Category Archives: writing angst

Dear Writing Gods

So, Writing Gods, I’m still here. Just in case you’d forgotten. I mean, I’m sure you hadn’t, because you’re the all-seeing, all-knowing Writing Gods, but maybe you got a bit distracted by a brilliant, funny writer or a writer who wears way cooler clothes than I do or maybe a writer who actually spends more time at their desk than baking. And I’d understand that, really I would. But I haven’t given up. I’m still here in my ugg boots with my copy of ‘How Not to Suck at Writing’ and I’m still making up stories and sending them away. But it’s been quiet. Eerie.

Here’s something I wonder – do you ever think the acceptances and awards we writers get could be spaced out a little better? As Writing Gods, do you ever consider using your influence to drip-feed our successes throughout the year? Why must we get all our good news close together, then nothing for months? Writing Gods, it’s cruel.

So anyway, if you’re not too busy, maybe fling something my way? Anything would be fine. A longlist, an honourable mention. Hell, I’d take a personal rejection note at this point. Just a sign from above not to open a bakery.

Also, Writing Gods, sorry for whining. I appreciate the thrills of the Writing Life, I really do. I know I’m so fortunate. I thank you for your bounty and I grovel humbly before you.

Yours in readiness,

Fiona

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the importance of play

IMG_2686The past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing and writing. Sure, I’ve wasted time here and there, but I’ve also worked at my desk for hours.

Except, what I’ve written has been awful. Flat, uninspired, dull. I revised 3 stories in the past ten days and became thoroughly sick of each piece. Not because they were finished, either. They were just so terrible I couldn’t stand to read another word.

So I’ve been feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning my uselessness and wondering for the zillionth time why I thought I had any aptitude for this. And then last night something occurred to me.

Maybe doggedness can be a bad thing.

I’m not saying I’m about to give up, or that I don’t believe in hard work. But I realised that lately, my approach has been all wrong. It’s joyless. I’m showing up at my desk as if I’m sitting an exam. I’m not getting outside enough, not walking enough. I’m thinking about where I’ll submit a story before it’s even finished, instead of losing myself in the tale I’ve created. I’m as playful as a back brace.

I know writing isn’t all fun and games. I know it involves hard work, showing up, putting the words together. But surely that can still be done with a sense of fun, with an attitude that brings a lightness of spirit, creating prose that sparks and surprises.

Maybe my defensiveness over hearing criticism of ‘earnest’ writing was not just because I write emotionally, but because I sensed I was writing without enough playfulness in my heart. Which is not to say that story content should be always be humorous – just that the approach shouldn’t be so stompy.

Maybe I’ve had my gumboots on when I needed to skip around in a pair of sandals.

Or even barefoot, across the grass.

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Earnestly, yes

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I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction lately. Short fiction and commentary about short fiction. And I’ve been feeling unsettled. Not by the short fiction, which has been varied and fresh and intriguing. It’s the talk about the Australian short fiction scene that has been bothering me.

A couple of writers have made remarks to the effect that Australia short fiction tends to be boring and bland. One gave the example of too many stories set in rural Australia where not much happens. I’m sure I read an interview where another writer said he hated writing that was too earnest. And right away that comment made me defensive and squirmy. Is that me? It might be me.

I actually agree that some stories struggle to excite. They try too hard to be ‘literary’. Farmers’ wives gaze out over fields and farmers’ brows crease and the fly-blown sheep carcass is a metaphor. Clouds gather and it looks like rain but then it doesn’t and the story ends.

However. People in glass houses and all. Because I can’t help it, my stories are a bit earnest, they’re really not funny in any ha-ha way, I don’t write satire or fantasy, my characters frown a bit too. But I write the only way I can. It’s the only thing I know – people and what’s in their deepest hearts, what secretly moves them, what makes them cry at night, what they fear and what they hope for. What they can’t forget. Who they’ll always love.

I don’t believe that stories in traditional narrative form are boring if the content is good. I don’t believe a short story has to be humorous, or satirical, or contain magical elements to be entertaining. I believe there is a place for every kind of story, done well.

I like trying new things, within my capabilities. I’ve written dystopian fiction, magic realism, a dialogue-only story and crime fiction. I try to learn and to stretch myself. I read widely. But ultimately I am developing my own voice, and that voice is emotional and I guess it’s a bit earnest too. I need to own that without shame.

 

 

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Gotta be in it

brick-wall-free-textures-01It’s interesting, the way we writers repeatedly bang our heads against brick walls. Do we have really tough skulls? High pain thresholds? Masochistic urges? I think we do it because we’re stoic (not stupid – stoic!). We feel the pain but we want to succeed.

Today I applied for a writing residency, knowing my chances are very slim. Not only am I competing against more experienced, more talented authors, I’m also applying with a short story collection. I checked the previous winners of this residency, and found that of all the most recent finalists, only one was writing short fiction. Hmmm, I said to myself. And yet if I don’t apply at all, my chance of acceptance is zero. If I don’t enter the fray, I can’t possibly succeed.

To all those awaiting writing results and responses, to anyone who sometimes feels the bruises from the brick wall – I’m with you. I’m doing the same. We’re putting ourselves out there, getting amongst it.

Wishing you the best of luck!

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Smackdown

So I guess I deserved this. What did I think would happen when I declared myself practically immune to writing rejection? Ha! Karma swung around and bit me on the butt.

It turns out I am totally fine with receiving writing rejections … sometimes. Those times include – when I don’t expect to get accepted anyway, when the rejections are spaced far apart, and possibly also when there’s something else exciting going on in my life.

On the other hand it seems I am not remotely good with rejection when I get three knockbacks in just over 24 hours. In fact I am a sulky, sooky baby (yes, I know, first world problems). I’ve tried eating a hell of a lot of ice-cream but that has been unsuccessful. So I thought I’d ‘write it out’. Verbally pout and gnash my teeth. I feel a bit better already 🙂

If you’d like to add to my complaints with some of your own, feel free. It doesn’t have to be about writing – any whining is welcome. There will be no judgement, only empathy!

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On days like this.

On days like this I compose reviews of my (non-existent) short story collection in my mind. I caught myself doing this just now, as I lugged wet washing to the line. The reviews aren’t harsh – they’re tepid, like milk left out too long. They say things like: While the stories are generally well-written, they are also stolid and unsurprising.

I realised what I was doing and stopped. I looked for the silver lining and congratulated myself for at least imagining a published anthology. But I know those negative thoughts are there, I know the limp reviewer hasn’t gone very far.

It’s a mug’s game, this writing gig. We write and re-write, edit and edit some more, send out our precious baby (manuscript/story/poem), and often don’t even hear back at all. Nothing. Not even a form rejection. Who would do this to themselves?!

And yet there’s that world we inhabit when we write, the places we create exactly as we please. We play with words and mix them up and tumble them into sentences. We bring characters, places, stories to life. It’s an enormous joy and I truly love to write.

Fellow writers, may your week be free of negativity and filled with writing bliss!

 

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a writer’s gang

I’m waiting to hear back from my mother and sister. I’m not tapping my feet about this (tap, tap, tap), because they have lives and I know that (tap, tap). I sent them my latest story a couple of days ago, and I’m keen to hear their thoughts. What worked and what didn’t. What they’d prefer gone, what they felt was missing. I trust them. They are both astute readers.

As I checked my email repeatedly today, it occurred to me how many people help with my writing.  These people are integral to me producing halfway decent stories. Writing teachers have given of their time and wisdom, some well beyond the course or workshop. My mother and sister often look at my work. Two of my childhood friends, and another writing friend provide feedback. Two friends in Texas, USA often read my stories. My husband is great at giving me title ideas when I’m stuck. And lastly, but so importantly, my writing group critiques most of my pieces – kindly, gently and thoroughly, helping me improve every story I submit. They are brilliant.

Without these generous people, I wouldn’t be able to make my stories work. Before the gift of their different perspectives, my work is muddy and lacks resonance. Other people get me there, every time. And I think that must be true of most writers. We think we create our stories, and it’s true we put the initial words on paper, but many others make suggestions, discuss plots, find weak points, encourage us, or even just bring us the odd cup of tea. We get the job done with the help of our gang, and hopefully we in turn become part of the support crew for other writers we know.

If you happen to be a writer doing it solo, I can recommend doing a writing course (preferably in person – just my opinion though, since I’ve heard of online writing groups that seem to work), since that’s how I met my fantastic writing group. And if you have a family member or a friend you trust, just ask. See if they’re happy to read your pieces from time to time (just try not to be impatient like me!). You can always rotate who you ask, to avoid dumping too much on the one person.

Although it’s been hard to ask for help, I’ve found that most people want to lend a hand to a struggling writer. Most people enjoy being consulted, and most people have kind spirits.

We all need each other when it comes to writing. Or perhaps I should just say we all need each other.  Writers or not.

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