Tuesday 30 October 2012

Nearly, very nearly (Putting an anthology together: Part 6)

The deadline is tomorrow.

I'm going to show you the word count but I don't want you to worry. It needs to be a minimum of 30,000 words. Right now it is:

The reason you shouldn't worry is because the word count below will be added to the manuscript tomorrow when the story it's from has undergone a final edit:

Together they make more than 30,000 which is - well - a huge [swear word] relief.

I'm not there just yet, here's tomorrow's to-do list before I submit:

But the bulk of the work is done. Most of those points to-do are formatty-type things.

After submission I'll be back with something a little more wordy than this post, and I hope you'll forgive me for being low on words tonight. I am going to have a bath now (spiders, stay away) and then have something to eat because I've worked right through and not eaten. (Those who know me will now be convinced of how dedicated to writing I must be, if they didn't already know.) 

Oh, and Happy Halloween! We love Halloween here, and as a pre-birthday surprise for my boyfriend I spooky-fied the flat yesterday while he was out. I had about a 40-minute window in which to buy and stick things up after I finished work and before he came home. This week will go down in history as being the week I did loads of stuff.

Here are some pics.


Wednesday 24 October 2012

A spider is trying to tell me something (Putting an anthology together: Part 5.)

There's a very short story I wrote a while ago with a spider in it. I have been undecided about whether or not it fits in with the collection, if it is good enough. It is a little odd-ball.

I hadn't thought much about it for a bit, but I found myself thinking about it in the bath today. (Some of the story happens in the bath.) I thought to myself: Should I include it? I flicked my eyes and the very next thing I saw was a spider.

Weird, I thought. Did a little laugh. Said, 'Oh, okay then, I'll include it' out loud. But I still wasn't sure I would.

I just told my boyfriend about it. He's always liked the spider story and reckons it should definitely go in.

I said I'm not so sure.

A minute or 2 later I logged in to my stat-counter account which tells me what people type into Google to find this blog, either purposefully by Googling my name, or accidentally by Googling other stuff which I happen to have written about. The most recent phrase that brought someone here: Spider ran at me. (Because I wrote this post when a spider ran at me.)

So, the question is: Do I obey the spiders, or keep hesitating to see what they do next?

Friday 19 October 2012

IT'S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY (Putting an anthology together: Part 4.)

There's no word count photo to show this week.

What happened this week
Wednesday is my writing day - that one day a week which is MINE and completely MINE to do what I want with. (I'm a bit obsessed with it.) And I set out like always, to a coffee shop, with my netbook and my notebook and I felt great about being able to write, and totally tried to ignore the fact my eyes were tired and I had a heavy feeling on the side of my head which was probably to do with by the 13 hour day I did on Monday (of 'normal' work) and the very early start and long day of work I did on Tuesday too. I stayed there, in the coffee shop, for 3 hours (persistent) and managed a little editing, and a few notes on how to expand a story I have in my draft folder.

But the word count didn't do the thing I wanted it to do which was INCREASE by like, loads.

So I came home from the coffee shop and had some lunch and watched some TV and had a rest and then tried again but it didn't happen. I just didn't get the writing work done that day.

And, you know, I'm on a deadline with the Scott Prize. I need to have 6000 more words ready and added to my anthology in the next (something like, not counting, not counting in days) week and a half.

So I felt pretty rubbish. I looked ahead and saw that I only have one more Wednesday before the deadline (well, 2 if you include the day of the deadline, which I don't really want to). There are other opportunities in the week to write, the odd couple of hours before or after a shift.

I've just used a couple of those hours now to work on that story in the draft folder I mentionned before. And, that story has a 'sister story' (there are a few of these in the anthology, separate but related to each other stories) so I worked on that sister story too.

They're not ready to be added to the manuscript yet but they're nearly there, and I feel so much better about everything than I did 48 hours ago.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Putting an anthology together: Part 3. Liberation

I wish I'd come up with a snappier title for this series of posts.

This week:
I've added 3 stories to the collection. One is a new piece, which has just come together in the last 7 days. It has a very long title. It's called Tips For Customer Service Workers Who Work With A Till Which Sometimes Goes Slow. And it really is a series of tips about how to deal with customers when they're having to wait a bit longer than they expected. It's completely autobiographical. We are a nation of queue obsessives and working in customer service I've observed some shocking queue-related behaviour. It's a tongue-in-cheek guide to coping with a waiting customer when you also have a line of other waiting customers.

The most exciting thing about putting an anthology together is the liberation in what I can include. Tips for... wouldn't be the kind of piece I'd send to a competition, and I've realised this week that these past few years I've been focused on writing single stories for competitions which need to stand up alongside hundreds (or more) of others, and that makes you write in certain way. The idea of a group of stories alongside each other working as a whole has much more room in it, and yes, they still need to stand up alongside the other collections that are submitted, but, well - I guess it's that word 'liberating' again, it's feels like it's possible to really be yourself in a collection, or that's what I'm feeling at the moment anyway.

The other 2 stories that have been added were already written - one was published a few years ago, the other is unpublished but needed an edit. I didn't think I'd be including the already published one, but when I read over it this week it was better than I remembered and I thought it could earn a place in there.

So - my little white cards have been added to (25 stories now) and re-arranged a little and look like this:

  And, excitingly, the word count has risen from 20,962 to:

Salt have just tweeted a reminder for the deadline with the number of days to go. I haven't been thinking in terms of days at all. It's 17. I will not think of it in terms of days again. Right now it's somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks - that feels better.

Monday 8 October 2012

Putting an anthology together: Part 2. Shut up.

You can be writing along, feeling okay about the words on the page, or your ideas in general, or what the finished piece will be like. You let your thoughts wonder to the idea of a reader. I don't mean the general reader who you take into account to make sure your words make sense and all those other considerations you make maybe without realising, I mean a specific person with a specific set of values and even a specific face.

This has been happening here and there since I've been working on the collection. In a way it's not new, it's the thing we call 'inner critic' - the voice in your head that tells you your work is shit.

But the difference is, or what I've just realised, is the bit about the 'specific face'. As I'm thinking about a book with stories in that I have written, I imagine someone I know, someone I really know in real life, reacting negatively to the stories. They don't see the point in them. They don't go anywhere. And who do you think you are putting these words in a book and trying to make people read them when there are so many real things happening in the world? And is this part of this story about xxx because you shouldn't have used that kind of language if it is. And why are you writing about THAT?! And why did that ending end so shit? Don't see the point.

She (yes, it's a she) has popped up this week and it was the first time I actually took notice enough to see it's a specific person, which I thought was weird. I've realised that sometimes when I listen to the inner critic, maybe as I'm writing a draft, it can be someone else I know, someone I respect, but this one, this week, is here because she represents what I think people who knew me a long time ago might think of my stories. And she snuck in when I was looking at the work so far as whole - so I imagined the finished book - and she said what she thought.

I can shut her up though so it's okay.

Does your inner critic ever have a face? Is it someone you know, or knew?


Friday 5 October 2012

Putting an anthology together: Part 1. Jumping ahead?

So, my writing focus at the moment (and for the rest of October) is getting an anthology of short stories totalling at least 30,000 words ready to send to Salt Publishing's Scott Prize.

I've been gearing up to do this for a few months, I've had it in my mind, been feeling my way with it. But it's only been the last 2 weeks where I've narrowed my writing tasks to just doing this. I've had a list of 'possible stories to include' on the go for a while, and I've been getting a sense of how many pieces are 'ready', and how many others need more work until I have an anthology of stories which add together to make the required minimum of 30,000 words.

I thought I'd write some thoughts as I go through this process of collecting and looking at and ordering what is about 5 or 6 years of short story writing, while also writing and editing new work to go alongside it. I'll post an update each week until the 31st Oct deadline, maybe more often if I have something to say.

Oh, and - just to give you some context, this is probably the busiest month I've had for a while. I have one day a week I can give to writing completely, and the rest has to fit around my 2 part time jobs. I take my netbook with me wherever I go, and try to add sessions in before and after work where I can. I'm also giving myself one day a week off completely too, because, well - s'important, innit.

So here's where I am at the moment.

This week I...
Read an interview with one of the 2012 Scott Prize winners, Carys Bray. In it, Carys talks about the process of ordering her stories, and there's a photo of the post-its she used to physically (as physically as you can) see them alongside each other.

(I have no idea why the font size is smaller here. I've tried to sort it but it just won't change. Tut.) 
I'd had an idea about writing a little card out for each story so I could get a sense of the whole collection, but I didn't think I was at the point where I could do that yet. But within a few days I'd done it anyway, even though I only have two thirds of the stories ready. I felt like I needed to do something tangible. It was actually a useful process, a new way of seeing the stories. Each card stated story title, word count, and a few words about its mood or subject. That felt a bit weird - writing words like 'Fun' 'Surreal' 'Infidelity', but I wanted to roughly get an idea of what they might be saying so I could see how they might fit together, and if any patterns I didn't know about cropped up. They looked like this:

They'll move about and be added to and more details might be added to the cards as the weeks go on. But having a physical representation really helped.

The other thing I did this week was something else I wasn't supposed to do until I had more of the collection ready. I put all the stories into one document, and I called this document 'Manuscript' which was a bit thrilling. They are in the order I devised with the cards up there, and I guess this was another 'physical' thing to do. Even though I thought I'd have more stories ready before I created this document, I also had a niggling feeling that if I left it too late it'd take too long or there'd be some formatting issue. So it's done now, well - it's begun now - and I don't need to estimate the word count. I know the word count. Here it is:

So even though these 20,926 words represent work written over the past 5 or 6 years, it is totally possible to have the remaining 10,000 ready in 3 and a half weeks. Totally. Really. Is.

Where I am is - I have a lot of stories started, on the go, that just just need time dedicated to them. And that's what this month is about. And in way, in doing some of the admin-y stuff by getting the existing finished stories ready and arranged, I feel free to finish my collection exactly how I want.

Because I also read this excellent discussion (which I found via the interview with Carys) with some short story editors and it fuelled my passion for what I write and why I write short stories. Writers, you should check it out.

This really resonated with me, on 'fragment stories' as apposed to beginning, middle, end stories:

But there's still story there. It's just hanging slightly outside, and that has to work. It's more difficult to do. It's either outside the text or internal, inside the character, but it's still there, and those elements still have to be there, suspended over the thing.
(Ra Page,  Comma Press)

I'm thinking about what I like to write, how I like to write,what I like to read, what excites me, and - as much as I possibly can - turning off the inner critic (more on her in another post) and also - when I need to - turning off the internet.