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A friend of mine sent me a text today which read as follows:

“So your theme for the week is ‘_____’. I would like two brothers and a sister called J___, J____ and J____, everything happens in one afternoon and it cannot be more than two pages. How is that?”

And that, to me, sounds like quite a nice way to get back into the swing of writing. So I wrote a story based on those parameters, then I’ll send it back to him and he’ll respond to it in some way: maybe a song, or a poem, or a photograph. And perhaps we’ll carry on. It sounds like fun.

“Do you fancy a pint?”

“Okay!”

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Not much, how come?”

The two exchanges above are typical for me. Particularly the “what are you doing tonight?” question. Frequently, I try to set aside time for writing. And equally frequently, when someone asks me what my plans are, my answer is “not much” or “nothing”, despite the fact that I set aside time for writing, or reading, or just sitting quietly on my own and watching a film.

Strangely, it often seems to me that saying “I’m busy” feels like a lie if my plans just revolve around me. If my plans revolve around another individual, I am a lot more likely to stick to them then if it’s just me who is getting railroaded if things change. It feels almost rude to say “Actually, I am busy. I was planning on staying in.” I worry that people hear “I’d rather do nothing than hang out with you,” or “I’m washing my hair.”

But equally, I have observed a common trait in a lot of successful writers: steel. I can’t find another way to put it. It’s in the eyes, just look at AL Kennedy:

Image

There’s a determination there, right?

A lot of writers seem to be able to lock themselves away, work hard, and, most importantly (for the purposes of this post), they’re probably quite able to say ‘no’. It’s not a harsh trait, and it’s certainly not a negative one, but it’s an ability to see your own needs and goals as just as important as those of someone else. It’s an awareness that you can say  no, and that ‘I’m busy’ is not a lie, even if ‘busy’ = pyjamas and ice cream straight out of the tub with a spoon (some of us have to do this as part of the creative process. Honest.)

There is also often a ferocious defence of space, alongside time: an awareness that he or she needs certain conditions in which to write best, and a dedication to maintaining that.

Being away in Belfast for a couple of months certainly taught me that staying in can be very very restorative and actually a lot of fun, and that you’re not necessarily ‘missing out’ if you don’t attend absolutely every possible social engagement.

Perhaps this steely determination doesn’t come naturally to me. It might be hard work. But also, maybe sometimes now I’ll feel like it’s OK to say no once in a while, and that being ‘busy’ can mean anything; it’s not a lie.

I’ve just spent two months in a new city, where I knew no one except my lovely housemate and colleague, Julie.

My theory was as follows: that my social life in Edinburgh is an obstacle to my writing, and that if I transplant myself to another city where I know no one, I will write loads in the evenings and become uncharacteristically productive. I planned to edit the whole 60,000 diary monstrosity into a lighthearted, humourous and linear narrative worthy of submitting to agents, and I planned to do it all in six weeks in Belfast while continuing to work full-time in a bookshop.

Did that happen? No, of course not.

Here’s what actually happened: I cut down on drinking, stopped smoking, embarked on Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, waking up at 6.30am every morning to exercise before work, and going to bed at 10.30pm every night in an attempt to sleep for eight hours. I read lots of books, watched lots of films, and did A LOT of much-needed thinking.

I’ve returned to Edinburgh feeling a little bit clearer, and a little bit like my brain has been through a washing machine: it’s a bit battered, but it’s cleaner, too.

Most importantly, I’ve realised that it’s really hard to work full-time hours and write in your free time. I know many people do it, and they manage high levels of productivity and good quality writing. Yes, it’s possible. But it’s okay that maybe I find that tough. It doesn’t make me a terrible, feckless and hopeless writer. I don’t have to feel guilty or useless, I just have to accept that I’m going to have to face some obstacles, and maybe find a way of (job) working which can allow me to write a bit easier. And that’s OK.

I’ve been tagged – twice – in a strange Internet meme for writers, which reminded me I have a blog, so I decided to visit this derelict, abandoned excuse for a blog and see if I can remember my login details for wordpress. It turned out my clever laptop had stored the login details, but it took me quite a while to remember how to create a new post.

I have noticed that, through not using the internet or television very often, I’ve actually regressed in my knowledge of computers, popular culture and the internet. Instead of merely pausing in my understanding of technology, I’ve actually (almost willfully) moved backwards, finding myself saying “I’ve been tagged in a… meme thing” and “What’s The Wire about? Is it good?”

I’m being contrary, because I think it’s ‘cool’ to step back slightly from these parts of life. By asking these silly questions, I’m showing I’m too ‘cool’ to go on the world wide web, tweet at minor celebrities and watch University Challenge on iPlayer (I still love you, Jeremy).

Seriously, though, when I do spend an hour or so on the internet, I rarely gain anything, but I do waste a lot of time. If I spend that time reading a book, or writing (ha! One day), then I will have made progress, learnt something, or felt that I have achieved something.

So, I have a neglected blog, and a GoogleReader bristling with unread blog posts from some great blogs. And I have a LOT of emails and Facebook messages which have been ‘marked as unread’ for the day when I do eventually sit down in front of my laptop. And many, many missed story submission deadlines and incomplete job applications… there are disadvantages to this. But I feel like I have a richer life, lived mainly in the real world with face-to-face encounters, instead of one-dimensional interactions in the virtual one.

Having said all that, I’ll be back soon to complete this chain-letter/meme thing about writing, because it actually sounds quite good. Expect a little more information about my current project, coming up!

Dear Diary…

02.12.01 (Age 15)

            Dear Diary,

There are so many sexy blokes in this world, how come I don’t know any of them? And when I do, how come they don’t know I exist? I go for older men. They are so much funnier and easy to talk to then younger men. I just can’t wait till I get older + they can look upon me as an equal. But even then I won’t be attractive. I’ll still be flabby and unfit, with a sticky-out chin, hooked nose and gappy teeth. I don’t understand how some people manage to be so pretty + have a personality, while some people manage neither.

              I admit, I may have more personality than many bimbos, but is it their good looks and being told how gorge they are that has made them slow in the first place? I suppose (and hope) that everything is evened out in some way or another, but I wish it were more obvious. Cosmetic surgery. Hmmm. Boobs. And a normal nose and chin. Need money. Hmmm.

            Going to get ready for bed + school now. Night night.

Love, Rosie

 

Before I knew I wanted to write, I wrote. From the age of eight until eighteen, without even realising I was doing it, I shared my thoughts with a diary on a semi-regular basis. It’s painfully embarrassing, occasionally cruel, frequently self-indulgent, arrogant, self-pitying, and ABSOLUTELY hilarious.

I’m typing up these diaries with a view to editing them for publication, if I still feel like they’ve got potential once they’re done.

It’s a very entertaining process, and occasionally worrying: sometimes I’m reading the words of a selfish brat who has no concept of the wider world or even the feelings of the people closest to her; other times I stumble across the same thoughts and feelings which haunt me now, only when I was fifteen apparently I was able to express them with more clarity than I can at twenty-six. And if the same issues still crop up with alarming regularity, what progress have I made in the past eleven years?

The above consideration is secondary to the process, of course, but it’s certainly interesting to me. Meanwhile, is it possible to distance oneself from a diary, even if it was written by a ‘different’ you, enough to edit, cut and improve a piece to its full potential? I don’t know yet, but I think I might be about to find out. Wish me luck!

Current word count: 38,000 words.

Do Something

It’s been a very long time since I read a story in public.

It’s been a very long time since I wrote something new.

Both of these things bother me. But I’ve been having a lot of fun: going out, making new friends, working full-time, learning new things… And that’s important, too.

Two years ago, I gave up a well-paid job in a University, with future career prospects and more earning potential, to move to Edinburgh and study creative writing. I’m now working in a bookshop for minimum wage, and I’ve never been happier.

I have, however, been richer.

I need to write more, because otherwise giving up that well-paid job would have been all for nothing.

I need to write more, because that is what I want to do.

It’s all very well, talking about writing all the time… but if I don’t actually do anything then it’s a waste of breath.

Come on, Rosie. Do something.

Updates

In a previous post, I was furiously writing a long piece to submit as the dissertation for my Masters. That seems a like a very long time ago now! I submitted 21,000 words of a novella called Watching the Asylum, and I graduated with a distinction, so I’m very pleased!

Since then, I have been working in a bookshop and enjoying it a lot. I’ve also got a short-term (paid!) writing job connected with my previous employment at a university, so that’s fantastic news.

I have been having a great time during the past few months. But, crucially, I haven’t really been writing very much. So it’s time to knuckle down and really do this. Expect more posts.