Guest blog: The pressure of time (Kate Scott)

Welcome to one of our original Undiscovered Voices finalists, Kate Scott  (UV2008). Her guest blog talks about the forces that seek to whittle away the precious time that writers have to write. There are times to write slowly, she suggests, and some occasions that require writing quickly!

The pressure of time

Whether published or pre-published, it’s easy to feel under pressure as a writer. The pressure to produce a book, to submit it (or, if under contract, to market it), then to write another, and another, and another. But writing books with frazzled speed is not the way to produce your best work – and if you’re not producing your best work then maybe it needs a new approach…

Slow writing

We have slow cooking, why not slow writing? Wallow in your words. Ponder your paragraphs. Curl into your chapters. Submerge yourself in your story. (And avoid too much alliteration.) Creating good stories takes time – so take the time. What you produce will be the better for it. What sticks is a good story, so don’t rush or you’ll write something that slips from the reader’s mind, rather than lingering there.

R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder, is about to publish a new book, Pony. She says: “I love to tell stories, and writing is my preferred way of doing that. But I also love spending time with family and friends, and I can’t say I’m one of those writers that writes ever day even when I’m not working on a book. I write until a story is finished, then I do other things. Then when I have another story to tell, I write that one.”

She talks about how she put her new manuscript aside when she realised it wasn’t working. She only went back to it a few years later when she’d figured out the way to fix it. The result? A better book. The lesson? Take your time.

The pressure of the brand

As a writer or an illustrator, you’re also pushed to create a brand, to promote that brand, extend it, and work to make it ‘sticky’ (among other vaguely unpleasant-sounding marketing terms).

You’re told to network, promote, create acres of content. You’re told to choose your social media platform and to dance on that platform until your feet bleed and you have followers in their thousands…

To which I say (and editors and marketing managers may want to cover their ears at this point): No.

It’s not that having a social-media platform or a brand is a bad thing – of course it’s not – but it’s not what should come first.

If you are spending more time online networking and promoting than you are offline writing and editing your stories, then you have things the wrong way around. Funny memes may get the likes, but good stories pull in the readers. Social media fans are fickle, readers of good books are anything but. Take your time.

Don’t do what makes you feel uncomfortable

Some people are natural networkers, happy to share their lives online. If this is you, that’s wonderful – use your gift-of-the-online gab. If it’s not you, don’t worry that you are losing out. It’s unlikely that your online presence will have as much as an effect on sales or reach as you might have been led to believe. Other people’s recommendations will snag sales, your own promotions? Not so much. And other people’s recommendations will come if the work is good.

So again, take your time to make it so. Just like the Field of Dreams quote: ‘If you build it, they will come.’

The exception proves the rule

BUT. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking of entering the Undiscovered Voices competition? Ignore everything I’ve just said and HURRY UP.

This is the chance of a children’s writing career lifetime…

type at your fastest speed and grab it!

Kate Scott is the author of 35 children’s fiction and non-fiction titles, including Giant, Just Jack and Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights, which won a Lancashire Fantastic Book Award. Kate has also written over 90 episodes of children’s television for CBeebies, C5, CITV, Disney and Netflix. She was the script-editor for the animation-film, A Christmas Letter, narrated by Kate Winslet (Sky) and was recently commissioned to write the treatment for a 45-minute TV film special based on the classic children’s series, Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem.

She is currently the Story Editor for a new pre-school show coming to Apple TV. Kate co-founded the Book Pen Pals initiative with Sara O’Connor in May 2018.

Getting Ready for UV2018 – Guest Blog with Kate Scott

In our fifth guest blog by a past finalist, Kate Scott, who was featured in the first UV anthology back in 2008, talks about saying yes to changes and inspiration. 

The Magic of Saying Yes

I have a good friend who has taken improv classes for years (‘improv’ being the obligatory shortening of ‘improvisation’ – those extra three syllables being presumably too taxing [or uncool] for those who have been initiated into the process’s dark arts).

As I understand it, taking improv classes involves being willing to writhe on the floor, stick chewing gum in your ear, or arrange chairs into endless representations of impromptu and entirely imaginary cars, airplanes or art sculptures. I am not brave enough to undertake any of those actions (On stage? With witnesses? The horror!) but there is one thing about improv that I do understand and try to emulate.

The one rule when improvising is that you say ‘yes’. Yes to all possibilities. Yes to all avenues. It’s essentially acting out the words ‘why not?’ (It’s also related to perhaps the most basic building blocks of storytelling, the ‘what if?’)

It was ‘why not’ that led me to enter the very first Undiscovered Voices competition.

I said ‘yes’ even though I had no idea (and no confidence) that entering my three chapters would get me anywhere. Where it got me was the most important ‘yes’ of my writing career to date – an inclusion in the Undiscovered Voices anthology. That in turn led to other yes’s (along with many, many no’s). That one yes is the main reason I (eventually) became a published author and a full-time writer.

Where it got me was the most important ‘yes’ of my writing career to date – an inclusion in the Undiscovered Voices anthology.

Holding ‘yes’, or at least, ‘why not?’ in your mind is also helpful when it comes to the editorial process. It particularly comes into its own when someone makes a radical suggestion about changing your story.

Your first instinct might be to say something along the lines of ‘You think I should give my superhero protagonist a flying-dog sidekick with a flatulence problem? You great, galumphing fool!’

But if you give it time and an open mind sometimes you’ll discover that you agree with them – and that they’ve just helped you to make an enormous improvement to your work. (Note: sometimes the suggestion is just that of a great, galumphing fool though. Not everyone likes flatulence in stories, even coming from a flying-dog sidekick.)

You don’t have to writhe on the floor or stick chewing gum in your ear to become a good writer – but you do have to say ‘why not’.

You don’t have to writhe on the floor or stick chewing gum in your ear to become a good writer – but you do have to say ‘why not’. You do have to take a chance on yourself. So take your writing, believe in it, and enter the UV2018 competition. Say yes. Because you never know, they might say yes too.

Submissions for UV2018 will open on 1st July 2017 and will close 15th August 2017. Why not sign up here for a reminder when submissions open?


 

Kate Scott has written over 25 children’s books (trade fiction, educational fiction and non-fiction) and over forty children’s television scripts. She is also a script editor and consultant for children’s film and television; a published/broadcast poet; and a playwright. Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights won a Lancashire Fantastic Book Award in 2015. Her latest children’s book, Giant, has been longlisted/nominated for two awards. Another standalone novel, Just Jack, comes out in 2018.

Agents: Eve White at Eve White Literary Agency (Books) and Jean Kitson at Kitson Press Associates (Scriptwriting)

Websites: www.evewhite.co.uk and www.kitsonpress.co.uk/

Twitter: @KateScottWriter

 

One thing leads to another

Kate Scott (UV )
Kate Scott (UV )

I remember seeing the ad for the first Undiscovered Voices and being delighted to see a competition exclusively for children’s writers. While there are dozens of competitions for short story writers, novelists and poets, there are far fewer aimed specifically at children’s writers. So I was determined to make use of the chance.

The inaugural Undiscovered Voices competition didn’t require you to have finished your book in order to submit. This was just as well, as I hadn’t even started one.

But . . . knowing about the competition led to thinking about the competition . . .

And while doing something extraordinarily glamorous like mopping the kitchen floor, or maybe my baby’s mouth (both were unfailingly smeared with food), I came up with an idea for a dystopian story for teens. I wrote and polished three chapters and sent them off. I was slightly crazed by lack of sleep (I’m looking at you, kids) and just wanted to be writing again after a (hopefully temporary) baby-induced creative lobotomy.

That entry, written solely for the competition, led to the phone call telling me I was one of the 2008 winners. I was stunned. (I know people always say that but I really was – I was expecting a call from the plumber. NB: Sara’s message was a lot more interesting.)

The shock quickly led to (slightly hysterical) excitement when I began getting messages from interested editors and agents. This was it! This was the breakthrough I’d been longing for!

Well, not quite.

My hastily finished manuscript had a few holes in it. The way a colander has a few holes in it.

So my manuscript was not snapped up after a frenzied bidding war with editors gripping the manuscript with white-knuckles and bared teeth.

But . . . it did lead to me discovering Cornerstones, who helped me produce something that could be fairly described as a story, rather than a pile of paper with words on it.

And that led to Cornerstones sending the manuscript out to agents. I ended up with two offers of representation. Two! This was it! This was the breakthrough I’d been longing for!

Well, not quite.

My lovely agent, Eve White, sent the manuscript out to editors. There was a lot of interest. (This was it! etc. etc.) There were some very close calls – but my dystopian story was not destined to join the ranks of The Hunger Games, or indeed any ranks at all.

But . . . having an agent led to writing jobs I wouldn’t have had a chance of getting beforehand. And it led to a talk with Eve where I mentioned this idea I’d had about a boy who discovers his parents are spies and has to go undercover…as a girl. She loved it, I wrote it, she submitted it.

The submission story had its own winding plot but . . . it did lead to happy ever acquired with Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights being taken by Piccadilly Press and a sequel, Spies in Disguise: Boy in a Tutu being commissioned for publication next year.

One thing leads to another. The Undiscovered Voices Competition 2014 could be the start of your straight-pathed or windy-laned journey to publication success.

But first, you have to enter.

 

Blog post by Kate Scott. Kate Scott is a published poet and her poetry and fiction have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. She also writes scripts for children’s television. Two of her radio plays have been shortlisted for writing awards. Since being included in Undiscovered Voices, Kate has written a phonic reader (HarperCollins), three books in a 7+ commercial series (Hodder), two books for Pearson Education and a teen dystopian project for an IP company. Her comedy-adventure, Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights, is published by Piccadilly Press (2013) and the sequel, Spies in Disguise: Boy in a Tutu, will be coming out in 2014.

Agents: Eve White at Eve White Literary Agency (Books) and Yasmin McDonald at United Agents (Scriptwriting)

Website: www.evewhite.co.uk

Twitter name: KateScottWriter (tweets writing competitions in all genres)