You have two chances to hear me read from my latest book, Submerged, next week.
First up is City Voices in Wolverhampton. It all starts at 7:30 at The Lighthouse a few minutes walk from the train and bus stations. City Voices is one of the Midlands’ finest spoken word evenings and never fails to delight with its range and quality of work on offer. I will be selling books.
Secondly, will be the official Birmingham launch of Submerged, and it’s going to be a corker, but don’t just take my word for it check out the line-up here.
I read an article the other day on a site called Quartz at Work, yeah, I’d never heard of it either; the post was: Five things to do when you have too many ideas and never finish anything. My paranoid android kicked in – that’s you – and I gave it a read.
The post was reasonably interesting and quoted some research linked to choice and how having too much choice can lead us into making no choices – hey, isn’t greater choice the one thing we all seek according to slavering capitalists everywhere? – well, it appears that too much choice is bad for you.
This rang a bell with me. I remember when I was a child, way back in the desolate wastes of the pre-internet age. Days would drag on forever, especially in the school holidays as both of my parents were out at work, and I’d find myself gazing into space daydreaming. I rattle on at my children now about how great it is to be bored, about how a lack of stimulus can lead to exciting ideas and force them into being creative and inventive. Back then, I would spend hours re-reading comics or copying the artwork, writing and drawing my own stories, or, more often than not, just making them up in my head. I look back at that time now and see it as a melting pot of ideas and productivity.
So what went wrong? Choice. We have far too much choice. If you’ve ever sat scrolling through Netflix trying to find something to watch you’ll know exactly what I mean. Choice leads to anxiety – if I watch this, I won’t be able to watch that, and what about these? I can’t watch all of them. Aarrgh! It’s the same with ideas. I should be finishing my novel, but this short story has just popped into my head, and then there’s that other short story I haven’t finished yet, and the comic strip I meant to start, as well as the audio fiction, and… You get the idea.
The five steps! Wow, if I just take these five steps, I’ll become a productive genius. I’ll defeat the paranoid android and bask in the glow of completed projects and adoration. Who knows? Maybe you will, but it can’t hurt to try.
Step One. Create mini-deadlines. Tasks that you have to complete that day. Instead of looking at the enormity of what you have to do – shit, I have to re-write 80000 words from the third person into the first person, and cut out the subplot with the octopus! Focus on the small blocks that make up the whole. This way you cut out the paranoid android that buzzes in your head – shit, there’s so much to do; you’ll never finish it all – and you focus on the smaller, achievable task. Hell, and if you’re a list person, you get to tick it off, cross it out, highlight it in red, whatever floats your boat. Something else you need to be aware of with step one is Parkinson’s Law – “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” I’ve found, that whenever I have less time to do something I get more done. To negate Parkinson’s Law, estimate how long the task will take and then cut your time in half. Scary huh? Give it a try.
Step Four. Develop the habit of finishing. Neil Gaiman talks about this a lot. Make a conscious decision to be a finisher and get stuff done. I have many projects that are outstanding at the moment, and new ones that keep starting up, but I’m working hard to get them done. In the past, I started a lot of things that were never finished. The paranoid android would kick in, and I’d begin to doubt whether they were any good. I wouldn’t say I’m past that yet, but I’m working on it.
Wait a minute. You said five steps, but you’ve only mentioned steps one and four. Why? You’re internet savvy. You’ve seen a smidgen of all the crap that’s out there. I’m an adult. I read the article and thought steps one and four made sense and that the others were just contradictory padding, so I left them out. Feel free to track the piece down and draw your conclusions.
This is pencil on cartridge paper. I wonder what his name is?
I’ve been focusing on people recently because I want some interesting characters to use with my young writers group this Saturday. We’re going to look at advice columns/blogs. I’ll ask them to choose a character and to come up with a problem they need advice on. When they’ve written the problem, I’ll get them to swap with other members of the group and they can then write replies. I think it should be a good exercise for developing characters and stories.
I’m re-blogging this essential piece on The Guardian website from Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell because it’s vitally important. Books give us access to vast amounts of knowledge and the essential world of fiction. Read on to find out why that is so important.
Have you ever heard of the Human Values Foundation? No, neither had I, but a friend of mine put my name forward to them, and they’ve commissioned me to write four short stories as part of what they do.
But what do they do?
“Our vision is that young people among all sections of the community, both in the UK and also overseas, will imbibe and practise human values so as to become responsible, happy, fulfilled members of society and aspire to human excellence.”
Part of all that is providing resources and lessons plans that enable teachers to create work around those values.
The four topics I’ve been given are: Becoming Responsible, Contentment, Hope and Optimism, and Self-Sufficiency.
It’s been interesting writing them, and the results will be on the Human Values Foundation website in the near future.
I’ve been struggling of late to get stuff onto the page. It’s not as if I don’t have things to do. I have a novel that needs a final tidy up and then sending off. A rough outline of a sci-fi novel that needs finishing, and a whole host of short stories that need finishing and starting. I know what I need to be able to write. I need space, time and routine. I have a room in my house where I can go to write. My office is at the back of the house, above the kitchen, and for the most part, it is quiet and interruption free, ideal for writing, providing it can be kept free. My daughter will occasionally camp out there to complete her homework. In fact, only the other night I spent over an hour with her going through her maths home-work – percentages, damn you!
In my previous job as a teacher, I had a routine. I’d dropped down to working three days a week, and on Thursdays and Fridays I stayed at home and wrote. I also wrote in the evenings and sporadically on the weekends. However, once I’d changed jobs, the routine went out the window. The new job involves shift work, and they’re open to change. I can find myself looking forward to some dedicated writing time, a literary event, or just meeting up with other writers and I’ll have to cancel it. Whenever I don’t write when I should be, I’m gripped by a festering guilt. I’m not writing for fame, fortune or recognition. I’m writing to keep the guilt at bay.
I’ve been here before. I know how to get out of this malaise. What I need is routine; I need purpose, and I need to be consistent. It’s just rather frustrating at times. I know writers that go through this. I know writers that struggle to juggle family, work and writing, and I know writers that do not have the worry of the commitment juggler. The one thing that unites us all, I think, is that awful shiver of guilt when we know we should be writing and we aren’t.
Things have gotten a bit better recently. I’ve completed a short story, well not that short, that’s been rattling around in my head for a while, and I’ve started another. The novel still needs to be tidied and sent out, but I know it’ll be done before Christmas – providing I get that tax return in!
What do you do when you’re struggling to write? What sure-fire tactic, habit etc. do you employ to keep the guilt demons at bay?
For those of you who are of a creative or aquatic bent, you may be interested to know that I will once again be leading canal based creative writing workshops. Those crazy fools at the Birmingham Literature Festival have asked me to lead dusk till dawn writing sessions as part of this year’s festival.
It really was great fun.
I don’t have a lot of details yet, but I guess that they will be similar to the ones I ran back in April as part of the pop-up festival. Back then, we started from Birmingham’s historic Roundhouse and explored the canals via canoe and kayak. It was a real eye-opener for me. There are parts of the city you can only explore from the canal. Deserted glassworks, industrial loading bays and the Victorian red brick of disused warehouses stand beside the canal, and their decaying shells now home a multitude of wildlife and their walls canvases for graffiti artists and frustrated lovers.
Come and witness my world famous invisible fish wrestling.
We will spend at least an hour on the water and then back inside the relative, although not guaranteed, warmth of the Roundhouse I’ll put you through your paces with some short, focused writing exercises that will nudge you towards creating longer pieces of work.
All photos are the property of the very talented Jana Eastwood. You can find more images from previous workshops here at her excellent blog, Escapes and Photography.
Ever thought of combining canoeing and writing? Well, now’s your chance. On April 23rd, Jo Bell (poet,) Alyse Fowler (gardener/writer,) and I will be doing just that. We’ll be taking groups down the industrial canals of Birmingham and using this unique perspective to inspire creative writing. Check out the press release below for full details and booking info:
£20/£16 (concessions), children £10
Need some inspiration to get writing? Want to explore hidden Birmingham?
Look no further than our series of creative walks, bike rides and canoe trips developed in partnership with the Canal & River Trust, National Trust, Birmingham Roundhouse, British Canoeing and Big Birmingham Bikes, and delivered by five fantastic writers.
Take to the waterways of Birmingham by canoe for a unique perspective on the city, returning to dry land for a writing workshop at The Roundhouse led by Alys Fowler (10am-1pm) or Jo Bell (2pm-5pm). Workshops for young people at both sessions will be led by Garrie Fletcher. Canoes and instruction supplied free of charge from British Canoeing and B-ROW.
Please dress comfortably: we advise that you don’t wear jeans, you do wear trainers, bring waterproof coat and trousers, and a complete change of clothes. The canoes have a weight restriction of 17.5 stone.
Drinks are provided free of charge but please bring a snack to sustain you.
Suitable for adults and children aged 8 and over. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Workshop 1 – 10am – 1pm (Alys Fowler)
Workshop 2 – 2pm – 5pm (Jo Bell)
Jo Bell is a former Canal Poet Laureate and currently appears on Nationwide’s ‘Voice of the People’ ads. Her poetry collection Kith is published by Nine Arches Press. She is co-writing a handbook for poets – How to be a Poet – and lives on a narrowboat.
Alys Fowler is an award-winning journalist, regular presenter of BBC Gardeners’ World and Guardian columnist. Her new book Hidden Nature charts her journey through the canals of Birmingham by canoe.
Garrie Fletcher writes short stories, novels and poems. His collection of short stories, Night Swimming, has just been published by Mantle Lane Press. He leads the Birmingham Young Writers’ Group for Writing West Midlands.
How to Book:
Please contact The BOX to book tickets on 0121 245 4455 or you can book online by clicking the button below.