This week, I’ve had a conglomeration of events, most of which weren’t related to writing. Unfortunately, these have left me no time to construct a full entry, but nor do I want to throw together a substandard post.
Instead, I’m going to encourage you to make use of the time you would have spent reading this entry. Perhaps edit a poem, perhaps plan your diary for the week, perhaps send that e-mail you’ve been drafting.
Whatever you do, make it productive, and I’ll catch you back here next week.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted her thoughts on LiveJournal about creativity and how she sometimes doesn’t feel as though her imaginative endeavours are noteworthy.
I found it oddly difficult to leave a comment under the entry. I do consider this friend to be creative, particularly in the way she bonds with people she knows well. Yet I’m surrounded by amazing writers, painters, dancers and so forth, and it’s rare to hear the word ‘creativity’ or variations thereof. I reckon that’s because we treat our chosen artistic fields as part of our daily lives, not something we make time for once our day-to-day work is complete.
The C-bomb does pop up from time to time, however.
For the first time, I attended an event on Tuesday called Make / Share, in which people from different disciplines talk on a specified theme; this month, it was ‘Creativity and self-care’. Had it not been for someone else raising my interest, I probably would have seen the event and dismissed it, believing it was solely for those who work in crafts. In fact, the event featured people who dance, perform music and make films.
I was chatting with people I knew and didn’t know, and I felt quite at home there. Yet equally, I felt I was talking to such great folks that I had to improve my writing game, much like my LiveJournal friend felt about her endeavours.
I also think the intent of any creative project is another important factor. It’s usually easy to tell through someone’s work whether the intent is to express a view or emotion, or whether it’s to make something that looks pretty or sounds pleasant. When I began writing, I was in the second camp, and only later did I begin to express myself far more through my pieces. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, but nobody likes a ‘wannabe’.
On Saturday evening, I was invited to be part of a podcast with a small group of people. One of the participants was pleasantly surprised at how seriously the recordings taken, as she’d been accustomed to people who would talk grandly about what they would do but never followed through. The official podcast hasn’t yet been released. However, we did produce a couple of impromptu ones that were streamed live online. I prefer the second, an NSFW show recorded at 2am yesterday morning.
I think creativity is something we all do, whether it’s writing something personal in a Christmas card or helping a niece with homework, even if we don’t always use that term. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably not an aforementioned ‘wannabe’. Keep doing what you’re doing and try not to worry about whether it reaches someone else’s standards.
Last year, I completed an MLitt Writing Practice and Study degree. For the dissertation element, I had to submit a creative piece for 80% of the mark and a reflective piece worth 20%. In the reflective part, two references are juxtaposed:
Samuel Pepys and others, The Diary Of Samuel Pepys (London: Bell, 1970), p.xi.
Peter Doherty, The Books of Albion (London: Orion, 2007), pp.322-324
The first book was written by naval administrator Samuel Pepys who lived in the 17th century, and the second is by the musician Peter Doherty from The Libertines who’s yet to reach his 40th birthday.
But the reason they’re referenced so closely together is that they both kept detailed diaries. My creative dissertation piece was in diary form and I used both books to figure out how I was going to structure my own work; for example, whether I should use exact or rough dates, how formal or informal the language should be, and so forth.
It was Doherty’s volume that I find particularly interesting since he uses it in three ways, sometimes on the same page: as a notebook for poetry and lyrics, as a scrapbook for pictures and paraphernalia he likes, and as a diary to document where he is and how he’s feeling. It effectively tells the story behind his work.
At the time of writing the dissertation, I was also trying to convey the story behind my own creative piece, albeit in more academic language.
I was reminded of this last week while listening to Creative Chit Chat Dundee, in which the dancer Gemma Connell was being interviewed; I’ve known her for a couple of years now. Out of a dozen subjects discussed that I could have picked up on, the one that interested me most was that she likes to keep a journal of her process.
During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I’ve been journaling in a limited fashion. My own notes were functional, mainly reminders or suggestions for the story, but I was also interviewed by the woman who helps me run our NaNoWriMo region, so she has a weekly record of my progress. I’ll report back when I listen to it.
With journal-keeping at the forefront of my mind, I’m going to experiment with the practice for my next major project. I’m planning to take the Doherty approach. The journal won’t be online; it’ll be handwritten and kept separate from the material I’m writing for the project. Once it’s finished, it’ll be interesting to look back and to see how the endpoint compares to the beginning.
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) officially ended on 30 November, freeing up time to make more detailed entries here. And what a great deal has happened over the last seven days.
Let’s start off with NaNoWriMo itself. I’m pleased to report that I hit the 50,000 word-target on day 29, although I’m still writing the story. Our Tuesday meet-ups will also continue off-season, but not before a Thank Goodness It’s Over party tomorrow.
Meanwhile, I’ve been asked to write a guest blog post for NaNoWriMo on the theme of the ‘Now What?’ months, when the contest is finished and the novel needs to be edited. I found it more difficult than an ordinary blog entry because I wanted to stick as close to the theme as possible. I’ve yet to find out when the guest post will be published, but I’ll point you in that direction when I know.
Speaking of other blogs, I took a snap decision on Saturday to start using Tumblr again after a gap of four years, roughly when I began to use WordPress. I used to keep a weekly video blog there, but I gave it up because I didn’t have the time to generate content. The videos have disappeared because my Flickr account is closed, but the transcripts remain. Tumblr will now serve as an outlet for my Instagram photos, interesting content from other people, and original long-form blog topics that aren’t related to writing.
Another place I’m active is Twitter. Some weeks ago, the allowed number of characters was doubled from 140 to 280. Having had the chance to try it out for a while, I’m ambivalent about the change. On the one hand, a sense of Twitter’s core identity has been lost as you’re no longer forced to find inventive ways to comply with the cap. On the other hand, the relaxed limit comes into its own when I’m advertising our Hotchpotch open-mike events, and it’s now possible to squeeze in all the core points without relying on users clicking the link to our Facebook page.
But what about offline activities? There have been plenty of these happening too.
On Thursday, I was invited to a St Andrew’s Day celebration at the Dundee Maggie’s Centre to read Scottish poetry. My friend Erin Farley had pointed me towards, among others, a poet called Violet Jacob from the county of Angus. It was a challenge to read work written in her dialect, but I found it an ultimately rewarding experience.
On Friday, Erin was part of a line-up telling stories related to food while the audience enjoyed soup and bread; hers was a folk tale from Shetland. This event was held in the library – not a place where food and drink is normally encouraged – as part of Book Week Scotland. I wish I’d been able to take part in more events over the week, but it overlapped with NaNoWriMo and then I needed to complete tasks that I’d put off because I was writing.
I could go on for pages and pages about Saturday, but the condensed version is that I met the author Brandon Sanderson in Edinburgh and bought his short story collection Arcanum Unbounded. Unlike the two friends who came with me, I’m new to his Cosmere, the universe in which all his sci-fi novels are set. When I mentioned this, he pointed out which stories I should read first. He seemed such a genuine man and I can’t wait to start reading.
And yesterday, a little light-hearted relief at the University of Dundee as I watched the LIP Theatre Company present their retelling of the classic Cinderella tale in If the Shoe Fits. A hilarious, highly self-referential treat.
This blog is currently updated every Monday at 5pm. Each entry is usually finalised a day or two beforehand, then is set up to post automatically at the allotted hour; however, I still like to check manually whether the update has worked.
When I began this blog four years ago, it was convenient to make this check at 5pm. These days, it’s more difficult to be available at that time. So from next week, this blog will be updated every Monday at 6pm. However, as a participant and an organiser of National Novel Writing Month, I’m going to be hella busy over the next four Mondays. As such, my entries for this period will probably be short, functional affairs.
If you are taking part in the NaNoWriMo challenge, remember to take good care of your physical and mental health. In my region, Dundee & Angus, our ethos is that there’s no shame in not reaching 50,000 words, and it’s something our participants will be sick of hearing by the end of November.
It is a tough contest but it’s meant to be fun, so don’t let it overwhelm you. If it does, talk to your Municipal Liaison, or someone you trust.
Fans of the BBC TV show The Apprentice will remember a candidate who styled himself as Stuart ‘The Brand’ Baggs. While his idea of branding was certainly misguided, it was nonetheless a memorable gimmick. As a writer, it is similarly important to consider how you’ll be perceived by your readers.
Next time you’re in a bookshop or a library, have a look at some of the book covers. You’ll often find that books by the same author share certain elements: perhaps the author’s name is written in a particular typeface, or perhaps a certain style of artwork is common between them. But branding goes so much deeper than a cover. It can include the personality or values that you want to convey to the reader.
My own branding begins with my moniker: Gavin Cameron is actually my first and middle names. My real last name is Cruickshank, but I don’t use it because there are several possible variations in the spelling, and it serves as a small distinction between my real life and writing life. Not to mention that Crookshanks is Hermione Granger’s cat in the Harry Potter series.
There is a long literary tradition of pseudonyms, and this is catered for in the standard manuscript format. Your real name goes in the address at the top left-hand corner, while your pen name is included in the byline underneath the title. I also mention it in the body of the e-mail or on the cover sheet.
Even so, the issue does occasionally cause problems. A couple of times, show organisers have thought that Gavin Cameron and Gavin Cruickshank were two different people. One organiser recently made publicity material in the name of Cruickshank instead of Cameron, and it’s now being corrected.
In an attempt to stop this from happening again, I’ve now made it clear in my e-mail signature:
On the same subject, you might have noticed my Twitter name @LadyGavGav. Although I’ve never liked my first name being shortened to Gav, and still don’t, I felt I had to take that Twitter name as it was available and was an improvement over my previous handle @Knaw_Says.