Great news – I returned home elated from the UL winter school with 214 words and having ditched my WIP! On the surface, this might not seem like the best of yields, but in fact I have more than achieved my goal.
When I tentatively applied way back in April, I was flummoxed by the second question on the application form: Please briefly describe the writing project you would plan to work on at the UL Winter School.
I didn’t know how to answer in a way that would sound confident and committed, almost like a grown up. Part of you wants to press the right button that will permit you access to the wonderful opportunity. Equally, you half hope to be told, “Thank you for your interest, however…” so you can feel that at least you gave it your best shot. I decided to be honest and say that I didn’t really know how to answer the question. I had two projects on the go and was flip-flopping between them. Whenever I became dismayed with one, I’d revisit the other. In that way, they were both progressing to some degree, but it was a frustrating, unending process.
That answer apparently pressed the right button because my bluff was called and I was granted a place (oh holy God and all the saints, I thought, or something along those lines when I read Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s email).
Despite what I’d said, I had to commit to progressing one of the two projects in order to turn up prepared. So I settled on one. Then changed my mind. Then changed it again.
I worked on it before going to Doolin.
I worked on it for a couple of days in Doolin, adding several thousand words to my wordcount.
I parked it (for the present) when it came to writing a pitch (the description of your manuscript that you send to an agent/publisher along with your opening chapters and letter of introduction). I found the task impossible and decided not to put anything forward in those sessions with agent Jo Unwin and editorial director Helen Thomas for fear of embarrassing myself. But then, just for the exercise, I decided to try writing a pitch for the other project, which I had ditched about two years ago. I was surprised to find the pitch almost wrote itself, as the story had when I first worked on it back in 2015 until I lost the faith (I even blogged about its surprising progress here). Getting feedback on my pitch from Helen proved invaluable. Not only did she give me some much needed words of encouragement, but she showed me why I needed to return to it and made me think about what was possibly holding me back. Thank you, Helen, you honestly don’t know how much those chats helped me.
I can’t say for definite that I won’t continue to have periods of doubt, because all writing is a stumbling, staggering search in the dark, but I have come away with a new sense of clarity and have already gotten stuck in. So the inaugural UL winter school has been worth its weight in gold to me – and that’s before we even get to the tremendous fun, camaraderie, advice, scenery and food of a truly unforgettable experience.