A Helping Hand

I’m coming to the conclusion that writing can be a teensy bit frustrating. You can be flying high one moment and then totally without inspiration the next. Now, I realise this is groundbreaking stuff that no-one has ever written before. You may need to sit down to carry on reading. But joking aside, you don’t actually grasp the reality of it until you are doing it, and it’s a lot like parenting in that respect. A complete shock to the system.

I have also realised, however, that writers as a breed are supportive, caring and genuinely want to help each other. I know, this is a sweeping generalisation and there will always be the odd recluse who likes to tuck himself up away from the world and avoid contact with other human beings as much as possible. In general, though, through my experiences mostly on Twitter and my own fledgling blog, the writers I have encountered are caring people who want to help you through sticky patches.

In a world where publishing seems to exploding – everyone is writing and blogs and sites like helium.com give opportunities to anyone to be heard – it is a huge challenge to get anywhere. I am always reading advice on how to stand out in the slushpile, descriptions of mountains of manuscripts drowning publishers and agents, warnings that for every success story there are x number of rejections. It would be natural that in such a competitive world, every writer would be out for themselves, and offering help to someone else would be akin to shooting yourself in the foot. I remember auditioning for Oklahoma! once in a local dramatic society, and another girl had missed the rehearsal where we were given scripts and set audition pieces. I typed out the pieces for her and emailed them to her in time to practice for the big day, and she actually got the lead part and I was in the chorus. If I hadn’t done that, who knows? I could be on my way to the West End right now (probably not, but since we’ll never know I can daydream a little).

But there isn’t that kind of mentality at all. Everyone I have come into contact with since calling myself a writer has been kind, encouraging and genuinely pleased at their colleagues’ successes. I would like to take advantage of that a little.

I have set up a social network on Ning called Writing Cafe – writingcafe.ning.com – where I’m kind of hoping to start a sort of online writing group. I know there are probably lots of these already, but my Google searches haven’t really brought any to light so they must all be hiding somewhere – perhaps run by the miserable recluses I mentioned earlier. The idea is to connect with other writers  (with a little more intimacy than Twitter allows), publish pieces of writing to receive feedback (with a little more privacy than sites like Helium allow for the more bashful among us), and basically see what else people would like to get out of such a group. I also had the idea that there could be a regular online chat time.

Anyway, that’s my little contribution towards helping writers connect together. And it’s completely selfish, I felt so touched by the support I had during the week on Twitter I want to take it further. Have a look and sign up!

Writing Cafe

Why Write?

I’ve been congratulating myself a little the last couple of days. Having gone from being close to giving up completely on writing I am now feeling more confident and have even finished a couple of projects. I can feel writing becoming a more and more integral part of my life, to the extent where it seems strange to go a day without writing anything. It’s taken me a while to get there, but I feel much happier.

This has led me to wonder why I ever wanted to write in the first place. What was it that, even when I felt so low, kept me going instead of giving up as I usually do so easily with other things?

I had a dim memory, a few days ago, of when my grandma died. She had always lived in London, whereas we live in the north east, so we didn’t see her all that often, but when we did she was always good fun. She was a proper old Irish lady, full of stories about the fairies at the bottom of the garden and tales from the part of Ireland that she came from. When she died, about fourteen years ago, we went down to London to sort out some of her things, and came across a rejection letter from a publisher.

She had written and submitted a children’s book – I don’t remember whether it was a collection of stories or one long story. It was something I had never known about her and I had a strong feeling of pride that she had actually taken the leap and submitted something. Now when I am starting to take myself seriously as a writer it feels quite apt to keep hold of that memory. It feels like a link to someone very special, and in some strange way like I am carrying on from her.

This isn’t the only, or main, reason I write though. I only remembered this incident a few days ago, after all, and I’ve been writing on and off for a while. I have been a voracious reader since childhood, does that explain something? A desire to emulate the authors I admire and to make up for the ones I don’t?

I have always enjoyed words – at school I was best at subjects that used words and language like English or French. I was the one people asked about spellings and synonyms. I have written little pieces since I was a child, just for the fun of it, until I became a teenager, and fitting in and being cool became more important (not that I ever managed it!).

But perhaps the most important reason to write is just…because. Because I can, and I know that with work and perseverance I can do it well. Because it feels right (no pun intended) and increasingly natural. Because when I am doing some mundane, everyday activity and I get a story playing in my head, the logical next step is to jot it down to play around with.

I’m fairly sure I’ve missed some reasons, and I will shout out at some random point “Yes, that’s another one!” In the meantime, what are other reasons people write?

Writing Is Hard

For the first time in a while I am feeling good about myself. I finally feel I have a story worth writing and I am determined to actually do it.

It is going to take a long time and a lot of hard work. At the minute for various reasons I am only spending a small amount of time each day on it. I am still building up background and and noting plot points, still figuring out exactly what story I am trying to tell. But the real achievement for me is that I am spending time on it each day. I am thinking about it all the time, I am beginning to see the world of my story open up, and coming from the state I have been in for the past few months this is very exciting.

The crunch will be when I have outlined as much as I feel I can or should, and actually start writing. I need to accept in advance that the first couple of drafts will be poor and there will be parts that I hate. Hopefully there will be parts that I love! But I must not expect to be happy with the first draft, else there will never be a final draft for me to be happy with.

It is easy to question yourself when you have dry times like I have just had. Should I even thinking about writing, my inability to do anything is just making me frustrated and miserable? If I was meant to be a writer, wouldn’t I feel energised and motivated, compelled to write anything and everything constantly? Shouldn’t it be harder to stop me than to start? But I read a few things lately that have made me think twice, and have given me permission to say: writing is hard. It is like alcoholism – acceptance is the first step to recovery. Allowing myself to say that writing is hard allows me to keep restarting, retrying and not give up.

Right now I am actually pretty proud of myself for not giving up – I have kept a journal going, I have restarted my blogs, I have drafted a couple of competition entries, and now I finally have the basis of a novel I think I can do something with. I am putting in some writing time every day, and it is becoming natural, even necessary. I intend to stop feeling guilty that I am making slow progress, and start feeling proud that I am making any. I will let myself work at a comfortable pace now and work up as the words begin to flow better and faster.

Because I think that now I am becoming a writer, and once I get going I will not give up. Individual projects may falter and fail, but my goal will not.

Another fresh start

Right then, Fresh Start #451 begins now. Mainly in writing, but also other areas of my life – namely being a better mother to my son and keeping on top of the house. Writing, though, is where the serious FS#451 is aimed.

At the moment I am caught in a vicious circle of not writing because I am not enjoying it and not enjoying it because I am not writing. Once down in the ‘Slough of Despondency’ (is that Pilgrim’s Progress?) it is incredibly difficult to struggle out of it. I have reached a nice little comfort zone with a journal entry every couple of days and am not pushing myself to do much more. Enter Fresh Start #451.

So here is a list of new (again) short term and longer term goals. I have included a guilt-free reading list because, as I was reminded in a blog today, reading is an essential part of a writer’s life. And I AM a writer. Maybe not a very good one but I will get there.

By the way, is it slightly ironic that as I am typing this in WordPress, the spellchecker highlights ‘blog’ as a misspelling? No? Ok, it must just be me. On to the lists…

Short term goals

  • Begin reblogging on both this blog and The Daniel Pages. Not necessarily long posts, but published, tagged and categorised PLEASE.
  • Explore tutorials on getting the most out of WordPress and look at getting hosting so my very talented hubby can build me a nice shiny customised blog. (He is really very talented, leave a comment if you’re interested in knowing more)
  • Enter the monthly competition in Writing Magazine – this needs to be an inflexible rule, even if it’s the only one I’ve got and even if I’m not particularly inspired. One short story on a given prompt every month.
  • Poetry. As the muse strikes!

Longer term goals

  • Filing WIP on paper and on disk
  • Poetry – as above
  • Compiling ideas for stories and journaling whilst out and about as opposed to a page’s rant every couple of mornings.
  • Compiling subjects for research (see below)
  • Finding inspiration for the best-selling novel I WILL write.
  • An Open University course

Reading and Research

  • More contemporary literature to broaden my experience
  • More non-fiction on a range of topics – journalling or blogging interesting points. This is a) to keep my brain working and b) to provide material for blog posts
  • Newspapers / The Week – for the same reasons as above
  • A ‘Flavour of the Month’ – not strictly monthly! An area that takes my interest and could provide inspiration for any type of writing whether it is a blog post, short story, poetry or novel; taking notes and making information files on the computer for future reference. For example in the past year I have had brief but genuine interest in astronomy and aromatherapy and have greatly enjoyed looking into these areas, and currently fancy looking into early feminism and women’s enfranchisement. So if anyone knows any interesting blogs, books or materials, please let me know.

So there you go. Fresh Start #451, raring to go. And now it’s on the internet, so it must be the real thing.

Poetry

Just a quick one today, because I’ve been writing a pantomime script for two days solid, it’s nearly midnight, and I need to go to sleep before my dear darling son wakes up for a couple of hours.

I just wanted to recommend a couple of things. Firstly, the book: Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled”. I’ve been reading this book for a couple of days, between script writing, and it is the most wonderful journey into poetry I could imagine. It explains formal terms and how to use them, with a handy reference table at the end of the chapter, and includes exercises to put the theory into practice. It has opened up a world of poetry to me, and I cannot wait to finish the panto so I can get back on with the book.

Secondly, aforesaid poetry. I have been dabbling with poetry a little over the past few months without any insight or guidance to get the most from it. Now, however, I am beginning to notice poetry in everyday life. I know this sounds pretentious, but bear with me. I am picking up rhythms in speech, I am noticing alliteration in hidden places (deliberate as well as accidental). I am learning to break down language and to play with language and it is more exciting than I can ever remember it being.

Here is a link to “The Ode Less Travelled” on Amazon (UK), and I hope you get as much enjoyment from it as I have so far.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ode-Less-Travelled-Unlocking-Within/dp/009179661X

Breaking with technology – or maybe not

So, I decided, in my infinite wisdom, that I was spending WAY too much time on facebook, twitter, blogs, reading about writing, reading about reading, reading about procrastination. I decided that I needed to actually do more of the things I was reading about.I decided to avoid facebook and twitter and blogs for a few days and see how I got on.

Turns out I didn’t get on all that well actually. From being someone who didn’t have a mobile phone until I left home and only got on the internet in 2000 (ish) I am now hooked on the web. And like all bad habits and addictions it takes up all my time, prevents me from actually doing anything productive, interferes with a ‘normal’ daily life, sucks me back in to doing it more and more and, when I finally do switch the computer off, I feel dissatisfied and guilty because I just wasted so much time. I may have read thirty new blog posts on writing a bestseller, I may have read fifty thought provoking and insightful pieces of writing, but at the end of the day I have gained nothing but frustration and guilt from the experience. And yet I carry on!

So, instead of going cold turkey and hoping that I might use that time to be a better writer, wife, mother, I am going to at least try and use the time productively to improve my writing. I am also going to kill two birds with one stone and actually make use of this blog. With these aims in mind I am planning to go through the huge collection of family photos stored on my laptop without any hope of ever seeing ink and paper and post a photo with a reflection on said photo, every day that I am on the computer. Hopfeully I will also have days when I am not on the computer at all!

And I am absolutely, definitely, maybe going to stop using the word actually. Way overused. Tap on the hand and do better next time.

Favourite Jane Austen novel?

I know a LOT of people are writing blogs about Jane Austen and one or another of her books, and there are more polls to do with Jane Austen than you can shake a fan at, but I wanted to get in on the action.

Without a doubt my favourite is Pride and Prejudice. I know it’s a cliché but I can’t help it. It has to be one of the most romantic novels ever, and the wonderful way you can keep rereading it and finding more layers (see my post Mr Darcy #1 )keeps it fresh and exciting. Besides, who doesn’t read it and secretly want to knock their heads together right at the beginning? Come on, own up. And getting into a book that much right from the start, for me, is a sign of a really fabulous story.

Runner up? Northanger Abbey. It takes a couple of readings maybe, but the parody of the gothic novel is very funny, and Catherine is an endearing heroine who most teenagers can identify with. Particularly if they also have a slightly overactive imagination!

So let me know what your favourite book is. I’ve done my first poll, below (hopefully anyway), or send me a comment.