Monday, May 28, 2007

Making Hay

Well, here I am at the Hay Festival. We arrived in pouring rain yesterday evening and I quickly realised that packing flip-flops was misguided. This morning I am wearing almost all the clothes I brought with me! Luckily, it's far less damp.

My first impressions are that it's quite a strange atmosphere - literary London, it seems, transplanted to a small town in Wales with 40 second-hand bookshops. Incongruous. Lots of trying to spot celebs, and much Fair Trade organic coffee. I haven't got far past the first impressions yet. More soon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

short shorts

Now, I could be referring in the title of this blog to something a friend mentioned yesterday that had caused her great embarassment when her father wore them to pick her up from school in the 1970s, that great fashion era. But actually I am talking about Slingink's 140-word short story competition. My story, Sorry, is one of the finalists and will be published in the competition's print anthology. I love flash fiction, the shorter the better in my opinion (as opposed to the short trousers, which can be too skimpy, I believe). This short story actually came from a longer piece of writing that I wrote during one of the sessions I have regularly with writing friends around the world. At a set time, we all sit down and write for 45 minutes based on a prompt or set of prompts that one of us has sent out. Then we spend a few minutes looking over what we have written, and we send it out. It's a powerful thing, to write simultaneously with someone, even if they're not in the same country. I feel the joint creative energies flowing. And the short, sharp writing time and the prompts tend to bring forth some bizarre stories.

So these 140 words were towards the end of a story probably around 700 words in length. I looked at them and thought, Hmm, this seems quite self-contained. I am delighted that the judge of this comp also found them to be so. But my point is that a writing exercise is often useful not for all the words it stimulates, but for perhaps just a small section, a little jewel which can be extracted and polished. I am not sure I will ever do anything with the rest of the piece, but it seems to me that it has already served its purpose. It got me to that 140 words and I won't lament the loss of the other 600 words. They were vital, but not for actual publication. Sometimes we have to recognize what to shave off a story, and in this case it was 75 per cent of the writing that had to go. This is a good lesson to learn - it's just as important to know what to let go as it is to know what to save.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Follow-up and new design

First, how's the new blog design? I re-did it to match my website's colour scheme. Is it unreadable? Do tell me if it is.

Second, a follow-up on my previous post, which generated some arguments as to whether Miranda July's method of promoting her short story collection was productive and informative. Here's New York magazine's interview with July, in case you were curious as to who she is and what people think of her. She seems to inspire rather strong reactions, but the stories definitely sound interesting!

As for me, I was Commended in a micro-fiction competition, found out today that one of my submissions got lost in cyberspace, and am waiting for all my writing groups' reactions to the new story I recently finished. On that note I wanted to draw attention to this absolutely excellent article by the wonderfully-named Ann Pancake in Poets and Writers magazine: Reading How You're Read - The Art of Evaluating Criticism. Ann's aim is to help writers deal with the critique we receive in writing groups, workshops etc.. As she says:

With your poem, short story, essay, or book manuscript back in your hands, the first thing you'll probably do is scan the feedback as quickly as possible with the secret hope that your critics have deemed the piece perfect. But once you see this is not the case—and before you can productively sort through the comments—you have to perform a balancing act that may be the most difficult step of the evaluation process. You must suspend enough of your ego to become somewhat objective while holding on to enough of it so that you don't sacrifice your vision.

For me, this is incredibly useful advice. Having just given my precious new baby to all my writing groups, I have to make sure that their comments don't interfere with the way I see the story, that I don't submit to what may be their visions of how they would write it.

you have to have a fairly strong sense of your vision for the work. This is why it is important to avoid exposing your writing to criticism until you have a solid grasp of what you're trying to achieve.

I think I am ready for this, but if it turns out I have given the story out prematurely, I will just sit on the critique and not look at it for a while. This is a great and helpful article, highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A New Story

I've just finished a new story. It's not a flash piece, which can almost write itself in one sitting. This is a story of two thousand or so words. It was slow in emerging, I wrote it in 500-word instalments, weeks going by in between, because I didn't know what the story was and I didn't want to push it. I let go into the uncertainty and waited until it came, until it was ready. And it was a joy, letting myself be guided by the process, not worrying about how it would end, how it might sound, whether the characters were working. I was inside it and enjoying it, loving the newness of my characters, and loving the glimpse I was getting of their lives.

I started the story twice. The first time I wrote 1500 words but didn't feel I was getting even near the action. I was telling the story in the first person, as theMain Character, now an adult, looked back on her childhood. It didn't work for me.

So I waited. And then it came to me, and I started again. In the third person, and in the present tense, right in the middle of the action. This time it worked.

I want to stress that "finished" doesn't mean it's ready for anything. All it means in this context is that I know I have come to the end of the story. Now I have my first draft. The creative part is over. Now the hard slog begins: the stepping back and trying to read it as if it wasn't mine, without a deep and abiding love for my main character. I have help in this endeavour: my invaluable and generous writing groups. I am looking forward to getting it out there and letting them pull it to pieces. Bring it on!

I am calm. This is my meditation. I forget this, and when a week or so goes by and I haven't written, I am crabby, I snap at J, my insides are tense. Why don't I just do what I know I need to do? Ah well. Maybe because when it comes it is even greater for the build-up.

PS got two rejections tonight, adding to two non-placings in competitions this week. But somehow I am not devastated. Maybe because I finished a story today. I guess when you know you can keep doing it, it makes everything feel a little better. For now, at least.