Why you can take your "You must write every day" advice and shove it…

I think some people are born story tellers whether they choose to write them down (type them up) or not. I told stories before I could read, and after I could read I would sit on my swing and tell my “Jackanory” stories to the pretend camera that filmed me. I was a great gossip at school, I always knew how to get maximum impact from relating anecdotes and so on. I told true life stories in chronological order, I ramped up the anticipation, I delivered the punch lines with flourish. I still get irritated when people can’t tell me the exact details of things. “Ooh, what did he say when she said that?” I will prompt. It matters. I will see an old woman with a shopping basket and create a sentence about her in my mind, sometimes the sentence expands, a possible story floats for a moment or two, I dismiss it or mentally file it. It’s how I see the world and try to make sense of it. It’s the way my brain works. I know other people who feel the same, and I know plenty of people who don’t. I can’t turn it off, it’s part of me, which is why when I don’t write stories still waft in and out of my consciousness.

Countless times I have read or been told that to be a writer one has to write, which is fair enough surely. If you’re not writing you’re not a writer are you? But what you could be is a story teller, soaking up those moments, absorbing the possibilities and waiting to see if you feel like writing. Yup, I said “feel like”. Gasp. Because the other thing I read/get told repeatedly is that a writer HAS TO write every day. No matter if you feel like it or not, if you want to earn the label writer then damn you, you’d better fucking write.

Really?

So if I am erratic, chaotic, slave to my own whims, ill health, duties and so on, then my words aren’t as valuable as they could be if I forced them out every day? I think that’s untrue. For quite some time I gritted teeth and wrote daily, determined to prove my worth as a writer and do whatever is necessary, and the words landed on my screen dry as dust. Day after day, nothingy words that I kidded myself I could “polish and shine.”

Now I know, they were worthless. They remain useless. Meaningless. I stopped writing. And I have heard more than once that if you can’t cope with the grind then maybe you’re not cut out to be a writer. That makes me want to tear down walls and bellow – “How dare you be so judgmental?” I think everyone should deviate from whatever feels wrong. I detest the prescriptive advice of “write everyday, at least X amount of words”. I want to challenge this wisdom. Or what? You have to write X amount of words per day or else you can’t be in my gang? If you don’t write daily you aren’t serious enough? Really? I am pretty damn serious about my words actually, that’s why the cheap, easy words that I spewed out felt so crappy.

On Sunday I wrote a flash, it bubbled up inside me on Saturday, insisted on being written. I like it, it has something that was lacking in all my daily words, some heart.

I’m not a big cheese author but I have had some successes, been published in some fabulous places, placed in competitions, had positive feedback and even, gasp, payment for my words. I’m a mother, a human, a writer, a bookseller. You telling me I don’t have the right to call myself a writer is as ridiculous as you saying I’m not a bookseller because I only work one day a week at the bookshop.

(Email vs postal subs.) The writers in my head are better than me at this.

I steeled myself and sent off another few bits and pieces to various literary magazines. My printer is broken (my printers always become fucksy real fast, it’s a thing) so I only sent to places that accept online subs. Thinking about it though, I rarely post my stories. I entered a couple of big competitions early this year, but the printing and finding the right envelope and the age old question, to staple or paperclip, then the post office queue – I’m probably a bit too crap to do it very often.

I imagine other writers who are super organised, and have printers that work smoothly, whose ink never blobs on an essential page, whose paperclips are shiny and new, whose paper is just thick enough, but not off puttingly fancy. When they print the words on the page look just as they want them to, not suddenly skew whiff or with no margin or sudden jumbo spacing. These writers post their words. I envy them a little.

LitCamp = cool bananas! (Aka how many links can I fit in one post?)

LitCamp took place yesterday, and it was a really fun and buzzy day. I gave a tiny talk on the usefulness of blogging as a writer, so I figured I’d better update the blog!

It is always good to see Vanessa Gebbie, she was interesting as ever. It was the first time I have ever met Lane, who organised the whole thing, and hats off to her. It was an ambitious event, and she must have worked phenomenally hard to get it all to come together. I came home exhausted, I can’t imagine how wiped out she must be, but I’d like to offer public thanks for this fabulous unconference.

I was thrilled to meet Kellie in “real life” as we have been chatting away for years without having ever met face to face. She was even lovelier than I had imagined!

I had the pleasure of meeting Julia, Alison and Kerry who all work at The Fiction Workhouse., and were all delightful, and I hope we can get together again some time for a big old writerly natter.

I also bumped into Jacqueline Applebee. We first met a couple of years ago at the Chichester writing festival and I was pleased to hear that she is now enjoying success as an erotic fiction writer.

There were lots of different panels and talks going on: writers, agents, editors and teachers.

Stephen Moran was offering post-it note critiques of short stories, I handed one in, and he thought it was missing a story! Oops.

In the evening there were some really great readings. Jay Bernard is a poet that I was entirely unfamiliar with, but whooo, she was brilliant.

Gavin Ingliss read a very funny story that may or may not have been called “Mr Shoe.”

Farahad Zama read an extract from his debut novel “The marriage bureau for rich people” He was a cool guy with a very business like approach to his writing. He writes on his twenty minute train commute, and really makes a mockery of wafty, faffy types like me who protest that we don’t have enough time.

I was sorry that I had to leave before hearing all the readers, but travelling home took about 2 1/2 hours and I had to work today.

Apologies also for not mentioning all the people I got to meet, listen to, and see, but there were soooo many.

I came home thinking quite calmly “well, i’d better get on and write some good stuff then” which surely has to be a very positive outcome from an event like this! But before I do that…sleep!

Exciting news about the story that I bought for a packet of hula hoops…PLUS title revealed at last!

So, to recap:
Chris Killen
offered a story for sale, in return he wanted a bag of hula hoops. I said I would buy the story, and he emailed it to me. I sent him 2 bags of hula hoops and he has posted a picture of them on his excellent blog

He suggested that as I am now the owner of the story I should submit it somewhere, which I did. I sent it to The Pygmy Giant
and they liked it. I explained to them that the story was not written by me, but that it is mine. (I was a little concerned that they may think that I was trying to pass somebody else’s work off as my own.)

Anyway, the story has been published today, so do hurry over and read ‘my’ story, written by Chris Killen.
The title is:
One day I will move to the seaside and it will be good, and I will sit down by the shore and rest my head on something and feel peaceful, and go to sleep listening to the sound of the sea, and maybe never wake up

I just bought a story!

I recently discovered a blog called ‘Day of moustaches’

which is wonderful. Everyone blahs on about wanting to find fresh new writing, and there are a heck of a lot of writers out and about, all trying to write in a unique voice. Too many people are identikit though, and it is rare to read words that excite or inspire. More often than not it’s all same old same old. (I include myself in that. I strive to dig deeper, think sideways, reach for the depths etc. but often feel underwhelmed with what I come up with.) Chris Killen not only has talent, but he also has an indefinable something special, a fascinating way of looking at things.

Anyway, on his blog post the other day he said he was prepared to sell a story for a bag of hula hoops. It seemed like a bargain to me so I said yes, sure, I’ll buy one. I am now the happy owner of a short story called;

Ah, actually, you may have to wait for the title. I’ll let you know in a while, but be prepared, because the title is DELICIOUS and FANTASTIC.

End of year reflections.

I have always been a sucker for a blank page, ooh preferably in a brand new notebook, lovely. A morning is good, a fresh week is better, a new year is glorious, just full of hope. I am forever full of the same resolutions that I first made as a girl: lose weight, exercise, write more, be a better person. Not much change there. This year has been all right though, I have made progress in my writing if not my weight/exercise/being a nicer person wish. And actually, screw the nicer person thang, I am nice, and a little fucked off with people taking advantage of that!

So, good things have happened with my writing this year, and I can go into the next knowing that some people like my words. I am aiming to finish my novel by the end of 2008, it is a huge goal, and I want to focus and pour heart and soul into it.

I have learnt a fair bit too:

Other writers can be the most generous, warm, supportive, nurturing people. (They can also be destructive, bitchy, thoughtless, harsh and argumentative. So many egos! )

I have begun working with The Fiction Workhouse, and it has been ACE!

I wrote something that I knew wasn’t working, and I showed it to the people I work with on-line at The Workhouse. They critiqued it so thoughtfully and shone light on its flaws, it really brought home to me how solitary it has been, sitting here, typing away, trying to create stories with real depth and meaning. I am not a lonely writer any more, thanks to them. There’s a place I can go for inspiration, advice, critiques, help with craft etc. (Hark, is that the Cheers theme tune I hear starting up?) Anyway, it has been an illuminating experience being part of this team. I look forward to working hard with them in 2008.

The benefit doesn’t just come from sharing my work. By reading and critiquing others stories I get to learn more about what works for me, what doesn’t, why and so on…Invaluable.

Through The Workhouse I have discovered Flash Fiction. It was entirely alien to me before this year, and now I find it exhilarating and wonderful. I am still learning the requisite skills, but whoo, it’s fun and a great way to spark out new ideas and learn how to hone prose so that each word matters.

One must not be too reliant on the opinions of others though. I was told that something I had written wasn’t right, and yet when I read it again and again it was exactly what I meant and I submitted it as it was, with hope, and had a significant success with it. This showed me that sometimes other people won’t magically know what is ‘good’. Perhaps they excel in a different style or area. I must trust me.

I have read a lot this year. Although looking at the reviews here you wouldn’t know that. I made a choice not to write reviews of books that I had nothing good to say about. It was a hard call. I am a stickler for honesty, what’s the point of a wishy washy review? I’d rather read some real vitriol. Hmmm. But, as a writer I know how devastated I am by criticism, and the idea that a precious publication could be trashed by an unknown blogger makes me uncomfortable. I am such a grumpy reader though, hard to impress, hence the lack of reviews!

I have been reviewing for other people too. Pulp net asked me to review some books for them, which has been brilliant, and I have reviewed for The Short Review. In the new year I will be reviewing for the Waterstone’s magazine as well. Anyone else want a book reviewed? Just holler!

I was commisioned to write a piece on being a part time writer too, which was a fascinating change for me. I really enjoyed writing non-fiction, and getting paid for it too made me feel very professional!

There’s some other stuff that is happening, but until it actually does I don’t want to say for fear of, I dunno, fucking it up somehow.

Anyway, I am going into 2008 so much more of a writer than I was coming into 2007, which can only be a jolly good thing!

I’m planning a best of 2007 round up in the next day or so, but just in case I don’t get round to it:

Happy new year to you all

Authors and promotion and the sheer slog of it all.

I met an author on Saturday. I didn’t know at first that he was, he looked just like an ordinary customer. Joke. In case that doesn’t translate. Anyway, he asked me for a book, and he got the title a bit wrong but I knew what he meant, and we had a bookseller/customer polite conversation. We were smiling and chatting, and he asked if we had any books signed by the author. I assumed he wanted to buy one, and said that whilst we do, yes indeed, have signed books, we do not keep them in one area. Then he said no, he is an author, and we sell his books, and he wondered if we would like them signed. He looked uncomfortable asking this, and I enthused loudly to try to overcome the embarrassment. He told me his name, I fetched his books, he signed them, he left. I put special ‘signed by the author’ stickers on the front covers, I displayed one title in a bay, slotted the others back onto the shelves.

When he went I looked him up as to my shame I haven’t read his work. Not only is he an acclaimed writer of novels and short stories, he is also an award winning poet, and a playwright. This is a man who has ostensibly ‘made it’. Yet he still thought it prudent to put himself through the uncomfortable squirm of asking to sign his books. Sensible though, the books are now being promoted in our store more prominently than they were before. But should he have to worry about such things? It clearly wasn’t a matter of ego with him. (Yes, there are awful booming do you know who I am kinda people who demand to sign, he wasn’t one of them.) I assume that he has been told to do his bit to promote his work wherever he can. I dunno, it seems to me that a writer is never allowed to stop the scramble for acceptance.

Talking to one-who-knows-such-things recently was rather depressing. They pointed out that a beginning writer may sub work in the hope of small publications and so on, leading to bigger prizes and hopefully, ultimately, you may be lucky enough to catch the eye of an agent. The agent may like the work enough to take on the writer. They then try to sell the writer’s work to a publisher, who then tries to sell the work to bookshops and media, who then try to sell the work to customers. If you’re not in a 3 for 2, or a Richard and Judy, or on a prize winning list, then what sets your work apart. At the end of the day, bluntly, who really gives a fuck about reading anything that you have to say? You constantly sub work in the hope that it will be successful, and I was told (not sure if this is true or not) that an average author will only make £8, 000 a year.

That’ s why it has to be a compulsion. Any other motivation for writing other than it being that thing that you do because you simply must seems rather silly. It is my thing, my compulsion, and so…on I go.

I’m not listening!

I went to the Small Wonder short story festival on Sunday. I had my first internet meet too! Vanessa Gebbie (whose on-line writing forum I am a member of) and Elizabeth (another forum member) picked me up at Lewes station and we returned to Vanessa’s for lunch. I have to admit I was nervous about meeting for the first time but Vanessa made me feel so welcome and was even lovelier than I had imagined she would be, somehow softer and warmer. She really is all kinds of ace…thanks Vanessa.

On to the festival where we saw Will Hodgkinson speaking about his books Guitar Man and Song Man and how a song can be a short story. He was joined in conversation by a singer/songwriter called Mara Carlyle, and she sung a song in a voice so wonderful, clear, sparkling and gorgeous that I promptly forgot everything else!

Fay Weldon was up next, a grande dame full of wit and experience. She was followed by Yiyun Li, who seemed immensely likeable and interesting. My problem came when they read from their books. I listened for a bit and then my mind began a drift away from what they were saying, the words washing over me as I mused on gawd knows what and then pulled myself back into focus. I thought about this afterwards, trying to recall other readings I have been present at.

When I have seen poets speak their own words they have brought sense and meaning with them (Les Murray reading his poetry illuminates in such a stunning way it really is akin to a translation). However this magic hasn’t occurred when listening to writers of prose. My light bulb moment is in realising that I simply like my words to be on a page. I want to see them, and when I can’t some concentration is lost.
I don’t like reading prose aloud either, although I know that as a writer I am supposed to. in order to check for rhythm and such.
Erm, that’s it actually, not sure why.

On being sucked in by those enticing cover blurbs…

This keeps on happening to me, and usually the culprit (not the right word but it’ll do) is Dave Eggers. I adore Eggers, absolutely adore him. I will read anything he writes. Yup, even the self indulgent too long rambles, even the too short (not very good sometimes) flash fiction, all of it. And I will find value in it.
I think he is amazing too in his generosity to other writers, through McSweeney’s and in interviews and so on. But why oh why does he insist on putting quotes on the front of sooooo many books? Then I see the blurb and think, oh, Dave Eggers recommends this, it must be good, and I buy it and invariably hate it. Why do I think that tho’? I have bought several editions of McSweeney’s, and aesthetically scrumptious as they are, the content often leaves me cold.

It’s not just him to blame, I recently bought a paperback for £11.99 (extraordinarily expensive) because the cover blurb was by Ali Smith, so I saw it as an endorsement of extreme quality. When I began to read however, I thought, well, it’s okay I suppose, but not great, and definitely not worth that much money.

Lesson to self; do not be swayed by those you admire, for their tastes are not yours.

(Just off to read my latest purchase, not only is it recommended by Eggers, but he name checks my hugest writer crush Lorrie Moore, it had better be amazing!)

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