stack of cards they’ve made, special pieces of art, certificates, and so on. If anyone ever wants to marry our kids (seems unlikely at the moment, given the apparent difficulty of remembering to change underwear on a daily basis, but you never know, this may sink in at some point), then we have a stack of stuff ready to embarrass/encourage them at their Hen/Stag parties, in the wedding speeches, or whenever we damn well feel like it. (Ammunition? Me?)

However, in Monkey’s file there will always be a gap where his Mothers’ Day card 2018 should have been. Mister and Meerkat have theirs safely filed away. Missy, who you can’t stop writing and drawing for love nor money, has all 28 of her cards filed away (well, maybe I binned a few).

But there’s a gap in Monkey’s file.

About a week or so after Mothers’ Day, he came into the kitchen where I was doing some job or other, a bit distracted as usual, and said calmly, “Me not like my picture. Me put it in the bin.”

I didn’t know to what he was referring, so just said, “That’s fine, sweetheart, you can do what you like with your own drawings”. It was only later that I discovered it was the cute card he’d carefully coloured and decorated at preschool for me.

You might think that this was some sort of toddler protest, that what Monkey was actually saying, in fact, was that I wasn’t his ‘real’ mum and that I therefore didn’t deserve a card.

You might think that, and you’d be forgiven. After all, isn’t this one of the well-known emotional stages that an adopted child might go through?

Well, yes, it can be. But I’m pretty sure Monkey wasn’t making a statement about me. For one, although we talk about birth mum, he is still too young to understand the implications of having two mums, and to consider that perhaps I’m not the best option, perhaps he’d have preferred to have had the other one raise him.

Secondly, he was entirely calm as he tore up the card and binned it. We hadn’t had a fight, he wasn’t having a meltdown, there were no tears or harsh words.

And I’m actually pleased that I didn’t realise till later that it was his Mothers’ Day card that he’d ripped up, or else I might have made more of a deal out of it. (And that would have been entirely because I was hurt, not because of any consideration to his feelings.)

The reason I believe he tore up the card is a little hard to describe, so bear with me. Partly, it’s because he needs to feel in control. Whilst my boys can’t remember moving from birth mum to foster mum, or from foster mum to me, the experience of changing care-giver as a young child is highly traumatic, and leaves its imprint on the mind. This imprint is one of anxiety and insecurity – “Will we be moving again? Will this family stick with us? Is it our fault?”

Whilst all babies and young children have decisions made for them, these are usually stabilising decisions which help to make the child feel more secure (such as what house to live in, which childcare to use, what to feed them etc.).

By contrast, the decisions that are made for looked-after children, although positive in the long-term, have an initially de-stabilising element. In order to keep these children safe, and to provide them with the best chance for their future, they need to be moved from one caregiver to another – moved away from everything they have come to know.

The effect of this is that looked-after children can often look for ways they can control and stabilise their environment. A simple way that a young child can do this is by taking ownership of something they’ve created, something they know is theirs – and to destroy it. My son wasn’t claiming that I wasn’t fit to be his Mum – he was simply taking control over something in his life which made him feel safe.

The jury’s out on whether I should encourage or discourage this behaviour (it’s not the first time), but I’m tending towards the idea that allowing my boys to take control in appropriate settings, whilst realising when their Dad and I are in control, is in the right kind of ball-park. And therefore, if they want to destroy stuff they make, I’m not going to protest wildly that “Now I don’t have anything to cover the period September-October 2017 on your 18th birthday speech! Damn you, child, with your lack of concern for feeding your mother’s maternal insanity” even though that is EVERY BIT how I feel.

Another reason for the destruction of the card – one which worries me a little more – might be that Monkey has a low opinion of himself. It is highly common for looked-after children to experience feelings of inadequacy (“I’m not good enough”, “My birth family didn’t want me”, “I don’t have a proper home”, “I’m not really their son”). I worry that the destruction of something he’s made reflects Monkey’s attitude about himself (which he can’t yet articulate) – that he is not valuable or precious or loved, and neither are the things he owns or makes.

There is no easy answer to this one, except to keep on loving, keep on reassuring, keep on praying, keep on whispering over and over again, “You are my very special son, and I love you. My sweet, special boy – I love you so much” until, like a stuck record, it becomes the unswerving refrain of his soul. Until he starts to believe it.

It’s only a card. I may joke about sentimentality, but really I’m not fussed whether it’s in the file or not. Like so much of adoptive parenting, what really matters is not the short-term behaviours but the long-term goal: parenting my son to face the future with a healthy attitude about himself and others.

It might sound easy, but to a destabilised and insecure child, it’s anything but.

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Egg-hunts, trying to be holy, and the Post-Modern Jukebox (What I’m into – March 2018)

Books

I finished The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (whicher (get it?) was highly absorbing, if a little slow-moving in the middle).

And then I spent a very enjoyable time with The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum. I won’t tell you how brilliant it is, because I’ve reviewed it here (and there are TWO copies to be won…comment on the post by Wednesday to be in with a chance!).

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Food

So I know there was food this month, but I didn’t really notice any of it, as I was pining too much for my first love. February’s optimism turned into March’s struggle. I tried everything to replace it: crisps, liquorice allsorts, fresh scones with clotted cream – but there’s no denying that I felt entirely lost without chocolate.

Will someone tell me what’s so infinitely better about chocolate than other sweet treats? I can’t put my finger on it – but nothing else tastes as good. 😦

Music

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A friend and I went to see the Post-Modern Jukebox, and they were all kinds of awesome. In fact, I already think they’ll be my top gig of 2018 – they would take a lot to beat. Fabulous musicians, singers…not to mention the incredible tap-dancer, who made me regret quitting tap lessons all those years ago! Who knew tap could be so cool.

I really hope they come to the UK again soon, as I know my older two kids would love the show. The arrangements are fabulous: contemporary pop songs, re-styled in vintage 20th-century genres. One of my favourites is their Motown version of Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone‘ – have a watch/listen!

Articles

One of the very best and easiest family decisions you can ever make, by Sarah Mackenzie for Ann Voskamp’s blog, was beautiful and inspiring – and I recommend it to all those with children in their lives.

I laughed out loud and nodded in agreement with this brilliantly dry piece from a Dad, on all the things he can’t do because he only has daughters.

She would be better off dead is a poignant and inspiring read, on why Christians need to move towards disability.

Last but not least, I found this blog post incredibly powerful: God is taking everything away from me, on Vicki Cottingham’s response to being diagnosed with M.E. The post is a few years old, but I recently ‘met’ Vicki online through Christian writers’ forums, and so have been made aware of her fantastic blog.

On the blog

I asked whether we should avoid Mothers’ Day just because it’s hard, and (when my husband went away for a few days) wondered if I could make it as a single parent. When my son asked a tricky question, I gave him this answer on the definition of ‘brother’.

I shared some prophetic words which I received recently, asking whether we can really trust them, and I reviewed Fiona Lloyd’s brilliant book – offering a giveaway which you can still enter!

Elsewhere

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Photo credit: Home for Good

It was a joy and a privilege to be able to write up the story of how four inspiring York families have opened their homes to Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children – you can read it on the Home for Good website.

If you’re interested, do read the stories of the individuals mentioned in the above article (I wrote these too!): Jen, Clare, Sandra and Lynn are incredibly inspiring.

In other news:

* I’ve joined the Association of Christian Writers (ACW) and attended my first Writers’ Day. It was brilliant: jam-packed full of practical, useful info about writing for magazines, led by an editor and journalist. I enjoyed meeting a few people who I’d started interacting with online, too – always good to put a 3D figure to a 2D Facebook profile pic 😉

* When I blogged about single-parentdom, what I didn’t say was that the hubs was away three times this month – very unusual, as he’s not often called out of town. I was surviving the middle of these trips when I blogged. No wonder I’ve reached the end of March exhausted!

* We’ve enjoyed the first week of our school holidays (which are different to just about everyone else’s holidays). After two years, I can finally take all four kiddoes out on a day trip without the need for a Supporting Grown-Up, and it feels amazing! They can all walk! They can help each other out in the soft play! When they’re near a road and I call ‘STOP!!!’ they sometimes listen! Yay!

* As part of the above, we may have *slightly* overdone it, with six egg hunts completed at various venues this week. And there will be more to come. I’m a sucker for an egg hunt.

* And last but not least…I’ve set up a real proper newsletter thingy! In addition to the blog emails (where you receive an email whenever I post), this is more of a summary email every few weeks, where I’ll link to blog posts and other articles I’ve written which might be of interest, as well as give you an update on how my writing is going generally. And you’ll be the first to hear of any books in the pipeline! If you haven’t already, please sign up here – I’ll be eternally grateful to have your support! I promise to keep the emails short and not to spam you!

Linking up as always with Leigh Kramer’s blog. Take a look at some of the other ‘What I’m into’ posts – maybe you’ll find a new favourite blog! (Or second favourite. Humph.)