Hi You,

 

Greetings from Rejection East, that gut-punch place where you find out you didn’t win the thing you most wanted. You’ve just got the email and you don’t need to read on to know you didn’t make it because they didn’t even use your name: Dear Writer… If you’d won, they’d know your name. Let a breath out. It’s okay, but then you read the words: ‘sorry / many outstanding entries / not right for us’ and your doubt translates it to ‘Not good enough’, ‘Who do you think you are?’, ‘Give up!’ I’m here to tell you that this place, Rejection East, is one stop of many you’ll make along the Writer’s Line. Writers might not shout about it but we all go there and trust me, it’s never the last stop.

 

I’m Carmen Marcus. I write novels, essays and, poetry. I teach writing and I still don’t know how to use an em dash in a sentence. I’m the daughter of an Irish-Catholic chef who can taste the love in food and a Protestant English fisherman who believes in sea gods. I grew up on a northern council estate by the wild and wrecking rocks of the north east coast. I’ve won stuff for my writing (from a Curly Wurly to cash to buy an actual desk) and my writing has been rejected too, many times. This is The Writer’s Plan, I made it when I realised that being told ‘sorry, no’ is not the final word, it’s an invitation to ask for help. This plan explains the help I got, simply by asking. I’m giving it to you here because sometimes we don’t feel confident enough to put up our hands and ask for the help we need to achieve our goals. I’m not talking about those sparkly writerly goals: a decent draft, an award that gives validation, an agent, a publisher. These things will come provided you do some work first. I wanted the sparkly things and got many of them. Guess what? A few months after I was published I still felt rejected and a fraud. Why, you might ask? Read on. 

26th November 2017 (1 year, 4 months since Vintage published my debut novel How Saints Die. 11 months since the birth of my baby boy.)

 

20:58 pm I’ve just got my little dude to sleep on the only place he will fall asleep, my chest, and now I’m crying. Not pretty crying, snotty surges that I can’t swallow down. I’m crying because I’ve just listened to Kit de Waal on the radio asking Where Are All The Working Class Writers?, and suddenly, with the hand that isn’t holding the baby, I find myself typing her a message on Twitter.  I’m telling her thanks for saying that it is a long, slogging journey for a working-class writer to keep going when industry doors slam in their faces. Thanks for saying it out loud. Thanks, Ben Gwalchmai, for saying that the elegant language we are taught is ‘good writing’ doesn’t speak the same language I did on Fisherman’s Square. Thanks for saying that the stuff I wrote about – the fishing, the superstitions, the work of hands – is a valid culture, one that we don’t need to hide.

 

Thanks, Kit, for articulating this shame I carry. When a publicist asked how I’d like to be pitched to the industry, this shame silenced me when they said my working class background wasn’t a good angle. She didn’t see me. Or maybe she did and didn’t like it, didn’t approve. Wanted me to be someone else. The self who’d written the book had become irrelevant. I was someone else now. And here was Kit de Waal on BBC Radio telling me how the industry looked past us. I wasn’t alone. That’s why I was crying. Not pretty crying, no. Angry crying. What the hell should we do about this?

She replied! She said working-class writers like me needed to get together. I started trying to build a collective with the help of New Writing North. The collective shared a shocking list of barriers writers face when trying to break into the industry. Through discussions with writers like me, I discovered that the biggest barrier was this internal narrative of shame that writers carry about their stories. We all talked about and to this shame in different ways. While this was happening, Penguin Random House asked me to speak at their Write Now event for underrepresented writers. Because of these discoveries talking to writers like me, I prepared a mini-session on making a plan to write that addressed the shame barrier. The audience response blew me away; people wanted to know more about writing with a plan and emailed me after the event. I couldn’t ignore what the collective had started and began to formalise the plan as a blog of activities, and incredibly it was The Bookseller who published the first step for their readers.

 

When my friend, Jenna Warren, who owns a local bookshop, told me about a pot of funding from The Bookseller’s Association to work at grassroots level with readers and writers, we took it as a sign to make The Writer’s Plan real and work with emerging writers in Teesside, where I live.

 

New Writing North has advised and supported each step of The Writer’s Plan and they asked me to translate the face-to-face course into an online version for everyone to access and work through at their own pace.

 

The Writer’s Plan is part-guide, part-confessional, mostly it’s catch-up for all the confidence, permissions, and strategies that we need to know to write our stories.

 

If you come from an underrepresented background like me, it’s almost a given that you’ll doubt the legitimacy of bringing your experiences to the page. Without the money to buy time and education to write well, we’re thrown into cycles of doubt, shame and sabotage. We don’t permit ourselves to write. I’m guessing, that like me, you haven’t started with role models or professional networks. But writers like us are real.  The first time I met a real published, working-class writer close enough to know they were real, I was thirty-four. They weren’t the exception. Neither am I. There’s room for everyone.

 

Look, the signal’s changed, the next train is coming.

 

Let’s get on,

 

Carmen Marcus


The Writers’ Plan  © Carmen Marcus 2021

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What people said about the first Writer’s Plan:

 

For me, The Writers Plan isn’t a straightforward ‘how to get from A to B’.  Although that is still the objective, Carmen has a unique ability to deconstruct the writer’s thoughts and feelings, forcing us to consider the fundamental question: why am I here? I don’t mean ‘am I good enough’. I am referring to how the course got me thinking about my own inspirations in a way I never would have before. I learned where my stories come from, helping to understand my writerly urges on a much more personal level. In getting to know myself in that way, it brought me closer to my writing and my motivations. It is this fundamental shift that goes beyond the pragmatism; beyond getting from A to B. It forces us to ask why, and it is this underlying connection that helped keep me motivated to this day.  

Andrew Ballantyne, Writer’s Plan 2018

 

When all is said and done, it’s all about convincing yourself that you are a. It begins and ends with you and, first things first, you need a guide. Someone who will allow you to explore all the facets of the writing life, express your fears and worries and marvel at the wonder of your own creations. Get some education, attend some courses, read, read, read AS A WRITER, but then the real work begins; on yourself. And the first step to help steer you in the right direction is to follow the Writer’s Plan devised by Carmen Marcus. This will give you the tools, the map and, crucially, the confidence to plot out the many journeys that you can take so that you will write your stories, your way.

Marie Lycett, Writer’s Plan 2018