This Time Ten Years Ago

Do you know what you were doing ten years ago? Thanks to this blog all I have to do is pick a month and I can find out; it’s always worth keeping a blog and then you have something sensational to read on the train…

So here it is; this time ten years ago I was… on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square doing yoga and poetry. It was an amazing day, a positive tsunami of circumstances conspiring to create an event which involved a CND minibus with a dozen or so people scooting down to London where Bruce Kent and Kate Hudson joined us and I had a brilliant time doing yoga and poetry. So check out all these posts from that time:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/photos-of-me/

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2009/08/10/

Kirk out

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This Time Last Year

Del Boy’s dreams (in ‘Only Fools and Horses’) always used to end with him saying confidently, ‘this time next year we’ll be millionaires.’ Well I can’t look at my blog post for this time next year but I can look back to last year and see where I was at. And lo! I was here: https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/can-i-be-novel/

Just goes to show what a difference a year makes.

Still no baby – but then again it’s not due for five days.

Kirk out

Once Bitten Twice Sigh: Dealing with Rejection

I’m taking a leaf out of Beetleypete’s book and reblogging a few golden oldies as it’s holiday time and I’m basically Not At My Desk Very Much.  Here’s one from a while back.

*Sigh*.  Another day, another rejection – this time in the form of a competition shortlist which unaccountably did not have my name on it.  It’s very hard to keep going during these times: you feel a blow to the stomach like a sucker-punch which takes all the air out of your lungs.  You start to feel a bit sick: then the inevitable thoughts come in.  Why did I think that story was any good?  Of course they didn’t choose it!  What makes you think you’ll make a writer?  And so on.  But along with that there’s a stony stubbornness which won’t let me stop: and that’s a good thing – but right now it doesn’t feel good.  Right now that stubbornness feels like your doom.  It seems there’s no escape from your own nature – or fate, or whatever it is – and you start to feel like Sisyphus, condemned to push a rock up a mountain only to see it roll to the bottom.  Every time.

Maybe I should write a story about that….

Because yes, in the end that is the only response; to turn your experiences into art.  And thankfully nowadays the sucker-punch doesn’t last too long: I bounce back from it relatively quickly.  But it’s very hard to find a place in a world which doesn’t seem to have any time for your work.  My problem with stories is, I think, that they don’t have a strong plot.  I’m not good with strong plots: my strengths lie in ideas and characters; moments in a life.  Although I have had some success with surreal plots, such as Mem Mat, the one about the memory mattress which stores your actual memories.  I have also – as is only fair – had some success with writing about trans issues: first with the Mslexia blog and before that, a story called DIVORK where a woman thinks her husband is having an affair because of a lip-print on a glass, only to discover that the lipstick is his.

As far as poetry goes I think my problem is that I write a lot of rhyming verse and there seems to be a mindset that serious poets write free verse.  Hence I’ve had more success with comic verse.  Interestingly this mirrors the process when I began to write: unable at first to take myself seriously as a poet, I started with parodies and comic rhymes, assuming like everyone else that the serious poet did not rhyme (or only sporadically) and that therefore I was not a Serious Poet.  It took a long while for me to be persuaded otherwise – and now it seems to be taking a long while for publishers to be persuaded, too.

*Sigh!*

So here’s the rub: do you carry on doing what you do even though no-one seems to like it, or do you try to alter what you do to fit in?

Answers below please…

Kirk out

Enabler or Gatekeeper? Choosing a Good Writing Course

Sometimes it seems that people who run writing courses are more like bouncers than ushers, taking your money and keeping you out of the club whilst claiming to ‘show you the way in’*. Some courses seem to promise much but leave you with little more than an overwhelming impression of how hard it all is.

(*this reminds me of an idea I once had. I used to suffer a lot from spam emails so I devised a special place in hell for spammers where every day someone comes along claiming to show them the way out of hell. They are compelled to believe these people but every one of them is a scammer.)

I don’t entirely blame them; it’s hard to make money from writing alone and you gotta do something. On the other hand if all you’re doing is taking people’s money and telling them how impossible it is to get where you are, that’s called ‘pulling the ladder up behind you’ and you’re doing them a disservice.

I do run the odd poetry workshop in which I try to help people release their creativity; however I don’t offer workshops oriented at success. This is for two reasons – 1, not having been ‘successful’ to any great degree myself, why would anyone take me seriously? and 2, it’s not what I’m good at (see point 1). What I’d like to do is offer more workshops on releasing and exploring creativity. But do people want that? I have a horrible suspicion that I’d give them my best stuff and then a voice would pipe up saying plaintively ‘this is all very well, but can you tell us how to get published?’ Such is the society we live in.

So here’s my advice when choosing writing courses:

1.Look for as many free courses as you can find. Free doesn’t necessarily mean worthless and you may pick up some valuable stuff as well as making contacts.

2. If you’re being asked to shell out money, check out the profile of the person organising it. If they’re offering a route to success but haven’t achieved much themselves, does that add up?

3. Does the course seem to offer a lot? Might it be offering too much? Check out user reviews from previous courses.

4. Is this what you really need right now? Call me arrogant but in terms of finding my voice I’ve always thought I was my own best teacher. There’s no substitute for reading as widely as possible and just writing as much as you can. No amount of courses can compensate for the lack of a writing habit. Equally, if you’re not at the publishing stage yet you don’t need a course on how to get an agent.

If you’re unsure what’s out there I recommend signing up to writers’ groups and websites. The Insecure Writers Support Group has a presence on Facebook and Writers Write gives daily writing prompts as well as running courses. You can also subscribe to the email lists of publishers and magazines without having to buy anything (I subscribe to the newsletters of Room magazine, the Royal Society of Literature – which produces the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – and other local literary fora.) These will tell you of upcoming competitions and submission opportunities. And if you’re a woman there’s no better magazine to subscribe to than Mslexia: as well as offering opportunities within the magazine there are comprehensive listings in the back. I’m also subscribed to Granta magazine, if it ever arrives…but that’s more for reading than submitting to.

It’s amazing what you can get for free, but whatever course you go on there’s no substitute for a good writing habit.

Now, apropos of which, here’s my upcoming course on ‘Developing a Good Writing Habit.’

LOL. Though actually I could totally do that…

Kirk out

Pl*n is a Four-Letter Word

Other writers do things properly. Other writers plan; in fact more than one writer has put in their guidelines ‘plan, plan and plan again.’ I don’t even plan once. Sure, I throw a few random ideas into a notebook; perhaps a few diagrams, maybe even a paragraph or two. A tablespoon of characters, maybe a slew of dominant colours – but that’s all. If I were to plan a novel so that I knew what was going to be in each chapter I’d be so bored by the end of it that I’d lose all interest in writing the damned thing. A novel has to come as a surprise to me otherwise I can’t be bothered.

None of this means I don’t have a broad outline or an overarching idea. All of my novels have begun with a concept: a woman trapped in a nuclear bunker (Seven Days) gender dysphoria (The Trans Woman’s Wife) or the one I’m working on now which is based on the Fibonacci sequence of numbers.

I have an idea about writing, taken from Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife (or it might be The Amber Spyglass). There’s a knife which cuts between worlds and someone tells Will, the knife-bearer, ‘when you cut you have intentions. But the knife has intentions too.’ And I think writing’s like that: you start out with intentions (this poem is about…) but the poem has intentions too – and if you are wise you’ll follow those.

‘Following the Intentions of the Novel’ – that sounds like a good title for a writing course, doesn’t it? And here, just for fun, is a quote on writing:

(from Writers write – image removed on request)

Kirk out

How To Fail Better

Sometimes it seems life conspires to discourage you. Not only are your blog stats in the doldrums but you keep hearing about people who are more successful than you are. Let’s face it, that wouldn’t be hard: yes, I’ve had some minor successes but compared to where I want to be, compared to what I feel I deserve for my efforts and talents, I’m basically in the wilderness.

Hang on – haven’t we been here before? Hm. It’s twinging a little memory in the hinterland of my consciousness. There’s a word emerging – san..san-something. It’s not English. Hang on, I’ll get it in a minute… ah yes. That was it.

The thing was, recently I met someone more successful than me. We were introduced to each other excitedly as ‘fellow-writers’ but it was evident that the other person did not experience much fellow-feeling towards me. With hindsight, perhaps that was because they feared I might be more successful than they; however the expectations of others – that we would have fruitful conversations, that this person might be able to help my career in some way, were not fulfilled. Nor did I expect them to be; I’ve had too many such encounters in the past to anticipate that anything will come from them: in my experience few established writers want to come to the aid of the unestablished. Unless, of course, you want to attend their workshops…

However, it brought back all the old gloomy sensations of failure and inadequacy: all the sensations that in terms of what most people think of as success, I am nowhere. Yet if we stop to deconstruct that word we can reconfigure it as ‘now here.’ I know that’s etymologically incoherent but it can be therapeutic: and that brings us back to santosh. Contentment; the practice of being where you are and accepting that this is where you need to be. contentment – as I have to keep reminding myself – does not mean resignation. It does not mean accepting that you will stay where you are. It’s more like GPS; finding your position and acknowledging that the journey has to start (or continue) from where you are: that much as you’d like to be over there on the headland, you must first navigate the swamp.

Besides, I’ve always found petty rivalry most unattractive: which is why I’m not at all envious that Brian has just cycled half-way round the world and is now contemplating another 36-hour fast. I am utterly serene and my teeth are not gritted!

Kirk out

Loss, Magma, Rejection…

I have just submitted three poems to Magma for their latest issue on the theme of loss.  At first I thought I didn’t have anything suitable but then I had a flip through and found poems on climate change, Brexit and stillbirth, all of which fit the theme.  I strongly suspect they won’t publish as Magma and I seem to inhabit different poetic universes, but hey – submitting is free, so what have I got to lose?  Only my confidence and sense of self-worth…

A propos of this, I’m in the midst of writing a poem on surviving rejection which considers now-famous works which were previously rejected.  I’ve blogged about this before so I won’t bore you with the details, but T S Eliot’s comment about Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘you just need better-behaved pigs and all will be well,’ is a classic.  I’m still in the midst of considering Leavis (and wondering why I bother) so I’ll update you on that as and when.  In the meantime the novel progresses by fits and starts, but I’ve managed 7000 words of the final chapter, leaving only 28,000 to go, which means I’m a fifth of the way through that chapter and about two-thirds of the way through the novel as a whole.  Not too shabby.

Kirk out