Posted in Blog, Inspiration, Writing Stuff

Why I Write & Other Literary Observations

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Why do you write? Is a common thing writers are asked.

I write for love, not money or fame although these would be delightful of course. If someone decides to write because they want to be famous or earn a ton load of money they will likely end up poor and nobody will know who they are.

Writing involves commitment especially when you’re struggling to get your first novel published. You’re in it for the long haul. You need to love what you’re doing. Readers can sniff out a writer who doesn’t love their job at 50 paces. You’ll have an empty, unfulfilled life if whatever project you’re working on doesn’t consume you.

I finished my second novel, a crime novel set in Fife, Scotland called The Ballad of Sarah Rose in October 2015. The novel had been living and breathing inside my head for many years. I wrote the first draft when I was only 15. The novel had gone through many versions and different forms before I finally typed THE END after completing the first draft.

The idea I had when I was just a teenager that would eventually become The Ballad of Sarah Rose (book one of a trilogy) was sometimes more alive to me that the world I could smell and touch every day. I knew the characters so well they were like family. The novel is set in a fictional village called Steven’s Gate which is based on an actual fishing village called Anstruther. I spent many years in Anstruther as a child and used all of my memories in the book. I would see my characters and hear their voices when I visited the place. I felt quite sad when I typed THE END and knew I was done with Steven’s Gate and the Rose family for a while.

So why do I write then? 

There’s no simple answer. I’ve made up stories since I was a kid. I’m a book lover and have been a book blogger for four years. Maybe that has something to do with it.

I love writing. I love seeing characters, places and events come to life as I type. I love it when something that started off as a vague notion in my head becomes a twenty page story or a 98,000 word novel. There’s no better rush in the world. As Stephen King once said, it’s like being paid to steal. When you get paid that is.

I didn’t go to University when I finished school. I don’t have a degree or any letters after my name. I regret this sometimes. People sometimes give someone with a degree more respect whether justified or not. Now my circumstances are such that it’s not possible for me to work part time and go to University.

You don’t need a degree to be a writer, not the creative sort anyway. Many institutions offer creative writing degrees our courses. The courses are fun and I’ve done a few over the years but they are not a pre-requisite to be a writer. You just need to write. Every day if possible.

I’m a firm believer that writing, good writing cannot be taught. It’s a skill that someone either has or doesn’t have. All the writing courses and degrees in the world can’t turn someone with no ideas or writing ability into the next Stephen King. As the saying goes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear or something like that. Writing degrees and courses can turn a competent writer into a good one because they teach you how to discipline yourself, how to edit, how to structure your stories and poems and how to use grammar.

2015 was not the best year- writing wise – for me.

I finished my first novel, The Other Side of Me in October 2014. I sent it off to publishers and agents and awaited that life-changing email or phone call. It didn’t come. I worked on my second novel, The Ballad of Sarah Rose and waited a bit more. I finished The Ballad of Sarah Rose in October 2015 and started the same cycle.

Each rejection I got felt like another knife stabbing into my heart. The worst of it was most of the time I was given a bog standard thanks but no thanks rejection. I might have felt better if I’d been given even a slither of feedback this doesn’t workor that doesn’t work or you might want to consider doing xyz. I appreciate editors and agents are busy people but the lack of personal feedback does my head in at times.

Around November 2015 when The Ballad of Sarah Rose had been rejected a few times I’d had enough. I took a sabbatical until January 2016 and didn’t write a thing.

Prior to this when The Ballad of Sarah Rose was still doing the rounds I tried to start my third novel, another crime novel called Down, Into the Darkness. I just couldn’t get it started. The book which had been very much alive in my head when I was finishing off The Ballad of Sarah Rose had withered and died. A year of rejections for my other two novels had all but destroyed my confidence. I remember crying my eyes out each time I got a thanks but no thanks email.

I started to seriously question whether I wanted to be a writer or not and took my sabbatical to decide this. I wondered if I absolutely had to write or if I’d be better off putting it down to a dumb idea I had once. The two months I didn’t write were hard, very hard. As hard and upsetting as every rejection was, turning my writer’s head off was worse. I couldn’t wait to start writing again in January 2016.

If nothing else my sabbatical proved I write because I had to, because writing was in my heart and head.

I write because I don’t know what else to be and I need to breathe.

My writing priorities for 2016-2017 will be:

  •       Keep sending off The Other Side of Me and The Ballad of Sarah Rose
  •       Finish the stories for my sequence about the seven deadly sins, The Sinner’s Song
  •       Write the first draft of Down, Into The Darkness
  •       Write more, lots more
  •       Take part in NaPoWriMo in 2016 (and 2017 if I want to go through a month of torture again)
  •       Take part in Story A Day in 2016 (and 2017 if taking part in 2016 doesn’t kill me)
Posted in Blog, First Drafts, Inspiration, Magazines & Ezines, Poetry, Writing Stuff

Writing Poetry In The Sestina Form

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I’ve been a subscriber to MsLexia, a magazine for women who write for years.

The magazine is currently accepting poems in the sestina form.

The sestina is quite a complex form to use. The sestina consists of six stanzas with six lines each and a final seventh stanza with three lines. The end word in each line is repeated throughout the poem in a set order. The final three line stanza repeats all six words.

The poem is unrhymed and the repetition of the six words can create a haunting tone.

The lines are repeated in the following order:

  1. ABCDEF
    2. FAEBDC
    3. CFDABE
    4. ECBFAD
    5. DEACFB
    6. BDFECA
    7. (envoi) ECA or ACE

So for example, my first stanza could be:

Every day I look for you on the beach where we once loved = A
I think of you as I walk barefoot across the sand. I feel soft heat = B
between my toes and remember how the moon used to shine on us = C
I can almost feel you beside me, touching me and forcing me forward = D
on legs that aren’t quite steady. Your voice echoes with the cry of the gulls = E
I feel your arms around me as I stand at the shore, waves lapping my aching feet = F

The words in bold are the words that are repeated. Taking the above example the end words of the second stanza would be FAEBDC:

1. Feet
2. Loved
3. Gulls
4. Heat
5. Forward
6. Us

It took ages for me to write a poem in this form. I couldn’t just write freely and see what came out because I had to follow such a set structure.

My poem is called A Haunted Life. The poem is about a woman who is struggling to hold onto her sanity following the death of her lover.

I found that A Haunted Life was more complex in structure and imagery than my usual poems. I don’t know whether this is because the set structure of the form naturally lends itself to more complex writing.

I’ve written the 1st draft and will edit the poem next week.

Posted in Blog, Fiction, Inspiration, Short Story, Writing Stuff

How Ideas Develop

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I’m currently working on a series of short stories called The Sinner’s Song. I’ve been putting this together on and off for over a year.

I’m about half way through and should be finished the 1st draft of the stories by early summer. Then I’ll be tearing my hair out for a month or so editing the stories.

The premise is simple – a bunch of stories inspired by the seven deadly sins.

The project started off as seven stories, one for each sin but has grown arms and legs. I then thought about writing a couple of fragments for each sin. I’m now writing ten stories for each sin, making a total of 70. The stories are coming out at between 500-1000 words.

When I decided I wanted to write ten stories for each sin I basically spent two or three hours brainstorming story ideas. I tried to think as widely as possible for each sin. For example, with lust I didn’t want ten stories about people having affairs.

I googled, I read up on the sins and tried to think outside the box. Some of the stories are more traditional and others are very untraditional. It’s been a challenge so far as you’d expect from deciding to write 70 stories. It’s been fun though and I definitely want to try something similar in future.

At the moment future projects may involve the nine circles of hell, Dante’s Inferno particularly the wood of the suicides, the Ten Commandments, the four last things and the stations of the cross.  I have nothing concrete for these, they’re just topics that interest me.

I’m working on my ten Sloth stories at the moment. I’ve written four stories so I have quite a lot of work to do.

I was initially planning to have the stories collected in one collection. However, I feel that a collection of 70 stories is a bit too long. I’ll publish each sin in one volume. The title will be something along the lines of The Sinner’s Song Volume 1: Lust.

I’ve started to think what I’d like the covers to look like. I imagine a black background dotted with imagines associated with the sin in a colour related to the sin. For example, for lust there might be red imagines of the word lust, pouting lips etc. with the title in bright red. I’ve got some software to help me design covers so I’m going to have a crack this weekend at designing at least one cover for The Sinner’s Song.

Posted in Blog, Competitions, Creative Non-Fiction, Inspiration, Poetry, Submissions, Writing Stuff

A Smart Writer Uses Their Own Experiences

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I wrote a new poem called The Last Summer for the Writing Magazine Holiday Poetry competition.

The poem is narrated by a woman reflecting on the last summer of her childhood. The summer ends on a dark note when her father has her dog put down for biting someone. The poem tackles childhood, growing up and loss of innocence.

The poem is autobiographical. When I was a kid my parents took me to a fishing village in Fife called Anstruther every summer. We stayed in an old army barrack that had been converted to a basic holiday cottage. It was cheap but it was all we could afford. I loved those summers so much. Even now, we regularly return to the village at least once a year. It shocks me how different it is. When I was a kid I thought the village was magical and would never change.

A lot of my writing, especially my poetry is inspired by my own experiences. I don’t write non-fiction so the trick is turning your own experiences into fiction and making it interesting for someone else.

My first, unpublished novel, The Other Side Of Me has a large section which deals with two teenage girls who fall in love. This is based on my relationship with a girl who was my best friend when I was 13. In real life we never did much more than kiss until circumstances forced us apart. In the book the girls are lovers and a lot more happens. The book would be boring if the girls just kissed and nothing else happened. The trick is to elaborate the truth to make it a great story.

There is a well known phrase among writers that you should write what you know. This is often misinterpreted as writing only about your own experiences and own knowledge. That’s bullshit for a start. If writers only wrote about their own lives and own general knowledge the world would be full of boring books. George R R Martin’s amazing series A Song of Ice and Fire wouldn’t exist and neither would the hugely successful TV series Game of Thrones. Nobody would have heard of Harry Potter. Imagine being part of such a dull, fucked up world?

I always interpret write what you know as writing what you can learn such as researching Victorian London if you want to write a historical novel set in the era. I also think of it as writing within the limits of your own imagination.

A smart writer should us their own experiences as source material. We’ve all come across interesting people or people who have hurt us in some way. There’s nothing sweeter than getting your revenge through writing. Our experiences are unique and can spark off really good ideas.

Posted in Blog, Competitions, First Drafts, Inspiration, Magazines & Ezines, Poetry, Writing Stuff

To Use Poetry Forms Or Not To Use Poetry Forms That Is The Question

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I seem to be obsessed with entering every competition still open with Writing Magazine. Maybe I think if I stalk them enough they’ll feel sorry for me and give me some money or a nice trophy stalker of the year.

They have a competition just now, closing date 14th March for poems that use the triolet form.

This got me thinking about poetry forms in general and how I don’t really use them.

A poetry form is basically a traditional style or structure for a poem that usually calls for a combination of rhyming couplets, set syllables count, specific meter or a set line length.

Some of the best-known examples are the ballad stanza, the chaucerian roundel, the choka, the haiku, a limerick or the rondeau.

I rarely write poetry in a set form. I tender to favour free verse poetry. I just find it better to work this way. I find using set forms very restrictive, forcing the thoughts and ideas running around inside my head into an unfamiliar shape.

Just like novelists and story writers, poets (and readers of poetry) tend to have a style preference. Some poets may love to write sonnets or haiku and some people prefer to read them. Poets like me would never attempt at sonnet and go cold when one poops up in a collection they’re reading. People like different things.

I like haiku. This form is really simple. I really like reading haiku. I read Glasgow Zen by Alan Spence recently and it blew me away. I have two thick volumes of traditional and modern haiku in my private collection. It can be a challenge to write a poem of three lines with a set syllable count per line. I’ve written a few haiku in the past and they take ages.

I’m not a fan of writing limericks. I like to read them now and again. They can be a lot of fun. I find them impossible to write. I don’t do fun or humour in my poetry. I just find writing limericks really hard and sort of like trying to get blood out of a stone. I write poetry for pleasure not because I want brain blood to drip out of my ears and out of my nose.

I’m also not a huge fan of rhyming poetry. There are some people who think proper poetry is a poem that uses a set rhyme scheme and all other poems are inferior. The best poems with a set rhyme scheme happen when the rhyme scheme is barely noticeable, the reader’s ear doesn’t listen for the repetition. Only on closer reading or analysis do you become aware that the poem rhymes. The worst rhyming poems are when the most obvious rhyme is chosen and the reader can hear the rhyme, the tune in their head. The music of the rhyme blots out the words and point of the whole poem.

When I first started to write poetry, I wrote screeds and screeds of rhyming poetry. I thought poems had to rhyme. The poems were awful, just awful, like trying to pass an iced dog turd off as a chocolate éclair. I don’t have many of those poems left. Most of them were destroyed in a controlled environment. Other were re-written until barely an echo of the original version remained.

There are loads of websites with examples of well-known forms of poetry and some of them have pretty good notes talking you through how to write in each form. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/glossary-terms?category=forms-and-types,https://www.youngwriters.co.uk/glossary-poetry-types, http://www.poemofquotes.com/articles/poetry_forms.php are worth a look.

I’ve only really used poetry forms in the past as a source of inspiration when I’ve got an idea for a poem in my head but don’t know where to go with it. It can be a good exercise to pick a form at random and force your mind to get into the rhythm and pattern. This can spark ideas.

Given my slight aversion to set poetry forms why did I decide to write a poem for a triolet competition?

A triolet is only eight lines long so it seemed something that wouldn’t pose much of a challenge. Give my insane idea to participate in NaPoWriMo in April I thought it would be a good idea to get myself back into the habit of writing poems.

I managed to write the 1st draft of a poem in triolet form. The poem uses some of my regular themes; death, loss and grief. The poem took longer to write than my usual poems but not as long as I dreaded it might. I’m quite pleased with the results.

Posted in Blog, Competitions, Fiction, First Drafts, Inspiration, Short Story, Writing Stuff

Writing A Story Without Any Dialogue

imagesI’ve edited my dialogue only story.

As I expected, the story was quite polished and needed very small amendments. There’s not really a lot you can mess up in a 7 page story consisting of nothing but dialogue between two characters.

I had a couple of typos to correct.

The story was slightly over the 1,700 maximum word count so had to be cut back a little. If magazine or competition is looking for stories up to 4,000 words don’t sent them a story 5,500 words long. The editor will not be impressed. I trimmed a few sentences here and there to bring the piece just under the word count.

I’ve sent the story off to the competition.

As the closing date isn’t until the 14th April (not March as I thought), I’ve decided to write a new version of the story which doesn’t have any dialogue. I plan to submit it to the ‘no dialogue competition.

I had a lot of fun writing a different version of the story with a different title. I expected them both to be different but didn’t expect them to be so chalk and cheese.

The basic premise of both pieces is the same; a woman unexpectedly bumps into her ex on the street. They chat for a while and have a catch-up about what’s happened in their lives in the 12 years since they saw each other. During the conversation dark events from their shared past are revealed.

In the dialogue-free version, I use a first person narrator; the woman who sees her ex on the street. I prefer to write in the first person. It’s much more intimate and can create a huge emotional impact. I find it more enjoyable to write.

This version takes turns the first version doesn’t. Both characters end up going for a drink in a bar which turns into several drinks. The narrator hints that they still carry a torch for their ex. There’s clear flirting between both characters. The narrator ignores a call from their partner in order to talk to their ex. There is a tiny hint the story could develop further but I probably won’t go anywhere else with it.

I plan to edit the story and send it off to the competition over the next couple of days.

If either story gets anywhere in the competitions (which have a cash prize), I will celebrate by buying something shiny and new like a Kindle Fire (I love my Kindle but I like the idea of coloured e-books).

If nothing happens with the stories I night publish them on here in a post comparing both versions. That would very interesting.

Posted in Blog, First Drafts, Inspiration, Magazines & Ezines, Short Story

Writing A Dialogue-Only Short Story

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I currently subscribe to Writing Magazine

The magazine comes out every month and is a treat to read. The magazine has really good articles and advise in it and run writing competitions every month. They charge a small entry fee and also have competitions for subscribers with no entry free. This is a good opportunity to submit work and I do this regularly.

The current subscriber-only competition is for stories of between 1,500 – 1,700 words that only contains dialogue. There is no restriction on content but the story needs to contain dialogue and nothing else, no action or description.

This sounded like a fun challenge so I’ve written the 1st draft of a story.

The story is basically about two people, who used to be in a relationship meeting each other in the street. Many years have passed since they law saw one another. They talk and have a bit of a catch-up. The story gradually reveals some dark moments from the past and their unhealthy relationship.

I had a lot of fun with this. It was a bit harder than I thought and felt strange to write only in dialogue. I had to keep stopping myself from adding action and description. This kind of story would only work for a specific market such as the competition I plan to enter. I wouldn’t send a dialogue-only story out as a general submission.

The story is partly autobiographical and is basically an imaginary conversation between me and my ex-girlfriend. I liked being able to speak my mind in a way I didn’t when we were together. Some of the events discussed in the story are fictional but the two people and their shared past are very real.

I find that happens a lot. A large number of my poems and fiction are a combination of my own experiences and fictional elements. Most of the time the fiction I add is simply because really happened is quite dull at times and I want a bit more spark. I also feel uncomfortable with the idea of writing purely about my own experiences. I’m not a memoirist.

The story will need some editing but is in pretty good shape. It’s not possible to write a perfect 1st draft. There’s no such thing. There are writers who edit as they work so by the time they type THE END the piece is polished. I write a 1st draft, wait a few days and then edit the piece. The competition deadline is the 14th March so the timescale is pretty tight. I want to have edited the piece so I can submit it this weekend.

The magazine is also running a no-dialogue competition at the same time. The brief is the same, 1,500 – 1,700 words on any theme. The only requirement is that the story can’t contain any dialogue. This would be a bit of a challenge as well because the story will be action and description heavy which doesn’t always work.

I really like the idea of writing a new version of the same story I used for the dialogue-only piece and writing all of the action and descriptions I had to leave out. I like the idea of comparing both pieces. I don’t think I’ll be able to get the second version done for the competition but I will be a fun exercise to do. I might give it a shot.

Posted in Blog, Inspiration, NaPoWriMo 2016, Poetry, Writing Stuff

NaPoWriMo Brainstorming

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So, I’ve been letting the old cogs in my brains run since I decided to write a sequence of 30 poems for NaPoWriMo.

I’ve chosen a theme – bullying.

Writing poems about bullying has been on my back burner for a while now. I was bullied at school so the subject matter is close to my heart.

Some of the poems will be based on my own experiences.

The working title for the whole sequence will be The Art of Not Fitting In.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to make noses for 3o bullying incidents with the aim of writing one poem about each.

I am really looking forward to NaPoWriMo now.

Posted in First Drafts, Inspiration, NaPoWriMo 2016, Poetry

The Act Of Wanting

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THE ACT OF WANTING (1ST DRAFT)

Do you remember the time you let
another person completely consume
you?

I was 23. Her name was Cathy
and she was a year older. We
were together for five insane
months.

I was mad about her. I was obsessed
with her. My passion was suffocating
and all-consuming.

I did things with her that make
me burn with shame almost thirteen
years later.

She was a student and like to have
sex with me in the bin shed on the
outskirts of campus. We fucked
in the public toilets of gay bars.
I even pretended to be a man
because she told me she couldn’t
enjoy sex any other way. We
got chucked out a bar once
because we were almost having
sex in a booth and people
complained.

If I’d been in a
sound state of mind
I’d never have let
such things happen.

My lust for her made
me do crazy things.

I told myself I was
in love with her. She
was the great love of
my life. It helped excuse
my reckless behaviour around
her. It had to be love right?
Love made it all seem more
honourable. Without love
I was just a slut. I felt cheap.

She didn’t like to
have sex in a bed.
I was just a cheap
Friday night fuck
but I wanted her so
much I couldn’t see the truth.

We kept splitting up
but got back together.
She just had to snap her
fingers and I’d come running
and panting like a loyal dog.

It didn’t matter how much
she hurt me, cheated on me with
men and women or made me feel
like nothing – I came to her just the same.

We finally broke up when I snapped
out of the lust-filled daze I’d been
in from the moment we met. I realised
I didn’t love her. She didn’t love
me because if she did she wouldn’t treat
me with so little respect. I found
a way to set myself free.

The break up was a mess. We
argued until 3am. I shouted and
screamed at her like a mad woman;
snot running down my face, spilt
flying and blinded by tears. She
looked at me like I was lump
of shit on her shoe.

I just wanted her to hold me,
kiss me, tell me she loved me
and everything would be okay.
She couldn’t even look at me.

I wanted her so much it
made me shake.

Copyright © 2016 by Pamela Scott

Posted in Blog, Inspiration, NaPoWriMo 2016, Poetry

Getting The Poetry Spark Back

download (5)It seems that deciding to take part in NaPoWriMo has sparked the poet inside me back to life.

Since I officially signed up, I’ve had a lot of ideas for poems.

I wrote a new poem for the first time in months, In Celebration Of Kissing. I think it’s going to be part of a short sequence of five or six poems.

I’ve also had a think about how I want to tackle NaPoWriMo.

I’ve decided I want to write a sequence of thirty poems. I’ve never set out to intentionally write a sequence of poems. The sequences I’ve written have been accidental. I’ve simply realised after reviewing my archives that I’ve written several poems that deal with similar themes and edited them into a sequence.

I was looking at a website the other day. I don’t know what one because I was just randomly browsing. It was a poet’s website and they were posting about writing a sequence of 31 poems about domestic violence. The post was really interesting and sparked my imagination.

So I’m going to pick a theme and write a sequence of 30 poems about it. I want the poems, at least some of them to stand on their own but the poems as a collective whole tell a story. Not a story as much. I don’t want the poems to read like I’ve been lazy and just split a bunch of stories into the form of a poem. The 30 poems will imply a series of linked events. If you get what I mean.

I’ve not even started to think what the sequence of poems will be about. I’ve got a couple of weeks to do some brainstorming. I’ve even bought some shiny new notebooks for the occasion and beyond.