Am I still blogging?

At a pre-Christmas lunch, someone asked me, ‘Are you still blogging?’ This person had read my blog in its earlier days and said nice things about it, but I guessed she hadn’t looked at it for a long time, or she would have realised that it’s been a very long time since I last posted. We started talking about our writing, encouraging each other and congratulating each other on our small successes. Soon we were talking about finding time to write. I have a couple of big projects I’m working on, and my writing friend is starting to get a bit of traction writing regularly for a couple of publications. We talked about how we had to decide what things we would not do in order to keep our minds and time focused on our goals.

It’s easy to enter a competition, attend a course or workshop, set up a blog, or join a critique group and then find the work involved takes you away from your goals, not closer to them. I wouldn’t give up my critique group because it keeps me accountable and working towards one of my goals. But I have become more ruthless about everything else. A course or a workshop? No thanks, not unless it will help me get closer to my goals. Another book on the craft of writing? No, it’s time to write, not just read about it.

And that leads me back to the big question, for me, about blogging: does this get me closer to my goals? Sadly, the answer is no, not really, not at the moment. There is such a lot of time involved in blogging, both writing and also reading other people’s blogs. I fell into the trap of procrastinating by spending hours reading blogs. Now I just follow a small number of blogs that I really enjoy and look in from time to time on quite a few others.

Some writers see blogging as part of their writing, a means of expressing themselves. I’ve realised it’s not like that for me. Blogging can be fun; it’s a challenge and rewarding when the stats start to improve; it’s an interesting way of sharing ideas and snippets of information. But at the moment, because my focus is elsewhere, it has become a distraction.

And so I’m going to take a bit of pressure off and stop blogging for a while. Who knows, I might come back to it sometime in the New Year.

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Too old to change?

I was half-listening to a radio interview about the new Windows 8 operating system when the interviewer asked a question that made me stop and listen. Actually, it made me stop and think, because I didn’t really listen to the answer.

The question was whether older people would be able to cope with the steep learning curve and the change from keyboard and mouse to touchscreens.

I don’t think it is age, but use. A tablet user, young or old, might find the new system more appealing than a desktop user.  I’m in the latter category and use two large screens for my work. If I had a touch screen (which I don’t) and if I could reach it comfortably (which I can’t) touchscreen functions would require me to make more sweeping arm movements in a day than a windmill.

What made me stop and think about the interview question, however, has nothing to do with Windows 8. It was the unspoken and unexamined assumption that as you get older, you become less willing or able to change and to learn.

When I started work a ‘golfball’ typewriter was the latest technology and everyone wrote drafts in long-hand and took them to the typing pool. Nowadays I retrieve documents online, work on them and then upload them. I do things I could never have imagined doing previously and can work from home as a freelancer, which suits me just fine.

Of course, the advent of computers is just one of many changes over the past few decades of restructuring, upheaval, and social and technological change. The physical and social fabric of our workplaces, home life and community life has changed dramatically.

The older you get, the more changes you see and master. It goes with the territory. I’m a baby boomer and I can’t think of anyone I know in my generation who has thrown up their hands and said, ‘Oh it’s just too hard; I can’t cope with all this change.’ It was never a choice. And yet we are perceived as being slow or unwilling to adapt. Nonsense, I say. What do you think?

A challenge!

It must be serendipity. I was wondering what to blog about when Daniela from the Lantern Post tagged me in The Look Challenge and told me it’s a fun prompt for writers with either a published book or a novel in progress. It works like this:

Search your manuscript for the word “look” and copy the surrounding paragraphs into a post to let other bloggers read. Then you tag five blogger/authors.

Daniela might remember the piece I’ve selected for the challenge because I wrote the first draft for a writing class we both attended a few years ago. I played around with a few extracts from a novel I’m writing, but they all needed context to make sense, so I decided to use this short stand-alone piece instead.

 Blue Skies 

It’s a chill autumn morning in the 1950s. My brother and I are bundled up in our red woollen jerseys that Mum knitted, and Mum’s doing the washing. I’ve just turned four, and my brother is almost three.

Mum does the washing on Monday mornings. She likes to have us within eyesight, which means we’re outside, playing on the concrete between the kitchen door and the washhouse. We can hear the thump of the agitator in the bowl of the brand new washing machine. We’re not allowed in the washhouse for fear that we’ll feed our little fingers into the wringer and mangle our hands and arms.

While we play outside, Mum fishes the sheets and towels out of the machine and feeds them through the wringer into a concrete tub of cold water. She loads the colored clothes into the machine and pushes the lever to turn the agitator on again. The sheets go through the wringer again, into more cold water stained with blue to make the whites white, and then she pushes the sheets through the wringer for the last time. They slide in concertina folds into a galvanized tub, our baby bathtub, ready for Mum to shake them out and peg them up on the line to dry. Mum then does it all again with the colored clothes, and finally Dad’s work clothes, thick with dust from the paddocks and grease from handling the sheep.

This takes all morning. My brother plays with his toy truck and I have my fat doll with hair the colour of ripe wheat and eyes that open and close. Nothing happens where we live. We’re too small to be out on the farm, too isolated to play with other children.

Mum’s carried a load out to the long line that runs from the wattle tree to the gate that leads out to the yard. As she pegs the sheets on the line with hands half-numb from the cold water and the cold air, we scour the sky. Today we’re lucky; in the distance we see a black dot. ‘Look! Look! Over there!’

We watch the dot grow large and silver in the sun. The vapor trail streams through the blue sky, whiter than Mum’s sheets.

We run to the edge of the concrete and look up. I know there are people up there, riding on the plume of vapor. We wave with both arms, willing the pilot to see us and dip a wing in greeting. The people must surely be looking out the window; they must surely see two little children dressed in red, standing in the middle of the plains waving at aeroplanes. I’m convinced they’re waving back.

We’re still waving, still excited, as the plane fades from sight and the vapor unravels and the sheets flap in the wind.

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One of the best things about this challenge was discovering the blogs that Daniela tagged. I’ve only tagged three, but I think you will enjoy them. Here they are:

 Janet’s Notebook
(No, not me; another Janet)

Chris Martin Writes 

Cresting the Words 

 

A gem of a critique group

It’s almost the end of the weekend and I haven’t managed a blog post. I still haven’t nailed a regular blog post schedule, but try to post something in the weekend. My excuse for this belated post is that I was busy getting something ready to send out to my writing critique group.

I know writers have different experiences and views about the value of critique groups, but for me the one I belong to has been invaluable. It’s kept me going and ‘accountable’ many times when it would have been easier to let the writing slip.

Our group is small—4 or 5 members (numbers fluctuate over time) and we’ve been together for several years. Before each meeting we circulate our work and read everyone else’s work. At the meeting there is no tedious and time-consuming reading aloud, which leaves plenty of time to discuss everyone’s work.

We meet face to face once every six weeks. Looking someone in the eye when you critique their work is a great incentive to make sure that you are clear and specific and can justify your comments. At times the critique is robust, but it is always constructive and no one gets defensive.

We’ve all been writing long enough to be able to offer useful critique and we’ve all had our share of rejections and also encouragement. I think this is why we have such a positive dynamic with no grandstanding or points scoring. I’m the only woman in the group and enjoy having a male perspective.

Of course all the reading and preparation takes time, but it’s worth it and I’m always much happier after I’ve revised work following a critique. The group is a wee gem.

Poetry school dropout

Last weekend I opted out of attending the last in a series of poetry workshops. They were great workshops, but I just couldn’t produce anything more than scribbled word lists and assorted unrelated lines. It’s not that I can’t write poetry, but my output is minuscule and I don’t enjoy writing poetry as much as prose.

Not long ago I was chatting with a writing friend. We both belong to a local writers’ group that runs two competitions a month. My friend, along with quite a few other members, makes a point of entering one or both competitions every month. I enter when I have something suitable, but I seldom sit down and write specifically for a competition. I suspect my friend is much more productive than I am, thanks to this regular discipline.

This conversation plus the poetry workshop experience led me to think that it can be useful to have a strategy about writing. Mine is to stick to my knitting.

I have tried my hand at different types of writing and quickly discovered that some genres suit me better than others. It didn’t take me long to develop a love-hate relationship with poetry; nor did it take long to discover that short stories are not my thing. To me, they are incredibly difficult to write and I have no aptitude for this genre. I could sit down and work at short stories: put in the hours, seek out feedback, revise, submit, collect rejection slips, re-write, start again…

But that would take me away from writing what I really want to write. It would take me away from my novel. This is in its third revision and may never see the light of day—but it’s my apprenticeship novel and fun to write and has taught me so much. And then there is narrative non-fiction. I didn’t even know there was such a genre until a few years ago, and now I think this what I’m meant to write.

I’ve decided that when it comes to writing, I’m going to stick to my knitting and focus on what I do best. I’ll still dabble in poetry, as a treat, when it doesn’t distract me from what I really want to write.

Do you ‘stick to your knitting’ or have you found another strategy suits you better?

Books by hand

What sort of a book has blank pages but is full of stories? Here’s one. It is a photo album made as gift and waiting to be filled with photos telling their stories. 

Even with blank pages, the album has its own story. My clever husband made it himself. For the cover, he used marbled paper we bought in Florence a couple of years ago.

In Florence, we navigated the narrow streets a couple of blocks away from the main tourist thoroughfares, looking for Alberto Cozzi, a bookbinding and paper marbling workshop and shop. It took three tries. The first time the shop was closed. The second time we arrived to see a man and a dog emerge. The man locked the shop behind him and headed out for a walk with the dog at the very time the sign in the window said the shop was due to open. The third time we were lucky.

We arrived just as Ricardo (the man with the dog) was setting up a large tray full of a type of glue the consistency of wallpaper paste, the first stage in marbling. He spattered a multitude of different coloured paints over the solution, and the paint spread slightly and sat suspended on top of the glue. I wondered how such an unlikely colour combination was going to produce anything beautiful. Next he dragged specially made combs through the paints and the colours arranged themselves in swirls.

Finally he floated A3 sheets of paper over the paint and carefully peeled them off, holding up the finished product for our admiration before hanging the paper over rods to dry. All the time the dog lay in the back of the workshop (weary from his walk, I suppose) and watched through half-open eyes. 

We selected half a dozen sheets to buy and packed them in a tube which we carried through Switzerland and France before returning to New Zealand. Well worth the effort, don’t you think!

Saturday morning

It’s Saturday morning and I should be writing a triolet. Instead I’m writing a blog post and reassuring the dog that I’ll take her for a walk, soon. I should have written the triolet days ago; it’s homework for a short course on writing formal poetry. The next session starts in two hours, so if I write at the pace of four lines an hour, I might just make it! I’m a dabbler in poetry; I prefer writing prose, but I have had a couple of poems published, so I must be doing something right.

The course is run by Joanna Preston who has an enthusiasm for all things poetic and an interesting way of teaching that is based on reading as much as writing.

The triolet is one of the forms we looked at last week. It was new to me. Eight lines, the first line repeating at lines four and seven, and the second line repeating at line eight. Oh good, I thought, all that repetition means hardly any lines to write once I’ve got that first line.

My first line is going to be: ‘Am I right in thinking…’  The line is from the title of a book about letters to the Telegraph newspaper in which correspondents such as ‘Outraged of Tunbridge Wells’ vent their dismay at the state of the world and in that frightfully English way ask rhetorically whether they are the only person who thinks as they do. I can see the scope for a satirical little triolet, but whether I can accomplish that by 10.30am is another matter.

Am I right in thinking this is an odd way to spend a Saturday morning?