Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The difficulties of knowing how to shut up

I have managed to write a short story... I think.  The piece comes in within the 2,500-3,000 word limit (at 2,999) and I have tried to make it so that it feels self-contained.  There is, I believe, a beginning, a middle and an end.  But does that a short story make?  Is there some special magic ingredient that I have somehow missed?  Because for all that it feels complete to me, I'm worried that it feels like the beginning of a story to the reader.

This seems to be a problem with other attempts at short stories in the past - that what I'd hoped sounded like the end actually seems to be the beginning of a much longer piece.  Goodness knows I prefer writing something with a 100k word limit but that just isn't an option this time.

It seems I just don't know how to shut up.  I wonder whether I pick the wrong subjects?  This story I've written began life as a description of an exotic marketplace and ended up about a magical war and oppressive rulers and a falling city.  This highlights two observations (problems?) I have noticed with my writing:

1) I pick very large themes for my work no matter how much I try to keep it small


2) I end up writing fantasy whether I intend to or not.

In Publishing Project lessons this semester the idea of an 'unalterable core as a writer' has come up a couple of times - in what seems to be a developing theme at the moment, I didn't have a clue what to say - but although it seems unlikely that these two points count under that weighty heading, they do at least show something consistent in my writing.  What that says about me, I have no idea.

But that's not really my point ("She has a point??") - the fact is that these two things make short stories rather difficult, or at least the first point does.  The small or the mundane don't interest me when I read so they sure as heck aren't going to interest me enough to write about them.  I honestly don't know how to write about them.  No matter how much I try to make a story out of something tiny it always ends up exploding into some high-flung extravagant adventure romp thing.  Most inconvenient when you've only got 3,000 words.

I guess I'll have to send it off to the editors and see what they say and try to write another in the meantime.  Fingers crossed.

And, if she should happen to read this drivel I be pouring onto the interwebs, a big thank you to Lady Laura for reading and so kindly commenting on my story.  And for driving today.  (But if you can't see, I really don't mind taking a turn).

Off to go and find reality not boring... hmmm, wish me luck...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The non-holidays are approaching...

...and I have so much to do - and so little motivation!

A classic example is this here blog.  I glanced back at my previous post and - to my horror - saw that I wrote it on the 5th March.  No, I don't have anything against the 5th March - I'm sure it's a perfectly pleasant date - but that means it's over TWO WEEKS since I last wrote and that is just ridiculous.  So much for my resolution to write every few days.

But anyway, here I am, trying to turn over a new leaf etc etc.

Incidentally, the Easter hols will be 'non-holidays' because I seem to have more work to do as soon as they start than what I have had thus far during term-time.  Or is that me just being poor at planning?

Our first 'Litmus' anthology deadline is approaching.  We need to have sent all of our potential pieces to our respective editors by 8th April.  That means me writing two short stories by that ominous date.  And considering I've only written two short stories in my entire life I think I have just cause to be somewhat apprehensive.  I've written a small chunk of one - it is turning out to be filled with all my usual cheeriness: blood, death and so on.  Lovely stuff.

The second story, however, is still cowering in some dark corner of the nether-worlds, terrified at whatever monstrosity I'll turn it into.

I'd intended to write a short story for this because it makes so much more sense than submitting part of a novel.  It is much better for the reader to have something complete and I know that I would feel frustrated to read part of a story.  This was then made a rule for submission - all stories must be complete.  And suddenly the thing seems so much harder, because what if (as has happened in the past) I intend it to be a short story but readers/editors think it sounds like the beginning of a longer piece?  Then it will be deemed illegal in Litmus Land.

I guess I'll just have to give it a go and hope for the best.

At the end of my previous blog I had intended to write something a bit jollier.  Alas, I don't think I've achieved it - although on the up side, at least I'm only whinging about my work rather than my whole life.  Woohoo!

Also, in relation to the task mentioned in the last post, Carole agreed that I have no life.  Hey, at least I was right!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

What if I don't have a story yet?

I've been meaning to write a blog for several days now and have quite thoroughly failed at it.  It wasn't as if I didn't have plenty to write about - on the contrary.

I had thought about writing a review of the last of the Sebastian Faulks series with his episode about 'the villain'.

There was Tuesday's Publishing Project session where we heard Marcus Sedgwick talk; an evening that was both enjoyable and informative.

I could have talked about the ongoing 'My Life in Books' series or about World Book Night which the programme is based around and the implications of the event on booksellers.

I could even have pondered over what I was going to say in next Tuesday's lesson.  We have to define what 'Our Stories' are - to devise an interesting story from our lives which would be a great selling point for a publisher.

Ah, perhaps it was this last thought which silenced my fingers.  That and the general feeling of hopelessness which creeps into my soul drop by drop during pretty much every lesson I have this semester: that sense of despair that, given how heartbreakingly difficult (i.e. near-impossible) it is to get published, why the heck am I even bothering?

Because the fact of the matter is that I don't have a story.  I have thus far lived what could quite accurately be called one of the most boring lives in history.  What could I possibly say that wouldn't send everyone listening into a state of unconsciousness from the sheer mediocrity of it?

It's not like I'm wishing for something tragic in my life - far from it.  I love my life which is precisely why I haven't felt the need to do something mad or dangerous or 'defining'.  I haven't felt the urge that other people my age did during college and uni to get smashed out of my brain on alcohol and/or drugs, sleep with random strangers, wake up in a puddle of my own vomit, regret everything and swear never to do it again, then do it all the same in a few nights time.  I really must be some sort of social moron that, for some reason, this really sounds very unappealing.

So what do I say when everyone turns to me expectantly, waiting for some charming anecdote which shaped my very existence.


I literally can't think of anything to say.  At all.  Nada.  Zilch.

Why is it necessary for me to have done anything?  The very fact that I spend so much of my time writing about made-up stuff is surely because I live so much in my head.  Quite frankly, if I'd done all these exciting things which Carole is expecting I wouldn't have had time to write anyway, and would therefore not be on the course in the first place.  I'd be off saving baby leopards in Africa or something.  (Do leopards even come from Africa?)

So my plan at the moment is to sit in dumb silence.  Unless I can do something life-changing in the next 3 days.  Wish me luck.

I've heard that the titles of these entries are somehow important in some way (I don't know how, dinosaurs don't do computers) so my randomness shall have to disappear.  Alas.

My, what a cheery blog post this was.  I'll try to do better next time.