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 reminsicing 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

Advertisements

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

Time Spent Poorly?

Lately I’ve been back and forth with Facebook a lot.  On the one hand it’s my major way of keeping up with things; socialising with friends, finding out what’s going on and checking out news stories.  On the other hand it doesn’t take long for me to become either angry or depressed or both, and that’s not good.  As soon as I notice that reaction I close the tab, only to go back on there an hour or two later for the human interaction I barely otherwise get, due to writing being such a solitary occupation.  It’s very difficult when the reaction to your work from the wider word is silence (though I did have a rather nice rejection today, of which more anon) so I crave comments from other writers and thoughts like my daughter’s this morning (‘I’m still reading your novella and it’s really good.’)  I can’t get enough of that stuff.

So today I thought I’d try an experiment.  I’ll set a timer on my phone and see how long it takes me to get unacceptably depressed or angry.  But as many people have spotted, observing a phenomenon changes that phenomenon: the very act of timing it meant that I was more detached from what I was reading and able to observe both it and myself from a distance, as it were.  The result was that I lasted five minutes.  If that doesn’t sound very long, my usual time limit is (I would guess) less than two.  Unless I’m chatting on messenger it’s not long before several horrible news stories hit me and I can’t take any more.

Maybe I should set a stopwatch every time?

The rejection email I had this morning was not too bad: it said they’d passed my story ‘Heart 2 Heart’ onto the editors (ie effectively shortlisting it) but that it didn’t fit with the rest of the issue.  Since they have different editors each time I am by no means downhearted – appropriately enough, given the title (if you’re interested the story is about a woman who has a heart transplant which ends up changing her personality in drastic ways.)

I may be a little downheaded though…

Two more stories going off to The Fiction Desk today.

Kirk out

PS  Good luck to everyone doing NaNo

Can I Be Novel?

From time to time I have what you might call a prosaic crisis, where I wonder if I’m actually cut out to write prose or whether I should stick to poetry.  Yes, I know that these blog posts are in prose, but writing an engaging post is a very different thing from constructing a novel; something which seems utterly to defeat me.

I don’t know where exactly the blockage lies; but maybe help is available, so when a special offer from Mslexia plonked into my inbox; a guide to novel-writing for only three quid, I felt a twinge of that old excitement.  I clicked on the link and read the blurb:

‘Starting with the early sifting of ideas, helping you decide what exactly your book will be about, it goes on to help you create engaging characters, to devise a plot and narrative voice that will keep your reader turning the pages, to work on description and dialogue (and the balance between them), on to editing your work: page by page, but also from a structural perspective.’

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  It’s perfectly standard stuff – and yet it somehow filled my insides with lead, because once again I felt ‘this isn’t where I’m at.’  I don’t mean I’m above all that, nor that I don’t need to structure a novel or have interesting characters or whatever, just that…

I don’t even know how to explain it.  I don’t know what I want, I just know what I don’t want.  And that is it.

When I write poetry I feel I’m on the edge of a cliff.  Not always, but often: there’s a sense of pleasurable vertigo, of the wind whipping through your brain and flinging your hair in bundles this way and that.  To be engaged – fully engaged – in the writing of poetry is to be on the high peak of living, a place where words flow through you and are shaped and ordered by your hand.  I experience an amazing thrill in working with words, chopping them up and exploring their sound and their sense.

So why can’t I do this with prose?  Well, when it comes to turning a phrase, I can – but there’s more to writing a story than having an instinctive feel for phrases.  And this is where my heart begins to sink, when I think about things like plot and character and action.  Whenever I consider plot, I begin to die inside.  I bimble along with my writing and then a little voice perks up and says, ‘Surely something ought to happen round about now?’ and then I cry ‘Must something happen?  Can’t I just carry on like this?’

I’m not so bad at dialogue; I’m pretty good at description and I think I can convey character and internal thought.  But plot?  Dear god – kill me.  Kill me now.

My prose bores me at the moment: I need something to get the pulse racing; like when I was writing my first novel about a woman trapped in a nuclear bunker and wanted the novel to go right back to the beginnings of life on earth, 300 million years ago.  I was really excited about this, but the novel took years to complete and came out at barely the length of a novella; a form that’s increasingly difficult to publish.  What excited me, though, was to try to get some idea of what three hundred million years is like, to which end I began this doomed exercise:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/three-hundred-million-years/

Sometimes I think I’d give my eye teeth to have a normal sort of idea; to be able to say to people ‘I’m writing a novel about a Bulgarian taxi-driver who … ‘ see?  I can’t even take that idea any further.  Instead of which, I’m writing a novel based on a series of Tapestries and the Fibonnaci series.  See what I mean?

‘Doomed exercise’ pretty much sums up my life right now…

Kirk out