Friday, April 28, 2006
Look at the list of books below. Bold the ones you’ve read, italicize the ones you might read, cross out the ones you won’t, underline the ones on your book shelf, and place (parentheses) around the ones you’ve never even heard of.
Sadly, I can't seem to cross out text (yes, I'm an html fool) so I'm simply putting a * against those I will never read ...
*The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy - Douglas Adams
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
*Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling
*The Life of Pi - Yann Martel [I’ve tried, really I have]
Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
1984 - George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J. K. Rowling
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
The Secret History - Donna Tartt
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Atonement - Ian McEwan
(The Shadow of The Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Dune - Frank Herbert
(Sula by Toni Morrison)
(Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier)
*The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo
*White Teeth by Zadie Smith [another one that’s been sitting on the 'to read' shelf for a year or more!]
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
Brighton Rock - Graham Greene
The Moor’s Last Sigh - Salman Rushdie
*We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Schriver
Disgrace - JM Coetzee
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buddha of Suburbia - Hanif Kureshi
Small Island - Andrea Levy
Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake
Ivanhoe - Walter Scott
Patrick Suskind - Perfume
Bernand Shlink - The reader
(Father and Son - Larry Brown)
(Crooked Hearts - Robert Boswell)
(She's Come Undone - Wally Lamb)
Postcards - E. Annie Proulx
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (stories) - Robert Olen Butler
(Defiance - Carole Maso)
Being Dead - Jim Crace
The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
Don Quixote by Cervantes
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
Illywhacker by Peter Carey
The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
if on a winter's night a traveller... by Italo Calvino
(And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, by John Berger)
Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard
Bear Attacks--Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero
(Desert Notes--Reflections in the Eye of a Raven, by Barry Lopez)
(River Notes--The Dance of Herons, by Barry Lopez)
I am adding:
His Monkey Wife by John Collier
Renegade or Halo2 by Timothy Mo
Borderliners by Peter Hoeg
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
The Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
And I am tagging:
Linda M Donovan
Richard Allen Cooper
Thursday, April 27, 2006
People often complain about editors. I try not to, being an editor myself, but it does happen from time to time that I whinge. Most of the time though, editors are nice people doing a tough job. This week's mail reminded me of that fact.
I got a letter from Ambit. Was a story I'd sent them in April 2005 still available, they asked. They'd written to me in July 2005 but I hadn't replied.
I never got that letter.
So I rang them - on a Saturday morning, at 09:03am - and spoke to a very nice lady who was nothing to do with the journal, but didn't seem to mind a complete stranger disturbing her weekend. She took a message for me to pass to the editorial team and I wrote and posted a letter immediately, telling them the story was still available, that I hadn't received the letter, and that I hoped they would still want the story.
On Tuesday morning I got an email from Ambit, thanking me for my letter and asking for the story as an email attachment. No snide comments about my earlier failure to respond, not a hint that I might have messed up their scheduling, just perfect politeness, friendliness and enthusiasm.
That's professionalism in action. And I'm very grateful to them for keeping the faith when they could have simply assumed I was too lazy or rude to reply.
Next time you feel inclined to slag off an editor, think how often this kind of thing must happen and how much time and trouble they might have to go to in straightening things out.
No editor is obligated to publish your work - the fact that they do so should be a matter of celebration and pride. Of course there are bad editors out there, but most are bloody good at their jobs and we should applaud their efforts.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Have projects as well as babies
What I mean is, don't just write fiction that is important to you. Kick back, have fun, write fluff. Nobody can spend all day being serious and high falutin' about words and not become a bit of a pompous arse. Think of Goethe, a man who simply took life a little too seriously.
If you change gear and allow yourself to write candyfloss, not only will your days be somewhat lighter and easier to get through, but you'll find you have work circulating that you can dismiss with ease.
'Oh look, another rejection for Ten Ways to Kiss a Frog,' you murmur. 'How very amusing.' And on you go with your life, and Ten Ways to Kiss a Frog continues to go out and get rejected and then one day it gets accepted and you feel as validated as though it was your masterwork that had found a home.
This is a strange but true fact about the publication process. You can write fluff and not care about it getting rejected, but when it is accepted you feel just as good as if it were a serious work of fiction.
Because project work is easier to write, because you have less investment in it, and because you have less tendency to revise it to death, you'll find you have quite a body of it circulating, alongside just one or two 'babies' - those stories that really matter to you.
Remember that you don't have to send everything out under your own name - pen names are there so you can have fun without admitting you're really Zem Hurkov, writer of the popular science fantasy series: 'Kat Kallurian and her Magic Boots'.
If you only have two stories out in the world, each rejection is like a sabre cut. If you have forty-seven pieces out there, each rejection still hurts - but it's more like a paper cut.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
What's better than galleys?
Getting your complimentary copies!
Through the post this morning came the gorgeously jacketed 'Mexico, A Love Story'. It's a Seal Press book from Avalon Publishing Group, edited by Camille Cusanamo, with whom I've worked several times now and whose selection and editorial skills I've come to respect and admire. You can see more of their list at www.sealpress.com
The essay I have in this anthology is called Coyote Hotel - my time in Mexico was wonderful and bewildering and I hope I've managed to capture some of my culture shock in the story I tell. This is also one of the times I get to try and make staple food crops sexy! When I started writing fiction, I had the idea that I could get environmental messages into my work: it doesn't happen as often as I'd like but this time, with the story of Cocoyoc (Coyote) and the teosinte (which is a forerunner of cultivated maize) I think I've pulled it off.
Publication is a writer's life-blood. Days when a book arrives make up for all the months when nothing happens.
Monday, April 24, 2006
Why would anybody bother?
I received an anthology call early last week and went to check it out. The publisher's website is 'under construction' and both of the editor's email addresses bounced my query message. On the call page there is no indication of rights required by the publisher, nor of payment to writers.
To me, this has SCAM written all over it. Maybe I'm wrong and they are just totally incompetent instead, but either way I won't be sending them anything.
If you care about your writing, don't fall into the trap of working with idiots or crooks just to get into print. That's like spending hours cooking a meal, serving it beautifully and then throwing it into the street for the dogs.
Beginning writers are often desperate to 'crack' publication, but you don't become a published writer by getting your words into print. Publication means a book or journal that is recognised by the publishing industry as being a viable product - which is not to say that vanity publishing is all bad, but it is to say that you should know that's what you're doing, and not be misled into thinking you're joining the profession when actually you're subsidising the lifestyle of a con artist who has led you to believe he or she is a publisher. Virginia Woolf vanity-published, if you like, but she didn't hand her money over to a dodgy gent with no known address, and that's what you'll be doing if you submit to anthologies like this one!
Friday, April 21, 2006
I have a soft spot for Chroma, not because they've ever published me but because their editor, Shaun Levin, is one of the nicest editors I know, and I know many. So I'm glad to share some good news with you!
Friday, 21 April, 7pm at Gay's the Word, 66 Marchmont Street, WC1
Contributors reading include: VG Lee, Robert Seatter, Cherry Smyth, Suraya Sidhu Singh, John Dixon, and Sharon Morris
Thursday, 25 May, 6.30pm at Borders Charing Cross, 120 Charing X Road, WC2
QUEER WRITING COMPETITION
Entries have already started coming in for Chroma's first International Queer Writing Competition. Deadline is September 10, 2006. See our website for details about the prizes, the judges, and the rules.
We are also looking for submissions for our next issue (theme: Competition). Stories, poems and artwork that interpret the themes of rivalry, sports, war, contests are what we're after. See our website for further suggestions. Queries? Please contact the editor, Shaun Levin, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chroma relies on its subscribers to survive and thrive. If you are not already a subscriber, we encourage you to join our growing list of subscribers by visiting our website and ordering your copies. Payment is through PayPal or by cheque.
We are currently seeking an enthusiastic and self-motivating person to work on our future Translation issue, due out towards the end of 2007. Your job will be primarily to source queer writers writing in languages other than English, and to help find translators. You will be provided with some contact names, and will be expected to follow up some of the contacts we have already been in touch with. You will be encouraged to make your own suggestions and contribute to the shaping of the Translation Issue. You will work closely with other members of the Chroma team - the editor, the poetry editor, and the publicity officer.
This is a voluntary and temporary post. We will reimburse travel costs, and there is a possibility of becoming more involved in the journal, funding permitting.
If you have any queries, please email the editor, Shaun Levin, at
Please send a CV and a brief letter about why the job interests you to:
Deadline: Monday 8th May
Thursday, April 20, 2006
The editorial staff of Mindprints, A Literary Journal, an international magazine of short fiction, poetry and art published by the Learning Assistance Program at Allan Hancock College, is proud to announce a flash fiction contest. Prize winners, 1st, 2nd and 3rd, will receive cash prizes of $50, $30 and $20 respectively, and their stories will appear in Volume VIII of the journal. Several honorable mentions will also be published. The contest theme is “Mirrors and Masks.” Please feel free to interpret this theme as broadly as you like. The word limit is 500 words. Entry fees are $5 per entry, and you may enter as many times as you wish. The contest postmark deadline is October 27, 2006.
A few things to remember:
1. All entries must be typed, double-spaced and written on one side of the paper.
2. No electronic submissions will be accepted.
3. Please enter original, unpublished work only.
4. Entries must be 500 words or less. Longer stories will be discarded.
5. There is no need for a cover letter, but we do require a cover sheet with your name, address, phone number, email address, title of story and word count. Please do not put any personal identification on the story.
6. Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) or an International Reply Coupon (IRC) for our reply.
7. Make check or money order payable to “Allan Hancock College,” and send all entries to:
Paul Fahey, editor
Mindprints, A Literary Journal
The Learning Assistance Program
Allan Hancock College
800 South College Dr.
Santa Maria, CA 93454-6399
If you have any questions, please contact Paul Fahey: email@example.com
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Every so often when I'm teaching, I have the sad realisation that one of my students has been working away for years on a novel, or a trilogy, or an opera cycle; all alone, like the mythical writer in the mythical garrett.
It's usually a disaster of mythic proportions. Not because they're not a good writer, but because for several years they've been building an edifice that nobody has looked at. They've got no idea how their structure fits into the landscape of literature. They've built it to fit themselves and they've never stopped to wonder how comfortable others will be with it.
I bare my fiction at http://www.zoetrope.com
The point of a writing community, or workshop, or critique group, or whatever it might be called - is to force a writer to expose his or her writing to the friction of readership. This is not always a pleasant experience and if you are happy to write without wishing for readers, there's no reason to endure it.
But if you want to be read, you have to bring your words and the world together at some point. Better to do that in a community of your peers than to open your creation for the first time to the fast-moving, uncaring, cynical world of publishing.
Seriously - if you want to be a writer, you have to accept criticism and remember that there is no law that says people must read your work. These lessons are best learnt in private.
If you want to write - learn to workshop.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Yesterday I ended up in a long conversation with a writer who wondered why I kept telling people what they shouldn't do. Why didn't I tell them what they should do to become good writers instead?
Well, it's not that easy. It's a bit like running a marathon: I can't tell you how to win the Boston or the London, but I can advise you to drink lots of fluids, break your shoes in before the race and NOT to eat reheated local food the night before. Negative advice has value for all, positive advice might work for one or two, but can't apply to everyone.
However, there are a few rules that are universal and the basic one is that if you want to be a writer you should sit down and write - every single day, whether you want to or not, whether it's rubbish or not. Only writing makes a writer.
Monday, April 17, 2006
Okay, for Easter we ate too much chocolate, walked along Brighton sea-front in the almost sunny but very windy weather and generally had a good time. Part of that good time came from sharing Thursday and Friday with B A Goodjohn, familiarly known as Bunny, friend, poet and now ... novelist.
Bunny lives in the States, although she was born in the UK. Her book, "Sticklebacks and Snowglobes", will be published by Permanent Press in the USA, and it's scheduled to be out in Summer 2007. It's a beautifully told, funny, sexy and very wise story about love, lust, growing up and privet hedges.
Over the next months I'm going to keep you all in touch with Bunny's progress as I nag and nudge her into more overt self-promotion than the average British writer is comfortable with: and she's generously offered to share her journey to publication with us, so watch this space!
Friday, April 14, 2006
Not much time today, because my good friend Bunny Goodjohn is here from the USA and we're spending time celebrating the acceptance of her novel (more about that on Monday) and talking, talking, talking about writing - so here's somebody else's writing wisdom to keep you going.
Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ASK questions. If I had answers I'd be a politician.
- Eugene Ionesco
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Sometimes just preparing a document for writing will trigger the writing urge
Setting the type size, font, double or single space and adding page numbers can get you past the first few minutes of blank page syndrome. Opening your notebook, checking you have the right pens etc does the same. Train yourself to prepare in this way and then to write without stopping for five minutes, even if you simply produce gibberish. Tear up or delete that work and start again. You'll find that getting the first five minutes out of the way will give you a better start the second time around - this is one of those lovely and rare occasions where you can go back and make a second first impression! Like Pavlov's dogs, you can train yourself by setting signals you will learn to obey. Teaching yourself to get the rubbish out of the way in the first few minutes of writing is a simple task which works for a lot of writers.
Good and bad writing times
For many people there are good hours, good days, even good seasons. Buy a cheap notebook and record how you feel at the beginning and end of every writing session for about six weeks. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself. When you identify rhythms in your writing you can use your ‘bad’ times to submit work, edit finished pieces, research markets, gather inspiration or do the washing up! Keep your good times for constructive writing: that way you don't exhaust yourself with non-creative tasks and then come to your fiction tired and drained.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Well, normally I don't shout until the contract, or the money, or both, are in my hands, but this is too good to stay quiet about. I've just had an acceptance notification for 'The Allicholy Tale of the Dispunged Dark Lady' - a story that was written as part of the Green Thought in an Urban Shade project.
The story will be appear in Tell Tales 3. And this is the really, really wonderful bit - the first two anthologies were packed with talent.
As the editors say: Tell Tales Volume I had work from a number of well-known authors like Matt Thorne, Niall Griffiths and Rajeev Balasubramanyam, reached #4 on the amazon.co.uk best-selling anthologies list and has remained in the Top 200 ever since, making it one of the most consistently ordered anthologies in the UK.
Tell Tales Volume II included contributions from literary heavyweights such as; Orange Futures winner Rachel Trezise, Booker Prize finalist Romesh Gunesekera, John Llewellyn Rhys Prize winner Kamila Shamsie, and Maggie Gee, who was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002.
So you're dealing with a very happy writer this morning!
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Monday, April 10, 2006
She doesn't want her name revealed but in her email she said she had a question about something she thinks stalled her writing career for several years.
She sent a short story to a small press for an anthology publication and they accepted it, and asked her if she would write another for consideration as part of another project they were running. She did, they accepted that one too, and offered her the chance to have a short story collection published by them in about 18 months time. She was as she puts it 'walking on air', believing she'd finally found a solid foundation to build her life as a writer.
About eight months later they sent her the proofs for her first story and she was shocked to see how 'basic' (her word again) it was compared to the work she'd been producing recently. So she rewrote it - adding about 1500 words and a whole new subplot - and sent it back.
That anthology appeared, with her revised story in it. But the second project seemed to have stalled. Each time she rang they told her it was on a back burner. When she finally mentioned the short story collection they said they'd get back to her. A few days later she got a 'short note' telling her they'd had a change of editorial policy and wouldn't be using her story or publishing her collection.
She had never consided whether tinkering with the first story caused this change of mind until a friend of hers sent her to my blog. Now she feels certain that it did. But, she says, the revised story was so much better! What should she have done? Allowed it to go out and represent her abilities when it was so clearly inadequate?
My answer would be yes. BB King says, 'I go on stage every night and do the best I can - sometimes my best isn't as good as I'd like it to be, but I do it anyway. That's my job.' A writer who takes their job seriously is here to write and get published. Not every piece of fiction can be stellar. Not every rock song makes it to number one. Mozart wrote concertos that are rarely played because, frankly, they are mediocre. But the fiction gets published, the song gets to number eight or seven in the charts, Mozart got paid for his crappy music and used the money to pay the rent.
The point is not to be perfect every time, but to be there - in the anthology, on the shelf, in people's minds when they are looking for a writer to work with. They can't choose you if they've never read your work, and it's better to have a story out there that you know you could improve given a chance, than no story at all.
Friday, April 07, 2006
I can't think of a greater solitary pleasure than getting galley proofs through the post. It's the precursor to 'the book' or 'the magazine' and it validates the writer as a 'real' professional. Working through galleys is something I love to do - although it's nitpicking effort and galleys are often poorly printed or copied, and the print is tiny - it's a chance to give final polish to my work.
I also read galleys for other people. And one client is a published novelist who uses me not because she's too busy, or too lazy, to proof her own galleys but because she can't resist 'improving' her story. And her behaviour is a cautionary tale to all new and emerging writers.
Thinking like a writer
Let me put it this way. The editor chose the story you sent them. They liked it. They offered to publish it. You agreed. Then, at some point down the line, you saw ways to make the story better. Maybe this was when you got galleys, maybe just before it went online, when they asked you to check html proofs, maybe even earlier, when you got the contract. So you suggested some changes to them, didn't you? Of course you did.
Thinking like an editor
This is how it feels to an editor when a writer starts to suggest substantive changes to a piece of work that's been accepted for publication. You sit down at the table. You order a meal. The waiter brings it. It's good! Halfway through the dish, he whisks the plate away and returns with a similar looking plate, but full where yours had been half-eaten. 'The chef says that he thinks you'll prefer this one,' he says. 'Because he's improved the recipe since you placed your order.' You gaze at the heaped plate, knowing that you've already eaten a good proportion of a perfectly nice meal, and you feel the first twinges of indigestion: you can't eat this much! You also feel a little slighted - why didn't you get served the really good meal the first time around?
Being a professional with edits and proofs
So if you see ways to 'improve' your story and they require more than a couple of word changes, and the re-siting of some punctuation, stop and think. Maybe the editor liked the story because it was a bit rough-hewn? Maybe your improvements will turn it into something the editor isn't as keen on? Even if she or she does like it, you're suggesting:
- you didn't send your best work the first time
- you may be a prima donna to work with
- you know better than the editor.
So if you decide to suggest substantive 'improvements' to a piece of work, please proceed with care. You can always make those alterations and look for a market that accepts reprints to take the story for a second run. Of course every writer has the 'right' to suggest changes. Just remember every editor also has the 'right' to reject your work if he or she thinks you're going to be a difficult colleague. If you aim to make a living from fiction, learn to be brave about ignoring flaws that you spot in already accepted work and just aim to do better in future.
Back to my novelist - she has been known to remove whole chapters of her work and submit newly written ones at the galley stage! Her agent gets around the problem by not letting her see the galleys. She agrees to this (with some dubiety, I have to say) and she isn't allowed to contact me to talk about the proofs, it all goes through the agent. And do you know what? I change less than 0.3% of the galleys and when she gets the final printed book she's always perfectly happy with it.
Be aware that the desire to perfect work is often about the writer and his or her doubts, not about the work and its quality. My novelist finds it hard to let go of her stories, but when she does, she's thrilled with the outcome.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Voice is what all writers of literary fiction are supposed to strive for: that distinctive, 'hooky' element of writing that gives personality to the prose, rather than the protagonist.
Appropriation of voice is a politically correct term that says certain people aren't allowed to write in the voice of certain other people. Like, for example, white people writing as black people, or healthy, well-educated men writing as drug addicts. The point should be about truth - that we shouldn't pretend a thing is true when it isn't: clearly that's lying whether it's done face to face or on a page and it fails a whole number of tests from honesty to the Trade Descriptions Act. If I buy a memoir by a teenage prostitute who sells his body for crack cocaine, I have every right to be refunded if it turns out the 'true history' was written by a middle aged woman from Milton Keynes.
Sadly, this silly pronouncement about appropriation of voice extends to fiction too. I am not the only writer who's had nasty emails or letters about fiction that extended beyond my own white female persona, but others are not as able to talk about it. A church congregation in South London wrote to me complaining that one of my stories portrayed black male youth in a bad light and that - anyway- I had no 'right' to present my fiction in the voice of a black male because I'd 'stolen' an identity.
This is a downright silly idea. The list of great books that would never have been published on this basis includes Madame Bovary (a man writing as a woman) , The White Hotel (a man writing as a woman who experienced the Holocaust) and The Sound and The Fury (a white man writing as three other white men, one of them a mentally handicapped boy, and a black man), and of course we couldn't have Robinson Crusoe becuase Daniel Defoe was not actually himself shipwrecked, or Moll Flanders, because he wasn't a female prostitute either.
The ultimate absurdity of this 'appropriation of voice' edict is that nobody could write science fiction unless they were aliens, or ghost stories unless they were dead.
A writer of fiction should stand or fall by the quality of their fiction. If I can convince you I'm a young black man, then that's all that matters. I'm not claiming to be a reporter - fiction isn't about 'telling it like it is' regardless of all the people who claim exactly that. Fiction is about telling a good story - if that happens to illuminate truth along the way it's a bonus, but it's not the purpose of the art.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Writer's Block 2: What if you are at a plot impasse or you can’t come up with the next paragraph?
Backtrack to a place where the writing was going well and try to spot where it took a wrong turn. Just rearranging a few sentences sometimes gets you going again. Once you realise the problem, you can work to fix it.
Many established writers leave a page, paragraph or even a sentence unfinished at the end of a writing day. Then they can pick up the thread the next day in the very thick of the action instead of having to get up to speed by kick-starting a story you've allowed to run down to a low ebb.
Another method to erase the fear of failure is to do something else. Try to recharge yourself with images from magazines that fit the story you are working on, or smells (for a Caribbean story go and peel a banana; for a Christmas story, sniff pine toilet cleaner!) or visit a location that fits with your fiction. It will kick-start your creativity in a pleasant way, instead of beating yourself up about your 'failure'.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
I know I said I was going to write about writer's block - but that would be soooo boring if I did it day after day!
So instead I'm going to ponder.
Do people send you books? People send me books, from time to time, and I'm always very grateful. If they are books for review, then I review them (obviously, you might think, but you'd be amazed how many supposed reviewers never actually write the review they promised the author/editor) but what - I wonder - do people expect when they just send me a book?
I write back and say thank you, of course. But are they expecting me to comment on the book, or laud it to my friends, or what? I always feel a little gauche and unsure how to respond.
I have a rule about unpublished fiction, which is if people I know send it to me, I critique it and send it back (only once for free, mind you, after that they can pay my going rate). If strangers send it to me I offer them a quotation for editing and critiquing. I suspect this has cost me acquaintences over the years, but I'm not in the business of boosting people's egos - I'm in the business of improving prose (mine and others) and I'm simply not interested in making nice about writing. Making nice isn't enough - making better is.
Do other writers get sent books that they haven't solicited? If so, what do you do about them?
Monday, April 03, 2006
BEATING WRITER'S BLOCK 1 - Dealing with panic on sitting down to write
Why do we fear the whiteness of a blank page?
For many reasons:
- Because the process of writing is mysterious.
- Because we're not sure where the ideas come from: just as an idea springs to life from nowhere, so might it disappear.
- Because we believe the process requires some powerful and untameable magic called inspiration.
However, there are proven ways to overcome page fright forever - if you're prepared to consider that writing is a task like any other, not an arcane process that requires smoke, mirrors and invoctions of the muse. Different techniques work for different writers, so keep trying until you find one that does the trick.
1 - First, take a deep breath and clear your mind. Then recall what you were going to write about when you sat down.
2 - An outline of your idea can keep you calm. Write a sentence describing the key characters and a sentence for every major plot development. If you do this even for the shortest story, it holds the material in place, like a peg that clips a dainty handkerchief to a washing line. Mind mapping can help too - in fact, creating a map of your story can be a superb way to 'inspire' yourself to add new elements
3 – Never stop to think about titles – instead use the Dickensian system. Dickens had to title his chapters not as though they would appear in a novel but for readers of serials in magazines. As a result, he tended to list all the things that were going to happen and explain how they related to what had happened before. This meant readers could instantly locate their place in the storyline and were reminded about former plotlines that he was about to develop. Here's an example for a horror story: “a short tale about a man whose life is blighted by discovering he can hear the thoughts of rats and how he learns of their lives from passing a dustbin, using the tube and eating in a posh restaurant. Wherein we discover how little regard rats have for humanity and how our hero commits suicide by eating rat poison.” If you do it like this the entire story is encapsulated in the work in progress line and you can’t forget what you were going to write.
Next time ... how to cope when your writing hits a plot impasse.