Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Things I Do While Procrastinating About Writing...

In the midst of a writing procrastination paralysis...! I don't get it - yesterday I was on a perfect prose roll, now today it's like my mind has frozen up, my ink has all dried up, my ability to string words together has skidded to a halt! 

All because I didn't write right away today - I put it off, I got sidetracked, I waited -  then the procrastination set in. (It's sneaky like that).


Symptoms of this procrastination include: (You may recognise some of these...)

-Staring blankly out a window - on and off - all day...


-Going bigtime domestic (doing dishes and all kinds of previously-shunned housework, tidying up, de-cluttering workspace, trying to feng-shui practically everything in an attempt to re-order my mind...)

-Trying to douse my verbal mind with visuals - ie. watching copious amounts of TV

-Spending inordinate amounts of time on social networking sites...

-Biting my nails furiously (ouch)

-Sighing miserably every few hours

-Refusing all books (can't bear to look at the printed word - makes me feel more guilty)

-Googling excessively

-Staring blankly at a new Word document

-Having a DVD-box-set-athon  (helps to quiet my screaming mind)

-Editing music playlists and making new ones


-Snapping at passers-by

-Experimenting with vegetating

-Buying new notebooks:

-Staring blankly into the ether 

-Observing minute everyday detail, like dust motes settling onto furniture and construing it into some existential significance...

-Thinking, thinking, thinking, rifling and contemplating - but no writing:


-Searching for pens

-Doodling over said new notebooks with found pens

-Talking about writing: (the worst one)


-And all the while, dying a little inside.

Sound familiar anyone??

Oh. Oh. Oh.

It's like Waiting for Godot - waiting for that one moment of inspiration, that timely hour when it will be right to write. 

I'm sure you've all experienced it, this procrastination when it comes to writing. Not a block per se, but a putting off, a feeling that comes from that demon doubt and all the shadows that go with it - namely, the quest for perfection.

It will pass yes. Soon I'll be navigating my way through firing synapses and brainstorms of words coming so fast at me that I won't have time to write them all down and I'll be rolling around in words until my fingers get inky and all of this crippling, debilitating waiting will be a ghost, a faint memory, a faint footnote to the bigger picture, behind me, and in front of me - all the bright lights of verbosity.

But for now, it's miserable. (And writing about it helps :) A step to knocking the progress of  procrastination:

Thank you for reading,

~ Siobhán

Monday, 28 January 2013

Rules on Writing - Bending & Breaking Them!

Gosh, all the writing sites and Tweets and Facebook pages I've signed up to, they seem to like nothing more than to post endless lists on 'Rules for Writing.' Sometimes from famous authors, sometimes more obscure ones, and sometimes it seems, just off the top of their heads. Which basically makes me want to scream out in frustration!!!! 

Because there are no real rules to writing. Advice on writing, sure, give me loads of that! (And the best advice is: Write!) But these so-called rules? - Pah!!! Writing is about breaking the rules is it not? It's about expressing your own unique take on the world in language, and to do that, to be original, you have to break some rules. 

Like take this list of rules for example. I've never seen anything more limiting (even though it's trying to be funny/smart...) 
by Frank L Visco
I break every damn one of these 'rules' when I write (parenthetical remarks are always necessary I say!) And avoid alliteration? Never! Oh the audacity of that! Never end a sentence with a preposition? As if! Eliminate sentence fragments? No! It reminds me of my grammar textbook at school (and what writer didn't ever tweak grammar rules to suit their needs?) 

My first rule-breaking was starting sentences beginning with 'and' and 'but.' Why ever not I thought? If used in the right way, these two conjunctions can be pretty darn powerful: and can be used as a defeatist sigh to a sentence; but as an irrevocable blunt declaration. I remember being penalised on a school essay I wrote circa 12 years of age for too much punctuation. Pah! So what if I used a semi-colon here or there?! I'm sure the piece made more sense than those limbo essays without any punctuation to tether them down, not even a full stop!
-Elmore Leonard
 Another 'rule' that's been around the block a few times is to always use 'said' to carry dialogue, and never another speech marker. What about all those other words in the English language that signify dialogue - what's wrong with them? For example, what  about 'asked'? Because 'asked' is a world away from 'said'. Or even 'demanded'? Or  'declared' or 'drawled'? (Btw, drawl is good - can tell you a lot about a character)  All these words laying unused at the bottom of a writer's tool kit and said smacked everywhere? No thanks!

Other inane rules include to never use the word 'suddenly'. Apparently because it's a lazy word. But what if you make it do its work, tone it up, a few push-ups and pumps, pages of holding back and then - suddenly (aha) -  it appears and looks all brand new and shiny. Is that not ok?

These 'rules' that say 'don't do this' and 'never use this' really piss me off. Maybe it's the rebel in me - but when someone tells me not to do something, it just makes me really want to do it all the more! I especially hate the 'rule' to never have a sentence over 4 lines long or alternatively, a one-word sentence. But my gosh, haven't these rule-makers seen what an one-word sentence can do? Raymond Carver said that a full stop placed at the right place could 'pierce the heart.' Well one-word senteces are the bayonets that do the piercing. They are what a suspenseful score is to an exciting scene. 

Whatever would those stuffy rule-makers say to Colum Mc Cann's novel 'Let the Great World Spin' when they come across the stream-of-consciousness sentence that goes on for a full paragraph - half a page in length - detailing all the various ways people die? A sentence that stuns us and forces us to look at death in an unflinching manner. A truly breath-taking tour-de-force of a sentence that puts everything in perspective. A sentence in which theme and style sync so harmoniously together as to cause a powerful reaction in the reader.  

And that rule about not using too much dialogue - tell that to Hemingway whose story 'Hills Like White Elephants' is nothing but dialogue and all the better for it as it forces us to read between-the-lines. (And not to forget - has become a staple in classic short stories).

Of course, this is not new in literature. James Joyce was the master of stream-of-consciousness, Ulysses being a supreme example of a novel that broke the rules and set new precedents for experimentation in form in literature for decades to come. 

Which brings me to the excellent writer Jonathan Safron Foer who pushes the boundaries to the extreme. His post-9/11 novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is full of radical deviations from conventional novel writing. It's not just language that Foer plays with, twisting and moulding it to suit his theme and every nuanced emotion of what he is writing, but everything else too, including form, structure and layout. 

Each of his characters who narrate the novel have not only different voices, but different typeface templates too that relate to their character. Foer even manipulates the typeface in one chapter, making the print so tight and dense and squeezed together until it becomes a black blur, so as to highlight his character's emotional turmoil; he inserts doodles into another chapter and other pictures appear randomly throughout the book enhancing what the words say. In one startling and moving chapter, the type is marred by red-pen marks, the circling of 'grammar mistakes' that a character has circled on an array of letters from his father. The effect is shocking, given that the narrative is of the bombing of Dresden in WWII and the description of its harrowing aftermath, made all the more real and immediate and horrific with this red ink all over the pages like blood. The whole novel is  indeed 'extremely loud and incredibly close', the author's innovative stylistics making it cut to the core.

Foer is just one of the radical new writers that are pushing the boundaries of language. It may be classed as postmodern, but I prefer to think of it as 'exciting.' It's just one example of what can be done with language if we are brave enough to play around with it. Creativity is, after, all defined as 'intelligence having fun', so why not have fun with writing?

Why all these limiting rules? Let the only rule of writing be: write whatever way you want! Heed only your gut and not these gutless rules thought up by some disgruntled ego-centric grammarian! Yep, that's about it. Forget all this malarkey about grammar. Fuggghedaboutit! Make up words, use slang and parentheses and one-word sentences! I know too many beginner writers who quiver in fear at the thought of these so-called ''rules.' And spend the whole duration of writing groups worrying about their grammar and spelling like it's the be-all and end-all of writing. It's not grammar-school you sign up for when you commit to writing! That's only a technicality. Worry about the big stuff - like themes - rather than the mechanics I say!

These crazy grammar rules make for boring writers. Stifling and tedious and trivial. Everytime I come across them, I feel a bout of brain-sleep coming on. Really? What sort of boring writer went to the trouble of writing these all out anyway? They might as well talk about the correct way of sharpening a pecil or what type of notebook to buy or how to edit and paste on Word or.....(yawn).

Rules suggest regimentation, control, limits, fear, and conformity. But to write, you got to be BRAVE. You've got to laugh at the rules and write without them looming in front of you like an angry professor. You are a writer - language is your tool - respect it sure, but don't be afraid of it. If you want to be a jockey, you can't be afraid of horses. Or a professional swimmer, you can't fear water. You have to open yourself to all the wondrous possibilities that your field offers. Be fearless, be confident in your abilities and your knowledge of language, and its quite malleable qualities, and then you'll find your groove.

Rules suggest that someone has actually mastered the craft of writing and is all-superior, all-knowing. But truth is, writing is a craft we continually learn from. It can't be mastered; it is ever-evolving and its most defining characteristic is mystery: even the bestselling writers still don't know where most of their work 'comes from.' (It definitely didn't come from sticking to the rules that's for sure!) 

Thankfully, most writers 'rules' on writing are in the form of advice and encouragement (which is great). Margaret Atwood urges us to 'write in pencil, especially on aeroplanes.' And one of my favourites, Hemingway recommends us to 'write drunk and edit sober.'  Never trust the ones who spout grammar rules - trying to enforce a sanitised form of regulated writing - it may have worked for them, but chances are, it won't for us. Each to their own.

The only rule of writing is to write often and whatever way you like. Even in gibberish if that suits your mood or theme! Why not? JRR Tolkien and Lewis Carroll invented their own language to authenticate their fictional worlds and had no qualms about inserting it into the narrative. Poets create their own words - neologisms -  all the time. Emily Dickinson brought the hyphen into fashion. Some writers have even opted out from using punctuation. Some refuse speech marks for dialogue. Some have one sentence chapters. Lots use the word 'suddenly' and to great effect.

Writing is expression, freedom of speech, so why should it be regulated by the paltry dictations of grammar or a few opinions of other writers? 

It shouldn't. Rules are made for breaking after all. (Or at the very least, bending...) That's why I just ended with a cliché! ;) 

'Til the next time,


~ Siobhán

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Oh, The Wonders of Words!

'A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.'  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

I just have to share these amazing words that I've found posted over on the wonderful blog, OtherWordly:

The blog sources and defines the meanings of quite obscure and wonderful words.  Some of them have their origins in English or Old English; others come from a wide range of different languages, including Arabic, Japanese and Greek.

Every writer takes an almost perverse pleasure in words (I know I do!) - in what they look like, spell like, sound like, seem like. They have an innate magic that becomes most potent when they come together in meaning and form synchronicity. A poet, as WH Auden remarked, is someone 'in love with language.' And to be truly in love with language is to revel in words. And that's what this site does. 

Here are a few examples of what you can find there: (handpickings of the words that struck a chord with me...)

~Nefelibata: (n.) lit."cloud-walker"; one who lives in the clouds of their own imagination or dreams, or one who does not obey the conventions of society, literarture or art

~Meliorism (n.) the belief that the world gets better; the belief that humans can improve the world

~Annus Mirabilis (n.) (phr) a remarkable or notable year in history; a year of wonders or miracles used to speak hopefully of the future

~Brumous (adj) of grey skies and winter days; filled with heavy clouds or fog; relating to winter or cold sunless weather

~Erlebnisse (n.) the experiences, positive or negative, that we feel most deeply, and through which we truly live; not mere experiences, but Experiences

~Scripturient (adj) having a consuming passion to write

~Chimerical (adj) created by unchecked imagination; fantastically visionary or highly improbable

~Eesome (adj) pleasing to the eye


These words are beautiful to behold and bewildering in their meanings! They leap off the page like curling vines, defining and describing that which we thought only half-existing. They make you think about what language is capable of. How many more words we would need in our vocaulary to describe certain states! Certainly some of these I would argue!

Which reminds me of a book I read last year, 'The Lover's Dictionary' by David Levithan. It used the very original and quirky idea of telling a love story via a series of dictionary entries, taking ordinary words and turning them into something else: something personal and relevant to the story, and more than that, something that illuminated the story briefly but succintly. Each page consists of an one word entry,  words such as 'ersatz', 'epithet', 'halycon', 'macabre,' 'paleontology', and 'zenith'

Let me give you some examples of the words used: 

'Yearning, n. and adj. At the core of this desire is the belief that everything can be perfect.'

'Ethereal, adj. You leaned your head into mine, and I leaned my head into yours. Dancing cheek to cheek. Revolving slowly, eyes closed, heartbeat measure, nature's hum. It lasted the length of an old song, and then we stopped, kissed, and my heart stayed there, just like that.'

'Kinetic, adj. Joanna asked me to describe you, and I said, "Kinetic." We were both surprised by this response. Usually, with a date, it was "I don't" or "Not that bad" or, at the highest level of excitement, "Maybe it will work out." But there was something about you that made me think of sparks and motion. I still see that now. Less when we're alone. More when we're with other people. When yoou're surrounded by life. Reaching out to it, gathering energy.'

The result is a highly endearing and interesting tapestry of words that reveals much about the story and the characters, but also, about the many different meanings of words, their applicability and relevance, and ability to create clever, sublime and devastating effects. As Levithan notes under one entry in the book, 'maybe language is kind, giving us these double meanings. Maybe it's trying to teach us a lesson, that we can always be two things at once.'

Which got me to thinking of the capabilities of language in general. Jack Gilbert the poet (recently deceased), also spoke of how much language is capable of, while at the same time, being inevitably limited - 'How astonishing it is that language can almost mean, and frightening that it does not quite.' And I suppose that is true. (See poem below.) Just recently I read about a linguist who created his own unique language because the others he knew simply did not suffice in explaining everything as clearly as it could be. (Read it here: Utopian for Beginners)

Language is both allowing and disallowing; a means of expression and repression.  A fascinating contradiction. One, that to us writers, offers both a canvas and a challenge. (And a plethora of words to be invented and reinvented). And therein, lies the attraction. 


The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart - Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient
tongue has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind's labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not laguage but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses, and birds.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Advice to Young Writers

I came across this article in The New Yorker and just had to share it (here's the link: Jeffrey Eugenides's Advice to Young Writers)

It's the text adapted from a speech writer Jeffrey Eugenides gave to the Whiting award winners in 2010.  The Whiting Writers' Award is an American award presented annually to ten emerging young writers in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and plays with bursaries to advance their writing careers.

For one thing, it's one of the few articles I've come across that addresses young writers, yay! At last! 

Because, really, what is it about young writers that they are often overlooked for the older ones, especially the older male writers, the so-called 'geniuses' of the craft? Apart from Rilke's 'Letters to a Young Poet', I can't think of any other pieces dedicated solely to young writers.  It's like we're a lesser species! 

I especially remember one time being lambasted by an elderly gentleman when I said I write to which he replied he hadn't met any 'young' person before who writes and continued - 'that's probably because older people have more experience to write about', inadvertently igniting my defence firing missiles - which went something along the lines of: Pah! Writing ain't all experience  - rather it's about having an unique perspective and observer stance and talent and style and imagination and ability to express in language what most people can't even acknowledge. It is a craft that disregards how may years you've got clocked up!

Some of the best writers are (and have been) young writers. (Keats, anyone??) And the most exciting writers are often young writers - who are not afraid to embrace innovative styles - look at Jack Kerouac and the never-ending roll of stream-of-consciousness travelogue/existential manifesto (which can now be found in the 'Classics' section of most bookshops). 

Young writers and their budding writer status are acknowledged in this article. Eugenides speaks of the spark of writerly otherness in these budding writers and encourages it - that's what I think is so great about the article.  Like here, in the first part of the piece when he addresses that moment of awakening within every writer which usually occurs in childhood (it is implied):

'When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight. It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive. Remember? You were fifteen and standing beside a river in wintertime. Ice floes drifted slowly downstream. Your nose was running. Your wool hat smelled like a wet dog. Your dog, panting by your side, smelled like your hat. It was hard to distinguish. As you stood there, watching the river, an imperative communicated itself to you. You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness, special little teen-age omniscient you, wearing tennis shoes out in the snow, against your mother’s orders. Just then the sun came out from behind the clouds, revealing that every twig on every tree was encased in ice. The entire world a crystal chandelier that might shatter if you made a sound, so you didn’t. Even your dog knew to keep quiet. And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it.'

And I don't know why, but for some reason, I've always associated New York with young writers. An ideal place of nurturing. (Maybe it's because I've seen countless TV serieses and films where young writers are taken under the bosom of older mentor writers in New York amongst the Brooklyn fire-escapes and panelled libraries and the buzz of The New Yorker  and multiple writing retreats and internships and the cityscape a happening background to all kinds of verbal comings-of-age.)

I've seen new publications recently hit the shelves entitled '30 Under 30' and the like celebrating and showcasing young writers, which is great. Maybe the stereotype is shifting.

Eugenides's last piece of advice is particularly affecting

'To die your whole life. Despite the morbidity, I can't think of a better definition of the writing life. There's something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly. This retreat has to be accomplished without severing the vital connection to the world, and to people, that feeds the imagination. It's a difficult balance.' 

And maybe that's what that man I was talking to (briefly I might add) was referring to when he said older writers have more 'experience.' Maybe some might think it's easier for older people to remove themselves from life in order to to observe it and write about it, seeing as they have already 'lived' their life and are now keen to pen the autobiography! But this entirely wrong view sees writing as a step you progress to, a maturity badge, an older people only practice. But, as Eugenides says here, writing requires two conflicting things: to immerse oneself in life and to remove oneself from it almost simultaneously; it is a balance to be maintained consistently, the whole way through life. And only from this balance, will good writing flourish forth. 

And I might add, it is this balance that young writers have been coming to terms with ever since they first laid pen to paper. As such, we've become quite adept at it.

Keep writing young guns! 

~ Siobhán 

Further Reading/Proof!:

Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Year Writing Resolutions

Well it's a New Year! And whatever about New Year resolutions, I'm sticking instead this year to new writing resolutions (of which I will stick to.) 

And these include: (drumroll - da-da-da-dah...)

I will:

-Write more.   'Don't just plan to write—write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.' - PD James. Write, actually write, and not dream of it.

- Write every day. Yes, without fail. No matter what I feel like. Even on blocked days. Even on days when all I seem to do is scrawl nonsense. 'Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.' - Cory Doctorow.
'If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.' — Margaret Atwood

-Discipline myself! Set a number of words per day to write and stick to it. 
'Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined. Lots of writers get a bit OCD-ish about this. Graham Greene famously wrote 500 words a day. Jean Plaidy managed 5,000 before lunch, then spent the afternoon answering fan mail. My minimum is 1,000 words a day – which is sometimes easy to achieve, and is sometimes, frankly, like shitting a brick, but I will make myself stay at my desk until I've got there, because I know that by doing that I am inching the book forward. Those 1,000 words might well be rubbish – they often are. But then, it is always easier to return to rubbish words at a later date and make them better.' - Sarah Waters

-Start using my notebook. Yes, recently, I've become lax about the notebook. Phrases will come into my head and I'll not bother writing them down, stupidly thinking they'll still be there in the morning when I go to the page, or they'll come back to me. But alas, they don't, they just melt into the ether until all that remains is their shadow. This year, I will carry my notebook religiously with me, and use it. (even at the peril of strange looks by others... #smalltownclaustrophobia)

-Read more writing guides. Because they are the equivalent of 'shrinks' to a writer. And excellent cures for writer's block. And I will not just go to them in times of need - no, I will read them on a daily basis. Prevention is better than cure.

-Work towards a goal of writing a novel. Yes, this is the year! No more excuses. The ultimate, ULTIMATE ambition of a writer.

-Make a writing routine. I will set aside certain periods of time in the day when I will write and not budge from it or let anything intrude on it. I will put my writing first, and not let anything overwhelm or overshadow it. And I will resolve to treat it as a job, a 9 to 5, (or more likely 9-9, or 9pm - 4am) one. 
'The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.' — Mary Heaton Vorse

-Not sink into fear about failure. This is a crippling block on my behalf. Fear of failure. Fear of jumping over the edge and crashing smack face-down on the ground, all busted up. 'Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence.' - AL Kennedy

-Send out to publishers more. This year, I will take the publishing leap. And carry on after rejections and what's worse - no answers at all - and  will keep on going until I can plaster my room with rejection slips (ha, in the tradition of all the greats). Until this time next year, when I can honestly say, well goddamn it (in a Hemingway drawl) - I tried. 

-I will come out of the writing 'closet' and admit that I am a writer. To the next person that asks what I do, what I want to do, I shall reply in a confident tone (and maybe with a bow), 'I'm a writer.' Yes siree, a writer. I write. And I want to be a successful published author. More than anything else in the world (and that includes material possessions, social status and whatever else may consume the masses.)

-I will commit to my writing more. At present, I do it on a casual basis, now I'm going to really commit full-time. Pursue it relentlessly.  To within an inch of my life. 

-I will read more. I will devour books. And not be intimidated by the great ones!

-I will try not to let doubt cripple me. Every writer, or creative, I'm sure experiences the dark cloud of self-doubt. Slyvia Plath once said, 'the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt' and it's true. Not other people's doubt, but your own, mine. Because most of the time it is delusional. It blows things out of proportion. It revels in negativity. It blinds and obscures possibility.

-Write regardless. Of what other people think. Of whether I think it's good or bad, of how I feel - just keep on writing. 'I have forced myself to begin writing when I've been utterly exhausted, when I've felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes... and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so.' - Joyce Carol Oates. Because it does. Writing not only can change your mood, but your whole viewpoint.

-Avoid those people and friends who don't believe or bother about my writing ambitions. Yep.  Might sound a bit harsh but I am super-sensitive to others' encouragement and as the case may be - disencouragement. 'Get rid of friends who don’t believe in you. Do they make fun of your writerly ambitions?' - Ray Bradbury  Then he suggests calling them up to “fire them” without delay!  

-I will honour my writer self. I will not go for days without writing anything, cowering in fear at the blank page. I will write on. I will not criticise or lambast my writing. I will believe in it. And I will express that belief in my devotion and commitment to it. I will not let doubt gnaw at my resolve or disencouragement at my conviction. I am a writer and I will write first and foremost.

How about you? What are your New Year writing resolutions? Best of luck with them! 

~ Siobhán