Monday 31 May 2010

if you have a spare 6 minutes

you should listen to this story by Aimee Bender. It's great, and she reads it so well with her cool American accent.

The Meeting.

Thanks to Nik Perring for this. I've read about Aimee Bender on Nik's blog before, because her stories proved to be a bit of a light bulb moment for him. Now I see why.

Have a listen, what do you think?

Thursday 27 May 2010

Brief bits and Bridport advice

I'm almost half way through an 8-day stint of shifts without a day off. There's nothing like having your writing time restricted to make you want to write... well that's how I feel on my way to work, but on my way home I'm knackered after being on feet and serving people all day/night. If it's a night shift I come home around 12, have a crisp sandwich and watch trashy TV. Then I go to bed and read a page or 2 of something before I drift off until the buzzing in the wall cavity next to my bed wakes me up around 6am and I think, 'oh yeah, that might be a wasp making a nest, I really should call my landlord.'

I can find time to write though, I'm not blaming my not-being-too-productive-right-now on work, it's just a more hectic time than usual.

I finally ordered these 2 books from Salt that I've had my eye on for a while

Words from a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie and Balancing on the Edge of the World by Elizabeth Baines

When I started reading writer's blogs last year ago these were two of the writers whose books I wanted to read. I also had the good fortune of meeting Vanessa at last year's Bridport prize-giving.

Bridport-speaking, it's almost time for the 2010 deadline on June 30th. I've been getting a few blog visitors who have found me by Googling 'read Bridport Prize winning stories online' and the like. My story is only available in the anthology, which you can order from the website, and I think I'd need permission to reproduce it here.

Although there are some brilliant stories in the collection, I'm not saying you'd have a better chance of winning if you bought it. To give yourself the best chance send your best story. Send the story that speaks to you, the one you loved to write. The one that has all the words spelt correctly. The one you feel close to, happy with, interested in.

Your story will be read by a volunteer first, someone who loves reading and loves stories. They are longing to be captured by your characters. Some of them are reading hundreds of stories each.

Between them, through several stages of readers, they are narrowing down and finding the 80 or so stories that stood out in the thousands (over 6000 last year) that were submitted.

This year Zoe Heller will pick her winners, and 12 or 13 writers will get a phone call in September that will make their face go numb (well that's how it affected me) and they'll suddenly be part of this thing, THE BRIDPORT PRIZE, that some of them have known about for all their writing careers so far, that they might have entered before and never got anywhere near, and it'll be unreal, and brilliant, and scary. Or maybe the scary doesn't come until the prize-giving. And then it soon goes.

So, don't be put off by the numbers. Don't search for other winning stories. Send the one you love, and let it go. Good luck.

Monday 24 May 2010

the highest hopes

I had them, them highest hopes, for the hour-count of last week. I had at least one clear day with nothing too taxing planned, just the mundane stuff, the paying-the-bills-doing-the-shopping stuff. But still, just 2 little blocks were spent writing last week.

(this a 2-birds-1-stone photograph)

I worked my day job, I met with some good friends, I read a lot. If I'm not writing much but I'm reading, I feel better. I spent hardly anytime online*. That felt nice.

Last week I read pretty widely, as we writers are advised to. I read some quirky flash fiction, and some chick lit.

I don't often read chick lit, but I fancied a bit. It might be because the 2nd Sex and the City movie is coming out soon, and I know it's so not-high-brow but I'm looking forward to it. I find Carrie and co a comfort, an indulgence and good fun.

I have to say that the chick-lit I read wasn't that good, so I don't want to say what it was. But it had a prominent place in Waterstones, it was by a successful writer, and I read it in 3 days. Not a page turner, but a quick and easy going read, and I liked that about it, then when I'd finished it all I could see were flaws in the characters and that it had a really mundane plot. I've read other people's blogs when they haven't liked a book but they won't say what it was, and I always think 'Just say what it was!' but suddenly I get it: I'm not going to write a thoughtful book review, so I won't just slag it off.

I also read Not So Perfect by Nik Perring: a neat collection of 22 short short stories, in a neat square book, published by Roast. Nik writes the kind of flash fiction that I like to read and I sometimes try to write: the kind where weird shit happens but it feels normal. Where wives throw up lemurs, where a girl breathes fire on her cheating lover, where a woman made of cogs and metal and ticking sounds finds love. There is also a lot about losing love, about giving yourself and trying to make sense of such an extreme, and how we feel when we are left. You can visit Nik's blog here, and buy Not So Perfect here.

Despite the not-writing-much I feel good about writing. In the past couple of days when people have asked, "How's the writing going?" I've been honest and said I haven't written much these past few weeks. It felt good to be honest, rather than try to find things to say. It's also made me want to get to it. Feeling relaxed about it is the healthiest way. But I go through this cycle often: not writing - feeling bad - still not writing - feeling worse - loosening up - writing more. I know that's how it works, but I still do it. What a goon.

*I achieved this by getting my boyfriend to hide the internet cable when he went to work. I'm not proud that it took such a dramatic act to keep me from wasting time, but I'm glad I did it. I will do it again. I didn't do loads more writing, but I felt better.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

something I'm trying

is noting how many hours each week I spend writing. I decided to do this about a week and a half ago after yet another afternoon spent 'writing' instead of writing. For me, 'writing' is when I'm at my desk with things to do but actually the thing I am doing is mooching around the internet. It usually begins with a 'I'll check my emails, really quickly' and ends with 'Why am I Googling this rubbish??? I'm such a dirty failure'. I don't like that dirty failing feeling. If I'm not in the writing zone I'd much rather watch TV, read, or go out.


I felt sure that my mooching time was far outweighing my writing time, by I-don't-know-how-many-hours each week. I had this bright and (what seemed like) realistic idea that I should be able to, very easily, spend 15 hours each week writing, on top of my day (and often evening) job.

For this purpose, I reckon writing is
the real creative stuff like free-writing, sketching out ideas, trying things out
reading/research related to a story/idea/potential market

Blogging - inc writing here or on anyone else's blog (do that later)
Any other sort of internet mooch (still do that, just less)

Turns out
15 hours each week might not always be do-able. I work about 30 hours in my day job, and this week was unusually draining for me because we planted Mum's ashes. I spent more time with family, and more time relaxing to ease the stress. I also applied for a new job.

It's okay for life to get in the way, but I still want to be mindful of how much time I spend writing, and 'writing', because writing is what I want to do. I want to be known, I want to be read. So I have to make the time, and use the time I have, as well as I can.

But yeah, not 15 hours each week yet. Here are my little building blocks, each one representing an hour of writing this week and last week (I run my weeks Fri-Thurs)

I'm pretty happy because those last 3 blocks were spent working on a brand new story that is different to anything else I've ever written, and might even become a children's story. I am very surprised by this.

How about you? Do you make note of how much time you spend writing each week? It's proved to be quite an eye opener for me, I know that if someone asked me I would have said I did more.

Monday 3 May 2010

How you write - Part 8 - La Belette Rouge

I'm really happy to welcome Belette - writer of the tres honest, insightful and funny blog La Belette Rouge - to share her writing habits with us.

If I was to give this post a subtitle I would call it "Rituals of writing: Staff of power. Eye of newt. Papyrus of magical notebook. Pencils of Pulitzer prize bring to me the tools that will bring out the NY Times Best selling book that lives inside."

Writers and would-be-writers are almost always curious about the rituals of other writers. There is a sense that there is something in the tools and rituals of successful writers that if we just use the same notebooks and J.K. Rowling that perhaps we too will write our own Harry Potter. And I am no different. Whenever I have attended writing conferences, workshops and seminars people have two questions that always come up:

1) How do I get an agent? (this is a question not to mock. It is a question I continue to wrestle with like Joseph did that angel. But it probably more important to have written something before you ask that question.)

2) How do you write? (i.e. what are the specific rituals of your writing.)

I love it when writers reveal their writing tools. I would rather learn if they write longhand on graph paper, legal pads or college lined rule or maybe on notebooks that they can only find at one old-timey stationary store in the upper-east side of NYC than to hear their most salacious secrets (okay, once I learn about their writing rituals then I would happily hear their scandal stories but only after learning what is their pen of choice).

Hearing this stuff always feels a little like hearing about the magician’s secrets only better as learning their secrets doesn't ruin the literary magic, rather it somehow makes it feel possible to make your own magic – if only you had the right tools. I have, I kid you not, upon learning that a favorite writer favors a certain kind of pen, gone out and bought a dozen in hopes that this kind of pen would work for me in the way it worked for famous author X.

When I started writing I was inspired by the work of Ana├»s Nin so I wrote in journals - but not ordinary journals. I had old-fashioned cloth finished accounting journals. I remember writing through the margins and filling the pages with process, prose and prattle and at some point the over-sized journals no longer worked for me. To write in them felt like when you are holding hands the wrong way – you know how you have a way, your thumb is always on the outside and this time it isn't and you have to adjust it or it just feels wrong – well that is what happened with me and the accounting journals. I graduated to black and white marbled composition books. I would buy five or six at a time and I often had four or five going on different themes or story ideas.

It wasn't until well into my second decade of writing that I began to write on a computer and at first I wrote the first draft longhand and then transcribed my rough draft to the computer and began to edit once the rough draft was safely saved.

I keep my MacBook on 24 hours a day just in case inspiration strikes. I could not stand to have to wait to boot it up, by the time it started I might have lost the thought that came to me at 3 a.m. And no matter where I am I always carry a half-dozen pens in my purse (I wish I was over exaggerating) and I am never-ever-ever without a small notebook. I think that moving from thinking I might like to be a writer to being a writer occurred when I started always having a notebook with me. I think that being prepared for ideas at any time made me more open to having more ideas.

Mostly I write sitting on my Crate and Barrell sofa. I don’t have an office or a writer’s desk – and even when I did I hardly ever used it. I like to curl up in the corner of the couch with my furry writing assistant, my West Highland White Terrier.

But I will write anywhere that inspiration strikes. I write in my car, my bathtub, and/or anyplace that inspiration strikes. And, if it comes to it I will write on anything and with anything – even, in an extreme emergency, with my husband’s Hewlett Packard laptop.

About Belette Rouge: Belette is a writer, a psychotherapist and the author of the blog La Belette Rouge. She has studied creative writing at UCLA and has published essays and short stories. You can find her fourteen-part series Writing in Valencia on her blog in which she proves you don’t have to be in Paris to be inspired by your muse.

Belette is presently at work on her memoir “Thursdays with Igor”. Her writing will soon be featured in “The Forgotten Patient”. She lives in Valencia, California with her husband and her dog-aughter Lily, a West-Highland White Terrier.