Sunday, February 27, 2022

Learning a new skill ...

Most writers will tell you how having a project on the go, especially if there is a deadline, results in a lot of household chores getting done. We are world class procrastinators who would rather vacuum, make beds or wash dishes than write 1000 words, or 500 words, or 50 words, or 5. This truism, this time honoured tradition, is a source of (bitter) humour amongst us. And despite being aware of this we seem powerless to act against it.

Well folks, hold on to your hats, I have discovered a way to beat this! The trick is (are you ready??) to have a task to do (especially if it has a deadline) that is even harder to do than your writing project. Your writing then becomes the chore you do to procrastinate from the other thing. Of course you will all already have recognised the flaws in this plan, but for a short while it worked for me - for two happy days I actually added around 1500 words to my WIP and it was lovely. 

There is so much going on locally and internationally that is worrying, terrifying, stressful and exhausting that in addition to some top order procrastination, I am also in a constant search for distraction. Looking for things to occupy my mind in a safe way. Jigsaws, sudoku, and code-crackers are extremely comforting to me in times like these and I secretly hope they contribute to keeping the creative part of my brain nimble enough for those times when I return to making new stories. But part of me is also thinking I need a distraction that is actively challenging my creativity. When things aren't crazy, don't we all have goals and ambitions that we are working towards? I know when the world is being so unpredictable it can be too hard to think about creating, learning or adding extra challenges beyond the one of getting through the day with our sanity intact. And even this feels out of reach some days. But as time has passed I have been conscious of an itch that definitely wants scratching. Puzzles aren't enough after two years - my brain wants a different kind of exercise. Maybe puddling about in a new world is just what I need. 

To that end I'm trying to further my poetry writing skills for both adult and children's poetry. I've often made small incursions into this field of creativity, but never really stayed long enough to make much progress. Now I'm keen to improve this aspect of my writing. So far I'm trusting my gut, and my ear, and the results are not all bad. But I need to do more. And right now I feel a bit frustrated by the process. There is too much staring at a blank screen going on. Ideas come at odd moments, and while the raw form of the poem does pour out quite quickly and then it's the somewhat slower journey of massaging out the discordant wrong bits, I feel thwarted by my ambivalent, uncooperative subconscious and the haphazard way it doles out ideas. I need ways to warm up, and maybe ways to organise my thoughts so I spend less time just flailing about. Secretly this is probably how my process will always remain with lots of flailing and disorganised thinking. I guess if I manage to produce more poems I will feel less affronted by my own undisciplined inner brain twirlings but we are a long way from that point. Anyways I sent away for an instructional book by Mary Oliver. Wish me luck. Deep down I know that if I exercise my poetry writing muscle enough it will become a little easier but exercise is work and I am very lazy, and writing poetry is HARD. I've heard too that reading and writing poetry is very good for one's picture book writing skills which would be a win-win. For now I'm trying to keep expectations low cos adding pressure right now seems like a bad call. If nothing else, poetry feels like an appropriate response to the times we live in. It's something I've always wanted to explore more. I'm giving it a go. What are you doing to keep your brain limber? Are you trying to learn something new too? 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Behaving badly ...

How we all feeling people? I can't lie - between covid and protests and linespeople repairing power lines post-Cyclone Dovi in the wee small hours of the night, the mood is a bit subdued.

Hanging out on twitter, while it can be distressing at times, is a good way to get updates on goings-on both here and overseas and to gauge the temperature of things. And there are always interesting posts that cover some things in depth providing insights and elucidation, to counter the toxic or inflammatory words of others. I find small doses are best. Recently though I noted a couple of unconnected posts that were commenting on a similar issue that surprised me. One was an agent responding to a submission they'd received that opened with a not so veiled criticism of that agent. The other was a person who has created an online children's writing community (out of the pure goodness of their heart) with the object of providing help, support and opportunity for new writers, reporting that they had received disgruntled emails from writers disappointed not to have made a competition longlist. The person had not even been involved in judging the entries, although it would have been no excuse for this kind of response if they had.

Writing for publication is a long game. Being polite and professional is essential as you navigate the choppy waters of this business. I have seen folk behave badly and get away with it but this is the exception, and people remember.  And being rude, disrespectful or aggressive is just a very weird response for a writer. Our key job is to understand the meaning and effect of our word choices. We work hard to shape text in a way that conveys what we want it to say. So why, oh why would you say or write something that will make the recipient (who may hold your publishing fate in their hands), upset, or insulted or angry? The only result you will get, as far as I can tell, is to make it easier for the rest of us who are polite and professional. I guess lashing out might briefly salve whatever hurt you might be feeling but this behaviour is most likely to only damage your chances further in future.

It's totally understandable to feel hurt and/or disappointed by a rejection. I've had my share and they sting like blazes. The heart-hurt that goes along with the dashing of a hope or dream is dreadful and over the years I've assembled a few strategies to help me through these times. Sometimes I soothe myself with cake, chocolate and wine. Sometimes it's the indulgent purchase of something unnecessary. Sometimes I say rude words or go for a very vigorous walk, and sometimes I complain bitterly to my nearest and dearest. Occasionally it's all of those things. Find a strategy that works for you that doesn't involve burning any bridges.

Biting your tongue is just another way of 'killing your darlings', and it will make your work stronger. And if you think saying something rude or critical in an email or on social media is going to be read as witty or cute, or commanding and impressive, you may be in the wrong business.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Your magic spells are welcome ...

This is my third go at writing this blog post. I began in early January and have ditched both earlier versions. Fingers crossed that third time's the charm. Bit like writing a book really eh?

Early in January we said farewell to our middle child who has emigrated to the UK. She's found a flat (moved in yesterday) and is now working on employment with a few interviews (some in person, some online) already under her belt. I asked her this morning how she was settling in and she said she was off across the road shortly for a pub quiz with the flat-mates and I felt a little jealous. It's deep mid winter there (not jealous of that although she loves the cold weather), but I do love a fun pub quiz with good people on a cold night. Eldest (resident in LA) has just had time away in Mexico City which looked wonderful, and youngest is currently indulging us by remaining at home. The kids are all right. 

And me? I've been dividing my time recently between reading, assessing other people's writing and dabbling with my own. With fewer in-person engagements likely over the next wee while I'm hoping to carve out more time for bigger projects. So far I've revised a picture book ms, and written around two thirds of a new one, so zero progress on the longer works. I feel like I have a bit of a hoodoo on me around long form fiction at the moment and need to find a way to lift the curse. Your magic spells are welcomed. I do have a few big ideas swirling round in my head though - fingers crossed one of them comes in to land. 

In the meantime there has been more news for my favourite little pachyderm. Taiwan has now also signed up to publish My Elephant is Blue. I'm trying to keep my expectations realistic about what this and the earlier deals might mean for the book. I do love that people in other countries will be reading our story. I hope they like it. I'll keep you posted on how things work out. One thing I will say at this point is that I did nothing different with the writing or submitting of the stories that have received overseas offers of publication. I sent them off to NZ publishers who agreed to take them on and those publishers have subsequently succeeded in obtaining these overseas sales (Blue does also have an agent working on her behalf). I didn't anticipate any of this when I wrote those manuscripts. I certainly didn't write with that eventuality in mind. I just wrote the best story I could and that is always the bottom line for me. 

In near future news, I'm running my Picture Book Writing Workshop again this year in March and August (information on the courses can be found HERE). I'm always adding to my knowledge base on picture book writing and I love sharing everything I've learnt with keen writers - my goal is to help you achieve your writing dreams by giving you as much information, and advice and as many tools as I can. I hope I see you there.