Tag Archives: writing

and productivity!

Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend:

‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.



Morning coffee chat with colleagues at the day job, we ended up talking about ‘wonder’ and whether everything is rationally explicable. Two of us against the psychologists felt that there was still some room for mystery in life, the something that cannot be explained within the constraints of language.

Then I went back to my office and started writing a lecture on creativity and education, when I found this from Philip Larkin:

[Poetry is] born of the tension between what he non-verbally feels and what can be got over in common word usage to someone who hasn’t had his experience.



The word is always less than the thing it is meant to represent. No matter how complicated, exact, true and beautiful the language may become, it is always a diminishment of the reality described. (Stephen Dobyns, ‘next word, better word, the craft of writing poetry’)

So true – and possibly why I like to write fantasy. In the made up world there is no reality to be diminished into language, and the word can rule.


I once said on the radio that I had grown up in a house without books and my father happened to hear the programme and he phoned me to say I was a liar.

‘We did have a book,’ he said. ‘I remember it. It was green. It sat on top of the fridge for ages.’

‘That was the Kilmarnock Telephone Directory,’ I said, ‘which doesn’t count as a proper book.’

Andrew O’Hagan (2013): Can You Make an Artist?, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, 20:1, 29-33


[Two posts in two days? Anyone would think it was a bank holiday weekend.]

Yesterday I posted something quite long which I had intended to link to on my twitter account, which is linked to my other life, the dayjob, because people who follow me there might be interested. But I didn’t, and it was because of a slight crisis of ‘do I have the right to call myself a writer?’

This isn’t a secret blog, and my name is the same as it always is, so anyone who knows me otherwise and stumbles across this, will know it’s me. But I still wasn’t sure about directly telling people about it.

Can I claim to be a writer? I haven’t published a novel, or a non-fiction book, and although I have more credits than appear on the ‘published work’ tab (mostly because I’m bad at going backwards in time), it’s not like I’m missing anything major. And I suppose at least part of the dayjob involves writing.

One of my new colleagues asked me the other day if I wrote poetry. I was so surprised I’d admitted I did. Then he asked if I’d had any published. To which I said yes, again. Then he asked if he could read any. To which I said no. I felt extremely embarrassed. It’s as if it’s easy to send out work to people who may reject it or judge it badly if they don’t know you, but the idea of being face to face with someone knowing they’ve read your work, and who knows you know they’ve read your work… brrr, shivers up the spine.

It took a long time to admit that what I wanted to do was write. Even though everyone else who’d ever met me knew that. Setting up this blog and claiming to be ‘a writer’ was another step forward. So why do I feel like I’m justified claiming to be a writer?

Well, there are different pathways to that identity. One is publication. I am published, in fairly minor ways, in various places, but I think that I would follow Andrew Cowan (in the previous post) in saying publication = book. You can call yourself an author (or a poet) when you have a book or a publishing deal.

Another is counting something else – spondulicks. I make a reasonable supplement to my income by writing. Mostly I make money by writing non-fiction educational materials, but I did earn £6 from selling poems last financial year (and let’s face it, in terms of poetry, that puts me in the 1% 😉 ). I realised that I probably had the right to call myself a writer on this basis when filling in a survey sent round by women’s writing magazine Mslexia which asked me how much I make from writing each year. When I looked back at my income I realised that I make a substantial proportion of my dayjob salary all over again from writing. Not enough to make me rich, and certainly now I’m wondering how on earth I managed to squander it all! But enough to validate this: I am a writer. I’m an academic too, but I’m a writer.

So why can’t I let people know that?



This morning I finally got a moment’s quiet to sit down and finish a piece of flash fiction I’d had the idea for, and mostly written, in early January. I’d been putting this off for a while, because I couldn’t find the draft. This morning I decided to sit down and recreate the whole thing from scratch.

There’s a lot of stories and writings out there that I’ve half begun then lost. In notebooks, on stray sheets of paper, on old computers, and even on some floppy disks I still have but cannot open. They haunt me, my own personal ghost brigade. Because some of them are good stories. But when you sit down and try to recreate them, there’s something missing. This morning, it was the character’s name. I knew I’d coined her something great. I knew I’d loved her name. I could not remember what it was. Not the first inkling of an inkling of a clue.

The ghost of the piece is there, on the page, but you can’t actually pin it down. You can’t see it clearly enough to draw round it. You can get a vague approximation of the shape, but the details, the pin-prick accuracy, is gone. It might be better, what you’ve re-written, re-thought, re-created. But you always feel it’s worse, because of those ghosts hovering in your mind’s eye. That story I lost, that was the one. That novel opening, it was perfect. If only I still had it, I could finish, I could sell, this would be the breakthrough.

It’s all another way of procrastinating instead of writing. Which is what I told myself firmly when I sat down to re-create this piece, which let’s face it, as flash fiction, was not going to be too awful as a job of re-writing, and I knew I liked the idea, which was still all there. (Flash fiction is a bit like writing jokes, I think. The concept and the punch have to be strong. Every word counts, but it’s the idea that grabs you and unsettles you – or makes you laugh.) And about ten minutes and as many false starts later, I typed the title, which I’d known all along, at the top of the page, and then suddenly realised I’d done that before, and did a search for the title. For some reason, I’d not thought to try that before…

And there it was, waiting for me. I polished it, deleted some words, rewrote others, added an extra hundred words on top, and subbed it. Exorcised.

End of the line

Well, it’s 100 days (101 actually) into 2013, and the 100k in a 100 days challenge, that I wrote about earlier, is over. Did I make it?

Well, that’s several questions.

  1. Did I write 100k?
  2. Did I write every day?
  3. Did I write more than I usually would?

The answer to 1 and 2 is ‘no’, I’m afraid. I hit 70,875 (and between us, the challengees wrote more than 3 and a half million words). I mostly wrote these on dayjob words and contract work. I did write some of my WiP, although nowhere near as much as I’d hoped.

Question 3 is a bit more difficult. Probably the answer is yes, although I think that maybe not by much. What is interesting is looking at the patterns of my writing. I definitely write in spurts – some days nothing, others several thousand.  I was interested to read this post on Cal Newport’s blog which supported the idea of short intense bursts of work. Of course, he’s talking in an academic capacity, so maybe that’s relevant to the dayjob, and not so much to the fiction writing.

What I found interesting was that I could write 70000 in 3 months. But then, I kind of already knew that. I wrote about 60k of my doctoral thesis in a little under 2 months (deadlines REALLY motivate me).

There’s another 100k in a 100 days challenge starting July 1st, and I’ll be signed up. But this time I’m only going to count fiction. I’m willing to bet I’ll find it much harder and I’ll get much less close to the target (I’ve just worked out if I’d included blog posts in the word count it would have been 75k, which is pretty damn respectable). In the meantime, between now and then, maybe I’ll just try every day…

So, Question 4:

                          4. Was it worth it?

That’s 100% yes.