Writing Completely Changed My Life — an interview with CR Smith

C.R.Smith

CR Smith is a student of Fine Art. She splits her time between art and writing. Her work has appeared both online and in print, on such sites as, Sick Lit Magazine, Paragraph Planet, Train Flash Fiction, Visual Verse, Verstype, National Flash Flood, The Horror Tree, Spelk Fiction, Hypnopomp Magazine and The Infernal Clock. She has won Zero Flash three times including Best of the Best. Upcoming work on Flash Frontier, Calamus Journal, Green Light Journal and Glove#3.

Find her on Twitter @carolrosalind

https://www.instagram.com/smith.cr/

https://crsmith2016.wordpress.com

What got you interested in writing?

I fell into writing by accident. A friend asked if I’d be interested in signing up for a creative writing class in 2014. Although I hadn’t written anything more than a diary for decades I agreed to give it a go, achieving Distinction grades throughout. I’ve been writing ever since. The course turned out to be part of an Access Course for entry to university, which is where I am now, about to start my second year — except I chose to study Fine Art (believe me, there’s an awful lot of writing involved). I consider writing and art to be two sides of the same coin.

How do you handle success and failure?

Three Line Thursday run by Grace Black, and David Borrowdale’s Micro Bookends, encouraged me to submit work online. The writing communities on both sites were fantastic and I’m still in touch with some of the people today. Sadly the sites no longer exist, however, others have sprung up in their place. Microcosms has a great community spirit, and David now organises Reflex Fiction. In 2015 I tentatively submitted my first two pieces of work outside the safety of these two sites. I recall reading my first acceptance email from 101Words standing outside Foyles on the Charing Cross Road. That was shortly followed by an acceptance from Paragraph Planet. Those first occasions will forever stick in my mind.

The one thing studying art has taught me is not to compare your work to anyone else’s; aim for the best you can be and accept you can never have perfection. Writing is much the same. You need to find your own way, your own voice, don’t lose sleep over what everyone else is doing. Mark your success by reaching the goals you set yourself.

I don’t take rejection to heart. I usually shrug it off; it’s a piece of writing not a life or death situation. Naturally there’s disappointment. After all, only one person can win a competition. It’s the same with Lit mags. Rejection’s not personal, it may simply be a case of not fitting in with someone else’s vision. I believe in being magnanimous in victory — and defeat. Everyone dedicates time to these pieces they enter or submit. I’ll happily accept criticism, but if I really don’t agree with what’s said I’ll ignore it. Only I know the direction my work is heading.

What is your advice to young and new writers?

There’s a lot of writing advice available. The following suggestions are based purely on my observations over the last few years. Others will have different opinions and experiences to share.

Only submit a piece of work when it cannot be improved upon; when you are 100% happy with it. You’ll save yourself a huge chunk of grief. Once it’s released into the world it’s there for good. Always bear that in mind.

When I first began writing I rushed, eager to submit my work somewhere — anywhere. Nowadays I hold onto it for several months, sometimes a year, before doing anything with it. I promise you opportunities to submit stories do not go away. Each year seems to throw up more and more sites calling for submissions.

Read your work aloud. Record it. Play it back. If you stumble over a sentence so will the reader.

Read the work of your peers, especially stories that win. You can learn a lot from analysing other writer’s work. Don’t be put off by unfathomable pieces, think horses for courses, some people love them. In fact read whatever you can get your hands on, don’t stick to one genre.

Actually read the lit mags you’re submitting to. Find one that fits your style. Follow the submission guidelines, even if you think some are ridiculous.

There are several approaches to submitting work, from the scattergun method where you send pieces to anything that raises a hand, through to the more considered one where you choose who you really want to write for. Being accepted by a site that means something to you is ten times more rewarding. There’s actually a piece of writing advice that’s constantly being re-blogged suggesting you should aim for 100 rejections a year. This is plain daft, if you ask me, and I suspect it was written to make someone feel better— unless the aim is to desensitise yourself to rejection. Who has time to submit that often? I’d rather spend my time writing. Besides, I’m happy with my acceptance rate. The more considered approach works fine for me, choose what’s best for you.

Writing is not a race to the finish, it never stops. Submitting work can become a rat race if you let it with always a fresh deadline to meet. Set your own agenda, don’t follow someone else’s. Find your own style. Be original. There’s a place for everyone’s writing somewhere. Encourage others. Above all believe in yourself.

What are you reading? Are you a traditionalist or a digital reader?

I’ve found myself reading a lot of short stories lately, mostly due to time constraints. I can’t be the only person who simply doesn’t have time to read a long novel. A short story is quick to read and compact, and often as thought provoking. I have several collections on the go at once and pick at least one story to read each day. My current reading includes Madame Zero, The Irreal Reader, The Secret Lives of Colour, Fifteen Minute Stories. (I’ll put links at the bottom of the page if you’re interested.) I prefer to read them on a Kindle. The ability to adjust the lighting and change the size of text is a big plus in my eyes. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped buying books; I can’t resist them. My bookcases are overflowing and there are numerous book piles spread around the house.

Why did you start your website?

Writing can be a lonely business. This year, after over two years of sporadic writing, I’ve finally finished the first draft of my novel— 150K words. So I know it’s easy to think you’re not getting anywhere when you shut yourself away to write long pieces. Submitting shorter work, like flash fiction, gives you a break, and a welcome shot of validation, boosting your confidence, returning you to your WIP with fresh eyes.  But sometimes you remember the rejections more clearly than the acceptances. That’s why I set up my WordPress site. All the pieces have either been published somewhere or won a competition. It‘s a testament to how far I’ve travelled in a short space of time. Three years ago I had a tedious dead end job. This year I’ve won two awards at university for achieving the highest marks in my year. Writing really has changed my life.

Book Links

Madame Zero by Sarah Hall

The Irreal Reader

Fifteen Minute Stories by Erin Mettler

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair

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