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Tag: writing

Hope springs eternal

Last week I thought that my story hadn’t  been picked in a competition. Then I found out that it had. Gutted and then thrilled. My story might be published and that would make me a published writer. I won’t get paid and it’s not prestigious, but, still, picked and published. That’s big for me.
I’ve always written, but four years ago I decided that I wanted my dream of being a published writer to be realised and that the only way to achieve this was to write something and ask someone to publish it. Yeah, bloody genius I am!
People often say that the answer to the question ‘how do I become a writer?’ is ‘write’, but it isn’t that simple.
I’ve made my living for the last, cough, quite a few years from my pen. I’ve written for and as corporations and organisations in all manner of for,s on all manner of subjects, from pensioners’ hobbies to medical research, from corporate law to kitchen hygiene. It’s not the same though. That wasn’t me writing, that wasn’t my voice. The content was theirs and the voice was them, but better (at least that was the plan). I was a translator of other people’s ideas, offers and desires.
And I’ve always written the other stuff: angst-ridden poetry, journals, stories… But I’ve never written this in the expectation of an audience beyond me and a few friends – and never in the hope of being paid. This is what I now want. It has taken a lot for me even to say that. It means expressing a belief in my ability to write and having a hope – publicly admitted – that may not be fulfilled. But I have it; I have that hope.

Why I need sequinned socks

Recently, I read my work in progress out loud to an audience. It was terrifying. I’ve given presentations, run seminars and read out loud before. But not my own work. Reading it out, volunteering to read it out, is saying ‘I think this is worth listening to’. And that’s opening the door to rejection. Who wants rejection? Who wants rejection of something that is so close to yourself and that you really really want people to like?

I did this because it is something you are meant to do if you want to be taken seriously as a writer. So that’s worse. I’m standing up in front of a bunch of people who love and know about writing and saying: ‘take me seriously as one of those people you study and admire’.

All I could think as I waited for it to be my turn was, why have I agreed to do this? And why did I change the font of my manuscript from Arial to Times New Roman just before printing a copy to read? Times New Roman is tiny and I’m short sighted. When I last went to the optician complaining about my eyesight he kindly informed me that, considering the state of my eyes, I was lucky I could see as well as I could. Err, thanks?

There was one other thing that worried me and that was my lack of sequins. I read this article on public readings. I’m sure it said lots of really helpful things but the key points I remember were don’t drink alcohol and wear sequins. I don’t have anything with sequins. I’m not a sequins kind of gal. I felt naked. So I had a drink. To be honest I did mind less about the sequins after that.

I’d bagged myself a slot in the middle of the first half of the series of readings. The day before I’d been to watch my son in his school Christmas play. He was one of any three children in his class to have a line to say. It was: ‘Three Wise Men entered the stable and laid their gifts before the baby’. I remember. I will probably remember it til I die now (that and the der-der der-der from Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner). The point is that anything about the wise men is right near the end. There are donkeys, stables, babies born, angels and shepherds that all come before that bit. So there was the longest of waits until he got to say his line, until we would know whether he had remembered it and was able to speak slowly and clearly and I would able to restrain myself from leaping up and saying it with him. The tension was terrible. I couldn’t go through that twice in as many days.

So, my time came and I did it. I read the Prologue to my novel. Apparently some people laughed, not just my friends. (Just to be clear, it is supposed to be funny.) I lived. And then I drank. And I didn’t need sequins. Maybe next time though. What if there was no drink?

Pith helmets of their own

Pith helmets “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” Cyril Connolly
I don’t have a pram in the hall, but I do have a dozen pith helmets. These are my enemy. Or so I tell myself. I don’t write, I say, because, as Virginia Woolf complains in A Room of One’s Own, we women never have half an hour that we can call our own. There’s the school run (twice a day), meal times (three times a day, if you count packed lunches), washing (four times a week), home work (once a week), fighting about time spent playing computer games (seven times plus a week), cleaning (depends if I’m wearing my glasses or not). That’s the bare minimum of the Mummying. Then there’s being a wife/partner/home maker/lover (hah). And then the professional working woman, which goes alongside being a functional member of society with clean hair on your head and no hair any where else. And friends, everyone likes to have friends. And friendships for your child – these need to be enabled and cultivated through play dates and the PTA and joint trips to amusements.
However, its not all this that is the problem. It’s not the physical time that’s the problem. Anyone can find half and hour, even an hour, to put pen to paper. It’s the absence of space in my head that’s the problem. In just the few moments after I woke up this morning, I covered: how do you make an explorer themed cake, green like a jungle or yellow like a sandy island, or is that too piratey? What does it mean if the school don’t realise that my son is better at ICT than art? Will he be ok in a class without his best friend next year? Can I get that tea cosy finished before we go on holiday? When should I start packing? How much can I advance plan the school winter fair to avoid organisation clashing with course assignments in November? Should I wait for feedback from my client on case studies on the Mental Capacity Act or have a go at making them up? Is there any milk left for breakfast? Is there enough in the bank account to pay for the shopping? And do I have enough pith helmets?
This stream of thoughts and worries carries on all day. Where is the room in my brain for creative writing, creative thinking, for my story? It’s in there, but crammed at the back under all this other stuff (a bit like the hoover in the cupboard under our stairs). Perhaps therein lies the answer: worry less and get on with it. Whenever I need to hoover (note need not want), I have to dig the thing out of the cupboard. Every time I do it, I think about how much the cupboard needs tidying. And then I shove the hoover back in. I need to stop thinking about some things in order to make some space for my writing. (Is there a mixed metaphor in there? I don’t know. I don’t care! Hah!)
So, as of Sunday I am going to practise ignoring the debris in my head in order to find some space to write. Why Sunday? Because on Saturday I will be running my child’s birthday party and it will be a birthday party to go down in the annals of birthday parties (the annals that exclude entry to any parent who can afford to pay for a circus or Justin Fletcher). There will be home sewn party bags containing educational toys and a book on explorers created by me, jungle food, handmade bunting, inflatable jungle animals, codes to break, games to develop explorer skills and, oh yes, little explorers in pith helmets. Is it maybe possible that I’m directing my creative energies in the wrong direction?

I see roses and thorns

Rose I have to decide on the tone I want for my writing. I’m not sure I know what that means. I do conceptually, but not practically. I have a sad need to define things so that sends me to the Dictionary of Literary Terms. It defines tone as ‘The reflection of a writer’s attitude (especially towards his readers), manner, mood and moral outlook in his work; even, perhaps, the way his personality pervades the work.’ Blimey. This suggests I need an analyst, not a writing mentor. It’s tricky (obviously) because I don’t think I have or want a tone that is straightforward (obviously). My attitude and mood is neither totally black nor fluffy and light. I’m looking for informal, without too much familiarity. I need to communicate layers, rather than absolutes. In my novel I want to laugh at the darker side of life, enjoy the absurdities – but not as an expression of nihilism. The novel must have heart, a positive heart.
John Mullan (How Novels Work) says: ‘’Tone’ is entirely separate from story.’ I sort of agree and sort of don’t. I can see that the basic characters and sequence of events I have in my head could be presented very differently depending on the tone I wish to use. The elements of the supernatural could be made frightening. There are characters who could be genuinely threatening. However, my story is more than this. What am I talking about? Let’s say the theme. The theme is one of positive growth from acceptance of genuine self and connection with others. The story is essentially a happy one that accepts the darker sides of life. (I have another story in my head that is far darker but still has a positive impetus at its heart.) I believe in love and family and community and all that stuff, but I don’t see any of it as very picture book perfect. It’s like my cakes – they usually taste good but they could look a little misshapen and eccentric.
If you are reading this I must apologise for the muddled thinking. I am using the blog to write things out in search of greater understanding. As you can see, I am far from defining clearly the quality of tone I wish to achieve. Even when/if I achieve this, I still need to work out how to adopt this tone in my writing, consistently. This may lie at the crux of my writing challenge. I tend to write without thinking too much. It seems that this will only get me so far. I am going to need to be more conscious, thoughtful, deliberate (like choosing the one exact word that say what I mean rather than going for two or three that are in the right arena). I am going to need to work at it. Sigh.

Pregnant pause

lava lamp You know those days when it has to rain and doesn’t. People say ‘It feels like rain’ but nothing happens. The sky is heavy and colourless, the air clammy. Nothing can be right again until it has rained. That’s what it’s like inside my head. Not writing makes me miserable. But writing is hard and the process of doing it makes me miserable sometimes. Creative writing is not my job, so many people’s response to my pained complaint that I haven’t written with a look that says ‘And?’ Why should it matter? It’s only a hobby after all. Try knitting or, better still, join a gym. I said this to the lovely CF and she said: ‘Don’t they think you’d choose something easier if it was just a hobby? Tap dancing is a hobby.’ (Personally, I found tap dancing very hard when I attempted it aged 13.) Writing is a compulsion. When it goes well it can be satisfying, but still you have to get over the hurdle of believing that it’s going well. How can you tell? It never seems to come out quite as well as you thought it possibly might. There is always something you can improve. You put it down and pick it up an hour, a week, a year later and realise all the things that are wrong with it – and how utterly shit you are as a writer. But you keep picking it up and you keep trying something new because you must. Although sometimes, the hurdle of insecurity is so enormous that you can’t get over it. In fact you are paralysed by the certainty that any attempt to do so will bring pain and humiliation (not unlike my attempt at running the 200m hurdles at school sports day). This blog in itself is an exercise in overcoming the critic in my head who says: ‘They’ll laugh. You’ll reveal how crap you are. You have nothing to say. And you’ll say it badly. You know your command of grammar can be shaky. And all those clichés.’ My critic has a lot to say for himself and never knows when to shut up. If I can do this to fight the bastard perhaps it will build my muscles and help me to get him on the ropes (cliché alert).

Turkey or the egg?

Turkey or the egg
Am I depressed because I can’t write or can I not write because I’m depressed? Which comes first? This blog is becoming more of a non-writing blog than a writing blog. The lovely CF, writing mentor, published novelist and good egg, suggested two possible techniques to overcome the problem. Firstly, set yourself a small task, such as writing 500 words a day or for just an hour. Apparently this is what Marian Keyes is doing to overcome the writer’s block she has faced due to severe depression (not that I place either my writing or depression on a par with hers). However, even that seems too great a hill to climb. The other suggestion was to write some back story or a single incident from the novel I am (was) working on, something that I never intend to be part of the finished narrative. The idea is that this will remove the pressure of carrying on with the novel whilst getting me going writing about those characters and ideas again. Nope. There’s nothing there. It’s as though the creative synapses in my head are dead. Whatever is the source of original words and thoughts, I am cut off from it. Every word has to be pulled from a pit under deep brambles, dragged through sharp thorns, and all you find yourself left with is a squashed, oozy syllable. I hold pen to paper and nothing happens. I have nothing to write. My Beloved suggests, practically, that I get on with it or give up – I’m wasting his time ranting on and on about it saying the same things, apparently. I’ve always maintained that practical writing, like this blog and writing marketing and training materials, comes from a different place from the creative writing. This seems to be further proof. I don’t want proof! I want back in to that other place! (And for my aforementioned Beloved to learn more sensitivity.)

Help or hindrance?

Spring

Write a blog, they say. Get your words out there into the world. Get your name out there. It’ll help if you want to get published. Yes, but (apparently I say this a lot), I’ve only just admitted to myself that I’d like to be published and I haven’t finished anything to be published yet. So, do I write the novel or write the blog? The answer has been made for me by my muse – it’s buggered off on holiday having been smothered by a critical commentary for assessment as part of my MA course. And here I am. Now what?