Monday, August 22, 2011

This Fluid Thrill (a.k.a. the self-titled post)

This will all make sense in time,
via EVRD
From the moment I committed myself to building a literary CV from the ground up* sometime in early 2007 life has been one long (at times glorious) waiting game. I would send off a few poems or a short story and wait for a yay or a nay from the publication. As the yays started to accumulate, I was lucky enough to have a few requests come out of the blue: Do you have a story for me? Can we print this story in our anthology? My consistent response: yay!

In this post-A Man Melting world, I’m still submitting poems and stories (most recently I have 6 poetic things in Pasture no.1 and a short story forthcoming in JAAM). But I’ve also had a lot of OOTB** requests: Do you wanna write a column for us? Do you wanna come and speak to my creative writing students? Do you wanna come to our writers festival? Do you wanna review a book for us? And then there are the people reviewing/talking about me, which are always kind of OOTB (you hope to get reviews, but aren’t sure which places they’ll show up in; you also have no idea what they’ll say). And then there’s the prize aspect. I’ve only been short-listed for one prize***(and just so happened to win), but that was Yaysville to the max (and also largely OOTB).

When taking stock of all the acceptances and OOTB bonuses, it seems like a steady stream of good news has been rolling in. But day-to-day, there’s a lot of silence: stagnant inboxes, fruitless self-googles (sounds like the worst confectionary ever), voicemail messages that turn out to be wrong numbers.

Which is fine. What can one expect? But the thrill of acceptance is so great, as is the thought that someone you’ve never met might think enough of you to track you down and send you an OOTB email, that I have become a good news junkie.

On Friday morning I was blessed with a freshet of new emails in my inbox from interesting-looking senders. One of these emails contained an invite to a writers festival early next year (I’ll be a bit cagey about where because sometimes they don’t like these things being announced until details are finalised). It was a true W00T moment. An OOTB fix.

Once I had sent back my speedy acceptance, however, it was difficult to return to THE NOVEL, which right now feels like THE SLOG (or THE LOG or THE SOG or THE SLUG). One set of good news got me thinking about the unthinkables: the submitted poems and short stories for which replies had not been received, the other festivals that might OOTB me…

There’s only so much picturing Grizz Wyllie (‘Get your head in the game, you muppet’) you can do before you push back from the keyboard and watch a mindless movie (in this case, MacGruber, ugh).

'Get your head in the game' (Not a scene from MacGruber)
Good news is bad news for productivity. I’m sure long term all of these OOTB gems will help sustain whatever faith I have in myself and whatever drive I have as a writer and distortionist, but short term I think I’m better off feeling like an underdog when I sit down to write.

Worked example:

I had a chip on my shoulder in late 2006 when I sat down to write a story about my father’s two wedding rings. I’d been through the IIML’s MA blender (the delirium of the first few months slowly dying down to allow small doses of reality, culminating in 2 out of 3 lukewarm examiner’s reports [with a bonus lukewarm response added for good measure]) and I wanted to prove I could write a straight-laced, hit 'em where it hurts, literary short story like some of my workshop colleagues.

That story turned out to be (or turned into) my story ‘Copies’. What started as an imitative/I’ll-show-you gesture managed to degrade into something similar to what I’d been writing before (high concept symbolism holding the story together rather than character or plot)… but it was better than the failed novels or any short story I’d attempted previously because:

        a) I was determined it would be better (I even edited it in Tracked Changes because I thought, arrogantly, that in time people would want to see how the story evolved) and

        b) I started from a point outside my general field of play (trying to write all literary-like instead of being arch or hip from the get-go).

I was not interrupted with any positive OOTBs during the composition and editing of ‘Copies’****. There was nothing to break the flow of inspiration and motivation. I got it done and sent it off to a competition… and it didn’t get anywhere. But then I got asked for a story OOTB and sent ‘Copies’ and baddabing baddabang, a monster was born!

Of course, writing a short story is different to writing a novel. Don’t remind me. THE SLUG takes a lot longer, and it's harder to keep on top of it (alternative blog name: Riding The Slug; aja!) through good news, bad news and no news because, well, there’ll be more news.

That’s the way things work. There will be distractions and depression, elation and invasion. The novelist’s credo must be: Get it done. I’m just not a very good novelist. I get distracted by seabirds and stories of people cutting their toes off with limpet shells and want to write about them now!

Picture Veruca Salt trying to write a novel (minus the orangey-red dress and long, lifeless hair) and that’s me.

'Daddy, I want to write short story now!'
But I will persist. I'm a big boy now and can control my impulses. I will ride THE SLUG, will stick to my time period, my patch of turf and my narrators. I will survive without another OOTB fix; if one comes along I won't let it disrupt me. I will finish the novel. Soonish. I promise.*****



* Until this point, I expected to knock one out of the park on my first (and second) at bat. One = novel.

** Pronounced Oh-Oh-Tee-Bee. Not to be confused with ‘Oh-o, T.B.’ which is number four on the list of Ten Phrases You Don’t Want To Hear From a Doctor (especially if it’s Out Of The Blue).

***Trivia time: I was long-listed for the 2010 Frank O’Connor Prize, but so were the other 56 writers whose books were nominated by their publishers…

****I’d actually started the story before receiving the MA examiner reports which counted as bad news and fuel for the fire.


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