January 24, 2018

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Last Friday the Lady Holly and I were lucky enough to attend The Porch Sessions. Think of it as a travelling mini festival. Really mini. Set in someone’s backyard. Four musicians, which this year consisted of Ryan Martin John, Tim Hart, Stu Larsen, and Natsuki Kurai, travel around Australia in a number of vans, playing shows in backyards of people who volunteer the spaces. A small crowd of music lovers then spread out on the supplied rugs and blankets, underneath streamers and lights, and picnic and drink while listening to some great tunes. We were those people, and it was excellent. The atmosphere was perfect, intimate but relaxed, and the music incredibly enjoyable. The standout by far was Natsuki Kurai, a harmonicist from Japan, who performed his set with Stu Larsen. He did things with a harmonica that had be heard to be believed. It was like he was singing through it, so natural did he make the sound. He also managed to use the harmonica to make background sounds that matched the lyrics, beat box, and elevate every song it was a part of. Unsurprisingly, their duo is today’s blog song.

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Words written for the year: 19,539

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I wrote a few weeks ago about my four new years goals, which were, in short; writing, running, reading, and photography. The goal being to increase all of these activities, using a measurable target for each of them. But I also have an unofficial goal for this year as well, one linked to writing. It is thus:

Collect as many rejection letters as possible*.

At the tail end of last year I had two close calls with awards — a longlisting for pilot script, and a shortlisting for a novella — and those close calls have motivated me. I’m going to enter everything, I’m going to submit more of my writing to competitions and magazines than I ever have previously, and I’m going to collect rejection letters like twelve year old me collected pokemon cards.

You may be thinking, surely the goal should be to win or get published, not collect rejection letters, which is where the above asterisk comes in.

*and acceptance letters where possible.

There are a couple or reasons that asterik is a subset of the goal and not the main goal itself.

First, I have no control over whether I win, or whether an editor likes my story. Literally, none. I could try to change my writing so that it fits the niche of whoever I’m submitting it to, and I should definitely be aware of their preferences, but ultimately it’ll still be a Damian Robb story told in a Damian Robb way, and if a Damian Robb story is not what they’re looking for then there’s nothing I can do about that. So, setting my goal to “winning” is unrealistic and ultimately pointless.

Second, receiving rejection letters is what writers do. I’ve read a number of books on writing, and follow an even larger number of writers blogs, and without exception every writer I look up to has an impressive collection of rejection letters. Stephen King, in his early days, kept his rejection letters on a nail above his writing desk, and wrote this in his book; On Writing:

“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”

Likewise his son, Joe Hill, also now an acclaimed author, shared this tweet on twitter showcasing the amount of rejection letters he got for a single story.

Of course both those guys are successful authors, so it’s easy for them to show off these war wounds, but it’s important to remember they weren’t when they received them. Being a seasoned writer means receiving rejection letters. It’s a collection, a thing to stockpile, to bring out and show your friends, not something to be ashamed of.

Third, I want to feel positive whenever I submit a piece of writing. I should, right? If I’m submitting something then I have 1) written something (that’s good!) and 2) had the courage and belief in that writing to share it out into the big bad world of possible rejection (also good!). Also, by changing my mindset so that receiving a rejection letter is seen as a good thing, a necessary step on the road to becoming a writer, that’ll stop me feeling like a failure whenever I receive one. I don’t want to feel like a failure, I want to feel like a writer, and they way to feel like a writer is to keep writing; something that becomes infinitely harder to do when I feel like a failure.

Fourth, that pile of rejection letters will become the metaphorical ladder I’ll use to reach greater heights. Writing, like any skill, requires practice and feedback; putting your work out there before it’s ready because that’s the way to make it ready. Having places to submit my writing gives me more reasons to write, and, if the magazine or competition offers it, will provide me with feedback on how to improve. The more rejection letters I receive, the better my writing should become, until, hopefully, they’re not rejection letters anymore.

I’m already off to a good start. I’ve made a spreadsheet (how I love a good spreadsheet) with a list of magazines to submit to on one axis, and a list of finished short stories on the other. There are already a number of crosses (indications of rejection letters) littered across the cells, and I plan to get a lot more before the year is out, and, possibly, a tick or two as well.

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Remember, the important thing isn’t to succeed, but to keep trying

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Talk soon,

Damian

December 14, 2017

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Given the season it seems appropriate for today’s blog song to be a Christmas Carol. This rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas comes from one of my favourites, Stu Larsen.

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Current chain of writing days: 24

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I didn’t know if today’s entry should go into the journal category or short fiction, because it’s a tale of my life but also involves me telling a made up story. It was quite the dilemma, I mean it was no Sophie’s choice, but still. In the end I went for the journal option…obviously.

So, the first thing you need to know about this entry is that twitter recently doubled its character allowance per tweet, increasing it from one hundred and forty to two hundred and eighty. The reason this is important is because a while ago I had the idea that I would tell a story through twitter, and not just tell a story, but also have it be interactive. The way I would do this would be to have a poll of alternative story options attached to every tweet that people would vote on to decide what happened next. Basically like a collective choose your own adventure. However, upon trying this I found the one hundred and forty character limit to be too restricting. I couldn’t get across enough information, or write in any enjoyable way, and it simply came across as stilted and unimaginative. I gave it up as not possible, at least, until the recent increase.

It turns out two hundred and eighty characters is just long enough for me to do what I wanted. Of course, I still had one issue,  if nobody voted my story would quickly hit a dead end. Luckily, that turned out not to be a problem. I threw out this initial tweet…

…and soon had the confirmation that I would have at least a dozen or so people to help me out, and I’m happy to say that number grew as the story went on.

Enough set up though, right? Here’s how it went…

(They stalemated me! I decided I had to do both)

It was an exceptionally fun experiment, one that received an even better reaction than I had hoped; speaking of — thank you to all my fellow twitterers who voted and in so doing helped me tell this tale, and to every one who sent me messages about it.

I’m now thinking of starting a separate twitter account for just this purpose, we’ll see.

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Remember, ideas are easy, it’s the doing that’s hard.

Talk soon

Damian

 

August 3, 2017

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I like Stu Larsen for a number of reasons. The first is his music, which is acoustic and folky, and ticks all kinds of boxes for me, the second is his backstory. Before becoming a professional musician Stu worked for heritage building society, spending 9 to 5 in a shirt and tie, clean shaven with a neat haircut. Then something happened, possibly his friendship with another musical hero, Passenger, and Stu left it all behind to hit the road and play his songs to whoever would listen. He became a literal vagabond (also the title of his first album), traveled the word on a dime, grew his hair and beard out, and wrote some fine music. The courage of this act is one I think about often, choosing to explore both the world and his art at the expense of his security; and I consider if I will ever choose the same path.

This song comes from his new album, Resolute, and is entitled Going Back to Bowenville; an ode to revisiting his hometown after a lengthy absence.

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Current chain of writing days: 4

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Our brains love connecting dots. Finding patterns. In fact, we’re incredibly good at it, mostly without thinking. The reason, arguably, is that it helps us survive. Being able to spot generalisations, that most of the time a leads to b leads to c, means we’re able to predict occurrences before they happen. Of course, this can have a negative effect. Where the pattern we create is false, or the dots connect to look like a rabbit when it is in fact a duck. Any kind of bigotry could be (partially) blamed on this effect, as could the mistaken belief that people think they can text and drive just because they’ve managed to do it before. Basically, lots of dickish moves could be back grounded by seeing a pattern that doesn’t exist.

However, when a pattern does prove to be correct it can be a joy inducing discovery. This is definitely true when a piece of writing comes together. For anyone who’s ever read a screenwriting book, or had structure preached to them, they’ll know how much pattern recognition resides in writing. While I am a fan of using structure with my writing it is by no means a must, it’s simply one pattern that’s been recognised, and no doubt there are more. The reason I’m a fan though is because there is something in the oldest part of my lizard brain that enjoys the pattern. Something about the structure feels right. It’s the same feeling that comes from watching a movie that’s well rounded, where every thread gets tied up. We’re recognising a pattern, and in story that can be immensely satisfying.

As a writer I believe this feeling is doubled, if not more so, when a story comes together. When you start to approach the finish line it can begin to feel like the story is writing itself, it’s amazing. Resolutions start to line up perfectly with throw away lines you wrote earlier, never planning for them to be more than a detail, but now they’re the perfect call back to you evolving ending. It’s moments like this that feel like you’re discovering a story rather than writing it, but what you’re really doing is recognising a pattern and exploiting it. The pattern in question is an ink blot. It’s an image on one side of a page being mirrored on the other. Knowing this however, doesn’t mean it’s easy to exploit, nor that you should even force yourself to try and do so consciously. My general feeling is that we’re going to write in patterns whether we want to or not. We can’t help it. Our brains love connecting dots.

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The above text was a thought that wouldn’t leave me alone last night as I tried to sleep, so I thought I would try and get it out today; one) to see if it was a valid thought, and two) so I could have a more restful sleep tonight. It came about due to the novella I’m currently writing. As mentioned in previous posts I’ve had some issues getting through the meat of this story, but just this week I seemed to have turned a corner (literally, as I’ve managed to stumble past the midpoint).

With this corner turning has come the above mentioned effect of an almost unseen force setting up pieces in the first half of the story that I can now exploit in the second half of the story; which I really think is just my brain going, ‘Hey, if we make this thing join with that thing it’ll make a pretty pattern.’ Thanks, brain. Whatever it is I’m glad for it because it makes the second half of the story a lot easier to write, and this week alone I’ve managed to average over a thousand words a day.

The novella is far from complete. Apart from the roughly twelve thousand more words I need to write it’s also very much a first draft, one that will benefit greatly from a few outside forces looking at it and pointing out all it’s faults (in a nice way). The second draft will likely be as much work as the first, but hopefully come October (when we’re planning to publish this puppy) it’ll be in good shape, with an underlying pattern that’ll make all our ancient lizard brains smile.

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Remember, you have the power to turn someone’s day around simply by doing a silly walk.

Talk soon

Damian