Very Inspiring Blogger Award

Apparently, fantasy scribe L.T. Dalin has invited me to Norway, where the Nobel Committee are going to present me with my award for the Artist of the Millennium. But I might've got some of my facts wrong.

L.T.'s blog is replete with flash fiction, and shout-outs about various contests, and word count tallies. Her posts about craft dedication are an inspiration in themselves. Now, I'm not really into fantasy. When I say that, what I actually mean is that I can dish it out, but I usually can't take it, to be honest with you. But some of my more successful stories in competition have had fantastical elements, or could be classed as magic realism, if I was to be so pejorative about the genre. How and ever, inter alia and other fancy Latin I don't really understand, what little I've read of L.T.'s work grounds itself in an emotional depth that always impresses and surprises me. Inter alia.

The Very Inspiring Blogger Awards have some rules associated with them. Once you are nominated by a fellow blogger, you have to share facts about yourself and nominate other bloggers, and put the above image on your blog, and contact the bloggers who inspire you to let them know they're nominated. But this is a bit like a chain letter, and I'm not going to expect the folks who've inspired me to play along, unless they have time. Some of them are, like, busy? That's why they're an inspiration. So although I'm very happy to go through this horrible chore imposed on me by L.T. Dalin (what a mean-spirited blogger!), and to recommend inspirational blogs or web presences, I won't expect the same rules to apply to them. 

The number when it comes to said facts about oneself - and the nominations of those who inspire you - vary according to any rules out there I've cared to read. Being an out and out waffler, I've provided more information below than I anticipated, and I'm probably in breach of several award rules.

Most of these facts are in tip form. It's writerly stuff I do, and writerly stuff I should do. (Or maybe this whole post is just a big charade. Or a set-up, to draw a criminal out of his lair, and I'm the bait, coz he doesn't like what I have to say below.)

1. I definitely don't read enough. I should read more. Reading short fiction in magazines (by famous writers whose novels I should've read three years ago) is cheating, but it's what I'll sometimes do. I encourage anyone to do the same if they want to cop out a lot and just be lazy. But I should really, really read a lot more.

2. I don't write enough (creatively). The more busy that I find myself, the more exigent comes the creative urge. So my output is higher when I am sitting exams in the near future or I'm starting a stressful job or I'm otherwise occupied and I just don't have the time and I shouldn't have the energy. (Don't be this way. Write whenever you can.)

3. If you're not hot on ideas, take a look above, before I started these points, with the silly idea about drawing out a criminal? Writing fiction means you hypothesise, you tease things out, you ask "What ifs?" from real life and elsewhere. "What if he was actually a cop?" "What if she's an eco-terrorist?" "What if my narrator is likeable, and then he does a horrible thing at the end?" Whether you completely alter a story you've already got, or it's the focus or sub-plot of a new one, don't be afraid to tease things out. Save finished stories with another document name and edit them and see if the new idea pays off. Make a note if you come up with a funny line, a good idea, or whatever else, if you're not at home or in front of a computer. Any misheard lyrics are your own ideas too, by the way. So it pays richly to be a little debt. DO YOU HEAR ME? DEAF! Put the idea in your phone. Or scribble it down. And make sure that you'll fully understand it when you return later. Spell out heavy symbolism to yourself, and hide it from the reader (if you want) when you return to that idea later, to work it into narrative form.  (This is just stuff I attempt to do, and sometimes fail at.)

4. Execution of the ideas: Word count limits make great editors if you're diligent. A 3,000 word tale can often be pared down to 2,000 or 1,500 words - and it invariably reads better for it. As Twain reputedly said via correspondence to somebody: "I'd like to have written a shorter letter, but I didn't have the time." In this sense, flash fic competitions like the ones in which L.T often partakes - or various other short story contests that impose word count limits - act as great editors, if you want to enter your work. I encourage taking part in such competitions, for this reason alone. Short story writer Tobias Wolff (recommended to me many years ago by Reamonn) has said: "Leave out anything that the reader doesn't need to know." For the short story form, I usually heed this advice.

5. People say me, they say me: "Why you not write novel?" I have a couple wrut out on the computer, still agentless and unpublished for a number of reasons (all my fault), but it's a fair question. I can argue back that I require a certain amount of inspiration when it comes to extended narratives, before I feel confident that I'll have the mileage, and before I become assiduous, yaddah yaddah yaddah. Sposeda doesn't cut it though. I'm pretty poor at heeding my own advice, but I believe that if you don't have something on the go - and you want to write every single damn day - get started on it before you actually want to. Kickstart it if you must. Blow on those embers you scrawled in that college notebook from 1985, or typed up in that document in your Sociology Essays folder in 2007, or the scribblings on your little pad when you were waiting tables at the greasy spoon, instead of taking the diner's orders, early last year. No excuses. Get them out. GO! GO! GO! That's my motto! And I'm not gonna stick by it right now! But I wish you all the best.

6. Don't just write. Shop stuff around. Market your work, however badly. Approach people. Submit to agents and producers and contests and be your own secretary. Print stuff out and mail it. If you don't like printing but you like jogging, print stuff out and jog down to the post office. Email is free. This blog is free. Build up a portfolio of achievement, a document containing the agents you've approached, stuff you can put on your CV or your resumé. It's only a bit of fun at worst and a multi bulti publishing deal at best. Bulti! It could happen, you know. But if you're not, as they say, "in", you can't, as they say, "win".

Incidentally, I heard somewhere that if you approach an agent seeking representation, and you've already submitted your work to a publisher - and it's been rejected by that publisher - it's more difficult for the agent to get the publisher to buy it once he/she starts repurrrazentin'. I dunno how true that is, but perhaps it's an idea to approach the agents first.

7. Criticism: I read in a recent article that big people like Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett and their ilk, listen to the message, and not the messenger. This will come as second nature to most writers too. It means that if someone is being overly critical, telling you that your work didn't sustain their interest because your syntax is garbled, and there's really no hope for you at all, well then you just have to take what you can from that. Simply make an effort to improve your sentence structure, and move on. Oh, and if ten people tell you these things, DON'T stop writing. If 100 people tell you, DON'T stop. It could be that they just don't get you. I mostly don't like modernism or metal or freeform jazz or Zappa or Cubism. Some art just hurts my noggin. It's mad and scary and just noise and invites disgust and bring back that other Frank, Sinatra, and his safety and warmth and his organised crime links. What is it with the kids these days and their Beatles? Some of my own more depressing stories are difficult to handle. But other people lap that stuff up. So always, always, always take what you can out of something, and move on.

And now the conclusion:

The bloggers or web presences I recommend could be complemented with many more. The people below already "pay it forward" in the words of Heinlein, with their enthusiasm and advice and their writing.

Subscribe to their newsletters, or sign up to their forums (fora? flauna? fauna? Pass the margarine, Rose Violet!), or just see what they have to offer.

Point 7 above reminded me to mention Louise Beech. She's won contests I've entered, and she's good enough to correspond occasionally. She also knows only too well that the latest work she chose to share with me - many months ago - has given me brain damage. She knows this because I've tried to articulate my feelings about the confused, dribbling, drooling mess I now am, as best I can. Instead, it comes out like when Homer asks: "Lisa, where's Christmas?" As with most great work of its kind, her stories raise as many questions as answers. Some of her short fiction is among the finest I've had the privilege to read.

Vanessa O'Loughlin is part of the Inkwell publishing consultancy. Her site is a wonderful resource. Vanessa's suggestions to me have included:

-giving your work's Unique Selling Point more prominence in your synopses, summaries and query letters
-being more of a Twit
Vanessa has some experience in helping to secure nice deals for authors too.

John Yeoman's Writer's Village contains a great forum, and the man himself has been more than helpful in offering advice. I think I could have some serious debates with John over things literary, and he'd tear chunks out of me, but his provision of constructive criticism is beyond valuable. He also has some great contests on the site that are worth entering. He has claimed that he does all this stuff for beer money, but I definitely owe him a few pints.

John Wiswell's Bathroom Monologues are just the dog's b*ll*cks. Like L.T., I stumbled across John's work via Blogger.  The quality of his posts - often in story form - frequently make me question why he'd want to share this material for free. My mouth is agape. Furthermore, he has posted dozens of terrific, imaginative ideas, that he says he won't need or use and has offered up to other scribes, coz he's too busy.

Yeah! Magazine's blog and site are aimed at the International Student in Ireland. I've been lucky enough to submit work to the magazine, so it's inspired me personally, on a selfish level, to write articles and to improve my own journalistic skills. It advocates on behalf of international students (particularly those learning English in Ireland), and it's a great information resource for any number of organisations and international-type people. So Friend or follow Yeah! now.

Elizabeth Guy ran a free-to-enter contest with a $100 cash prize roughly every quarter for ages, on a site called Reading Writers, that no longer exists. The beauty of this contest was its system of ranking stories - with as many as perhaps 80 entries at a time getting placings as finalists, before a handful were given honorable mentions, with an ultimate winner being declared, or whatever way it went. This was a fantastic inspiration: If you're placing in the top 80 or the top 40 in a contest with 500 entries, you know you're on the right track. So she inspired a lot of writers every few months. It is rare to find such longlists in any contest - and it's something I'd encourage competition organisers to do. You're lucky to get a longlist of 12 - and that's in competitions with entry fees. Elizabeth Guy has gone a lot quieter since her decision to retire some of her Internet presences. She is missed. But I'm sure she's doing good work, wherever she is.

Robert Gover's life is an inspiration worthy of several books. Born just as the Great Depression was starting, he's actually devoted some of his autumn years to monitoring possible correlations between the stars and the world economy. Astrology? Before you baulk, his open-mindedness about these things has given me pause. We ought to wonder at our own acceptance of things scientific and rational. If someone tells me to look into a telescope, at a red dot, telling me that "This is Mars", it is just as likely to be a tiny splodge of tomato ketchup on the device's upper lens. Too many of us haven't "done the math", and take things on faith because it's what the scientists say. Anyway, fifty years back Mr. Gover's work and his publishers were targeted in covert and nefarious ways by the American less-than-liberal elite, and in the early 60s he was forced into exile for a while. He's suffered for his art - the slim tome that caused most of the kerfuffle is hilarious, thought-provoking, alarming in its apparent dismissiveness, and plenty more, addressing certain societal concerns that can still be found in America and the world today.

To anyone who has sullied my scribblings with their beautiful eyes - and particularly those who have returned to me to express their views about same - I give my profuse thanks.