Get on with writing and forget about the rest

We all do it, whether we mean to or not, and social media is our worst enemy. We all compare ourselves to others, how we’re progressing in relation to them, whether as writers someone else is published, sold more books, got more shortlists, likes and comments on their posts etc.

I’m thinking about a post for next week about how we really need to think about what we want to do with our fiction because that’s central, what we want to achieve with our writing, our sentences, our ideas. Everything else is noise, so much of people’s perceived worth/talent depends on the zeitgeist, social norms, the in-thing, culture, visibility and who has the power and voice in the arenas that are seen as important. We want to find a clear path and say if we do x and y we’re going to make it. But it’s not that straightforward, the world is chaotic and while we can steer as true a path through as we can, there are a whole lot of waves and sharks that might change things one way or another.

Author and blogger Iain Broome says it best this morning and with terrific humour. How many of us sighed at the Granta best 20 under 40, especially those of us for whom 40 is a lovely landmark we’ve sailed by. Iain Broome says the green eyed monster is normal but that the main thing is to keep writing and making our work the best we can. In psychology it’s called intrinsic motivation and it works far better than the outside kinds like rewards (tho’ a nice award wouldn’t go astray!) Listen here on youtube to Iain’s uplifting and true discussion on our green eyed monsters and about staying true to the words.

Creative Prompts and Short Story Sub Opps

Creative Sparks

We spent a lot of lovely time on here in January exploring creativity through prompts. My philosophy holds that inspiration is everywhere and that if you provide yourself with structure and impetus you can forge that inspiration into a finished product. While we’ll continue to explore creativity here, I wanted to draw your attention to a fantastic blog by my colleague Elizabeth Murray. Her Wordspark blog is geared especially towards prompts and creative writing exercises, so she’ll regularly have something to get your mind working on something new.

Must read short story site

I’ve also recently discovered the fantastic short story focused site of Paul McVeigh. This site, with it’s very helpful at a glance layout gives details of submission opportunities, competitions and interviews with very interesting writers and champions of the short story form. It’s a really mine of information.

Sub opportunities

Both the new zine Number Eleven (no deadline given) and The South Circular (deadline April 26 so hurry!) are currently open for submissions.

Taking the time for the book you want to write

Today I’ve written an article including some Tolstoy quotes sent to me by a writer friend, exploring how to really take the time we need to write the book we really want to write. I talk about incubation, deep reading, George Saunders’ view that this slow writing demands a greater focus and integrity than our quick flit modern world encourages as well as the music and resonance of Kirsty Gunn’s ‘masterpiece’ The Big Music. I also consider two possible approaches in publishing – that of the set brand (with thanks to Elizabeth’s Baines) versus the writer as developing artist. Here’s an extract

We’ve talked before about the importance of incubation, giving time to a project to let disparate ideas coalesce into something whole, layered and original. The first Tolstoy quote says:

Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.

We start out with a wealth of ideas and associations, everything is fascinating but making good story often means finding a true and strong thread through those ideas. Like panning for gold or, as my friend said ‘digging and digging before washing’ to ‘string together nuggets’. An artist friend of mine advised me with my own work on The Book of Remembered Possibilities to take it and ‘shake out the detritus of work progress,’ until I could see clearly it’s ‘colour and shape’ and clear away more until “the beat , the rhyme and reason, the poetry is plain.”

George Saunders in this excellent article talks about writing, about how new devices have had a neurological effect that makes the mind leap from one thing to another, become discontent faster. He talks about how writing faster, working on a number of things such as screenplays, travel journalism etc as well as touring, doing TV shows began to make him feel ‘quesy’. Not that he was denigrating those activities but “I really craved the feeling of deep focus and integrity that comes with writing fiction day after day, in a sort of monastic way.” He adds ‘And twitter doesn’t come into that’.

You can read the whole article here and I hope you comment here or there to tell me what your thoughts are. I’m not advocating an arduously slow approach for every project, rather suggesting that where space, time, ambition and courage are required, we need to find ways of holding onto those to maintain the integrity of the project.

Dot to Dot Man

Upcoming family occasions, recent family events and getting submissions ready mean that I haven’t been able to blog as much as I’d like. I so enjoyed making new acquaintances during my creativity month in January and I have more posts on the subject to come so hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly. Having said that, everything goes in phases and I’m eager to finish as many writing projects this year as possible so there’ll have to be a balance.

Another area that’s slipped through the net in the last while is posting a regular #fridayflash fiction on the blog. I was delighted to find out today that my fun 100 word story Dot to Dot Man was Highly Commended in the National Flash Fiction Day microfiction comp. You can see the full list of winners and commended here and if you click the link beside my name have a read of my little story. Lovely to see pal Anouska Huggins made it to the commended list too and her story My Grandad was Roy Rogers is great, so much packed into such a short space.

And to make you either jealous or really happy for your fellow writers, here’s a post about some interesting books from debut authors that caught the imagination of publishers at the London book fair this week.

Local book launch and a longlist

Mary Grehan’s debut book

I just want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Mary Grehan on the launch day of her debut novel Love is the Easy Bit published by Penguin. The launch takes place this evening in Dubray Books Grafton Street. Unfortunately family events have conspired so that I have a conflicting engagement tonight but I’m really looking forward to reading the book.

Here is a description “The novel is the story of 37-year-old Sylvia Larkin’s struggle with, and ultimate survival of, her family history. According to the company, the story is told in Sylvia’s irreverent, quirky and, at times, angry voice and is a book of huge emotional power which examines relationships, family, love and death through a compelling story.”

Well done to Mary and best wishes.

Onwards and Onwards

I’m polishing my first lit novel for submission and it’s been a long road and has required me to stop following other shiny projects and push through with finding the heart of this thing and trying to bring it to the fore. Consequently there hasn’t been as much time for blogging or for submitting other pieces. However it’s wonderful from time to time to hear something to keep the writing spirits up and so thanks to National Flash Fiction Day where I’ve seen my name and that of twitter pal Anouska Huggins on the MicroFiction Longlist. Hurray! The wordcount was 100 words or under. I love flash fiction!

The Writer’s Eye, Short story opps and more

I’m talking about observance, ideas and the special qualities that individual writers can bring to our sense and story making of this world.

As regards writing, finding stories, I do not believe in waiting for the muse, life is out there, stories are everywhere. Creativity often comes about purely by the juxtaposition of material or ideas from two apparently separate spheres of life, helping us to say things anew or with a stronger metaphor. 

You can read the full post Creative Happenstance and the Writer’s Eye here on

Mel Ulm runs a fantastic blog on the short story and is focussing very much on the Irish short story writer. He’s very interested in hearing from up and coming Irish writers in particular, so do get in contact with him through his blog. He’s kindly discussed one of my stories Truth and Silence on The Reading Life.

Lisa Redmond has a new review of my Housewife with a Half-Life on her book blog.

Finally, short story competition deadlines coming up this month include The Bristol Prize.