Here goes – week three of my writing comeback. Not everything can be measured in numbers.
Not for me anyway. Pleasure should not be quantified, happiness isn’t counted. Not in our house.
There’s a great interview with Zac Smith on this week’s Other PPL Podcast where Zac and host Brad Listi talk about how the pleasure of writing comes in the writing! It sounds obvious but, again forgive my analogy, it is just like running – one step at a time, one word at a time – it clears my mind.
What about progress? Surely I’ve always measured my running – longest distances, fastest times, PBs – and I’m guilty as charges I’m afraid. But it is till mainly about the feeling.
This reboot of mine (read this if you fancy) is all about BEING a writer and just as soon as my foot is healed, it will be about BEING a runner too
Of course I’ll be using numbers to measure my progress! Hopefully writing my estimated 90,000 words of the first draft of the novel, tentatively titled Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners (DTDLLTO) by the end of the year. But a good stint of writing will still be successful, if it FEELS successful, regardless of how many words I get down on the page.
SO, for your (and my) pleasure, here’s week three’s progress (and yes there are some numbers!)
Monday: I finalised and posted two, count ’em, TWO blog posts – Click here to read all about the two months since Nicky and myself became vegans or here to catch up with last week’s writing update.
“Making people on paper, much like making them in your uterus, takes a long time, is physically and mentally exhausting, and makes you wee a lot. So brace yourself, we’re going in.“
Writers HQ offering a reality check for the writer!
Tuesday: Busy McBusyface didn’t get chance to add words today.
Wednesday: On the timer, I managed 1100 words of the first draft of DTDLLTO. I also pre-ordered David Keenan’s latest offering today. It is a prequel to the extraordinary This Is Memorial Device (which I reviewed here).
Thursday: Busy trying to keep fit and then grandadding, so little time for words. The wonderful non-fiction journal, Hinterland dropped through the letter box today – I managed to read some of the excellent articles in there while little Charlie (the grandson, not the dog – I know it does make for some confusion having a pet and a 10 month old sharing a name) had a sleep.
Friday: Not feeling great. Ran out of time. Bit of noodling with Writers HQ working out how to join the virtual writers’ retreat.
Saturday: We had a bloomin lovely day out I’ll have you know. You can read about it just as soon as I’ve written the next blog post!
Sunday: Writers HQ Online Retreat. If you’re fancying doing a bit of writing and find yourself struggling for time (& money) have a rummage around their website. This was the first time I’ve done one of their writing retreats – which became online when that there pandemic arrived – and what a marvellous success it has been.
It just shows that prioritising writing, sitting at a desk which faces the wall, rather than having the laptop on my actual lap and sitting downstairs by a window, works a treat. For me, writing in chunks of time works so well. I did 5 sets of 30 mins of my novel today and wrote 2990 words of this first drafting. I’m just getting the story out and trying not to edit as I go!
A big chunk of wordsmithery time today paid dividends in more ways the number of words. I also started to get a richer understanding of the relationship between my two main characters, I found I could tap into a wider range of emotions, hopefully gradually changing between scenes. When I write in very small time windows, I find I force a feeling into a scene without the context of the scenes either side of it.
As the wonderful AL Kennedy says, once characters start developing through the act writing their lives, they will start to live in the writer’s head more. Thus revealing themselves in greater detail. I’m just letting these two show themselves to me as I go. They haven’t been created from nothing, in many ways they’ve been created from everything. And what a privilege it is to be their narrator.
A Certain Thought To Finish
Now here’s thing. A proper thing.
There’s a certain something about a certain writer. Or a certain podcaster. A certain friend, a certain relative or even a certain random character on Twitter. There is a certain something about these certain people which instantly inspires me to write. There certainly is.
Well, here we are a year on from my last manifesto. It’s true it seems, there is no ‘normal’. No ‘new normal’. I can’t even remember the ‘old normal’. I think I’ll just pat myself on the back for getting through as best I could.
I started well with my pledges and some of the momentum was maintained throughout the year. But not all of it. Far from it!
In 2022, I shall do better.
I was pretty good at keeping a journal this year, even if for simply scribbling down a random sentence or reminder, this will continue in 2022.
I pledge to write in my journal, every single day. Maybe only to report that I have nothing to report, but reminding myself to keep my head in the game. Whenever I remember, and have the time, I will carry out ‘stream of consciousness’ writing exercises in the journal. A 10 or 15 minute alarm on my phone always helps and this is a perfect way to spend some of my break at work. Prompt books like the 242 Tiny Things To Write About are great too. Whatever I’m doing, I’ll make room for the pen.
I’m trying not to make any ambiguous commitments. And so for a writing challenge, I’m going to use the energy of Paragraph Planet and Writers HQ to get my creative mind actually creating. This will help my writing craft with any luck, but also sow seeds of greater stories to grow from the ideas.
Writers HQ is a great writing community and course library offering motivation, prompts and prods by the pint pot. They also run a weekly Friday Flash Face off where members simply enter their flash fiction (very short pieces of writing) for mutual critique. ‘Tis a fine thing. As is Paragraph Planet who publish one 75 word paragraph every single day. Both are free to get involved with and are great ways to prompt writing. Like I say, many larger ideas for pieces start with a word or 75.
Still sounds ambiguous, I hear you cry. Well:
I pledge to, at the minimum, submit one piece to either the Writers HQ Friday Flash Face Off, or Paragraph Planet, every single week.
And while I’m at it, I’ll make sure I keep up with my poetry. I’ve had small successes – online journals published a few pieces and I’ll take confidence from that. Working on a draft of a poem idea for 30 minutes in my break at work is so much more rewarding than 30 minutes of the scroll of doom on my phone. I pledge to submit at least one poem per month to a literary publication or competition.
See, I’m getting into this now!
Ahhhh, the Novel. Working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners. I’ve been chipping away at this for over 3 years now and I’m nowhere near a first draft. I think about the book a lot, I talk to the main characters, I scribble ideas in my journal. I’m very much writing the thing. I just need to, er, actually write the thing. Harping back to Writers HQ, they are exponents of the ‘timed writing’ idea – sit at a desk (or stand, or lie in a field with a notebook, whatever is available to me) and set a timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes, phone out of reach, and just write. This definitely works for me. So, with that in mind…..
I pledge to write for a minimum of two hours (using the timed method) soley on my novel, every week during 2022.
What about The Blog? This here blog. I get ideas for a blog post come to me all the time. Particularly when I’m driving around in my job. I need to make sure I keep my notebook handy and every time I stop, jot these random thoughts down. I heard the great author David Keenan say that if he has an idea, he knows it is a good one if he can immediately recall it when he picks up his notebook. If I don’t use the notebook, a Booker Prize winning idea may well slip away!
I pledge to post at least one book review per month to the blog. I also pledge to add at least one other post, on any subject, per month as well. If I commit to any more it will only lead to disappointing myself and then slipping down the all to familiar ‘What’s the feckin’ point?’ hole! If I write more, then great. If not, at least I’ve set a reasonable target to hold myself to account.
So that’s writing. Why am I going to do all of that? Because I bloomin’ well love writing. I may or may not be any good at it. I’m certainly not going to make any money from it. People either will or won’t read my words. But even the occasional comment I receive about a piece, telling me that what I’ve written resonates, that’s enough to know I belong.
I won’t be setting a target for number of books to read this year, as with my running, it only leads to creating tension instead of the positivity I should be getting from my two favourite hobbies, but I will make a series of pledges similar to last year.
I pledge to readat least one poem every single day. Every single podcast I listen to about writing, or books on writing, every interview with authors, they all say “READ WIDELY” when asked to give aspiring writers a tip. I find poetry helps me pick apart language, it challenges the way we express ideas. Poetry also feeds the soul, nourishing emotional dark spots as well as pushing my creativity.
I also pledge to buy one book a month from an independent publisher, by an author I haven’t read before. I did this in 2021 and it’s great to rummage beyond the headline and heavily promoted books in the literary world. Not that I don’t enjoy the writing of our most famous authors, but I also know there’s a wealth of talent out there waiting to be discovered. Where possible, I will buy these books from independent bookshops too.
Not only that, I pledge to read a minimum of 6 books during 2022 which were published at least ten years ago. This is another way of avoiding the trap of simply reading off the 3 for 2 table in Waterstones. Not that there aren’t great books on the first table you come to in our flagship bookseller, but there is so, so much more to discover.
I also pledge to buy at least one literary magazine, journal or chapbook every month too. I enjoy the marvellous creative non-fiction journal, Hinterland and enjoy a subscription from them, my pledge will be in addition to that. Bring on 2022, the year of reading not scrolling I hope.
So my reading should look after itself if I carry out all of the above pledges.
I bloomin’ love reading and books!
Running And Fitness And Health
This time last year, we were facing another round of cancelations due to the ongoing Covid 19 situation and all the training I had done for The Arc 50 looked like being in vain. The situation didn’t improve and the event was sadly postponed until 2022. In precisely four weeks time I am hoping to line up on the stage of The Minack Theatre in Cornwall and tackle the 50 miles along the coast path to Porthtowan. Fingers crossed eh!?
As for Nicky, she is going to attempt to get to Copenhagen at the third time of asking for her Ironman. Add to this the Outlaw triathlon she started in 2019 only for the organisers being forced to abandon the event after the swim leg due to the biblical weather conditions. They were right to, deep flooding and fallen trees littered the bike course. So this is the 4th year of her pinning her 42 week training plan to the kitchen door.
I’ll never be as organised as Nicky…….. she has every session pencilled in for the next 8 months. Then again, she is attempting something HUGE which involves swimming, cycling and running a very, very long way! She needs to be balancing her training. Whereas I am naturally more chaotic. I will make sure I get my long runs done out there on the trails. Other than that, I’ll run when I feel like it, wherever the the mood takes me. If I’m tired from work, I’ve found there’s no point in forcing myself. I just want to carry on enjoying every step.
So, as in 2021, in 2022 I pledge to NOT attempt to follow a training plan.
My goal for ALL of these events is to do as much as I can to give myself the best chance of completing them. I will not train if I’m over tired from the combination of working, training and any other aspect of life, I will rest if rest is what’s required.
I also pledge this, as I did in 2021: I will, every single day, do either some conditioning work, strength exercises, stretches or other body maintenance. Even if that is something as simple as a few stretches, I’ll be treating my body right. My job if anything, more than the running, tends to give me aches and pains.
This will hopefully give me the best chance of keeping healthy as my aging body builds towards these challenges. As would eliminating the absolute crap I’m guilty of guzzling! So, time for another food pledge (last year’s lasted 6 weeks before I caved in to a hamper of chocolate!).
I pledge to not snack at work. I’m going to only snack during evenings after big (as in 2 hours plus) training days. Puddings will still be the law after roast dinners of course. Let’s see if we can break the pattern this year.
We’re all just living the life we’ve got, making decisions as best we can. I think I just need to decide the person I really want to be and let that drive every decision I make.
If anyone has got to the end of this, I’ll be mightily impressed. With that sort of grit and resolve, you should definitely be the type of character who will stick to their New Years resolutions.
A debut novel. A bloomin’ debut. Such power and emotion in his first book. Take a bow Paul Mendez.
Now. Be warned.
It is a bit rude in places. Ok, it’s pretty feckin’ graphic. Those of a sensitive nature might find their eyes watering in the early stages. The full force created by the urges of the young man at the centre of this story are quite openly exposed. Mendez writes with an ferocious passion. The story deserves every bit of the raw sex which sets the scene early in the book.
Before that though, the book begins 50 years earlier with a young Jamaican couple (from the Windrush generation) struggling to come to terms with their decision to move from the Caribbean Island to the Midlands of England. They are, of course, linked to the story which follows. This sets a bleak backdrop of racism and forgotten dreams and gives context to the rest of the book.
Jesse, a young black man, brought up a Jehovah’s Witness, finds his life in the Black Country capitulating and ends up fleeing to London where he finds he can use his youthful black body for financial gain. His journey to this point is delivered with a series of necessarily blunt blows within the narration. A white step father is kept from getting close to Jesse by a mother who shows nothing but resentment and disappointment towards her son.
I believe Rainbow Milk is closely personal to Mendez and his delivery of both the rough physical moments, the heart-breaking cries for help as well as Jesse’s many cringe worthy and naïve moments is so exquisitely poised. And the issues at play are voiced with such force that I struggled to get my head around this being a debut!
The crushing isolation felt by Jesse as he becomes increasingly desperate to express himself both emotionally and physically leads to him mistakenly seeking sexual attention from a fellow young Witness. This leads to his removal from the Jehovah’s Witness fellowship and cements the estrangement from his mother and step father. It also sets the scene for him fleeing to London.
He suffers at the hands of some of the men he encounters but also finds the sexual joy he imagined with others. Amongst the one night stands, quick and quickly forgotten fucks in toilet cubicles, gradually a love story unfolds. After a particularly rough customer, Jesse finds himself needing to quickly understand the risks still at play of AIDS.
The drinking, the drugs and the debauchery are just as full on as the sex, until a near tragedy slowly brings him together with a man, Owen, who seems to truly love him. Paul Mendez gives us hope amongst the chaos and is maybe saying there is a way to navigate this life if we have faith in ourselves. Jesse battles an abusive childhood, religious oppression, relentless racism and homophobia as well as rejection, loneliness and terrifying health scares.
The musical references are fabulous, Jesse finding solace and motivation in some of the great R’nB and soul greats, as well as cutting edge contemporary artists. Through Owen, the man who he falls in love with, he discovers the music of Joy Division and Public Image Limited and finds himself deeply entranced (helped by the drug use naturally) by some of the sounds from my era!
Mendez had me rooting for Jesse throughout and plenty of tears were shed along the way.
A riveting, heart wrenching and ferocious read which manages to caress the senses as well as battering them.
I’m saying nothing more, you’ll have to read it to find out for yourselves!
PS: The title isn’t referring to what I thought it was….