Friday, 16 March 2018

Inspiration from the trees!

This is the book I am currently reading and I am finding it totally inspiring. Not only am I learning a lot about the life of trees but I found I was soon jotting down notes and have even  managed a whole poem. As I read I am writing a few words, a line here and there, sometimes a title for a potential poem, and I am making references to the chapters so I can go back later when I write and need clarification.

Over Christmas there was a programme on TV about Judi Dench's love of trees. I found that fascinating, especially when they could hear the trees using a listening device against the trunk. But there is more that trees do, as do plants. They are a clever bunch. I'll never look at a tree in quite the same way again.

Maybe I'll get one or two stories out of this too. There is so much potential that I am quite excited. So it seems I am on Project Trees! Perhaps something will indeed set seed and grow (sorry!).

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Not writing but resting!

I suppose, like an actor, I am resting right now. Unlike the last few years when I was pounding the keys daily and my life revolved around writing I am taking a sort of break. Yes, still! However, while not actively writing anything new I have been submitting the odd thing since the beginning of February - four short stories and a smattering of poems. The stories have been edited from previous work, and I now have a friend who often looks over my pieces for errors and tells me if she doesn't understand something. It helps to know that technically there are no stupid missing words or misplaced commas. However many times I read my work I don't spot them all.

I have also been mulling over where I stand with the various novels I have written. Currently they are festering in stages on my laptop. I have five of them. Sounds a lot but two are in real rough draft form while two are complete but need some major editing to the beginnings. I feel there is too much backstory so I need to strip it out and feed it in somewhere else (some might not even been needed at all). I am still not ready to tackle this but at least I know which one will receive the treatment when I do start.

At present I am juggling too many other things in my life to give the time needed for writing and big reworks. With so many pieces rolling around I feel I should concentrate on getting them up to a publishing standard even if in the end I self-publish. This is looking a lot like the right option right now but I will explore all avenues.

I've just started reading a book about trees. For a while I have felt drawn to trees and writing about them. I have a few completed pieces from last year and I today I came across a great title for a poem, as yet unwritten! I shall see where it leads me.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

A nice surprise and the problem of endings

I am really happy because today I received my copy of The Dark Angel, the latest novel by one of my favourite authors, Elly Griffiths. I entered a prize draw on her Facebook page and was one of the lucky winners. When it arrived I hugged it!

I am sure I've spoken about Elly Griffiths' books before but for me they tick a lot of boxes. This series (the Ruth Galloway series) is set in Norfolk (the land of my ancestors), includes archaeology, crime and paganism, all of interest to me. There is also humour. I cannot wait to read this one but as I started reading a new book two days ago it will have to for wait a few days.

Back into the world of writing I have been busy editing and have put in a couple of submissions. A friend who reads some of my stories mentioned that she likes ends tied up when she reads and she mentioned one story of mine she'd read that she felt ended too quickly, so I've been thinking about endings a lot. I sometimes do like to leave the reader with questions - room to imagine an ending for themselves. Maybe some readers just have preferences for neat endings. I would say that  I do struggle with endings at times and I wonder if leaving some loose ends is a cop out. What do you think? Do you like to a concrete ending or do you like working out what could happen to the main character after you finish a story?

A similar comment came from a lady at my writing group about one of my stories. The lady wanted to know what happened next, but there was no next in that story because going on would have spoiled it for me - too neat and would have dragged things out. I know you shouldn't end a story too quickly. I think maybe that is the problem and this is an area I need to work on with some of my stories. Obviously the more feedback I get the better idea I will have if this is a problem or just that some readers prefer everything neatly tied up.

Do you find endings difficult? Please do comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Staying sane in the world of writing

I have the magazine Mslexia to thank for what I am about to write. Firstly, for their article in Issue 76 entitled What's the Point and secondly for mentioning a workshop in their email little ms which, when I clicked on it, I knew was just what I needed. I signed up for the workshop, the title of which is the heading to this post!

Since the New Year I have been rather at sea in my direction as a writer and the article What's the Point spouted all the things I'd been spouting recently. It made me feel better to know I'm not the only one (even though I already knew that). This article was a move in the right direction for me and offered some good tips. Even though I am not writing anything new and have felt a little half-hearted about things I have started editing some of the stories I wrote in November during NaNoWriMo.

I have been looking forward to the upcoming workshop (even rather excited!) over the last few weeks and on Saturday I set off to City Lit in London hoping to leave rather saner! I did.

There is much written about how to write, how to look for opportunities, draw up your perfect pitch. Follow the rules of the trade and when you get rejected just keep going. I know how difficult it is and I know everyone suffers in the aftermath of rejection but little is said about how to deal with that rejection, how to cope with those feelings that eat away at you until you feel worthless as a writers. Of course there are those who bounce back time and time again and carry on once a short period of anger and reflection pass. I thought I'd become that person. I thought I'd learned to deal with it and then last year I hit rock bottom. I know I've talked about this before and I think it is important because sometimes (as I learned) these feelings are deeper than we may realise and come from way back in our life.

Our tutor for the day was Helen Cox, a writer traditionally published as well as self publishing her books. She's been through this stuff herself and she had lots of good advice to offer. We were a small group - just five - so lots of things specific to each of us was covered. We began with a short exercise working in pairs (I worked in a three). Each group was given a small piece of sea washed glass and we had to discuss what it might have been originally and where it might have come from. Then we were given two sheets with ideas and background to the North Sea and the River Thames and a poem by E.E. Cummings. With a set of questions to work through we began to write together the journey of the piece of glass. We could use our own location (rather than from the sheets) which my group did. Afterwards we fed back what we had written. Helen then asked us what we got out of the exercise of working together and wrote on the white board what she had heard come out of it like collaboration, ideas, planning, using our experience etc. She advised us to always start with something comfortable to us and then branch out - do research, break the rules. Writing, she said was a joint effort between yourself and the universe (or world). She also said that it was best not to return to new writing before two weeks, then edit. To always write playfully and not to keep reading back and editing as we went as that holds up the writing process and imagination.

We talked about validation of our writing. Why was important to be published? Everyone agreed that it was an approval of our writing ability. We had long discussions about this! It seemed all five of us had similar feelings with not being good enough, that what we wrote might be rubbish and the only way we would think otherwise was to be published. I know it sounds silly and I know this is wrong but deep inside us those negatives feed and that little voice in your head tells you this time and time again when you work get rejected.

Helen took us through a few writing ideas to help us with some recommendations and then asked us to write a sort of autobiography of our writing life after which we either shared the whole piece or a part of it with the group. I have to say it was revealing and quite emotional. Helen also read hers and admitted that what came out was quite different to what she thought she would write. In a small group we bared our souls. We were given three headings - fears, villains and commitments. We had a few minutes to write things under those headings. These were not for sharing. Helen recommended reading author's biographies and particularly Sylvia Plath's Journals.

Tips for writing were similar to those I'd come across before but her advice on backstory I found really useful as one of my novels desperately needs the backstory sorting out, or as Helen says, drip fed into the story through dialogue and/or internal thought.

Getting out of the negative feedback hole was next. This was so helpful as Helen gave us specific ways to deal with this through something she calls Mind Talk which includes acknowledgement, questioning, walking away for a few minutes and talking it through with a trusted friend. One of the great pieces of advice was to write a timeline of all the things you have done to get you where you are today and even to chronicle that rejection in a story using those feelings and experience in a positive way.

We were close to the end of the day as the last long writing session was given. We had twenty-five  minutes to write a letter to ourselves answering the specific questions Helen had written up. The letter was not be opened for six months! In our pairs we talked about the friendly advice to ourselves (the last question on the list). Earlier we had each made a commitment to our writing (during the writing time using the three headings) and we now told the class what that was.

There was a final summing up with ideas of places to find public readings, social media etc. and a short film from YouTube featuring a talk by the author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) which was both amusing, insightful and positive.

There were two other texts we looked at - one Helen had written herself. It's tongue-in-cheek, very amusing about the world of rejection. The other was an extract from Confessions of a Story-teller by Paul Gallico. Asked afterwards what we thought of what he said we all agreed that it was comforting to know that even a famous author still had all the same fears we had. So, if he had them it was something that never went away however successful you are.

This was a wonderful workshop and indeed it lived up to everything I hoped for. It was soul searching, emotional but having strategies to fight against the negatives is a great tool to possess. I think it should be taught in every creative writing course! I am very grateful to Helen for helping me get back my sanity in the writing world.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Review of 2017

Over for another year!
Today I was determined! I got those pesky Christmas decorations down and packed away the tree. Just waiting for hubby to shunt the boxes into the loft. I also went out for the first time since Boxing Day morning. It wasn't a pleasant experience but it had to be done or I could linger on the sofa getting more down, more lazy.

So, while I'm a a roll I decided to look through my submissions for 2017 and see what the year was like. It was a mixed bag. Here is a run down.

  • January -  Three poems submitted (two published); one flash piece (published); one short story; novel submission
  • February - One poem submitted and published; four flash (one published); seven short stories (one longlisted)
  • March -     Three poems submitted (one published); one flash (published); two short stories; two novel submissions
  • April  -      Four flash pieces submitted (two published); one short story (published)
  • May -        One poem submitted and published; two flash pieces (one published); four short stories - one of which was longlisted
  • June -        One poem submitted and published; one flash piece submitted and shortlisted; one short story
  • July -         Two flash pieces submitted and published; two short stories submitted; poetry pamphlet submission
  • August -    Three flash pieces (all published); four short stories
  • September -Five poems submitted (one published); one flash piece (published); two short stories
  • October   -  One poem (published); three short stories submitted
  • November- Two flash pieces (one published)
  • December - One flash piece submitted (published); one short story
When I look at these results it looks pretty impressive. When I further break things down I know I submitted to Visual Verse every month in response to their photo prompt, so that's twelve times, either a poem or flash, and I was published each time. Paragraph Planet also published several of my flash pieces  and I also found 121 Words who published about three pieces and 50 Word Stories one. The only luck I had with short stories was a flash story set in a prison and was published by Gold Dust magazine. I received one critique with a short story entry and that was really useful. Another short story was revised and submitted somewhere else and was then longlisted. I am still waiting on three entries from last year and also I didn't count the short story finally published in the Retreat West Anthology in September. I think I counted it in last years total!

I attended a writer's weekend in Brighton back in April where I met an agent. That was such an awful experience I said I would never approach an agent ever again, I wasn't ready, I was too nervous and I lost all confidence in my writing ability. It hit me really hard; I was mentally at rock bottom and I didn't write for about two months, though I did continue to submit. I stuck with safe options. I know this might sound silly but I haven't really recovered from that agent meeting. It has made me re-think what I actually want from my writing and I'm still doing that.

I just about managed to pick myself up in time for the Swanwick Summer School in August and I had a frenzied spell of writing in November for NaNoWriMo when I wrote around twenty-six short stories. 

Next on the agenda will be to review the stories I wrote in November and see if any are worth submitting (lots of editing required) and hopefully eventually putting some from the collection together in book form. I have to admit that right now the desire to write isn't great. That maybe to do with the fact that I'm still recovering from this flu thing. I reckon it will be several more days before I'm back to normal activities. Having said that I loved the new picture prompt from Visual Verse this month and I've submitted a poem!

One thing I have decided is not to attend writer's conferences this year. What I need most is feedback on my work. I'm still not sure how to go about this. I may consider a short story writing course with Writing Magazine. I'll look into it.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Struck down by the dreaded virus


Crawled out of my sick bed to get this sunset after a long
dull day. One thing that made me smile!
Normally I'd write a review of my writing year around this time. However, I've been ill since Boxing Day with a rather nasty virus and progress is slow in the recovery department. I go from bed to sofa and back again. I have stopped the painkillers but I still feel light headed at times.

This morning I decided effort was needed - the housework is at pits end and no one thinks washing the dishes needs to done more than every two days. So, after a week of PJ's I immersed myself into the bath and then cast aside the PJ's for day clothes. Boy, I never realised how dressing could be so exhausting.

My other achievements - washing up, clearing the table (nearly dropping the jigsaw puzzle board) and putting on one wash load - all took it out of me. I had to take a nap!

If only I could eat properly but all the food I normally enjoy doesn't do a thing for me. I can't taste or smell anything. I sent my hubby out for a box of Ritz Crackers as a latest crave. They work on a small scale and fill in the gaps when I get hungry but can't figure out what to eat. The only hot drink I can manage is Horlicks so it's water, orange juice and Lucozade.

While I was stuck in bed I wrote two stories in my head. I went over them time and time again (high temperatures have that sort of repeating loop on things, don't you find?). I even edited in my head! At some point I might actually write them.

I'm writing this on the sofa with two blankets draped over me. All my work is stuffed on the sideboard where it went to clear the table for Christmas dinner. All my notes and stuff to write a review are there. I will write a review at some point but I thought I'd just write a few lines now so you don't think I've disappeared off the planet. Someone said they'd had this virus a few weeks before Christmas and now they had it second time. I really hope this isn't one of those 'returners'. I've not felt as ill in about five years. I'm so tired all the time and can't be bothered to do anything for long. Even reading.

Can't wait to get the decorations down! I'm so pleased it's January! Don't mind me I'm just a bit fed up.

Monday, 4 December 2017

A gift and learning to take time out

Even though NaNoWriMo is over I am still writing. I thought I'd be written off, so to speak, but I am writing a (hopefully) witty and heartwarming story set around Christmas.

Anyway, on Friday I went along to the last local NaNoWriMo meeting and was presented with a gift for turning up to every meeting. I am very pleased with my gift. I've really enjoyed the meetings and will miss them a lot. The ladies who ran it (library staff) are putting together a reading challenge for next year. I have seen the categories and shall look forward to taking part. We had great discussions on Friday about all sorts of things not NaNoWriMo related over nibbles and a big tub of Celebrations, including graphic books for adults, something I haven't really explored, though my son has read Manga books.

In the latest edition of Breathe magazine there is an article on writing a novel. It comes with a little notebook! I've not read it yet as I'm still working my way through other articles. I love this magazine. It is my time out session and this issue touches on a lot of what interests me - music (as therapy), singing (so good for you), dealing with anxiety, spontaneity as well as  an article on the environmental damage being caused by plastic waste in the sea, and lots more besides.

There are a few of these mindfulness/well-being magazines on the market at present and they are just what I need for that other side of me I know I need to nurture. I'm an 'on the go' sort of person. Two days in the house and I'm climbing the walls, but I know sometimes I run myself ragged, even though I enjoy it. Stopping to do a little colouring (I even have a dot to dot book!) or just unwinding with music and not doing anything at the same time (I'm a dreadful multitasker) is good for me. I should do more of it. Maybe we all should.