Tuesday 29 June 2010

oh blogger

why you so slow? Anyone else having Blogger Bother?

Anyway -

more and more people are finding me by Googling Bridport related stuff so I just want to send a massive wave of positivity to everyone sat at their computers desperately finishing a story ready to submit by midnight tomorrow (Weds), everyone who's reading over the story they thought last week was HOT and now it just reads cold cold cold... to everyone who wants and needs a break - just go for it, send your best story, and let it go and do its thing.

Nicola Morgan wrote a great post on luck today - and the word that really stands out in there for being ultra useful is persevere - I entered Bridport 3 times before I won a prize, and I've been rejected/not made it in loads of prizes before and since. You just have to do it, keep doing it, keep learning, keep writing.

Monday 28 June 2010

What is it with me and 1400 words?

I just got back from a weekend in London where I stayed with my best friend, Claire. The main purpose of the trip was just to spend time with Claire really - we've been friends for about 11 years after meeting in our first year at Uni. We shared a house and a sense of humour, and that's kept us together ever since.

She moved down to London last year so it was really cool to see the life she's carved out for herself there, and catch up over pasta and gin and wine. We spent Saturday at Hampstead Heath, took a swim in the Ladies lake - a totally new experience for me, and once I got over the fact that my feet didn't touch the bottom I quite enjoyed it.

And, I got to meet Claire's new boyfriend, Luigi. Now - here's something brilliant - my boyfriend of over 8 years is called Mario. When I spoke to Claire a couple of months ago and she said she had a date with a guy called Luigi, neither of us 'clicked' for a while, but when we did, it was awesome.

So, I'm feeling totally blissed out after my weekend actually. I think I really needed the break, and the friend-time. I deliberately didn't take any writing to work on while I was there, but continued on with stuff I'm working on today. I really wanted to send something to VS Pritchett Memorial Prize, but the story I thought I'd send isn't ready enough, and won't be by tomorrow (closes Wednesday, but postal entries only).

What I've found unusual about the rules of this comp is that stories must be at least 2000 words, and maybe that's been part of the problem for me. A lot of my stories end around 1400. I don't want to pad something out that works fine at 1400, and, as I mentioned, the new piece is just too much of a first draft right now. I have a good amount of stories out being judged (check out the list in the sidebar) so I'm okay letting this one go.

I've just done something I didn't think I was going to do until a few days ago. I've sent something to this year's Bridport Prize, but to the Flash Fiction Prize rather than the Short Story. I remember at the prize giving last year quite a few of the readers I met asked if I'd enter the 2010 comp and I said I didn't think so, but I accidentally wrote a brand new flash that I liked so I thought 'Why not'. You still have 2 days until all the Bridport deadlines, good luck to anyone entering.

And Bridport related news is that part of the perk of being a prize winner from last year means that my story In a Seaside Cafe has been entered into the BBC National Short Story Award on my behalf, by the publishers of the anthology. That's really cool, and exciting.

I think that's all.

Out of interest, do any of you have a word count that most of your stories hover around, or is it just me?

Monday 21 June 2010

less a to-do list

The writing streak continues. Breath is held. Only it's not really - I'm just appreciative and happy that I'm 'on it' as the Americans say. I think that's an American thing to say?

I reckon there are some contributing factors to me getting more done, and maybe one of them will help another writer/creative (if I only help one other writer...) so I'll share.

Reasons I think I'm writing more:

- I got rid of Facebook. So, generalising this advice I'll say eliminate unnecessary distractions.

- I made a list of competitions, with cash prizes, that are closing soon. I shared them here. I would really like a holiday this year, and if I can fund it with writing that would be brillo. I know it's not all about the money, otherwise we wouldn't do it, but the incentive helps. I decided to enter all four of the competitions I found, and already I've entered two - a week before the closing dates! So - have an incentive.

- I'm busy the weekend before the closing dates. I know I just said I'd like a holiday, so it will sound like a contradiction when I say I'm going to London this weekend, but as it's just 2 days to visit my friend and won't involve much relaxing it doesn't count. But the point is that time is limited before the comp closing dates - so there's a little pressure, and I work well under pressure. So - apply pressure.

- I learnt a new thing. Well, someone told me about a thing that they do and I've started it too. This links to the title of this blog post and is most appropriate if you like making lists, which I really do. Ok - rather than making a 'to-do' list, make a 'prediction list'. Predict what you think you'll get done that day/week/writing session - whatever works best for you. Tick things off as you go, as you would anyway. If, at the end of the time you've given yourself - day/week/writing session - you have stuff left on the list - you should think about your predictions, your expectations of yourself, rather than the negative of Not Doing Everything On The List. Maybe you were unrealistic in your goal-setting. It makes you consider the time you have, and prioritise what you need to do. I'm not sure if this would work for everyone. It would be helpful to people who put unrealistic expectations on their time. I don't do that, I just like a new way of listing. So - get a new gimmick. Or, a new way of writing and ticking off your achievements.

Think that's it.

Oh - it's my blog's birthday today! Happy birthday blog. You are one. You are like a little baby owl, unafraid, by the side of a majestic lioness.

Best photo ever? I think so.

Saturday 19 June 2010

just had

a really good writing session. Same happened yesterday too. In a few snatched hours I've reworked and redrafted 3 'already written almost forgotten about' stories and added some words onto a WIP I'm pretty excited about.

This hardly ever happens to me. This level of productivity feels about right. I never feel 'about right' (with writing). I even sang a weird medley of celebration songs just now.

The medley included the theme tune to this ace TV show I used to watch with my Nana and Grandad when I stayed at their house on Friday nights when I was about 8. I recommend everyone finishes off a good writing session by singing this song.

Sunday 13 June 2010

this is new

I clicked on 'design' on the Blogger dashboard and started changin' stuff. You can't go back. This panicked me at first; I missed my old design. But I'm embracing the change now.

Just wanted to share some interesting writing competitions that I've spotted, and hope to enter myself:

Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition
1500 words maximum
£150 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 25th June

Royal Society of Literature V.S Pritchett Memorial Prize
2000 - 5000 words
£1000 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 30th June

Spilling Ink Review Microfiction Competition

300 words maximum
£100 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 30th June

Writers' Bureau Short Story Competition
2000 words maximum
£1000 first prize
£5 to enter
Deadline 30th June

Good luck if you enter any of these. I'm working on something new for at least one of them, and might polish up some drafts for the other 3. I want to get more work 'out there', it makes me feel good and productive, even if it ends in rejection.

I had a rejection last week from an online magazine, felt quite put out by it for a moment or two, then let it go.
It was for a very short flash piece that I've had trouble placing for a while. I'm thinking now that it might not work so well as a stand-alone piece, but there are a couple of images in it I like. I should think about adding it to something else perhaps.

Or not think about adding it, that might be too self-conscious. I think I'm always balancing on that line - trying, but not trying too hard. Being disciplined, but relaxed.

What line do you find yourself balancing on, in terms of writing/creating?

Friday 11 June 2010

well being; all being well will lead to more writing

Here's what's been happening with me lately, told in list form and in annoying third person wherein I refer to myself as 'Writer'

- Writing output has decreased, writer notices, tries to improve output by drawing blocks of time devoted to writing (see here)

- Blocks of time don't work in the way writer wants them to. Instead, writer is overly aware how little she is doing.

- Writer doesn't give up. She keeps putting time aside to write, but words aren't coming.

- She is tired. She isn't sleeping too well.

- She has a particularly bad day at work and spontaneously applies for a new job, 2 weeks later she gets an interview, and is offered the job. This lifts her spirits. Around this time, writer enters 2 short story competitions, with 2 old stories.

- Another act of spontaneity: writer buys a second hand bike from a friend. She hasn't been on a bike for years. Maybe 9 or 10 years. She is scared at first and cries, "The seat is too high!" but then she has another go and she's okay, she rides shakily down the street (on the pavement, of course)

- Writer still isn't writing. She's not even reading much. When people ask, 'How's the writing going?' she tells the truth. But she finds herself saying things like, "This happens from time to time, I'm probably just needing some time to do other things."

- Other things, when not working, are prominently making odd coloured fruit juices and bike riding. Some cooking and being with people she loves.

- Writer remembers how much she got out of yoga for about 3 months a few years ago. She's never really forgot how much she got out of it, she just lost the enthusiasm/confidence to do it.

- Writer finds a yoga class and goes to it. Writer 'deactivates' her Facebook account, because it steals her time. She goes to the library and takes out a yoga book.

- Writer goes to her favourite coffee shop and doesn't write. Oh, but she does write a list of what she wants to do that day.

- The word 'create' is one of the words on the list. The writer comes home from the coffee shop and opens a file on her computer of an unfinished story. She types! New words! She types!

- Later that day, she blogs in list form, and annoying third person.

Tuesday 1 June 2010

How you write - Part 9 - Miles Watts

This 'Tell me how you write' is a little different to the previous guest posts. First off, Miles Watts is a filmmaker, and we haven't had one of them before. Secondly, Miles and I are friends in real real life, we worked together until very recently - Miles left our 'day job' for a very cool reason - his latest film Crimefighters has been accepted into The Edinburgh International Film Festival. I'm ultra proud of him. And I heartily recommend you check out his web series Zomblogalypse, which has a huge online following.

Writing is probably my favourite part of making films. It’s the part where anything is possible and there are no limits but your imagination. One of my childhood heroes, George Lucas, says he absolutely hates writing scripts, whereas Alfred Hitchcock said it was the best part of the process and that making the film was the tedious part because it was already all in his head.

I’m kind of halfway between those two opinions in terms of love for the process; I enjoy the script stage but I also enjoy the practicalities of turning the script into something real. A screenplay is just a blueprint after all, not a finished piece of work like a novel.

It’s a scary and exciting moment, sitting down to write a screenplay because all the flimsy ideas you’ve had now have to get put down in actual words, but before that moment I’ve usually sketched out the idea on copious amounts of paper. Ideas for films have always come to me while doing something else like cycling, being at work or in the pub, so very often the film has been scribbled out on the back of a receipt or napkin by the time I sit down to write.

I’m a big fan of visual aids and I always have a chart or diagram of some kind that lays out the film. That way you can tackle one scene at a time while having an idea of the way everything fits together. Index cards are useful for scribbling individual scenes on, a trick I learned from Syd Field’s book Screenplay. I’ll transfer these to my computer so when I start I can see a list of all the scenes in the film, then fill in the scenes as I go, but most of the time things are scribbled in a notebook or scrap of paper that I can pin up and refer to.

On the rare occasions I write on paper it ends up being a complete illegible mess, so I always write at my computer unless I’m not in front of it so I can make quick changes. I bash out the dialogue really quickly, my fingers moving almost as fast as an actual conversation. That way I can be sure I’m letting my characters talk to me rather than putting words in their mouths, and that’s the most satisfying part of the whole process. I go into a kind of frantic meditative state where I’m just a receptor for these lines coming out of the ether. I literally write the first thing that comes into my head so that the characters are talking to each other. It’s not until later that I’ll tweak and make changes so that the dialogue comes from the characters and doesn’t just serve the plot.

One thing I learned that is very helpful is to take the draft of a script and turn to any page at random. If I can’t find several points or lines of dialogue relevant to character or plot, they get changed. I do this until I can turn to any page of the script and be confident that every page advances the plot and stays true to character. Sometimes I’ll see a line of dialogue and think, ‘He/she wouldn’t say that’ so I give it someone else.

The point of the first draft for me is always to finish the screenplay and get closure before I move onto further drafts. A screenplay is never finished after one draft, rarely after three or four unless you’re some kind of genius. Even then, a screenplay is never set in stone all the way through filming, and should be constantly tweaked and changed all the way to the final edit. The only exceptions I can think of offhand are the Coen Brothers and David Mamet, where you clearly wouldn’t want to change a single word.

Just because you had some good ideas during the writing process doesn’t mean all of them will work for the film; sometimes actors will suggest line changes and the shot will dictate what you can/can’t film. A director has to remain flexible and confident of the overall vision that he/she is comfortable to make changes all the way until the end, so the whole process is an incredibly liberating and exciting creative challenge.

Infected with the film bug at the age of 8 after seeing E.T. in 1982, Miles’ first film was an 8mm, 5 minute epic in which his Indiana Jones went to find some ‘sacred treasure’. Moving to York to study a degree in English Literature in 1995, Miles began writing scripts with a mind to making one of them into a film one day.

Miles honed his writing and editing until in 2006 he wrote, produced, directed and edited his first feature film, The BandWagons, made with no budget, which sold out the local cinema when it premiered. In 2008 Miles wrote his second feature CrimeFighters which he directed in 2009, and began the cult zombie web series Zomblogalypse. CrimeFighters has just been accepted into this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival and picked up for cinema release by the Picturehouses chain, while Zomblogalypse continues to gain fans around the world, with plans for a feature.