From Scratch

I haven’t had much time to pull this entry together, but working quickly has very much been the theme of this weekend.

The Netherbow Theatre at the Scottish Storytelling Centre
The Netherbow Theatre at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

I attended a workshop run by poets Jenny Lindsay and Rachel McCrum at the Scottish Storytelling Centre (SSC), aimed at those who have a spoken word show either already written or at the draft stage.

On the Saturday, we discussed such topics as: how the show might be mapped out, technical considerations, and how to attract funding. We were also invited to try a number of physical movement exercises and experiment with using the space.

The next day, the group put together a show from scratch, making sure the running order flowed, discussing lighting requirements with a technician, and ultimately performing our best pieces in the custom-built Netherbow Theatre at the SSC.

I found the group a joy to work with. Jenny and Rachel pointed out there were no ‘egos’ and that we all took each others’ ideas on board. The final show went incredibly well. I usually find among a group of writers that I like many of the others but there’s one whose work I especially admire. This weekend, I found that person and let them know.

As I begin the week, I’m excited to take my project to the next stage, and I’m looking forward to keeping up with some of the other participants.

Thinking of Santa in Summer

Ask writers what they dislike most about the process and the issue of time restraints will probably appear near the top of the list. There’s a final date to enter writing competitions, there are deadlines when your work is accepted and needs to be edited, there are book launches to attend when you’re finally in print, and so forth.

An extract from my Moleskine diary
An extract from my Moleskine diary

Although lead times in publishing can be weeks or even months, the deadline can still creep up on you before you know it. Right now, it’s half-past July, so publishers will be looking for Christmas material. Similarly, they’ll be planning for Easter by the time Halloween comes around. The savvy writer is thinking of Santa in summer.

A sense of timing is also important in the shorter term. On many occasions, I’ve turned up at events at the time specified, only to find that’s when the doors open, not when it begins.

Tonight, I’m running Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers, and I make it clear that the doors open at 6:30pm for the readings to begin at 7pm. There are still occasional latecomers, and they’re welcome to join us, but they know they’ll miss some of the readings. Conversely, the Dundee & Angus NaNoWriMo region meets up every week, whether or not the official contest is happening. An e-mail and a Facebook post are made several days in advance, and each one states that members are welcome to drop in and out at any time.

Of course, it can be just as important to state as early as possible when you won’t be able to make it. I have this situation in August; I’ve written a piece to respond to an artwork, but I had a prior commitment the same night. In this instance, I’m aiming to arrange for someone else to present the piece, which will allow me to keep the other commitment.

One tool I find incredibly useful is a Moleskine diary. The strongest advantage I find over an electronic diary is that much more information can be displayed at the same time. The physical act of writing out deadlines and appointments also helps to secure it in my head. That includes making my Monday blog entries on time.

Serving Your 10,000 Hours

There’s a much-quoted theory that 10,000 hours of quality practice can make you an expert in anything. While the notion of becoming an expert by this method has been debated for nearly 25 years, it is true that quality practice makes you better at what you do.

If you’re a long-term reader – and there must be one or two of you out there – you know I’m upfront about not being a lifelong writer. I started to pen fiction seven years ago at the age of 26; my last creative writing before then was done at high school, at which time I was more interested in music and computing. I’d entered my thirties before I felt comfortable calling myself a poet.

Creative writing class-fine arts center (40269...
Creative writing class-fine arts center (402690951) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the purposes of this entry, let’s convert the 10,000-hour theory to more manageable figures. It’s near-impossible to calculate accurately, but let’s say I practised my writing for two hours every day. If we enter that into the 10,000 Hours Calculator, it gives me a figure of 13.7 years. Eight hours devoted to my field per day brings that down to 3.4 years.

By this measure, I’m not convinced I’ve reached 10,000 hours yet, but does it matter?

As I started relatively late, I used to believe I’d forever be catching up with more established writers. These days, however, I lean toward the view that once you’ve practised for a certain length of time, the gap begins to close. The writer who’s done it for two years will know far more than the one who started 12 months previously. Yet when you’ve written for five years, say, you’ll probably have more in common with someone who’s written for 20 years than two.

The message here, of course, is not to stop practising once you’ve been at it for two decades. On the contrary, the more a relative newbie learns, the narrower the gulf will be between their knowledge and those with more experience. Every day is a schoolday.

Points of View

This week, I’ve been so pushed for time that I couldn’t pull together a full entry. Instead, here are a couple of photos.

This first one is my writing area. There are better views from other windows, but it is a great place to stand and observe people and traffic. There is a seat in the room, but it’s not in front of the PC. I prefer to stand while I write.

The second is my bookshelf. I don’t have a TV here, so this is the focus of my living room. I’ve yet to read most of them, but they’re there for when the occasion arises.