Month: April 2014
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There aren’t many writers out there that are doing their job solely for money or fame. Both are fleeting in this business, after all. Any writer worth their weight in literary goodness goes down this road because they’re committed to telling stories, to sharing thoughts and feelings, and to celebrate the beauty of language.
Passion for writing is a requirement. Being a writer is a creative business, and so it’s imperative to keep enthused about your own work. Sometimes it’s easy. And other times it’s a loveless relationship, and it seems like the magic’s gone. The nights are cold and quiet. That fleeting time together is filled with awkward stares (usually at a screen or page).
But just because there’s a rough patch in the relationship, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed. Here are some quick tips to help spark the passion you once felt for your writing.
Make plans together. Every relationship needs some direction, after all. Set goals – big goals. Submit to a competition or magazine you’ve never had the courage to enter before (*cough*page seventeen*cough*). Get that novel down that you’ve always had in the back of your mind – even if you think it’ll be awful. Having something to aim for, and a deadline to meet; is a motivator that is often underestimated.
Don’t keep using the same move – it’s getting stale. That isn’t to say you’re not good at it. You’re probably breathtaking. But who wants to go through the motions, without any variety? If your last five pieces of fiction have been about vampires, then you’re probably in a rut. Try something that you’d never normally go for – you might find it surprisingly satisfying. It might also end in bruises, but that’s okay, because the experience itself is often naturally invigorating.
Suggest a swinger’s party. This perhaps seems a tad extreme to some, but who knows where it might lead? Finding the right company to swap your stories with can be a motivator in itself. Aside from getting some invaluable feedback, sharing your work with other writers is encouraging, emboldening and a major step in your own method of expression. The right workshop or writers’ group can be a melting pot of titillating feedback and encouragement.
Don’t be afraid to spend a little time apart – as long as you come back together in the end. I always advocate that when things get too rough to even be in the same room as each other, a couple needs to leave at least a little space to breathe until clear thinking prevails again. What matters is that it isn’t for too long. You’re still a team, after all – you and your writing. But if the writing process if feeling more difficult than rewarding, and you’ve gone through every ‘writing is hard work too, get over it’ inspirational quote you can find for motivation, remember that the hard work still warrants a chance to clear your head and recharge the batteries every now and then. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.
Every writer has moments where the passion they once felt has been left to slip away. Speaking on a personal note, I’ve had a couple of those times in my own life – I first dedicated myself to becoming a writer about ten years ago and I’ve had a strong mix of easy enthusiasm and gruelling frustration. I’ll have plenty more. And so will you, if you plan to be a writer for a long time to come. And keeping enthusiastic every time you try to write can be hard. That’s when you need to remember why you fell in love with writing in the first place – and remind yourself how far you’ll go to honour the commitment you’ve made.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds. In the right relationship, it always is.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
April 24, 2014
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.
April 22, 2014
One of the most recent books I’ve read has been Wilbur Smith’s Vicious Circle. I read a little Smith when I was younger and remembered the old-school adventures to be brutal at times but rip-roaring and jolly-good – something that would make a good change of pace from some of my other recent reading material. Change is as good as a holiday, right?
Too bad I found it downright unpleasant to read at times. The torture scenes, I was fine with. The underlying sense of chauvinism, I could deal with. Then the main villain got his backstory, and the reader is dragged into the abyss.
Without giving too much away, let’s just summarise that the backstory of this one charming SOB is a long sequence of shock-and-awe involving combined incest/paedophilia, prison rape, sex slavery and people being eaten alive by pigs. I didn’t take a dislike to Vicious Circle just because of the content of this sequence. It was because every scene was laboured over – we are voyeurs to every depraved act, and it comes across as tasteless and unnecessary.
Let’s stop there before this becomes a review of Vicious Circle. My point here is not to demonise this book (although let this serve as fair warning for anyone planning to read it). Rather, for me this is a launching pad into a wider discussion on explicit content in writing.
I’m no stick in the mud. Anyone who knows me, likely already knows that one of my favourite books is American Psycho: the poster child for protracted and gruesome torture scenes.
So, on to the obvious question: what is the difference between the depravity of Vicious Circle and the depravity of American Psycho?
American Psycho, to me, represents a theme-driven mode of storytelling. Every device – the killing spree, the repetitive lunches, the long diatribes on 1980s pop stars – are in support of the book’s intention. American Psycho is able to justify its explicit material as being in servitude to the story’s satire and criticism of 1980s society. Generally I’m sceptical of novels that raise its commentary to the same level as its story, and as an editor I commonly advise against it, but there are exceptions to every rule and, in my opinion at least, this specific title manages the balance well.
Conversely, Vicious Circle lays out a path of sexual depravity and violence that serves only to vilify the main antagonist far beyond what is necessary. One could take the American Psycho angle and argue that this character is meant to represent all the dark impulses of humanity, unfettered and without restraint in a world that eventually turns a blind eye to his actions. But it’s a secondary mechanism – worse, it hijacks a plot-driven book. The more direct argument is: we see the bad guy doing bad things because this is a very bad guy, and we need to feel good that the good guy is going to get the bad guy. Cut. Print. Good guy wins.
So when we talk about the application of extreme content, what does this mean for other writers?
It means that explicit material in writing is always going to be risky, even when the story demands it. By taking that risk, you’re already narrowing your audience by their tolerance of sex and violence. Always keep the audience in mind when writing darker material. A quick online search reveals that Wilbur Smith has evidently lost many fans with his latest offering – he took a risk, and perhaps it hasn’t paid off.
The human experience can include some harrowing trials, and accurate writing often must address the consequences of human cruelty and callousness. The difference is in the delivery. To come back to our scapegoat, Vicious Circle demanded brutality to complement its subject matter. But it was hoisted by its own petard due to poor application.
Treat these themes with respect. In one of society’s odd little idiosyncrasies, writers have a little more allowance with gore and brutality than with sexual depravity – indeed, some sub-genres of pulp crime practically make brutality a requirement. But both avenues of explicit material need a justification above and beyond ‘bad guys are bad’ or simple shock tactics. Otherwise you’re cheapening your own material in service of gratuity.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
April 17, 2014
As everybody would know, we have just announced the [untitled] short story longlist. We received submissions for said competition through Submittable, a submission engine that more and more publishers, journals, and competitions are using. Submittable allows you to track where your submissions are, and will tell you where they stand: ‘Received’, ‘In-Progress’, ‘Accepted’, ‘Declined’, or ‘Withdrawn’. On the other side of the desk, Submittable will automate a lot of the duties we previously had to do individually, and also allows us to communicate (when required) with submitters en masse.
Now, let’s backtrack.
[untitled] (and page seventeen) are not profitable ventures for Busybird Publishing. In fact, they run at a small loss. We persevere with them in an attempt to contribute something to the literary community, as well as help give exposure to new and emerging authors. Moreover, we hope [untitled] provides a home for good stories that other journals might be too literary to consider. As we keep saying, We’re about stories.
The administration of the competition is performed by an intern. This involves downloading stories through Submittable, filing them (on her own computer initially, no less), logging details into a spreadsheet, and corresponding with any authors who might have queries. She also has to file hardcopy submissions, which are provided when she comes into the Studio. When the submission window closes, she comes in and files everything on this computer where this very blog is now being written.
Some might wonder whether every entry in the competition is read, from (as they say) cover to cover or whether some underhanded practice is in place, where a handful of submissions are randomly chosen, and the rest are discarded, unread. I’m sure more than a few people have considered that, or something like that. After all, there’s a lot of material to get through in a short space of time.
Well, we can assure you everything is read, the stories divvied (on this occasion) between myself, Blaise (head of Busybird Publishing), Beau Hillier (chief editor of page seventeen), and several assistant editors. What’s more, everything is read in our own personal time. This is also often the case with general submissions for [untitled], as well as for page seventeen, (and is probably the case with most unprofitable journals).
Sometimes, though, things can seem to go awry.
In this case, it involves Submittable not ticking over the status of submissions for submitters from ‘Received’ to ‘In-Progress’, so after the longlist was announced Tuesday, we fielded several queries asking whether we had, in fact, read their submissions. Surely, if we had, submissions would be listed as ‘In-Progress’ in the submitter’s Submittable account, rather than remain at ‘Received’, which seemed to imply that their submissions were sitting here unopened.
We checked our spreadsheet and found that stories in question had been logged. We then checked the folder that contained all the stories, and found them both sitting there. We then checked the file allocation, and found that each story had gone to somebody to read. Effectively, the stories went through the same course as all the others. Nothing had been overlooked on our behalf.
We then emailed the people at Submittable (who are always very prompt and helpful in responding), who explained the status only changes when the submission is assigned to a reader, a note is added to the submission, or a vote is cast or the review of the submission is completed – these are all internal Submittable functions, (which are available when one of our staff logs into our Submittable account). The status does not change, we were told, if the submission is simply downloaded off Submittable.
It’s deflating to be accused of some sort of impropriety, which – in this case – amounts to larceny (taking subs for the money) and fraud (but not then reading the subs). Should this really be the first response when something seemingly goes awry? Is that more probable than contemplating that there’d be some perfectly logical explanation?
This is not the first time we’ve run afoul of submitters. Early in our tenure, one submitter responded indignantly to being edited and pulled his story, then tried to offer it back. By that time, we’d filled the slot and offered to carry his story over to the next issue, but he re-withdrew it. We later discovered he’d behaved similarly with the journal 21D. On another occasion, we fielded a haughty inquiry about our response times. Sometimes, things get on top of us and we can slip behind. We don’t like it – we really don’t like it – but it happens. If you want to know the status of a submission, just ask. We’re happy to respond.
Most people are great – polite and understanding and a pleasure to work with. But, if for some reason, you feel you need an explanation for anything that’s occurred, feel free to bug us but, but, please, show some courtesy. It’s all we ask.
April 12, 2014
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 seventeen