Sunday, 19 January 2014

Change of perspective

A friend sent me photos of his art work last week. He is, like me, in his mid-thirties. (OK, past the exact middle, but who's counting?) His art work was good. There was a sketch of a woman that I especially liked, although it was instantly clear that something was wrong with her arms. He hadn't quite got them right.

I had two thoughts about that. The first was, wow, with a bit of support, and someone to show him what's wrong and how to fix it, he could really be good at this. The second was, what a shame he didn't know he wanted to do this, and work on it when he was fresh from school. If he'd perfected his technique back then, and spent the next twenty years improving and practising, just think how polished he'd be by now.

Then in a rush, I realised how that applies to me. I thought of all the time wasted because someone knocked my confidence when I was seventeen. I thought of the modules I took alongside my BEd - Journalism and Short Story - which I passed, but didn't appreciate and exploit the way I ought to have, if I'd taken them seriously. I must've been sleep-walking through life not to spot the opportunity I had there, but I'm a late developer. I simply didn't realise that these could really be options for me.

But the good thing is, I'm only in my mid-thirties (or thereabouts), as is my friend. It's not too late to learn, and we still both stand a chance of having another twenty years to polish our arts...and then a few spare years to rest on our laurels...?!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Year of opportunities

So here are my goals for 2014.

I've been inspired by the encouraging feature in Writers' Forum, (issue #147) where Janie and Cass Jackson suggested embracing the key word 'opportunity' this January. In fact, I love the nascent possibility in it so much, that I'm adopting that as my first goal. It's hopelessly woolly, of course - you can't measure if you've achieved it; it's not specific. But perhaps that's why it suits me - that, and the fact that I can apply it across my whole life, not just to my writing. So this year, I'm going to be grasping opportunities - trying to say yes to anything I can, being brave about putting my work out there, meeting new people - and making new opportunities for myself, too.

I'd only just decided that when an email pinged into my inbox, suggesting I might like to enter a local short story competition (Belper Short Story competition if you would like to enter). I tried not to suck air over my teeth at the entry cost, which seems steep for the size of the prize, and reminded myself that it's an opportunity.

My second goal is about control. I've felt out of control last year - at the mercy of Fate or 'whatever means the good' - but just like our characters, it's time I stopped reacting to things happening to me, and got on with making thing happen. (This links beautifully with my first goal, doesn't it? Almost like I planned it to...!) This will involve things like getting myself to bed early, so I stand a chance of getting enough sleep. It involves eating healthily, and trying to tackle house maintenance/decor issues as they arise, rather than getting snowed under by them.  (I'm not the sort of person who thinks well amid chaos. My thinking has definitely suffered since I became a mother.)

From a writing point of view, I'm going to set bite-sized goals to give myself control of my writing life. I think setting deadlines will be key for me, but as a first step, I'm going to work to a weekly word count to start rattling out the first draft of my next novel. I probably only write for three days a week (could I squeeze more in..?) but if I think I can write 1000 words a day, a target of 3000 words a week isn't very impressive. But if I made it 5000, would that be too aspirational? I'm going to set a target of 3000 for next week, then alter it if it isn't right. They're my goals, after all, and the purpose is not to handcuff myself in a legally binding contract, but to help to focus myself and increase my productivity and the quality of my work. They need to work for me, not me work for them...

I have high hopes for this year!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Done it!

My final story of the year has been submitted. I am metaphorically dancing round the room! (Am too tired to really dance.) The only thing that could make this any better would be to actually win...

I'm proud of this latest submission. After a shaky start with it, and feeling uninspired, I became quite excited, and it felt good when I re-read it. I asked a critical friend for feedback. I respect his opinions and while he's tactful, he's honest. He apologised for picking it to pieces, when actually the things he'd mentioned were mostly things I'd had qualms about. It's always invaluable to have a reader who will point out when your meaning is unclear, too, so I appreciated his input. But the thing I liked best about his feedback was that when he got to the slight twist I'd slipped in, he had commented in the margin, "I got a tingle down my spine when I read this and saw that things weren't as they seemed." I love that. I love knowing that something I wrote created that response, even if it was only in one reader. That spark of encouragement is worth a lot to me.
Mmmm.....Abigail's finest...

I'm ready now to re-evaluate and make my goals for 2014. One thing I want to do is plan to have writing time, and use it wisely. This week I made the mistake of trying to multi-task by making dinner while writing one afternoon. I think you can see dinner wasn't an outright success, but I think the words baked better...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

A good hard look in the mirror

I had a minute to myself the other day, and skim read a couple of my failed stories, one of which I'd been quite proud of, and had sent for a critique.

I hated the way it read. Without the glowing halo of creation to gild it, it was clunky and stilted. I sounded pretentious and insincere.

I need to read through them all, and be hard and honest with myself - but not until the final one is submitted. I'm not sure that feeling discouraged would be the best way to psyche myself up to finishing that.

There will be a lot to learn.

What strikes me first and most obviously is that my voice sounds unnatural and self-conscious. It makes it hard to sink into the stories. Perhaps this is why I like writing novel length stories rather than shorts - because it gives me chance to lose myself.

The whole point of my challenge was to learn, though. So I'm going to have to study my work critically, and apply what I learn to improve myself. Wouldn't it be great if you could improve without ever having to face up to flaws? I'll have to make an effort to evaluate my stories as I would with a child at school, and make sure to notice a few positives to balance things out!

Thursday, 2 January 2014


We all need focus in our lives, and I do more than most. It's not good when you start changing a nappy, divert to putting away Christmas decorations, finish up the nappy, phone the garage while emptying the dishwasher and then write a cheque for the council tax while you're cleaning your teeth - so much potential for catastrophe. There's certainly never going to be writing time.

My writing goal last year was my year of stories, which is not quite complete. The closing date for my final story is the 15th January, and so far that story is still in first draft state, and I doubt I'll get to it now until the children are back at school on the 6th (although that's also the day the decorator comes in to tackle my front room which hasn't been decorated yet - and we bought this house eight years ago).

However, I think I'm on track to hit my goal, and I do believe I've learnt a lot. But I'm really looking forward to tackling a novel again, and I have one half planned in my head, and some of the characters sketched out - nearly ready to start fabricating, in fact.

So perhaps I should aim to finish a first draft of that this year. Or perhaps I should give myself a broader scope - to make it to a writing group three or four times this year? Or to attend a festival or two? Or perhaps to write three times a week....which would allow me to explore other writing avenues that emerge during the year...?

I don't feel as if I'm being very ambitious here, but 2013 has taken a lot out of me on a personal level, and I think it has made me wary of planning too much - but nor do I want to lose that focus, in case I fail to achieve anything. So I'm going to cheat, and plan a goal after the 15th, when last year's goal is complete. Who says we can only start things on the 1st of January?

If anyone has any fabulous writing goals I could borrow, please share them!