Guest blog: Last-Minute Nerves (Clare Harlow)

In our final guest blog post before submissions to UV2022 closes on Sunday 18 July 2021, previous finalist Clare Harlow (UV2020) offers some last-minute words of wisdom to give you confidence in your entry and some practical tips to give it that extra edge.

For Anyone Struggling With Last-Minute Nerves

Remember, you are not alone

Almost everyone suffers from nerves when a deadline looms. Personally, I’m a serial last-minuter. Give me a deadline and I’ll meander towards it, procrastinating as if I’m training for the procrastination Olympics, which always leaves me in a crisis as the clock ticks down.

But whether you’re frantically rewriting your opening chapters, wondering how you’ll ever distil your story into an impossibly short synopsis, or panicking about whether to give your pages ‘one last’ polish, take heart from the fact that there are plenty of people in the same situation.

Trust your gut

And trust your story too. Maybe you’ve had feedback on your manuscript from critique partners. Maybe you’ve just finished your first draft. Maybe your story has been sitting on your computer for years. Whatever the circumstances, it’s natural to have doubts about whether this is the time to send your work out into the world.

Ask yourself two questions

Firstly, do you love your story? I mean really love it – because if you don’t, it’ll show on the page.

Secondly, have you told it the way you want to? I don’t mean that the manuscript has to be perfect, far from it, but it needs to communicate the story you have in your mind — and for Undiscovered Voices, your first 4000 words really need to showcase your writing as well as hooking the reader with your premise.

If the answer to both these questions is ‘yes’, ignore any little whispers of doubt and get submitting!

Take time to check your work

Leaving it late can be a good thing. Yeah, yeah, I would say that, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants serial procrastinator that I am. But it’s true. I tip my hat to all you early birds, but it genuinely doesn’t matter if you enter on the first day or in the last hour of the submission window. And if you haven’t hit that send button yet, you can take advantage of my top tips for proofreading.

1. Change the font and text size

Someone recommended this to me, and it’s the best technique I’ve found for getting a fresh perspective on my rhythm and phrasing. It’s also a great way to catch typos, especially if you don’t have access to a printer. (Just don’t forget to change the formatting back afterwards!)

2. Read your pages out loud, or use the read-aloud function on your computer.

There’s nothing like hearing a stilted automated voice mangle your words to let you know whether your writing flows well.

3. If you can, be brave and ask a friend or family member to proofread your pages too.

Sometimes, a word or phrase might have a dual meaning you haven’t noticed, or multiple edits might have led you to reuse a piece of descriptive language.

Lastly, accept that there is only so much you can do

Competitions, like everything in publishing, are enormously subjective. You’ve worked hard on your story, polished your pages and synopsis, and given the whole thing a good proofread. Now, all you can do is submit your work and let it go. Don’t worry if you spot typos or spelling mistakes after you’ve entered — your story won’t be rejected because of those. Be proud of yourself for getting this far. Hit send, take a moment to celebrate, then try to forget all about it until the longlist announcement.

And for anyone still feeling those nerves and unsure about whether to enter, remember, you have nothing to lose — and it might just change your life.

Clare Harlow was an actor in a previous life but has stepped away from the stage to work as an English tutor and devote more time to writing. Since being selected for Undiscovered Voices 2020, she is delighted to have signed with Amber Caravéo at Skylark Literary and is working hard on getting her middle-grade fantasy novel ready to go on submission.

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