In our latest guest blog post, a recent Undiscovered Voices finalist, Anna Brooke (UV2020), shares her story of procrastination, pandemics and promising publishing potential.
The joy of deadlines and other tips for success
I’d been a journalist and travel writer for years, but writing children’s fiction had always been the dream.
The problem? I’d never finished a novel.
Why? No deadline.
Confessions of a serial procrastinator
As a serial procrastinator and a journalist (a profession ironically incompatible with procrastination), I knew the only way to kick the P-word was with a deadline — one set by someone who’s not me. But while newspaper and travel guide editors dole them out in scores, I’d never found a way to get one for my fiction.
Then along came SCBWI and Undiscovered Voices, and suddenly, the skies filled with trumpets as the two-syllable word I’d been longing to read leapt off the competition rules page: DEADLINE. I was sorted.
Starting with a monster of an idea
As a procrastinator, I didn’t have anything ready to enter! But I did have this silly image trotting around my head: a tower made of bogeys that gets struck by lightning and turns into monster.
Don’t judge me, I know! My approach to the whole novel was very pantsy – but over the next few weeks, as long as it made me laugh, I rode with it. And finally, with a deadline to work towards, I could structure my time.
And guess what? It worked. I had completed my novel in time to enter the competition.
Navigating the brain-fog of lockdown
In November 2019, Sara Grant called me to say that Sean & The Franken-Bogey had made it into the anthology! Not only that. In early February, agents contacted me to say they’d be interested in reading the full MS after the party.
I was ecstatic. But now there was another hurdle: getting it ready for those agents. The week after the party became my next deadline. But here’s where it went pear-shaped: the pandemic.
Like many people, Lockdown fogged my entire brain and morphed all creativity into an OCD-esque obsession with catching the deadly pathogen. Over-night all my travel writing disappeared, leaving nothing but worry in its place. That, plus 24/7 childcare, stinted all progress for six whole months.
I wrote to the agents to explain, and was overwhelmed by how understanding they were. Then from September onwards, once the schools had re-opened (I live in France), I flung myself back into the story. And here’s the great thing: it turns out that the initial deadline had carried me so far, that I didn’t need anyone to set another one. It was finally my own drive to get the book finished that thwarted any procrastination.
A hard, stressful but ultimately wonderful decision to make
Finally, in February, one entire year after the UV party, I was ready to send.
Then imagine my shock when six agents offered me representation! Choosing between six top-notch agents was a dream come true. But it was also stressful – in fact, it was the hardest, most stressful professional decision I’ve ever had to make.
Today, decision made, I couldn’t be happier. I’m agented by the wonderful Sam Copeland at RCW, and I hope to have official news to share about a deal with a fabulous publisher very soon.
Thank you SCBWI and UV and your deadlines. You literally changed my life.
They may well, fellow writers, change your life.
Here’s my three top tips for getting your UV entry ready
- Start bold. In the first 4,000 words, give the judges a real taste of what to expect in the rest of your book. Hook ‘em with your tone and the action.
- Don’t censor yourself. Allow yourself to write whatever you want, no matter how gross or weird. Write it down. Judge/tweak it later.
- Read it out loud. Listen to your story as it’s spoken to check the rhythm and your choice of words.
Anna Brooke was a finalist in Undiscovered Voices 2020, you can download the anthology and read her extract here.
She lives in Paris where she’s simultaneously a freelance travel writer for The Times, a voice actor, a scriptwriter and a mum. She is represented by Sam Copeland at Rogers Coleridge and White.
When she’s not reading or writing, she’s composing songs. Anna never picks her nose.
You can find her on twitter at @AE_Brooke.