I Love Deadlines

I know this is not a phrase you hear from many writers but I love deadlines – and not merely for the whooshing noise they make which so entertained Douglas Adams.  I love deadlines because they focus me.  If I have years and years to complete a project I do not, as some sensible folk do, plan it out, break down the work into chunks and do a certain amount per month.  I suspect that isn’t how most writers work either; to judge by the jokes on the subject, a two-year project would consist of eighteen months procrastination, five months fiddling and one month pure panic.  I, on the other hand, need an incentive to get me going and a deadline provides that incentive.  If the end of a project is two years away I’m likely to get bored, but give me a deadline in two months and I’m on it, even if I have no chance of getting finished within that time.  It’s a little like the crisis inducer in The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which brings on a crisis to sharpen your wits when needed.  So what I need is basically a Deadline Inducer to bring on a deadline and sharpen my desire to work: some button I can press which makes a voice in my head say, ‘the deadline’s next Monday!  This has to be in by next Monday!  You need to complete this by the 4th!’ and so on.  Come to think of it, Douglas Adams should have had one of those…

Having said that, the deadline for the radio play has whooshed by without my play being submitted as it became increasingly obvious that the thing was mushrooming and could not be wrestled into shape any time soon.  On the other hand I have sent one short story, three pieces of flash fiction and three poems to various magazines well within their respective deadlines.  So brownie points to me.

Where do I go to get brownie points?

Kirk out

 

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And Finally, Cyril

Sometimes the universe hates me.  This is not just a perception of mine, nor is it connected to the fact that I definitely got out of bed the wrong side this morning: it is an actual fact.  The universe hates me and wants to thwart my every effort.  First, the laptop started playing up again and wouldn’t let me do the crossword (except in the sense of being cross about the words I couldn’t fill in.)  Then when I needed to edit a story and send it off, I couldn’t.  Nope, not one s

Here’s an example: you see the text below?  No?  No, neither do I because the effing laptop just deleted it!   Then before you can say ‘no deal Brexit’ (I’m trying so hard not to think about that) it decided I didn’t need to blog any more and closed the tab.  I swear to God…

OK.  Deep calming breaths because I may – just may – have learned something here.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  Meanwhile, pausing only to save this draft at the end of every sentence, I shall continue.  Where was I?  Oh yes, not one s-

Yes.  Not one s-entence, not one word, not a single apostrophe or hair on the head, would it let me change.  OK then, I’ll send it off as it is.  After a great deal of juggling and cursing I managed to copy and paste the text.  Whew.  But my ordeal was not over: first I had to confirm that ‘I am not a robot.’  Most sites are content to simply let you tick the box and confirm your humanity, not oh no – not this one.  It was one of those captcha things I absolutely dread.  You know the ones.  You’ve got eight or ten pictures of various indecipherable scenes and it asks you to ‘check’ (ie tick) all the ones with store fronts.  How the hell are you supposed to tell whether a bunch of blurry bricks constitute a store front?  I tried about six of these (I never get them right and it really annoys me) before finally realising that because it was one of those sites which rejects everything you’ve done until you get one small detail right, the problem was in fact with my ‘website’ address.  Most people are happy with lizardyoga.wordpress.com but not this one: they wanted the full complement of https’s and colons and backslashes.  Anyway the thing’s sent off now, albeit in very rough form.

But if there’s a silver lining here it’s this: I have a sneaking suspicion that sometimes my first thoughts are my best thoughts.  Sometimes I feel that in editing and re-editing I’m actually spoiling the original vision.  Certainly the few things I’ve done recently which were just off the top of my head seem to work quite well.  So that’s a bit of a puzzler, if it’s true.

Anyway, the thing I sent off today was a 500-word piece based on a cartoon.  It’s a prompt I get monthly from Visual Verse:

https://visualverse.org

Kirk out

Writing Tips – Make Friends with Serendipity

I’m going to tell you a story.  Actually I’m going to tell you two stories – a tale of two tales, if you will – and it goes like this.

A couple of years ago I wrote a short story about a jumper, in which I used knitting as a metaphor for writing.  You can see the idea: each stitch is a letter, every row a line of prose, every colour a plot-line, and so on.  The story touched on the themes of miscarriage and Greenham Common and I was quite pleased with it at the time, but when I found it again I felt dissatisfied with it.  Something was missing.  I rewrote and rewrote but it still wasn’t right.  But what happened next was pure serendipity…

Image result for serendipity

image removed on request

As you know, I’ve been getting daily writing prompts in my inbox.  I set a timer for five minutes and just write without planning or forethought until the timer goes off, when I stop.  I’m allowed to finish the word I’m writing but not the sentence, and I’m allowed to read it through once but no more.

So here’s the thing.  Today’s prompt was ‘Where Did They Find the Lost Doctors?’ by which they presumably meant the lost episodes of Dr Who.  Then again, how you interpret the prompt is up to you, so I chose instead to imagine all the previous incarnations of the Doctor and to wonder where they are now.  I decided – or rather, my subconscious decided, since there’s no time for conscious thought – that they are all gathered on Gallifrey; all except Tom Baker who is wandering Earth in search of enlightenment.  The older Doctors are teasing Peter Capaldi about being replaced by a woman, and it’s beginning to make him grumpy.  They spend their time reminiscing and playing uber-pool with models of various solar systems.  When I was finished I thought maybe OH would like to read it and so I typed it up. 

Now, when I type up new stories I use a story template so I don’t have to set the font, spacing and margins all over again.  And sometimes it happens that another story is still lurking on the template instead of having been deleted after saving to the Short Stories folder.  No problem, I thought, I’ll just delete it once I’m  finished.  But I forgot; so OH received what he thought was one story but which was in fact two.

This is where serendipity comes in – because he actually thought it worked!  He said the first ‘Doctors’ bit seemed to fit in perfectly with the second part.  So maybe I’ve found the missing bit of my knitting story.

Serendipity!  Learn to recognise it when it comes: just because something is a mistake, doesn’t mean it won’t work.  Some accidents are happy, after all.

Some, on the other hand, aren’t; like spilling water on my laptop.  So while it dries out I’m using OH’s model.

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?

Living My Best Life

I was inspired after reading Hadley Freeman in the Guardian to share with you, my voracious readers, a day in my life.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/nov/10/four-hours-sleep-yoga-dawn-todays-influencers-best-lives

I do not wake; I am woken, usually before 7 am by an overenthusiastic spouse who always thinks that unlocking the front door and making a pot of tea takes half an hour instead of five minutes.  That’s on a good day.  On a bad day (most days are bad days) I wake at between four-thirty and six-thirty; sometimes I go back to sleep and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I think I don’t sleep but I do – so OH tells me, anyway.  If I’m awake around six-thirty I’ll sit up and meditate for ten or fifteen minutes while OH does the business; then begins our shared morning time.  I check emails and Facebook, we tut and sigh over the news; I read my daily inspirational readings:

https://cac.org/category/daily-meditations/

and begin the Guardian crossword.  Around ten to eight after Thought for the Day I nip to the bathroom: if I leave it too late I will lose my yoga window downstairs (I aim for half an hour of yoga and usually miss.)  Breakfast is either boiled egg and soldiers or muesli or toast and jam (are you still reading?  Not asleep yet?) which I take upstairs and eat while finishing the crossword.

After that it’s writing: usually poetry in the mornings and prose in the afternoons.  After lunch is often a dead time so I’ll do something else for a while; go for a walk, do some washing, dig the garden; read.  Then it’s prose all the way to dinner-time around six (usually some combination of veg and carbs) followed by my treat of the day, chocolate biscuits dunked in roibos.  Evenings are usually slumped in front of the iplayer unless I have a meeting or social event: last night it was the folk club (this featured songs from the First World War and was excellent.)

As I don’t sleep enough I’m usually tired by 9.30 and in bed by ten.  And that’s my rock-n-roll life.

Inspirational, ain’t it?

Kirk out

How to Deal With Rejections

It occurs to me, following the success of my ‘Top Tips for Blogging’ post a while back:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/my-seven-tips-for-better-blogging/

that I should do a ‘top tips on surviving rejections’ post.  After all, I’ve had my fair share of them and although unlike writers in the past I can’t paper my room with rejection slips because they come by email, I can as it were paper this blog with advice about how to deal with them.

So here are my top tips on surviving rejection.

  1.  It happens to everyone.  If you’re feeling down, look at this sample of rejections received by successful and established writers and remember that rejection is not necessarily a judgement on your writing, merely on its suitability for the outlet to which you submitted it – or, if you want to be pedantic, on that person’s opinion of its suitability (look at this link to 17 famous authors and their rejections: http://mentalfloss.com/article/91169/16-famous-authors-and-their-rejections)                                                                                                                                     
  2. It hurts.  There’s no way round this that I know of: you’re going to feel bad for a day or two, maybe longer; so use your support networks.  Tell family and friends, share with online writing groups.  If you haven’t joined any there are loads out there and my favourite is the Insecure Writers’ Support Group (ISWG) on Facebook, who are very supportive and encouraging.                                                         
  3. Do something to make yourself feel better.  Write (but don’t send!) an angry or humorous email to the editor who rejected you, as I did in yesterday’s post.  If you really want to, send the rejected item somewhere else – but I recommend letting it lie for a while and in the meantime doing something restful and enjoyable.  Go for a walk, watch a film, read something amusing or absorbing that is quite different from your own work (so you don’t compare) and realise that you will feel shitty for a while.                                                                                                 
  4. Don’t allow the negative thoughts and/or feedback to define you.  I had a comment a while back on my poetry which really rocked me on my heels.  I thought about it for a while – then I decided that they were wrong.  But even if they were right it doesn’t mean that I have no talent or that I should give up.  After all a rejection is just one person’s opinion.                                                                                                 
  5. When you’re feeling better, pick up your pen/tablet/laptop again and keep going.  There’s only one sure way to fail and that is to give up.  So don’t give up!

I’d like to hear your top tips too – please add them in the comments

Kirk out

Another Day, Another Dolour

Oh a writer’s lot is not a happy one.  You give it your best shot, you grab your lightbulb moments and painstakingly put them together into a work; you hone and refine, you draft and redraft and finally you send your stories out into the world to seek their fortune and what happens?  Pretty smartly you get an email where the words ‘thanks’ and ‘unfortunately’ stand in unreasonably close proximity to each other and at the end of it all you’re no nearer knowing what went wrong because most editors can’t or won’t give feedback and as to what they are actually looking for, the best response you get is ‘study the magazine.’  Well, dear editor, I would if I could: in fact I’m frequently tempted to draft a form letter so that I can reply thus:

Dear Magazine Editor,

Thank you for your rejection of my story/poem/flash fiction.  I understand that in spite of having no guidelines whatsoever (bar length and formatting of manuscript), my submission does not meet your mysterious and cryptic requirements.  With regard to this, thank you for your suggestion that I study the magazine.  Unfortunately due to limited space in my bank account I am only able to study a tiny fraction of the magazines suggested to me and I’m afraid that on this occasion yours did not meet my criteria for inclusion.  I wish you all the best in finding readers.

Yours etc

It really is a dispiriting and painful experience; one which leaves you with pain instead of cash (dolour instead of dollars).  Plus, I can never decide whether it’s better to get rejections quickly or slowly: on the one hand I didn’t have to wait too long for this but on the other hand a rejection at lightning speed feels somehow a lot worse than one which takes weeks or months; at least in the latter case you can convince yourself that they really thought about it.  You can imagine, if you will, ditherings; editorial disputes, wranglings over your manuscript taking place at the highest level.  But to receive a ‘no thanks’ by return of post does not allow any such illusions to flourish.  Plus if a rejection takes two or three months you can easily be on to other projects by then and not care so much as you do about something hot off the press.

Then again, if it’s a quick rejection you can whip it off somewhere else pronto rather than waiting.  So perhaps I should do that.

Kirk out