Tag Archives: wordworx

SHARKS IN YOUR HEAD

When an idea has been living in your head for a long time and you sit down to write it, but find you can’t, don’t be too quick to jump to the conclusion that you’re suffering from writer’s block.

sharks

What may be holding you back from writing might well be fear. But fear of another kind. Fear that you won’t get it right. Fear that you haven’t quite got character X’s arc down pat, or fear that your sentences won’t be as crisp on paper as they are in your head. Welcome to analysis paralysis. It’s a curse and it’s a significant reason why so many writers don’t pick up their pens or don’t finish their stories.

 

It’s a good idea to let the little fish of story ideas swim about in your head for a while so that they grow into bigger fish from complimentary ideas that come from rumination. But you don’t want to overthink the story ideas to such a degree that you’ve overfed them into monsters before you even get writing.

 

Writing is an organic process, don’t kill that little fish by over-feeding it. As soon that small fish starts swimming about in the sea of your mind, start writing. Let it swim where it will, don’t try to direct it. Think balance. Think a little bit of structure and a little bit of spontaneity, you might give the fish a tank and a few toy castles to swim through, but you can not determine whether it will suck on the sides of the tank for a week or if it will dive in and out of the bits of seaweed. Likewise, let your story grow organically.

 

Often when we overthink a story, it doesn’t grow into our idea of what we thought it was going to be. While it’s all good and well to know your genre, have a strong cast of characters, and an exciting plot, don’t over-plan. Sure, you want to know where you’re going, but be open to surprise. A surprise in the writer will stimulate a surprise in the reader. Readers are smart and they don’t like predictability. If they wanted predictability they’d be doing maths. They’re reading because they want to be taken on an adventure. If you don’t go on an adventure, how can you expect them to enjoy the ride.

 

Some writers report that they knew the beginning and the ending of their stories and the middle just happened. Other writers get heart palpitations at the very idea of not being in full control. These are the control freaks and they suffer the most from analysis paralysis. Of course you can plot out every single scene of your story, but if you don’t allow for the creative inputs that come during writing, you’re going to short change not only your readers, but yourself as a writer. Don’t be a slave to your story, instead, think of writing as taking your story’s hand and walking along the road together to discover where it is that you want to go. There is nothing more stifled or strangled than a story that’s forced in a certain direction.

 

There’s no place for the analytical mind in the drafting experience. In those early drafts where you just want to get the story down, it doesn’t matter if you have lapses, inconsistencies, crappy grammar, or two characters with similar names. Just allow your thoughts to put themselves on the page. Once you’ve got down a basic draft, the revision can begin, and that’s when you get to invite your analytical mind to the process. Revision is where you can deepen characters, tighten the plot, and correct your abhorrent spelling mistakes.

 

How can you force your analytical brain to take a step back during the creative process? If analysis paralysis stymies you during the pre-writing phase, stop trying to get it all write. Make notes of your ideas, it doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad, don’t judge them, just get them down. Research if you must, but avoid becoming so overwhelmed by information that it smothers your idea. Research shouldn’t be evident in your story, it should inform your story.

 

Most people claim to suffer from analysis paralysis once they start writing and get frustrated that they’re not getting all the stuff into the story, or that as soon as they put down a word they start judging themselves. Try these remedies. If you type your draft on a computer then set the font to no colour and just allow yourself to write whatever comes. Not being able to see what you’ve written allows your brain to face a blank welcoming page instead of a critical one staring back at you with errors. If you write long-hand, tuck a piece of carbon paper between two sheets and write your story with a pen that’s run out of ink so that you can’t see what you’re writing. Afterwards, when you’ve got the whole story down you can go back and revise on the carbon copy. By freeing your mind from judgement you can allow your creative mind free reign, and let your story find its natural form, and avoid analysis paralysis.

 

 

 

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You Can’t Stop Water… or Ashy Clouds

The focus of the London Book Fair this year is on South Africa. The Department of Arts & Culture duly arranged to send several South African writers to the fair to showcase the versatile literary talent that exists in our country. Local publisher Colleen Higgs has spent months preparing to take her modest yet active publishing company Modjaji Books to the fair. Among the local writers with their air tickets in hand are Fiona Snyckers, Liesl Jobson and Etienne van Heerden, but the plot hasn’t quite gone according to plan and their hopes of getting to London have been dulled by the untimely ash cloud that spewed forth from a volcano in Iceland.

Ah, the best laid plans of man are similar to the best laid plans of writers; I’m referring to structure. I recently had the good fortune to be contacted by a literary agent who had read my short story Bluette in the New Writing From Africa 2009 anthology and wanted to read some of my other work. I sent her the manuscript of a novel and received… well, second prize. While she enjoyed reading my stories, and felt that I had an engaging style, she did have a major concern with the structure. My husband was devastated that I didn’t get first prize, but I was thrilled at the agent’s comments. She engaged with me, discussed some tricky aspects of writing that I have so longed to discuss with someone; I replied and she agreed to read the synopsis and first three chapters of the book that I will start writing in June when I attend the El Gouna Writers Residency in Egypt.

But let’s return to structure. I could validate my reasons for choosing the structure I employed, and while the agent understood my reasons for doing so, she felt that what was most important was to just let the story be what it is, that writers don’t need to ‘clear space’ for issues or themes, they will come through in the telling of the story.

I have spent years studying the craft of stories, the nuts and bolts and how they all fit together, but instead of allowing the story to develop organically, I had become too focussed on technique. I was so anxious to get it right, that I’d got it wrong.

Story is innate in all of us, we tell our families and friends the stories of our lives every day, and we don’t have to think about how we’re going to frame the story, it bubbles forth naturally. So, while my dear writer friends try to get to the LBF and sip bubbly (and I hope that they do), I’m going to be bubbling forth, allowing the little streams of ideas to find their way into the main body of water where they’ll find their own depth.

Eeny, meeny, miney mo… Choosing Genre

Google Alerts is an excellent way of keeping writers or would-be-writers informed about what’s happening in the world of writing. Some publishing sites give a list of genre for the writer to consider before submitting their work – the list is usually limited to contemporary, literary, romance, mystery, etc. So imagine my surprise when all sorts of genres have started popping up on the alerts; it would seem that the only limit of genre is the writer’s imagination.

Culinary mystery seems to be hot and happening at the moment; crime fiction that focuses on chefs and caterers set in restaurants or unusual settings. It seems like culinary mysteries are tickling the taste-buds of mystery readers, and the novels contain a buffet of hostessing tips, recipes as well as of course – corpses (these not being on the menu).

Popular authors mixing mystery with meringues are Dianne Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke and J B Stanley, and most of the titles of the novels lean heavily on food puns:  Chopping Spree, The Last Suppers, Thyme of Death and Cereal Murder to name just a few.

Steam-punk, in spite of its name, has nothing to do with the gastronomic genre, it is science-fiction meets speculative fiction and is writing that is predominantly centred in an era where steam power is used, usually Victorian England. It’s prominent features are technological innovations similar to those found in HG Wells and Jules Verne novels. These machines are usually idealised and have adaptable functions.

Although the genre has roots back to 1960s, the name first appeared in 1995 in Paul Di Filippo’s Steampunk Trilogy which comprised Victoria which imagines the replacement of Queen Victoria by a human/newt clone; Hottentots deals with the Lovecraftian monsters’ invasion of Massachusetts and Walt and Emily which explores a love affair between poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

Queer-zombie/queer horror is a sub-genre of LGBT Gothic and it came under a lot of flak recently when publishers made a call for submissions and then withdrew the call, going so far as to pay kill fees for writers who had already submitted stories.

The genre is characterized by castles, trap doors, and the zombie. An important aspect of the genre is its sexual natutre.

The lesbian vampire novella Carmilla was included in the collection In a Glass Darkly in 1872.

Geek fiction considers itself as appealing to “sophisticated, socially-connected readers [who] have higher-than-average IQs, advanced educations and are looking for intellectual challenges and extraordinary entertainment well beyond the ‘lowest common denominator’ content that is so often provided through mass media outlets” according to Trapdoor Books, who publish this genre. “It introduces intellectual acumen – anything from Assyrian history to plasma physics, and provides a thoughtful, entertaining diversion for the reader. While the settings can be niche – mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, gothic/horror, science fiction, etc. – the best geek fiction challenges readers and surprises them with well-paced, well-researched and compelling stories.” Their publications include The Ninth Avatar by Todd Newton, The Magician of Lhasa by David Michie and Cyber Kill by Frank Fiore.

The point is that writers shouldn’t try to slot themselves into any of the ‘popular’ genres, because novels that are written in new genres are often the breakout novels that take the writing world by storm – think Harry Potter and the Twilight series. If writers have unusual interests or off-the-wall ideas, chances are that there are a niche group of readers just waiting for to read something different. There’s no telling.

What is important to note is that in all the writer interviews I’ve read, writers admit to writing for themselves first. That’s the tip really, to write what comes from inside or from your interests, because it is the credibility that comes through, and that wins readers all the time.

The Bed Book of Short Stories

A collection of short stories by new and established Southern African women writers on the theme of Bed to be published this year.

Contributors:-

1. Pamela Newham, “A natural combination”
2. Joanne Fedler, “Bedrock”
3. Lauri Kubuitsile, “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” (BOTSWANA)
4. Melissa Gardner – “In sickness”
5. Rumbi Katedza, “The Corpse” (ZIMBABWE)
6. Anne Woodborne, “The quilt of wife-beating crimes”
7. Sarah Lotz, “Heaven or something like it”
8. Jayne Bauling. “Stains like a map”
9. Gothataone Moeng, “Lie Still Heart” (BOTSWANA)
10. Joanne Hichens – title still to be decided
11. Jeanne Hromnik – title still to be decided
12. Arja Salafranca, “Desire without borders”
13. Sylvia Schlettwein, “To own a bed” (NAMIBIA)
14. Liesl Jobson, “On a broomstick”
15. Karabo Moleke, “Nompumelelo’s Sinxoto’s Bed”
16. Margot Saffer, “Imagining Monsters”
17. Megan Ross, “Finding a mother”
18. Ellen Banda-Aaku, “Made of Mukwa” (ZAMBIA)
19. Isabella Morris, “The Outsider”
20. Novuyo Tshuma, “Ikej” (ZIMBABWE)
21. Romaine Hill, “Every Picture Tells”
22. Marina Chichava, “Sleeping Through Heartbreak” (MOZAMBIQUE)
23. Erika Coetzee, “How to Improvise”
24. Bronwyn McLennan, “Portrait of a woman in bed”
25. Claudie Muchindu, “Wings on Indi’s Pillow” (ZAMBIA)
26. Nia Magoulianiti McGregor, “Hunters and lovers”
27. Tinashe Chidyausika, “Fools Gold” (ZIMBABWE)
28. Rose Richards, “Mary Mary”
29. Luso Katali Mnthali, “A requiem for Daniel” (MALAWI)
30. Helen Walne, “Crazy”
31. Rosemund Handler, “Lena My Lovely”

Published by Modjaji Books.
Compiled by Lauri Kubuitsile; edited by Joanne Hichens.