How Do You Find the Time to Write?

I’m asked this question at every workshop, class or panel discussion I’ve ever given… and it’s a tough one. How do you give advice on something like this when you know nothing about a person’s circumstances? I’ll give it a go here, but would love to hear from you about how you find time to write in between all your other responsibilities.

If you love to write and it’s a part of who you are, then it’s important. It’s essential. So make it part of your ‘self-care’ (I think that phrase is replacing ‘me-time’. Even if only 10 minutes a day, in your lunch break, on your commute, first thing in the morning; sit down and write. Just write. Practice, REGULAR practice, makes perfect. Trust me, a little every day soon mounts up. It’s the habit that makes the difference.

Try your hand at short stories, or even flash fiction, that way you will feel accomplished at finishing a piece (and if anyone tells you that writing short pieces is a cop out tell them to f@#$ off!). You will hone your skills and writing effective, descriptive pieces in few words is a great skill.

Take a class. There are lots of creative writing classes out there, find one that suits your schedule, budget and talents. You’ll get guidance, feedback and support and make new writing friends.

Join (or start) a writers group where you have to commit to submitting work each month and giving and receiving constructive feedback. This can be a great support and impetus to get writing!

It’s not always easy to find the time to write, but it’s important to you so ask for support from those nearest and dearest to you. We need to hear each other’s stories. We need your story. So get writing!

Anthony Confesses…

I dreamt that a polar bear was fast asleep in my room. Like a dog, curled up in the corner on a blanket, except it was huge and dangerous. It was snoring.

I asked my wife to get rid of it and she said, no.

And I said, I’m not sleeping in there, it’s a killer.

And she said, exactly, do you really want to wake a sleeping polar bear and kick it out of the house.

No, I said and got into bed.

I’m still trying to figure out what the dream meant as I’m not married and have never had a dog or met a polar bear.

New Year Revolution – Ending the Toxic Edit

Happy New Year!

Have you made any resolutions? I haven’t, instead I’ve decided on a revolution. I am going to like myself, to give myself permission to be myself. To not navigate my life trying to please everyone else. I’m going to take the blocks off, stop holding back, trying to be liked, shape-shifting, keening, silencing and filtering myself, I’m going let it go. It’s a radical act in a world that profits from our self-hatred and silence. But even as I write this I find myself questioning every sentence, every thought. I edit and reedit – but not for clarity or expression, but because the habit of mistrust in myself is hard wired in. I am a toxic editor of my own thoughts, opinions, questions and story.

There was version of this where I consider how being told I was like marmite – you either love me or hate me – has helped shape who I am, but thought that was too confessional. But not as confessional as telling the moments of silencing that accumulate and assemble a gag over my mouth – like when I was told to shut up as a little girl because the telly was on, or that my accent was too common, or the words I used pretentious and above my station, or how I’ve been throttled and punched to shut me up, or just belittled and laughed at or interrupted or told I was wrong before I finished speaking when actually I was right, or how I’ve been held down and violated because I deserved it, as I was not pleasing enough. Or how when I told someone I’d been hurt, they said, ‘You shouldn’t have been such a slut then.’ Or how when someone I loved died some else said, ‘I wish it had been you instead.’ And I read this back and feel sick at my self-pity, but I’ll leave it here anyway.

Another idea was making a poem out the ideas, voicing a nameless ‘she’, because then it speaks to more than just me, but that is cowardly, I decided, because I would be hiding behind the poem.

Another considered how much of this is gendered, how women are conditioned to please by social norms or worse, by threats and actual violence. But I was afraid of the anonymous haters on the internet. Coward, that’s me.

I had a strong role model. It isn’t as if I come from a family of meek and mild women, the opposite in fact. My grandmother would say, ‘I speak as I find and if you don’t like it tough.’ But sometimes she was cruel, and I don’t want to hurt, only to stop silencing and hurting myself.

I have silenced myself, made myself smaller – to fit, to please, to protect myself from hurt, from rejection. Because I am ashamed, ashamed of who I am, what happened to me and what I did to survive.

This isn’t easy. But, here it is, a beginning. A revolution. Starting small. Send emails that aren’t rewritten a dozen times to ensure a breezy inoffensive tone. Trust that common courtesy and manners are enough. I will speak up when I am hungry, or thirsty, or bored, or in pain, or frustrated and angry or need the bloody loo. I will say no. I will say yes. I will still question myself. But bit by bit, word by word, I’ll learn and help others to do the same.

 

 

Writing Crime

Driving home from a research mission yesterday I heard Peter Robinson discuss his new novel, When the Music’s Over with Samira Ahmed on Radio 4’s Front Row. (I haven’t read the book yet) As I’m sure you know, Robinson is a very successful crime writer and clearly puts a lot of thought into his subject and characters. It was interesting to hear him speak about how writing about the issues and subject of his novels, helps him understand them differently. He also discussed how he tries to ‘develop the victim characters’ and give them a voice. This is particularly interesting to me, as in writing a ‘crime’ story I want to subvert the usual conservative function of the crime novel (you can read more on idealogical complicity in crime fiction here).

But he went on to say, that he avoids talking to people about their experiences as victims of crime, preferring to rely on media reports and his imagination. I wonder if it’s possible to give a voice to victims if he hasn’t heard their story? Is it possible for a white, older man to imagine what it’s like to a female victim of violence and sexual crime, or even to imagine how it feels to live your life with the pervasive fear of potential assault informing all your choices and actions. Maybe he can, the imagination is a powerful thing.

Ahmed mentioned the discussions about extreme violence towards women in crime TV and literature, and that she felt uncomfortable about the description of the victim in the opening scene of Robinson’s new book, she asked if he worries about adding to the ‘exploitative treatment of crime’ even when trying to deal with difficult subjects. Robinson said, ‘No, I never do worry about that because I don’t think that on the whole I do it very much….’

Perhaps he should worry, perhaps all writers should. Now I know it’s not a new argument that media and culture shapes our society, our identities and our sense of the possibilities and choices available to us. But I think it’s important to consider if crime novels and TV are reflecting society, and in writing about crimes against women, does this give a ‘voice’ to the victims and create the possibility for  empathy and understanding? Or does it confirm and perpetuate the idea that women are always victims and in danger? That we need to stay inside to be safe? (where we’re actually more at risk…)

Government statistics tell us, ‘Overall, a greater proportion of men were victims of BCS personal crime than women. While men were at increased risk of violence, women were more at risk of experiencing theft from the person and intimate violence’ (BCS 2009/10).

It’s time for change, and novels that unsettle the status quo. Let’s do it.

 

 

Thoughts on Editing…

I’m still editing my next novel, So the Doves… of course.

Editing is the writing, all writing is rewriting. Right?

And you think it would be easier than writing the first draft. Shouldn’t it? The material is already there, you aren’t having to create a new world, new characters with complexities and drives and frailties and strengths. You’re not navigating the plot or wondering how to finish.

By now you’re polishing and smoothing, getting rid of excess, honing the language, teasing out the key dynamics of the scenes… aren’t you?

Excimgres-1ept I’m not. I’m tinkering. I’m wrangling sentences till they dry and crumble. I’m beginning to hate my novel. I can’t see it clearly, and I feel lost in all the words. I’m too close. I read other authors and hold their work up as mirror against my own… and the reflection isn’t pretty. At all.

I want to give up.

 

Talking to other writers, my students and academics, I know I’m not alone here.

So what to do?

  • Take a break from it. Put it away, for at least a month.
  • Read, walk, walk TV, think, laugh. Live.
  • Don’t panic!
  • Share your work with trusted peers (even if you have a wonderful editor, like I have, I still like to get thoughts and constructive feedback from readers I trust and respect)
  • Print it out and read it through from start to finish. Don’t be tempted to start picking at it piecemeal.
  • Does it work as a whole? Any plot/structure problems to work on? Fix those first.
  • Read your feedback from peers/editor. Does it resonate? What will you incorporate into your edit?
  • Now open the doc, and start the edit – start on the big stuff (copy editing comes last)
  • Don’t compare your work to anyone else’s, you’ll feel miserable (or the opposite, cocky, which is worse) and it’s of no use to you now. This is your work, so it should be different.
  • Put it away again. Follow point 2. Let it rest.
  • Re-read..
  • How is it? I’m willing to bet it’s much better than you think…
  • But don’t be disheartened if you need to edit again, and again.
  • Writing is re-writing…
  • DON’T GIVE UP!

Onwards! Let me know how you get on…

Thoughts please…

So, the flash fiction challenge has finished having had some amazing (and I don’t say that lightly) stories shared with us all.

My questions are – was it helpful sparking inspiration? Did you enjoy it? Did enjoy reading the pieces?

And the main one – Shall we do it again soon? Different prompts etc?

Look out for the final pieces from the flash fiction challenge over the next few days. I’ll be featuring a chosen story and author from each of the challenges. You won’t be disappointed!

Have a good’un x

Flash Fiction Challenge #5

You’ve made it to the end of our challenge… How are you doing? Nailed it? Let’s see…

25 words please. TWENTY FIVE words only.

Your prompt? Four words you should never say…

Points to remember –

Make every word count. Carefully chosen details can convey more than long descriptions. Make your title pull its weight!

Post your piece with title and your name/pen name in the comments section

If you would like to offer feedback to other writer’s – do so respectfully.

Make sure I can contact you at the end of the challenge if you’d like your work promoted here.

Deadline for posts is the 28th of June

Flash Fiction Challenge #3

Getting good at this, huh? Come on then…

Let’s make this a real challenge… 100 words please. ONE HUNDRED words only.

Your prompt? He/She/They couldn’t remember the last thing said, but….

Points to remember –

Make every word count. Carefully chosen details can convey more than long descriptions. Make your title pull its weight!

Post your piece with title and your name/pen name in the comments section

If you would like to offer feedback to other writer’s – do so respectfully.

Make sure I can contact you at the end of the challenge if you’d like your work promoted here.

Deadline for posts is the 24th of JUNE

Flash Fiction Challenge #2

Shall we go again? Feeling warmed up, limber and ready for action?

OK, 250 words please. TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY words only.

Your prompt? No one should feel this happy…

Points to remember –

Make every word count. Carefully chosen details can convey more than long descriptions. Make your title pull its weight!

Post your piece with title and your name/pen name in the comments section

If you would like to offer feedback to other writer’s – do so respectfully.

Make sure I can contact you at the end of the challenge if you’d like your work promoted here.

Deadline for posts is the 21st of JUNE

Athens!

Just back from the glorious heat of Athens… a city dense with history and current political strife… In contrast, I was teaching a Flash Fiction course for KWS and the British Council, a style of literature that relies on brevity, and a light touch. I was spoilt by a week of great students, visits to the Acropolis, Poseidon’s Temple in Sounio and Aegina. I feasted, I read, I wrote, I walked… more to come from the writing… and discussed Flash Fiction.

Here are my top tips for writing Flash or Micro Fiction –

Every word counts.. so choose carefully, make every word pull its weight, either by suggestion, connotation or by cutting qualifiers or excessive adjectives/descriptors.

Begin mid-scene, in media res, with action or dialogue. Hit the ground running.

Don’t end on a punchline or revelation, unless you’re writing a joke… let the story unfold, meander and reveal itself in the mind of your reader…

Your title should add to the narrative.

Details are key; reveal character, place, emotional dynamics etc by using carefully chosen details that are evocative, remember it’s all about connotation.

All the above also applies to longer fiction!