Tag Archives: Short story

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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Stories and a poem

I’ve been reading a lot of short stories lately, soaking them in. Helen Simpson, Cate Kennedy, Angela Carter. Christos Tsolkas, George Saunders. Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore. Joyce Carol Oates and Raymond Carver. Sometimes I am almost breathless at the end of a piece, and I have to get up and move and shake myself. These writers blow my mind.

I’ve also been reading a bit of poetry, in a small volume I bought myself a couple of years ago, Penguin’s Poems for Life. And although I’ve read this particular poem before, and no doubt you’ve seen it too, when I read it today I had that breathless feeling again. It’s by Raymond Carver, written when he knew he was dying of lung cancer.

***

 

Late Fragment

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

 

***

 

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Redemption

So, it seems I’m a terrible blogger. No post for over a year – abysmal. But here I am, just checking in. Trying to redeem myself.

It’s a funny thing about redemption – that seems to be the theme of so many of my stories. I’m attracted to the idea that no matter what mistakes we make, despite how we mess up and do the wrong thing as we muddle through life, there is always the potential for change. There is always hope, no matter how small.

This applies to writing as well as people, I think. I wrote a really bad story last year (so bad it frightened me. I’m not being dramatic, it actually terrified me how bad it was. I had trouble continuing to write). But because I am finally learning that to create a good story, you must write a whole lot of awfulness (or middling-ness, at best), then revise, edit, change, fix … because I am finally realising that only weird genius writers actually write stuff fully-formed, I let it rest. I let the smelly, messy, bulging bag of manure just sit there in the corner. I pretended I didn’t even know it was mine, and I wrote some other bits and pieces to console myself. Finally, I opened the bag of excrement that was my story, and kind of gently poked around (with gloves on, of course), and found something in there that wasn’t poo! It smelt a bit and took me awhile to separate from the poo, but it wasn’t actual poo. Let’s just say it was grass, or a stick. Not a diamond that’s for sure.

Anyway I took that tiny section, and stretched it out; I cleaned it and brushed it, and lo! it is not too bad. I’m not saying it’s going to win any accolades, but it’s got some redeeming features. I like it.

So to any other newbie writers out there – I say don’t be afraid of the poo. Keep all your dodgy, smelly stories, and come back to them. There will be something good there, no matter how small.

And now I must go. There’s another sack waiting to be opened.

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What I Have Learnt From Quitting my Sensible Job and Writing Made-Up Stories All Year

1) Change is terrifying

2) Change is good

3) To become better as a writer it’s important to read plenty of good writing and to write a lot.

4) It’s not hard to read but writing is hard. Suck it up, do it anyway.

5) Some jobs (like my previous job) give you status, ego stroking and a daily sense of making a difference. Writing isn’t like that.

6) Learning something new (writing and surgical assisting in my case) when you’re not a young thing is bruising. You feel five years old again. People treat you like the imbecile that you seem to be. Suck it up, do it anyway. (My nurse friend told me “Now you know how I get treated every day”. Gulp.)

7) Supportive family and friends are an absolute blessing.

8) I’m braver than I thought.

9) Persistence really does pay. I’m getting a story published (in The Suburban Review) this month, and I’m so happy, and grateful for the opportunity. I honestly didn’t believe I’d be published by now. So I guess sending stuff off, even when you feel terrified at the thought of others reading your imperfect work, is the only way to get your work read.

10) I love making up stories.

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Off and running …

I really did it. Quit my job, walked away. Left a perfectly respectable position that gave me status, respect and good pay to try something for which I have little training and dubious aptitude. Sometimes I can hardly believe what I’ve done. Thank goodness I have a small part-time job in the pipeline and a supportive husband!

Strangely, I’m not sad. If anything, I’m a little relieved. I think I was ready to move on. But with the relief there is also a huge fear – the fear of failure, fear of mediocrity, fear that I’ll find myself floundering and uncertain and rudderless as a writer. I’m trying to sit with that fear. ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’. That sort of thing. I figure this is all normal.

I’ve started a couple of stories since the big change. Both seemed like good ideas when I began but withered, mid-story. I’m unsure whether to persevere and see what they’re like once completed or whether to cut my losses. The usual writer’s dilemma, I suppose. I tell myself that all writing is good practice, whether the story ends up being ‘a winner’ or not.

Guess I’ll go see what I can do with those dodgy stories now …

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Getting out of my own way

Hello, and welcome!

This isn’t my first blog, but it’s my first blog as a writer trying to get serious about the whole business of writing – which is what this post is about. If you’re a writer, too (and let’s face it, most bloggers either are writers, or should be writers!), maybe you can relate.

I think I’m getting too serious here. Overthinking the entire process until all I can think to write about is – well, nothing really. Because when I do consider an idea, a sneery voice winds down my ear canal and echoes in my head, “Bor-ring!”. I’m finished before I begin.

When I first started writing bits and pieces, squeezed in around the rest of my life, I never stopped to consider if my stories were good or not. I just tapped them out. They were pretty bad in general, but they had some kernels of good in them, and I loved the feeling of expressing myself. Slowly I began to learn about writing, took some classes, learnt to edit. I realised I had some ability, and began to believe in myself. So I’ve cleared space in my life for writing, with a big shake-up of my work hours, and I’m ready to give writing my all. Yet here I sit, staring at the cursor, fighting a rising sense of panic that I’ll never write another short story.

A friend gave me a book of Buddhist quotes, and one attributed to Buddha reads ‘The mind is everything. What we think, we become.’ I understand how powerful our thoughts can be, and I know that to work well, to succeed, to achieve anything in life, the right mindset is essential. I need to calm down, remember the joy of writing just for the story. I need to get out of my own way.

So, here I go …

 

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