Enough is Enough

No, really, I need to ask the question: just how much effort into a piece is ‘enough’?

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To my right, in a pile, is a bunch of poems being edited. When I was writing End of the Fear and only my own standards needed to be fulfilled, editing seemed considerably less stressful. Was that because of the work being easier to create, or the process not being dictated by what other people would think, I wonder? Is there too much general worry over the end quality of my output?

More and more, the answer to this question is YES.

I’ve read pages of advice over how to make my work shine, on the inner voice that needs to be nurtured, on umpteen differing styles and approaches, and yet none of this is able to assuage that creeping, terrifying sense that however had you edit, it simply won’t be enough. Impostor Syndrome’s in an increasing list of external factors that weigh down my output, and needs to be dealt with alongside everything else.

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Releasing myself from the tyranny of validation certainly helps make the poetry flow, but then how much editing is enough to produce something I think is worthwhile? It’s the classic ‘how long is a piece of string’ argument, I suppose: if I was being taught and the teacher covered my work in corrections, would that be what was needed? If the voice is strong enough, and there’s enough confidence in the finished product, that should be enough.

Increasingly however, as stuff is rejected, that’s not the case. You’re forced into a situation where there is no real sense of what is right or wrong, and you have to hope that what is on the page is enough. If you’re not writing in the style a random person decides is what they’re looking for, what can you do? In the end, there is very little to do but just keep working and hoping that eventually your style will intersect with someone else’s interest.

Unless of course there’s some magic that I’m missing along the way…

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I’ll be back to poetry next week: for now, it’s time to start gearing up for my trip to Leeds…

Money Money Money

In the next blog post you’ll read, I’ll begin detailing a project which I’ll be working on without being paid. All of this: the website, hours of work, dozens of poems… I’m not paid for any of it. The single contest I’ve won, thus far, reimbursed me the ten quid train fare bought when I went to perform the poem live. A number of people have generously donated cash, over the last year… but no, I make nothing long-term as a writer at present.

Why on earth begin a major project when there’s nothing for me at the end of it?

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I am incredibly lucky with my personal circumstances, no doubt about it. There is a level of financial stability to do multiple things at once right now without major concern: the biggest single issue encountered, without fail, is finding the hours in order to complete anything major. It requires considerable planning and effort, something I’ve been mentally unable to complete until now. 

Success has for many years equated to the need to provide a pay-cheque at the end. If you’re not making money, you can’t be successful, and yup, that’s true to a point. Except, to be noticed and get a chance at publication in a marketplace saturated with other writers, you need to be very, very good. What happens therefore when you just want to create something that makes you happy, keeps you busy, and can give people enjoyment?

Should it even matter that I make money for everything that’s produced?

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This upcoming project was never designed to make me rich, but as a means by which I could show capability of producing content to a specific timescale, with my rules and objectives. The overriding point isn’t to get rich, but to be happy and give back to my home town something intangible. It’s not about cash, because in the end I’d be doing all of this regardless, for my own benefit. This is a personal labour of love.

In a world increasingly obsessed with capitalism, writing without a pay-cheque becomes less of an issue over time. My enjoyment, ultimately, is grasped in the production of work, the process of creation. Effort in promoting, multiple attempts to find anyone interested in publication, ceaseless parade of submissions and rejections doesn’t make me happy. Writing makes me happy.

This project is about making me happy.

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Now motivation is out of the way, it’s time to consider inspiration.

Right Now

This week, I acted on instinct for the first time in a while.

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There are a PHENOMENAL number of online portals, websites and magazines that take submissions. A magazine such as Mslexia will give a vital insight into such places, but it is only the tip of a considerable iceberg. Countless places exist to send work to, but perilously few will pay you for the effort. It is, in certain lights, a poisoned chalice of effort versus reward.

Occasionally however I’m not here for the cash. There are moments when you just want to write summat for the sake of writing: this week, the day after my first successful counselling session, I needed to believe that writing remains enjoyable for the hell of it. So, I sat down and wrote three poems. Just like that. BOOM. Then, I stared at them for a bit and was really very happy with what had resulted.

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One of them, it must be said, had been written in a rough form whilst waiting in the counselling office. I feel this is a theme going forward, that it might be nice to do one a week for the next three months because if all else fails, that’s a collection right there. Then, they sat around for a day, as is the idea, before coming back for polish. After that, they were printed out, put in an envelope with a stamped-addressed return one for acknowledgement, and then posted.

That was an odd feeling: walking to the letterbox, sending my work away, not knowing when I’d hear a reply. Having to watch for my own letter’s return, I have to say, is considerably more exciting than anticipating failure via an e-mail. I’m far less likely to get upset too, amazingly, because this just feels like a better way to fail. If my poem from the waiting room makes it, of course, I’m one short for the collection…

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Should that actually come to pass, I reckon I’d cope.

Hard Habit to Break

Okay, it’s official. I need a break from poetry.

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That’s not strictly true, but it’s close. It’s become impossible to throw my brain into poetry mode at present, and the last time this happened a month’s break was EXACTLY what was needed to reset the gauges. A lot of this is wrapped around the two major submissions I’m now finishing up, both of which have poetry as their core. It is time to return to fiction as my life for March, which means the following:

  • No new weekly Haiku or Micropoetry until April, but we’ll repost some of my Greatest Hits whilst also trailing upcoming projects for the rest of 2019,
  • #Narrating needs a break too, so I can stock up some better ideas going forward. #Soundtracking however will celebrate the upcoming 14th birthday of my daughter with a list of bands I think she’ll appreciate going forward into adulthood,
  • The Short Story continues unabated. Because DUH. 

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That leaves a gap for content here which I’ll fill by getting EX/WHI up to date whilst simultaneously filling in details of some of the things I’d like to do with my writing and this site by the end of the year. It also allows the much-needed opportunity to get Gumroad up and running, so I can sell stuff to you to allow that journey to more comfortably take place. That’s probably the most important thing of all to get properly organised next month.

Thank you for your support and understanding during the first two months of this year, and here’s to the next ten.

Another One Bites the Dust

It was coming. There shouldn’t be any surprise at all, on reflection, and (quite usefully) this latest piece of news was learnt after I’d done the incredibly mentally draining ‘thing’ for the day and therefore, it couldn’t make anything worse. Nobody wants to be told they’re not good enough, especially in the current climate. Rejection’s an inevitable part of the writing process, and people deal with that differently. For me, it is normally quite funny, especially if (as was the case this time) it is accompanied by a staggeringly generic ‘we’re sorry you didn’t win and we can’t tell you why but WELL DONE ANYWAY’ email.

Today however it made me quite angry.

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Most contests are lotteries for one reason alone: the people you’re trying to impress. It’s not like you’re judged to a standard either: if we all had to write twelve haiku, three acrostics and only in dactyls, before doing it again in evening wear whilst solving world hunger, it might be different. Everybody’s got their own idea of what is ‘good’ with half an eye on the marketplace: knowing what will sell, what they can promote, who are the current on trend writers driving tastes.

It might be unpalatable to some, but this is business just like games and films and art, and if you get lucky and mesh with someone, it is no guarantee of instant or long term success. You could well spend your entire time entering contests or funding your own work and not one person will know who you are until you die and someone discovers your legacy. That happens, and knowing this is probably a huge influence on why any negative emotion is always short lived, then transformed into something far more useful.

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I don’t get the satisfaction of fame after my demise. I’m here now, loving every moment whilst simultaneously railing at sanctimony that undoubtedly accompanies a lot of writers who feel they are somehow owed something for their struggle. Nobody owes you anything. This should not be about the commercial success you obtain from your effort. If you aren’t here to do this for enjoyment and satisfaction in the first instance, I have to say, you’re on a hiding to nothing, unless you are spectacularly lucky, and trust me when I say I know how unlikely that is ever going to be.

Sure you can make a living as a writer, and lots of people do, but not without a phenomenal amount of hard work, savings, second jobs, support from family, understanding friends and that’s even before luck gets introduced into the equation. For me, coming up for nearly two years of doing this properly, there’s the knowledge that success is not at all tied to someone else liking your work. You have to be learning, adapting and refining, constantly exercising brain and words together. It is like exercise, only without the lumpy bits and sweaty gym kit.

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There will be WTF moments too: some are brilliant, others will test your diplomacy skills. However, there is but one thing to remember when in such situations: be kind. Nobody likes a smartarse, or someone overly full of their own importance. Just be polite, honest and think before you speak. This bit is like being on the Internet right now, and knowing that sometimes the best thing you can do for everybody is just let the stupid pass you by. With #MeToo very much on the radar, the lines that shouldn’t be crossed are even more defined.

Seriously, just be a decent human being about all of this. You fail, you lick your wounds, then up you get and start again. If writing matters enough, you move past the rejection and use it as fuel, propelling you forward.

When you do fail, remember you’re not alone.

The Lark, Ascending.

It is only now becoming apparent how much has changed around these parts in the last year. Some of it has been dictated by circumstance, other bits are a consequence of hard work and application. 2018 is the year I learnt to love poetry, a format that was previously pretty much ignored. It begs the question of what 2019 will be about, and that some thought ought to be placed as to the broadening of horizons.

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There’s already half a plan to do some video blogging. The new phone camera’s going to get some use. I still harbour a desire to do the whole Fanzine thing that Arguto was set up for… and the list goes on. Obviously there’s been the discussion over self-publishing, and then comes the possibility that if I can get more than one of my failed fiction projects both finished and edited, that it could be sent to publishers.

The biggest problem, right now, is finishing those projects. Having abandoned this year’s NaNo because there simply is no time, finding the opportunity to edit and write long form is something that needs to be addressed, and so the problem’s being approached in the exact same fashion as my various issues with exercise. There’s a planner on the wall, I have a deadline, and it’s being worked towards in a methodical fashion.

Once the current project is finished, we’ll go onto the next thing.

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That’s the most significant advance of all: getting items completed to a standard that is acceptable, sending them away, and then watching them come back. Rejection is not nearly as painful as has been anticipated, as the year has gone on. Each piece sent away was complete, finished, to a standard I was happy with, and as they return they will be ‘polished’ again before being sent out to different places.

Poetry as a short form provides the revelation of confidence in content. Not completing NaNo this year is the acceptance of too much long form work left unfinished. It is a slow, measured grasp of my ability as a writer, and what needs to change in the next twelve months to allow all forms of work the correct environments to thrive and survive. There is a way forward, that will now provide a new approach to writing and working.

This is an extremely exciting time ahead.

Things We Lost in the Fire

Sometimes, I take things WAY too seriously. It’s been like this for decades, too: it isn’t just a mental shortcoming, either. I’d love to be able to say the wiring in my head is to blame, which means I’ll often completely misinterpret signals. Yes, that happens, and there’s comprehension as to why… but other times, it really isn’t. Really specific stuff upsets me. Thoughtlessness, arrogance and the inability to possess even basic empathy. When you politely disagree with someone and their reaction is to give you the finger. Nothing says mature and sensible like the bird, actual or metaphorical. That’s probably why I use it so much because, on my day, I’m that person too.

Except you’ll never see it happen.

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I am tired, and need a holiday, and so my tolerance is low. Things other people find funny I will object to, but with a perfectly sensible set of reasons… except there’s no point in listing them. Repeating them is largely redundant if your target audience is gonna flip you the bird and explain that you’re the problem. Get a sense of humour, lighten up, why are you so serious? I’m this way because these things matter to me: when the tables turn, and you get incandescently angry over summat I agree with, remind us to have the conversation again and then perhaps you might listen, though I doubt it.

Today I realised how my writing has become the means by which these problems are solved without conflict.

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Short stories and poetry are becoming metaphors for far more than simply my own internal demons. Other people’s actions are now being exorcised, their attitudes that can be so painful to read or observe. I have, in my poetry submissions, also dealt with Brexit and the Internet as general contentious topics: it was never meant to be political, but just ended up that way. What was provocation at 2.15 then vanishes into a poem or paragraph by teatime and all the angst is forgotten. This is certainly cheaper than therapy.

Ironically, it is the level of noise and discomfort that the Internet has always emanated which gave inspiration today for another project, which will be presented as part of a submission for the Hollingworth Prize for Poetry, the closing date for which is the end of August. If unsuccessful, I’ve already got plans afoot to self-publish, as this will make up a fully fledged creative project. Experience has shown me that you don’t go into these situations without being prepared for failure, and whatever happens, this is already a concept I’m proud of.

This is all part of the process of remaining sane, arguments and all. I’m not here to be lectured to or shoved about either, there’s been far too much of that in the past. Now, things happen on my terms.

If I fall down, it doesn’t matter.