Crossed Wires

Last week, I made a fool of myself in front of 150 e-mail recipients. I was sending out details of the next meeting of Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers. I normally update the previous e-mail with the latest details, but I’d forgotten to change the subject line. I therefore followed it up with a correction.

The most annoying part of this affair is that I use a Gmail extension to cancel the sending of an e-mail as long as I hit Undo within 30 seconds. However, it has encouraged me to become more vigilant with future updates. Aside from this incident, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned when communicating with writing group members.

E-mail

It’s important to exercise privacy when using e-mail. The addresses of the recipients should be typed in the Bcc box, not To or Cc, so each member will only see their own address on receipt. It’s worthwhile including your own e-mail address on the distribution list to check whether it’s formatted in the same way you intended.

Recipients should also be given the option to unsubscribe from updates. Whenever a Hotchpotch e-mail is sent, there is a signature at the bottom telling people to let us know if they want to unsubscribe.

The other mailing list I maintain is for the Dundee & Angus region of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is done differently, as e-mails are composed using their website and the Unsubscribe function is added automatically before the message enters members’ inboxes.

This is my NaNoWriMo phone
This is my NaNoWriMo phone

Facebook

Whenever Hotchpotch and NaNoWriMo e-mails are sent, their respective Facebook pages are updated at the same time with the same information to reach as many people as possible. The Hotchpotch page is open to the public since anyone can come along, whereas the NaNoWriMo page has its access restricted to members only.

One great advantage of the Facebook page for Hotchpotch is that we can tag and promote other events, which notifies that page owner, who can then share our event with their audience. I also share our updates on two other arts pages.

Other methods

Hotchpotch has an active Twitter account. Whenever an e-mail is sent, the date and time are given, followed by a link to the Facebook post. Our updates are occasionally shared by others, while prospective attendees can ask us questions.

Although NaNoWriMo itself has a Twitter presence, our region does not; again, this is because our bulletins are open only to members. However, I do carry a cheap phone with a budget SIM card if our members need to speak to us urgently. In practice, the only time I’ve needed it so far is when the battery on my own phone ran flat.

Frequency of updates

It’s a good idea not to fill people’s inboxes with the same message every day. In my experience, people who are overloaded will permanently unsubscribe or unfollow. It’s different, of course, if the recipient has signed up a daily writing prompt or suchlike.

For NaNoWriMo, once a week is the usual pattern, reflecting our weekly meetings. The next monthly Hotchpotch meeting is usually announced a few days after the previous one, with a reminder around two weeks later. And next time I send one, I’ll be double-checking that subject line.

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Back to My Roots

We’re on the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, a spin-off project of National Novel Writing Month. Camp allows a writer to set an individual word goal and offers an alternative option to log hours of editing. I chose to edit the material I wrote during the April version of Camp.

By snowyowls [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By snowyowls [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

When I first started writing, I penned exclusively prose: short stories at writing classes and novels during NaNoWriMo. After about three years, I segued to poetry. For a long while now, I’ve wanted to return to writing short stories and other types of prose; whenever I’ve tried, I’ve been pulled back to poetry. But on looking at April’s material, I feel as though I’ve finally made a step in the right direction.

There’s one short story I like in particular. A Drink for Everyone is from the point of view of a woman who wants nothing more than to have enough money to get drunk, and the story sees her hit upon a way of achieving this aim. It’s sometimes the case that I like a story while I’m writing it, but not on rereading. In this case, I enjoyed the editing as much as the construction. At around 1500 words, it’s also a length that many publications will accept.

Other highlights of April’s material include a story about a group of people who live as though it’s 1999, a parody of an announcement at the end of the day’s TV broadcasting, and a response to a pastel drawing of a stacked shed that I’d forgotten I’d written.

A Drink for Everyone is only the first step to reintroducing prose into my regular output. Writing a story is different in many ways from writing a poem. Generally speaking, prose needs to have a plot or an inciting event, and the text might take no particular form other than the accepted rules of grammar. Poetry, by contrast, can muse upon a theme or a moment without necessarily having a narrative structure, though the words are often written to evoke a sound, a rhythm, or a cadence.

If I can climb into the prose mindset, and use the techniques I’ve learned since I last regularly wrote short stories, I believe I can find a balance between the two disciplines.

I’m Falling Further Behind

It’s an implicit expectation from you, the reader, that I’ll post an entry every Monday at 5pm. This means you should have seen it here yesterday, and it wasn’t. Since yesterday was a public holiday, it felt like a Sunday and it slipped my mind until after the due time. But that’s an excuse rather than a reason.

To this end, I owe you an apology and an entry, and I think an appropriate punishment for missing the deadline would be to would be to whip my own back with a knotted rope. I have, however, settled for making a second entry of at least 500 words on Friday at 5pm. Then I’ll update as normal from Monday of next week.

Last time, I promised to make a little progress on each of my outstanding works. Let’s go through them all.

“I can’t remember the last time I sent something away to a publisher”

On checking my submissions tracker, I found it was 23 February, or nearly eight weeks ago when I last send something away. It was difficult to find a publisher who was accepting submissions; I looked right through my usual sources, and most of the reading periods were closed.

However, I did find one publisher who would accept up to five poems. By coincidence, I’d sent five poems to another publisher in December who had turned me down at the beginning of March. With only a few minor changes, I was able to send them to the new place. Even better: my aim is to send away an average of one piece per week, and this submission brought me bang up-to-date.

“I can’t remember the last time I typed up something from my notebook”

It’s virtually a truism that inspiration strikes in the most bizarre of places; in my case, in McDonalds at 9:30am on a Friday. I found myself able to finish two poems – one of which I’d been struggling with for a while – and I typed them up later that day.

“I’m tackling Camp NaNoWriMo. … I have around half as many words as I should”

I’m not up-to-date with this, plus I’d increased my word target from 10,000 words to 11,000 as an extra challenge. I intended to write a series of interlinked stories, but I changed my project name to Any old nonsense to reflect the diverse pieces I’ve actually written. Despite this, there is now a ray of hope as I’ve figured out a structure for one of the stories that I was finding difficult to write, and it’s practically pulling itself along.

During Camp, you can enter an online virtual cabin with up to 11 other participants to help and encourage each other. I have only one other person in our regional cabin, and an honourable mention must go to them. I relayed the thoughts I expressed in last week’s entry and they helped me to regain my focus and perspective.

“I need to finish a stage play I’d like to bring to the Edinburgh Festival or Fringe in 2018”

Last week, I happened to meet the university tutor who was going to help me bring this to the stage. Unfortunately, the theatre he wants to use was undergoing a change of management and he was uncertain when we would have a chance to go there.

The play is a one-woman sequence of monologues that looks back over her university days. The running length is currently around 30 minutes to give a potential test audience a flavour of its content. To reduce it to that length, I had to cut out the poetry supposedly written by the character. I’d like to extend it to between 50 and 55 minutes by reintroducing the poetry and unpacking it in other areas. Having looked at the manuscript again a few days ago, I now have an idea how I’m going to achieve the expansion.

Tonight, after this entry should have been published, I received an e-mail from another tutor who wants to include a brief excerpt in a promotional leaflet for the MLitt course I studied. I’m more than happy to give that permission.

“I need to rewrite that novel I’ve been working on since 2010.”

The bad news is that there’s a scene in the novel which simply isn’t working, and it’s a pivotal scene because the main character needs to be left in an unknown location to fend for himself. I’m probably finding it difficult as I’ve never experienced this myself, so maybe I’ll need to go on a training weekend.

The good news is that I’ve finally fixed an annoyance. When I first wrote Fifty Million Nicker, the novel Fifty Shades of Grey was released a little while later. It was a coincidence, of course, but the number has become so iconic that I wanted to end the association. So I’ve now gone through the manuscript and changed it to Sixty Million Nicker to reflect that the main character is now competing for £60,000,000.

“I’d rather like to put together a poetry collection around a single theme”

I have been working on a few poems along the same theme, and they do fit well together. I’m still working on one of them, and I took it along to a new poetry group that a friend is starting. I received useful feedback, particularly on one point, and I implemented the relevant change.

If I hadn’t gone along, I might not have met the tutor who’s helping me with the play. And one of the pieces I finished in McDonalds was the homework for the next meeting.

 

And thus, I’ve done what I set out to do in the last entry, albeit 24 hours later than scheduled. Whatever happens between now and my next one on Friday, I promise you the title will not be I’m Falling Even Further Behind.

I’m Falling Behind

I’m falling behind with my writing. I can’t remember the last time I sent something away to a publisher; I can’t remember the last time I typed up something from my notebook.

Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, at Place ...
Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, at Place de Rennes side (now Place du 18 Juin 1940), Paris, France, 1895. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the same time, I’m tackling Camp NaNoWriMo. Camp is a spin-off of the main November contest, but with your own flexible goal rather than a 50,000-word challenge. Since I lead the group, I should be setting an example and keeping up with my daily word count, yet I have around half as many words as I should.

On top of all this. I need to finish a stage play I’d like to bring to the Edinburgh Festival or Fringe in 2018. I need to rewrite that novel I’ve been working on since 2010. And I’d rather like to put together a poetry collection around a single theme; I can never seem to stick to one topic for any length of time.

I’ve even been struggling to catch up with my blog entries. Last Monday’s entry was still being edited at 2pm – three hours before it was due to be published. That might sound like a long time, but when you’re a writer who writes about writing, you need to make sure the spelling and grammar are correct, and that it’s structured in a coherent way.

Speaking of structure, I drafted this entry in a single 15-minute session starting at 11pm on Saturday night. It was more than 300 words long with no paragraph breaks, but some rather raw emotion. My initial plan was to leave it as a wall of text with the minimum of editing. On waking up Sunday morning, however, I elected to extract the best parts and construct a more user-friendly entry.

The main reason I’ve fallen behind is that I’ve moved house over the last couple of weeks. Yet I’ve completed the vast majority of the move now, so I need to pull my finger out and start the aforementioned tasks.

So I’m harnessing the power of peer pressure by posting my to-do list in a public place. By next week, I want to have looked at everything I’ve mentioned above and made a tiny fragment of progress on it, even if it’s only a sentence of two. I consider this an almost embarrassingly achievable goal.

If there’s one good thing that can come from falling behind, it’s the thought that there’s only one way to go from here: forward.

Where Do You Want to Write Today?

For the last month, you might know I’ve been taking part in National Novel Writing Month as well as leading the group. I’m pleased to report I passed the 50,000-word target on 29 November.

Because the project took up so much of my time, it now feels like there’s something I should be doing, except that there isn’t. The manuscript is tucked away in a drawer, and its dawning on me that I’m free to pursue other projects. At the moment, there’s a non-urgent opinion piece I want to write, plus an idea for another novel tangentially related to the one in the drawer. That, and it’s fun to use the word tangentially.

When you’re writing to a deadline, or even if you’re not, it’s sometimes necessary to write wherever and whenever you can. I was tackling my novel at break times and lunchtimes, and sometimes in front of the TV at night. But how difficult is it to find your optimum writing spot?

English: Mist over Aberfeldy A band of mist al...
Mist over Aberfeldy A band of mist along the Tay covers Aberfeldy at dusk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve heard about a number of authors who have cleaned out their spare room, installed a desk, ensured they have no distractions, yet went back to an old favourite spot because the created one simply wasn’t conducive to writing. I once experimented with sitting right behind the front door. There was plenty of light, the noise level wasn’t excessive, and I knew nobody was going to barge in, but something about that place made me feel uncomfortable.

These days, I do the majority of my typing while standing with my back to my bedroom window, and my laptop or Freewrite on the end of the bed. When writing by hand, I can do that in a café, on a train, or during a dull literary event trying to look like I’m avidly taking notes. I find it difficult to be in a silent place, because even the noise of the pencil or a page turning sounds like a terrible racket.

By far, though, my favourite writing place of recent times was in the town of Aberfeldy overlooking the mountains. The piece in question was my dissertation rather than fiction or poetry, but I would consider going back there if I had another big project to tackle.

Jack of All Words

For those of you who haven’t read it elsewhere, I’m pleased to report that I’ve now graduated with an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study. I’ve become a jack of all words, and master of letters.

The logistics of the ceremony has left me behind with my other work, so I’m afraid it’ll be another short entry.

The end.

Caught up in My Busyness

We’re now into the thick of National Novel Writing Month. The Dundee & Angus region alone collectively ended 11 November at well over half a million words, and the total is rising every day.

But other literary events are still happening. Tonight, I’m going to a Silent Reading Party, then a Spanish-themed poetry night. And on 25 November, I’ll be seeing the actor Alan Cumming in conversation with Muriel Gray about his latest book.

I would like to take this opportunity to plug a couple of events. You might be aware that my poem Crossing the Road has been included in the anthology Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry, which officially launched in Edinburgh last month. There is also to be a Glasgow launch tomorrow 15 November where I can’t be present, and an Aberdeen launch on 21 November where I’ll be performing.

For now, though, it’s back to NaNoWriMo. I didn’t know where I was going with this year’s story – in some respects, I still don’t – but I now have a character who loves to fill notebook pages with the same phrase, much like Jack Torrance in The Shining. Here’s what happened when she was turned down for an arts grant:

The writings of a character in my NaNoWriMo novel
The writings of a character in my NaNoWriMo novel