Category Archives: writing

The Reading Paradox

If you want to write, you have to read. That’s standard advice whenever you look at anything about how to be a better writer. At the moment, I’m struggling to read. My eyes aren’t as good as they were and I really need to get a decent reading lamp. That has limited my reading over the last year, and since I was ill at the end of summer, I seem to have lost interest and concentration.

I can still read from a screen, but it isn’t really  the same. On top of that I seem to have mislaid my tablet. I had it a few weeks ago, did some tidying, and now can’t find it. That’s the trouble with making electrical gear smaller – it’s easier to lose. I thought it might turn up under a book or something, but so far it has eluded me.

The other problem is that I have been trying to do so much writing. Or, to put it another way, the writing isn’t flowing like it used to and so it takes more time. This could, of course, be related to me not reading enough, which is where this started. It will be interesting to see if my target of reading 50 books in 2022 helps me out.

However, do I count poetry books as books? And if they do, do journals like The Haibun Journal also count. There are 56 pages of Haibun in the latest issue, and that is longer than some poetry books. I have a few days to think about it before 1st January arrives, and in that time I also have to finish at least two submissions – three if I feel really motivated.

Anyone got any views on the subject?

Reading – not as easy as it used to be

 

Starts with Soup and ends with Poetry

I’m writing this in the last hour of 1st December, and will post it minutes after midnight to make sure i get something written for what is currently “tomorrow”.

Soup first. I was wrong about the quantity. We had it for lunch then used the remains in the vegetable stew and dumplings we had for tea. I had mine with lashings of brown sauce, so it wasn’t as healthy as it could have been.

The green soup turned out brown, which turned to an off-putting greenish khaki once I applied the blender. I’m not sure which I prefer. It has a distinct salty taste, turning to broccoli. I’m not sure why as I only used one stock cube and no other seasoning. Apart from that, it’s OK. The colour, I think, can be traced back to me softening the onions until they turned brown – heat too high and concentration not switched on. It should be good for three days, and it might take me two of those days to work up the enthusiasm to eat it. I have seen that6 colour before and it is not usually associated with pleasant things.

Writing next. I had two poems accepted by Obsessed with Pipework. It’s a mixed blessing. I’m glad to have the poems accepted but it means that I now have nothing out with editors. This is a situation I feel I should remedy but it’s also a weight off my shoulders.

Marmalade Hoverfly

Marmalade Hoverfly

Over the last couple of years I have allowed my writing to reflect the editors I send it to, rather than what I want to write. That’s a good thing to do if you want to make a living as a freelance writer but I’ve left it a bit late for that and I really write for pleasure and relaxation.  I have proved to myself that I can write to an acceptable standard and I have proved that I can bounce back from rejection.

If I now change down a gear, it’s because I want to, not because I’m making excuses. Yes, at the back of my mind I do have an ambition to see my name on the spine of a poetry collection (or maybe more than one) but that is not as important as the pleasure I get from writing.

It’s an ego thing. Is my poetry really that good that it justifies cutting down a tree? Probably not. (I added the “probably” to give me an escape route if I ever succumb and do publish one). I don’t, to be honest, work hard enough to be able to produce a book and admire people who do.

This is very much in the area of “Writer Biographies” and blogs. A lot of them list the author’s educational achievements from forty years ago, their glittering careers and a long list of publications. It’s very dull and it isn’t really a picture of who they are (unless they really are  a pompous dullard).  I, as you know, am not overly burdened by education, achievement or success so  I couldn’t compete with them if I wanted to, but I promise you that if I could compete with them, I wouldn’t. What I have been gives some insight into what I am today, but what I am really concerned with is what I will be tomorrow. Same with my writing. Everything I have published is faulty and my ambition is to publish something tomorrow that is less faulty.

Lake District – a better photographer would have noted which bit . . .

The photos are a pork pie, a hoverfly on a poppy and a load of hills next to a lake. That’s just to remind myself that lots of things are (a) more important than poetry and (b) will still be around long after I have gone.

Slowing Down, Taking Stock

Things are stuttering along. It is, as before, a zig-zag course towards improvement and today, after submitting my first piece for some time, I am once again wondering why I bother writing.

I’m clear on magazine articles. I don’t do many of them, but I do it for the money.

Poetry is different. I’ve been sent one or two free copies of magazines and have had two certificates, but the rewards of writing poetry are mainly spiritual.

At the moment, I’m thinking of stopping submitting so much. I can dress this up as spiritual renewal or an issue of quality over quantity, but in truth, I’m just getting a bit fed up with some of the editors I have to deal with.

Most of them are brilliant (though even the brilliant ones often turn me down – nobody is perfect) with a positive attitude, open minds and helpful comments.

Others are a bit on the academic side and a touch prescriptive. I won’t get too specific, as they all work hard to produce the magazines we rely on, and I don’t want to criticise anyone personally. However, one or two seem to get their preferences mixed up with the “rules” of writing Japanese poetry forms. Even the various societies, with their panels of experts, don’t produce rules, just guides. These also often edit what I consider to be my voice. I write as I speak, and if I want to use an expression from the midlands of the UK, I don’t see why it needs to be ironed out by an American with an academic background in English.

Meanwhile, there is the group of editors who want to be excited by my submissions. I write about my life. It’s not exciting. I’m unlikely to display the qualities required by these editors.

I have limited time at the moment, and have decided to use it more wisely. One submission has gone. The other, with its manufactured false excitement and linguistic fireworks, will stay in the draft section. Eventually, as it matures, it will be used, or dismantled for use in other work.

But it won’t be sent out this week to curry favour with an editor who wants me to be something I’m not.

My Orange Parker Pen

 

 

Etiquette and Editors and Lifestyle Changes

I’m never quite sure about how to treat editors. I treat them politely, but it’s difficult knowing exactly how to do that. I was brought up not to use first names until I knew someone, but the simple use of Mr or Mrs or Miss or any other simple title is now a politically charged minefield with the capacity for causing great offence, so I try to avoid it.

Talking of that, did you know that the Post office had a set of stamps in 2002 that included a rabbit and the words “a new baby”. I have nightmares about using them on a parcel that goes to someone who, for one reason or another, finds it upsetting. It’s a great stamp for someone who just had a healthy baby but there are are a number of circumstances where it could cause offence.

Anyway, back to editors. Apart from the problem of how to address them, there is the problem of how to reply after they have either accepted or rejected something. I’ve seen mixed advice on this, including several opinions that editors have enough to do without extra emails.

I took that advice to start with, as I don’t want to cause extra work, but after a while it began to seem rude.

Several editors, including one who turned me down this week, go out of their way to tell you that they can’t, or won’t, offer help or advice on your work. Others do offer some comment, which is always a happy extra. I’m happy that they don’t comment (as it isn’t their purpose). I’m not so happy with the ones who make a big thing out of not commenting, as it seems slightly aggressive and negative. Which leaves us with the ones that do comment – it seems rude not to thank them. so I now do that. In general, the most helpful comments seem to come from people who are turning my work down.

That just leaves the question of whether writing anything but a submission looks like an attempt to suck up to an editor. I don’t have a clue about that one, and would be interested to hear from any editors or ex-editors out there who have a view.

I’ll stop there as I am planning a drive North and a pub lunch. They were things that I used to do without thinking eighteen months ago. Now, I’ve had to book, which means I need plans and timings, and I have had to read the website. We can now have a party of any size we like, don’t need to wear masks and don’t need to use track and trace. I have looked at the menu on line and see that they do vegan Fishless Fish and Chips with Crispy Quorn fish style fillets.

Why oh why oh why, as I so often find myself asking, do the producers of vegan food have to align it with meat? Why not just advertise battered slabs of tasteless crap served with chips and peas. Vegans are hardy souls, I’m sure they could take it on the chin with a description of what they are about to be given. Mentioning fish three times in a vegan menu description doesn’t make the Quorn sound better, it just makes me think of succulent flakes of fresh fish in crisp golden batter.

Stone on the Floor

 

 

The Results Are In

This is not really a post, just an exercise in procrastination. I started writing it last night and left it for completion but had an idea for another post before returning to it.  I should be writing some haibun at the moment, but that isn’t going well. I started writing but wandered off to search Gray’s Elegy for a title, and ended up reading Lowell’s For the Union Dead, which is a fine poem but isn’t going to move my haibun forward. On the other hand, twenty minutes of staring into space and chewing a pen didn’t move it forward either.

I am now going to complete the post so that I don’t need to think about actually writing poetry.

It is now twelve months since I decided to take poetry seriously and I am in a position to discuss my 12 month rolling average.

Fifty six submissions made. Twenty eight have been successful, twenty one have been rejected and seven are awaiting a decision. Three of those have very little chance but I have a reasonable chance with the others. Even if none of them are accepted I am still on 50%, which everyone tells me is a good proportion.

This year it’s safe to say that I have written more, managed a publishable standard and have moved slightly out of my comfort zone by venturing into ordinary poetry and tanka, whilst trying a few new magazines.

In truth, I’ve done a little ordinary poetry before, though I did aim reasonably high with my choice of magazine, so I’m happy there. The tanka seem quite successful too, so I need  anew challenge. This year I will consolidate what I am doing (no need to get over-confident) then look for new challenges.

I also have to work on becoming more productive, but for the moment I am off to read about writing better tanka. It beats bashing away at haibun that won’t come, but is all about self-improvement so doesn’t count at procrastination.

 

 

 

Ten Minute Burst

I’m going to try a Ten Minute Burst (TMB). I just read a few blogs on freshening up my writing, and this is what I came up with. I’ve noticed that I can do a post in a short time if I get my head down, so this is really nothing new, but the idea of actually using it as a writing tool is new. I could do two of them in an hour and I reckon that would produce more than many of the hours I spent looking at a blank screen and filling it word by hard-won word.

I think I may already have failed, as I forgot to note my start time. Plus I don’t actually have much of a plan. “Write” is not, it seems, good enough.

A big problem with this plan is, of course, that I have to prevent myself wandering off on the net. True to form, I have spent most of the last hour doing bits of research and rambling off. It’s been fun, but it’s not been much use from the point of view of working on my Ten Minute Burst technique. Clearly tomorrow will be a sterner test as I have a number of things to rewrite before I submit them. If all goes well I have three or four submissions to make in the next week.

It’s a funny thing – I meant to read up on more writing techniques, but then I started writing so much that I forgot to do it. Just one of life’s many ironies.

Web, Mesh or Net?

After a week or so of opening on a different page WP has now gone back to opening on a page I can actually use. By the standards of modern doublespeak this is probably the “new and improved” version. Take something away at random, reinstate it, and, if asked, tell people it is an upgrade.

I had an email about a similar thing. I can, it seems, pay for Jetpack to give me a search function. I already pay enough for a product that is worse than it was when I started, and I thought I already had a search function. First we had lying, then we had marketing, now we have people on the internet who try to sell you stuff you used to get for free. It’s a gradual decline to moral bankruptcy that we already see in our politicians and TV stations (you know – the ones that now call it “Plus 1” when it used to be called “repeats”).

It’s 8.36 and I decided I would have  ago at starting my day with some focus. It nearly worked. I have read my emails and a few blogs but mainly fixed my mind on writing this post. Later I will send a couple of submissions off and then do some housework. Yes, there is so much debris on my writing table that I can’t see the lower edge of the computer screen. I don’t need month old blood test results, used padded envelopes or notebooks from last year. The results will be recycled, the envelopes taken to work (for reuse as packaging) and the notebooks can go into a box until an American University puts in an offer for my papers. Or until Julia makes me throw them out.

That’s good, 8.53. The advantage of having no structure and no research is that blogging (by which I mean dumping the contents of my head on a page) can be quite quick.

This is in contrast to submitting poetry, where I am about to spend twenty minutes deciding whether to use “web” or “mesh” or “net” . . .

It’s not easy being a poet.

A Worse Thing than Being Accepted

I didn’t realise there was anything worse than being accepted, until yesterday.

I’ve just had an acceptance and I am very annoyed. In fact at one point I was filled with rage. I sent in three haibun, each one elegantly and interestingly crafted and probably some of the best work I have ever done. I also sent in seven tanka to make the numbers up and see how the tanka are going. I’ve only just started writing them and have had one accepted, so they seem to be hitting the mark. However, they are just lightweight 5 line poems compared to the more serious business of writing haibun. They are also, let’s face it, a lot easier than haiku – two extra lines and fewer rules make for a more relaxed writing experience.

You can see where this is heading already, can’t you?

None of the haibun were required and one of the tanka was accepted. My first reaction was disbelief, then, as read the email again (because I’d clearly missed something first time) extreme annoyance.  I’d just spent the best part of a year on the haibun, editing, cutting, polishing and letting them mature (all the stuff you are supposed to do), and they were tossed to one side in favour of something that took me five minutes.

However, after sleep and breakfast I’m looking on it as just one more manifestation of the mystery of interaction with editors. I will put it down to experience, use it for the basis of a blog post and, eventually use it in  a magazine article about rejection. But most of all I will look at my work critically and try to work out why it took a year to produce a bad haibun. I used to be able to that in twenty minutes. I’m getting slower  . . .

 

When Alliteration Goes Bad . . .

I’m not sure what I’ve done, but I seem to have a new page when I start WP, giving me the chance to savour the whole WP experience. I don’t just a blog to write and people to see, I now have a few extra buttons and the sense that something random just happened. Good old WP, always something new and confusing.

We will be starting Numismatic Society meetings at the end of the summer, unless, of course, we have to cancel them again. It has been tricky organising speakers but the Secretary has done a sterling job (he is also the shop owner, so I have to say that) and some of the talks do look quite interesting. It will be nice to get back towards normal. It’s a big room and we don’t usually have more than 12 members attending, so social distancing won’t be a problem. The Banknote Society is also starting meetings but their Secretary has decided that they should limit it to ten members, and they have to apply for a place. I can see that causing some annoyance.

As I have said before – people who like making rules have loved  lockdown.

And that brings me onto the subject of alliteration. Apparently I have to practice it if I want to be a poet (another gem from that book I was telling you about). Unless you want to be a haiku poet, where alliteration and poetic devices are frowned upon. Well, that’s what they tell you. In fact some haiku editors are quite happy with alliteration. I’ve even seen it mentioned favourably when they have been picking their favourites. There is no consistency.

Anyway, as i left Julia at work I spotted two magpies in the road – clearly parent and child. The words “fat, fluffy fledgling” came to my mind, but they don’t work well, they are not alliterative, they are just  tongue-twister about a flat fluffy fledgling or, more confusingly a fat fluffy fedgling. I really don’t know what’s wrong with it, but I can’t make it fit a poem, there’s just something wrong with the words. Strange, isn’t it?

Magpie

 

Haiku and Haibun

I have had a couple of pieces published online recently.

One was a haiku in Wales Haiku Journal Spring 2021. You can either go down from the top – I’m about 154 down, or work up from the end – I’m about 35th if you start at the bottom. Ther are so many

The other is in Drifting Sands, and is available here.

I like being in online journals because I can share the links and show off.  I also like being in printed journals, because I like seeing myself on a page, and admire the editors who keep the tradition of print journals going. In the next month or two I’m going to sort out my subscriptions. I think the least I can do is subscribe to 12 different journals. It’s not as if I smoke or drink anymore. All I need to do is spread them out a bit so that I don’t land myself with a big bill one month. Christmas is always a bad time because so many subscriptions to different things fall due at the end of the year. Don’t they ever stop and think about this? Why put all the subscriptions at the most expensive time of the year?

Of course, there’s a certain amount of self-interest at work here, and I will be supporting journals that I’m in, or want to be in. I’m a realist, not a saint…

Meanwhile, I have a few pieces from print journals that are probably old enough to be reprinted on the blog. I’ll sort them out in the next week or so.