Tuesday, 19 July 2011

No Time To Waste

 A member of my online writing group – who has a full time teaching job and a young child - asked everyone how they fitted in time for writing with the demands made by the rest of their lives, how they made their writing time productive. I’m repeating here what I replied ...

I think there are two separate issues here.

The first is the fact that a common difficulty for writers - other than the A list-ers and maybe it's the same for them (because marketing & promotion is damned time-consuming) but they just don't say it - that there isn't enough time for actual writing, there are too many distractions.

Especially if most of one's hours are taken up with paid employment and/or family or domestic roles.

Easy to feel impatient during precious writing time, easy to feel as if you're not getting anywhere unless you have made the available writerly hours count.

I'm a full-time writer but I still have occasions of impatience, a discontent that I haven't completed more pieces and have them out, out, out, looking for a pay-return home. There's always so much that we want to have done, so many ideas that we want to follow up, it's easy to be unhappy with the amount of output we feel we've achieved. Especially when we know there's likely to be a lengthy wait to find out whether editors, publishers, producers are accepting our hard work - and make us feel that it's all been worthwhile - or rejecting us - which makes us feel ... rejected ... and of course unpaid. Bad, very bad, why did we waste our time, we must get on, get on, get on with it ....

This discontent does have some value when it -

makes us set deadlines for ourselves to have finished this or that piece of work, tightens our focus;

keeps us at our writing desk (or equivalent) beyond the point when we might have thought 'that's enough for now' - or as Stephen King referred to it in his 'On Writing' - gives us 'butt glue'.

But ... we shouldn't get carried away with revering 'product' as the one and only criteria for our overall and ongoing artistic success . Creativity involves process, and can't be converted into the desired final product without that effectiveness of process.

So when we're analysing objectively what we've achieved, we need to take into account the 'value added' by activities or reflections that have enhanced the process but not necessarily yet been converted into finished product.
This is all very corporate-sounding because to be a professional creative (whether it's writing, art, music) you have to have a business perspective. But to be creative per se you need to acknowledge what the process of creation needs, nurture it, give it the same respect as the final result. The creative process needs freedom to grow, stimulus to inspire or unlock it, space for play & experimentation. Creativity is an unstructured and unpredictable entity. Which leads to frustration for the person trying to capture it in a given period of time. Which is why, in our impatient modes, we feel that hours spent on the process without a definable product is wasted, unproductive. But if the process isn't properly fed and watered it's going to pass out and die before it gets to the outcome destination.

Whenever I feel impatience coming on I call to mind -

a description of writing that I came across years ago, referring to the activity as 'constructively staring into space'

the relatively non-prolific output of acclaimed (and one of my favourites) writer Kazuo Ishiguro (who's had only about half a dozen books published throughout his entire career)

the classic writer - I think it was Dickens - who described how he'd once spent a whole morning putting in a comma, and the whole afternoon taking it out

the fact that David Fanshawe, reputed to be one of the world's most original composers, spent 10 years travelling across the Pacific continent to come up with his African Sanctus (latin mass with African music merged). I met Fanshawe once, attending a live lecture from him about his life. When he talked about those 10 years he pointed out that he had no commission, did not have any guarantee about what would be his musical results of those years or whether anybody would pay for them and that writers and artists had to be passionate about doing what they were doing for the actual doing of it, and just keep going, keep going, keep going

my recently learning that the script of the brilliant (imho) contemporary film 'Inception' also took 10 years in the writing (Chris Nolan, the writer, obviously working on other stuff in the meantime, like the Batman Dark Knight film, but still)

So, we need to go easy on our manic urgency for speedy product output.

A couple of other things can help us have a better relationship with our writing time.

The first is our aspirations to perfection. I'm not about to say that making sure we do a good job of our writing isn't important, it clearly is. But 'a good job' doesn't always have to be the Ultimate in Perfection. John Fowles put out his The Magus for publication even while he was not totally satisfied with it, but he thought it was good enough to be published, which it was, to acclaim. Sometimes we need to say to ourselves, that's the best I can do at the moment, let's finish there and get it sent out.

This was borne home to me with my very first publication success, a story in a national magazine. I subscribed to the magazine so was familiar with it. I'd studied the nature and length of the short stories already published in that mag. I wrote my story, sent it to them, heard nothing for four months. I took my copy of the manuscript out of its 'pending' drawer, read it through again, decided that it had loads of weaknesses I hadn't noticed when I'd sent it out. I wouldn't publish it either, is what I thought. But I thought I'd just write to the magazine, ask them to confirm that they weren't using the story and could they give me feedback. They wrote back with a 'sorry for the delay, yes we'd be delighted to publish your story'. Really? Hurrah! Readers loved it. It was accessible, coherent, interesting. The fact that it didn't reach my current literary standards wasn't an issue. This was a big lesson in the subjectivity of views of perfection.

So, the first issue is how we perceive accountability of our 'pure' writing hours. The second is how to make the writerly, creative most of the time that's taken up with getting on with the rest of our lives.

There are loads of ways that we can be developing our writing without actually being sat 'doing writing'. Some of them very simple. We have to find the ways that suit our individual personalities, lifestyle and commitments. Mine include:

getting out and about to new places - can be done will all the family, with friends, alone - paying particular attention to the sensual detail of the place - sounds, smells, etc - building up a bigger repertoire of potential settings or partial settings for our tales;

reading - and this can include reading to our small children - which stimulates the story-telling imagination, introduces us to new types of characters, extends our vocabulary and ideas of symbolism, exposes us to structure of stories and character development;

jotting - noting down bits and pieces, fragments, of ideas, phrases, observations - on whatever scrap of paper that's to hand, then collecting them all together as a stimulus resource for later stirring of imagination or putting wholesale into a longer piece when we're doing the focussed stuff. I put all mine in what I refer to as my 'paragraph book', even though there's all sorts of tiny bits of stuff in there. For example, one morning a long time ago I was out in the garden with my rise-at-dawn son, outside so that the rest of the tribe weren't woken up and beginning the attention-demand day prematurely. While I was playing with son I made some visual observations that I jotted down on an envelope in my pocket. Thus:

the sun is breaking through curtains of mist, bringing to three-dimensional life the two-D silhouettes of the firs on the wooded valley I'm overlooking ...

the landline phone rings and because it has been days since I heard it, the Godfather theme tune does not immediately resonate with my brain response, and when it does it has stopped and the mobile's ringing instead. Who would ring this early?

They're tiny snippets, but they're keeping the creative muscle exercised ...

I hope some of this is valuable for any writers following the blog! Leave me a comment and let me know your opinions on this discussion.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Hang On A Minute! Day 1

I am having an extremely motivating and transformational birthday month.
I've been learning 'epublishing'. I started to skate along this particular learning curve because my From Wear To Wye book has sold well locally but is imprisoned in a bookshop in the woods. I have regained the publishing rights and was going to court another, bigger publisher. Or find an agent. Well, folks, that was only a couple of months ago but I've so moved on!

I'm undertaking an epublishing apprenticeship with From Wear To Wye, which I've rebranded as 'Hang On A Minute! Tales of a writer's life in the ancient Forest of Dean' (there are search keyword reasons for such a long subtitle btw). And I've taken those tales into the global playground, to meet new people, make new friends, new sales, new readers who want to read more of my work.

Initially, I've published via Amazon Kindle, and via the free download available for Kindle for the pc (see links below). But I'm learning, learning, learning ... and more global publishing platforms are to be undertaken in the very near future (could be next week for one of 'em).

I have no qualms at all about epublishing/self-publishing. Any form of publishing does not guarantee you sales. It's all about the promo and the distribution, honeys. To epublish is to give you global distribution. That's quite a big market you know. And it's free. You don't pay money up front, Amazon Kindle etc take a proportion of the sale price per book (just like trad publishers).

But unlike traditional publishers, the epublishers don't take the lion's (lioness's) share. I received 15% of my paperback price. I receive 70% of my epublished copies.


Even when you set the price low to attract more readers (HOAM is £2.15 to download), you're still able to get paid more per book.

Oh, the delicious control of it! It feels great!

You still need to work at promoting your book - just like you do with traditional publishers - but that's only fitting really, it's your book.

But you don't have to wait months and months - maybe forever - for publishers & agents that you are courting to stop playing hard to get and tell you how they feel.

It is so motivating, I just can't tell you ... well, I can, because I am. It's marvellous!!!

And for any of us who are writing genre material - fantasy, science fiction, horror - there's a huge and hungry market. Huge. And hungry ...

Below find my Kindle blurb and the relevant links.

And that's enough for day one, except to say that I've already made 2 sales - including one in Ireland that I didn't have to travel to in order to promote or sell - and that's 2 more than I've sold in months.

More, much more, anon

From Kindle Store:

"Whether she's communing with a dead composer, performing to an audience of uni-cycling cherubim or time-travelling through a gateway in the woods, Fi Benson's tales are filled with cheery nuggets of wisdom and hearty laughter. Hang On A Minute! is a collection of tales about Fi's life as a writer and dramatist in the ancient Forest of Dean. Wry and quirky, her stories sparkle with faerie dust and provide a magical introduction to a beautiful setting.

'That one little book has made me feel better than 6 months of therapy'

'Fi's vivid characters make me laugh - they remind me of the people I know'

'Totally absorbing'

'Has she written the next one yet?'"

It's epublished in Amazon's Kindle Store - if you haven't a Kindle you can read the book on your computer via the free download 'Kindle for pc' with the following link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_pc_mkt_lnd?docId=1000426311
For  UK, it's £2.15 and available at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=Hang+On+A+Minute&x=14&y=25