Ups and downs

Posted: October 25, 2013 in News
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’ve been a very bad blogger recently, and not in a fun way.

A combination of life events and general malaise has resulted in an extremely unproductive writing period. I can only write (or blog) when I have something to say and I envy those who are disciplined enough to sit down every day,  inspired or not, and simply write. I am starting to realise that my usual tried-and-tested working method has now become counter-productive but doubt I can change it, since it is the same one I have employed for nearly forty years in my design career. This is how it works:

I have an idea and let it roll around in my head until my deadline approaches. In design terms it’s called visualisation and was something we HAD to do in the dark days before the advent of computers. Back in the 1970s, when I started out, we worked with pencils and pens on paper, so it saved a lot of waste and rubbing/scratching out if we had a clear idea in advance of what the finished design should look like. Then all we had to do was draw it down accurately for the printer to follow. Simples. But now that we can see instant results on a screen, visualisation techniques have been virtually lost. We don’t even have to imagine what our living rooms would look like in certain colours and fabrics any more because retailers can show us with their specialist applications! It’s great for those who have no eye for design but has induced laziness in the rest of us.

TBND 2013 Poster smallFor some years I found the visualisation technique worked very well for my stories. I had an idea, often stemming from personal experience, from something overheard, a passing image (as in The Beast Next Door) or, if I was very lucky, from a fully-formed opening line that popped unbidden into my head. I then let it swill around without directing it until it formed itself into a story. This could take weeks or even months and it never worked out if I tried to force it. I didn’t write anything down – no jottings of any kind – until it was virtually complete. I had to know what happened before I wasted my time actually writing it, much the same as in my early days designing with pencil and paper. As I wrote, extra nuances and clues/red herrings occurred but the basic storyline was settled – and even edited – by the time it hit the page.

Unfortunately, subliminal editing sometimes gains a momentum of its own and a story gets shortened to a point where it is no longer worth writing down. I recently had a fairly complex idea for a novel that gradually dwindled into a short, then a flash fiction, then a sentence. There is no way back at this juncture as everything added back in feels like padding. It’s a dangerous process when allowed free rein!

But generally, my ‘method’ also worked well when I had several ideas at once. I let them jostle for position until one or two fought their way to the top, relegating the others to the outskirts of memory until most of them vanished. This was a signal to me that they would never make decent stories and I was happy to let them go. However, these days my memory is not infallible and I am finding some ideas that really interest me are wandering off into the sunset without permission. Well then, you may say, why don’t I carry a notebook and write the bloody things down? My answer is, I don’t know. I have developed an aversion to it – almost a phobia – as if I believe I might end up putting out a story that hasn’t been through the rigorous selection processes my brain previously imposed. That’s nonsense, I know, but it is definitely having an effect on my output and it is something I need to address before too much more time slips by. Any suggestions gratefully received.

On the UP side, while I have been hatching and forgetting plots, some little successes have occurred without my having to make any effort! Firstly, the short feature film of The Beast Next Door has been completed and submitted to several film festivals. I now have an IMDb profile too, which is something I wasn’t expecting. And there’s a poster with my name on it…

Next, out of the blue, I had a request from Cambridge University Press for permission to use my flash fiction, The Prisoner, for teaching purposes. I’ve just seen the questions and they are really interesting – and difficult!

final cover smallThen Rosemary Kind, who runs Alfie Dog Fiction, asked if she could include The Seventh Christmas in a Christmas-themed anthology, both as an ebook and paperback. I am very pleased about this as the story is close to my heart.

I also heard that my flash, A Matter of Taste, has won a place in Raging Aardvaak’s anthology, Twisted Tales. And I had two stories shortlisted in the last Flash500 and one longlisted in the Fish flash competition earlier in the year. Also, Readwave have sent three  stories to World Reader, a charitable organisation that aims to help improve literacy in developing countries. So at least things are still happening in spite of my sloth.

Actually, writing this post is giving me a lift. Perhaps I’ll go and get one of those beautiful hardback notebooks in our lovely local bookshop. Or start a local writing group. Or get my husband to give me a kick up the backside. Hmmm…

Back soon – I hope.

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Comments
  1. Fascinating how different people’s writing processes can be! If I sat and visualised, nothing would happen at all. I have to at least get a few ducks out onto the table, if not in a row, before anything really happens, and then I spend the rest of the time gaggling them, re-dressing their plumage, sending some off to nest, and occasionally bringing in a few swooping geese! The difference is, yours seems to work – but get that book anyway, there’s always room for a nice looking notebook 🙂

  2. Hello, I’m the same! A writing friend told me off once because I hadn’t posted on my blog for ages, but I had nothing to say. No one wants to read trivial mundane things, so I’ll post as and when I feel it’s worth reading!
    I’m the same with stories. I can only write them when I get an idea. Don’t worry Susan, I reckon a lot of writers are like us 🙂

    • Sue says:

      That’s a comfort, Tina. Everyone else seems so industrious and productive that, far from encouraging me to knuckle down, it makes me feel like giving up.

  3. elke says:

    A cuddly dog and a glass (or three) of red wine generally works for me – https://open.abc.net.au/projects/500-words-on-the-job-84ef0zh/contributions/freelance-writing-in-the-tropics-71ew7cb

    Great to read about al your happy news at the end of your piece, Sue!

    • Sue says:

      It sounds idyllic, Elke, but it wouldn’t work for me! I need deadlines.

      • elke says:

        In fact, the way you write as described in your blog is virtually the total opposite of mine. It’s so interesting to read of different techniques!

      • Sue says:

        I guess you bring your previous life experience to bear. I only wish that visualising a clean house and tidy garden made it so!

  4. Simon Kewin says:

    There’s a lot to be said for deadlines. Fortunately I find even self-imposed artificial ones work to keep me focused. Shall I come over and shout through your letter-box to get writing?

    • Sue says:

      Only if you want a poke in the eye with a burnt stick!

      I suppose I could write some artificial deadline dates on the calendar – with my memory, it’s just possible I may forget I made them up.

      Do you want any apples?

  5. Lee Williams says:

    I can only offer sympathy for the lull in productivity but congratulations for all the other good news!

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