The Principal of Business

Tuesday, 1 December, 2009

So I didn’t write fifty thousand words of fiction in November this year. I was (to understate things) out of sorts, not feeling a need to meet that goal again, not becoming excited about anything I was writing, and suffering the general resurgence of that good old no-follow-through, goal abandonment habit of mind.
No point frowning about it; I wrote over twenty thousand words of new stuff and tried some new things. A word count goal is no longer the only kind of goal I need. I didn’t get excited but not because the writing couldn’t have been exciting, rather I didn’t give myself the chance. I’ve learned and played and maybe there are germs of potential somewhere in that 20k, all’s good.
Not so good is the why.

I know I can write that fifty thousand words, I’ve done it before, what I haven’t done is produce a complete draft, stay committed to an idea and see it through to the end. Fear of not making it, fear of what happens if I do and it’s no good, fear of making something that could be good but letting the work down, fostering whisperings that me, my contribution and the world just aren’t worth the work. That’s not just writing stuff, that’s life stuff. Fear, insecurity, pointlessness. I decided a while back not to let that web of thinkings run my life. I’d make a decision and stay committed, I got good at doing it and reaped the rewards, but then, out of sight of the mess that fuelled the change, I got lazy, then paralysed.

November isn’t my problem, it’s the rest of the year. Writing isn’t my problem, it’s the way I’m living my life. So I do what’s worked before: little aims, little goals, little successes, little confidences, and they all add up. “Do something” was the slogan. Something, anything, just don’t stand still. I’m not saying anything new, it just helps to say it again, restate a purpose, draw a line and refocus on what I want and how to get there.


– Look through my stuff and identify interesting bits, bits I like, run with ideas
AND (not then)
– Keep up the general playing/experimenting in all scribblings
– Write at least 300 words a day on any project
– Commit to a long term draft once I’m excited again
– Fewer distracting, nervous-energy-sapping journallings

Right. Onward. Hello, December.



Monday, 7 September, 2009

Net-less as my new abode is, this place has taken a seat so far in the back it’s in the boot with the spare tire. No, it’s playing cards with the ushers. No, its arse is in the holy water. (Can I stop yet?) If something isn’t staring me in the face it might as well not be in the world. Or at least it won’t get used. (Bear witness, expensive John Lewis juicer: your eons of collecting airborne toast crumbs under the sink will come.)

Work, life, work, life, etc, etc.

– – –

Video diary is coming. Before J plants his feet up there, I swear it.
Proper plinth updates are coming. I would very much like to briefly wave back at Matt and his wicked response before I start collating and reflecting and generally following up on stuff.

– – –


Much compulsive journalling, many odd-lines-that-don’t-fit-anywhere-really, the usual life/world/people observations. There are some startings of things but no middles or endings. Lots of notes for other things. No big project. I need a big project. (Happily acknowledging my status without actually taking steps to rectify. Until today. Kind of. Maybe. Gragh.)

Less concentrated time due to work has frustrated the hell out of me and in general prompted me to become more alert to opportunities to use the hours I do have usefully. When it comes to scribbling this isn’t so easy. (I biro notes at the desk on scraps of paper used to transit items to other libraries having been unable to cultivate the habit of carrying a tiny Moleskine in my bra.) And allow me to be obvious: inspiration strikes with irritating regularity at wholly inconvenient times and it’s fucking maddening. Especially given my lack of anything approaching memory. Whispering prompts to myself, making up mnemonics, until I can sit down with a pen and… evaporation. Yes. Thank you. Welcome to trying to be a writer. What’s the main course?

One thing I’m slowly learning is how better to use library work. I’ve been snatching and hoarding anything of interest, committing to nothing, growling at time and effort and print. Comparison is the agent of unhappiness. (That’s not mine.) Time is an achievement. Effort is worth itself. Print is a bonus. I love eclecticism and bitesize distractions, my attention span demands them, but eighteen books on loan is too many books. (But one can never have too many books.) Oh… sigh :)

Organisation is at a level of absolute zero. The Should-be-useful-but-is-just-unsurprisingly-stressful Database of My Adult Life’s Work is under the sink with the juicer. Vaguely looking back at previous years’ meanderings. Conflicting instincts as to what to do with interesting things have me paralysed and procrastinating, which is pretty much my natural state.

But! Many fun things are happening in lives of writerly friends of mine including gorgeous prose, poetry printing, filmmaking, play submissions, travel writing, blogging… All lovely and encouraging and not-at-all intimidating. Really, it’s inspiring. That’s the response I choose to own. (Begone, demons of self-flagellation and envy!) The little group I love swirls in a wider orbit and will no doubt converge on November for Nanowrimo. On this point I’m pretty sure I won’t be taking part as per the brand-new-project but I quite want to commit to the word count, or at least some structure. I don’t need the certificate but could use the camaraderie.

– – –

And that’s enough for now.
And how are you?

Postcards from the Plinth!

Thursday, 2 July, 2009

On Thursday 9th July 4-5am I’ll be writing/drawing twelve postcards on Trafalgar’s fourth plinth – live on the web, covered by Sky Arts! – and sending them afterwards.
The cards will document my hour, either overtly or not, depending on what I come up with when I’m doing them, as well as echoing the themes of communication etc. There’s more on my sketchy rationale on my earlier entry.

Help me choose who gets the cards!

I’ll be drawing the names out of something – some sort of bag, probably – live from the plinth. Suggest as many or as few names as you like. Friends, relatives, public figures, organisations, alive or not, anyone you think could use the communication, anyone at all for any reason, anywhere in the world.

Comment here, text me, phone me, tweet me (@thespyglass) or comment on my earlier blog entry
I’ll cite you as the person who suggested the name unless you’d rather be anonymous 😉

Thanks, everyone!

In the absence of Twitter…

Tuesday, 30 June, 2009

At work. Twitter blocked even in breaks. Must write these things down or I’ll forget.

* Lady brings ‘The Bolter’ by Frances Osborne back, incredulous at the things so-called high society got away with “when I think what working class people were going through at that time […] but it’s a good read, but they were trollopes”. =)

* Reading Orwell’s ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’.
* Lovely couple, ex-van driver and partner. People, people, people.
* Reading about the nationalisation of the National Express Eastern line
* Still got Hoylake sand in these shoes!
* Telling co-worker about One & Other, she’s interested, likes Gormley =)
* Woman comes in to play instant win games on computers, talking on phone very loudly about someone’s court case
* 12:45 Receipted a tonne of junior fiction
* 14:02 92 year old lady taking out large print romances, telling me about her birthday cake
* 15:34 Revising fiction, babysitting naughty boys

One & Other

Wednesday, 24 June, 2009

Antony Gormley’s One & Other project

I’m on from 4am – 5am on Thursday 9th July! Still not quite real.

I think it was Sarah who initially linked me to the project, which sounded really unique and interesting. I already liked a lot of Gormley‘s stuff and liked his rationale. I thought taking part would be a fantastic experience but I didn’t have any specific plans when I put my name in the hat, I just liked the themes and ideas the project conjures. I’m sure we’ll get some very accomplished, inventive people taking part and I can’t wait to see some of the ideas people come up with, as well as enjoying all the individual contributions and the sum of our parts. I was fairly sure that anything interesting-for-interesting’s-sake that I could come up with would be done by someone else so wanted to find something personal to me but that didn’t seek to do too much.

No matter what I decided to do up there, I was sure pretty early on that I was going to record the experience itself in as many ways as possible and communicate those recordings in as many ways as possible, so ‘everyone’ gets to be on the plinth. Writing/videoing/twittering/taking pictures during, posting everything online, creating things from the things I’d recorded and from the experience itself.

But anyway. What to do with the hour.

I ran the gamut of ideas. I care about a huge variety of causes, the urge to represent them in some way was very strong, but which one(s) and why and how and how effective could it be anyway? I was very aware of the potential of the space and what more skilled people might do in it. I also felt pressure to represent myself or my community (whatever I decided to take ‘community’ to be) completely. But then I remembered that I alone am not the art. All of us together and the connection between us, and also the things that happen and that are made away from the plinth… that’s the art.

So I thought that instead of trying to do everything, I would pick one thing that I find very natural, which is writing, but that also feeds into the ideas of community, connection and communication, things I personally really care about and which are ultimately the point of the project.

Earlier in the year I came across a book of twelve stamps. Lost. I made a big effort to find out whose they were but was unsuccessful so it was suggested to me that I keep them. I felt guilty. I don’t generally have call to use stamps, other than for birthday cards and the odd letter to long-missed friends, so I stowed them in my purse with the vague idea that I would only use them altruistically, eg. if someone else needed a stamp or I decided to send a nice thing somewhere for no reason other than to be nice. Then I forgot about them. Until today.

I was thinking about methods of communication and how I could bring other people into the whole plinth experience, take pieces of them onto it, give them something from it, and I thought about poetry and prose and journalling and blogging and phone calls and text and Twitter… and postcards. Suddenly it was obvious. Twelve stamps, twelve postcards.

Here’s why I like it:
1) Who gets the postcards? I thought I might put everyone who wants one into a hat and draw a lottery on the plinth. They don’t have to be people I know and they can be anywhere in the world.
2) What do I do on them? All the things I want to do on the plinth, I can do on the postcards. Communicate passions, ideas, interests, observations, make poetry, do doodles, say, ‘Hi, how are you?’
3) It connects me to people not on the plinth (including, obviously, the person who lost the stamps), connects the plinth time to other times, the place to other places.
4) It has a nice personal serendipitous quality to it.

It averages out to five minutes a postcard but I’d also like time and space to enjoy and record (in different ways) the whole experience myself so it probably won’t be regimented.

– – –

So postcards is what I’m doing.

Q) I’m in two minds whether to show the cards to camera and/or read from them or keep the experience solely for whoever gets the cards, then they can choose what to do. Should I show the names to camera? (Obviously keeping personal addresses private.)

Q) It seemed obvious I should buy the cards in London on the day but maybe I should make them on the plinth? Or compromise and buy nice blank ones?
A) I’ll be using catalogue cards, as in libraries, since I work in libraries. (Thanks, J!)

Anyway. That’s where I am =)
Please… comment away! Any and all reactions very welcome.

Comment here. Or Twitter me (@thespyglass). Or comment on my Facebook. Or text. Or tell me in person. Just communicate it somehow and the address will be in the draw. It doesn’t have to be your address. A surprise for a friend – all personal details will be held in the strictest confidence – or a public figure or organisation you want to get a card?

You’ve got until the end of Tuesday 7th July!

One thing

Thursday, 14 May, 2009

I just need to pick one. One thing. Work on it. Move onto another. Work on that. Move onto another. I could try to capture everything in existence but being overwhelmed by possibility and wanting to do all things will drag me in the direction of doing no things.

(Be all people, have all experiences. Enraptured ambivalence, ambivalent enrapturement?! Ha. Running theme with me.)

– – –

Found this from November last year:

“The Pullman talk, strangely very much focussed on what I’m interested in with this thing I’m trying to write; what is real, what isn’t, how it affects us, where the lines are, what the psychology is. Timely and enjoyable.
Write what only you can write.”

Poking Prose

Tuesday, 12 May, 2009

Posting about: Script Frenzy, editing prose/database, writing group.

With Script Frenzy over and done and won, thank fuck, I’m back to prose. Sick of script-writing. Sick of all my ideas for scripts. Sick of being jealous of ‘Mad Men’. Sick of wondering whether I got anything out of April on the writing front, which of course I did, but wonder wonder anyway.

Current project – only project – is to assess what I have in the way of prose, hack it up, mash it together, squish it into shape and glare at it. In stages.
1) Type up everything ever, or at least everything from the last two-and-a-half years.
2) Put everything into Scrivener or similar projects for easy access/editing.
3) Assess common themes and repetitions and conceptions of bigger, valuable projects.
4) Put things in some kind of order and hierarchy, based on theme and medium (i.e. long prose, short prose, prose poem, poem, random dialogue).
5) Edit things so they is good.
6) Glare at it.

Stage 6 is really just a place-holder. What I probably mean is either “cry/panic because all of it is shit”, “panic/cry because some of it could be good but will be loads of work” or “panicry because my brain has sploded”.

Times like this it’s great to have friends who know how nuts this stuff is.
With the end of Script Frenzy – and my vow never to ML any OLL events ever again ever, no matter how many Oscars and poems I get – comes the dawn of a new era for our writing group, newly dubbed Scribblepool. I bloody love these people. All the friends I made off the back of Nano last year, plus all the friends made in the fug and haze of Screnzy, all up for supporting each other and feedbacking and hanging out and discussing The Process. I’m so grateful for you, little guide rope on the cliff face.

Script Slog

Tuesday, 14 April, 2009

Back on-topic for the blog and I’m at a cross-roads in the middle of Procrastination Hell during this my third Script Frenzy. In 2007 I was writing for cinema (‘Embassy’) but barely scraped 8,000 words; in 2008 I adapted a ‘failed’ Nanowrimo idea (‘Paragon’) for TV and got the 100 pages but didn’t get a complete draft; this year it’s back to the big screen again with ‘The Centre’ and although I’m at the halfway point and ahead of schedule… what’s a hyperbolic synonym for “slog”?

It’s not that I don’t like the idea or the characters, rather I like them too much, or at least I like the idea of the idea too much. I’m too wed to my ideas about the characters. Also, it’s not plot-driven. There are things that need to happen, sure, but there isn’t the unstoppable force there was behind last year’s action-sci-fi, nor the scope for writing speculative dialogue that directors/actors/viewers can then ascribe meaning to, leave things open for the rest of the season. It’s got to be self-contained. This thing I’m trying to do is about a people and a place and I’m having to be more economical than is my wont.

And finally, the 100 pages goal does exceedingly well at providing my shrieking inner editor with more ammunition. (“It’s only 100 pages, it should at least not suck!” Or: “Good god, woman, it took you two weeks to write fifty pages? They better be bloody Brecht!” And my personal favourite: “Just what is the point of even doing this if it isn’t going to be good enough for anything?” GAH.)

So here, now, at the halfway, on the hump, at the top of the hill, is my pep talk to myself.

1) What was your aim going into this Script Frenzy? It was to get a complete draft. Not a great draft, not a special draft, not even a decent draft, but a complete draft. You have never completed a screenplay. Never. This will be the first time ever that you come out of either Nanowrimo or Script Frenzy with a complete, self-contained piece of original work. Writing something from beginning to end, that’s what you’re proving. Put the inner editor back in the crypt of St Peter’s. She was happy there in November.

2) John is real. Being him isn’t difficult. The place he lives, it’s down the road. His family, friends, colleagues, enemies… they did all this stuff already. You’re only telling what’s already happened.

3) John is not real. You don’t owe him anything. If you need to twist him to get to the end, twist him. If you need someone to be someone else, damn it, just do it. The end is boss. We’re not going on some journey of character-discovery, not in the first draft. We’re only going to the end. (See, it’s only over there!)

4) Self-sabotage is not a good look for spring. You want to screw something up, wait for winter, at least you can wear blankets everywhere.


Obviously don’t click below if you haven’t seen it and prefer not to be spoiled.

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We interrupt this blog…

Sunday, 22 February, 2009

Obligatory Oscars post in advance of tonight. My (belated) thoughts on the nominations and which films I’d like to see take something home. Yes, this is still a blog about attempts at writerliness, I’ve just got nowhere else to post this.

Half my fun with the Oscars has to do with the show itself, the circus, not the results, but there are still a lot of people I’m rooting for and a lot of awards I’m really interested in, as well as a few people I would have liked to see get nominations. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
* Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor”
* Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon”
* Sean Penn in “Milk”
* Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
* Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”
Langella is great in ‘Frost/Nixon’ but I wasn’t nuts about the film. Loved Sean Penn in ‘Milk’ and Mickey Rourke in ‘The Wrestler’. Will try to check ‘The Visitor’ out at some point, really like Richard Jenkins. Pitt is good in ‘Benjamin Button’ but by most accounts Michael Fassbender for ‘Hunger’ and Benicio Del Toro for ‘Che’ also deserved recognition. (Criminally I haven’t seen either of those films yet.) Though maybe Pitt’s nod makes up for the absurd general snub of ‘The Assassination of Jesse James’ last year.
I’ll be rooting for Mickey Rourke, like most of the rest of the world, because he’s pretty damn special in a great movie and I really want to see him on that stage. Penn’s been there, done that. I suppose I couldn’t begrudge Langella a win.
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