Long live the typewriter

Last week a slew of reports claimed the typewriter had finally slipped away from us and that the last machine had been manufactured. Luckily, it turned out this was not the case, there are factory lines still producing and individuals still pounding the keys.

Still, the thought of it gave me – and word-lovers everywhere – a bit of a moment.

There are plenty of things to love about typewriters, the ponderous feeling of weighted keys, the satisfying clunk, clunk of your words appearing in the real world, but I have to admit that mine is an ornament rather than a piece of my office equipment.

I can’t give up the speed of my pen across the page or my fingers on the flat little keyboard of my computer. I’m sorry typewriters, I don’t want you to go – but I know I’ll do little to halt your demise. Instead, I drew you a picture.

A charcoal picture of a typewriter by Lynsey May

A picture of my typewriter by way of an apology

Pirates! And a tortured writing metaphor

I’ve often wondered why I’m such a pirate fan because, truth be told, I’m really not very pirate-like at all. I feel bad if I think I’ve hurt someone’s feelings, I don’t go a’plundering or a’raping and I hardly even ever get my feet wet.

Ok, ok, so my love probably has something to do with the flag to be honest, that and a liking for rum. But in a bid to feel better about the skull pencil toppers and skull and crossbones flag on my computer, I’ve been trying to hit on a way to incorporate pirateness into my ethos without being… well, particularly piratey.

So guess what? I applied pirate sterotypes to story writing. Now I can sail the seven seas of my imagination and spend untold years on the way they steal from reality. Occasionally I may double-cross a few fellow sailors, steal someone’s treasured memories or drift into dangerous water – but it will be ok, because I won’t just be a dick, I’ll be a literary pirate – and everyone loves pirates right?

What’s more, I’ll get to have a map to the gold (satisfaction of good work gold if not actually bestseller type gold!). I can’t lose. Right?

Writing courses, freeing or stifling?

Me looking moody during writer's course break

Choosing to study creative writing at a university level is a bit of a contentious choice for a whole bunch of reasons. It’s expensive for a start, and many people look at creative writing courses as somehow stifling rather than freeing, but in my early twenties I couldn’t think of anything more seductive than returning to classes to spend every day doing what I enjoyed best.

It didn’t turn out quite like I expected it. The experience produced a lot of mixed feelings in me, and at the time those feelings were mainly negative. However, an email from a friend (hi you) last night is making me reassess my opinion. She wanted to know whether I thought the course I did was worth the investment, so I swallowed the last lingering vestiges of bitterness and tried to look at the year objectively.

To my surprise, I’ve had to admit to myself that it wasn’t really a waste of time or money at all. I may have hated parts of it, but to be honest I mainly I hated the parts that exposed my weaknesses as a writer and those were exactly the bits I needed to hear all about. It wasn’t the easy and enjoyable ride I was maybe secretly hoping for – I still hate nearly everything I wrote during the course and I barely wrote anything in the year that followed it – but I did need it, or something like it, to kick me into shape.

There are arguments that classes like these turn out cookie-cutter creative students who are all well versed in the same cutting edge style and are in reality blunted by the experience, but they are ones I disagree with. The other writers I studied with have retained their own voices and styles, some of us just got better marks or were better liked by the tutors than others.

Like any art form, there are styles and fads within creative writing – but at the core these courses are designed to teach you a variety of fundamentals. You need to know the rules to break them after all. Before, I was just breaking everything at random, now I’ve a better idea about how I’m going about it and why. So while the course made me feel claustrophobic at the time, I’m going to have to endorse the experience. I think?

Bye bye Borders? UK bookshop hits the skids

Will the bad news for book shops and book lovers never end? Today we hear tell that UK Border’s bookshops are teetering over the precipice of administration and that the company has been struggling to even raise enough cash to keep itself open long enough to cover the crucial Christmas period.

It’s difficult times for everyone at the moment I suppose, book sellers certainly aren’t alone in their financial woes, but it does feel like every time I cast my eye over the headlines or have a look at a few publishing blogs I find more disasters have befallen the industry.

Is it really a sector that’s been hit harder than others, or is it just the one I pay more attention to? I don’t really know and to be honest I’m too depressed by it all to delve deeper and try to find out.

Today’s task: to spend at least half an hour being grateful for my copywriting job! It may not offer much in the way of artistic satisfaction but at least it’s keeping me going comfortably.

Weekend task: at least one new short and edits to another.

Year’s task: make it to Christmas with a smile.

Wordcount goals – desirable or stifling?

Sometimes when I’m writing, I’m conscious that I have one eye on the wordcount. And while watching those numbers pile up gives me a sense of satisfaction, my preoccupation with amassing words worries me. What is that satisfaction worth if the words are no good? And how can they be when part of my attention is focused on churning out as many of them as possible?

Lots of writers set themselves wordcount targets. And when you’re struggling to adhere to a timeline, or even get yourself motivated in the first place, they can be invaluable in forcing you to get down to it and work. (If you’re one of those people that needs encouragement or, more accurately, threats to knuckle down, check out Write or Die.)

When embarking on a longer project I tend to use growing wordcounts as encouragement to keep going, but right now I’m worried about the validity of this approach. Surely it’s better to write a 1000 word story where every word sparkles than a 100000 novel that was churned out to satisfy a series of goals?

But in a market where novels remain more marketable than short stories, it’s little wonder that so many people are focused on creating passable behemoths instead of dedicating time to a pithy short piece.

Maybe I’ll set myself a new target this week – not to look at the wordcount once!

Writing – when should you show all?

Today the writing question I’m grappling with (and there’s a new problem I’m worrying over most days when it comes to what is meant to be my favourite pastime) is when should you show your work?

I’m lucky in many respects as I do actually have quite a few people who are happy to read things I’ve written and give me, often constructive, criticism. And we all know how important it is to figure out if the things you are spilling out on the page make sense, or are even enjoyable, to anyone but yourself. The thing is that sometimes I worry that I’m giving people things too early, or occasionally too late.

When I let people read things in a very early draft I often find that the criticisms I receive are in the areas that I’m not too fussed about at that point, for example spelling or grammar, when what I’m really struggling with is timeline or plot devices. Conversely, if I wait until I’m in the final stages I often feel as though the story has solidified too far for me to make substantial changes.

Although, I suppose these could just be excuses for me to keep the work to myself and away from people helpfully pointing out potential problems… but it’s nice to think that there could be an ideal reading period out there, and that there are ideal readers.

That’s another tricky thing actually, I hate revealing too much to the people I ask to read my stuff. Mainly because if I don’t, I can use their reactions to decided what I need to change or focus on to make my point clear. But that does mean losing them as a sounding board because you can’t risk bouncing ideas off them in case it colours their view.

I suppose that’s what an editor is for – if you’re lucky enough not only to have an editor, but also one that is able to devote time to your specific projects. For now though, I’ll just have to carry on putting myself at the mercy of my friends and fellow writers and hope I don’t end up exhausting their patience anytime soon.

A Message

She waits for him eagerly. Stamping her feet and flexing her cold-cramped hands. Always a Friday afternoon, always around this time. He happy that it’s almost the weekend, she happy to sell another copy, despite the shame.

Their eyes meet and spark everytime but she knows it’s hopeless. This Friday though . . . She’d never of thought of herself as a poet but, like magic, the words had spilled out of her and onto a crumpled flyer.

She’d copied it out nice at the shelter and sent it off and now there was – a message for him in amongst all the miserable messages. A Thank you that’s almost an invitation. Her name in print. Then he appears, a head above everyone else, a smile already tugging at his mouth.

“Alright?’ He asks.
“Not bad ta.”
“It’s bitter cold.” He says handing over a shiny pound coin.
“Tell me about it.” She gives it to him.
“You take care now.” He’s walking away and she watches him go. Abandons her post even though she’s only sold two issues, so that she can watch him round the corner too.

If only she could see his face when he reads it, the words might change everything. Words she couldn’t say out loud but were good enough to print. Her fingers tingle as she stands amongst the disapproving shoppers and watches him stride briskly away, pausing only to chuck the cheap magazine into a waiting bin

Celebrity memoirs: a non-celebrity moan

Biographies have never really been my thing. With a few notable exceptions (a tome about Alicia Markova that I treasured through my early teens, Muriel Spark’s Curriculum Vitae for example) it’s just not a genre that particularly grabs me. I’m not sure why, seeing as hearing people’s ‘real’ stories is undeniably fascinating, but when I have the choice of a novel or a bio I’m certain to choose the novel every time.

The auto/biography markets have spawned a related genre that I don’t feel bad for disliking at all though – in fact I feel duty bound to hate it – the cringe-worthy phenomenon of the modern celebrity memoir.

It’s true enough that some celebrities may have fascinating lives, and it’s possible that I would find delving into one an edifying experience, but Katie Price as the UKs bestseller for christsake? How many memoirs has she had out and how old is she? Not old enough for 3 bloody books. But worse than that, much worse, is the fact she doesn’t even write them: although, funnily enough, that hasn’t damaged her ‘reputation’ as a novelist at all.

Then there’s Kerry Katona, who is famous for unfathomable reasons, Britney Spears’ money grabbing mother and teen starlet Miley Cirus, all confident that they have something relevant to say.

So I took the worst examples I could think of off the top of my head, and I know it’s not representative of the massive range of quality memoirs out there, but to me they provide proof of the terrifying influx of memoirs from people who have done nothing memorable. And in these days of recession, when publishers obviously want to put their money on a sure bet – like a celeb endorsed tome – I fear it’s a trashy-tornado that’s far from blowing itself out.

There’s big money in celebrity memoirs. I don’t deny it. And I understand why people want to sneak a peek into the lives of the people they admire and want to emulate. Or, alternatively, hope to root around in a shining star’s murky past as validation that their own lives aren’t so miserable. But I can’t bring myself to mention the words celebrity memoir with a sneer in my voice.

The thing I’m worried about is the idea that this celeb-driven-drivel will somehow taint the biography and memoirs genres as a whole, because there are plenty worth admiring out there. By people who can, you know, actually write. Or at least choose to collaborate with someone who can.

It’s like going to the gym ok?

Today I’m going to write about how sick I am of writing. I was talking to friend earlier and a little, often voiced, moan slipped out. A moan along the lines of how difficult is was to find time to write. Followed by the other, also familiar, moan about not managing to make a name for myself in the literary scene (I feel like a bit of a twat when I talk like this and yet I still do). Anyway my very good and intelligent friend said that she supposed the important thing was to make sure you enjoyed it and then if you got published then, wow, it was like an amazing bonus or something. Of course my face instantly fell.

I then felt obliged to explain, kind of to my detriment, that I didn’t actually enjoy writing exactly. I just felt like I had to. She looked puzzled for a moment, so I expanded. It’s not that I hate the actual act of writing, that would make life pretty tricky. But I certainly couldn’t say that I always enjoy it. It fact it causes me far more worry, stress and general moodiness than probably anything else in my life. The thing is that when it works it feels amazing and good enough by far to forget about all the not so fun parts.

Around this point in the explanation her face lit up. It’s like going to the gym she exclaimed. And while I’ve never been to the gym (for shame) I had to admit she hit the nail right on the head as far as I see it. You both dread and look forward to doing it, the beginning is a bit of a struggle until you get into the rhythm of it (and some days you just can’t), but normally you start to feel good as you get further into the session, and when it’s a good one you know it. And nothing can beat the satisfaction of knowing that you’re done and a rewarding little adrenaline high ensures you’re already thinking about the next time you knuckle down. So I guess that my conclusion is that I hate writing the way that I would hate going to the gym. If I even went to the gym that is.