New Year, Old You

This time of year the blogosphere bursts with projects, projections, plans, aims and objectives.  Weight will be lost.  Fitness regimes will be instantiated.  Old hobbies will be pursued and new ones taken up.  Ambitions will begin to be realised.  And so forth.  I don’t generally make new year’s resolutions but I do like to make plans for the year which embody a vision of where I want to go.  I don’t feel the need to start a fitness regime because I already do yoga – though more walking couldn’t hurt, so I’ve done a bit of that.

I find walking on my own a very contemplative activity, particularly if it takes me away from my usual environment.  Hence I went for a drive the other day with only the vaguest idea of where I would end up; and where I ended up was Cropston village at the top of the reservoir.  Knowing that the reservoir backs onto Bradgate Park, I formed a scheme: I would walk down to the park and all the way round its perimeter.  Which I did; this being a walk of about six miles all told.  Then yesterday morning, inspired by OH’s new regime which is to go for a run every day at six am (yes, I know) I drove up to Beacon Hill and went for a short but very brisk, cold walk before Quaker meeting.

But the main part of my vision is of course writing; and so I’ve formulated plans for the year involving where I want to be in December and working back from there.  I found a really good idea in Paul McKenna’s book ‘I Can Make You Rich’ which I mentioned a few weeks ago in which he uses visualisations to create a picture of the future.

First on one side you draw a big picture (either on paper or in  your mind) of where you want to be at the end of the year.  On the other side you draw a much smaller picture illustrating where you are now.  Then in between you create pictures which get larger each time creating a timeline between now and the future and illustrating your progress.  I’ve found these to be very powerful.

My aims for this year are to publish (or have accepted) a full-length work; either a novel or a collection of poetry, and to get an agent.  To this end I will send off one thing every month and I will find out the best way to approach agents.  And as far as this blog’s concerned, I’m aiming for 1000 readers.  I know it’s been a bit quiet over Christmas but that’s only to be expected, but we’re back now.  And don’t forget that my 500th follower will receive a FREE volume of my poetry.

So if you’ve enjoyed this blog, tell others.  If you haven’t, tell me (but tell me nicely please.)  And let me know how you’re getting on with your writing projects.

Happy New Year!

Kirk out

 

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Blockhead: My Top Tips For Overcoming Writer’s Block

I have previously tried to analyse what writer’s block actually is:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/lay-your-head-on-the-writers-block/

and now it’s time to share some of my top tips for dealing with it.  No matter whether it lasts for an afternoon or a year (or longer) writer’s block is painful, debilitating, numbing and horribly frustrating.  Where does it come from?  Where does it go?  It seems to arrive like the wind, out of nowhere, and to disappear equally mysteriously.  Whatever your particular brand of writer’s block, some of these may help:

  1.  Set an alarm and write for 10 minutes without thinking, revising or stopping.  Any old junk that comes into your head is fine.  Don’t even worry about sentences.
  2. Sign up to writing prompts such as writerswrite.co.za
  3. Describe what you can see from your window.  I can see a quiet street with several vehicles parked, one of which has ‘Integrated Building Solutions’ on the side.  I might choose to write about what the hell that means and why everything is a ‘solution’ nowadays instead of saying exactly what it is ie ‘builders.’
  4. Go through old notebooks for any ideas you can harvest.  If you haven’t got any notebooks go out and buy one; there’s nothing like a new notebook for stimulating ideas.
  5. Take one item on your desk and write about its history.  At this moment apart from a laptop, I have two digestive biscuits on my desk.  I could, if I chose, write one of those stories they used to give us at school – The Life-Cycle of the Chocolate Digestive (‘I was made in a factory from flour and sugar…)
  6. Do something else.  Dig the garden, go for a walk, do the washing-up.  The unconscious mind will keep working while the conscious mind is occupied with something else
  7. If all these ideas bore you to tears, recognise that sometimes boredom is necessary and, like land lying fallow, can prove fertile ground for new seeds.

Kirk out

Up to Here

I’ve been thinking about a post on Remembrance Sunday which this year fell with almost supernatural precision exactly on Armistice day, one hundred years after the ending of the First World War.  I sat in Quaker Meeting while outside people processed, banged drums, shouted orders, prayed and stood in respectful silence.  And I wanted to try to disentangle all the complex feelings I had about it but they proved too matted to be unravelled so I’m leaving it for another time (I did get up in Meeting and speak about Conscientious Objectors though.)

So in the meantime, where am I up to?  A rather fractured night’s sleep led to a morning assailed by a welter of ideas (a bit like being inside a meteor shower) all supplemented by the arrival of the first of my daily writing prompts.   Inspired by my son doing Inktober and producing a drawing every day (today’s is fabulous) I signed up for Writers Write Daily Prompts and my first suggestion was ‘Looking at Life Through Rose-Tinted Spectacles.’  I decided to write a hundred words; this centenary may or may not turn into something else but if not it doesn’t matter as the main point is to get the suggestive juices going (see what I did there?)

Apart from that I do my usual vocal exercises and trawl through my poems reciting them out loud to an imaginary audience.  I do this most mornings and it’s very useful; not only can I perform any poem at the drop of a hat but with the newer poems reading them aloud shows up any flaws in the writing.  (I do this with stories too; it’s amazing how you can type type the same word twice and not notice until you come to read aloud*.)

Mornings are usually dedicated to poetry but after doing my hundred words on the writing prompt I decided to polish up another hundred words I’m doing for Mslexia (this time the prompt is a photograph) then some ideas came for the novel and I wrote those up, so it’s been a bit of a mixed morning.

This afternoon I plan to tackle a totally new project.  The BBC’s Writersroom window is coming up in a couple of months and I intend to embark on a radio play.  It’s a horrendously tall order to write a radio play in two months but I work quite well in short bursts so we’ll see.  In any case a lot of the material is already to hand albeit in the form of short dialogues and stories.

Here’s Daniel’s picture:

Kirk out

* see what I did there?

Nine Out of Seven Makes Me Mostly Harmless

As the eagle-eyed among you will have spotted, yesterday’s post was rather like Douglas Adam’s ‘Mostly Harmless: the Fifth Volume in the Increasingly Inaccurately-Titled Hitch-Hiker’s Trilogy:

https://www.abebooks.co.uk/HARMLESS-Fifth-Book-Increasingly-Inaccurately-Named/554906278/bd

Why?  Because I said it had seven tips when in fact it had nine.  Once I’d published it I kept thinking of more things to put in and having edited it about nine times I couldn’t be bothered changing the title and decided anyway it was more fun to have a title at odds with the content, thus violating one of my own top tips.  It’s always more fun to break your own rules… but who knew I could say so much about blogging?  I always tend to undervalue my own knowledge and expertise because it doesn’t seem very Thingish: by which I mean it’s Not Very Technical or Definite; it doesn’t have Rules or Widgets or Boxes to Tick.  And we live in a society that values Boxes and things which are Thingish.  But once I started writing I found I actually had a great deal of knowledge and expertise to pass on and others seemed to find it useful too, which is Highly Gratifying – and in accordance with Tip No. 1 – Be Yourself.

Of course that easy-sounding phrase is anything but: in order to be yourself you must first find out what that is; and it may be that people you love or want to impress don’t actually like it very much.  There’s always risk involved in doing anything public: many people have commented to me over the years that they wish they could write a blog but they’re afraid of what people will say.  I, too, know that fear: I used to look at the comments with dread in case someone was being rude or abusive – and sometimes they were.  But you learn how to deal with this stuff (oh no, I feel some more tips coming on) just as we all do on social media.  Nope, there’s no avoiding them – here come some more tips:

Tip 1:  Criticism Hurts

Yes.  It hurts.  I don’t believe there is a writer alive (or dead) who has not experienced the pain of adverse criticism.  Some deal with it by getting angry, others by hiding away until the hurt has passed, a few by taking revenge.  I don’t have a short-cut to pain-free criticism I’m afraid, except to say that it does get better.  Try not to react immediately: give yourself some space; talk to family and friends, eat some chocolate.  Remind yourself of how many great writers were criticised and rejected in their time and the pain will pass.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/91169/16-famous-authors-and-their-rejections

Tip 2:  Get Some Distance

A series of devastatingly cutting responses will go through your mind, each cleverer than the last.  Resist.  Everyone can detect the taste of sour grapes, no matter how eloquently expressed, and you diminish your own power by indulging in them.  First, try to get some distance; then try to judge the comment on its merits.  Does the writer have a point?  Is there anything (however unpalatable) you can learn from this?  Are they – though it might kill you to say so – right?

Tip 3:  Right or Wrong, Make it Work for You

Whether the comment has a point or is total garbage, make it work for you.  Live well is the best revenge, so says the proverb; so if they have a point, take it and improve your work.  If they don’t have a point, let their sheer wrongness spur you on to better things.  Activate your inner stroppiness: don’t let anyone push you off course.

Tip 4:  Don’t Give Up

The only consistent piece of advice I’ve received in all my years of writing is, ‘Don’t give up.’  Keep going; persist; keep writing.  However regular your practice, stick with it and don’t let anyone stop you.  If someone says you’ll never make it, take that word ‘never’ as a red rag to a bull and think what the hell do they know?  Don’t engage in argument: it’s a waste of energy.  Just get back to your desk and carry on.

Tip 5:  What If I’m Not a Writer?

No-one can tell you what you are; that’s true, but it’s even truer that no-one can tell you what you are not.  Only you can discover that – and if in the course of writing, you discover that this is not really who you are, so what?  I’ve tried a hundred things and discovered they’re not who I am; and in the process you’ve found something out about yourself and that’s valuable.  Finding out who you aren’t is a step on the road to finding out who you are.  Which leads me to my final tip…

Tip 6:  Be Yourself.

I think we touched on this one already…

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

Nominative Determinism, Psycho-Geography (Again) and a Poet Discovered

I have discovered a poet.  She was a Victorian, her name was Joanna Baillie and I had never heard of her; obviously a great omission as her work has a toughness generally absent from female poets of her time, with the exception of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  I shall say more when I know her better.

But Joanna Baillie was clearly not an example of nominative determinism: I don’t know where the name Baillie originates from (it may be a cognate of bailiff or something similar, perhaps I’ll look it up*) but Joanna Bard might be more appropriate, especially since as a playwright she was compared in her time to Shakespeare.  Nominative determinism crops up far more than you’d think:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism

How often have you come across someone whose name quite inexplicably describes their job?  Like, say, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the flushing toilet; or, to give a more recent example, Usain Bolt, until recently the fastest runner in the world?  How does this happen?

Historically it’s easy to see how, given that surnames were likely to indicate a person’s occupation; so, for example, you may be genetically predisposed to become a baker, a butcher or a chandler because, if that’s your name it means that somewhere in history, that’s what your family did.  (I’m not sure what to make of mine, incidentally, since we don’t seem to have a predisposition to go grey early in my family.)  Another explanation is that we may be drawn to occupations which reflect our name through a sort of unconscious egoism, as suggested here:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/may/02/nominative-determinism-who-has-the-best-name-in-running

What examples of nominative determinism have you found?  I’m sure there are some corkers out there.

And back to psycho-geography which, as I’m sure you recall, is the way in which the landscape can reflect an inner state.  This is evident in works such as Wuthering Heights (incidentally how many people have the name Bronte?) and much of Dickens’ urban landscapes reflect the turmoil and oppression of his characters’ lives.  It is also in Joyce’s Dublin, Rankin’s Edinburgh and, if you want to see it that way, Dante’s Inferno.  Which brings us neatly back to spirals and to the novel I have once more picked up, determined to finish it by the end of November.  Of course by ‘finish’ I mean ‘complete a first draft’ – which will of course be rough, incomplete and awful.  But as I was decorating it occurred to me that writing is like painting a wall.  First you clean and prepare; then you put the first coat on.  You stand back.  God, that’s awful, you think.  What a mess.  And it’s true – the old paint shows through, the edges are rough and you can’t believe it’ll ever look like it did in your mind.  But you persevere because you realise that this is just the first coat – and once the edges are neatened with a fine brush and more coats have been applied and everything cleaned up, it’ll look much better.  Of course writing is not that simple: would that it were! (that phrase always reminds me of Robert Robinson.  Not a case of nominative determinism).  With writing you have to apply several coats and very often change colour half way through and start again, not to mention sanding down in between.  It’s a hell of a thing.  Incidentally I can’t think of any writers with nominative determinism – can you?

Kirk out

*It’s Scottish and means a kind of steward or sheriff, so I guess it’s not dissimilar

 

Aaaaaaaaand it’s Back to the Novel-Face

I’ve been taking some time out – a very valuable and useful thing to do – to walk and to decorate; but there comes a point in the life of every writer when she must go back to the laptop and face The Novel once more.  It’s no good waiting for Inspiration to Strike – you must seize it by the throat or at least go to your desk and try to write something.  So here I am.  I’ve read through a couple of the early chapters and made a few changes, and they don’t seem so bad; so the plan is to forge ahead (interestingly I typed ‘forget ahead’ which may also be good advice) and finish the damned thing by doing NaNoWriMo in November.

NaNoWriMo, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is National Novel Writing Month.  All sorts of people do NaNo as it’s a great opportunity to get your arse in gear and write (or finish writing) that novel you always meant to get around to creating.  In my case I shall not be starting from scratch but I will be writing 50,000 words in a month (which is only about 1700 a day, roughly 5 pages) which may or may not take me near the end of the damned thing.

I can’t decide whether to stick to the Fibonacci sequence of chapters (see here for an explanation of the idea:)

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/03/03/nice-shell-suit-was-it-designed-by-fibonacci/

or to abandon it.  On the one hand it’s totally impractical as the chapters get exponentially longer.  On the other hand I can’t seem to get it out of my bloodstream, so we’ll just have to see where it leads us.

And that’s today.

Kirk out

I Have Been Paged – or Rather, I Have Paged Myself

I had another little notification from WordPress yesterday.  They’re always changing things around here and for some reason they have seen fit to discontinue connections to people’s Facebook profiles.  Wait, now that I read the email it’s actually Facebook who are doing this, not WordPress, so let’s not blame them.  Whoever it is, it came as a bit of a blow because I get lots of readers via Facebook, and although it’s annoying when people don’t comment on here because they’ve done it on there, it does at least mean that you get dialogue; and dialogue is one of the main reasons for getting a blog in the first place.  Writing can be quite isolating, especially if you’re not yet at the stage where you get to do lots of performances, book signings, festivals and so on; so a blog is one of the main ways you can have dialogue with readers.  When I first set fingers to keyboard I was scared of getting negative comments, but I’ve had very few of those.  I’ve dealt with persistent offenders by blocking them, and I once got rid of a troll by asking him to send me some of his own poetry as it was obviously so much better than mine.  I’ve had radio silence ever since.

No, most comments are lovely.  They are interesting, stimulating and, if not always appreciative, at least never hostile.  I have come across points of view which I would never have encountered otherwise, and had conversations with people I would never have met.

But one of the main reasons for writing a blog is what OH calls a ‘brain dump’.  You have thoughts going round and round in your head and you want to do something with them, so you forge them into a blog post.  In so doing you are able to examine these thoughts and see where they lead.  You can evaluate them and judge whether they are worthwhile.  You can hone and refine them – and in so doing, hone and refine your own thought processes.

What’s not to like?

So please, if you’re on Facebook, check out my page and ‘like’ it:

https://www.facebook.com/saradagray/

Kirk out