This week I have done almost zero writing. Instead, I have been focussing on getting ready to run the courses I have planned for October – two with the York Centre for Lifelong Learning and one under my own ‘brand’. One of my York classes is accredited, and it will be the first time, except as a day retreat tutor, that I have taught an accredited course. I’m a bit nervous about it, but also very excited.
I did all of my degrees part time, two of them distance learning. I was a mature student when I studied for, and obtained, my degrees. I worked full time around my degrees. I come from a working class background and working while studying isn’t an unusual thing. I found my way into poetry and literature through the fantastic Open University and I did my Masters distance learning at Manchester Met. I think it is important that high quality learning opportunities are available for people who work full time and/or are coming to literature, poetry in this case, later on in life. Part time learning shouldn’t be any less quality than full time education and I try to keep that in mind when I am putting course content together. It sometimes means working more hours for less money, because freelancers in teaching tend to be paid fairly crap wages. And that’s possibly why the literary arts and teaching are not areas with strong working class representation, but that’s a soap box for another day. Teaching and workshop facilitating take a lot of time and preparation, so this was a week I was happy to give over to that work, in the hope that when I start teaching again next week I’ll be prepared enough that I can carry on writing on a morning and working in the afternoons. Ha! Famous last words.
This week I received this thing of beauty in the post:
This week I also picked up not one but two commissions to write poems for events around December, which is really nice. I was also offered an in school poetry job, which I’ve had to turn down. What’s nice about that is that I was flagged as a potential candidate for the job by another poet friend, and I in turn flagged someone else who is a fabulous poet for that role. It’s so nice to be able to pass opportunities on, and that was a well paid one too, so even better. Commissions are great because I get to be a paid poet, something that doesn’t happen very often. But it’s meant making a decision to cut back some of my other work again, to fit the commissions in, which is disappointing, but also good for me, because I need to manage my time better, and being a writer is what I want to do, and this is paid writing so must be prioritised. I have to keep telling myself that. I’ve also offered to write a poem for my parent’s wedding anniversary, another kind of commission and probably the hardest to write as there’s so much judgement lurking from family isn’t there. My Dad has specifically asked for ‘not your usual stuff, though, Wend, we like good poetry with rhymes’.
Bless him. Everyone’s a critic.
And that’s me done for the week. I’m pleased to be back blogging regularly, even if it is only an insight into freelancing as a writer who is trying to write more and freelance less. I guess it’s probably useful to someone out there!
If you fancy joining my next online course, it starts on Friday this week and I still have some places left. You can find details here.
This week was, again, a week of surprises as far as the process of writing the novel is going. After a good break away from it over the weekend, I swung back into the novel on the Monday only to find myself blocked. My book is historical fiction featuring some very well known actual people and places, so needs to have a basis of fact onto which I can build the story. A lot of what I have been doing is finding anchor points for the fictionalised stuff, in the factual stuff. And on Monday I was searching for a place to fit a particular scene that would link two big chunks of plot together smoothly. But because there are several people, many animals, several places that are all part of the story at different time points, it becomes quite complicated. I became quite frustrated because I just wanted to write the story, and felt like I was stuck in a place of constantly referring to different texts and never quite finding what I needed. Cue an avalanche of self doubt over whether I can actually do this and complete it, whether this genre is too challenging, whether I should have just stayed in my poetry lane. In the afternoon I found my inbox beginning to fill with stuff I needed to work on, in particular planning for courses starting at the end of the month and the beginning of next month, editing jobs that people are waiting for, mentoring stuff that I’m behind with. It became a bit of a vortex in which I was being sucked, with the usual frustration of not feeling that I can put my own work first. (#writerlife)
On the Tuesday it rained. I went through my morning routines of journalling and reading etc, while in my PJs and wrapped up in a big fluffy cardigan and feeling all cosy and autumnal with the rain falling down outside. I sat down at my computer and whatever had blocked me the day before, lifted. I found the factual platform to build my scene and I stayed at the computer for almost the whole day, in my PJs, wrapped in my fluffy cardigan, writing and drinking cups of tea, looking out at the rain and then writing again. It was brilliant. I got nearly 6000 words done that day, tied two scenes together, opened the door to a sub plot and also solidified one character who was a bit wispy and 2D. That was a good, good day. Because I’d done so well on that day I decided that the next day I would do some cleaning and decluttering and let that block of work rest until I could return to it with fresh eyes. The rest of the week was spent editing that block, refining it and tidying it ready to move the story forward next week.
I’m starting to panic that I won’t be prepared for the courses and classes I’m teaching, but that’s really just an anxiety thing. I had some training this week on a new teaching platform that I’m not familiar with and got a chance to chat to my supervisor about the new class and how nervous I am about it, and actually feel a bit better. I’ll be fine once the first one is out of the way and I know who I am working with, their experience level and what their needs are, so that I can tweak the learning resources and make sure that I address those needs.
I got my planners out this week too and started to think about how I can continue working on the novel once I ‘return to work’. It became clear when I was working out the next few month’s work that I am still taking too much work on, and I intend on doing more cutting back. How on earth have I managed with the level of work I’ve been doing??!! Oh, I remember… I DIDN’T. All that work coupled with a pandemic and a poorly husband tripped an underling heart problem, pushed me into becoming too reliant on friends to support my mental health melt downs, caused me to not look after my health; relying on booze as a way to relax, and stopped me from enjoying my life.
I am determined to cut more work back and have three mornings a week working on the novel, from day break to around 11am. I deserve to be healthy and happy and working as a creative.
This weekend I dug out my non fiction project and started tweaking it for entry into a big competition. Just like other freelancers, I always have to think about the next job, the next project and how to fund it. This particular award is a good cash award that would in effect fund the writing of the non fiction book, which would be the next project after the novel. I actually had some interest from an agent with this project a while ago, but they wanted to see virtually the whole thing and I just did not have the time to put the research in (not research I can do from my office, unfortunately) and the writing time, so I had to shelve it until I can get to a place were I can afford to spend time on it. So this is something I want to make a good job of, and I do find that having a deadline focuses my mind and makes me think about what is an isn’t important to me. The flip side of this is that I am usually fairly gutted when I get turned down for funding etc because A. it takes so much time and preparation and B. it is such a game changer for a writer to have a project funded, it’s the dream really, and when you don’t catch that dream you feel a bit shit about yourself and your work, like you’re not good enough.
I am sad that my writing month is slipping away and I won’t have the time to work on any of the projects the way I’d like, soon, but the experience has been something that has enabled me as a writer. I feel like a door is opening in terms of me respecting my own process and making the changes in my work-work to enable more creative practice.
Other things I did this week included cycling down to the beach, which is much quieter since the children went back to school. It was wonderful. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed that trip, even with the big hill to climb. And I am pleased to say that I am still sticking to my cut back alcohol programme and healthier eating, and loving it. I’m starting to see a real difference in my health and well being and my mindset around taking care of myself.
I think I will look back on this month as a time of genuine happiness, in all aspects of my life. I really hope I can hold onto it. I feel like I have put some real work in lately, work on myself as well as on the book. I have taken my current favourite mantra to heart:
Everything in your life is a reflection of the choices you have made. If you want different outcomes, make different choices.
I’m not really sure who I’m writing this for. People like me, I guess, who find it useful to see other people’s writing practices. I’ve just finished my first week of a writing sabbatical paid for with a small bursary from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. It is making so much difference to my work and my self esteem as a writer.
Right now, I genuinely feel like I am living the life that I want to live. Despite having to do some work in the afternoons, I have stuck to my original plan and I am in a good routine. Currently my day looks a little like this:
6.10 alarm goes off
6.20 at my desk ready to work while watching the sun come up from my office window
7.15 dog walk down the village and out into the countryside
8.00 coffee on, sort out my husband’s medications and feed all the animals (dog, cat, 5 guinea pigs, 3 rabbits)
8.15 coffee and reflective practice. Since going on holiday in Great Ayton in June, where I enjoyed breakfast outside every day, I have taken to having breakfast on the patio, or in the conservatory daily. Last year I cleared all the old hutches (remnants from my small animal boarding business days) off the patio to make somewhere nice for Chris to sit while he was recovering from the stroke, but I’ve actually ended up using it more myself. This year I cleared the conservatory of, yes you guessed it, lots of cages and hutches for my own animals, cleared the brick shed of all the old junk and old hutches (I was hoarding a lot of hutches, maybe something to do with my anxiety around failing in my current career and needing something to fall back on) and moved my own animals into there, creating a slightly cluttered, but no less lovely conservatory oasis so that I can continue my peaceful morning routine throughout the year, even when the weather is rubbish. I open the doors even when it’s raining to hear the outside sounds and it is a calm, peaceful way to start the day.
My reflective practice begins with me writing my journals. I have two journals at the minute – one in which I record my everyday life and observations, one in which I make notes specifically on the novel and also reflect on my own feelings and thoughts around it. Because I really, really struggle with anxiety and, where writing is concerned, this manifests as imposter syndrome, this journalling around the big project I’m working on helps me to pour out all the angst and address it with my rational brain, before I spiral into a proper pit of anxiety. I then read some buddhist lessons or texts (I’ve just finished re-reading Zen Mind, beginner’s Mind) , then I read at least five poems from whatever poetry collection I’m reading and a chapter of whatever novel I’m reading at that time. I drink my coffee, I eat my marmite on toast. Usually there is some chasing of the cat down the garden at this point, trying to extract some poor dead creature from his mouth.
9.00 Back to work, starting with whatever I wrote yesterday/in the earlier writing block and readjusting to address plot problems, voice, style etc. At the minute I am in the ‘Don’t Get it Right, Get it Written’ stage of writing the novel, but because it’s historical fiction, I also need to be spot on with some of the details, a small mistake has the potential to derail the book later down the line. So a lot of what I am doing is reading, researching, asking questions, writing, re writing. At some point I will have tortoised my way to the end of the first draft of a whole book, and then the editing starts.
12.30 My husband comes home for lunch, I eat something that is usually a just a vehicle for cheese consumption, and we watch bargain hunt together and shout at the people who think scent bottles and trench art are good buys. Reader, they are not. Every day we consider applying to bargain hunt, but secretly we feel we may not be the antiques aficionados that we think we are.
1.30 I decide what work jobs need doing – endorsements, planning of courses, Spelt work, editing, mentoring and set to work for a few hours.
3.00 At this point I do my daily meditation. Sometimes I do this on a morning, which is my favourite time to meditate, but I think possibly that’s not the mot helpful time, it is more beneficial to meditate when I am feeling any frustrations from the day. Before I can get down to my zafu for zazen I have to stretch my hamstrings out and my knee and my back because I am old and fat AF which is not conducive to the lotus position*
3.30 I start to think about tying up my day now, and what jobs on my list I can let go. It would be really easy to start panicking about the work that builds up, and get anxious about it, but at the minute I am super aware of this and don’t let that happen.
5.00 I take a bike ride or a walk or do something not related to writing or work.
*I do not get anywhere near the lotus position. I do get both knees on the floor and a good straight back though, which I am pleased with.
One day this week I did not manage to write anything at all, I just arranged and rearranged post it notes. It knocked my confidence a bit because I can feel the month slipping away from me already and I want to make the most of it. The next day I managed 2000 words, so it all evens out. Writing a novel is not an A to Z process. But I am loving it. I am LOVING it. My anxiety is vastly reduced, I feel content and happy and like I’m ‘working well’. When I get into the writing groove in a project it is a phenomenal feeling. It’s like my brain has been working on this project for a good long time and now it’s ready to bring it out from the bottom of the cupboard to show me. I would not change this for the world. And, weirdly, I find myself more productive on the other work stuff I’m doing. I’m enjoying it more because I am being true to myself, I am prioritising my own creative practice and putting my faith in it.
I’ve also taken my first research trip, to Haworth. We had a great time. I didn’t write, but I did record, explore, note, read, walk and think and that bled into the work I am doing. It was very successful and I managed to get everything i wanted as well as meeting some friends for dinner. I will definitely be going back at some point.
The other difference to my life and work that I have made lately, and something that I am certain has helped me to stay calm and bright is that I’ve been working with a health coach to help me to address my appalling habits around alcohol (I use it to counter anxiety) and bad habits around food. It’s working. I have a video chat once a week in which the coach is mostly subjected to my anxiety around the book and we set a small, manageable target each week to help me to improve my health without tripping my heart into a weird rhythm. I have cut my alcohol consumption down, but don’t feel restricted, at all. I feel like I am finally, finally enjoying my work and my life and myself.
Oh, one more thing, the other thing I’ve done since 1st September: I stopped checking my emails and social media on a morning. I don’t engage with social media (except Spelt) until five pm, and I don’t check my emails until around 1.30 pm, after I have finished the bulk of my writing work for the day. The out of office response on my emails is a game changer too because it seems to have put a wall around my own time, around which I can peek, unnoticed, to see if I want to address the stuff that streams into my inbox daily. I can feel the anxiety rise when I check social media, so am mostly avoiding it, apart from TikTok which does nothing except make me laugh, which I love.
Congratulations on getting to the end of my happy ramble!
And suddenly there is nothing standing in my way, not even me.
For the last four weeks I’ve been on a mission to get all of my work shuffled away in the hope that September, thanks to a bursary from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough (added to some of my own money), would be a month totally devoted to writing the novel. This sabbatical isn’t just about the work that I want to get done; the luxury of having hours at a time to settle in, sink in to my work without distraction, it is also about having the chance, perhaps the only chance I’ll ever have (not everyone makes it to being a creative writer full time) to be a writer for a month. To indulge myself, to do the things I have been moaning about not being able to do, in the name of my own art. (Pretentious, moi?) What I mean by that is that this writing month will be about more than just getting the word count up and banging the novel out, I will have the time to think, to reflect, to position myself in a place of peace so that I can get my best work done. I want to experience the particular type of calm where I find I write best.
My plan is to spend the mornings writing, from day-break to lunchtime, Hemingway style, though without all the excessive booze. The afternoons are for reflective practices – beach walks, research, journalling, reading, looking out of the window, absorbing, being. I have never been in a position to do this before. Like most writers I’ve always shoe-horned writing in at five in the morning before work starts, after work, in five minute breaks between work. So I don’t know how well I’ll do with it, it’s a different way of working, a method that puts me and my practice first, as the priority; something that the voice of imposter syndrome is not liking. Oh no, that bitch is Up. In. Arms. I’m not listening to her. I’m doing it anyway.
I’m making an effort to drink less too, so that my head is clear for my morning routine. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t drink martinis with my morning marmite on toast, but I do find that I drink more than I should, reaching for a few glasses of wine almost every night. I won’t be checking my emails either, until tea time and I won’t be on social media before five pm. That’s the real killer. I am addicted to Tok Tok, which is quite the time suck. I love (and also hate) social media and feel slightly queazy thinking about being without my online community. Without the on line community, there is just me, my office and my work. I feel I might find it quite difficult to miss out on the trends and chatter, to not be a part of it. But like I said in an earlier blog post, there has to be a time when I make that next big step towards the dream, which is to be a writer who teaches sometimes, rather than a teacher who writes sometimes. The only way to do that is to put my work first. It’s done, for this month anyway, and now the only thing getting in my way is my fear of failing. I’m not going to let that spoil this for me.
I chose September for my writing month because it is the time of year when I feel most at peace, before the melancholy of winter. As I sit her now, the clouds are low, the light is fading and there is a chill to the evening air, and yet earlier I wore sandals and no cardigan to walk the dog. The scent of straw and hay and harvest is lingering on the breeze, the swallows are leaving, the swifts have left and the geese are starting to fly over the house, heading south along the coast line. What a beautiful, still, time of year, what a perfect tome to be creative.
The out of office response is set, all I have to do now is write.
Next month I start my month long ‘writing retreat’ using a bursary given to me by the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, which will help me focus on writing my novel. I’m adding a chunk of my savings to the bursary and taking the month away from all work except Spelt magazine, to concentrate solely on my own creative practice. I am ridiculously excited about it.
While I’ve been getting the next lot of online courses outlined and opened for bookings in advance of my retreat (find out all about October and November courses here)I’ve decided to take the next step with the online courses and launch my very first online writing retreat!
Online Winter Writing Retreat
An online, five day, poetry writing retreat
6th December 2021 to 10th December 2021 Inclusive
Brand new for 2021 this online poetry writing retreat features workshops, hosted writing challenges, prompted group writing time, evening guest readings and open mics. All from the comfort of your own home. The week is carefully scheduled to provide space away from the computer to write, as well as having plenty of stimulating events to inspire and encourage. Each day includes morning and afternoon activities, with evening events three times (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) over the course of the week. I’m delighted to include guest readings from Gill McEvoy and Jonathan Davidson who will both be running workshops as well, as part of the retreat’s activities.
Jonathan Davidson is a poet, writer and literature activist. He lives in the English Midlands but works internationally. His poetry has been widely published and he has also written memoir and criticism. His radio dramas and adaptations have been broadcast by BBC Radios 3 and 4. Much of his work is focussed on how writing – especially poetry – is experienced by readers and listeners. His most recent collection is A Commonplace (Smith|Doorstop, 2020) and was included in The Morning Star’s best poetry books of 2020 and has been widely reviewed, including in Under the Radar, TLS and Racine. His previous book, On Poetry (Smith|Doorstop, 2018), a combination of memoir and manual, was included in The Guardian’s Top 10 Books About Creative Writing 2020. His blogposts about poetry and the poetry sector are at www.jonathandavidson.net.
Gill McEvoy lives in Chester where she runs a poetry reading group (The Golden Pear) and a workshop for practising poets (The Poem Shed). Her first HappenStance pamphlet (Uncertain Days, 2006) dealt with difficult territory: her own diagnosis of cancer, and the disabling illness and death of her husband. Her second, The First Telling, won the 2015 Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets.
As well as organising the course and facilitating the schedule, I’ll also be giving a reading of my own work.
Wendy Pratt is a poet, author, mentor and workshop facilitator living and working on the glorious North Yorkshire coast. Her latest full collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse, was one of the winners of the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition 2020. Wendy is also founder and editor of Spelt magazine, a magazine dedicated to celebrating and validating the rural experience through poetry and creative non fiction.
Who is the Retreat Aimed At?
Anyone interested in writing poetry, from beginners to the more advanced will enjoy this week of wintry writing.
What Do I need to Take Part?
You need access to a computer, laptop or iPad (you should be able to take part using a mobile phone, but the quality may not be as good).
A desire to enjoy a week of writing and stimulation
Payments and Refunds
Payment is in full. Refunds will be given up to 30 days before the event, if requested.
I am able to offer one fully funded place on the retreat for a writer in financial difficulties. Please message me if you are in receipt of benefits and unable to otherwise afford to take part in the retreat. firstname.lastname@example.org
I am also able to offer two reduced price places for writers in financial difficulty. Please message me to enquire about this. email@example.com
If Paypal is not possible, please get in touch for bank transfer details. Wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com
Please let me know if your PayPal email address differs from the email address you would like links and information sent to.
Places are very limited due to this being a zoom retreat. Book early to avoid disappointment.
If you’d like more details please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
Please let me know if you have any disabilities which may effect your enjoyment of the course, and we will do our best to support you.
One place on the Winter Writing Retreat
6th – 10th december inclusive
This is a completely new venture for me, and one that I am very excited about. I hope you will join me for a wintery writing week in December. It’s gong to be great fun.
Firstly, a trigger warning: the content of this blog post includes quotes from something that I received in the inbox of the magazine that I edit, and whilst I have done my best to not be too graphic, I don’t want to shy away from the nature of this message. It’s important that this sort of thing is brought to light, in my opinion. If you feel you may be triggered by mention of murder, rape and murder rape fantasies from the male point of view, you might want to prepare yourselves. No one can ever know the trauma that others have suffered, or what is going on behind their outward appearance.
There’s a lot of rubbish spoken about how trigger warnings create overly safe environments around creative subjects; not allowing readers to experience the emotional impact of the creative work, but for me a trigger warning is a way of respecting the reader. I respect you and your right to feel safe and your right to make judgements on your potential response to certain subjects.
A short while ago, completely out of the blue, I received a message in the Spelt inbox that appeared to be a threat towards me. Whilst I have, on occasion, received less than pleased responses to work being rejected: usually a bit huffy, a sort of ‘well f*ck you then’ response, I have never felt unsure of my safety as an editor. Of all the magazines that are out there, I feel ours is fairly inoffensive. It has a rural theme, we feature poems about walking and about nature. We are not an edgy magazine. We are a magazine seeking to celebrate and validate the rural experience. In fact, one of my aims with the magazine is to find a way of being approachable and friendly without ‘dumbing down’ the content or quality fo the magazine. To receive something that was so graphic was something of a shock.
I’m not going to put the poem in this blog. For a start, the quality of the writing is appalling and I wouldn’t want to subject your eyes to it. But to be absolutely clear, it was more than just an ‘edgy’ poem. It came with no cover letter, no ‘Dear Editor’, no identifier. When I opened the email I was confronted with something that looked vaguely like a poem (aligned left with line breaks) from a man’s point of view, in the first person, directed at the reader, with lines like:
Every woman I want to get my tongue all over them and slowly butcher them
…stay inside them for hours and hours licking them while I do it.
and the closing lines:
So be careful out their...I am going out soon /and who knows who I will find.
It’s difficult to show the graphic content without showing the poem as a whole and all the graphic content, but believe me, it was graphic, with terrible punctuation and an awful abuse of there/their.
I was shocked. Which I imagine is the exact response the writer wanted from me. Bravo. And then I found it amusing that someone would send something like this to our little rural magazine. I sent a screen shot to my co editor with a joke about how I couldn’t accept it because it had no rural theme at all. And then I left it. And then I went back to it, because…was it a submission, or was it a threat? I started to feel uneasy. I sent it to a couple of friends to see what they thought. The majority of the men I showed it to thought it was some failed attempt at being edgy. The majority of the women I showed it to thought I should file it as evidence and begin a record of any further threatening emails/poems so that I would be able to evidence the distress it had caused if anything happened. I feel this might be a good example of the way men and women are conditioned to experience the world around them.
When I showed it to my husband, he was worried. He thought we should report it to the police. I decided not to do anything with it and filed it in case I needed it at a later date. But my brain didn’t stop going over it. Amazingly, I questioned my own reaction to it. The word ‘prude’ formed in my mind, as if I was a silly old rural magazine editor who didn’t understand that this was a form of self expression and I was prudish and daft for not treating it as the edgy poem it was. And I felt anger, at myself, for allowing myself to be so unsettled by such a stupid, bad poem. I felt manipulated, unsure of what was happening, was this something I should be upset about, or was I being silly, was this person an abuser, or was this person a poet?
I suddenly became wary of male friend requests on social media. I became wary of male poets, even though I know NOT ALL MEN and all. Because, not all men, but definitely this man, definitely this murder-rape-fantasist right here. I did some searching about and found the person that I think sent it. I took it out of the file and looked at it, put it back in the file and fretted. I felt anger again because I imagined that he was gaining gratification, sexual or otherwise, knowing that he had hurt me and upset me. I felt a bit violated, I didn’t want to open my emails any more. The joy that I felt in my lovely magazine and all the hard work that I was so proud of, was suddenly sullied. I actually began to feel a bit pointless. It didn’t matter about all the lovely emails, all the great feedback the magazine receives, this one person, this man had entered into the sanctity of my space and dirtied it, he had dirtied me somehow, in the process. It all felt pointless because as any woman knows, this is always going to happen, there will always be this man, sliding into the DMs with some dick pic or sending an email with a graphic rape poem or getting angry when you don’t put your book down to talk to them.
I was in the middle of sorting out the launch for the new issue at the time and I began to feel quite worried about it. What if he was there, this man, in the audience? What if he was quietly watching me? My friends and I went out on the town for a few drinks and weirdly, we saw someone who looked just like the guy we thought might have sent the message and we laughed because …no way…but then I began to think, what if it was?
All this from one email. All this from one person who wanted, at best, to be an edgy poet, at worst wanted me to be shocked so they could gain some satisfaction from it. All this upset.
I went through this laughing it off then feeling uneasy then feeling angry cycle for about a week. Then I put a call out on social media for a woman editor or poet who I could just talk to about it, to see if I was being silly. And another woman editor did. She was angry on my behalf, she justified by shock and uneasiness. We talked through what we might realistically do about me getting my confidence back and not letting this person spoil my enjoyment, how I might feel safe again. This blog is one of those things. I do not have to protect this person. He has violated my right to feel safe.
While I won’t name him, I have in fact flagged him up as a potential problem to other woman editors. I have trigger warned them. The other thing I am doing is to set up a group for women editors so that we have a safe place to talk about this sh*t, because any woman with a public profile deals with this stuff.
I feel empowered again. We had the launch for the new issue and whether he was there or not, I didn’t give a f*ck. It was a smashing hour of really top quality poetry and CNF from writers who want to be part of Spelt.
I came to the conclusion that this person lives a small life, a life where he gets off on the shock felt by women when confronted with his fantasies and that is something to pity, isn’t it? If you’re reading this, and I suspect you are, I genuinely think you need help for these fantasies. You must be very sad and lonely.
Anyone who has ever taken one of my courses or workshops you will know how keen I am to see people pushing out f their boundaries, experimenting with new styles, using different voices to explore content that is sometimes challenging. But this isn’t that. You have a right to express yourself and your stories, real or made up, through whatever medium you choose. You have a right to express yourself. But that right is not more important, more valid, than my right to feel safe as a woman, to feel I can do my work as an editor in a safe environment.
I don’t think it was, but this of course could have been an attempt at edgy poetry gone wrong, perhaps making a woman uncomfortable is part of the experience. It shouldn’t be. But if you are wanting to write poetry that could be described as ‘edgy’ or uncomfortable, here are some top tips to stop the editor reporting you to the police as a potential rapist or murderer:
Include a cover letter that clearly identifies yourself and explains what you are trying to explore with your poetry.
Offer a trigger warning. You do not know what traumas people have suffered in their life. They do not walk around wearing a sandwich board describing those traumas and you can bet that most women have experienced some sort of unpleasantness caused by men. Sorry men, obviously not all men do this, but not all men are willing to call it out either.
Follow the guidelines set out by the magazine editor because, honestly, I don’t have the time to waste on this bollocks.
The most important piece of advice is probably don’t send murder-rape-fantasies in the guise of poems to women editors because women editors talk to each other and your career may be a short lived one on account of this.
Right from moment of my first poetry publication in 2008 I had this crazy notion that I wanted to write, I mean I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write poetry and novels and plays, I wanted to create. I wanted to do this as my main job. I wanted to make a living as a creative. And that’s a goal that has never changed. Finding a way to do this, however, has been a real challenge. The reason creatives working in the arts are so heavily weighted towards the middle and upper classes has nothing to do with education, and everything to do with income and financial support. Of course, not all middle and upper class folk are financially stable with a nest egg to sit on while writing the novel, but there does tend to be more of that from slightly more privileged backgrounds. See also unpaid internships and having the finances for continued professional development etc. You do not make very much money as a writer unless you are extremely lucky and even less so with poetry, it is a constant fight to keep your head above water. Alas, I am not from middle class or upper class stock, and do not have the nest egg. I don’t really mind that, I think not having that background or that stability has given me the drive to push for what I want. But it does mean that I have had to find ways to reach my ambitions via other routes that involve a great deal of stress and fretting and not much actual writing.
I have now been self employed for seven years. I started working in the arts and working under the umbrella of ‘professional writer’ in 2017, four years ago, gradually moving through different jobs – writing abstracts for industry journals, proofing, writing content, freelance writing, writing articles for magazines, all while working on my own writing and slowly building a career as a creative writer alongside it. I was always stepping sideways, crab-like, away from the career at the hospital that I left behind, and heading towards that lofty goal of ‘writer’. I found my niche a few years ago, as a workshop facilitator, creative writing tutor, editor and mentor. I think I am good at creating safe places for people to experiment, and good at motivating other people, bringing out their self belief. These days I also run a magazine (new issue out now, follow this link: Spelt) .
The last year or so, the hard work has started to pay off. I made it to the tax paying threshold last year and I am almost, almost earning the same as I was earning at the point I left my job at the hospital seven years ago. It has been a long struggle, but a fun and exciting one, with continuous improvement year on year in every area, which I find hugely satisfying. However, I am also a chronic workaholic. I think partly this is because I’m working class and also because I’m self employed and THE FEAR is on me all the time, the fear of having a bad month, the fear of losing customers, the fear of losing an audience I worked so hard to build. If you’re self employed, if you work in the arts, you’ll know all about THE FEAR. I do too much work, take too much on, daren’t say no, and as a result, not only does it take me an age to get back to emails and messages and get work done because I can’t say no to new work, but I don’t get time to write. I am no longer a writer who also facilitates other people’s writing, I am a facilitator who sometimes writes.
I have been somewhere near to financially secure for a couple of years now, I guess. And by financially secure, I mean I can see what will work well, how much I’m likely to make from running courses for my own audience, running workshops for others, teaching at uni, all those things. There are no longer the massive swings and pits that were the mark of self employment in the earlier years.
When I started out all those years ago, I set myself goals, markers that would tell me when I had become ‘successful’ or when I would be nearing the place where I could trust that I would gain income from my creative writing. But I also have terrible imposter syndrome. It really is quite bad. Which means it is difficult to see myself and my writing, I guess you might say my ‘achievements’, the way that others looking in might. I can see it on my CV, when I write it all down, but mostly imposter syndrome stops me from having faith in myself as a writer, and this means that every opportunity I have to write, I tend to fill with facilitating other people’s work, in case people realise I am actually a fraud and all the publications and competition wins are just ‘people pitying me’. I have become extremely comfortable in this place of working too much yet being financially secure, moaning about not having time to write, yet not doing anything about giving myself time to write. I’ve made small moves towards it before, but always refilled any time I had with more work that wasn’t writing. It’s like a terrible compulsion to not give myself the chance to fail.
A couple of things changed recently, firstly I won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet award and it opened some doors. I started being invited to give readings for a fee, run paid workshops, do stuff that wasn’t teaching people how to find their own voice, but was entirely about myself and my own work. I also, amazingingly, won a bursary from the Stephen Joseph Theatre and Arcade an award which was offered to creatives local to Scarborough to help facilitate their own creative practice. I was awarded it to help me work on my novel. This is the novel which is an adaptation of the play I wrote which was cancelled due to lockdown. You can read an article about the bursary scheme here: article and hear me rambling through a five minute interview about the book: here at 3 hours 38.
What does the bursary mean? It means writing time, the much coveted writing time that I have been trying to carve out for such a long time. And a research trip. I’m taking the whole of September to work on the novel, just that, nothing else. Which is phenomenal and I am so very grateful for that time. But winning the bursary means much more than that, it means that someone has faith in me as a creative practitioner, as a writer. Someone thinks this is a good idea and that I have the skills and knowledge and talent to pull this off. There is a tiny voice in me that has been watered and fed by someone else having that faith, and it is growing. That voice says – I also believe I have the skill and talent and knowledge to pull this off, to make this really good, to make this something special.
What a strange and foreign notion that is; to think yourself good enough to do something you have always wanted to do. I’ve always looked for signs to tell me when I’m supposed to take the next step. I count magpies, I look for omens, I watch for hares in the fields. This time, I am choosing to take my own success as a sign that I should invest in myself, invest in the time that it will take to finish this and do a good job of it. I’ve taken the decision this week, to really cut the work back. I’ve removed a page off my website, I’ve (possibly temporarily) chopped a big chunk of my workload off, leaving only my current mentees, my online courses, teaching for York and running the magazine. Which still sounds like a lot of work, but believe me it is a good third less than I was trying to cram in. I am still open to doing readings, workshops, judging competitions etc., these are the things I have strived for as a writer and things that I love. But I’m making a pact with myself to trust myself as a creative practitioner, to trust that investing time in my writing now, will move my career forward in the longer run, and take me towards that place I have been climbing towards all this time. I need more time to write. Today I choose to believe in myself, and my writing.
That’s what I am trying to say. It seems such an easy concept, an easy action to believe in yourself, but the reality of it is exposing, it leaves you vulnerable. Today I choose to be vulnerable, to allow for people to perhaps mock me or think me silly and naive or all those imagined things that people might think or feel when I say I want to write, I want to be a writer. Today I choose to be vulnerable, I choose to have faith in myself, I choose to take the next step.
It’s been a while since I did an update blog. A lot happened in March.
First there was my birthday. Another lockdown birthday, but it was vey nice. We got a takeaway from a restaurant and pretended we were posh folk dining in a private booth. I’ve missed dining out. One perk of being childless is being able to go and eat out, and up until this year we’ve not been able to afford it as I have been crazily building my writing career and earning very little. I earn a wage now. I would not describe it as a good wage, but it is a wage and it would allow me to sit at a table, drink over priced wine and not have to wash up. I can’t wait!
Then there was the launch of my new collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse. A strange affair in which I was in my office on zoom and the audience were on You Tube and I felt like I was talking to myself. However, it was brilliantly orchestrated by the Poetry Business and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The other readers were absolutely wonderful. You can watch the launch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGF7KAFaf64&t=27s
The book is doing really well and has had some wonderful reviews. There’s a pattern to launching a book. First there’s a honeymoon phase where lots of people are buying it and talking abut it, then it goes quiet and you start to feel a bit embarrassed plugging it because perhaps, like a sponge, the book has absorbed all the sales it will get and now it is the time for it to slink away into the dark while other books have their time in the light. Every now and again I think, “oh, that’s it, that’s the honey-moon-book-launch-period over, as it disappears and I don’t hear about who’s reading it and there aren’t any reviews to read etc, and then a review like this one pops up in the Yorkshire Times and it’s so considered and careful and beautiful that it makes me feel like a proper poet again, and I feel that my Horse still has legs yet and a bit further to go.
Then there was the launch of issue one of my magazine, Spelt. Unbelievably, we had more than 100 people attend the launch and it was fantastic! We had some lovely feedback about the warm atmosphere and the range of regional accents which was just exactly what i wanted. I would love to show you a link to view the launch on our youtube channel, but I am technically inept and need my co-ed and general tech miracle worker Steve to get it set up properly and unfortunately Steve’s computer is down right now. I can show you this, though, which is one of our contributor’s poems made into a little film. Thanks Carole Bromley and thanks Steve for creating it.
I’m so proud of the magazine and so pleased with the response it’s had. We’re ploughing forward with it and have launched a competition, which will be judged by the amazing poet Maggie Harris. We’re also open for submissions for issue two, and you can buy your very own copy of Spelt one and read about submissions and the competition here: https://speltmagazine.com/shop/
I am loving running Spelt. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done and I think me and Steve are a good team. I’m very ambitious, I want Spelt to do well. I treat it as a business that I am growing and I hope that soon contributors will be paid and the magazine will be in more indie bookshops.
And then, half way through the month I had a weird heart episode. I’ve had palpitations before, but this was weird, and still is quite weird. It was like bad palpitations but my heart was all over the place, skipping beats, squishing in my chest and I kept feeling quite faint and dizzy and breathless and getting really bad headaches and tingling hands and a bit of pain in my arm. When I took my blood pressure it was though the roof. It was all a bit worrying really. I should really have gone to the hospital but refused to go because I couldn’t bear the thought of making such a fuss and also I felt like I couldn’t take time away from work which, in hindsight is absolutely crazy. It went on like that, off and on, for two and a half weeks, almost continuously, with me in and out of the GP having blood tests and getting referrals. Chris’s apple watch flagged it up as abnormal heart rhythms and at one point atrial fibrillation. I’m waiting to see a cardiologist, but you might have noticed there’s a pandemic on which is slowing everything down. My GP put me on blood pressure pills which have brought my blood pressure right down and I am not getting the headaches or any of the other symptoms anymore, and my heart, which was like a frog in a box, is now beating normally, on the whole, with just a few smaller episodes much more like the palpitations i’d been experiencing previously. The GP told me to cut back my workload and my stress levels. And caffeine and alcohol. It’s pushed me to seeking ways of slowing down, which I’ve talked about before as being something I needed to work on, but like lots of people it felt like it wasn’t that important. I’ve developed lots of crutches to deal with stress and exhaustion from my chronic over work, alcohol and caffeine among them, so this heart thing pushed me to address them and look at how I can make a long term plan for reducing work, alcohol, caffeine, stress. I signed up to a health app that is designed to help you reevaluate your habits and choices and think around them. Amazingly, it’s working!!! I have reduced my alcohol and my caffeine intake, am more in control of my choices and feel like I am actually living very healthily. But I’m still massively overworking. I expect that in the future there will be less prompt a day courses, and more courses like the Analyse This! Course which had a smaller group of attendees and meant I could work more closely with the group. I cannot continue to work 60+ hours a week. Something’s got to give, and I don’t want it to be me, really.
So there we are. A frantic, fantastic month. next up: what I read in March 2021.
It’s that time of the year again! To coincide with NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) I am running my April Write-a-thon, a prompt-a-day course aimed at getting you to the end of April with enough poems, notes and thoughts to get you through the year! This year I’m running it again with all new prompts!
How it Works
Starting on April 1st, this course will run until 30th of April. You will receive a brand new prompt, every single day, including weekends, delivered straight into your email inbox. The prompts are aimed at getting you putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboards to get a first draft of a poem written. You’ll also have access to a closed facebook group where you can share your work with other members of the course and receive and give feedback. I monitor the group daily and try to comment, briefly, on everyone’s posts.
This is a no pressure course. You don’t have to produce anything if you don’t want to and we all know how life gets in the way sometimes so there is no need to post anything in the closed facebook group, if you don’t want to, and the good news is that you will have those thirty prompts to return to whenever you feel like it. This is a fun course suitable for anyone who wants to write poetry, from the absolute novice to the more experienced writer looking for a boost for their writing.
You’ll be able to join in discussions in the closed Facebook group, which will be moderated daily by myself. The group is friendly and welcoming and you’ll receive basic tips and advice from myself alongside lots of encouragement.
How to Sign Up
I now have a simple payment method in my shop (follow this link: https://wendyprattpoetry.com/shop/) where you can make a payment to sign up. If the email address you want your course materials sent to is different to your PayPal address, let me know by emailing me at email@example.com.
To make things fair, and to make sure that my courses are available to those on lower incomes, I have a tiered pricing system. Details below. And don’t forget, you can sponsor a place for a writer who doesn’t have the money to sign up. What a great gift that would be! If you are a writer who would not be able to partake in this course due to financial difficulties, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org for details of available sponsored places.
For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’ method which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60 plus a special £90 option which entitles you to more detailed editing suggestions on up to four pieces of work at the end of the course. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.
Why I have given the option to pay more
Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else (Christmas, birthdays etc). It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can. I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value that £20 has to you:
Sponsored Place –
If you would need to make a choice between the course and essentials like food and electricity, then you are most likely entitled to a sponsored place. Get in touch at email@example.com for a chat. I don’t interrogate, this is an honesty system and giving writers a leg up is important.
If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you.
If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.
If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.
YOU CAN SPONSOR A PLACE
Even if you aren’t interested in doing the course, you can still sponsor a place and give a leg up to a writer who has hit hard times and can’t justify the disposable income for a creative writing course. If you ARE doing the course, you can also sponsor an extra place. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. It’s up to you. Mix and match.
What happens after you’ve paid for your place?
Once you have paid for your place (by visiting my shop: https://wendyprattpoetry.com/shop/) within a day or so you will receive a welcome message to check that the email supplied through your PayPal account is working. This will have your link to the closed facebook page in it too. And that’s it. The 1st April you’ll receive your first prompt and you are off! If you don’t receive the welcome message within a few days after signing up, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am so looking forward to the community of writers getting together again for the write-a-thon, it has been such a fun, friendly course in the past and I can’t wait to see you in the group!