Nobody’s Ever Over the Weather

For the last six days, I’ve been rather unwell. It’s not the Big Thing, that’s for sure, but it’s meant I’ve been less physically able to move. This has meant I’ve spent more time in front of the computer.

On the plus side, though, I was able to devote some time to a short story I’d half-written, and it didn’t take that long to finish.

Unfortunately, the effort it took to finish that story has drained the energy required to write a blog entry. So tune in next week when this illness has hopefully eased off a bit more.

The Energy of the Beginner

Having run events for so many years now, it’s always interesting to watch the folks who are new to writing.

Some have an idea, but don’t know how to start off. Others need constant reassurance that they’re doing a good job. There are even some who fill every spare moment with writing classes and courses.

It’s not only inevitable that everyone will go through this process, but it’s necessary. All the experimentation allows you to figure out your preferences and dislikes. From my own perspective, I figured out early on that I like sending my work to publishers but entering it into competitions. I then worked out that I like to pen monologues or plays rather than novels.

If you do have that kind of energy, my advice is to use it while you have it. Bluntly, once your motivation goes, it might never return.

Repetitive Reading, Repetitive Reading, and Repetitive Reading.

On Christmas Eve, a pal and I went to see It’s a Wonderful Life at the cinema. After the showing, we discussed the number of times we’d seen it. In her case, it was around the 15th time; for me, probably around eight or nine.

Unlike my pal, it’s a rarity that I’ll watch a film more than once. Ones that fall into the three-times-over club include The Matrix, Home Alone, and Star Wars: Episode IV. I simply don’t gain the same enjoyment from watching something again, especially if it’s soon after the last time.

With books, it’s even less likely I’ll read one for a second time. It’s not just that I can’t find the same enjoyment, but there’s a greater time commitment. Assuming a minute per page, a novel takes far longer to read than the two hours or so needed to watch a film.

The only attempt I’ve ever made was with the Christopher Brookmyre story All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye. In that case, I didn’t even reach the halfway point.

I do, nonetheless, tend to keep books afterwards if I like them. I might never again read A Clockwork Orange, Breakfast at Tiffany’s nor Fight Club, but I do like to know they’re there.

Redrafting the Unredraftable

Exactly six years ago, I made the first draft of a poem called Sir Madam. The gender identity of the main character is undefined, and the narrative takes a condensed look at this person’s life, culminating in an incident that happens on a train.

This is the only one of my pieces I’ve been genuinely scared to perform, fearing I’d hit the wrong wording, tone or point of view. However, it’s become a piece that I’ve performed at slams and other gigs, and it does receive a positive reaction.

Until a few weeks ago, the text seemed set in stone, but the title started bothering me. Not only has terminology has moved on in the last six years, I now felt the character needed to be given a name, and that name is Shannon, so the title has also been revised.

I also took the opportunity to rearrange and redraft the rest of the text. Although I’ve been writing poetry for nearly a decade now, I still made a rookie mistake on Sunday when I started redrafting just before a gig, held online by Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists. I thought once I’d shuffled around a few lines, that would be it, but it still didn’t look how I wanted it.

As my turn rapidly approached, I decided to read out something else. Besides, the tone of Shannon might have brought down the light mood of the room. But I will return to the piece and I will redraft it to my liking once more.

Note to Self – Don’t Call This Entry ‘A Walk Down Memory Lane’

Yesterday, a pal had planned to come and visit me, but she had to call off through ill-health. I used the time instead to go for a long walk, which ended up being more than 11 miles.

I’ve always found walking to be useful for sorting out ideas, but when wandering around certain areas, I also remember fragments of what happened there. Sometimes it’s a conversation with a primary school teacher, or where I first heard a certain song, or a memory of what the place formally looked like. There’s even an area of town I associate with Moby-Dick because I regularly read it on the bus while travelling through.

As I talk about all these memories, it also strikes me that while they’re reasonably interesting snippets, few of them hold enough substance to be an anecdote in their own right.

That’s one of the key differences between nostalgia and memoir. Nostalgia can be as simple as a reminiscence about a happy time, whereas memoir typically tells a story.

One of my favourite memoirs is Toast by Nigel Slater, where each vignette is titled as the food he was eating or cooking at that period in his life. All the stories are strong enough to be self-contained while still sticking to the subject.

That’s not to say my wandering memories are completely useless. If I were in a writing class, and the prompt warranted it, I could pick one of these as a starting point for a poem or a fictional story, just not a biographical one.

How The Live Scene is Doing

This entry serves as a kind of companion piece to last week, where I talked about still being able to hold the open-mike night Hotchpotch.

It did indeed go ahead, but with substantially reduced attendance. On any other night, we can normally welcome upwards of 30 people in the room, with more than half of the attendees taking a turn on stage. But last week, we saw less than ten readers.

To be fair, a few of them had called off in advance because they were either away for Christmas or didn’t want to catch anything before seeing relatives, so we made the best of it. Dispensing with the timer, anyone who wanted to read was allowed two turns, with a drinks break in the middle. I’d encouraged the absentees to come instead to the virtual version that Sunday, called Hotchpotch Beyond.

But a smaller pub attendance didn’t translate to a larger online presence. There, we welcomed two genuine readers – one Scottish, another from Russia – while two troublemakers were booted out and reported to Zoom. In November, the Beyond event had to be abandoned altogether because only one other person turned up.

Yesterday morning, I made an executive decision to suspend Beyond, and I told the pub regulars before the wider membership. Nonetheless, our previous online presence has shown we’ve been able to reach an otherwise untapped market.

I can’t stress enough that it’s never the fault of the audience if they don’t turn up. It’s up to me as an organiser to attract attendees, and to show them a good time once they’re through the door, so it’s us who needs to adapt. It’s a much bigger question how we’re going to adapt to reach that otherwise untapped market, but it’s one that we’ll work on.

Changing Times and a Change of Time

I’ve left it until the last minute to write this entry. It’s not entirely because I’ve been busy – although that’s a factor – but because I wanted to hear the announcement today from the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Tomorrow is the next instalment of my open-mike evening Hotchpotch, and it was expected that new restrictions would be brought in today on account of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Happily, nothing in the announcement affects our ability to hold the event tomorrow, even if more members might choose instead to attend our virtual event on Sunday.

Last week, we were also able to run a new version of our gameshow The Literal Flow Test, involving Christmas-themed topics, as part of a wider programme of events. I might come back to this topic in a future week as there’s a story to be told there as well.

The one event that isn’t back in person is National Novel Writing Month (NaNo). As that organisation has a largely top-down approach, all the regions in the world have been advised not to meet except online, even if our local authorities allow it. Which brings me to a point about the timing of my weekly blog posts.

When I started writing this blog, I was able to update regularly at 5pm on a Monday. This evolved into 6pm on a Tuesday, and that lands squarely during the NaNo meetings. That used to make sense because I would talk to people around a table while using my PC to type the entry.

Because I’m now using my PC to talk to members and write at the same time, it’s not so simple. As such, from next week, I’ll be updating this blog at 8pm on a Tuesday. The time is still subject to a trial run, but expect my entries to appear a couple of hours later.

When The Muse Strikes

As I sit down to write, it feels like a continuation of the last entry, where I talked about inspiration appearing at 5am. This time, however, the inspiration happened near the end of the day.

I’ve been asked to provide a poem for a 12 Days of Gratitude project. As late as Saturday of last week, I’d absolutely run dry of ideas. There were plenty of people to thank, but nothing that fitted into a structure.

While I do find walking helps with the process, I wasn’t having much luck – and over an hour later, I thought of my first line and the structure. I even took a couple of pictures to document this. It’s rare that I would show such an incomplete draft so early, but it happened by surprise.

Half-completed villanelle about gratitude
Half-completed villanelle about gratitude

My walk had taken in river views and grassy areas, but when I wrote those lines, I was probably the least inspiring place I’d been that evening: behind the Mecca Bingo.

Picture of Mecca Bingo where villanelle was written
Picture of Mecca Bingo where villanelle was written

What I need to do now is finish the piece and make a recording of it, but arguably the hardest part is over, so the rest should be plain sailing.

The 5am Story

One of the pieces of advice often given to beginner writers is to keep a notepad and pen by your bedside to write down any ideas that occur in the middle of the night. I’ve said a few times on here that this has never worked for me. Yet something happened last week that helped me with a current project.

I woke up before 5am on a couple of occasions last week, and was unable to get back to sleep. It’s a dangerous distraction to switch on your computer at that time, but I decided to give it 20 minutes, then head back to bed.

Instead, I ended up solving a problem with a story that wasn’t coming together properly. There were a lot of solid plot points that were difficult to arrange into a logical narrative. This was also part of a series, so there needed to be a little explanation for those who hadn’t read the previous instalment, but not so much that it slowed down the pace.

The breakthrough came after about ten minutes, and once I’d arranged the first few paragraphs into the right order, the rest followed. It’s now up to more than 1,300 words with more to follow, and the next story in the sequence will include the points I had to leave out of this one.