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‘Writing’s the one thing I can call my own’

Featured Writers Corner

Oftentimes we have no choice: the keyboard calls

Margaret Atwood once said:

“Writing is not a job description. A great deal of it is luck. Don’t do it if you are not a gambler because a lot of people devote many years of their lives to it (for little reward). I think people become writers because they are compulsive wordsmiths”

I think I would put it even stronger: we are compulsive wordsmiths, yes, but sometimes we are actually unable to put the pen down or — in this case in the 21st century — abandon the computer keyboard. We may, like my adorable blogging compatriot, Tara Smith, be compulsive people-watchers and take notes or store the info in our heads until we get a moment to write it down; or we may just be of the temperament that it takes us over, we have no recourse but to let it and we set aside somewhere, some time apart from our Other Life in order to do it. It drives us. It controls us. I am no longer fooled into thinking I have a choice in the matter.

Virginia Woolf said: ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ That was an early 20th century view. Nowadays, all we ask is a tiny corner in the middle of the madness, so we and our Muse can be together for a brief (illicit) rendezvous.

As you probably read in my blog on John LeCarré, this little corner is my attempt to feature my favorite real-life struggling authors. By that I mean those of us who are continually pitting our wits against the ever-growing behemoth of the Publishing World: the world we writers are so NOT equipped to tackle and yet, as agents keep on telling us: we don’t get there unless we try. So in addition to being tied down with imaginary ropes and shackles by our Muse, our flow is constricted by being constantly reminded that to publish we must become marketers.

To refute this assumption, Barbara Kingsolver says:
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

I present you with persistent blogger, Princess of Procrastination, ChickLit author of Cardiffella and my Welsh Sista, Tara Smith.

Featured Writer: TARA SMITH

When Marian asked me to guest on her blog, I immediately decided to do it without thinking about it at all. For those of you that don’t know me (which I’m guessing will be the majority of you), that’s very typical of me. I’ll agree to almost anything and I never think about the consequences. I over-commit myself, I allow myself to be persuaded into projects, and I tell myself that it would be rude to say ‘no’ (well, it would be rude to say ‘no’, especially when people specifically think of me to help them with something And I really don’t like to be rude).

Cambrian Princess, Tara Smith

Anyway, along with my Can’t Say No Attitude, I’m also a Procrastinator of the Highest Order. You would think that the two wouldn’t go hand in hand – indeed, they shouldn’t go hand in hand – but unfortunately they seem to be Partners in Crime.

So here I am, at the eleventh hour (24 hours before Marian’s deadline to be exact, and when you consider that I was asked to do this weeks ago, you can probably see how much of a procrastinator I really am) typing up this blog post.

Those of you familiar with Marian’s blog will have come to expect detailed, well thought-out posts which show care and loving attention to every sentence, so I should probably apologise because my efforts are definitely not of the same level at all. As with all writing, I’m a Fly By The Seat Of My Pants kind of girl, which means I rarely research and just dive right in, hoping against hope that I will have produced something legible at the end. I really shouldn’t call myself a writer at all, I’m far too haphazard in my approach to it.

But the thing is, I enjoy writing. No. Scrap that. I love writing.

It doesn’t matter if I am writing for my own blog, for other blogs, for my fan fiction stories, or for my original stories, I just love to write. Sure, I get frustrated more often than not when my Writing Mojo doesn’t do his job properly (my current Writing Mojo looks suspiciously like Jensen Ackles, by the way, and as he’s been so naughty lately I may have to punish him accordingly), but when I get into the flow of it, writing makes me about as happy as it is possible to be.

Writing, for me, is escapism from the busy life of a working mother. I only work part time, but add the 16 hours of my earning job to the endless hours of my ‘mother’ job, and there really aren’t enough hours to go around. Sometimes I think that if I paused for a moment, everything would come crashing down upon me, such is the balancing act that is my daily life. I don’t really have any hobbies (aside from an addiction to reading [and procrastinating] ), so writing is the only thing that I can do that is especially for me. My kids can’t get involved in it, my husband can’t get involved in it, and my cats can’t pester me about it either. A working mother (or any mother, for that matter) is spread so thin that sometimes she can forget all about herself, so for me writing is the one thing that I can call my own that is not accountable to anyone else.

It doesn’t matter if I don’t write for a while, it doesn’t matter if when I do write it is nothing more than the mad mutterings of a crazy person, the writing comes from me and me I don’t really have a current project as such, more a pile of unfinished projects that could probably do with a good dusting off (part of the problem of being a procrastinator is that you tend to be a starter and not a finisher, if you know what I mean). I’d like to say that I have written a novel. Well, actually I have written a novel, it’s just it’s nowhere near ready for publishing yet, so it’s technically a draft.

Soon to hit the bookshelves -- if the Muse is willing -- Cardiffella by Tara Smith

This draft was the finished product of last year’s NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month), and it was the first time I had ever written something so long in such a short space of time. You would think that after achieving 50,000 words in a month I would be able to go back and add another 10k and tidy it up a bit with no problem at all.

Alas, the bane of procrastination!

Still, with another WriMo coming up I am hoping that another month of sleep-deprived crazy writing will give me the kick up the butt that I need. Last year I wrote a Chick Lit comedy – which, let me tell you, was a complete surprise to me, as I had been sporadically working on a fantasy-based novel for a good number of years (yes, years: it’s not a typo. I’m not the most prolific of writers to be sure). This time around I’m thinking of taking another genre path and going for contemporary drama instead. I’ve been known –- despite my reputation for being slightly loopy -– to write good, solid drama over the years, and I’m thinking that’s what I should maybe do. If I do it, that is. Yeah, we’re a dithering bunch, we procrastinators, and can never decide what we are going to do until the last minute (hence this eleventh hour ramble blog post).

That’s the beauty of being a writer though, there aren’t any boundaries. Most jobs in the real world have a routine to them that borders on mind-numbing. Unless you are extremely lucky and have a job that you love, or you work in some sort of challenging academic field, your place of work pretty much fences you in and you have to deal with the same stuff day in, day out. I work in a newsagents three days a week, and although the tasks vary a little for the different days, it’s still the same things that I have to do one week after another. The only upside (or downside, depending which way you look at it) is that along with the regular customers that frequent the shop, you are almost always guaranteed to get a few new people every day. And for a writer, that is good news.

People-watching (or nosing at strangers; you decide) can be a fountain of inspiration if you do it properly. On the few occasions when I am not running around like a headless chicken with newspapers flying out of my hands, I’ll stop for a moment and observe a customer. It may only be for a few seconds, but in that short space of time I’ll have given them a name, an occupation, a relationship status, and a little back story.

Not that I’m a stalker or anything, you understand, I’m just a curious person (as in curious about other people, not curious myself. Then again, I suppose you could call me odd if you wanted to).

NaNoWriMo: writing every day in November

Anyway, that’s what I do in between counting the magazines and putting stock on to the shelves. You see, even when I’m supposed to be working, my brain is still in writer mode. Which is why I call myself a writer. It’s not something that you can make yourself do, you either are or you aren’t.

I’ve had people say to me over the years that they can’t understand how I can write stories from thin air, as they wouldn’t know where to begin. Others have commented on how I can fill blog posts with (mostly) legible words on a daily basis (though, to be fair, that was only during last October and November, which were the only two months that I managed to blog every day. . . *shifty*). But to me it would be inconceivable if I couldn’t write a few paragraphs about any subject in the world. I can’t understand what is so difficult to understand, if truth be told.

Writing, for me, isn’t a job. It’s isn’t a hobby either. It’s just a part of me, like my arms or my legs. I can go months without physically writing anything, but the storytelling instinct lurking inside me is never far from the surface. I could no more stop writing than I could stop eating (and I do love to eat, it has to be said). And let’s not forget that I’m just an ordinary thirty-something woman. I have a crappy job, two kids, a mortgage, and bills to pay (or not to pay some months, let’s be honest). I’m no J.K.Rowling or Dan Brown, I’m just me, Tara Smith, living my ordinary life for the time being while I sit on the pipe dream of becoming a published author.

Everyone needs something to hope for and to aspire to, or life would become stagnant. My writing dream may only ever be a dream, but it’s a darn good one that I’ll keep having until I stop breathing. I love to write. That’s it, that’s me. It’s what keeps me sane in my insane life, and it’s something that I’ll always do, no matter what.

And no-one can take it away from me, because it’s mine.
©2010 Tara Smith

That, folks, was TARA SMITH. Isn’t she fabulous?
OTHER featured writers soon to appear (or appear again) are:

Cathy Evans
Hart Johnson
Pete Madstone (May 2010)
Natasha Ramarathnam
Genie Rayner (October 2010)
Rob Read
Mehal Rockefeller (April 2010)
Catrien Ross of Energy Doorways
Tara Smith (September 2010)
Jim Vires (October 2010)

ED: Tara Smith is author of hilariously funny Cardiffella, a dedicated NaNoWriMo participant, working wife and mother and Blogspot blogger Princess of Procrastination. Enjoy.

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September 29, 2010 Posted by | authors, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Equinox Signals Powerful Changes

part of the Featured Writers’ Corner

powerful chart for September Equinox 2010

Equinox is a trying time: invigorating, yes. But it puts one on one’s mettle. After the heavy weight of responsibility placed on us earthlings over the summer — a second year in a row of inclement weather and battling the elements — we may be feeling a little ‘wabbit’. It’s a good old Anglo-Saxon term for feeling so buffeted by Life’s challenges that all you want to do is lie back and let someone else take the reins. Well, the Universe is taking them. So we might as well hang on because we’re in it for the Ride.

I wrote an Equinox blog on my other site about the changes, the current planetary alignments and influences, and the following came as a response from Rodney Fitzgerald.

As you know, here I’m promoting my writerly friends in this current series of GuestBlogs — see 18 Steps to Becoming a Writer — and Fitzy’s commentary is so great, so gentle with the vibration of the turning season, that it deserves a corner of its own. So, here goes, Fitzy — thank you. The first of what I hope will be a few guest blogs from you.

Vitality, vigour, joie de vivre…

Dante wrote in his inferno, Canto 1;
“Midway through the journey of our life, I found
myself in a dark wood, for I had strayed
from the straight pathway to this tangled ground.”

Here we find ourselves, in 2010, striding in the opposite direction, back up the twisting stair, to the Spring time of the soul.
Like the freeway, when you’re heading out of town and everyone is heading in, open road speeds now apply.

“Where are they going?” asks the kid in the back seat, all leather interior, only two hundred more repayments to go.
Silence from the harried parents, the city looming ahead filled with mortgages, cold envy and doubt, chills and terror at 3am.
The kid shrinks back into his seat, eats his Big Mac and imagines having super powers, as the green turns to grey and asphalt.
I have my foot down hard, there is nothing behind me, more compelling now than the open road, I look for the turn off…
..And the exit, is well lit.

Sidereal, you are right, Pluto is coughing up the dregs of his passing reign. That old Tyrant Holdfast is loosing his grip. The death rattle is terrible to behold.

The passing spirit of the fading epoch, does not go gently into that good night however, its mind of domination and cruelty is sold to the masses as entertainment in the form of the Vampyre drama. Novels, Films and TV shows run amock, selling dark desire to a well-groomed flock of children.

What the empty and fading dark wants most, is the energy it can never produce itself – the Divine spark. It does not hide now, it’s desperate. It sells the idea its epoch is in ascension, and this is a lie. Its way is broken, it stumbles where it treads, the grasp too weak to hold.

All politics and policies are the same, all politicians and frontmen look the same, actors all look alike – the rictus wide grin, the arched and frozen eyebrows, animated mannequins, mimic life. Like all parasites, these faux forms are getting an epic dose of that old curative – strong sunlight.

As the contrast in this realm is turned way up, the profane is revealed, its sham mimicry dissolving, as the Profound laughs gladly with a full heart, at the usurping mockery, that would hold all life in thrall.

The craven shape breaks apart, the spell is fizzer, sorcery pops like a cheap firework, the record skips and the DJ slips.

Horus pins Set.

As Autumn brings a dying season, Spring in the southern hemisphere is just beginning

Spring brings storms. As winter groans and breaks and fades, the gates of Hades finally swing shut on the age of Kali Yuga, the noisy undead of this epoch will again fall mute.

This realm rebukes the interloping shades, the Ancestors hold firm ground. Our song is their song mingled with our own. We sing in an age of Ages, four colours on the wheel, the Universe pivots as it should.

The fire of life, invigorates the eternal spark in all benevolent beings, now free of the gloom of a passing, savage age.

Blessings!

©2010 RFitzgerald

Rodney Fitzgerald is a New Zealander, a Kiwi. This guest blog is part of our series of guest-writerly blogs.

Others in the series to be featured here (along with those already featured) include:

Cathy Evans
Hart Johnson
Pete Madstone (May 2010)
Natasha Ramarathnam
Genie Rayner (October 2010)
Rob Read
Mehal Rockefeller (April 2010)
Catrien Ross of Energy Doorways
Tara Smith (September 2010)
Jim Vires (October 2010)

And the following delight from Chris OneFeather at BlogTalkRadio:

Balancing Eggs on Equinox
Dust from the Comet’s Tail

OneFeatherBlogTalkRadio

About this time every year, the leaves start to change, the air cools, and news about a familiar balancing act starts to surface. So what is the Autumnal Equinox and what’s the deal with balancing an egg on that day?

The Autumnal Equinox is the point during the second half of the year, when the sun is directly shining on the Equator. This day is known for marking the first day of Fall in the northern hemisphere. The reason why is all due to the position of the sun. When the sun shines at 90 degrees at the Equator, the entire Earth will experience 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night (This skews a few minutes around the Equator and North/South Poles, but it’s still pretty close). In fact, Equinox literally means “equal night.” Beyond that, for us in the Northern Hemisphere, our days will continue to get shorter.

On Equinox, September 23rd, the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading south at 03:09 UT. This astronomical event marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the south, Full 'harvest' moon occurs just six hours later at 9:11 UT

It is important to note, the Autumnal Equinox is set on the day in which the sun reaches 0 degrees latitude; therefore, it is not always on the same exact date. This year, the exact time is at 8:09 Pacific time. That’s why half of our calendars are marked with Thursday, September 23 as the first day of fall, since that is the first full day.

So, why the egg trick? This myth originated in China attached to the beginning of Spring. It relates to eggs representing new life, as does springtime for many agricultural areas. Over the years, the myth became famous at both equinoxes and is now more of a fun parlor trick for your friends. The assumption with this myth is that during equinox, a special balance of gravitational forces exists across the Earth. Although scientists have tried to bust this myth for years, the popular urban legend lives on. The actual truth is that the main gravitational force acting on the egg is the Earth’s gravitational force; which determines the weight of the egg. In fact, the moon is responsible for more changes in gravitational forces (i.e. tides) than the sun is.

So, can you balance an egg on an equinox? The answer is Yes. However, with a little patience, you can balance an egg any day of the year.

If the scientist in you is not quite ready to bust this myth so quickly, try your own experiment at home. Today, take a break and hold an egg with its wider part on a flat surface. Give the egg a minute or so to allow the liquid to settle in the bottom. Then, start carefully trying to achieve equilibrium, and therefore a free standing egg. Once you’ve mastered this, try it off and on throughout the year and see what happens!

Despite scientific inaccuracies with this myth, it is still a fun trick to try with your family and friends. After the Autumnal Equinox, the days will start getting shorter and the officially Fall will begin.

Ed: I want to thank Fitzy and Chris OneFeather for their contributions. We need to share more thoughts like these around this time of year. Thank you both.

September 26, 2010 Posted by | Ascension, astrology, authors, consciousness, earth changes, New Age, New Earth, seasonal, winter, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

18 Steps to Becoming a Writer

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already a writer. So the appended list is intended as a little tongue-in-cheek, because those in the field who haven’t yet plunged have miles to go before they sleep….

Author David Cornwell in Cornwall speaking to Jon Snow, courtesy Channel 4 News

There is one great role model still out there, however, and he gave a rare interview on British television (to Channel 4 News’s Jon Snow, thank you) on September 13th. In his eightieth year, David Cornwell — no you don’t know him by that name, but read on — will publish his 22nd book this week on September 16th.

Before I get to the steps to mastery of this mysterious gift — writing — I want to say that Jon Snow did a magnificent job: not only did he subsume his role as producer/director and questioning acolyte into the greater picture which his interviewee painted, but he seemed to enjoy every moment of it. His follow-up Snowblog had a telltale air of enthusiasm and excitement about it, as if his trip to Cornwall to see Cornwell had actually inspired him.

His opening line: ‘The night sleeper drew exhaustedly into Penzance station’ was a creative scene-setter. Well done Jon.

The octogenarian-to-be certainly inspired me. David Cornwell is, of course, in case you hadn’t guessed, the all-Brit deeply researched (by personal experience) spy thriller writer John Le Carré. He has lived in his clifftop home overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean for nearly forty years. That kind of rootedness — plus his earlier career in the British Foreign Office — leads to writerly focus and concentration. And those, as we know, are the main ingredients in pulling off a masterpiece, the following 18 steps notwithstanding!

Scrivener storyboard: the 'greatest advance for writers since the word processor' Michael Marshall Smith

Step One: Decide you’re going to write a story.

Step Two: Decide it’s going to be brilliant. Imagine the response of your [teacher, classmates, reading group, agent] and how it will completely change the way they look at you.

Step Three: Open up Scrivener for Macs or Microsoft Word or, if you are really doing this for the VERY FIRST time, unpack the old portable typewriter and put a fresh sheet of paper in the roller and snap to. (I’m not the only one who remembers what that feels like).

Step Four: Stare at the blank white screen stretching on into infinity until your eyes begin to water and your brain hurts from the sheer emptiness of it all.

Step Five: Check your e-mail. If writing a novel, research agents for a couple of hours.

Step Six: Stare at the blank Scrivener/Word document again.

Step Seven: Realize you need music. Spend the next hour finding the perfect “mood” music for what you want to write.

Step Eight: Inspired by [insert perfect music here], click back over to Scrivener/Word document.

Step Nine: Change Facebook status to: [Your name here] is WRITING!!! Realize you aren’t on Twitter, and that anyone who is anyone is networking/wasting time on Twitter. Sign up for an account and spend the next two hours figuring out how it works and what the hell # means.

Step Ten: Stare at blank Scrivener/ Word document. Decide you need a title. Brainstorm for the next hour.

His 22nd spy thriller is launched this week

Step Eleven: Come up with a GENIUS title. Proudly type “The Scent of Green Papayas” at the top of the document, followed by your name. Happily consider how easily a story will come now that you have such an amazing, literary title.

Step Twelve: Take a four-hour break for snacks and naptime.

Step Thirteen: Refreshed, sit down and toy around with pen names for a while.

Step Fourteen: Realize to your horror that your genius title is actually the name of a Vietnamese foreign film you saw seven years ago.

Step Fifteen: Erase the title, pressing Backspace much harder than necessary.

Step Sixteen: Stare at the blank Scrivener/Word document until your eyes bleed.

Step Seventeen: Check Facebook. See that fourteen people have commented on your status, asking what you are writing. Feel both guilty and annoyed.

Step Eighteen: Slam your laptop shut and go to the movies. Tomorrow’s a better day for writing, anyhow.

See? You never knew writing was so easy!

This little provocative bullet was provided by Chuck Sambuchino in the Literary Agents Editor’s Blog.

it is far more relevant to hear from Le Carré directly: while the Channel 4 Snowblog does go into detail on the points of the Snow interview, as a ‘news’ interview, it concentrates on the spy stuff, its relevance in our 21st Century world. What stay with me, on the other hand, are Cornwell’s clear and lucid words on solitude and being touched by the Muse. His years of experience in handling spies and other British Foreign Office delicacies (when Britain was still called Britain) are merely a hook for the content of his books on espionage. What he said in this rare and insightful interview (probably his last; he said so himself) is far more important for budding — and successful — storytellers.

‘Popular writers have usually got one flag they can always wave. And it haunts them. It haunts me. Can I ever write another Spy Who Came in from the Cold? The answer is no, I can’t. But I can do other stuff.’ His latest title Our Kind of Traitor, will more than satisfy readers hungry for an exposé on current (London-centered) compromised politicians and a banking system’s feigned ignorance of money-laundered Russian cash acquired via offensive (and illegal) means.

For Le Carré the writing life, he says, is the only life he has. His imaginary characters are his friends. He admits that his walks around his home take the form of a reconnection with childhood. ‘I populate these hills with the characters of my imagination.’ His supportive and ever-present wife Jane does the donkey work — the typescripts — after David has used the dining room table as a storyboard: chopped pieces of edited MS scotchtaped, paperclipped and scribbled on, folded together or pried apart when a paragraph doesn’t work. [So he’s no advertising guru for Scrivener]. His mind, like his dining table, is a cohesion of scattered bits.
‘It’s all I know now. It’s that and my family. We have very little social life’, he admits gleefully.

Le Carré, pen-name for David Cornwell, forever guided by the Muse, his 22nd novel is published this week

He is the epitome of the non-planner. His works don’t have an outline, format or detailed chapter-by-chapter mission plan. He likes to go with the flow.

‘I don’t make plots in advance. I don’t make great march routes. I actually try to throw people into a messy life and see how they’ll sort it out — while I’m writing. So the whole adventure is one I share with the reader.’

To me, however, one of his most precious gems, dropped when the blogger-presenter and cameraman weren’t paying attention, was on the role of focus, solitude and attention given by the writer to his Muse. He used the ‘flag-flying’ of authors as a springboard, but his personal insight seemed to come as an afterthought, as if its relevance might not be understood by the current generation of writers influenced by ‘spin’, the ‘pitch’, that whole marketing morasse which a writer can drown in. It was a key thought behind his declaration that this might be the last interview he would give.

Talking about what one has achieved is very addictive, he says. ‘I’ve seen the best minds be wooed by the camera. It is exciting. I’ve been there myself. But it deprives one of one’s essence’. He describes his final interview as ‘most candid and honest’; says only through solitude, in allowing the fusion between the word and the mind to coalasce, to filter through from that place of inspiration to typeface on the printed page, does true connection — and joy — emerge.

That’s the gift. And talking about it disperses and fragments it.

So, in maintaining forty years of silence (on camera) but by allowing his words to flow in print, Cornwell has not only been true to his Muse, but to his reader.

That, in my humble opinion, is true dedication to the art.

©2010 Marian Youngblood
It seems right that soon-to-be-octogenarian David Cornwell (b. October 19, 1931) should feature before a series of talented author/writer friends are showcased here over the next weeks on this blog. Each one is dedicated to the artform. Each has a tale to tell. I hope you enjoy. And if you are perched on that branch, uncertain if you should dive in, go ahead. The medium’s lovely. And the water’s warm.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | authors, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments