Rejected, but not Neglected

I’ve been invited to appear on a new podcast called Story Circle Jerk. It was started by my pal Kai Durkin to showcase short stories and music, either self-written or from others. We’ll be recording our episode at the end of the month, giving me a deadline to prepare material.

One part of my appearance will be an interview about my open-mike evenings. I’ll have to do some preparation for this, so I cover the all main points without overloading the listeners with information.

The other part will involve me reading one of my own short stories. The one I immediately reached for was a piece called Him, in which the narrator talks about seeing his life replayed through his own eyes after his death. I wrote this in 2014, with its most recent revision dated 2018.

Between these dates, the story was rejected by six different publishers. However, I’ve also read it to an audience on a number of occasions during that time; I deliver it in a slow and stark tone, inspired by Salman Rushdie reading Concerning The Bodyguard by Donald Barthleme. As such, it seems to work better on stage than on the page so I still have faith in it.

The story will need to be revised a little. The way I start the process is by reading it out loud, not to an audience, but to myself. If it sounds excessively wordy, or if I find myself unable to follow a plot point, it needs to be revised. This particular piece, however, shouldn’t need too much changing for Story Circle Jerk.

Another podcast I can recommend is The Beans Podcast, run by three friends. Be advised that it’s not specifically about writing, but covers many topics, from advice columns to caffeine to nuclear bombs.

Let’s be Clear

Last week, I went to a music and poetry event where a friend was performing. I arrived at about 7:15pm, giving me 15 minutes to find a good seat and to buy a drink.

However, there had been no indication in the event listing that the show actually began at 8pm, and that 7:30pm had been when the doors opened. Conversely, if I’d treated 7:30pm as the ‘doors open’ time, there’s a chance I would have missed the start of the show.

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this ambiguity, so when I’m listing my own events, I specify when the doors open and when the show actually begins. It doesn’t stop people being late, but it signals that they’ll miss part of the event if they arrive after the stated time.

At least at the aforementioned poetry evening, the performers spoke into the microphone, which brings me to my second pet hate of this entry: those who don’t use it, or use it incorrectly.

Where a working microphone is provided, always speak into it, as it’s usually there for a reason.

We bought a PA system for our open-mike night because we used to meet in a noisy pub. But even where there is minimal background noise, anyone with hearing difficulties might not be able to make out what you’re saying without amplification. Even among an audience with good hearing, taking away the amplification can mean they miss the beginning of what you tell them.

In a larger venue such as a theatre, hearing aid users can usually tap into the induction loop, which relies on microphone use, so they might not be able to hear you at all without one.

Where amplification is used, be sure to keep your mouth a consistent distance from the microphone – especially if it’s hand-held – or the sound can come and go in a distracting manner. Also be aware that some of them need you to speak into one side rather than the top.

In a nutshell, to be figuratively and literally clear:

  • Be specific about when your gig starts
  • Use a microphone where one is provided

Carving Out the Time to Write – and to Read

On Christmas Eve, we explored the theory that 10,000 hours of quality practice can make someone an expert in a given field.

It’s a concept I’m still thinking about five weeks on, so I’ve been conducting a couple of unscientific experiments about increasing the time available for writing – and indeed reading, which is almost as important for an author.

As many mornings as possible, I go for a half-hour walk around the local park. I’m also a frequent radio listener, so I often take my pocket-sized DAB receiver with me. I use it when I walk other places, and occasionally at work when it’s quiet.

For five weeks, I’ve replaced that radio listening with educational podcasts; the subjects covered have not been writing-related, as I’m already familar with that.

Similary, I also have two 15-minute breaks per day. To increase my reading time, I’ve started setting my watch to beep after ten minutes, during which time I concentrate on my book. When time is up, I then finish at the next convenient break, usually the end of the current paragraph or page.

By doing this consistently, I’ve now clocked up an estimated 100 hours of learning in just over a month: that’s already one percent of the 10,000 aformentioned hours.

If I were a beginner writer, I could replace the walks with audiobooks, and replace the reading with writing, and I’d be on my way to becoming better at what I enjoy. There is usually time to be carved out if you look for it.

Time and Motion

I’ve recently been placing a lot of effort into my Fun a Day project, which I talked about last month. It’s now been dubbed Junkuary, as it makes use of recycled materials.

This means that my writing has taken a back seat as I’ve made an effort to step away from using words and focus on visual art. However, this is only temporary, and I’ll go back to writing shortly.

Head over to my Instagram page to see what’s happening, and I’ll catch you here next week for more talk of prose and poetry.

Fixing the Triolet

I tried to bring you this entry last week. However, I was writing on a mobile device instead of a PC because of time constraints, and the poetry wouldn’t format properly. As such, I’ve now made the necessary corrections and presented the entry to you as it should have been.

Most of my poetry comes out as free verse, but every so often, I find myself writing to a particular form. One of these is the triolet.

The triolet is an eight-line verse with the first line repeated as lines 4 and 7, while the second line is repeated as the eighth. Here’s my piece Speed Limit, which was published about five years ago:

Don’t follow the speed limit sign
Instead swap your stroll for a run
Always incline, never decline
Don’t follow the speed limit sign
It doesn’t all end with a nine
Stop fretting how late you’ve begun
Don’t follow the speed limit sign
Instead swap your stroll for a run

However, while the form was definitely correct, there was something about the order of the lines that was bothering me. Only in the last month or so have I been able to place my finger on the problem.

Regardless of whether you’re writing in free verse or using a form, it’s conventional to start and end with your strongest lines, as readers pay most attention to these: they’re hooked from the start, while the last thought leaves an impact.

But the traditional triolet also makes the second line act as an ending, and it’s difficult to make that as equally strong as without overshadowing the first line.

My solution was to vary the form by inverting the last two lines. Grammatically, it can be more difficult to make the lines flow when swapped around, but it means a strong opening can also be reused for that all-important final line. If I were writing Speed Limit today, it would probably look like this:

Don’t follow the speed limit sign
Instead swap your stroll for a run
Always incline, never decline
Don’t follow the speed limit sign
It doesn’t all end with a nine
Stop fretting how late you’ve begun
Instead swap your stroll for a run
Don’t follow the speed limit sign

Ready, Get Set, Stop

On this blog, I’ve been talking about Fun a Day Dundee, a project where artists and other creative sorts are encouraged to work on ‘something fun’ during January. For those who make a living from their art, this is traditionally a slow month after the chaos of Christmas.

For my previous two FADD projects, I’ve taken the opportunity to undertake writing projects. I’ve happily updated my Instagram page each day showing draft work, with a view to improving it at a later stage.

I’m at a point with writing where I don’t mind showing people half-done work. But I plan to use FADD to step away from writing and attempt something new, and I don’t want to reveal my pieces before I’m ready.

Nonetheless, there’s no requirement to show works in progress, and I will keep Instagram updated with something relevant to the project each day.

I also have a handwritten diary to log my process and progress, so when I’m ready to show my work, the details will be there.