The Return of the Mac

Fountain pen for writing from pixabay

Yeah… So I’ve been kind of busy. Don’t worry, I’ve not fallen into a deep dark Pinterest hole, or at least not one that I can’t minimise the window for. I’ve been working. But you can’t write about babies, bumps and bunting forever.

I am very lucky. My experience as a freelance copywriter has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve met some absolutely awesome people along the way. First, I met Angela, who runs mybigfatpregnancy.com. She was my first content writing gig, and I did it for the princely sum of naff all. It was completely worth it though, because I was introduced to the formidable Ange and got my first taste of writing for another person.

I then did some work for a media company in San Francisco. Here I met two boys on the other side of the planet near enough, who were lovely, creatively astute and not afraid to ask for changes in order to get what they needed.

After this, I went for a job blogging about baby socks for a lovely entrepreneuse. Beth Dioli (also based in SF) is definitely going somewhere with her socks; designed by a mom to stay on. Simultaneously  I picked up some gigs with a content marketing company and I’ve been working on a project for the unstoppable Eila Ngetha Schneider. Eila speaks at least four languages and is a constant fount of creative energy.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m also a mum, a student and a landlord. As my workload picked up, my time with my husband and for myself dwindled. Gradually it became clear that this level of output was not sustainable. With a heavy heart, I’m stopping writing for Beth at the Cheski Sock Company.

This should mean I’ll have time to write this blog, my own projects and pick up some more diverse jobs. If he plays his cards right I may even spend time with my husband Shawn, too.

Tips From Beyond the Last Page

I sincerely wish I could write another novel in the near future. Unfortunately, right now I need to focus on other things. Still, I feel like I have no end of advice for the author in me starting anew, or any other writers out there embarking on their first book. I’m very proud of Io, but I would definitely do things differently the second time around.

Anyway, here are some tips that I really wish I’d known/bothered to pay attention to when I first started!

 

  • Plan! FFS, plan! Yes, I know there are some famous examples of people who don’t use one and achieve great results, but do yourself a favour and at least try to lay it out properly to see if it works for you before going off-piste. I planned very vaguely, then set off hoping everything was going to sort itself out. It took me years to get my plot in line and even now it’s not perfect. A heavy-duty plan will shed light on basic impracticality and logical inconsistencies that may not show until such points are integral and difficult to lever out of the narrative. My book took me a very long time to write and a serious plan would have saved me literal months.

 

  • Some conventions are there for a reason. Now I’m a firm believer that rules are meant to be broken, especially when it comes to being creative. However, a strong understanding of the effect this is likely to have on your reader is vital. For example, there is a reason the long held trope of ‘shallow nobody undergoes hardship to become caring hero’. This is what people expect, and setting yourself against this is not to be undertaken lightly. I cavalierly aimed to fart around with the standard fantasy narrative, but I almost regret it. I certainly wish that I had had a better idea of the forces I was playing with before I began.

 

  • Written dialogue is not the same as real dialogue, nor should it be. I have always striven for natural speech in my writing. Unfortunately the fact of the matter is that human beings spend most of their time talking about bus timetables and supermarkets (or the fantasy setting equivalent). I learned the hard way that too much ‘umming’, ‘erring’, ‘hmm-ing’ and ‘ha-ing’ is a sure-fire way to scupper decent dialogue, no matter how realistic that might be.

 

  • Remember you don’t have to get every thought you’ve ever had into one book. Just because it’s a stroke of genius doesn’t mean it’s going to work in your current project. How many films have you watched and come out saying ‘It could have been great, but they tried to do too much’? Listen to your inner smartarse. Which leads into my most important point…

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  • Sweet Zombie Jesus learn get familiar with the delete key! I cleared out the study shelves a couple of months ago; I had to heft stacks and stacks of notebooks jammed with characters and ideas that I toyed with adding, or even put in only to cut out later on. A certain amount of chaff is inevitable, but seriously, there’s a limit. If you have a promising idea but no idea how to use it, by all means note it down, but don’t shoe-horn it in where it’s not welcome.

 

 

‘Like’ it or Not…

 …Social Media Art could be the way forward…

I wanted to write an article on how social media impacts art, starting with Fine Art, but Tom Jeffries of Apollo Magazine got there first and wrote this fantastic piece, which says pretty much all I wanted to on the subject! However, what I’d be circling around to eventually is exploring how writers can use social media, beyond its obvious promotional value.

The artists cited in Jeffries’s article use social media in various ways; informing their audience (events, shows etc.) or assuming roles (see Amalia Ulmann’s fascinating Instagram project), and so on. Easy public access to an artist’s constant dialogue can also serve to contextualise their work. Potentially- instead of deciphering influences, moods and manner purely from the pieces themselves- the audience has the luxury of a continually updating commentary. Some artists have used social media for gathering material or data (Jennifer Dalton’s What are We Not Shutting Up About (2010)).

Where ingredients for a project are gathered online, in some cases credit may be owed to the originator. Richard Prince, professional numbnuts, recently caught the public’s scathing eye by blatantly ripping off the creators of thousands of images gathered from Instagram. While in my opinion this is glaringly obnoxious, I suppose there’s a certain logic behind this thievery. Prince considers (or claims to consider) the act of collection as his work, rather than the images themselves. The fact that it’s other people’s photographs that he’s curating and selling for thousands is another matter.

These collecting strategies not only apply to visual artists. Writers can and do also employ and manipulate social media and the internet in similar ways. ‘Found’ poetry is something that existed way before social media, and seems as though it’s made for the medium.

Crowdsourcing is one of the more unusual ways in which a writer can use the internet to create something in a social way. David Lehman and Dan Simpson have both worked with crowdsourcing to create poetry. You can still contribute to Eric Mack’s crowdsourced science fiction novel. The effect is unusual. Crowdsourcing would appear to appeal to the maxim ‘two heads are better than one’ on a grand scale, but I’m not sure that really works with something as individual as writing. Surely a thousand or more strangers can’t guess the creator’s vision? How do a million different voices reach any kind of cohesive harmony? In all the examples I’ve found, the writer leading the project has the final executive decision on what makes the grade, and I suppose that final personal touch provides the necessary direction to stop the whole thing falling apart.

The idea of ‘Social Media As Art’ has been around since the blossoming of net culture, and some have made the argument that unless someone is actually making new net-based social application, it doesn’t exactly count. I’m not sure whether I’d agree with that; after all, a film maker doesn’t have to hand paint his celluloid to make valid movies. Nevertheless, programs exist which allow people to connect with each other for specific, artistic reasons.

As early as 1987, Olivier Auber opened up access to a project called ‘Poietic Generator’. A basic public space upon which strangers can collaborate to produce images, participants can choose to assist or hinder the ideas of their fellow users. Individual sessions have been recorded to be viewed on the website, and you can see from the ones the creators have selected that the results of these events are diverse. Some digital canvasses have been the work of nearly forty users. Others have been made by only two or three. Images can appear as chaotic wars of colour or harmonious attempts at teamwork. The final products in either case are less interesting than the concept itself, which was designed as a kind of microcosm of the way human beings interact and think about their world.

Social media certainly raises some interesting creative questions. ‘Social’ implies some sort of interaction with the audience for which the piece is intended. By this token, some of the creative control is immediately surrendered. Even if you are simply tweeting haikus, the method you’ve chosen to release your work in adds context and meaning that are different from poems in a physical book. Alternatively you can foist the entire process upon the people, almost completely relinquishing command of the final result.

While the idea of using social media as an art or literary form does court a lot of criticism- of being too clever for its own good, not being ‘proper art’, and generally being a kind of cheap trick played on the easily impressed- it really ought to be taken seriously. Art, in the end, is a form of communication. As time passes, it seems it becomes less and less one sided. The internet in its most accessible form seems the natural habitat for this expansion.

Mazeppa.

Some Tuesday evening poetry, why not?


Mazeppa

Pennant penitent and haggard,

Burnished by salted inland air,

He rides the shouting bore of whispered slings,

Pliant voiceless muse: the Cossack king.

 

Seemingly flits from light to death:

From rimy shadow to hot hearth.

Iron hard in exile and denied,

To bright exalted martyr for a bride.

 

Sparkling, his breast reflects the

Darkling forests, sweet faces and

Cunning history which snakes and retracts.

He slumps and stands both serf and cataphract.

 

Scintillating and unsure through

Flashing snow or dew he runs or writhes.

His name sullied and bloodied,

Into the grooved earth buried.

 

A brutal exchange of hours and miles

Awkwardly spectated and gamed,

He awkwardly looks along his line in hope,

To only glory; no pardon or escape.

 

Racked back and forth and back he turns,

Buffeted by romance and sullen wrinkling cataract,

He winds up his reins, head rolling, hands quaking:

The old land shudders at his passing; shaking.