With writers, it seems these reasons are even readier. Talk to many writers, ask them how they’re going, and they’ll tell you why they haven’t progressed. It’s not their fault, though. Something’s come up. But they’ll get to it. When there’s time. Or at a certain date (New Year being the common starting line). Or when they’re feeling better.
Well, here are my mini-diatribes addressing ten popular excuses (in no particular order) people don’t write – because that’s what they are: excuses, not reasons.
1. Waiting for an ideal time in your life
When is this exactly? When the kids grow up, move out? When things settle down? When the planets align?
There will never be an ideal time in your life. There’ll always be something. That’s what life does to you. It throws things in your way. You can just get over one lot, when a new lot’s dropped on your head.
Instead of waiting for the ideal time in your life, learn to operate in the parameters that exist now. It may be the best you’re going to get, and even if it’s not, at least you learn to work in adversity.
2. Can’t today, I’ll start tomorrow
Tomorrow always seems ideal. Tomorrow’s fresh and new and – as of this moment – unsullied. But there are lots of clichés about tomorrow – e.g. ‘There is no tomorrow’, ‘Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today’ – and that sort of stuff.
Well, they’re right. Recognise this excuse as the ultimate procrastination. In all likelihood – unless you’re on Death Row awaiting sentencing tomorrow – you’re likely to find that tomorrow will be very much like today. Deal with it. Take your opportunity now.
3. Don’t have a sizable block of time to write in, just dribs and drabs
I am sure people exist who have virtually no time – single parents for instance. But truly examine what you do with your time through the course of the day. I knew a single mother who bemoaned her absolute vacuum of time, and yet she always somehow had time to watch The Voice, or a variety of other reality TV shows which had about as much cultural merit as odourless, noiseless flatulence.
Look at what you do through the course of a day. There will be indulgences. They might be tiny, mightn’t amount to much, but if that’s all you’ve got, then that’s what you’ve got to work with.
Otherwise, look at getting up a bit earlier each day, five days a week. Yes, it’s horrible, but if this is what you want to do, then this is what you need to do.
Ultimately, writing for fifteen minutes a day is better than no time at all, and those minutes will add up.
4. Waiting for inspiration
There’s a name for these people: pretenders.
No doubt, we all experience inspiration – an idea for a story, or for a painting, or whatever the case might be. But inspiration doesn’t do the work for you. That’s up to you. You need to sit down and then do what’s required – write that story, paint that painting, take those photographs. In short, you must realise your inspiration and interpret it onto the page.
Even if you have writer’s block, even if your brain seems bereft of anywhere to go, just sit down and FORCE yourself through the act of creating. It might be crap. You might have to toss it all. But just the act of trying might cause you to stumble upon an idea, get your creative juices flowing, and train you in the habit of trying.
5. Book’s getting/gotten boring
So many writers love writing the flashy scenes, the ones that appeal most. This is why so many writers start so many things, yet never finish them – when a story’s new, it’s exciting. But something happens. It gets boring. So they think it mustn’t be working. But wait! Here’s another new idea which is exciting, so that must be the way to go – start that instead.
The ideas that are most vivid in our mind are easiest to write, but they’re usually only a small part of a greater story. There will be seeming flat spots, though – seeming, because sometimes those flat spots provide even greater opportunities for drama or characterisation or whatever our story needs.
Work through it. If your story’s gotten tedious and you have another great idea you’d love to work on, tough. Stick with what you’re on. Finish it. Nobody’s interested in an incomplete story. Get through that tough spot. If you don’t, all you’re learning is how to give up.
6. Too tired
Oh boohoo. Really: boohoo. Unless you’re actually asleep, or in a coma, then you have the choice to write. You might think your brain’s too exhausted, that you won’t be able to be creative, but just sit down and try it. Force yourself to get words out on the page. Even if your face wants to plonk down on the keyboard, just do it.
Once your brain’s going, you’ll be amazed how little your tiredness affects you. But it won’t get going if you just surrender to the impossibility of being creative when you’re tired.
7. Not in the right headspace
Well, what exactly do we have to wait for? Nirvana? The right headspace is an illusion. The ideas are there, inside, in your head. On the surface of it, you might be preoccupied, angry, distracted, any of a number of different emotional states, but your imagination is all that matters, and that’s in there, just waiting for you to mine it.
If you have to go through anger, frustration, distraction, sadness, amour, or whatever to get to it, then so be it. Accept that. Once you do, once you compel yourself, you’ll be amazed how often you can find your way back to the right headspace.
8. No good physical space to write in
Perhaps you’d like some rustic cottage in the woods, with a typewriter by the window, a fire crackling in the fireplace, and a glass of wine. Would this be ideal?
Certainly, you might have kids running around screaming, playing, you might have noisy neighbours, you might have a noisy partner, but you have to learn to make do. One published author said she made the family understand that when her study door was closed, that was her time and she was not to be disturbed. That might not always be an option. But you may just have to accept what you have.
If that means your best place to write is with the laptop on your lap (hence its name: lap-top), on the couch with your feet up on the coffee table, so be it. That’s your physical space. You might like something more ideal, something luxurious, but until that comes along deal with what you have.
9. Too many distractions
By now, you would be able to guess that there’s not going to be any sympathy for this as an excuse. Tell people to stop bothering you. Stuff some earplugs in your ears. Pick up your laptop and go sit in the toilet, or go to the library, or save your work on a USB and book a library computer to use. There are always alternatives.
10. Low self-esteem
This is common to many creative people. Many of us think our work just isn’t good enough. It’s shit, so why bother? Let’s give up. Forget about it. Well, if that’s the attitude, why try at all? Why even nurture the aspiration?
All we can do are all the right things – get feedback, get edited, revise, revise, revise, submit. It mightn’t be good enough. But nobody was born brilliant, and even your favourite authors were edited. Put your work out there. It’s the only way to continue to improve. And if you want to write, accept you’ll be rejected, that there’ll be criticisms, that there’ll be doubts.
Your story’s not going to write itself. The story on your computer isn’t going to submit itself. A journal or publisher isn’t going to ring you and ask for your work. If you truly want to do this (writing, that is), then do it, regardless of how you feel about your work. It’s the only way to get to where you want to go.
This might seem an unsympathetic blog. It is. Life’s intolerant, and the writing life unforgiving. So many people search for a secret formula to writing, like it will unlock some wellspring and all the work will do itself, or doing the work will be so orgasmic that it won’t seem like work at all. There. The End. Perfect. Well, it doesn’t happen that way – and hasn’t happened that way for anybody. Anybody who thinks it does happen that way is an idiot.
Writing is excruciatingly hard work – to sit there, pour yourself on the page, to bare yourself to the world, to pursue the perfect word, the perfect phrase, the perfect evolution from one idea to the next, and for this wondrous jumble of words, sentences, and paragraphs to not only make sense, but to be entertaining, to be worth reading, to be airtight, so people aren’t coming along trying to knock it down, like it was a house of cards inviting one good, swift kick.
You want to write, sit down and do it. That’s it. That’s the magic formula. Any time there’s a reason to not to do it, dismiss it, or find a way to work around it, or bulldoze through it. Idealizing perfect conditions is just going to lead to procrastination. It’ll lead to you always finding an excuse as to why you can’t do it, or why you should stop.
But it always come back to doing it, and doing it daily. Writing’s a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes, and the stronger it becomes the easier you’ll find it to work through tiredness, distractions, writer’s block, et al, and as you do that, you’ll find those excuses become irrelevancies in your life, and all that’s left is you and the story you want to tell.
I’ve been waiting for it.
Heck, maybe the whole universe has been waiting for it. Let’s not undersell this.
page seventeen is open for submissions as of today. As of right now.
Now, for the one heckler in the back that just yelled ‘so what?’ I’m going to take a deep breath and quickly summarise.
As of April 15, all our submission windows are open to determine the content in Issue 11:
- General submissions: short stories up to 5000 words, poems up to 100 lines and pitches for non-fiction pieces. (More info and submit here)
- Prose competitions: short stories up to 3000 words, poems up to 100 lines. (More info and submit here)
- Cover competition: photos and digital art in the running to be used as the next issue’s front cover art. (More info and submit here)
We’ll be taking all submissions from now until June 30. That’s just over ten weeks for you to submit your work and potentially be included in page seventeen’s eleventh issue. Which, incidentally, will also be released as an ebook – meaning more readers than ever will see your name in the contents.
And, it’s also my pleasure to announce the judges for this year’s competitions!
The short story judge is Emilie Collyer, two-time Scarlet Stiletto Award winner with short stories appearing in many of Melbourne’s top literary journals. (http://www.betweenthecracks.net/)
The poetry judge is Ashley Capes, long-time friend and poetry editor of P17 and prominent Victorian poet. (http://ashleycapes.com/)
The cover comp judge is Kev Howlett, resident Busybird illustrator and artist.
Now, as the trumpets die down and the cheap paper steamers stuck across the archways peel away from their masking tape, some of you might be looking for hints about what we’re after in the submissions. What content will grab our attention the most? What themes will get the most attention?
Sorry. I can’t quite make it that easy for you. Our issues aren’t themed and have tackled a wide variety of content in the past.
What I can say, is that we love new ideas and fresh voices. Challenge yourself. Take a risk or two. We’ve always encouraged emerging writers to consider submitting to page seventeen, and we have a proud tradition of being the first publication for many emerging authors and poets. We want writing that bleeds passion and enthusiasm – whether the content is happy, grim or just delightfully off-beat.
And with that, the wait is over. The production of Issue 11 has officially begun.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeenRead More
This is Kev Howlett. He’s one of the co-founders/owners of Busybird Publishing, Busybird’s resident artist and photographer, is responsible for the weekly ‘Busy the Bird’ funnies that go up on Facebook (and are archived here on our website), cuts our videos (like the Open Mic Night highlights) and does an assortment of other things.
He also had the goal to climb up to Mount Everest Base Camp before he was fifty – something he just accomplished, with several years to spare. What’s more, he integrated the trek into a fundraiser for CMT (Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease), a condition his eldest son has, and took photographs of his expedition, which will comprise a full-colour coffee-table book due out in November, entitled Walk With Me, (a portion of proceeds which’ll go to CMTA Australia, to raise awareness and contribute to finding a cure for CMT).
That’s not a bad CV.
And it’s one that makes you think about pursuing and achieving the goals in your life.
What is your goal?
Be honest, you do have a goal. We all do. Maybe it was born in our youth, when the world was impossibly large and filled with boundless opportunities, and we had nothing but uncontainable enthusiasm. Or maybe, just maybe, as the everyday grind (work, household, kids, et al) shackles the innocence of our dreams, our hopefulness, that belief that all things can be possible, it’s become a symbol of rediscovery, reinventing ourselves into who we ideally want to be (or at least recapturing it, however fleetingly). Or maybe it’s just something we’ve always wanted to do.
Somewhere, inside of us, we have something we want to do that goes beyond everyday desires. It might be something outrageous, something most might scoff at. It might be grand and worldly. It might just be the sort of life we want. The point is it’s our Everest – and can come to represent something seemingly unconquerable. Or perhaps that’s just the way it grows as time goes by.
It’s easy – far too easy – for this goal to become unattended, if not neglected. For it to become buried. It can even become identified with a lament, Oh, I remember I wanted to do such and such. But now it’s no longer a goal. It’s not a dream. It’s just something that once existed, like flares on pants, or disco. The reality is there’s no time. Or it’s too hard. Or you’re too old. Or … well, there’s any number of other reasons which prohibit us from fulfilling our goal.
We get stuck in who we are, what we are, the circumstances of our lives.
But we have choices. We always have choices. And it’s important – vitally important – that we try to be true to that part of ourselves, even if everything else in our day-to-day lives is demanding (sometimes kicking and screaming) that our attention be focused elsewhere, and even (or perhaps especially) if our everyday lives shape our conscious, practical, adult minds into stodgy, doubting, pessimistic know-it-alls: Don’t be silly. You can’t do that.
But you can.
This doesn’t mean shove the kids in the closet, dump your partner, ditch all responsibilities and ties and go off on a wild adventure. But if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, if you’ve had a lifelong goal, or even if it’s something new, there’s someway to be true to it, to be true to yourself, and to find a way to do it.
The number one regret of dying people is that they didn’t take enough chances, didn’t pursue what they wanted.
Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to realise there are things you’ve left undone.
That there’s things you should’ve done.
And want to do.
A lot of work goes into putting together [untitled]. We have interns who plough through (hundreds of) submissions, we have regular content meetings to discuss the merit of stories, there’s editing (which will go on until we’re all satisfied – possibly, to the occasional chagrin of the author), copyediting, several rounds of proofreading, layout, cover design and printing.
[untitled] is not a (financially) profitable venture either, although it would be awesome if it did become one – not just for our benefit, but because it would mean that it’s evolved beyond being a little journal. It’s become a legitimate book anthology that’s selling to the masses.
That’s an interesting distinction between journal and book, despite their physical similarities. An author releases a collection of short stories, it’s a book. A publisher releases a themed collection of short stories from different authors, it’s also a book. But we (or any other small publisher) release an anthology of short stories garnered through a slushpile by authors who are still new and emerging, it’s a journal (or something equivalent).
Perhaps another (albeit unspoken) distinction are their target audiences. Books are released to the greater public. People who have no interest in being writers themselves and who simply enjoy reading will buy a book. But journals are largely read by other writers. Some journals will even stipulate that they only accept unsolicited submissions from subscribers, which I guess keeps them in that cycle, like the snake swallowing its own tail.
We want to be a book (also), though, damnit. That’s our goal. We want [untitled] to sit comfortably in bookstores, that the market – whether it’s other writers or simply readers – will recognise [untitled] as that little paperback that can always be relied on to contain great stories. A lofty goal, but also a worthwhile one.
We also hope [untitled] continues to give new and emerging writers exposure. There’s a lot of great writers around the country who are discouraged by rejection, or sometimes struggle to find homes for their stories. Go through most journals, and you’ll be able to identify a distinctive style as to what they’re looking for. Go through [untitled] and, hopefully, you won’t be able to identify anything thematically, or in regards to a specific type of prose, but stories that have been chosen regardless of their shape, size, intent, but but because they are great stories.
As an aside, there is also [untitled]‘s short story competition to consider, which closes 15th February (Saturday, so online submissions should be open until Sunday, and we’ll accept hardcopy of anything postmarked no later than the 15th). So, if you’re interested, the details for our competition can be found here (and that page contains details of how to submit in hardcopy) or you can go directly to submitting online by clicking here.
In any case, we celebrate the launch of [untitled] issue six on Wednesday, 19th February, beginning at 7.00pm. This also coincides with the return of Open Mic Night. So whether you just want to be a participant or a part of the audience, come along for what’s sure to be a great night.
Hope to see you there.
The Little Things
That’s great in theory, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you can reread your piece ad nauseam without ever substantially improving it.
In this two-part blog, we’re going to list some of the little things (well, only little compared to the big picture) to look for when revising.
In a passive sentence, the subject in the sentence doesn’t perform the action. The action is performed on the subject. E.g.
- The boy was mugged by the robber.
The action here is being performed on the boy. He was mugged by the robber. Watch out for by. It usually helps to identify a passive sentence.
Making it active, this sentence might be:
- The robber mugged the boy.
Here’s another example:
- Bob was driven to the football.
The action is happening to Bob. He’s being driven to the football. This could be:
- Dad drove Bob to the football.
Passive writing doesn’t have the same impact and directness as active writing.
Beware of phrases such as There is, There are, It is, which preface sentences and obscure the subject and action. E.g.
- There is a man sitting at the bus stop.
In this case, the There is doesn’t serve much purpose. This could be rephrased as:
- A man sits at the bus stop.
Kill adverbs where possible
If you’re using adverbs, there’s a good chance your verb isn’t strong enough. E.g.
- The boy ran very quickly.
Maybe the boy did, but is there another way to say ran very quickly? Some might suggest something like:
- The boy ran swiftly.
Well, yes, that’s better than very quickly, but swiftly is still an adverb here, modifying ran. Why not something like:
- The boy sprinted.
- The boy bolted.
Writing is about finding the right word to do the right job.
Kill nothing modifiers
We all have a tendency to use them. E.g.
- It was somewhat hot. It quite irritated me. It was going to be practically impossible to do anything today.
What? What does somewhat hot mean? How hot was it? Quite irritated? How irritated is that exactly? Practically impossible? Really? Dismissing the fact that impossible is an absolute (something is impossible or it’s not) on a sliding scale where does practically impossible rate? Modifiers such as these – and basically, essentially, etc. – give us no real proportion.
Don’t belabour the point
Take this paragraph:
- Jack stepped out into the night. A cold gust ran through his clothes. He wrapped his arms tight across his chest and took the first step towards the road. The wind ran icy fingers up his body and chilled his ears. He should’ve brought a jacket, but it was too late now. He was freezing!
Okay, we get it. It’s cold. This paragraph simply could’ve been:
- Jack stepped out into the night and wrapped his arms across his chest.
Yes, seriously, that’s all you need. The act of Jack wrapping his arms around his chest shows us it’s cold. Of course, you could push that, as this is an extreme example. Just remember, writing is about economy: tell your reader once and trust that they’ve got it. Even if you look at something like The Lord of the Rings, which has pages of description, it’s all original description. Tolkien doesn’t go on about the same thing in the same way. Do that, and you’re likely to desensitize us, or switch us off, rather than create mood.
Show, don’t tell
You’ve probably all heard of this convention in writing. Let’s use Jack as an example again.
- Jack stepped out into the night. It was so cold – freezing! Jack couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so cold.
We’re being told here that it’s cold, which isn’t very evocative writing. Think of ways to show this. E.g.
- Jack stepped out into the night and rubbed his hands together. His breath misted in front of him.
These are all basic examples, but they demonstrate how you can show it’s cold – rubbing hands together is something we all do when it’s cold; our breath mists also. Now we’re painting a picture of what the night’s like, rather than just telling the reader it’s cold.
Condense where possible
Lots of people overwrite. E.g.
- A lighter sat on the table. The lighter was a gold zippo.
This occurs frequently, where writers will introduce something, and then expand on it in the next sentence. However, you can do this all at once. E.g.
- A gold Zippo sat on the table.
That sentence now does the job of the two in the original example. There might be times where we want to withhold details, e.g. a character might be too far to see exact details, or they might struggle to immediately identify details. Fine, then, if you deliver details piecemeal. Otherwise, be as direct as possible.
We all repeat ourselves without realising it. E.g.
- Andrew stepped into the bedroom and rifled through the closet. None of his suits would do. They were either old and ratty or inappropriate for a funeral. He needed something more sedate. Was a suit necessary, though? He pulled open his drawers and rifled through them. Black sweaters! That was the answer.
Andrew has rifled through his closet and his drawers. That word’s appeared twice in the same paragraph. It’s not a horrific transgression. There are words that are obviously going to be repeated, e.g. pronouns, prepositions, articles, etc. But when you have a specific word, its repetition jars. About the only time you should use repetition is when it’s as a stylistic device. E.g.
- I kept punching him and punching him; punching him until he was lying back on the bench, and I had a knee planted into his chest; punching him until his face was pulped, the way an orange gets when you grind it; punching him until his skull seemed to shimmer within the flesh of his head, as if it had shattered and lost cohesiveness; punching him until I had nothing left to give, and no rage left to spend.
(Obviously that author’s deranged.)
Kill your favourite words and phrases
We all have them. I used to love this:
- Tony walked down the hallway, then pirouetted to face her.
How can you not love a pirouette? It’s sharp, fast, and dramatic. We all have words and phrases we love. A friend admits she overuses eyes (as in people looking at one another) to communicate sentiment. These things are okay to use, but not all the time. A good tip is to compile a list of your favourite words and phrases (and the phrase might only be a combination of a handful of words) and perform a FIND for them once you’re finished, then revise them the hell out of there. You’ll find once you’re conscious of them, you’ll stop using them.
Filters are the way our protagonist connects to the world around them, or incorporates their internal monologue for the understanding of the reader. E.g.
- August sat down at a corner booth and drummed his fingers on the tabletop. He watched a blonde saunter up to the bar. She was gorgeous. He thought he’d love to get a date with her, but realised she was out of his league.
Filters are things like watched, saw, heard, thought, realised, etc. However, the story’s being told through the eyes of our protagonist, so we don’t need the use of filters to connect them to what’s happening or what they’re thinking. Revising this example:
- August sat down at a corner booth and drummed his fingers on the tabletop. A blonde sauntered up to the bar. She was gorgeous. He’d love to get a date with her, but she was out of his league.
The only time we might use a filter is when we want to bring specific attention to the fact that the character’s taken that action. E.g.
- August and Lisa sat down in a corner booth. August watched a blonde saunter up to the bar, then turned back to find Lisa glowering at him.
Here, we mention that August watched the blonde, because it correlates with and explains why Lisa’s glowering at August. Poor August.
Don’t get too fancy with attributors
Attributors are things like said, asked, etc. – the verb that connects our characters to their dialogue. There’s a school of thought that you should only use said and asked, and that if your dialogue is written well enough, the reader will infer tone. If you want to be a little more diverse with your attributors, that’s fine, but don’t overdo it. E.g.
- ’How dare you look at her!’ Lisa vociferated.
Errr, what exactly did Lisa do? This might seem a spurious example, but plenty of authors do use grandiose attributors. In this case, this could just as easily be:
- ’How dare you look at her!’ Lisa shouted.
‘How dare you look at her!’ Lisa screeched.
‘How dare you look at her!’ Lisa bellowed.
As you can see, there are simpler options. Don’t go overboard.
Cliches are phrases that have become so overused, they’ve lost all meaning. E.g.
- She was the love of August’s life. When Lisa left him, August’s heart broke. But as quick as a flash, he got back into dating.
Ummm, what? Are things like love of my life, heart broke, as quick as a flash – and every other cliche – really communicative of what they’re trying to say in any meaningful or evocative way? Cliches are also lazy writing. If you’re going to use a cliche, find another way to say it.
Kill the use of ‘suddenly’
‘Suddenly’ is such a Year 7 word, e.g. I was walking down the hallway, and suddenly a ghost appeared! It’s so melodramatic and pseudo-shocking. Take this example:
- Suddenly, the door crashed open.
Does the use of suddenly improve that sentence. Isn’t the act of the door crashing open implying a suddenness? Couldn’t it just be:
- The door crashed open.
There might be times to use suddenly, but beware its overuse, as it’s become common. As an exercise, look out for it in the book you’re currently reading. It’ll surprise you how often and suddenly it appears.
Cut what’s unnecessary
If there’s something you can cut from your writing and it doesn’t affect the piece – it doesn’t affect the plot, the characterisations, the motivations, or anything like that – then cut it. There’s no great way to demonstrate this in a short passage, but think about movies nowadays when they’re released on DVDs with deleted scenes. Sometimes, the deleted scenes are interesting, but you can see why they didn’t make the final product – their omission has affected nothing. A journalist once told me that you can have interesting facts, but if they have no bearing on the article, then they’re unnecessary. Same with any other form of writing.
A tautology is a redundancy in writing, the repetition of the same definition in different words. E.g.
- I hope this blog has improved your writing for the better.
Spot it? That statement suggests hoping this blog has improved your writing and then adds for the better. In this case, how else could you improve your writing? For the worse? Both passages are saying the same thing. This is a tautology. Look out for them.
That’s it for this week. Next week: Looking at the big picture.