Tag Archives: Short story

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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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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Writing amongst the trees

IMG_3297I can hardly believe my two weeks at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre are almost over. I’ve had such a good time here, and not in exactly the way I expected.

I thought I’d write three or more stories during my residency. But I arrived with a story yet to be finished, and worked on that for a couple of days. Then I panicked for a couple of days, because I felt this intense pressure to choose a Good Idea for my next story and nothing seemed close to adequate (normally I would take the vaguest of concepts and just wing it). Eventually I calmed down and told myself to just play. So I tried something I’ve never tried – writing a story in second person. It was truly bad at first, so I worked on it, and now it’s approaching fair. After that I began a new story which I’m having fun writing. And here I am on the Friday of the last week.

So with two full writing days to go, I’ve edited one story, written a full story in second person, and am perhaps halfway through a new tragi-comedy sort of piece. I wouldn’t call that an enormous output yet. I say yet because I have no doubt that my experiences here will lead to more stories, perhaps as many again as I have written so far. I have walked at sunset, shopped in an Indian grocery store, met many creative people, attended writing groups and had dinner with a lovely writer friend I hadn’t yet been able to meet in person. I’ve had meals and discussions and lots of laughter with the other two Fellows here. I’ve read every night before bed. I’ve had time to become immersed in writing.

It became a bit of a catchcry between myself and my next-door neighbour Fellow Mark J Keenan (who is going through the re-drafting process with his novel) – It’s not about the word count, it’s about the whole writing experience. Thinking, planning, dreaming, talking and writing amongst the trees.

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How to Write – a manual for distractible writers

Step 1. Check email, in case you have won some nationwide competition or had a world-renowned journal accept one of your stories.

Step 2. Check Facebook. There could be a writing opportunity on a page you’ve liked. Or a cute puppy video.

Step 3. Check Twitter. You may hear some interesting news that prompts you to write a brilliant new piece of fiction. Or creative non-fiction. Or a cool sort of limerick.

Step 4. Check Instagram. You may get good ideas for a snack.

Step 5. Get a snack. And a drink while you’re at it.

Step 6. Sit back down. Open your document. Yes, just go to the toilet. Be quick.

Step 7. Write. Stay there. Do not access the internet, ring people or text people. Write.

Step 8. Briefly congratulate self. You’re writing!

Step 9. Keep writing.

 

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Taking Rejection like a Boss

I am the Rejection Queen! Watch me laugh in the face of defeat!

Actually, I don’t consider receiving a rejection letter to be a defeat. Not anymore. I don’t love rejection emails, but they don’t ruffle me like they used to. When I first started submitting stories to magazines, anthologies and competitions (four years ago, almost to the day), every ‘it’s not for us’ email stung. I cried once or twice, wondering if I’d ever get anywhere with writing. Over the next year or two I had a couple of positive replies, the occasional writing ‘win’, but so few and far between! Still, as time went on, rejection emails affected me less and less. I grew a thicker skin and began to believe in myself, just a little.

These days, I read the email and move on. Mostly I feel neutral, like I do when I’m cleaning my teeth. Sometimes I sigh, but that’s about it. I’ve decided it’s simply a numbers game. Write, re-write, polish, send out. Write, re-write, polish, send out. I don’t wait for replies on anything – I just go on to the next project. (Or sometimes I bake. There are times when cake is needed first.) I figure spending time mourning a story not accepted just gets in the way of finding the next possible placement for that piece, or blocks the writing of a fresh, new story.

I just counted them up, and since my very first submission, I have sent out 89 pieces (many of these are repeat submissions). I try to have at least ten stories out at any one time. Currently I have twelve pieces out there in the big, wide world, so I’m happy with that. I figure all I can do is write the best work I can and send it to well-suited homes. The rest is in the lap of the writing gods.

I’m hoping for some good news soon. I’m ready for an acceptance email or a competition win. But if nothing happens, if the next writing mail is a rejection, I’ll pull on my big girl panties, adjust my Rejection Queen tiara, (make a quick red velvet cake) and take it like a boss.

*Feel free to leave a comment … I wrote this in the hope that other writers might feel less alone, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.*

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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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