Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Fiction and Poety

I mostly write poetry, but I have written/am writing 2 novels. I've discovered I can't write short stories. Not sure why, they just never work. I've never really tried much else except journal/diary and blog writing.

I have another novel idea percolating, but it's still nowhere solid enough for me to really start working on it, but I do write about it occasionally. I have two writing journals: one where I write whatever I'm working on and one where I write about my writing. 

This second journal is all about my novels and contains ideas, sketches of plotlines, information about characters, details about their past. I also ask questions and remind myself to expand and write about certain things. Often I just journal about what I'm currently doing. I have misplaced the one I used for my first novel and my first draft of my second and I miss it terribly. It was the chronicles of writing those first novels: raw, hopeful and frustrated. I hope it's stashed in the loft in Scotland as I hate losing writing. 

Fiction and poetry writing are very different processes for me. When I was working on the first novel I got a SAC grant to write it and it was almost like a full time job, I wrote every morning for hours, then had lunch and went to the allotment and spent a few hours there, sometimes writing if the weather was poor and then I'd come home and type up what I wrote and did some rereading and editing. Then it'd be time to make dinner. I did this for a month, I think and I really enjoyed it, but it was hard work. Editing and rewriting the first draft was even harder. I need longer blocks, much more time and commitment for fiction.

Poetry I can do in small parcels of time. I rarely sit and write a whole poem or finish one in a day or even a few days. I write a line or two here, go and edit another poem that's still in progress. I do some free writing around the subject and then pick out the good phrases that could be used as the backbone of a new poem. Poems take months, sometimes years to feel solid. And then I still reexamine and edit them a bit before I submit them for publication. 

Rewriting and editing happens as I write poetry, I'm always tinkering with lines, where I usually leave big edits in fiction until I've finished the complete project. 

Two books I'd recommend for getting started with writing is Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and John Gardener's The Art of Fiction. They are very different in style, but both equally useful in their own way. 

Goldberg's is more to do with starting from scratch and getting into the habit of writing. It's good if you're a beginner or if you have a project you're starting. It's less about technique but more about state of mind and getting your bum of the seat. She's more 'spiritual' about writing, but is still all about doing the work.

Gardener's book is more about craft: technical and more academic. It starts with an essay and then moves to common problems and techniques. It also has a section on plotting which I found invaluable as it's not my strong point. 

You have to be wary about buying and reading books about learning to write. I don't believe anyone can teach you, but they often can give you inspiration, direction and assistance. But it's easy to spend a lot of time (and money) buying and reading these books rather than writing. 

I prefer the more practical books that have lots of exercises or writing prompts. My favourite for myself and for when I was teaching creative writing was A Writer's Book of Days by Judy Reeves. It had a hundreds of prompts that worked for poetry and fiction and could be used to just get into the habit of writing but to also work on a piece already started. 

I've actually just put it in my basket for my next book order as my copy has been in Scotland for 7 years and it has now been revised so a new copy is definitely needed to help me get back into the swing of things. 

Thursday, 26 January 2017


I've decided to move this blog's focus onto my writing, so I have deleted a lot of my old posts and changed the intro. A fresh start. 

I have been trying to work all this week. I've printed out the first 100 pages of my current novel and am rereading and editing them. I've done some free writing in my journal, on subjects from my To Do List and just random writings. I've written a bit on the poems I'm working on. 

It may seem I'm all over the place, but with the limited parcels of time I have to allot for my writing, doing several projects in small time periods seems to work, though overall progress is slow going. 

I've received another rejection from a magazine this week and have been scanning sites for new magazines to submit to. I've been submitting work to UK magazines since 1996 and some magazines have rejected my work dozens of times. I have a little notebook where I tracked submissions from 1996-2009 and now I have a computer file that notes where I've submitted each poem to. 

I'm not really bothered by rejection. I worked in publishing for awhile at Chapman magazine in Edinburgh and I quickly realised that rejections were just an editor's personal opinion. Your style may just not mesh with that particular editor. I've had editors that have accepted everytime I send something and other places that have never accepted my work. I just keep sending things out, hoping to hit the right person on the right day. 

I spent a bit of time yesterday on The Poetry Kit site. I mostly use it for the Calls for Submissions, Contests and Magazine sections and for the most part it's quite good. I did realise yesterday though that the UK Magazine section is sadly out-of-date. Just clicking links in the S section more than half of the links didn't work, went to different places than they should have or the magazines have closed down. It makes the already lengthy process of finding magazines that suit your work much harder. I've emailed them about the problem and hopefully they'll work on an update soon. 

The Trish Hopkinson site I mentioned in my last blog is quite good for info about magazines with calls for submissions or info about new or interesting new presses and magazines, but she is US-based and so is most of the things she mentions. She does do lists of international magazines. If anyone knows of a similar blog, please put a link in the comments. 


Monday, 23 January 2017

Monday Musings

Monday, it's hard to get back into the swing of things. I open files, notebooks and then get distracted or nothing comes. Working on the computer isn't the best idea because it's too easy to have Facebook or somethinge equally time-wasting open in another window. I do multi-task a bit as well when I write and sometimes that can work, gives me a break, a change of focus so I can come back to something fresh, but sometimes it's easy to be drawn into other things like tidying or cooking. 

At the moment I have a pot of jam cooking, this blog page, my in-progress novel and my 'roughs' file where I work on poems open. I haven't started doing anything but the blog. I'm going to try and use this blog as a way to kick start my writing in the morning. 

I write best in the morning now, I'm just too tired in the evenings. I work when all the kids are away and I have the house in silence. I miss silence most of the day. No demands from anyone but myself. I work on the computer as I have everything at my fingertips, though I still use notebooks for when I'm out and about. 

When I was teaching creative writing I used a lot of writing prompts, both for my students and for myself. I spent a lot of time travelling on trains and buses to jobs, so I used that time to write and used prompts to get me started. I've been struggling to get back into writing in my notebooks, so prompts are a good way to start. 

I usually start with a list of '10 Things I Want to Write'. Some days it's easy to come up with that list. I've found an old writing journal from 2004 (pre-kids) and I had these lists scattered through it with ticks against the ones I had finished. They changed regularly and a lot were completed. The lists can be as specific or as vague as you want. I do things I want to finish writing as well as things I would like to start. I made a list last week and came up with 4 things:
  • finish both sets of moon poems (this would be 6 poems in total I need to finish)
  • finish my photography poem
  • write a poem about 3rd culture
  • write a poem for each of the kids 
Once I have a list of some sort I can then take a subject off the list and work on it as a writing prompt. After I made the list I worked on some ideas for the 3rd culture poem. 3rd culture kids is an idea where immigrant/expat children don't relate totally to their parent's home culture, they can't connect with the culture of the country they live in as they are not native so they create a 3rd culture to form their identities around. I also relate this to the fact that I was born and raised in America, but chose to live in Scotland and have now ended up in Finland and I'm trying to write about how difficult it is to not have a national identity. 

Anyway, writing prompts. This list of writing ideas is what prompted me to start using prompts again to get me back into daily writing. I was linked to it through Trish Hopkinson's writing blog which I have been following lately. It's also made me break out my old teaching file of writing ideas. I hope something inspires you. Now off to work . . .
  • magnetic poetry
  • I used to be . . .  but now, I am , I see, I remember, I want, I will be, I come from
  • group writing – each person writes one sentence and passes it onto the next person
  • sentences must make sense, but each sentence must be totally unconnected to the one before it
  • colour – pick a colour and all writing must somehow relate to it
  • choose 10 verbs and 10 nouns randomly and write from that
  • repeating idea “I remember” “I wish” “I can’t write because” and whenever run out of ideas repeat that phrase until something comes to mind.
  • describe an object and at the same time have in mind the character who is looking at the object. Description must reflect the character’s emotional mind set. Ex: Old man, whose son has just died, is looking at a barn. Can be repeated looking at the same object from another person’s point of view or from the same character in a different mood. From John Gardner's The Art of Fiction
  • write a  nonsense poem/ story using made up words, ie ‘Jabberwocky’
  • write from the point of view of an inanimate object
  • word game with nouns – give a generic noun like ‘tree’ and pupil must respond with a word or phrase that makes it more specific like ‘elm’ or ‘dead’
  • write a story entirely made up of dialogue
  • start a journal: what are your wishes, dreams etc
  • think of a subject that is usually not written about, write for 10 minutes on it
  • write about a subject you’ve always wanted to write on or one you’ve never wanted to write about
  • found poetry – take a line from a song, another poem or any book and write a piece around it
  • Cut up poetry – cut words and phrases from newspapers, magazines etc. Use like magnetic poetry
  • Make a list of your favourite words – use like magnetic poetry

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A New Year - 2017

A bit of good news to start the year: I've been accepted by a poetry mentor as part of the WoMentoring Project. We don't start until March, but she'll read some of my work and give me feedback, help me with rewrites and generally talk to me about writing which is something I really crave. We have a theme in common in our writing it seems: infertility and miscarriage, though her struggle has been much longer and more difficult. I'm looking forward to working with her. 

I've been busy sending my work our to magazines and publishers again, both poetry and fiction. I'm also working on rewriting the first draft of my novel. I didn't do anything connected with writing over the Christmas holidays, so the kids going back to school has been a release to start working on my interests again. Still having to fit it around hospital visits and lessons, but I have found ways to make it possible. I'm not sure if I'll do much Finnish this term as the class is at an awkward time. Hopefully that will give me more time to write. 

In the next couple of months before I start work with the mentor I need to reexamine my proposed poetry collections. I have enough poems for probably 2 collections but I don't know how to split them. I originally started with a Scottish/Finnish collection and a more 'poet looks at art' type collection, but I realised that I've been in Finland so long that the pre-Finland poems need to be separate fron the Finland poems. And the 'art' collection wasn't strong enough. So now I have a Scottish collection that's not 100% complete but could be if I give up trying to finish a unfinished series of poems for it, a half-written Finnish collection and some spare poems that don't fit in either. I'm not sure if this is the best solution so want to revisit what I've done to decide. 

A new year to push on with, to continue writing and working on my own interests as much as possible. 2016 wasn't bad, it was a start of me after children, but I'm liking how 2017 is presenting itself. 

Roll on.