Six-String and the Submissions Horse

Am back on the submissions horse after a looong hiatus/ slash/ period of little-to-zero actual writing.

While I get some material down on the page, figure it’s good to keep submitting flash and fragments too, part practice and part motivator.

Carol tucks her ponytail into the back of her dungarees, fingers stained with varnish, nails short. She smokes while working but keeps her goggles on, saving her eyes from wrinkles while scoring lines into her forehead. People think she makes such fine guitars because their shape is womanly, some affinity with the form. Bullshit. Guitars are like the men she’s known: hollow, set in their fretting, stretched by the tension between saddle and head.

Last week, ParagraphPlanet was good enough to post the short short story above, an existing (blogged but unpublished) flash of mine that I reworked and edited down from 96 words to PP’s regulation 75. So there’s that.

Other submission targets are lined up, but the question as always is whether I’ll get any of the current pieces ovefinished to submittable standard.

One line at a time, that’s all you can do.


No, NoWriMo :(

"No novel for you!"

“No novel for you!”

No. No, I didn’t finish NaNoWriMo. I terrible failure.

Didn’t even hit the 20k mark. “Life”, is the best excuse I can come up with. “Responsibiliblah”. Nothing insurmountable.

I’ve hit the 50k for two prior NaNo’s, and have told myself each time that the main thing was getting in the practice of writing every day. Except! It never formed a longer habit. November would leave me frazzled, I’d tap out till after Christmas. And I never went back for a proper review of the work that I had done.

The mania of it, the desperate grasping hurtle towards an ever greater word count, left an unbearable impression of awfulness. The ideas died, suffocated under a weight of low grade logorrhea.

So I didn’t finish this year, but I didn’t kill the idea either. I *do* still need to do work, a lot more work, in fact it repeatedly ocurred to me during November how much more work than I thought I had to do I actually had to do, and that realisation would dawn on me on each of the days that I did do write, and NOW you get a flavour of how I write during NNWM.

I checked the NaNo site again today, the first time since Nov 30 lapsed without fanfare, and – lo and behold – I do get a jpeg anyway. A participant’s medal. It hadn’t occurred to me that they would do that, but of course they would do that.

What’s that though? Follow the link and – of course they would do that – NNWM has Goal Trackers, advice, and forums for the What Now? months.

Perversely, I’m touched by this. I don’t know if I thought NNWM, the site, and all its contributors turned into assorted squashes come Dec 1, but that might as well have been the case.

That little discovery was a tiny unexpected jolt of encouragement to continue.



No it's not going to stop, so just... give up

Twelve days in. A disappointing nine-and-a-half thousand words done. Half of the word count I need to stay on track. Not giving up yet but tempted.

I started drafting this post in the week. At the time it was ten days in, 7.5k words. Shelved the post, even, the spirit of capitulation running strong in my veins.

However, despite thinking I wouldn’t get any writing done at weekends – too much family business, too many chores – I managed to eke out that extra couple thou, bleary-eyed on the sofa while the rest of the family was a-bed.

Part of the point of NNWM is the public commitment. That the announcement of the attempt enables your motivated past self to guilt trip your lazy-ass present self into doing the work.

So here I am renewing my vows, way behind target but not dead yet.

And under no illusion either. In previous years I’ve cleared my schedule and booked time off work to make it happen. This year, that ain’t happening.

But this year I’ve reframed my expectations and finessed my goals. The point of November isn’t hitting 50k by any means necessary, it’s just getting some words down. In fact, if I don’t hit 50k, so much the better.

That way I’ll avoid the quick fix low accomplishment buzz of finishing draft zero. Pointing to the NaNo Winner’s certificate as some dubious measure of achievement rather than returning to the hard fucking yards of interminable edits and rewrites.

I’m not doing NaNo down. On the contrary, I’m taking it seriously for once.

Any NaNoWriMoFolks reading this, how do you stay motivated? How do you find the time, when your everyday commitments don’t even give you the time for eight hours’ sleep, let alone the indulgence of a month-long novel-blast?



Somehow, I seem to have convinced myself to take another punt at NaNoWriMo.

November is 12 hours away. I have an unstable character list (the list is unstable, not the characters), some scrappy research, and the whisper of a plot. Also small children to parent and a job.

Twice before I’ve forced myself through the blunt force creative trauma of 50,000 words in a month, in 2010 and 2013. So the attempt rate is dropping, but that’s a pretty limited data set. I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo in those years, and languishing somewhere in a subfolder are the PDF winner’s certificates to prove it.

But both those times, I’ve failed.

2010’s Fantastic Damage (El-P was on repeat) was a desperate smushing together of several long-dormant short story germs. Reader, I did not go back and read it. Or maybe I did and have blanked it out.

2013’s Untitled Longer Project (oh, the mystery!) was a split-hair-over-the-50-thou of preamble and backstory to the novel I wanted to write. But I was deflated by the insipid inconsequentiality of the effort, and after a few weeks of attempting to right the thing, I let it sink to the bottom of my bottomless draw of false writing starts.

You see where I fucked up, right? The first time, it was in dismissing the attempt without even re-reading the thing. The second time, in feeling like the work done was a waste, rather than necessary groundwork to excavate whatever it was that should have been written.

So that’s two valuable lessons learned, albeit at a tortoisal pace. This year will have the immeasurably tougher constraint of working around that parenting business, but on the plus side this year’s idea-nugget feels more viable.

Providing the re-read is done clinically, with a reader’s eye.

Providing the NaNo word dump is sifted carefully, with an honest appreciation for what works and can be built upon.

The point is not so much whether or not I reach 50k. It’s getting teeth stuck into the idea.

Priorities: Reading v Writing v Due Date

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsNo GoodReads Reading Challenge for me this year. I reached last year’s target, again thanks to a few choice graphic novels/comic hardbacks to counterbalance doorstep’s like The Luminaries. But TB-brutally-H it felt as if I was reading to bump up the book count, with the target always to finish fast. Is that conducive to good reading? Wide reading, intensive reading, yes. Clinical, technical, checkbox reading, yes. Not so much with the luxuriating in a text, wallowing there, inhabiting it body and soul.

There’s also the twinge of cynicism I can’t help but feel about GoodReads now that it’s Amazon-owned. In that light, the Reading Challenge just feels like a prompt to buy, buy, buy more inventory.

Reading is no problem. But it’s writing I need to be doing more of. Isn’t that always the complaint? Write, write more, write about anything. To blah or not to blah. Here it comes, another blogpost about blogposts. *SHUDDERS*

It’s never a thoughtful blogpost for me. Is that a mistake? Instead, it’s the first draft brain dump. Unedited stunt writing, unexpurgated, a la Knausgård – who BTW in Book 2 of My Struggle (“A Man In Love“) is coming across as a total dick, which okay is a bravery all of its own, an honesty less glamorous than petty criminality or heroin hijinks, because let’s be honest who comes off best, the helpless addict or the father whinging about his childcare duties? So Knausgård struggles against the selflessness required to be a parent in order to pursue the erasure of self he finds in writing. Transcendence, flow, engagement… it’s all pushing up towards the point of Maslow’s pyramid. Right?

So yes, we have a baby on the way, and that was probably the impetus for this post. We’re moving, and I’m freelancing, and I still need to learn Swedish (not nearly fluent yet). And even now it’s hard enough to maintain the writing necessary to keep contributing to the Amsterdam writing group that I’m still Skyping in to. How’s having a baby going to impact that? Or will it bring regularity and order to our lives, minute-to-minute scheduling that magically *does* give me the space to write?

BokBron: time for a new name


Am posting twice weekly now, mainly on books/reading, and occasionally on related fields such as writing, languages, perhaps even stationery if I can’t shake this mounting fountain pen obsession. A new name, a new layout, but largely the same old nonsense.

The main thing was the name change. A rebranding, if you will (please don’t). There was something nauseating about seeing my name as the name of the blog.

I played with a few alternatives. Couldn’t believe no-one had thought of Bookling yet – is it a progressive verb or a gerund? A diminutive? A studious class of RPG characters? – but of course someone had thought of it before.

Booklingen, I thought, would sound like a Swedish definite form of a Bookling (“booking-the”). Thinking about it, bokhylla is Swedish for bookshelf, I could semi-anglicise it to bookhylla. Or bookhyllan (“bookshelf-the”) maybe, or bookhyllor (bookshelves/bookcase).

Still, the -hylla part seemed unmemorable and unwieldy. Bookbron, a semi-anglicised “Bookbridge”, now that was better. Didn’t someone once say that reading a great novel is like walking across a long narrow bridge into another land? No, they didn’t. That would be a terrible quote.

Bookbron was working… but using English book- kinda made the -bron part look like a derivative of bro’. Hey bro! Worse, what if someone thought it was short for Brony. Not worth the risk. So the more Swedish-looking Bokbron, then? How about Den Bok Bron? Den Bokat Bron? (“The Booked Bridge”… but in the sense of reserved.) Both too long/odd.

BokBron it is.

One can write having slept badly

One of those problems – though of course one of the least important – was those very writers from the provinces, who typically visited the literary workshops of other writer from the provinces who’d arrived in the capital some time ago and who were no longer writers from the provinces, or they pretended not to be, or the writers wrote in squalid pensions or in houses they shared with friends, usually from the same provinces, and later they worked in shops or drugstores or – if they were lucky – in bookstores, almost always with ridiculous schedules that ended up impairing their ability to dedicate themselves seriously to writing and, as a result, sooner or later, the writers from the provinces ended up hating literature, which they practised dog-tired, writing in crowded buses or on the metro, since writing otherwise robbed the hours of sleep necessary to put up with their bosses and customers and the weather and the long rides on the bus or the metro, and because this always seemed to be one step further than the place where they had arrived; the writers from the provinces always gave the impression that they would achieve literature with their next story or poem, that they were at the gates of a discovery that they weren’t in a condition to realize, though, because unfortunately to write one needs to have slept at least six hours and have a full stomach and, when it’s possible, not to work at a drugstore. Further: one can write having slept badly and while feeling atrociously hungry, but never while working at a drugstore; it’s sad but true.

– Patricio Pron, A Few Words on the Life Cycle of Frogs (from Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists

Oh, not to be a writer from the provinces! But oh, even to be that.

Picking up the pen today.