I know I have been abandoning you all for a bit, I promise this will change. You can expect articles and reflections on writing pretty soon, as entering my final year at uni gives me a lot to write about. In the meantime, however, I`ve started a new project with daily snippets of short non-fiction, to keep me writing and my brain active. Take a look if you want!
There is the pseudo-reality of being a writer, sitting at home, producing your writing, occasional lunches with your editor, reading your work in a theatre in front of hundreds of people. Ahh, and luxxy gatherings with fellow artists and fat advance checks.
And there is the real reality, that writing is not money-making. The image of the `starving artist` stops being glamourous at the very moment you become one. But this is not the point because it`s just another stereotype. The point is that when one starts taking writing seriously, they quickly find themselves facing the fact that writing – most likely – will never be their primary source of income. Or at least not the way they thought it would be.
Many writers, myself included, waste several vaulable work hours in time-comsuming, underpaid industries like hospitality. (side-note: quite a few people told me when I started working as a waitress that I will meet a lot of interesting people I can get inspired by. That`s not true. After about two months, all the customers are the same) But there are more complicated cases. If let`s say, yu`re teaching creative writing, or are a social media content writer or a blogger, does that count as making money with your writing?
I`ve come to the realisation that being a writer – not a part time one – takes a lot of discipline. Every writer that I know do numerous jobs at the same time and their income altogether is built up from all those £400-500 here and there. To be honest this is very overwhelming to face, especially the fact that this is how it`s going to be all my life. The dream of one single steady source of income is down the drain forever.
At the same time it can and it does make me more ambitious and determined. I`m taking the occasion here to share with you my first attempt to make money with my art. For a little while now I`ve been working on a zine. It`s a small notebook-sized zine, completely handmade and handwritten and kind of crossbreed between a diary, a miscellaneous notepad and a `writer`s notebook` (we all know what that is…) featuring some of my very own poetry. But let the pictures speak for themselves.
This is obviously not all, but I don`t want to give it away. The zine is soon ready, and anyone who wants to has the chance to buy a copy. Every single one of them is going to be handmade and handwritten, and I will post it to you wherever you are in the world on the 18th February. The prices are : £4 if I know you in person (so I don`t have to post), £5 within the UK and £6 anywhere outside the UK. You can make you payment through PayPal here and send a screenshot of the payment and your address to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will sent you a reply about receiving with payment and another reminder on 18th.
Thanks for all of you supporting my art, can`t wait for all this to properly start off!
This year on the last week of the term, just like last year, we were handed back our first assignments. And this year, just like last year, we listened to our tutor ranting for about 15 minutes because we don`t read enough contemporary literature. When he asks the class about their main influences, the majority of people mention pretty much the same names such as Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath or Emily Dickinson, barely ever Emily Berry or Jennifer Knox, to much of his disappointment.
My experience is that it`s rather common among creative writing students to avoid contemporary literature, not merely out of ignorance or laziness but more to `avoid being influenced`. What they miss realising though is that one is influenced by everything one reads. If you only read Allen Ginsberg, you will eventually write like him. Similarly, those of my classmates who mentioned 19th century poets as their main influence often tried to write in meter and rhyme.
As for myself, I wrote in my previous post how I recently started seriously writing poetry. Since then I`ve also been reading more contemporary poetry as well. To be honest it wasn`t a conscious choice to help my own development as a poet, instead I was naturally more drawn to it as I appreciated it more once I had a clue about how it works. As I read more, I understood more – when I say `understood` I`m talking about it in a technical sense, I came to understand more how the writing of poetry itself works – and it made me write more and better poetry. Last year I was slightly sceptical about my tutor`s insistence on contemporaries, but I came to realise the importance of it by now. We are not advised to read them to `learn to write like them`, but to learn about our own writing through them.
It is quite obvious that a lot of my inspiration comes from reading but it`s not the sole source. I also like to listen to other people talking, be friends or strangers. William Burroughs once wrote about Jack Kerouac that he was at all the parties, but always sitting in the corner with his notebook. That is me exactly, minus the notebook.[*] Several of my short stories` plots are based on things my friends told me or were inspired by things they said. I`m that creep – and all my writer friends as well – who listen to strangers conversations on public transport. However I made more use of these overheard sentences when I was mainly writing prose, but it still often kickstarts or fuels the writing process.
I like listening to music while writing, mostly something meditative, like Lorde or Lana del Rey. Most recently though I realised it helps to focus if I listen to songs with very clear rhythm – very much like a gym playlist – and a little bit annoying sound (I wrote about writing and noise earlier here). In these cases I go for Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus or something similar. The rhythm doesn`t let my attention to wander off and the annoying quality of these songs provoke surprisingly many fresh thoughts. There is one common trait in these songs, the lyrics, even though it might seem like a bit of a leap for first. All music on my playlists are songs with poetic, dark or outright sarcastic lyrics. And badass lyrics are almost poetry, which leads back to what I was writing about in the beginning.
If there is a conclusion, it is that for me, words are inspired by other words, may they be written, spoken or sung. Unfortunately I`m really not a visual person, this is the reason why I`ve not mentioned any form of visual art, landscape, etc. I`d be happy to hear about any of you who gets inspired by any of these.
[*] Having mentioned this, I`m soon planning a post about the effect of writing on social life.
I envy those who have definite answers for the question above. Funny enough I`ve been one of those until recently.
When I started seriously think about writing as `writing` – at the age of 16, rather late – I started with novels. I had elaborate plans for several, I have written a few chapters for some as well and I would constantly complicate the plots further. I haven`t finished any though and the only thing I achieved, apart from getting a bit in practice with words (I`ve always written predominantly in English, which is my second language) and keeping consistency in a plot was getting in to university with one of them.
Then, at the beginning of my course my writing practice was challenged. On our seminars we often got short exercises with 5-10 minutes time limits, which I found incredibly hard with my habit of endless, meticulous plotting – and compulsive, angsty perfectionism, probably the only actual impact of my Eastern European education. The result was obviously rather sad, my grades in creative writing were quite good (steady 2.1s), but I barely participated in the seminars.
I would go back for a moment to what I said about my education. Moving to England I found people already have done a lot of coursework by the time they get to university. I haven`t done any. Where I come from we only do timed essays and I soon found out it has influenced my writing process. When I had to do assignments for creative writing, or any other modules, I was unable to schedule my work, I would just sit down and write them in one go (essays as well – hello, sleepless nights in the library!). This eventually led me to try and write poems sometimes, as they take less time to write (talking about first drafts, since then I realised editing poetry is actually harder and more time-consuming).
My first poems were painfully bad. Painfully, that`s definitely the right word, as they were dealing with very personal sadness in lengthy, messy lines taking up several pages, but lacking images and original ideas. I didn`t feel at the time that it was really my thing, but I was in the delusion that a real good writer can do both. I switched back to prose, but this time in the form of short stories.
Over the summer I wasn`t really working on anything but realised my writing tends to be rather superfluous and emotional, not in a good way. I used writing to express my feelings instead of wanting to provoke feeling from the `reader`. (As my tutor put it recently, writing is not an `expressive`, but an `interrogative` act) Especially in my poetry. I decided to take writing seriously, think about it as work. I decided to be as condensed as I can, sharp writing, no excess words. In my prose I set myself the task of writing short stories no longer than one typed A4 page (that is roughly 600 words, about the length of this post). I also went back to writing poems. I stopped naming emotions for good and attempted to be as visual as I could (`show, don`t tell`, the favourite catchphrase of all creative writing students). The aim here as well was to be as short as possible. I managed to write poems approximately 10-14 lines, or 4-5 sentences if they were prose poems. And surprisingly they turned out to be good.
What was even more surprising is the realisation that writing these poems felt more right than any prose ever before. I was far more likely to actually write down my ideas than with prose, where I routinely lost almost all of them. The question arises, may I in fact be a poet, something I`ve never considered before? Or is it just a phase of extremely shortened attention span? My second term is about to start and we had to specialise in either prose or poetry. I – after several days of consideration – chose poetry, hoping this wasn`t the shittiest decision I`ve ever made concerning my education. At least I have to stay focused and a bit of self-discipline always comes in handy anyway.
I find it difficult to write in silence on my own. I really easily get distracted and start doing something else, or not even get to the point when I would actually write something. Most of my writing was written in the university cafe, the library or on the tube. The noisier and busier the place is the easier the work goes (obviously to certain limits; I wouldn`t write during a rush-hour commute).
The obvious answer would be that the people around me inspire me, but this is totally not the case. I`m most of the time unaware of these circumstances during the very process of writing. Weirdly enough, the noise itself is what helps me concentrate.
I came up with a few explanations for this strange habit. First of all I grew up in Eastern Europe where the views on creative arts are slightly, well, old-fashioned. They are mostly regarded as a weird past-time, a hobby, definitely not something you wanted to do as a living or get a degree for, so there is always a certain level of guilt for taking it seriously. Apparently, one can only write to avoid boredom (while travelling, for example).
Also, connecting to the previous reason, when I`m in these situations, I literally have nothing else to do, but write. There are various reasons keeping me back from writing and one of the most important is self-consciousness, the fear that writing (or what I write) is stupid, pointless, and there are plenty of great excuses why not to do it. However when you end up on a train for two hours with your laptop and no internet, these excuses are quicker to evaporate. Having to concentrate on blocking out the noise also helps on concentrating on other things as well.
But the last and most important is of course laziness. Writing is work, hard work, at least that part when one actually sits down to put words on paper/screen. Lot of my writing that happened at university is work to be submitted by a deadline, which is easier to delay at home in one`s room than in the library, where everyone else is working.
This last habit is what I`m struggling to break. I have a lot fewer of these undisturbed noisy times than empty hours that could be perfect for writing, and I would probably write more if I was generally more focused and less keen to go on Facebook instead. If you scroll back in this blog`s history you will see exactly what I mean by that. I started it to make myself write regularly, but I just started again after a mere 8 months break after my first post.
I tried keeping a diary, but I found it too mundane, most of my days didn`t have too many things to be written down. Sometimes I keep a notebook with me to put down ideas, but when I do have one, I find it too half-baked, and I`m worried putting it on paper would ruin it forever. I was advised to write in the middle of the night by my tutor (I`m doing it at the moment) which seems to work sometimes. Other times I just choose to do something taking much less effort.
It seems all I can do it keep trying until I find what works for me. Just like everything this takes time, effort and a great deal of self-disappointment.
(Any advice on getting more disciplined is much appreciated.)
I`m trying to make up some excuses, just out of embarrassment. Not that anybody read me, I only had one post here after Christmas because I was bored at home in the winter break. I was tempted to do this because feels like I`m actually working on something that is fulfilling, pushing the limits of creativity and develop. But laziness took over, just like every time I started something new in my life.
I consider myself a person who writes, however the longest piece I ever finished is a short story of about three pages (not just one though, but definitely under ten). Around Christmas (same time when I started this *blog*) I bought a sports bra with the intention of starting running as soon as I get back to London. Can you guess what happened? (clue: the price tag is still on it…) This happened several other times when I planned to pick up a new hobby. It`s hard to break the habit, that`s it, really.
But enough of self-pity.
As it is quite apparent I like to start new things, so that`s exactly what I`m going to do now. This time I do in fact have a lot of inspiration as what I`m going to write about surrounded me in every moments of my past year (my past 356 days to be precise). London.
There is really a lot to write about London. Fascinated posts about the beauties of a multicultural metropolis, the thriving art scene, the amazing revelation that there is a London outside Leicester Square and Oxford Street and it`s fucking cool, or the opposite, lengthy bitching about tourists and public transport (the number of times I`ve seen someone being sick on the tube…) but that is not what I want. This would all be only scratching the surface because none of these tell how it really feels to live in London. The mundane and non-glamourous usually remains hidden. Until now. (This sounds a bit too grand for what it is, but at least shows the amount of enthusiasm I`m feeling right now)
Fingers crossed this is going to last.
On the creative writing workshop I learnt that a good beginning can’t be something very sudden and dramatic, like ‘WHOOSH! A car rushed down the street, almost running over Peter’ because it
a) doesn’t set the scene
b) is too much forced tension that doesn’t work very well at the beginning.
The other type of bad beginning is the overly descriptive one that, unlike the other, attempts to ‘set the scene’ or create an atmosphere as if I started like ‘I’m a nineteen year old student studying creative writing. I recently moved to London. Since I was a kid I dreamt about becoming a writer…’ and so on.
Beginnings are hard. How can we find the balance between the tension and the details? When I have decided to start this blog and actually sat down to write this – The First – post I faced the same dilemma. Should I try to seem interesting? Should I write about myself?
Having finished these few paragraphs I think I cheated a little bit. Beginning with writing about beginnings is not a true beginning. Rather an in medias res sort of thing. Getting away easily.
I don’t intend to write too much about these technical aspects anymore, though. This is more of a journal-like blog about inspirations, joys and issues of writing. I’m here to put my thoughts in a decent form. And to see yours.