Anything but Reading

One piece of advice commonly given to new writers is to read widely: to read within and beyond their genre, read classics and airport paperbacks, read Western authors and works in translation.

A sheet of bingo cards.
A sheet of bingo cards. There will be no whistling at ‘Legs eleven’, thank you. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s great advice. The more books an author is exposed to, the richer their writing will probably become. Exciting things can happen when two styles meet; I’d read two Chris Brookmyre titles before I found out they’re supposed to be crime novels, not comedies. But lately, I feel as though I’m doing anything but reading.

I’ve been to see a couple of documentaries about Hedy Lamarr and Michael Caine respectively, I went to the StAnza poetry festival, I’ve seen I, Tonya and Lady Bird, I’ve played bingo, I’ve been to a lecture about the Higgs boson particle, I’ve seen a production of Spring Awakening. In short, I’ve been having a ball – and that ball was on Saturday two weeks ago.

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a wasted experience. In fact, there are some authors whose real-life experiences are inseparable from their written work.

Andy McNab first came to prominence with Bravo Two Zero, an account of an SAS mission in the early 1990s. He’s since gone on to write fiction that draws upon his knowledge and skills. PD James worked in the criminal justice system and the NHS for a long time and infused her expertise into her books.

It probably doesn’t hurt if you don’t read as much as you’d like. There are experiences everywhere, just waiting to be written about.

A friend of mine has a phrase: ‘Better felt than telt’. The last word is the Scots way of saying ‘told’, and the phrase means you can gain more insight from being somewhere then reading about it.

Advertisements

Ellipsis

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.

Share in the Community

On Thursday, I took part in the Echo event at Dundee Contemporary Arts. This is an open call for artists and writers to respond creatively to the current exhibition; this season it’s Kate V Robertson and Andrew Lacon.

Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, UK
Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been taking part for roughly three years and each one is different in character, in mood and in style. Still, the last time was particularly unusual as there were no visual artists, only poetry and storytelling. The DCA collated some of the pieces into a leaflet to be given to the audience. The pieces are performed in the gallery itself, often in front of the artwork that inspired it.

Echo is not a paid gig. The participants volunteer their own time and the DCA benefits from increased visitors. On the face of it, this sounds like a one-sided deal in favour of the gallery, but I like doing it because I believe having a deadline keeps my skills sharp.

I’ve also come to realise that when I write a piece, I like to know my words will be seen by someone.

When I was completing my MLitt Writing Practice and Study degree, one of the tutors wanted us to complete a daily routine called five-finger exercises, where you take an existing paragraph and rewrite it in five different prescribed ways. While I understand this might be useful for beginners or creatively blocked writers, I found I was generating all that material for no useful purpose.

With Echo, I find I still have that freedom of experimentation, yet the fact it’ll be heard helps me to raise my standard as high as I can. I do occasionally write just for myself, but that’s only by exception.

I was advised that the next DCA exhibition will be ‘bonkers’, so I look forward to seeing what arises from that.

 

Edditing Other Peoples Piece’s

A couple of friends have recently asked me to look over pieces they’ve written. At one time, it would have been difficult for me to do this as I didn’t like to give negative feedback. Having received honest critiques of my own work, I now feel comfortable about identifying areas of improvement in others’ work and making suggestions for improvement.

Firstly, I received an 11-line poem. Among other suggestions: I could see that each line began with a capital letter even in run-on sentences, which is unconventional in modern poetry; I swapped around a couple of clauses to create a stronger image; and I broke up the poem into three stanzas instead of one. These suggestions are partly personal preferences, but they’re informed by reading a lot of poetry and considering what works well and not so well.

Editing film at the Lubin film studio in Philadelphia, 1914. A reel hard job.
Editing film at the Lubin film studio in Philadelphia, 1914. A reel difficult job.

The other piece I looked over was an application for a university course, and I had help from a friend who has experience in this field. In this instance, I didn’t know all the specialist terminology or concepts, but there were aspects common to most writing styles that I could point out: using shorter paragraphs to create more negative space, which is easier on the eye; thoroughly checking spelling and grammar, for which I suggested reading the piece out loud while alone; and moving a certain project nearer the top of the application as it stood out among the others.

Ultimately, the writer has the final call on how to present their own piece. As such, I made it clear that the corrections were merely suggestions.

There is always a risk that the other party will react badly or become disheartened, particularly if you don’t know each other very well. It’s impossible to police another person’s feelings, but there are ways to make an unfavourable outcome feel less harsh. A classic is the Bad News Sandwich: a positive greeting, the negative result, a positive next step. Here’s a rejection e-mail I received last year:

Thank you for entering the August 50 Word Fiction Competition.

Unfortunately, your story was not selected as the winner this month. It was another very busy month and very difficult decision for our judges.

If you’d like to enter again, we’d love to see your words.

So when I close that message, I don’t think What an arrogant bunch, I think, I’ll up my game for September.

But I’m Not Creative

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.

Why books are always better than movies

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.

Further To…

As National Novel Writing Month draws to a close, I thought I might have run out of steam by now.

English: NWP teachers at work.
English: NWP teachers at work. This photo has little relation to the entry; I just like the guy’s hat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the contrary, I hit a turning point in my novel on Saturday, a remarkable 25 days into the contest. I now have a new structure that I’m pleased with, and I’m more excited than ever to commit it to paper. The downside is that the new structure incorporates little of the material I’ve already written, so what I have now is effectively a 40,000-word collection of character sketches.

It therefore looks like I’ll be continuing this project during December as I don’t want to let the momentum trail off.

What I actually planned to do in December was to turn a certain public-domain novel into a screenplay; as far as I can tell, nobody has done it before with this book. It’s waited more than one-and-a-third centuries, though, so a few more months of delay won’t make much difference.

Finally, you might remember I made an entry regarding my experience of understanding the Scots and Dundee dialects; it was called Fluent in 1½ Languages. Since then, some brainbox at the University of Abertay has shown that understanding the Dundee dialect is as good as knowing a second language.

In the Vocalzone

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been somewhat laid up with a sore throat, followed by a more general cold. If there’s one good thing to come out of this miserable period, it’s the discovery that Superdrug sells Vocalzone throat pastilles.

Fructus Momordicae, a kind of Chinese herb for...
Fructus Momordicae, a kind of Chinese herb for sore throat and raucousness. 羅漢果,用於咽喉痛、音啞。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d known about these for some time, particularly that singers over the years have sworn by them. I thought I’d try a box to see whether they helped, as I’ve been performing again. I’ve found they work well.

But my condition hasn’t harmed my National Novel Writing Month word counts too much. As of posting this entry yesternight, I was on par to reach 50,000 words by the end of this month, and my story currently shows no sign of slowing down.

We’re having an incredible November so far. Our members, new and regular, have launched into the contest with much enthusiasm, generating nearly 650,000 words thus far. That’s War & Peace more than 2½ times over, or a quarter of last year’s Chilcot report.