Urgh, Writing: How To FOCUS on Writing

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I was reading this post by my colleague Craig called ‘How Not To Write a Novel’ and was nodding along with his points, before realising that actually my problems are entirely different to the ones he has laid out, and are maybe unique to me. But then I thought I was probably overestimating how special I am and underestimating how ridiculous other people’s lives are. So here are my pointers on how not to write a novel, with an added moral at the end:

1. Don’t Write Theatre

One of the easiest ways not to write a novel is to spend years writing theatre. While it may sometimes look like you’re writing a novel due to all the words you are putting on a page, don’t be confused – this is a script, and not a novel.

2. Don’t Write Films

Hey, films are cool. How do they get the words you wrote up on that big screen and expressed through shiny pictures? We’ll never know. But doing that film writing course is not writing a novel. You are often sitting down, but once again, still not writing a novel.

3. Don’t Write Satirical Poetry

Even though you got a shiny purple suit and an 8-foot banner of yourself, you are still not writing a novel. You are in a poetry boyband.

4. Don’t Write Miscellaneous Shit for Everyone Who Asks

Still not a novel. Mostly these are lists about 90s TV shows.

5. Don’t Get A Job You Love

Because you have to go there every day, and not write a novel. They’re pretty strict on that point.

I am definitely guilty of all these, and because of the last point, I’ve had to look at all the things in my life and decide what my goals are. I am now dedicated to getting some books out there – starting with a collection of short fiction, then a creative non-fiction novel and then potentially a fiction novel. These are my goals. Because I am now focused on my goals, my writing has become a clear and defined thing. The microfiction a day plan that I talked about in a previous Urgh, Writing has been working fantastically, and I am reliably pumping out a few stories a week. Furthermore, I’m enjoying my actual writing. It doesn’t feel like a chore. Accompanying this is STILL a bunch of side projects – things which I’ve looked at and said ‘this will help my eventual goals in terms of promotion and exposure’, or smaller projects which I really believe in, such as a top secret thing I am working on with Seizure. But I am also learning how to say ‘no’. Over the past two weeks, I keep seeing fantastic writing opportunities – comedy writing positions, webseries, residencies, etc etc etc. Things that would have suited past me a lot, or things that I think I would enjoy. And it’s super hard staying focused and saying no to them. But I’m getting better.

And now for bonus moral point:

6. ACTUALLY DO ALL THOSE THINGS I SAID NOT TO DO

Why? Because maybe I don’t have a novel, but each of those points has led me to becoming a better writer. Theatre for example – something I love, something I love writing, and something I will write again, but I KNOW my dialogue skills in prose have enhanced because of it. My film course? Taught me I don’t want to write for Hollywood, but also how to pitch ANY project. Focus is good, but I think I’ve needed this time being a little bit adrift to pick up some skills, and now I can focus them into a deathlaser or whatever.

Urgh, Writing: ‘to write the same way that you… are!’

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I saw this the other day on Shabby Dollhouse and it was one of those perfect moments. I started writing creative non-fiction memoir stuff on this blog kind of by accident, but it wasn’t until Ben Jenkins asked me to read a story at Story Club years ago, that I realised how much that type of writing suited me. Apart from the fact it is ABOUT me, it’s also the kind of writing which best expresses how the interior of my brain works – all seemingly random connections and memories of weird things.

Lately, inspired by the kind of stuff I’ve been seeing on Shabby Dollhouse and other great internet lit journals, I’ve been trying my hand at non-fiction microfictions/ flash fictions or whatever they’re called. The beauty about these Curriculum Worstae pieces is that they’re meant to live in Facebook statuses. Not only are they actually fun to write, but I’m getting to the point where I start to think in terms of that medium, structuring a story in miniature. And it’s also great because a lot of stupid things that have happened to me aren’t really deserving of anything more than 200 words, they can’t be contextualised into a larger concept, a larger narrative except for maybe ‘things that happened’.

A lot of people I’ve been reading lately who are experimenting with creat. non.fic are not only engaging with theme and tone, but also structure and presentation. It’s really, really interesting how the kind of experimentation often reserved for poems has made its way into presentation of prose. A lot of this takes the form of a literal interpretation of Ginsberg’s above quote, trying not just to imitate ‘speech’ or ‘stream of consciousness’ like we’re used to, but more common and contemporary forms of communication like txt speech, etc. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to embrace misspellings or leaving mistypes or grammatical errors in the text – but it would also be disingenuous of me to try, because it’s literally the opposite of how my brain works. When I speak, I am subconsciously spelling each word – when I ask for a person’s name, I need to know how it is spelled, because that’s the only way I’ll ever remember it. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the stuff OTHER people are writing. I get it, I’ve been on a chatty room.

Anyway, one of the few things I’ve learnt for certain about writing is that you learn the same lessons over and over again, so quotes from people like Ginsberg on writing the way that you are will mean so much to you and be relevant again and again, in different ways, and will follow your writing as you develop and unlock new meanings and it’s great.

*SIDE NOTE: I’m a big fan of the beats, and there are SOOOOOO many correlations between the alt-lit ‘movement’ and the Beats, and they are seriously getting almost EXACTLY the same criticisms, from the more established movements, from other artists accusing it of being nothing more than a ‘clique’. Lit movements are cliques, but the reason it’s a movement and not a club is that the message behind the content is transferable and will last longer than the spotlight on the personality of authors, which even then I’m not against. Authors are interesting people, I’m interested in them. Oh my god, I am so tired, I haven’t slept all night, this is an incoherent rant, is it not?

Urgh, Writing: Time is on my side

I thought I’d spend a bit of time writing about writing, because honestly it’s what I think about maybe 90% of the time, and it’s that thing which I’m supposed to do,  so this is my next thing where I do that, and it’s called Urgh, Writing.

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So last year I started doing full time work for the first time in my life, and the big question everyone asked me was ‘how is it going to affect your writing?’ And I didn’t go into it naively, I knew that going from casual to full time would be a big change. But there were a few reasons why I felt like I needed to do it:

1. I was so sad and uninspired by my casual job, that I wasn’t really writing anyway. My ‘extra time’ was basically spent in a whirlwind of guilt and job applications.

2. Due to REASONS which probably deserve a whole other post, I basically didn’t spend any time writing, and instead spent all my time doing things AROUND my writing. To make a really broad statement less broad, I was still really theatre oriented at that time, and basically did production and marketing and grant writing and artist liaison and sales instead of writing. I love my theatre company, and I love making super stupid plays, but it honestly took up my entire life and also, my entire ability to have money. But more importantly for my state of mind, I wasn’t writing.

3. After a few different ‘trial runs’ at various things, I’d decided that living off my writing in theatre was an absolute impossibility (some people do it, but even then it’s still supplemented somewhere in the industry) and I didn’t have the right temperament for freelance writing. Therefore I needed to get a job in an industry I liked, and it needed to be an interesting job. That’s how I got started in my ‘crack the publishing industry’ quest, which I succeeded at, because I’m now in a job I absolutely love with a fiery passion.

SO! All these things, and I’m now in a full time job. Am I getting writing done? Short answer yes. Long answer, yes, but I’m very frustrated. Take this weekend for example: on Saturday, I was sleep deprived so didn’t even really attempt to write. Today, Sunday, was not a conducive day for getting work done in our house. It was also raining, so I couldn’t go and hang in the park. I had to look after our new puppy, so I couldn’t go and sit in a cafe. So, I had to somehow push through. I did! But then that made me angry that my output is about 1000 words a week. That is not much. Because I have plans and schemes, I have books I want to write and grand projects I want to complete. I will write about these soon, but at the moment I feel hamstrung by time. Actually, scratch that – I’m not counting my regular columns, like The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge or Drunk Watching Downton Abbey. I get stuff written, I just have to calm the shit down a bit. Enjoy what I’m doing. Maybe focus on making what I write better than how much I do. I have to say, my strength as a writer is probably my determination, rather than any particular skill at the craft…

There are some people that are inspiring me at the moment.

Joel Naoum, the publisher at Momentum who works harder than anyone I know has managed to complete a novel. That basically kills any idea of not being able to write with a full time job.

Annabel Smith, who has managed to commit to a 500 word a day strategy, and managed to get 8130 words in the last month.

Oliver Mol, who has just had his first book ‘Lion Attack!’ signed to Scribe, told me that the excellent series of mini-fictions he writes on Facebook are written every morning on his phone. He is the one who has inspired me to write the Curriculum Worstae series I’m doing on Facebook.

SO. Do I commit to a similar strategy? I have a microfiction project that I’m working on called ‘Places I’ve Seen But Am Rapidly Forgetting’. Should I write one every morning? Or am I doing OK and shouldn’t add more pressure to myself, which might cause me to freak the fuck out?