Small Steps

A couple of months ago I wrote a post detailing my desire to get my writing available online and my reasons for doing so. I haven’t posted for a while, and in the interim there has been a couple of developments involving my writing.  I hope that this post won’t come across as too self-indulgent or self-congratulatory, it is just an honest update.  The small steps I have taken are pretty inconsequential anyway, but I find noting them down is a record of how I am navigating the sometimes overwhelming ocean of options for publishing material. And if anything I say helps others on their journeys, then that’s all to the good.

After posting my novella ‘Momentum’ on Amazon I received an extraordinarily kind email from the organiser of my old book club in Melbourne.  Without my knowledge, he had talked with the rest of the group and decided to make my novella one of the two choices to talk about for their December meeting.  This meant a great deal for me and I am super grateful for their support, but it still filled me with some trepidation. The thought of fifteen friends sitting around dissecting my work was a scary one, even though I would be asleep on the other side of the world whilst they were having their meeting.  I’m happy to report that most of the feedback I received was positive, although of course the opinions of friends have to be taken with a pinch of salt as they tend to err on the side of praise to avoid upset.  Best of all was that a couple of members purchased the novella from Amazon rather than go through this blog, which means for the first time in my life I have made financial gain from my writing.  The royalty payments for an Amazon sale are frankly a pittance, but I still feel proud.  As the title of this post suggests, it’s a tiny step but worth commemorating, I think.

More exciting was the fallout from a novella competition I entered on the website Booksie, which is basically a portal to upload and critique work.  It was a lucky accident that ‘Momentum’ fulfilled the criteria for the competition, which was run by a small American publishing company.  I didn’t win, but shortly after the competition closed I was contacted by someone from the publisher saying how much they enjoyed my work and inviting me to contribute a short story for the next volume of their literary journal, due out in 2017.  I sent them my story ‘In The Doghouse’, and I’m very pleased to say that it has been accepted for the volume.  So I will see a piece of my writing in print for the very first time in the next year.  Which I am very excited about.  I’m receiving no payment for it but the exposure will be invaluable and now no-one can ever take the achievement away from me.  I have really taken more of a commitment to writing this year and to see it pay off, even in only this small way, is really rewarding.  I guess it’s like any other job – work hard and take it seriously and it really can happen.

So, a nice finish to the writing year for me.  I’ve been more prolific this year than in probably a decade or more, and I think this is down to pushing through when creative thoughts are hard to come by, rather than admitting defeat.  It makes an enormous difference.

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Getting it Out There

My favourite film is probably Sideways, the 2004 road-trip comedy. I loved it the first time I saw it, and repeated viewings have only strengthened my view. It’s so beautifully written, and the character of Miles, the struggling writer dealing with rejection in all facets of his life, is one that I can really relate to. It captures the desparation and loneliness of a man in his thirties who feels that life is passing him by perfectly. All the nervousness that Miles feels whilst waiting for news about his novel rings true with all of us who have taken the step to get their writing into the public domain. It’s not all doom and gloom though – the film has many laugh-out-loud moments, most of them involving Jack, Miles’s boorish sidekick. It’s just a wonderful mix of pathos and humour and brilliantly subtle with it.

I think of the film often, but especially so this week, when I have been full of indecision about what to do with my writing. Some of it I have approached publishers with, but I wanted a platform to display my work in the meantime. After Miles receives confirmation that his novel will not be published, Jack exclaims, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘Just publish it yourself, get it out there and let the public decide.’ So with that spirit in mind, I have done just that.

Whilst on Amazon the other day I stumbled across their Kindle Direct Publishing tool, which allows writers to make their work available for Kindle download, and hopefully make a little bit of money in the process! So I have put my novella Momentum up onto the site and it is now available for purchase. This is a slightly scary thought, knowing that my work can now be downloaded from any of Amazon’s worldwide sites, but is also enormously exciting too. It’s unlikely that it will sell, other than if a few friends take pity on me, but just having it there is a boost of confidence that will keep me striving to write more and expand my catalogue of work.

So, to end with a plug. My author page is now up and running where you can find Momentum plus a little biography I wrote. If you’re interested, feel free to check it out. And if anyone out there needs an outlet for their work, I’d highly recommend putting stuff onto Amazon. The process was straightforward, even for a technophobe like me. Most of the hard work is done for you, and within a couple of hours of completion your masterpiece will become available. It may only be a grain of sand on a vast beach, but it will be out there in all its glory.

 

Momentum

So, late last year I wrote a couple of blog posts about a novella I had been working on. I talked about my feelings after finishing the first draft, then wrote a post about the re-write and the struggles I was having with condensing the manuscript down, plus some problems with story development. In the end, I did what I have done with a lot of my work – put the story in the too-difficult pile and moved on to something shorter. Usually I do this with some regret, but this fades as another tale swims into view.

However this one wouldn’t let me go. I’ve been thinking about it, on and off, ever since. I knew that there was something there that I liked, and the characters deserved some more of my attention. So over the last few weeks I’ve gone back to it and done a final re-write, and now, with a deep breath, I’m going to put it out there. I feel nervous about doing so, as the style and tone of the piece is really unlike anything I’ve ever done before. The subject matter is dark and uncompromising, and on re-read this atmosphere is the main thing I like about the story. I’ve pared back some more of the dialogue and tightened up some slightly loose character issues, and I think it’s about ready.

A disclaimer before we start. At the risk of sounding like a TV voiceover warning, this story does contain some fruity language, explicit sex scenes and graphic violence in places. If this is likely to offend, probably best to avoid. There are things about this story that worry me, but that isn’t one of them. To paraphrase Kingsley Amis, if you’re not pissing anybody off what’s the point in writing? And he was a genius, so it must be true.

One last thing – this story is very loosely based on the Hold Steady song The Party Pit. A band whose music continues to inspire. Plus, they rock.

Link to the story is below. Please comment if you’d like to.

Anyway, it’s called ‘Momentum.’ Let’s go, for there’s a tale to be told…

MOMENTUM FINAL DRAFT

Novella -The Ongoing Rewrite

OK, so it’s been a few weeks since I got the first draft of my novella completed.  I have always found it best, despite the constant temptation, to leave it completely for a couple of weeks so you come back to it afresh. I love the feeling when you read the first few sentences after a break, especially if it reads better than you were expecting! What you want, of course, is for the words to not feel like yours any more, so you can look at it more objectively and be as ruthless as you can with ridding the prose of the extraneous bits.

And this has always been part of the struggle for me. It can be quite disheartening to read a paragraph which is well-written, but deep down I know has to go for the good of the story. Having said that though, its very good for my development as a writer to be able to have the confidence and discipline to do it. It was Faulkner who used the phrase ‘Kill your darlings’ and he was right, no matter how much you love the prose in question. There is no time for self-indulgence, especially in the shorter form of the craft.

Anyway, so after all this tinkering, I haven’t even been able to collapse the novella by 10%. I’ve gone from just over 31K to about 28.5, which is far less than I wanted. I know I have the opportunity to go back and work on it more, but I worry that constant fiddling with it will lessen the overall tone and atmosphere that I want to convey. I feel like the story has a bit more bite to it than before though. It is amazing how much a polish of the dialogue can sharpen things up, and there are always adverbs to get rid of. I’m still a little unsure about one particular piece of plot development, the timing of it seems off to me, and I’m sure I will have to address it again. But, by all intents and purposes, I’m pretty much there.

Of course, the question now is, what’s next? This piece could easily go into the metaphorical filing cabinet in the office, never to see the light of day. There’s hundreds of thousands of words of stuff already in there, gathering dust. Obviously that’s not what I want, but I don’t have much of a clue where to go from here. I’m an unpublished writer sitting on a novella of a difficult length to market, with some graphic content and some fairly controversial subject matter. Not exactly the greatest bet in the world.

But, in the end I’m glad it’s basically complete, and overall I’m pleased. Which is the main thing, I guess. But if anyone has any suggestions on where I could go next with it, do let me know.

Novella and Trying to Stay Positive

I recall writing a few months ago that I was working on a short story. Well, in the last couple of days I’ve finally finished it. Problem is, it didn’t end up as a short story, it’s now a lengthy novella of over 30,000 words. I hate the word novella, it seems like a clunky publishers term to describe something of a vague number of words. I’ve no idea how many. Novelette is even worse. Is 15,000 words a short story or a novelette? Is 25,000 in novella country or not? Who cares? For this post I have used novella just for clarity, but I despise the term. Anyway, I digress…

First up, the good bits: the story didn’t turn out as I was expecting, which is always nice. The idea behind it was sparked from a song by one of my favourite bands The Hold Steady, and a couple of scenes came into my mind more or less whole. The rest came with the characters. It has a noirish, offbeat style that I like. I have been reading a lot of hard-boiled stuff recently and I think some of that has flowed into my work. Which is never a bad thing. The relationship between the two central characters is, I think, interesting and goes off in an unexpected tangent.

So far, so good then, right? So why do I feel so bad about it? For a multitude of reasons which I’m sure most writers are familiar with. First, I’m sure there are plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. I don’t tend to do any plotting before starting a piece of writing, I just let the characters take the story where they want. I guess following this method makes it impossible to avoid plot tangles but I feel disappointed whenever i do it. I know the obvious answer is to plot more, but I want to resist the temptation of I can. In my opinion plot is anti-creative and a barrier to story, not a help to it.

Next up is the age-old problem for me, length. I always aim to get rid of 10% or so in the rewrite, but even then I’ll be left with approximately 25,000 words. I guess every story ends up at the length it needs to be but this feels like too much for mine. I have a very bad habit of over-describing, particularly in dialogue. I tend to drift too much too, especially early on when I am still struggling to find the narrative voice. I know a lot of this will be pared down in the rewrite though, and I’m going to have to be extra ruthless when I go back to it. I have been guilty in the past of keeping stuff in because I think its well-written, despite it probably being extraneous to the story. I cannot be self-indulgent this time around.

Third is continuity errors. I know everyone has them but I get really downhearted when I find one, more so when it’s something completely stupid. Again, these are normally ironed out but I always worry that a whopper will slip through the net.

So all in all I’m a bit dispirited on completion, which is new for me. Usually I feel at the very least relief. I should be more pleased as this is the most fiction I have written in years. I am my own harshest critic.

Once the rewrites down I’m tempted to put it up on this blog and get some feedback. If anyone out there would be up for that, feel free to comment and I will give it some thought. Fuck it, I may do it anyway…