… like another writer.
Everyone knows that writing is a lonely business, a solitary pursuit that is not for those who need other people around them.
I don’t mind being alone with my computer or notepad – I quite like my own company. But some sort of evolutionary process has made us humans into social beings who, occasionally, need interaction with like-minded people.
And ‘like-minded’ can be the difficult bit. I have a lovely family but they are not writers and have no interest in the literary world, bar a library book to read before bed. So it’s difficult to share with them the ups and downs of a writer’s life.
I don’t tell my husband about every rejection I receive or every competition in which I fail to even make the short-list. He’d probably ask me why I was bothering to write anything at all. But, to justify the time I spend at the keyboard, I do tell him in great detail about every success, however tiny. But that doesn’t count as an interaction with a like-minded person.
That’s why it’s so liberating when I get to meet up with another writer, especially one who shares the same interests as me. How good it is to talk to someone who knows the difference between a story for People’s Friend and one for Take a Break. How nice it is to see the sympathy in someone’s eyes when you tell them about the rejection of a story that you were sure had been absolutely perfect for your chosen market. And how great to share news of a success!
And it’s absolutely wonderful to talk to someone who doesn’t see writing as your little ‘eccentricity’ that you are indulging in now that the children are almost grown-up.
I’m very lucky in having a great writing buddy in Helen. Last week we had our quarterly catch-up and target-setting. Back home I’m thinking I was too ambitious in my targets – probably caused by the over-enthusiasm generated by talking to another writer. But never mind – it will do me good to aim high.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a virtual friend in person for the first time. I got to know Sharon via this blog and discovered she lived in the same town where I was brought up. So last time I was in the area we met for coffee. Sharon runs Fiction Addiction – an online critique group for womag writers – and A Quick Read - a short story app for Android phones. It was good to put a face to a name and share the trials and tribulations of trying to get published!
So how do you feed the need to share the frustrations and joys of writing? Are you lucky enough to have a like-minded partner or maybe you let off steam on a writers’ forum?
Do any of you do morning pages? By this I mean: write longhand immediately on waking each morning.
Julia Cameron advocates this in her book The Artists’s Way. I haven’t read the book but heard about it from someone who has done morning pages for many years. This lady scribbles down everything that is going on in her head, things she has to do that day, negative thoughts about whatever is going on in her life etc. She finds it clears her brain and enables her to start the day in a better frame of mind. Sometimes it produces something that can be used in a story or elsewhere.
I know that other people get up early to work on their novel or another project, either because it’s the only way they can make time in their day to write or because they just enjoy the quiet at dawn before the rest of the family erupts into activity.
Up until now I’ve lacked the willpower to set the alarm any earlier than absolutely necessary, just to write. But my husband has changed his job and needs to be at work by 7:30 am – forcing us to set the alarm for 6:00 am, and therefore giving me the opportunity to try morning pages.
So I’ve been writing for 25 minutes each day before getting up (with a cup of tea brought to me!).
I decided that I wanted something positive to show for this time so I’m drafting a longer piece than I normally write. I never read back more than a sentence of what I wrote the previous day and I don’t edit anything. I don’t pause to think of the right words, I’m just trying to get the flow of the story down on paper.
It’s a positive experience because I get up knowing that I’ve already ‘achieved’ something and the number of completed A4 pages is growing.
Does anyone else do this – or, as Julia Cameron envisaged, do you write about whatever is on your mind?
There’s no right or wrong in this. Different things work for different people.
The museum contains exhibits that each recall the breakup of a relationship. Each object is accompanied by a narrative telling its story such as:
- A lover’s mobile phone, given to the girlfriend he’d just broken up with, so that she couldn’t call him anymore
- An axe that was used on the furniture of an unfaithful partner
- A garden dwarf that was thrown at an ex’s windscreen on divorce day
The place sounds like a building full of writing prompts with a whole wealth of relationship stories, just waiting to be written. There’s a cafe there too - so somewhere to sit and jot down notes whilst enjoying mulled wine and pepper cookies (the house specialities according to the website).
The museum also accepts new exhibits from people wishing to get rid of stuff that reminds them of a painful breakup. What would your hero or heroine donate?
Look out for the museum’s touring exhibitions, there was one in Lincolnshire earlier this year and one in London in 2011 – if only I’d known I could’ve collected enough ideas to last a lifetime! Instead I’ll have to save up for a flight to Zagreb …
P.S. I had an acceptance from People’s Friend this week – hurrah, a great way to end the year!
Christmas Round Robin Letters – do you love them or loathe them?
I don’t usually write one but this year I did and it’s currently winging its way to those I rarely see. The cost of postage drove me to include the letter with my cards. I begrudge paying 50p (second class postage) just to stick a card in an envelope so I decided that people were going to hear what my family did in 2012 – whether they wanted to or not. After all, I’m supposed to be a writer so it shouldn’t be difficult to make a round-up of the last 12 months sound interesting.
It was a lot harder than I expected!
I tried to be mindful of the fact that no-one wants to read a list of my daughters’ achievements and their plans for the future. I’ve received letters like that and they leave me feeling totally inadequate. So I skirted over that and moved onto how the recession has impacted the working lives of my husband and me. Then I decided that talk of redundancies was too depressing so I moved on to the interesting things we’ve done in our spare time – and came up with nothing!
Writing a round robin letter is like trying to have a one-sided conversation in the dark. It’s impossible to gauge whether you are boring people because there’s no facial expressions to read and no feedback in the way of comments. So I did my best and sent it out . It’s up to the recipients whether they read it or bin it and from now on I’ll be much less dismissive of the letters I receive because I know how difficult they are to write!
If you’ve had any letters printed in a newspaper or magazine during 2012 you might be interested in a competition run by the Association of Christian Writers. ACW’s UK letter writing competition is looking for the best letters published in any national, regional or local magazine or newspaper during 2012. There is a prize of £50 for the best single letter published and prizes of £100, £50 and £25 for collections of 6 letters published in 6 different publications. Closing date is 31/12/2012. Full details are here.
After a pep talk with Helen, my writing buddy, I’ve set myself some writing targets to get me through to the end of the year.
One of them is to write a letter a week for publication in a magazine. There are several benefits to this:
- The satisfaction of something quickly written and submitted
- Lots of potential markets – so hopefully the possibility of success
- I will need to scan the magazines available in the newsagent and might spot new markets for other types of writing
I told Peter Hinchcliffe, editor of Open Writing, about my new goal and he suggested a further benefit of letter writing. Many years ago, as a young man, he was trying to break into journalism and started writing letters to his local newspaper every week, with a good ‘hit’ rate. Then he wrote and asked to join them for work experience – the editor recognised Peter’s name from the letters and he was taken on. A successful career in newspapers followed.
I don’t expect to land a job on a glossy magazine through the letters page – but occasionally letters can get followed up…
At the weekend I went with my daughter to Leicester University – she’ll be sending in her UCAS application for a Zoology degree in a few weeks time. Whilst we were there we went round the David Wilson Library (pictured). It is a wonderful, light, airy building, opened in 2008 by the Queen. At the time students waxed lyrical about their new library’s toilets. One was quoted in the Independent as saying, “If these toilets were a bird, they would be an eagle as they soar above the rest of the competition.” The toilets were nice – but not that outstanding! Although if I was living in grotty student house, I might think differently…
So it seems that whilst our public libraries are cutting opening hours or shutting down altogether, university libraries are thriving. Let’s hope that these wonderful facilities make young adults value the benefit of libraries so that as they start work and settle down, they might join in the campaigning to save and improve our public library system.
Finally, am I going mad or do the current and previous edition of Writers’ Forum magazine both say ‘October’ on them?
I’ve been getting out of my literary rut recently – by trying Sci-Fi.
I am attempting to enter each of the Monthly Writers’ News competitions. The September brief was for a science fiction story so, although I’m not exactly sure what constitutes sci-fi, I had a go. Creating a whole new futuristic world seemed too much like hard work, so I set the story in the present day with ordinary characters but included a new piece of technology which did a little more than it said in the instruction book. The result caused my main character a problem and so the story developed. This may or may not be classed as science fiction – but at least I had a go!
By coincidence, I also received a science fiction book to review from Waterstone’s this month – Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton. It was billed as a futuristic crime story and I love crime so that was why I entered my name in the prize draw for a chance to review the book. But I got more than I bargained for – it is a HUGE tome, 1087 pages long. It involves a murder, clones, space travel and hi-tech police procedures but at the end of the day it’s still the characters that drive the story. I liked Detective Sidney Hurst, who is the main policeman and there’s another intriguing personality in Angela Tramelo. She only ages 1 year for every 10 years of her age and was locked away 20 years earlier for a similar crime. But she has always protested her innocence and swears that the original killing was an alien attack…
This venture into Sci-Fi was accidental and it hasn’t converted me to the genre but it has taught me a few things:
- It’s refreshing to try something different
- The elements that make up a good story are the same, whatever the genre. The setting/time-period/pre-occupations of the characters may differ but if you make the reader care about the protagonists then it is a good tale
- Moving out of one’s comfort zone (in real life as well as writing) may not be appealing but once you’ve done it, it creates a feeling of confidence in your own abilities.
Finally, if you are a Waterstone’s loyalty card holder and want the chance to review books, click here to see what’s on offer.
… the Olympians are back!
I thought that all those brilliant Olympic medal winners would be taking a well-earned rest. Perhaps sunning themselves somewhere or at least putting their feet up and indulging in a takeaway pizza and a large piece of chocolate fudge cake. But it appears there is no rest for the elite and a handful of our heroes were back in competition on Sunday at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium as part of the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix. And I was there to see them!
Long jump gold medallist, Greg Rutherford, high jump bronze medallist, Robbie Grabarz and 400m silver medallist, Christine Ohuruogu were all competing, along with several other London 2012 medallists from other countries. But the highlight was watching Mo Farah win the 2 mile event with a fantastic sprint finish! The stadium went wild.
So these high-achievers don’t sit back and rest on their laurels after a success and they don’t give up when they fail either. Do you?
When an editor accepts a story or you get placed in a competition – what do you do? Spend days telling everyone about it or just get back to your desk and write something else?
When the rejections come in do you throw in the towel and decide to write nothing more that week? Or do you get back to your desk and write something else?
As writers we have to be like athletes – constantly training the parts of our body that make us produce of our best. So whatever life throws at you, good or bad, get back to your desk and write something! The more you use that writing muscle the better it will become.
Lecture over. I’ll now attempt to take a piece of my own advice … and go do some writing!
I also jotted down some ideas for short stories and I’m going to share them with you because I know that we’d all produce completely different tales (& submit them to different places) from the same initial prompt.
We stayed in Little Lilac Cottage - a tiny 350-year-old dwelling with a king-sized brass bed, a Victorian rolled top bath and open beams on the ceiling. Reading through the guest book I tried to imagine all the other visitors to this romantic cottage, why they came and whether the holiday lived up to expectations:
- Honeymooners – young or old? first or subsequent marriage?
- A couple having an affair – unused to spending so much time together, will they still get on or will guilt take over?
- A holiday to save a marriage – away from it all, can they get their relationship back on track or will it go up in flames?
- First holiday for years without the children – do the couple still have anything in common?
We did plenty of walking and one day came across a set of intertwined initials carved into a tree by a waterfall:
- Who carved them and why?
- What happens when one or both of them come back to revisit the carving?
There’s also plenty of scope for stories with a historical setting:
- Think of all the people who were born and died in our cottage
- A local told us that the last ‘ordinary’ people to live in our cottage brought up 3 boys there – how? The house was barely big enough for the 2 of us!
- The old coffin route from Edale to Castleton. At one time there was no consecrated ground in Edale and all the dead had to be brought over the hill to the church in Castleton
And that final point brings me to my poem – poetry connoisseurs please look away now. The rest of you can blame Julia, Susan and Alison, who all asked to see it after my post about the poetry writing workshop I attended in Castleton.
A Coffin Route Farewell
My baby, wrapped in sacking and loaded on a mule
a tiny corpse under a pauper’s shroud.
My baby, born mute, motionless and far too early
now travels the path toward Castleton.
My baby, cast out from home to ride with a stranger
in search of consecrated land.
Exhausted from birthing I never even held you.
They snatched you away without time for farewell.
My baby, you never shed a tear but my eyes will never be dry again.
I have an unusual maiden name – ‘Mumby’ – and it’s rare that I stumble across it anywhere else but I found it on a tiny war memorial in the small church at Croft Castle, near Leominster. I was so surprised that I had to take a picture of it (it’s in the bottom right-hand corner).
This got me thinking about creating female characters by looking at what they choose to do with their surname when they get married and what motivates them to behave in this way. I think we women fall into one of several camps when we walk down the aisle:
- The majority of us go with convention and take our husband’s name – so maybe we don’t want to rock the boat or stand out from the crowd
- Keeping our maiden name - this is the course usually followed by the famous but I know ‘ordinary’ women who have done this and get quite cross when they get lumped together with their husband as Mr & Mrs ‘Husband’s surname’. Could this be the basis for a fictional character desperate to carve her own way in the world or afraid of living in her husband’s shadow?
- Going double-barrelled – some couples choose to join their surnames together when they tie the knot. Could this a social-climbing couple? Double-barrelled names always sound quite posh to me.
- And there’s the choice of Mrs or Ms, if you don’t want the whole world to know you’re married. Why does a character who’s married want to keep it hidden?
Plus don’t forget until quite recently married women were often addressed by their husband’s Christian name as well as his surname, for example Mrs John Smith. An elderly lady in a story might unintentionally annoy her daughter-in-law by sending birthday cards addressed in this way.
Then what happens when we get divorced? Many of us (understandably) decide to revert back to our maiden names but those with young children might choose to keep their married name to avoid confusion. Or what about the high-flyer who’s made a name for herself in her married name – does she drop it or resentfully keep it?
So next time you’re dreaming up a female character think about her marital status and the surname and title she’s chosen to use – it might make you think about her in a whole new way.