On being an amateur

Amateur comes from the Latin amator ‘lover’, from amare ‘to love’ – one who does something for love. The modern definition is less wonderful, describing an amateur as a person who is incompetent or inept at a particular activity. Curious how it is no longer enough to do something just because you love to do it. The response I hear most when I tell people I write is “ooh are you going to be the next JK Rowling” –I scuttle away from the subject, and feel ashamed that no, I haven’t made a great deal of money from having work published, nor do I expect to. Those who know me know that making pots of cash has never been a driver for anything I do – I’m not an aspirational type of person and have no wish to be anything other than happy. I make a little money from writing, but that is lowly stuff like online copy for cabinet makers or theme parks. I love doing it and do it well but it isn’t flashy or shiny, and it is simply a means of paying for the weekly shop. I am a tiny bit thrilled to be writing for a living though, however meagre.

Why am I telling you this? I feel like I lost my way a little last year. I focused on publication, to validate, and confirm that my work is ok – and that is still true. Nonetheless, the literary world feels still feels like one I can’t be part of, as though I’m knocking the door, but there’s a secret knock that I’ll never quite know.  I’m not sure I’ll ever want to perform my work or read it at literary festivals – the thought terrifies me, getting anywhere is a nightmare because of M.E. and, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel like me. Is this sour grapes? I don’t think so. I’m a behind the scenes sort of person. I like the limelight, but from a safe distance, and in a safe environment. Online communication works for me, because I can choose the time, the format – I’m in control, and I don’t have to worry about the impact of my health.

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This feeling of being a perpetual outsider has got me down. It has also made me ask myself why I write. It’s not just for myself, it’s because I want people to read what I’ve written, and to enjoy it. I wrote a tiny script for an online course Staying in and Writing it out and got lovely feedback. I made people smile and giggle and that felt great. I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that I’m going to stop taking all so very seriously. I don’t mean the work; I mean the whole circus of creating a career out of something I love. I’m not a corporate soul, I really don’t like working with others (apologies to all the folk who suffered this over the years) and I just don’t seem to fit. In short, I have decided to continue to be an amateur, to continue to be a person who does something for the love of it, and to embrace the freedom and joy that that brings. The thrill of publication will always be a wonderful, but I don’t want it to be my end goal. I want to write stuff I love.

https://theoatmeal.com/

On that note, I’ve decided I’m going to put more of my work on this blog you can read poems, short stories, including a new one called Pica and earlier work too as well as the pieces I’ve had published – it means I can’t submit so much, but the most frustrating thing is having work tied up in the system and not being able to share it. I love writing, I love people enjoying what I’ve written and we have the wonders of the internet, so why not? I’m including a bit about process too and as ever I love to get your feedback and comments. I’ll try to add a new piece at least every week.

Hope all is well, hope you’re safe and I hope my odd little stories and peculiar poems bring you a smile in these oddest of times.

Kathryn xx

Stepping out

One of my prompts for “Approaching your writing with a beginner’s mind” was to imagine an alien describing earth. Perfect timing – I’ve had two outings this week, (I only left the house once in the whole of January) and I always feel like a detached observer, especially when it’s been so long since I’ve been out of my own four walls.  It’s quite daunting, and always feels odd, my voice feels too loud, I say the wrong things and struggle to follow conversations. I want to explain to people, but don’t want to worry them, or seem more weird. I look fine, you see. Make up on, all my clothes in the right place, no obvious physical signs of illness. I think I just appear a little brusque. Worries aside, this feeling of detachment was helpful for getting into the idea of seeing the world through alien eyes, and made for some interesting scribbles.

Intrepid excursions aside, I’m getting a lot from my mini course. It’s all online, and a very small group. The course is designed to get us experimenting, and enjoying writing again. I realised I got so caught up in the maze of submissions and competitions, that I had almost stopped writing anything new, and certainly stopped having fun with it. I’m enjoying the prompts, and enjoying the group – it’s not as serious as the Poetry School courses I’ve done in the past, and I think that’s helping me. These long periods of being bed/house bound have a negative impact on my confidence, and the gentle, collaborative nature of this course is softly rebuilding it.

You can find out more about Wendy Pratt’s work here https://wendyprattpoetry.com/

Thank you all for your kind comments and responses, things do feel pretty isolated at times,and the messages and cards make a huge difference. You’re ace !

Dedication

I hated Record Breakers. It was incredibly dull (except for the domino challenges), and all that wholesome patience grated on me. It still does, even more so now I know it’s true.

Getting work published takes a long time. The first step is research. Which journal is most likely to like my work? Where’s open for submissions? Who’s judging competition x and have I read enough of their work to know their style and interests? Next, you submit. Follow the guidelines about word count, number of lines, preferred font. Write a good cover letter (not too long, but enough to show you’ve read the journal). Then you wait. And wait. And wait a bit more. I’ve had responses in a week. I’ve waited over six months. Some places accept simultaneous submissions, many don’t – so my work sits and waits too. It’s a frustrating process, but since many indy presses are run by tiny teams or volunteers, it’s understandable. The thrill of having something accepted is wonderful. Even a kind rejection (where they ask to see more work soon) is ok. The waiting is tough, but the best way to get round that is to throw myself into something new.

Cat is waiting to hear about his poem “Why do the mice all run away?”
Attingham park looking moody

I’m looking forward to Autumn now – although I miss the light terribly- it’s a time for squirrelling myself away and writing. Obviously Secret Severn work takes priority, and my goal is to get drafts done by Christmas. I’ll put them away for a while, then revisit and revise in the spring. I’ve got an urge to write stories again too, so I’m hoping to spend time with writing prompts and get some of these floating ideas down on paper. It’s a time of watching the garden fade and prepare itself for next year, reading all the things I’ve not got round to reading, and maybe watching a bit of Record Breakers*.

Thanks for doing such a great job last week, after my slightly awkward plea for interaction with my social media pages. If you’ve chance to do the same again that’s ace – plus I really love talking to you !

Click to read my published poetry or published flash fiction. You can read old drafts and work in progress by following the links on the menu.

*I’m probably not going to watch Record Breakers.

It’s kind of like a drug…..

……this writing lark. The more I do the more I want to do and the more my brain pesters me with ideas and random sparks of  sentences. I’m obsessive by nature, and easily become fixated on things. Sometimes my brain actually hurts (you’re allowed to think of the Gumbies) and that is when I have to stop, and that is when it gets really frustrating. I suppose it’s like a runner pulling a muscle. 

What has caused this fizz of enthusiasm ? I think it’s partly time. I’ve been hibernating, not gardening, not going out and not seeing many people at all.  I’ve had the luxury of waking up with nothing to do but write. Admittedly, a good chunk of that writing is about sofas and storage lockers, but it’s still writing. And it still makes me happy. 

I’m having a good creative spell too though. The Short Short Fiction course from Poetry School  has produced a tangible improvement in my flash fiction, which has had the happy effect of inspiring me to sort and collate my poetry from the year. I’ve realised a key failing for my Primers application was that there was no real theme. It’s not that I have to create a collection of poems based on my love for toasters or the like, but there does have to be a thread of commonality. Obviously I didn’t have a clue about this at the time, I just put together six poems I didn’t hate. This is where the hard work I talked about in my last post comes in. Research, reading, and really understanding what I’m submitting is crucial. The time I spent today has illuminated my themes, however subtle, and moved me towards creating a considered collection, rather than a random assortment.

Submissions

Submissions are happening. I have to wait until January at the earliest to get feedback. It’s a pest, but it’s how it is. I read a tweet from a fellow poet today that he has had 90 rejections and 17 acceptances this year. That’s a sobering percentage. The reality is that my focus and joy has to come from creating pieces that I love. If others love them too, then that is a bonus. 

Thanks as ever for reading, please do comment, and if you can take a second to like and share on one of the social media platforms, it really helps support me. 

Winter is icumin in

Winter is properly here. No snow in the Dale as yet but it’s forecast and I’m excited. Odd really, but it feels different to be trapped by snow rather than trapped by being poorly. Perhaps it is because it makes me think of being small; playing out till I got too cold, then pikelets by the gas fire,whilst being warned of mysterious things called chilblains . Whether I will still feel like this when I am cold and slip-sliding around is a different story but,for the moment, I shall remain excited.

Winter is also wonderful for writing. There is nothing else to be done, no gardening, no lazy barbecues with friends, no trips to the seaside, no temptation to try to write outside and end up distracted by pretty much everything. I have had two solid days alone and it has been wonderful, allowing me to focus on finishing my third assignment and to begin my next module. This module is all about the history of the short story, and whilst interesting , it is somewhat condensed. Nineteenth century fiction is given a grand total of two pages. Poor old Chekhov.

I find I am comfortable with this kind of study. A lot of it is familiar territory and because of this I am able to use the course materials to understand my own writing and how to improve it. I feel quite calm, whereas whilst studying the previous section on Flash Fiction I felt like an excitable puppy. My confidence is growing, and I am finding I seek to criticise my work in order to improve it, rather than to convince myself I’m worthy of even trying. This is a massive step forward.

I haven’t entered a great many competitions lately. For one thing it is very expensive, and for another I am focused on trying to get the most from this course. As well as the technical knowledge, I get high quality criticism from my tutors, who are all published writers,so hopefully by the end of this course I should be in a better place to win, or at least get shortlisted. Or long-listed. Or the ‘we really like it but it won’t sell’ listed. You get the gist.

I am waiting for feedback on my most recent assignment . I submitted three pieces of Flash Fiction, and I adored writing them. This is an area I am new to, as both reader and writer but, despite initial misgivings, I find that I love to work in this way. It’s a tight, disciplined way of writing that forces the writer and reader to focus on the details and undercurrents to gain understanding. The most memorable pieces of flash I have read stay with me in the manner of a good poem. I am happy to have found it. One of the reasons I love this format is because the end product is easier to navigate. Proof reading two thousand plus words when I have brain fog is incredibly hard and a source of constant frustration. I generally manage about two hundred words before I realise they are starting to swim and merge and that I can barely remember what a comma looks like, never mind how to use it. A short, sharp piece of flash is possible to proof in two sittings, which means I feel a little more in control of the process and that I am working with the story as a whole.

It’s a fabulous feeling to finally be doing what I’ve always wanted to do.

Thanks for reading. As ever I love to have your support. Having people to write for, however few, is helping my confidence and skills grow day by day. If you have read this, would you help me out by liking my Facebook post, or liking/commenting on here ? I am trying to see how many people my blog actually reaches.

Finally, a picture of a snowman.

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Missed me ?

 

Ooh, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been doing birthday celebrations, which have been marvellous, but leave few spoons* for creativity, productivy, or any sort of ivity you care to consider.

Things have been happening in the background though. I’ve had feedback for my second piece for writing short fiction. It was a tricky one for me to write, simply because it was in danger of becoming autobiographical and taking the whole “writing as therapy” thing too far. I trimmed and trawled and wrestled it into a piece that I felt was useful for others to read. Two lines stood opt for me from my feedback. The first was. ‘Your narrator tells this story without mawkishness or self-pity. ‘I was so pleased about this. Mawkishness is the exact thing I strove to avoid in this story, I felt I owed it to the character to create a realistic account, not just a cry for sympathy.  The second sliver of joy was in this comment ‘Your character Tina stays with me.’ As my tutor accurately said, this is the exact response I want in a reader.

There are lots of areas for improvement. The narrative voice slips occasionally to sounding too sophisticated for a child, and my punctuation is still rather excitable. I’m so frustrated with the part of me that rushes the proof reading. I find it difficult, but  more than that there is an element of me that just wants to get the thing sent and get the feedback. By the time I submit a piece I’ve been working on it for a while, and am keen to move on to the next bit. But, and it’s a big but (I cannot lie), proof reading is an incredibly important part. If a competition judge or submissions editor has two pieces of equal creative merit, how will they choose? On technical skill and precision of language. Therefore, I’ve buried myself in Strunk and White and found the most flamboyant notebook I own to turn into a grammar guru. I hate it. But I need to do it.

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Punctuation is more fun with Flamingos.

 

In other news, I’m loving my current studies, all about Flash Fiction and I’ve had some cool information from Dynamo, but I think that is for another post.  Apologies to all my lovely Beta readers, I have been woefully slack in sending you work. It will be on its way soon, followed by a flurry of flash fiction for feedback. I do love to alliterate.

 

Thanks for reading, send me your grammar tips and please sign up, follow like and share on Facebook. Your support, interaction and feedback is invaluable.

*find out about spoons and being a spoonie here. I hate labels and little gangs,  but this is a handy way to explain an unexplainable life.

The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino

 

Possibilites

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This week I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to a real life poet. Following my Dynamo mentoring session with Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press, I have a collection of goals to help me develop. One of these is to meet more writers. It’s not an easy thing, partly because having a fluctuating health condition means attending a group regularly is tricky and partly because my confidence fluctuates along with my health. The fear of brain fog creeping up and stealing my words is a strong one. It’s just about okay with people who know me, but the thought of it happening in the company of those who don’t is enough to keep me indoors. Jane is a wise woman, and has put me in touch with just one very talented poet Jean Atkin, who also happens to be based in Shropshire. I was nervous writing the initial email, but had such a kind reply I realise that being brave is the way forward. As well as being a published poet (she’s even been on Radio 4), Jean runs many community activities, which I hope I can be involved with. In my wildest dreams I hope I may develop my skills and improve my health enough to do something similar. There are many art and craft workshops in my community and I’d love to do something similar with words. This introduction has given me one of those oh so important boosts in confidence. As always happens when my confidence pricks up, my writing does too. My current module is around flash fiction and prose poetry at the moment, which I find very exciting. I have a raft of competitions to enter before Christmas, as well as continuing with my study and assignments, which I hope will be fulfilled by my work for this part of the course. Exciting times !

Thank you for reading. You can find out more about Jean’s work here https://jeanatkin.com